Bohemian Rhapsody – A Movie Review

It wasn’t until this movie started getting mentioned for Oscar nominations that I gained an interest in it.  Honestly, while I like Queen well enough, I had no interest in seeing a biopic about the band.  I kind of figured it … wouldn’t be good.  How many movies about real bands have been good?

Back in November, though, people were giving it good buzz.  I heard that it had great energy and really focused on the music.  During the last few months, however, I heard critics from Pop Culture Happy Hour and The Ringer talking about how Rami Malek was ultimately just doing an impression of Freddy Mercury–that there wasn’t much acting to it.  In fact, they claimed his prosthetic teeth were doing all the work.  (Those chompers really were extremely distracting.)  Furthermore, they complained that the movie played it pretty safe and seemed intent on painting Queen in the best light possible.  Of course, they were also critical of director Bryan Singer’s reported erratic behavior and alleged past misconduct.  His behavior apparently led to his dismissal before filming concluded.

The Oscars seemed to side with popular opinion and declared it a “Best Picture” nominee.  It didn’t win that award, but Malek did pick up a “Best Actor” trophy and the film won three more Oscars in technical categories.

Well, by this point I had to see Bohemian Rhapsody for myself.  As soon as it became available at my local library, I checked it out.  My wife and I just finished it, in fact, and, yeah, it’s a crowd pleasing piece of work.

If you love Queen music, you’re going to really enjoy this movie.  If you like feel-good movies where everything works out in the end, this movie is for you.  I won’t lie–I had a great time watching it.

But, with that being said, it definitely does paint the band in a positive light.  They have a little tiff here and there, but for the most part the movie depicts them as supporting one another, forgiving one another, and loving one another as family.

There’s nothing wrong with that, for sure.

It also delves into Mercury’s homosexuality, drinking, and drug use, but rather innocently.  Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it all felt very sanitized.  Of course, this makes total sense when making a film aimed at pleasing a mass audience.  Knowing Mercury’s ultimate fate, the movie wanted us to hold him on a pedestal in the end.

I’ve heard the critics complain that Jim Beach, the band’s longtime manager, acted as a producer on this movie, and that the surviving members of Queen fought hard to make the band look as good as possible.

That makes perfect sense from their perspective.  And, frankly, as an audience member, I’m okay with it all.  I’m not watching Bohemian Rhapsody for a history lesson–I’m watching it for fun.  If they gloss over some darker moments of reality and create a little dramatic tension for effect, I can accept that in this particular circumstance.

The point is that one should not take this movie as gospel.  It is not necessarily accurate in many cases, so the viewing audience should not treat it as a documentary.  It’s a fun, exciting movie based on a real man, but that doesn’t make it scene-for-scene truth.  (Rolling Stone has a list of mistakes committed by the movie HERE.)

Don’t let this misinformation stop you, though.  Like I said, I found it immensely entertaining and have no problem recommending it to others.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

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The Favourite – A Movie Review

The Favourite has been slowly building acclaim for quite a while, but with it’s recent ten Oscar nominations, it shot up to my “must-view” list.

We were fortunate enough to have it play again at our local theater tonight, so my wife and I made it a date and checked it out.

I can honestly say that if you get a chance to see The Favourite … don’t.

I am clearly missing something with this film.

Look, the actresses were great–no doubt.  Olivia Coleman disappeared into Queen Anne and depicted one of the most wretched characters I’ve seen in quite some time.  Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are also absolutely going for it with this movie.  They were brilliant.

However, the story is just … not that compelling.

If you’re unfamiliar with the tale, it’s about Queen Anne in the early 1700s.  She suffers from gout, as well as a few other infirmities.  Her mental well-being seems questionable at best.  Rachel Weisz plays her cousin, Lady Sarah.  Lady Sarah is Anne’s best friend and pretty much calls England’s shots on Anne’s behalf.  Emma Stone plays Abigail, a former noblewoman who has been stripped of her rank.  Abigail comes to Anne’s palace as a servant, but quickly works her way into Anne’s confidence.  A power struggle ensues between Lady Sarah and Abigail, with Anne loving every minute of it.

