Bohemian Rhapsody: Film Review

Bohemian Rhapsody (2) - In Theatres

One of the films I was most excited for this year was Bohemian Rhapsody. The film is a biopic on the lead singer of legendary rock and roll band ‘Queen’: Freddy Mercury; up to and including the band’s legendary performance at the Live Aid concert in 1985. Queen was a huge part of my life growing up. My Dad is a huge fan, so I’ve been exposed to the band since before I could speak. They mean a lot to me, so when I heard that Rami Malek, Elliot from Mr. Robot, was going to be playing the iconic front man himself, I was very excited. The film is executive produced by the surviving members of the band, and Rami Malek is praised by them along with critics; even tipped for the Best Actor award at the 2019 Oscars.

I can’t stress enough how biased I am when it comes to this movie (and, admittedly, most others). Queen is a big deal for me, and I went into this one with really high expectations, some of which were met and some of which were very much not. I thought Malek was exceptional in the role of Freddy Mercury; an opinion not shared with my parents. According to my parents, and some others with whom I’ve broached the subject, Freddy Mercury is actually ill-portrayed in this film. By most accounts, Freddy was a generally more reserved character when he was off stage, needing the fuel of alcohol and drugs in order to transfer his on stage behavior to his personal life. I don’t know to what extent I can speak with expertise here; I didn’t know Freddy. People who were in Freddy’s personal life attest to a faithful portrayal, but I guess this is one of those instances where we can’t really know. Make no mistake, Malek is incredible in the role of a diva, but the question remains unanswered as to whether or not the writing of the film is true to the man. Other performances are very strong, including the other members of the band, and, most notable in my opinion, that of Lucy Boynton, who plays Mary. Ms. Boyton, who portrays a character called Rafina in one of my favorite movies of all time, Sing Street, is very strong in the role of Mercury’s unfortunate wife before his sexuality was revealed. Their relationship is one of the brightest parts of the film.

To be frank, the way they’ve weaved some of the music into the film is below average. The touring montages are uninspiring, and some of the songs they’ve chosen to either omit or absolve of emotional responsibility are equally annoying. Under Pressure is featured for about ten seconds. Somebody to Love is heard in the opening twenty, and never heard of again. Crazy Little Thing Called Love isn’t in the film, period. Live Aid is replicated well, almost to the gesture. I got goosebumps during We Are the Champions. Malek’s performance during the whole sequence is quite obviously intended to repeat the event to the tee, something which he succeeds in doing to strong effect. I can’t get over the fact that they decided to put the lyrics of each song at he bottom of the screen in karaoke style. Subtitles would have been totally fine, I’d have had no issue, and for that matter the rest of the film is subtitled. It gets annoying when you make the letters bold and make them pink as they’re said.

This film is superbly well written for the most part. Some argue that the wittiness and quick humor of the film underscores the lack of faithfulness in representation, and while they might not be wrong, it’s enjoyable to watch and hear. The problem in the writing, and it’s a little bit of a big deal, is the pacing. As per the film, Queen went from playing pubs and colleges to touring America in about ten onscreen minutes. People argue that this was done intentionally, skipping over Queen’s journey to focus on Freddy Mercury’s journey. Even if this is the case, it doesn’t come across at all well. There are a few scenes that don’t suffer from this problem with pace. There are a few examples of first class scenes; most of the scenes between Freddy and Mary, all of the scenes that take place in either the producer’s or manager’s offices, and all of the songwriting scenes are examples of absolute highest quality work from cast and crew. If they had maintained a slightly more consistent level at that point, it could’ve made a much better film.

-Aman Datta

Aman’s Rating: /100                                                                               Aryamaan’s Rating: N/A

The Fundamentals Of Caring: Film Review

The Fundamentals of Caring 2 - Film Review

Okay standard disclaimer. The following film review is a resoundingly positive account of what is, by all measures, a technically meh movie. The Fundamentals of Caring is a Netflix Original starring Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez, and Craig Roberts in lead roles. The film revolves around Rudd and Robert’s characters, Ben and Trevor, one of whom is a registered caregiver while the other is a teenage boy suffering from a physical disability. Paranoia and fear keep Trevor confined to that which he knows, until Ben, who has his own hidden tragedies, comes into his life and tries to add some excitement to it. The film was released in 2016, and is written and directed by second-time-around creator Rob Burnett.

Sweet Jesus. What to say about this movie? I guess I should probably start by saying that it’s not a masterpiece by any means. From a technical standpoint, the film is rooted firmly in a storytelling safe-ground. Running for not much longer than an hour and a half, The Fundamentals of Caring is a simple, uncomplicated endeavor from Netflix, avoiding risks at all costs (not something Netflix are known for). There is an argument to be made that the film lacks a distinct conflict, the little that does brew up quelled instantly by humorous overturn or forgotten about completely.

