Review – Off with their Heads! (“Bohemian Rhapsody”)

Queen. Oh yeah, we all know this rock band; after all, how couldn’t you? Every radio station plays their songs every hour every day. It’s true! Bohemian Rhapsody, We Will Rock You, Killer Queen, and Another One Bites the Dust are inescapable on the airwaves and all because of Freddie Mercury and Queen. This is their semi-true story.
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At one point EMI record executive Ray Foster (an unrecognizable Mike Myers) says, “I like formulas; formulas work”. Well, that kinda sums up this movie in a nutshell. We begin in 1970 with Farrokh Bulsara (an amazing Rami Malek) who goes by Freddie, and frequents London pubs to hear rock ‘n’ roll bands. His secret desire is to write music and sing, so when a local band called Smile needs a lead singer, Freddie is hired, and their little band is soon an instant success.

Freddie’s band mates are blown away, by not only by his incredible vocal range, but also by his flamboyant swagger on stage which electrifies the audience. This, plus Freddie’s natural gift of thinking outside-the-box when it comes to producing music. Lead guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee), bass guitarist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) are soon enjoying fame & fortune with Freddie at the helm. Soon, things start happening: the band is called Queen, Freddie changes his last name to Mercury and gets married to Mary (Lucy Boynton), and Queen signs a huge record deal with EMI, thanks to their manager, John Reid (Aiden Gillen)

But, as in all movies about bands, the inevitable happens: outside forces threaten the band to break it up. Freddie’s gay lifestyle is catching up to him, not to mention taking on a lover and quasi-Yoko Ono named Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), who leaches onto Freddie like a tick. After all the sell-out stadiums, chart-topping albums, and international acclaim, Freddie wants more and leaves the band, only to dissolve into a reckless, chaotic life without his friends. It’s reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s life with The Beach Boys.

Anyway, the 1985 Live Aid concert in Britain changed all of that, and we’re treated to the films glorious climax; a recreation of Queen’s performance at that historic concert in front of 100,000 people. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten is no stranger to biopic’s, as he wrote The Theory of Everything. But as far as biopic’s go, this one is pretty standard as it chugs along from A to B to C with the generic rise & fall of Mercury. There’s been alot of controversy about this movie, especially with the remaining band members. They want-ed the movie to be more about them and less about Freddie and his life. But let’s face it, what was Queen without Freddie Mercury?

Rami, in all his buck-toothed glory, is speculator in this role as the iconic singer and cat lover. Although Rami lip-synced, there’s no denying his personification of the rocker is spot-on. However, this movie only gleans the surface and doesn’t go in-depth or even get any of the facts straight (as most biopics don’t). This sanitized and dull version of the bands happy days, occasional trips to the recording studio (which there are painfully few of), bickering like school mates, and Freddie’s alternative lifestyle, was never amped up. The movie should have centered on a small section of his life, rather than a large chunk.

Director Bryan Singer (the X-Men franchise) does a masterful job here with what he has to go with, but really, the script isn’t as exciting or complex as the audience needed it to be. In fact, this played out like some dreadfully awful movie about some fictitious band; it had all the same tropes and clichés as, say, That Thing You Do or The Commitments,  movies about made-up bands that are way better,  by the way.

The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

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Let’s face it, there are TONS of movies about famous musicians out there, from Glen Miller to Sid Vicious to Jim Morrison, but favorite has to be Gary Busey starring as Texas rocker Buddy Holly and his band, The Crickets. Oh sure, the film was ravaged with many historical inaccuracies (like most biopic’s), but it’s fun to watch nevertheless.

Just like the tragic death of Holly in 1959, screenwriter Robert Gittler, who adapted the book, Buddy Holly: His Life and Music by John Goldrosen, died right before the film’s opening. But the life of Buddy Holly, mirrored the life of Freddie Mercury, inasmuch as both artists demanded their music be played their way. Buddy Holly (Busey) grew up in a small Lubbock, Texas town and played “safe” music to the teens in town with his band-mates & friends, drummer Jesse Charles (Don Stroud) and bass player, Ray Bob Simmons (Charlie Martin Smith).

After the band started rockin’ out at a local roller rink (against the owner’s wishes), their new style of music came to the attention of a big Nashville, Tennessee producer, but Buddy’s rock ‘n’ roll vision clashes with their rigid country music ideas. Eventually, Buddy finds a more flexible producer, Ross Turner (Conrad Janis) who, after accidentally publishing their demo to wild public acclaim, reluctantly allows Buddy and the Crickets to make music the way they want. Of course, the fact that Buddy is smitten with Turner’s cute Hispanic secretary, Maria Elena Santiago (Maria Richwine), has nothing to do with the deal. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!

Well, things start to snowball from there: they get booked for gigs, starting at the Apollo Theater in Harlem (someone thought they were a black band!) where they wow the all-black audience. Song after song, hit after hit, Buddy Holly & the Crickets tour with other chart-toppers like Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. Holly’s songs, Maybe Baby, That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, and others were all massive hits. The band is an instant success, despite the fact it’s only three guys, headed up by a tall, geeky-looking dude with thick black horn-rimmed glasses.

After two years of success, the inevitable happens: Ray Bob and Jesse quit as they feel overshadowed by Buddy. Initially afraid to tour without them, Buddy does, despite  Maria announcing that she’s pregnant. On February 2, 1959, Holly decides to charter a private plane to fly to Minnesota for his next big concert, unknowing that Ray Bob and Jesse are going to surprise him there at the concert. Unfortunately, Buddy never made that concert…

An excellent film, this was Steve Rash’s first directorial film, but it all went downhill for him after that as he did terrible movies like Under the Rainbow, Son In Law, and Eddie. But let’s stick with this gem; Gary Busey is pitch-perfect as Holly. Busey not only looked like him, but sounding like him as well; no voice-over double here, folks, that’s really Busey singing on the soundtrack. Stroud & Martin Smith are just great as the ‘Crickets’, the name they got by accident by a radio interviewer. Look for impressionist Fred Travalena as crazy radio DJ “Madman” Mancuso and Matthew “Stymie” Beard at the Apollo Theater–he was a ‘Little Rascal’ back in the 30’s!

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