However, there’s something about this movie that I did not realize …

SPOILER ALERT …

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Both Lady Sarah and Abigail curry favor with Anne through sexual acts.  Yes, you read that right.  There’s a lot of uncomfortable moments in this film.  A lot.  It’s not overtly graphic or shocking, but I had no idea this aspect of the movie even existed.

Furthermore, most of the movie takes place in Anne’s bedroom.  The costumes are exquisite … at first.  The settings are beautiful … at first.  But this all wears thin when the movie doesn’t go anywhere else.  There is an interesting subplot about a war taking place, but Anne really couldn’t care less about it so we see nothing of it.  We get just a touch of British politics, but not a whole lot on that front either.

It’s mostly Sarah and Abigail vying for position with Anne.  They sabotage each other at every opportunity.

If I’m failing to recognize something that makes this film a masterpiece, please, feel free to educate me.

As far as I’m concerned, The Favourite is the furthest thing from a “must-see” movie.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

Unsane – A Movie Review

I’ve been hearing a lot from critics about Steven Soderbergh lately.  You know Steven Soderbergh even if you don’t know that you know Steven Soderbergh.  He directed the Ocean’s 11 movies, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Magic Mike, and Logan Lucky (just to name a few).

He has a movie that just released on Netflix called High Flying Bird.  My friends at The Ringer.com were talking about how much they were looking forward to seeing it because they consider Soderbergh a modern-day genius.  They said that though Unsane went largely unnoticed, High Flying Bird owes much to Unsane.  I generally trust the Ringer folks, so I decided I clearly haven’t appreciated Soderbergh enough.  I made the decision to soon watch High Flying Bird, but I figured I’d better watch Unsane first in order to fully experience the director’s repertoire.

I didn’t hear anything about Unsane when it released back in March of 2018, but it’s got Claire Foy in it, so it has to be good, right?  I mean, Claire Foy is pretty much incredible in The Crown.  Plus, I liked the movies that I’ve seen in the above list.  Therefore, I like Soderbergh … right?

I decided to take a look at Rotten Tomatoes before I watched UnsaneLet’s just say reviews are … mixed.  The critics generally like it.  The audience rates it slightly below a D-.  The critics were fixated on calling it Soderbergh’s “B movie” masterpiece.  Is that even possible?  The audience was really obsessed with the fact that it was shot on an iPhone.  Um … okay?

As for my opinion?

Don’t waste your time on this one.

Okay, that’s a little harsh.

Let’s go positive first.

Foy continues to impress me.  I think she’s got incredible range.  She is a bit of an unlikable character in this movie.  Her body language is purposefully rigid.  She’s also surly, terse, and angry.  However, she has good reason to be.  Or does she?

I was led to believe that this would be something of a psychological thriller.

Sorry.  It’s not.

They make the truth of the situation pretty clear early on in the film.

Let me explain.

Foy’s character unwittingly commits herself to a mental institution for short term observation.  According to one of the patients played by Jay Pharoah, it’s a scam by the institution to skim money from the insurance companies.  He tells her she can expect to be released in a few days once they’ve gotten their payment.

I found this entire premise really interesting, but don’t get excited … that’s not what the movie is about.

The movie then makes you think it is about whether or not Sawyer, Foy’s character, is actually being hunted and harassed by a stalker or if it’s all in her head.  Again, this is a really interesting concept.  We want to instantly side with Sawyer because she seems to be a victim.  However, due to her somewhat volatile nature, it’s hard to pin down her mental state.  But, yet again … that’s not really want this movie is about.

Spoilers ahead …

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Unsane quickly confirms that yes, Sawyer’s stalker is now working in the institution; yes, he’s totally messing with her; and no , she’s not suffering any mental issues.  The stalker, played by Joshua Leonard, goes on a killing spree in order to kidnap her from the institution, and that’s when the “B movie” genre goes into full effect.

