Tag Archives: music

Movie Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

bohemian rhapsody posterIs this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Bohemian Rhapsody hopes that the charm and award-worthy performance of its star Rami Malek and strength of its music carries the film, and they mostly do. But rather than being “Bohemian Rhapsody,” this film is more like the more obscure Queen song “I’m in Love With My Car.”

In fact, most of the first half of the film centers around another song entirely, “Love of My Life,” which a young Freddie Mercury pens for his girlfriend Mary. For the first half of the film, she is the love of his life, his muse, and his guiding light. It’s a pretty by-the book romance. We meet him when he is still a young Farrokh Bulsara working at Heathrow Airport, who defies his Parsi immigrant parents by both adopting the name “Freddie” and pursuing music rather than a more stable career.

The film tries to check off a lot of boxes as though it’s a paint-by-numbers jukebox musical biopic off of an assembly line — and the first of these are the tragic romance between Freddie and Mary and Freddie’s relationship with his parents (set up so he can finally get approval from his disapproving father in the finale!) The problem is that you can feel the formula. And, rather than taking any one of these themes and developing it fully, in its attempts to be about everything, it’s actually about nothing. This is tragic, as the life of Freddy Mercury and the music of Queen deserves better than a Wikipedia-level recitation of facts.

Another checkbox is the repeated focus on “this band is a family” which if it were any more overt would require Vin Diesel to show up and ask for copyright infringement royalties on behalf of the Fast and Furious movies. Unfortunately, Freddy plays out front and Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon mostly show up as “the other guys in Queen” rather than having real personalities or character arcs. This is tragic, as each of them are rock gods in their own right and deserve more than to play backup to Rami Malek’s performance.

Another major issue simply checked-off (and possibly the most consequential) is Mercury’s sexuality and place as an icon of gay/queer/bi community. The first half of the film, he is presented just like any other heterosexual rock star but he’s definitely in love with Mary. But his personal story of coming out and coming to grips with his attraction to men is played a little strangely– as though it is shameful or tawdry, including a hookup with a man in a truck stop restroom. At the same time, they really play up his love with Mary and how she inspired some of his biggest songs.

And then, suddenly, he tries to talk to her and say “I think I’m bisexual”– to which she declares, “No, you’re gay.”

Ok.

And then the rest of the movie, he is gay. He pines for her, but it’s unclear what exactly his feelings are.

It’s really easy to read “bi-erasure” into that. It’s also indicative of the sheen that is used to gloss over all the weird rough patches that normal human beings have. I don’t deign to know what was in Freddie Mercury’s heart of hearts and how he viewed his own sexuality. But I am pretty much 100% sure it wasn’t as simple as just that.

The film also doesn’t do anything to really paint the picture of the stakes of all of this– it was a weird, wild world in the ’70s. For instance, in 1976, Elton John announced he was bi to Rolling Stone and went from rock’n’roll royalty with back-to-back-to-back #1 albums to a pariah whose next albums were record chart poison.

Mercury couldn’t be openly bi, or gay, comfortably in public. But the films plays it as only tabloid fodder and an annoyance but that’s basically it rather than an existential threat to the band and his career wrapped around a personal existential crisis. A better film would’ve introduced this story with Elton John, or a friendship with David Bowie and discussions about queer sexuality to give the audience an understanding of just how big the stakes were. It also was a missed opportunity for some character development for the other band members.

Another checkbox they seem to need to check off is Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis. However, as biopics are wont to do, they compress his diagnosis into the weeks before the band’s iconic Live Aid performance. . . and then the film is over with that as the climax. To be fair– it’s an amazing climax. But, as the tropiest of tropes, they depict Mercury coughing into a white handkerchief and seeing blood come up as code for “he’s sick with AIDS.”

At least they didn’t fall into the “dying of AIDS” trope trap. No doubt that had they gone through the next five years through Mercury’s death and had “The Show Must Go On” as the film’s climax, that would’ve happened. And far too often, queer characters in media contract AIDS and die as though it’s some sort of punishment or warning. So it’s good they don’t fall into that trope. But in so doing, they also fall into numerous others.

I’d say I expect better from Bryan Singer, but. . . I really can’t say that I do. He “gets it” as a gay man. But it’s not nuanced in any way, and the story we seem to be told is, “Freddy was closeted, then he was gay.”

Queen — as a band, a cultural force, a legend — is just so much more than this film covers. It tries to check off a lot of boxes, and so in its attempts to be about everything, it’s sort of about nothing.

It doesn’t have a super strong point of view– it presents these rock gods like a really great “Behind the Music”and all of the individuals seem a little too polished. Mercury is the only one with any edge at all, and even then we get the feeling we’re getting the truth only from a certain point of view.

This is the jukebox biopic America deserves (brash, fun, glossy, uncomplicated) but not the one it needs (smart, challenging, nuanced).

But I daresay anyone who doesn’t cheer/cry at the final “We Are the Champions” performance at Live Aid has a heart of stone.

