Showing posts with label Small Fry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Small Fry. Show all posts

Friday, November 9, 2018

"Bohemian Rhapsody" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody" as well as DVDs "Sorry to Bother You" and "Eighth Grade." The Book of the Week is "Small Fry," a memoir by Steve Jobs' daughter. I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Ascent." ]

Bohemian Rhapsody

Biopic on the ascent to fame and personal struggles of singer Freddie Mercury.

Biopics are not easy to make.  Well, good ones, that is.  An actor must walk a fine line between characterization and caricature and for the first half of this film I was thinking Rami Malek's Freddie was a bit much.  I think it was the teeth, which is funny because Malek looks so much like Freddie anyway with or without the fake teeth.  The teeth were a distraction because Malek was forever running his tongue over them.  But as the film progressed, he grew on me.  And with the final performance at Live Aid, he had me.  Teeth or no teeth, Malek had Freddie's performances down.

Freddie Mercury (Malek) was an unlikely rock star.  Born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar to Parsis parents who practiced the Zoroastrian religion, he spent most of his young life in India.  At age 17, he and his parents fled to Britain during the Zanzibar Revolution.  Freddie had already been a part of rock bands when he was in school but the film doesn't cover any of that.  

The film begins with a teenage Freddie hanging out at rock clubs in London in 1970 where he met guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) who were part of a band called Smile.  When Freddie learned that their lead singer had just quit Freddie asked to join. With his buck teeth and unruly hair, May and Taylor were skeptical but then Freddie, never shy, belted out a song. He was in. Bassist John Deacon (Joe Mazzello) was brought in, Queen was born and the rest is history.

Though Freddie met Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), lived with her for several years and called her "the love of my life," Mercury was gay, and eventually succumbed to aids.

Written by Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan and directed by Bryan Singer (who was actually fired for bad behavior and the film was finished by Dexter Fletcher), I had a difficult time thinking a film could be PG-13 and truthfully tell the story of Freddie Mercury.  His life was hardly PG -13. And how do you boil a life like Freddie Mercury's down into a two hour film? But even though the film was largely superficial and I had my misgivings, it grew on me, just like those teeth. 

Despite the teeth, Rami Malek really does manage to transcend caricature and creates real poignancy, especially at the end of the film when Mercury's career was waning and he triumphed at Live Aid. If you are not a fan of the TV series "Mr. Robot (for which Malek won many awards)," you might not be familiar with Malek, who has had roles in feature films but is not a household name.  This film will probably solve that problem.

Lucy Boynton is the epitome of the English Rose (she and Malek are an item in real life), but her role is small considering what a huge role Mary Austin played in Mercury's life. Likewise, I have to say that, though appearance wise Lee, Hardy and Mazzello channel their real life counterparts of May, Taylor and Deacon, they don't really have much to do except perform as members of the band, despite the fact that Brian May is the driving force behind this film.  On a talk show recently, Lee reported that when May saw him in costume, wig and full rock star regalia, he was silent for a full three minutes before saying that he was seeing himself from 40 years ago. 

Mike Myers also makes a cameo appearance as a record executive who doesn't get "Bohemian Rhapsody," and says who would want to head bang to that?  A funny homage to his "Wayne's World" head banging scene to that song. 

Strangely, I actually have a personal connection to Freddie Mercury. 

Well, not personal personal - I never met the guy nor saw the band perform - but he plays an important part in my memories.  Hubby, two kids, two dogs and I were headed back from Texas from what could only be called the trip from hell (and I am not even going to get into our smuggling the dogs into a hotel room, their barking and scratching alerting the hotel manager who found us in the dining room, asked us to remove the dogs, and our putting them in the car where one of them chewed through one of the seat belts in our brand new car.  Like I said, I am not even going to get into that). 

We had traveled to Hubby's parents house over Easter break to pick up a classic car from his Dad.  Caravanning back, the classic car had not one flat tire, but two, one of which was in a Texas thunderstorm so scary and massive that while Hubby was outside in the storm changing the tire, from the back seat our young son cried "We're all going to die here!"  But we didn't and on we trekked until the car blew up somewhere in Arizona and we had to leave it there for repair.  Now we only had one day to get home from Arizona to Central California (Hubby and I had to work and the kids had school), and on that last day as we pressed on and on, we heard that Freddie Mercury had died.  Now you have to imagine life without the Internet.  There was no Twitter or Facebook in 1991 and cell phones were not common so we had no idea that Freddie Mercury was dying.  So that was a shock.  It was also a shock to the world so the radio played nothing but Queen songs that entire day. 

So as we headed home on that grueling drive, we had Freddie with us.  Sad to lose him but there was almost comfort and joy in that. It was comforting to know what a great legacy he left behind and those Queen songs were so damn joyful. You couldn't help but feel good when you listened to that music. As for that car, we never did drive it!

