I’ve come to this with quite some anticipation, not only for the fact that any movie involving the British rock band Queen was going to be an interesting story but also following the Oscar nod given to Mr Robot’s Rami Malek for his portrait of Freddie Mercury … this just became more and more an essential prospect. Charting the band’s 1970s origins right through to their legendary appearance at Live Aid in 1985, this mostly focuses on the personal battles of Mercury, his sexuality etc., whilst also touching on the bands on off struggles for creative freedom.
Malek, a little young looking to fully get away with the role and not the most eloquent of speakers (thankfully Mercury’s actual voice is dubbed over for the singing) still does a good job mimicking the iconic star’s flamboyant mannerisms and also handles emotional scenes convincingly. Additional casting for the band members is also rather uncanny (especially Brian May). Director Bryan Singer has delivered an absorbing, respectful yet not glossed-over biopic that although not fully capturing the attention Queen got especially in the early years (little word on record sales or chart success), manages to showcase who Mercury was and just how good the music was, leading to a feel-good if bitter-sweet ending that I’ll admit got me teary eyed.
It may bunny-hop over significant moments in their discography such as a collaboration with David Bowie or their involvement with the Flash Gordon soundtrack, but overall this was fascinating, entertaining and made me appreciate Queen all over again.
A movie industry legend and a genuine hero of mine in the 80s with the Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run movies has died today. Burt Reynolds was set to star in Tarantino’s latest Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, due out next summer.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. When I saw that this had been given the prestigious Criterion treatment, I immediately was transported back to when I saw this one night on TV many years ago and remember really liking it. Sitting down now with much more jaded eyes, it transpires it’s not quite the classic I thought it was, even though there’s still fun to be had. Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber) plays Charles, a straight laced office worker who one day has a chance encounter with free-spirited Lulu (Melanie Griffith) who takes Charles on a road trip straight out of his comfort zone that awakens a side to him he never knew he had. Everything is going great until they bump into Lulu’s jail bird husband (Ray Liotta) who seems hell-bent on winning Lulu back.
Its a good concept and one I quickly felt engaged by, but once the ‘wild’ element of Lulu’s nature falls away and reveals who she really is, the movie stops dead, with a very awkward ‘lets go visit my mom’ scene and a drawn out high school reunion sequence. Thankfully once Liotta turns up the movie is cranked up several levels and transforms into more of a thriller. Liotta is brilliant, channelling that dangerous-charm he later honed to perfection in Goodfellas. Also Daniel’s proves much more than simply an every man for the audience to latch onto. Griffiths is also highly watchable and further proves why she was the go-to actress of the 80’s and has presence and personality to spare. The movie never really hits it’s stride though, suffering from a bit of an identity crisis and is neither funny enough to be a comedy, exciting enough to be a thriller or charming enough to be a love story. Like a lot of the other also-ran movies of the 80’s this one’s a bit of an oddity, but certainly retains a quirky appeal.
This UK Criterion release is rather underwhelming. The image quality, whilst showing off some vibrancy to it’s colour palette is marred by a lot of smudgy shots. There’s generally a soft look and lack of detail to the whole presentation. The 2 channel DTS HD soundtrack doesn’t exactly wow either, but dialogue is sharp even if music cues seem to lack punch. Extras consist of a detailed booklet that includes an essay by film critic David Thompson. On the Blu-ray itself there’s an archive interview with director Jonathan Demme and the screenwriter, and we also get a trailer. Not exactly the exhaustive treatment one might expect from Criterion.
The first movie was my favourite of 2014, so the prospect of a sequel was very exciting. This time around we find the unorthodox gang of heroes causing strife with a race of beings after Rocket the Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) gets a little light-fingered with some batteries. However following a space battle that could cause the guardian’s lives to end abruptly, a mysterious stranger saves the day. Turns out Star Lord (Chris Pratt) has a Dad who just so happens to be a pretty powerful guy himself, played with charismatic flair by the ever dependable Kurt Russell.
This fills in a few gaps left over from the last movie, especially the question surrounding Chris Pratt’s father and it was great being back in the company of these very likable characters again. The dialogue is especially sharp throughout, something that was a highlight of the last movie and the jokes & references come thick and fast to make this a ton of fun. Pratt’s character constantly makes quips about eighties pop-culture such as TV shows like Cheers and characters such as Skelator and Pac-Man, and makes him a very relatable and refreshing presence in this sort of movie. I was also glad to see that, despite the trailers, Baby Groot isn’t over-used but damn is he cute and very funny every second he’s on screen.
The soundtrack, another highlight last time around isn’t quite as memorable (apart from a great use of Mister Blue Sky by ELO) and a left-over side plot involving sisters Nebula (Karen Gillen) and Morgana (Zoe Saldana) felt unnecessary. I also did not get much out of the gold-painted race that turn up at the beginning and chase after our heroes. That being said Michael Rooker’s Yondu was again a joy and I’ve always liked the actor and we get some great moments with him here. The same can be said for scene-stealing Dave Bautista as Drax. Action generally is top-notch but the plot didn’t grab me as much or feel as layered this time, with the whole Kurt Russell’s planet sequence stopping the movie dead at one stage.
As it stands though this was a solid sequel and I can’t wait to see what comes next. The Guardians of the Galaxy will return!
Another entry in my growing collection of Brian De Palma movie reviews, this time the director’s much admired thriller from 1980. This is probably the movie that borrows most from Italian Giallo, a genre of stalk and slash thrillers made famous by directors like Mario Bava and of course, Dario Argento. It also borrows heavily from Hitchcock (especially Psycho), another of De Palma’s regular influences.
A house wife (Angie Dickinson) trapped in a sexually unfulfilling marriage, finds herself yearning for an affair and confesses as much to her psychiatrist (Michael Caine). However following a chance encounter at an art gallery that leads to a one night stand, the housewife is brutally murdered. A hooker (Nancy Allen) turns out to be the only witness.
A very of-it’s-time experience initially, with some explicit nudity and rather awkwardly handled sex making early scenes resemble a porn film. However once the killer strikes things shift into gear dramatically and De Palma’s cinematic flair spreads it’s wings. This is another movie that is visually captivating and often ingenious … a stand out art gallery sequence and a tense subway scene both showcasing a director at the top of his game. Add to this a murder-mystery plot that twists and turns wonderfully and even when you discover who the killer is, re-watching certain scenes reveal clever little details and clues. The acting is mostly adequate with even Michael Cain proving limited and at times a bit wooden … although Nancy Allen proves much more enjoyable. However like the Giallo the movie tips it’s hat to; acting and performances aren’t the big draw, more so tension and style and well, the occasional bloody murder. The movie lacks the body-count of a fully fledged Italian thriller, and retains it’s own quirks, with the inclusion of a geeky science student (Keith Gordon) and a stereotypical Police chief (Dennis Franz). As a package though this delivers a gripping narrative with some genuinely impressive sequences, worthy of it’s legacy.
The Blu-ray from Arrow Video boasts a rather soft-focus but otherwise clean image. Colours are rather muted and overall it’s simply acceptable with no real ‘wow’ factor. More note-worthy is the sound, with a dramatic, perfectly implemented orchestral score and crisp dialogue, both in stereo and a punchy 5.1 HD Master Audio. I should add that the movie is uncut for the first time in the UK. Extras are plentiful with several featurettes, including a detailed making of as well as a photo gallery. There’s also a detailed booklet included that covers the director’s influences and an analysis of the movie by critic Maitland McDonagh. Again no commentary from De Palma which would have been great but as it stands this is decent treatment for a somewhat forgotten classic.
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