However, there is a further argument to be made, which I would make most profusely, that the minimalistic nature of the narrative is what is beautiful about the film. It doesn’t drown itself in dead-end storylines and subplots that bore the audience to death, rather it fixes itself tightly to the simple, innocent story it has and squeezes the authenticity out of it until no more can be yielded. The story is simple but gleefully intoxicating, as Trevor and Ben make their way across the US on their epic journey to “the world’s deepest pit.” Seriously. That’s a thing. Lord of The Rings fans might pull out shovels and start digging into their sofas, looking desperately for interwoven plot-points and deeply complex and strict continuity, but this film ignores them and makes you smile with a beautifully benign story. I do think it could have gone on longer. It seems a shame to me that I’ll never know more about these characters, they exude a priceless likability that lingers well after the credits roll

The credit for that has to go to the writing. The screenplay is decent overall, with the exception of a couple wonderful dialogues. The style of humor is wonderful, just wonderful, and I think it might be that which gives rise to characters that really connect and anchor into you. It’s not an easy feat in an hour and a half, but these are characters I’ll remember for a while yet. Further credit would have to the actors, who do solid jobs. Paul Rudd, charming as ever, starts off a bit rocky and uninteresting. The change in his character is meteoric after interaction with Trevor, which is another testament to quality storyboarding from the writers. Rudd and Craig’s comedic timing and chemistry is incredible, making this movie absolutely jaw-droppingly funny. I just makes me wish they’d put more time into elongating our exposure to the wonderful characters they’d dreamt up. Jonathan Evison, who wrote the novel the film was loosely based on, might feel sold short only by the fact that more could have been done.

There are a lot of dramadies out there that don’t leave an impression. This is not one of those films. The Fundamentals of Caring is heartfelt, heartwarming, and goddamned hilarious. Seriously. I saw the film like an hour ago and I’m still smiling at the beautiful brand of comedy that Craig Roberts ‘pounds ten feet into the ground’ (watch the movie you’ll get it). The reason we watch film is to have an impact made on us. Sometimes filmmakers forget about that obligation of theirs: they need to make us think, and they need to make us care. The Fundamentals of Caring follows through on exactly what it promises in its title, and I promise you it is worth your time. There is no one I would not recommend this film to.

-Aman Datta

Aman’s Rating: 82/100                                                                       Aryamaan’s Rating: N/A

When Harry Met Sally: Film Review

When Harry Met Sally - Film Review

When Harry Met Sally is a romantic comedy, released in 1989 to critical and commercial success. The film follows the relationship between two unlikely friends, Harry and Sally (Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan), who connect through a mutual friend and embark on a series of unlikely meetings over the next decade, wrestling with what their relationship means. The film explores the nature of relationships, asking the question of how love reveals itself, even to those who try to resist it.

Frankly, the film boasts one of the most well written screenplays I’ve ever had the pleasure to take in. It has just the right combination of traditional rom-com elements; principally the certifiable level of cheese and wisecracks; as well as genuine sophistication in it’s plot devices and transitional shots. The standout aspect of the writing was definitely the dialogue. Head screenwriter Nora Ephron garnered an academy award nomination for her work, in film dominated by snappy, intelligent dialogue, to the extent that I was left wondering how Aaron Sorkin could possible have written this film before A Few Good Men was even conceived. Its no small surprise, therefore, that the man who directed the film would go on to be a longtime collaborator of Sorkin’s. I speak, of course, of Rob Reiner, who was also nominated for a Golden Globe for outstanding direction that year. Reiner’s rubberstamp is obvious, particularly in Crystal’s deliveries and the signature tracking shots.

On a more personal, or at any rate, less technical level, the film really manages to sell the story. Rom-coms don’t historically have an affinity with nuance and sophistication. The exceptions, however, are those that manage to blend a theoretically more trivial plotline the sincerity and gravitas, and When Harry Met Sally most certainly does that. Crystal and Ryan were both nominated alongside their director for respective Golden Globes, as a result of performances that brought depth to their characters’ internal struggles. They are aided in the process by solid shifts from Bruno Kirby and, incredibly, Carrie Fisher (rest in peace General Organa); who play classic seconds to our main couple. The inclusion of these characters does, at first, seem somewhat unnecessary. They serve at first only to set the scenarios of during the time jumps at the beginning of the film, for which no more than a faceless cameo would have been required. Only later in the film does their importance come to light; without spoiling, one could say that their motivations prove instrumental in the inevitable resolution to Harry and Sally’s apprehension to starting a relationship.