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is probably not the definitive biopic of Queen or Mercury, but Malek's performance (in spite of the teeth) and that great Queen music makes this a must see.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Sorry to Bother You (2018)

African American telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) figures out the key to success - talk like a white man on the phone.

Set in present day Oakland, but a sort of stranger version of Oakland, Cassius Green certainly needs a job. He is so down and out he lives with this girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), in his uncle's garage, for heaven's sake. He talks his way into a telemarketing job at RegalView and is really happy to get it. I guess if you live in a garage, a telemarketing job looks good.  At RegalView, he starts out selling encyclopedias and is told to "stick to the script" and if he does he can become a Power Caller.  Those are the people who get to hang out on the upper floors and who make the big money. Cassius doesn't do that well until Langston (Danny Glover), an older telemarketer, gives him a tip.  Make yourself sound white.  

What's a white voice?  According to Langston, a white voice sounds like you don't have a care in the world.  It's breezy, worry free.  Cassius eventually makes it to Power Caller, discovers his job "up there" is to to sell the "Worry Free" lifestyle of food and shelter in exchange for being sold into slavery to foreign countries and discovers that he has literally sold himself into slavery.  This is a modern day Faustian tale but it's funny and original.

Funny, yes, but dark. This is a dark comedy that reminded me of "Downsizing," about people who are willing to go to great lengths to make their lives better, but this one is much darker and much funnier. And there is a lot going on in this film. Stanfield does a good job of portraying a guy who so desperately wants to make it that he sells his soul to the devil, and the film, written and directed by Boots Riley, is an original satire and I was all in and enjoying it until the Equisapiens showed up.  These are part-human-part-horse-people and I can't say too much about them or I will ruin the twist but let's just say when they turned up the film lost me.

Rosy the Reviewer original and subversive idea that got lost in a too over-the-top ending. I don't like saying "Huh?" after investing almost two hours in a film.

Eighth Grade (2018)

The trials and tribulations of eighth grade.

Here is another one of those movies where I have to ask myself, "What the hell am I doing here?" What's a woman of a certain age doing watching a film about being in eighth grade?  Well, believe it or not, I was there once and I can say from this vantage point, after seeing this film, nothing much has changed.

Ah, eighth grade.  Ah, middle school.  Two words that for many of us is synonymous with hell.  Eighth grade is that last grade before high school and they don't call it middle school for nothing.  Middle school is that time when we are literally in the middle with one foot into full blown teenagedom but another foot still in childhood.  When you are 13 you are halfway between Disney Princess and Spin the Bottle. I remember getting my first Barbie Doll when I was 12 but also wanting my crush of the moment to kiss me "like in the movies!"  It's also a time when rebellion starts. That's when my son started saying "So?" and "Fine!" on a daily basis and pretty much was his main interaction with me.

Actually, speaking of myself, which I know I do often, I didn't get to experience being the top dog at my middle school.  You see, when I went to school in the dark ages, middle school was called junior high and it was 7th, 8th and 9th grades. I remember looking at the 9th graders and thinking they were so mature.  They were the top dogs.  But I never got to be a top dog 9th grader because, wouldn't you know, the year I went into 9th grade was the year some idiot decided the high school was now going to be 9-12 instead of 10-12 and so instead of being a top dog 9th grader in my junior high I went from a nobody 8th grader in junior high to an even bigger nobody as a freshman in high school.

OK, so enough about me.  I guess I should start talking about the movie!

Kayla (Elsie Fisher) is an introverted girl who lives with her single Dad (Josh Hamilton) who is kind and trying to understand her but basically clueless which is just how our parents seem when we are in middle school.  It's funny that her father doesn't remember eighth grade because he would then realize trying to understand what is going on with an eighth grader is futile because even she doesn't know. When it comes to her interactions with the cool kids at school, Kayla is awkward and unsure of herself.  But when she is alone, she films a vlog and gives advice to whomever might be watching and young Kayla is surprisingly wise.  She talks about the importance of "putting yourself out there" and having confidence ("Act 'as if.' You can't be brave without being scared.")  Kayla's vlog is her confident self, the person she wants to be and belies her everyday self in middle school.  The film follows Kayla in her last days at school in eighth grade before she heads off to high school.

So I might briefly ask myself again "What the hell am I doing watching a film about a 13-year-old girl?" but realize I am watching a film that we can all relate to because we were all 13 once.  And from my story that I bored you with earlier, I could actually relate to this film more than some of my other contemporaries because I went from eighth grade directly over to the high school just as young Kayla is going to do.  However, I know that the road to adulthood has become more treacherous for kids than it was in my day.  

