January 24, 2019

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Rami Malek


Biopics. They can never quite seem to satisfy everyone.

Too accurate and the surviving people contest their portrayal. Too much artistic license and the purists contest the facts. A truly good biopic is hard to find. (Cue a hundred responses to this pointing out all the good biopics I'm overlooking.)

So here's the thing. Bohemian Rhapsody is a mostly enjoyable movie. It is not a good biopic.

First of all, the inaccuracies. There's just so many of them, some created for no reason. For example, the formation of the band. Why would it be necessary to lie about this? For extra drama? It didn't even seem realistic. In fact, it was so unrealistic I literally Googled it while watching the movie because it didn't seem believable. Which then, of course, made me suspect everything else in the movie. In short, it's distracting and unnecessary. If you're going to bend the facts about certain events, there damn well better be a purpose. 

But even then it gets tricky. Like Mercury's AIDS diagnosis. The way it was portrayed in the movie was obviously to add drama for the band's final performance at LiveAid. Except that wasn't the band's final performance. Mercury (and the band) continued to make music for YEARS after that. So while I can understand wanting to culminate on a powerful performance, it shouldn't mislead the viewer into thinking Mercury died shortly after that (which yeah, the movie definitely insinuated). Not to mention the complete fiction of the band breakup...

Much like adapting a book to a movie, this story will anger many longtime Queen fans with its inaccuracies. It angers the LGBT community with its sanitized portrayal of Mercury's sexuality. (Side note: in case anyone still doesn't understand, bisexual =/= gay. Portrayals of people on different parts of the spectrum are important. It's not that hard.) And it should anger anyone who's ever had to take a plotting course because the first 25 minutes of this movie are utter garbage fiction. (I nearly turned it off I was so annoyed.)

It also inspires. The one thing this movie DOES do well is capture the brilliance and creativity of Queen. In a world where every movie, every song seems to be a poorly copied version of something else, it's inspiring to watch four utterly wacky minds come up with the kind of music Queen did. They were absolutely brilliant at reinventing themselves, reinventing what rock and roll music was, and reinventing the limits of what a song could or could not do. The power of their music is on full display and it's what makes this movie worth watching. (And unless you are one of those diehard Queen fans or you know, alive during the 70's, you'll probably be surprised to find out they are the artists behind some of the most iconic songs you hear all the time.)

Also, Rami Malek. His performance is not to be overstated. Not only does he nearly identical to Mercury (it's uncanny, really), he embodies the role in such an incredible way. And to do it with those ridiculous teeth? It's a wonder he could even say his lines, let alone act through those chompers. If you do watch the movie, do it for his performance alone. Also, so you can Google the cast afterward and see how well they cast the thing. 

Final word: Conflicted. Much like this movie.

January 11, 2019

Boy Erased (2018)

Lucas Hedges, Joel Edgerton, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe


Sometimes movies can be really difficult to talk about it. The emotions they evoke, the stories they tell--even the powerful lessons gleaned from them. Some stories are so difficult to discuss that I'd rather people just watch them and spend some time reflecting on them. But then of course, there's the risk that certain populations would never watch it at all. Or watch it and somehow still not come away with the lessons they should have. Because while art is supposed to be left to interpretation of the consumer, this movie most definitely has a lesson, and there IS a wrong conclusion to draw from it.

So, I'm going to dive in.

For those unaware, this movie follows the true story of an 18-year-old son of a Baptist preacher who is sent to church gay conversion therapy after being outed to his parents. It is a painful watch. It's sad, dark, and emotional. But what makes the story powerful is actually the nuance woven into the story. It's presented in a delicate way so as to not turn off the viewer immediately. What do I mean by that?

First off, Hedges' parents, portrayed by Kidman and Crowe, are not Bible thumping monsters. Yes, they send him to conversion therapy. But they aren't physically abusive. They don't scream at him or hurl hateful insults about him (or other gay people). They show moments of love and tenderness and show just how common it is for parents to believe they are doing the right thing for their child, even when that thing is completely monstrous. They don't see it. They don't see themselves as monsters. And much of the outside world doesn't either, which only makes it more complicated and difficult for the child affected by all of it.

The conversion therapy they send him to is equally nuanced. I mean, it's not, in that it's clearly terrible to subject children (or anyone) to this kind of shaming and proselytizing about their sins, but it's also not electroshock therapy and physical abuse (which yes, also happens at some conversation therapy "camps.") So while it was clearly horrific for me to watch, I could also heavily religious people see all of this and sort of tsk tsk while thinking to themselves it doesn't seem that bad. By not crossing that line into the cartoonishily villainous (which I think electroshock therapy counts as), it keeps the audience engaged and frightened the entire time. 

Yes, I meant to use the word frightened. Because this movie is terrifying. It's sad, to be sure, but more than anything, it's frightening. It's frightening to think that gay conversion therapy on minors is allowed in 36 states (as stated in the movie's postscript). It's frightening to think that parents could beat, abuse, or even just excommunicate their child because he/she is gay. It's frightening to think of these children, dealing with so much already (including assault or other harassment they can't talk about for fear of outing themselves), losing the support and love of their parents. And it's frightening to think of the millions upon millions of people in the world who would like nothing more than to use religion to tell gay people that they should hate themselves. That is really the hardest part of it all to watch.

So yeah, this movie is difficult to watch. And it's even more difficult to talk about. But we need to. Because like the movie said, gay conversion therapy is still allowed on minors in 36 states.

Final word: Oh My God. Literally.

P.S. I really did not want to knock anything about this movie because it's so good, but two Australians faking Texas accents was... not my favorite.

January 9, 2019

Colette (2018)

Keira Knightly, Dominic West


Let start by saying I am 100% about this trend of highlighting women's stories, especially those whose work went uncredited for too long. Let me follow it up with my wish for those stories to be as accurate as possible.

It's not the story I have an issue with. It's the fact that it starred Keira Knightly. Now, I adore Keira. I've said it about a million different times in a million different forums. I will watch absolutely anything with her in it.

But she's not French. And honestly, if you're going to make a movie about one of the most prominent French novelists of all time, it seems more than a tad disrespectful to cast it with British actors. Like, how are you going to show Colette writing in French with a British-accented voiceover? 

The other thing: I love a good post-script after a movie has wrapped. But I found this particular post-script lacking. For all the work they spent building up her genius, they neglected to highlight the mind-boggling volume of work she actually put out over her lifetime. I understand the decision to focus the story only on a small portion of her life, but again, if you're going to do a post-script, at least do it justice.

That being said, there is a lot to like about the rest of the movie. It's a story about writers, which I will almost always love, even if I get frustrated at the portrayal that writers sit down and knock out a book in one sitting with minimal re-writes. (Who knows, maybe they used to back in the day.) But more than that, it's a story about female empowerment and the audacity of women pursuing their own happiness and worth. So naturally, my type of movie. 

It also leans into the LGBTQ aspect of Colette's life, showing her same sex relationships with the same unflinching sensuality that is usually reserved for heterosexual couples. It uses proper gender pronouns for "Missy," her long-term androgynous partner, and even delves into the politics of fashion at the turn of the century. Not to mention, the dresses. Oh God, the dresses (and hats). Let's just say I want the costume designer on this set to dress me in real life. 

So, the authenticity problems aside, it was still enjoyable to watch. But what do I know? I'm bound to love almost anything Keira Knightly is in.

Final word: Interesting story, but would have been more authentic with French actors.

P.S. If this movie doesn't get nominated for Best Costume Design at the Oscars, I'm going to flip a friggin table. I have never wanted to look like someone in a movie as much as I did in this one.