We are led to believe that Jay Pharoah’s character is an addict in recovery, but, once he’s killed by the stalker for being Sawyer’s friend, it’s briefly revealed that he was actually a reporter under deep cover and investigating the institution’s insurance fraud practices.  Wow.  That alone actually would have been a GREAT movie.

Sawyer loses everyone close to her, eventually gets the upper hand on the stalker, and kills him with a shiv.  Yes, you read that right.

I don’t know why the movie chose the path it did when it initially set up some really interesting ideas.  Maybe I’m missing something.  Maybe I’m failing to see a certain craft or art to the film that others have picked up on.  A lot of people seem to think it’s cool that it was shot on an iPhone, but to me … it looks like it was shot on an iPhone.

For what it’s worth, Foy gives a potent performance.  This is only the second thing I’ve seen her do outside of The Crown–I’ve never seen her quite like this.  If she did Unsane to show her ability to play against type, she made a wise decision.  This is about as far from Queen Elizabeth as one can get.

Do you need to watch Unsane to get a stylistic flavor in order to enjoy High Flying Bird?  I’m going to say “no.”  Should you even watch Unsane at all?  While I enjoyed Claire Foy, I find Unsane largely dispensable.  You’ll perhaps like it, but I wish I’d spent my time watching something else.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

First Man – A Movie Review

My wife and I really wanted to see First Man in the theater, but we just never got around to it.  However, I made sure to rent it from the Normal Public Library as soon as it became available.

If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, it stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and follows his path to becoming the first man to step on the moon.  It also stars Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong, Neil’s wife.  You know Foy from The Crown–she played Queen Elizabeth.  The film is directed by Damien Chazelle, who also directed La La Land and Whiplash.  As you can see, First Man is a can’t-miss between these three talents.

Let me begin by saying that I loved this movie.  Admittedly, though, it did not follow the trajectory that I expected.  First Man zeroes in on Neil Armstrong the person, not the engineer, not the pilot, and not the astronaut.

I must confess–I knew nothing about Neil Armstrong other than his monumental feat.  Gosling played him as a quiet, repressed, introvert.  After a little research, it seems that this interpretation was not terribly off-base.

Furthermore, I did not realize that Armstrong lost a child when she was only two years old.  Though this loss occurs very early in the film, it becomes a subtle, though potent, plot point and driving motivator.

The creators of this film depict some beautiful cinematography, but they made some really interesting choices in what to show us.  They opted against shots depicting the magnificent glory of space travel.  Instead, they often give us the story from Neil’s perspective.  His view is often limited, obstructed, and cramped.  The machinery creeks, rattles, and doesn’t always respond as intended.  Even the NASA bathrooms were displayed realistically, which means … not exactly pristine.  First Man exposes the down and dirty aspects to making the impossible possible.

Don’t get me wrong, First Man absolutely inspires the human spirit to try to achieve more, but it also makes it very clear that these men were risking their lives each and every time they climbed into anything associated with space exploration.  Furthermore, the film made sure to honor those men who did indeed lose their lives to America’s cause.  Though it’s hard to watch, it does not shy away from death.

Claire Foy delivers an understated performance pertaining to the NASA wife’s existence.  Her Janet Armstrong must navigate the complexities of being a supportive wife, a lonely mother, and a grieving friend, but also that of an intelligent human being who will hold her husband accountable when he’s neglecting both she and his family.  She and Gosling’s chemistry is interesting, to say the least.  They exhibit a troubled marriage that it not yet completely revealed.

In fact, subtle is how I would describe this film as a whole.  It is quiet, understated, and moody.  Just know that, when they reach the moon, it is breathtaking.  The lunar landscape appears as it typically does–they did not break with reality.  But the tight shots of the astronauts, the equipment, and even the granular surface–it’s mesmerizing.  And, though you won’t expect it, a moment arrives that damn near brought me to tears.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it gave me great insight into the film’s perception of Neil Armstrong and his motivation.