That apprehension is what allows the writing to wring the most out of the film, a truly electric level of tension for which the credit must go to Mr. Reiner. The whole idea of the film is that it is not possible for men and women to be ‘just friends’, suggesting that sexual desire inevitably trumps social barriers. This premise is fascinating in and of itself, especially as a teenager of the 21st century, where casual ‘hookup culture’ tends to eliminate the tendency for meaningful relationship in the youth. The film goes on to establish a relationship between the two protagonists that oozes romantic tension, far more so than your average romantic comedy. The cinematography is chiefly responsible for this, complimented, of course, by excellent performances by Crystal and Ryan. Reiner has chosen tight focus shots throughout the film, often in filler scenes and even in some places that would ordinarily come across as downright strange, such as development track shots. The chemistry between the two actors and a masterful use of visual signals sells their relationship in a way that few other rom-coms ever have, selling the story to the audience and maximizing the impact of the same.

It’s easy to forget in a rom-com that the stories they tell can have weight, and if told properly, can capture an audience’s attention the way no other genre is capable. Rom-coms tell stories of the most relatable, most authentic kinds, that, because of a culture of apathy towards those stories, have been deemed unsophisticated. Love, subsequent awkwardness, and subsequent mistakes are a common thing. Just because the way it happens can be funny doesn’t have to make it less real, and When Harry Met Sally proved beyond a doubt that when that kind of story is told the right way, the result can be special. A real treat, full of overwhelmingly smart dialogue, personable characters, and a situation that provokes pause between laughs. That, is what rom-com filmmaking should be.

-Aman Datta

Aman’s Rating: 83/100                                                                     Aryamaan’s Rating: 76/100

Philadelphia: Film Review

Philadelphia - Film Review

Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, is a film about a lawyer who is fired from his firm as a result of a combination of his homosexuality and his diagnosis with AIDS. As Andy (Hanks) seeks compensation for wrongful termination, he enlists the help of rival lawyer and unabashed homophobe Joe Miller (Washington) in a suit against one of the most influential law firms in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Andy’s health deteriorates, with his family at his side. The film was released to warm critical reception, including two Oscar wins and three more nominations.

I’m honestly a little mixed about this one. On one hand, Philadelphia is a sharply written and sharply performed piece of film, with a potent message and well thought out storyline. What’s not to like? On the other hand, the film can get a little wacky and unclear, on more than a few instances. There’s a solid five-minute-long sequence involving Andy narrating an opera piece, while Denzel sits there mirroring my confusion. Similarly, there are times where the soundtrack comes across as out of place, such as in the aforementioned scene and in moments earlier in the film. Of course it’s possible that these scenes had more to them than met my eye, it could have gone over my head, but in the moment it reads like a lack of clarity in the director’s head, which detracted from the overall potency of the film.

That’s not to say the film was generally ineffective. For the most part, the film is engaging, through Hanks’ and Washington’s collectively excellent performances and a very well penned screenplay. There are moments, especially in the first half hour, where we could very easily have been watching a Rob Reiner film, with moments of deadly focus integrated into a witty scaffolding. As well as the screenplay, the writers have done an impeccable job on development of their characters, supplemented by strong performances. Hanks, who did of course win the Oscar for Best Actor, is exquisite, delivering a layered and emotional performance as the gentle Andrew Beckett. Washington is not to be forgotten, though the undersold stars of the film are the supporting cast, who do a phenomenal job padding the corners on a thoroughly well performed film.

Possibly the greatest triumph of the film, however, is its exploration on a conceptual level. This is a film way, way ahead of it’s time. A film released in 1993 speaking out against homophobia and AIDS is a rarity, and the information and representation the film imparts is nothing short of public service. There’s something to the context of a black man standing up for the rights of a homosexual man that warms the heart, made even more layered by the arc of the black man’s perspective on the subject of homosexuality and AIDS in general. The quality of the writing is high enough that the film navigates the taboos of the time with sensitivity and awareness.

This is a weird one. I’m in awe of the writers of this film, with the way they’ve discussed such a topic at such a time in such a rounded and sensitive way. The performances are exhilarating, and the character arcs are excellent. This should’ve been an exceptional film. So why wasn’t it? It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what was off about the film. I put it down to some poor decisions from the director in terms of some strange sound effect and some weird scenes overall. It’s a shame that these would mar what could have been a truly great film. Me finding them weird is not a guarantee that you’ll find it weird, again it’s possible that it just went over my head, so I would definitely recommend this film.

-Aman Datta

Aman’s Rating: 73/100                                                                      Aryamaan’s Rating: 83/100