Biopics are trickier than they appear because how best can you distill the essence, and significance, of a person into two hours? We’ve edged away from the standard cradle-to-grave biopics more in favor of stories that hinge on monumental moments in a person’s life, meant to encapsulate their life both in micro and macro. Bohemian Rhapsody favors the former approach, which causes the movie to feel like it’s rushing through the cornerstones of Queen singer Freddie Mercury’s life. Even at over two hours, the movie feels like it has little time for things, often jumping into polished, well-edited montages of time progression. The creative birth of many of the band’s hits are treated as absurdly easy formations, going from a clap of hands and stomp of feet to “We Will Rock you,” or a bass line to “Another One Bites the Dust.” It’s like the movie is checking boxes for a biopic with an anxious eye toward the clock. Mercury’s homosexuality (he comes out as bisexual to his long-time girlfriend who corrects him and calls him gay) is given its due, not having been underplayed in an effort to court a more mainstream audience. Mercury’s sense of sexuality, and the struggle of his own acceptance, is essential to getting to know this flamboyant front man. Except several of these scenes feel mishandled, which is odd considering director Bryan Singer (X-Men) has often found parallels in big studio films for the gay experience. The movie seems to say if his band mates had only accepted him more then maybe he wouldn’t have fallen into promiscuity by a bad influence and thus contracted HIV. There are also some pat answers as well like a disapproving father. However, the faults of Bohemian Rhapsody are compensated by its virtues, none more so than the electric performance by Rami Malek (TV’s Mr. Robot) as Mercury. The actor struts and preens with infectious charisma, and a mouth full of Mercury’s oversized choppers, and he miraculously captures the powerful stage magic of his character. The concluding 1985 Live Aid performance is astounding to witness and a reflection of just how essential and virtuosic Mercury and company were as live performers. It’s a sustained set of several hits and the movie just sings to a close on the highest of high notes. Bohemian Rhapsody is carried by the music and performance of Mercury the character and Malek the actor. It will make you want to rock out to Queen on the car ride home.
Nate’s Grade: B-
By taking a page, or even the entire script from It’s a Wonderful Life, Shrek tackles a mid-life crises and wonders how life would be if he had never saved his lovely wife Fiona from her tower (hint: it sucks). He wants his life back and makes a deal with the devious Rumplestiltskin. Except Shrek wakes up in a world where he was never born. While generally better than the third feature, this is still a noticeable step below the first two Shrek features. The tiresome plot device feels more like material for a lazy direct-to-video sequel rather than the (supposed) final chapter to the series. The film wants to be reflective and tap into our inventory of attachment to these characters, but time and again the movie doesn’t go far beyond the “don’t know what you got until it’s gone” cliché. Gags still feel too safe, the energy feels too loose, and the overall feel of Shrek 4 is casual. The novelty is gone. This is a rather middling trip to that big happily ever after. The story, with its reflexive moralizing, just makes the whole film feel slight; Rumplestiltskin is a villain of wasted potential, the characters feel poorly incorporated, and the general time-travel concept implies that the filmmakers have run out of stories to tell. As expected, Shrek 4 looks great, but that’s the only thing great about this once vaulted fractured fairy tale franchise. If this is the final chapter, then let it go with some fading sense of dignity.
Nate’s Grade: B-
While never approaching the realm of good, I’ll admit that Mike Myers’ latest is not the cinematic abomination is has been hailed. I laughed a few times, though rare. Myers’ brand of comedy mixes puns, juvenile bathroom humor, slapstick, celebrity cameos (Ben Kingsley, why?!) and a certain level of self-aware absurdity (I don’t think Myers has found a penis joke that he didn’t enjoy). I feel that the comedy world has moved beyond Myers’ once popular brand of yuks. Thanks to Judd Apatow, we’ve transitioned to smart and tender character-based comedies. The threadbare plot relies takes too many self-indulgent and lazy detours. Why do we have to endure Guru Pitka (Myers) sing “More Than Words”? It’s not funny and just wastes time. Here’s an example of the lack of thought: Pitka wears a chastity belt but he can still get injured being hit in the groin. It’s a movie that doesn’t even remember its own gags. I’m always wary when a movie resorts to extended scenes of the characters cracking up and adding lines like, “I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time.” I have no qualms over crude comedy but it needs to be done with some planning to context and character. Watching someone get hit in the face with urine is not funny. Having pint-sized Verne Troyer get hit in the head is not funny the 80th time it happens. The movie never even satirizes the self-help industry. The Love Guru is too indulgent, too forced, too pun-heavy, too ill conceived, and far too stupid to succeed. I never thought I’d say this in a comedy that includes Myers, Stephen Colbert, Jim Gaffigan, John Oliver, Daniel Tosh, and Romany Malco, but Justin Timberlake is the funniest man on the screen as a daffy French-Canadian goalie, and that probably says enough.
Nate’s Grade: D+