Consequently, First Man has a beautiful–beautiful!–score composed by Justin Hurwitz.  It’s currently free to download if you are an Amazon Prime member.  Find it by clicking HERE.

Because of its somber tone, I’m not surprised First Man has not made more of an impact.  Though people would probably expect it to be, it’s not really a feel-good movie for the masses.  Nevertheless, it is a wonderfully constructed film.  If you love NASA, space travel, or any of the creative talents involved in making this movie, you will not be disappointed.  Though it’s unusual, it definitely won me over.

On a side note, the movie briefly notified the viewing audience that it was based on a book by James R. Hansen.  Because the movie portrayed Neil Armstrong in such an interesting manner, and because I literally know nothing about the American legend, I stopped by the library and picked it up.  It’s titled First Man: The Life Of Neil A. Armstrong.  You can take a look at it HERE.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

 

Mary Poppins Returns – A Movie Review

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original Mary Poppins from start to finish.  We had it on a few years ago for the kids, but I thought it was really strange and didn’t pay it much attention.  I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the character.

However, when we first started seeing the trailers for Mary Poppins Returns, my kids got very excited.  Frankly, I did, too.  I thought Disney really rolled the dice on trying to revitalize an iconic, beloved character that is deeply ingrained in many people’s psyche.  The willingness to risk financial failure on a venerated property shocked me.  And Emily Blunt?  Can you imagine the guts it takes to try to reprise such a famous role?  A role previously played by a revered actress?  Wow.

So even though I’m not necessarily a Mary Poppins fan, I have to confess that I had a great time watching Mary Poppins Returns.  I found it charming from start to finish.  It felt to me like a classic family movie–the kind of movie they don’t really make that often anymore.  I liked the message, the humor, the acting, the music, and the general creative direction.  In fact, we went with the grandparents and a great aunt, and they all loved it, too.

I’ve heard it argued that it just retreads the original movie.  Some have said it hits the same beats at almost the exact same cadence.  That may be true, but this movie isn’t made for the original fans of Mary Poppins.  This is a completely new experience to my six-year-old and ten-year-old.   Seeing it in a dark theater on the big screen with the loud speakers–this will be their Mary Poppins for life, and we need to realize that.  The same argument can actually be made for Star Wars.  Let the young have what we loved, too, but on their terms, in their own way.  It’s okay to borrow from what made the original a hit, and it’s okay to take things in a different direction as well.

By the way, I’d like to rave about Emily Blunt.  I adored her portrayal of Mary Poppins.  To me, her singing exceeded my expectations.  She sounded as good as anyone, in my opinion.  Furthermore, she had a sly glimmer in her eye that, for the first time, made me really consider the fact that Mary Poppins may be some kind of a supernatural entity–like a well-meaning fairy, or a helpful nymph, or maybe even a sort of angel.  She played the character incredibly stuffy, as the literary source material dictated, but she would at times offer a private grin, a lift of the eyebrows, or even a giant smile, that told me Emily Blunt is playing a character who is playing a character.  I think Mary Poppins’ whole persona is an act, and I loved that interpretation.  Though understated, Blunt’s execution of Poppins using exaggerated facial expressions and body language really struck me as funny.  She always held her hands just so.  The eyes would bulge indignantly just right.  I found the extrovert posing as a strict, prim, and proper snob totally engaging.

I’ve also heard some fans of the original movie claim that Mary Poppins Returns doesn’t have very catchy music.  Again, I’m no expert, but I thought it had excellent music.  My kids had me download the soundtrack which has resulted in several songs being stuck in my head.  Isn’t an earworm the sign of a good song?  Or at least a catchy one?