This film taps into all of those primal feelings and need for acceptance that most kids go through and that we experience throughout life - the need to be seen and validated. The film, written and directed by Bo Burnham, brilliantly brings back all of the anxieties and awkwardness of those years before we learned to deal with that stuff.  I can't say any boy asked me if I knew how to give a blowjob as the boy in the film asks Kayla, but like I said, times have changed. The scene where Kayla looks up on the Internet how to do it and then starts to practice on a banana when her dad walks into the kitchen is classic.

Elsie Fisher is a triumph in this film. She brings Kayla to life and makes her so real that no matter what your age (and I think teenage girls should see this film), you will see yourself in this film. But Burnham also deserves props for a real life script that captures the day-to-day reality of today's middle schoolers and reminds us that some things never change - middle school is hell but hang in there, it gets better. And don't ask me how a guy can tap into the mind and life of a young girl because it doesn't matter.  He just does. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...I may not want to relive eighth grade in real life but I would relive this film over and over.  It's that good.  No matter what your age, don't miss it.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

120 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Ascent (1977)

During WW II two Soviet partisans leave their compatriots to find food.  When they are captured by the Nazis their loyalties are tested.

Russian partisans Sotnikov (Boris Plotnikov) and Rybak (Vladimir Gostyukhin) leave their troops to find food but are spotted by a German patrol.  After a gunfight in the snow, the two men get away but Sotnikov is shot in the leg.  Rybak takes Sotnikov to a nearby house where Demchikha (Lyudmila Polyakova) and her three children live.  But the Germans find them there and take them prisoner along with Demchikha.

They are all taken to German headquarters where Sotnikov is interrogated by Portnov (Anatoli Solonitsyn), a local collaborator and former Soviet children's choirmaster who is now the head of the local police loyal to the Germans. When Sotnikov refuses to answer Portnov's questions, he is brutally tortured but gives up no information. However, Rybak declares he wants to live and tells as much as he thinks the police already know, hoping to live so he can escape later but to no avail. The next morning, all are led out to be hanged but at the last minute Rybak persuades Portnov and the Germans to let him join the police. He does, and Sotnikov and the others are executed.  But it's a lonely and sad victory for Rybak.  He saved himself but what kind of a life does a coward live?  He will forever be a prisoner in his own mind.
Where Sotnikov stood strong to the end, Rybak is now left to face the ridicule and contempt of the villagers as well as his own cowardice.
Directed by Lariso Shepitko, one of few Russian women directors (sadly, she was killed in a car accident at the age of 40 leaving only four films behind), this film is one of those grueling films where nothing good happens and everything goes from bad to worse. It's all about winter and starving and snow and torture and brutality.  Sheesh.  But it's also a stark morality play about bravery, cowardice, betrayal and guilt, and in case you didn't get it from the title, martyrdom and Christianity.

Why it's a Must See: "[This film] is one of the most powerful of all films that have war as their background."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...Powerful but grim.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (2018)

If you thought it would have been cool to have been Steve Jobs' kid, you would be wrong.

Lisa's parents - Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan - were childhood sweethearts.  They never married and Jobs even disavowed his daughter early in her life and of and on as she grew. When her parents broke up, Lisa's mother lived a hardscrabble life (Jobs didn't help her until much later) and Lisa rarely saw her father.  But as she grew older, Jobs took more of an interest in her and started helping her and her mother and Lisa's life became a strange combination of mansions, vacations and private schools coupled with her mother's less than rich lifestyle and her father's cold unpredictable behavior.

"There was a thin line between civility and cruelty in him, between what did and did not set him off."

Lisa yearned for her father's approval.

"He did not want to be our protector, but he dabbled in it.  The more he approached and pulled away, the more I wanted him to spread a vast, fine net below us."

This is not a biography of Steve Jobs.  

It's Lisa's story, but it's also a story that anyone can relate to who has felt rejected by one's parent. It's also a story of being outside looking in, wanting to be loved by her father and to be a part of his family but never feeling like she was, being poor when her father was one of the richest men in the world. 

Brennan-Jobs tells a poignant story of dealing with her feelings of illegitimacy and sadness as she tried to be what her father wanted her to be.  However, despite the ups and downs of having a father who was socially awkward and who didn't parent in a giving way, a mother who was not happy with her life and Lisa's own less than stellar school years, Lisa went to Harvard and appears to have made a happy life for herself and has found some clarity and peace about her Dad.

There is a poignancy and irony to the title of the book.  Jobs was a mercurial man who turned his attention and affection for Lisa off and on. "Small fry" comes from his nickname for her when his attention and affection was on.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Brennan-Jobs is a good writer with an interesting story to tell.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 


"Can You Ever Forgive Me?"


The Week in Reviews
(What To See and What To Avoid)

the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project" 

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Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.