Finally, the production value of Mary Poppins Returns is phenomenal.  There are several instances when Mary Poppins and the children for whom she is responsible enter a world infused with cartoons.  The special effects are seamless.  I found it amazing to see the actors interacting with what appeared to be classic 2D images.  Of course, I could be mistaken.  Everything could have been CGI for all I know.  The point is that it looked beautiful.

Did the story make perfect sense?  No, not really, but who cares?  I’m not going to Mary Poppins Returns for a think-piece.  I’m going for the singing, the dancing, the humor, and the fact that it is a wholesome movie with a positive message for not just the children, but for everyone watching.

If you’re looking for a family movie, I completely recommend Mary Poppins Returns.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – A Movie Review

When I first saw the trailer for this movie and noticed it was PG, I thought, “Huh.  That might be one for the kids and me.”  We weren’t in a rush to see it, mind you, but as the reviews kept praising it, and as Rotten Tomatoes continued to maintain a 97% “fresh” rate, I got more and more interested.

I can’t necessarily claim to be a huge Spider-Man fan, nor can my two daughters (ages 10 and 6).  I loved his comics as a kid, but generally lost interest in Marvel as an adult.  Don’t hold this against us, but we are a DC family through and through.

With all of that being said, if you like Spider-Man even a little, I urge you to see this movie.  It has earned every single positive review it has received.  I loved it.

There are so, so many reasons to enjoy it.  First of all, the voice acting is superb.  Check out this cast list and you’ll understand the high quality.  The animation also won me over.  You’ll have to see it to really understand what I’m saying, but it’s refined yet rough, classic yet edgy, bright yet dark.  Best of all?  It’s not afraid to do, well, anything.  Colors pop, word panels appear, dot matrix appears and disappears–it’s a visual feast.

It also wasn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve.  As cliche as it sounds, this movie will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you cheer, it will make you think–it engages virtually every emotion available.  And while I think it was perfectly appropriate for my six-year-old, my ten-year-old picked up on the messages of self-confidence, self-sacrifice, supporting others, and what it really takes to be a hero.  There existed in this movie an inspirational message that managed to pierce this old forty-two-year-old heart of mine.

However, the absolute best trait of the film can be summed up in one word: fun.  My gosh, this was a fun movie!  The plot is so ridiculously “comic book” that you can’t deny its charm.  Kingpin builds a machine that breaches other dimensions, which then pulls many “Spider-People” from various realities into that of Miles Morales, a teenager recently infused with the powers of a spider-man.  The movie treats its story seriously, but it doesn’t ever take itself too seriously.  I mean, Spider-Ham is in this thing!  And while I would ultimately call this a comedy, it has some heart-wrenching moments made all the more so by fantastic voice acting.  Oh, and the action.  The action is mesmerizing.  They do their best with the live-action movies, but only animation can truly capture the essence of Spider-Man.  Just look at the poster below and you’ll get a sense of the movement displayed within the film.

Even if you’re only moderately interested in Spider-Man, I highly recommend Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  It’s family friendly, beautiful to behold, funny, action-packed, and delivers several moral messages pertaining to heroism, family, friends, and self-confidence.

I hope you’ll check it out. Image result for spider man into the spider verse movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Aquaman – A Movie Review

If you’re looking for a classic hero’s quest story with incredibly innovative special effects and a great sense of fun, Aquaman is for you.

Jason Momoa absolutely shines in this third appearance as Arthur Curry.  He seems to be having a blast, which brings a certain level of mirth and joy to a character typically not known for such attributes.  His Aquaman is brash, tough, a smart-mouth, physical, and arrogant, yet Momoa plays him with such a subtle sense of nobility and goodness that you can’t deny his charisma.  Watching Momoa play Aquaman alone makes the movie worth checking out.  He’s having such a great time that we can’t help but join in the fun.

However, if you’re a fan of the classic hero’s quest story, Aquaman will delight you as well.  With a name like Arthur, the search for a mystical weapon, and a right to the throne, it’s almost a given that a hero’s quest must ensue.  I love that they did not shy away from Aquaman’s obvious similarities to the legend of King Arthur.  Almost every classic archetype is addressed in Aquaman, which is partly why I believe this movie will be a huge success.  The mysterious bloodline, the search for identity, the reluctant king, the quest into parts unknown, the need to unite kingdoms, the monster, the mentor, the loving mother, the wise father, traitorous siblings–it’s all there.  Like with Star Wars, Superman, and the Matrix, Aquaman hits primordial beats that we unconsciously desire.

If it’s action you crave, though, Aquaman will not disappoint.  Director James Wan is mostly known for action and horror movies.  This experience serves Aquaman very well.  There is very little downtime in this movie.  It’s almost nonstop action, and that action is so stimulating, so interesting, and so frenetic that you cannot refuse its brilliance.  Our first encounter with Aquaman occurs in a submarine, and while it’s not the most lavish or extravagant in terms of effects, it’s most definitely my favorite action scene in the whole movie.  The scene is tight, compact, and brutal.  Can you imagine having a fist fight in a submarine?  Now imagine that one of the combatants can rip the hull apart with his bare hands.  James Wan leans into this circumstance and creates an intense fight unlike any other.  There’s also a point when Aquaman and Mera must enter a place called “The Trench.”  This part of the movie is pure horror.  Even so, it’s also oddly exquisitely unique.

In fact, Aquaman is unlike any other movie that I’ve seen, and I mean that literally.   You will see special effects in this movie that you’ve never before witnessed, specifically in regards to the underwater scenes.  I still have no idea how they did it, but they have the actors talking underwater and it looks so real that their hair is actually flowing in conjunction with their movement as though they are actually underwater.  We all know that water exerts a certain force upon objects moving through it–one does not move underwater as one moves on land.  They captured this very well, too.  The actors don’t walk, they float.  They don’t run, they swim.  Part of me wants to watch the “making of” features to find out how they did this, but part of me also wants to just enjoy the movie magic as it is.

Incredible as the special effects are, the real beauty of Aquaman is in the details.  If you care to notice, you will see detritus floating in the water around the actors.  You will see creatures on the rocks, wreckage in the background, and tiny bubbles emitting from various sources.  And when Aquaman walks out in his “super suit” … it’s breathtaking.  They’ve done the impossible–they’ve made Aquaman’s gold shirt look freaking cool.  They zoom in tight on it, too, and when they do you’ll see every little scale, every overlay, every tiny piece of craftsmanship.

On that note, James Wan and the rest of the creative team have not just made a world for Aquaman to exist within, they’ve developed an entire universe.  They have birthed specific kingdoms, and each has it’s own appearance, technology, and history.  After all, most of the planet is covered in water.  James Wan seems to be taking full advantage of the possibilities this environment provides.

If I’m being objective, though, the movie has some issues.  While I appreciate the “hero’s quest” story, it never really pulled me in.  Does anyone truly doubt Arthur will win out in the end?  Some of the performances fell a little flat with me as well.  While Amber Heard looks great as Mera, I never felt any real chemistry between she and Momoa.  In fact, I think Momoa had more chemistry with Nicole Kidman, his on-screen mother!  Furthermore, the movie runs a tad long.  At two hours and twenty-three minutes, some of the spectacle began to feel like too much.  There are plenty of places they could have trimmed the movie up a bit.  I also found the music really distracting.  I love music scores, so I always pay attention to that aspect of a film.  The music did not suit this movie well … at all.  Truthfully, there were some odd choices in terms of actual songs–it all seemed to be a big of a hodgepodge.  Finally, there are some flat-out goofy moments in this movie–pure cheese.  You’ll know it when you see it, but there’s no refuting that it’s there.

But you know what?  That goofiness is part of Aquaman’s charm.  This movie wanted to have fun.  DC movies have been knocked for being too dark as they tried to recreate Christopher Nolan’s tone.  Aquaman is anything but dark.  It’s fun to watch a hero being a hero while having fun.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)