This is destined to be a huge crowd-pleaser, but unfortunately presents only a small facet of the crown jewel of rock that Queen actually is.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Bodied

Prepare to be offended. The rap battle comedy/drama Bodied, executive produced by Eminem, is likely to push anyone’s buttons who watches it. While it gives an interesting look at the underground world of rap battles, it unfortunately is somewhat shallow and nihilistic in its views, It seemingly prefers to be about nothing other than how savage your rhyming bars can be as you put another person down. This is certainly entertaining, but those looking for a broader social commentary might want to look elsewhere. And any members of the PC police should leave their badges at the door.

Our main character is Adam (Calum Worthy), a college student and the son of famous Berkeley professor Merkin (Anthony Michael Hall) who is a darling of the literary criticism world, desperately trying to find his niche. He thinks he has found this in an academic study of underground battle rap, where he partners with a top battle rapper named “Behn Grymm.” (Jackie Long) Yes, that is a coded Fantastic Four reference, as he is a solid giant rock monster wall of the rap world. He IS The Thing. There are other incredibly nerdy references sprinkled throughout this film, as should be expected remembering that Eminem has repeatedly rapped about Superman, appeared as Batman and Robin in his “Without Me” video, and even contributed a Venom theme song to the recent film. Ok, maybe that last one we should forget.

Adam eventually finds himself pulled up onstage to participate in a rap battle rather than just studying it — and finds he’s actually pretty good at it. As he falls deeper into the rap world, he’s faced with ethical dilemmas along the way, from whether or not “the n word” is off limits to whether he should lie to his disapproving girlfriend. He joins a motley rap crew that includes Korean Prospek (Jonathan Park), Italian/Latino Che Corleon (Walter Perez), and female rapper Devine Write (Shoniqua Shandai) and it is fun to see this film’s take on what “diversity” means.

Unfortunately, the film falls into a (likely unintended) trope. Ever see a kung fu movie, tv show, comic book where a white person discovers they are somehow better at the ancient martial art than the people who invented it? Karate Kid, Iron Fist, The Matrix? This view shows up all over popular culture, and in this case, it’s the white person who is better at battle rap than all the people who came up with it. Ugh. Welcome to Orientalism, and specifically the “Mighty Whitey” trope.

And cue the discussion of cultural appropriation, which gets dissected plenty in this film. However, like most of the hard charges and questions the film puts out, none of them are ever satisfactorily answered. Which begs the question, what is even this film’s purpose? Is it just to be offensive? And is that, therefore, the essence of battle rap: there is no deeper meaning, it’s just insult comedy set to beats?

This film is the antithesis of political correctness. It celebrates how it insults people based on the race or background, but at least is equal opportunity in this, saving its worst put downs for white people. One rap battle between Adam and Prospek, he’s impressed that Adam correctly identified him as Korean with references to Korean food and comparing him to Kim Jong Un. “By rap battle standards, that’s politically correct,” he says.

There’s also a great conversation between Prospek and Devine where they both complain that the only insults they ever get are about their race and gender, respectively. They turn this on its head in one of the most satisfying parts of the film– however, in context of the critique of “self-deprecation as comedy” presented by Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, this film might want to rethink its choice here.

Its strongest critiques it saves for white liberals, and this is actually the heart of the film. Set largely between Oakland and the campus of UC Berkeley, our main character spends as much of his time trying to justify to his white friends why rap battle is worth serious inquiry. Interestingly enough, much like when he goes into rap battle mode to decide what put-downs are the best for his opponents, we see the group of white liberal students all sitting around trying to put each other down based on how racist or homophobic they are, using all of the buzzwords of political correctness. It’s a really great take on PC/ SJW culture– that essentially we’re just battle rappers in a different context. They’re not entirely wrong.

But, so PC police white liberals are too uptight. This we knew. And?

It’s really unfortunate that the film doesn’t seem to have a broader point of view than that. But maybe it’s just meant to be enjoyed, rather than thought about. It presents its subject as serious, but not really that serious. It, however, still hits hard, and should be taken seriously, if not literally.

3 out of 5 stars

Underrated: Pride Of Baghdad

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Pride of Baghdad



Prideofbaghdad.jpgPublished by Vertigo  in 2006, Pride of Baghdad is graphic novel that tells the story of four lions who escaped the Baghdad zoo after an American bombing in 2003. Although the tale is based on a true story, the points of view it is told from trend further toward fiction than truth. Written by Brian K Vaughn, with art by Nico Henrichon the graphic novel actually won IGN’s “Best Original Graphic Novel” award the year it was released, but there has been very little chatter about the book since – though my benchmark for that is the fact I found the book in a thrift shop for $5 and had never heard of it before, and so twelve years after it was released, I wanted to let you know about the book.

I’m a little behind.

Pride of  Baghdad can be enjoyed on multiple levels, making it the rare book that can provide a different story each time you read it depending on what you want to take away from it. If you’re looking for a family’s tale of survival in a strange and barely familiar world then you will find that here. If you want a questioning look at the nature of freedom, war, family, captivity… then you will also be able to experience that. Vaughn and Henrichon were able to deliver a multifaceted book that offers an astoundingly deep story juxtaposed against a survivalist tale that works even if you don’t want to delve further into the commentary on the deeper aspects of the tale – it’s also possible that you simply didn’t pick up on that commentary – no judgement here. I didn’t the first time I read it, which leads me to my final point: the more you read this, the better it gets.

Pride of Baghdad is a phenomenal work, and it’s featured here because I had never heard about it until I saw it in the thrift shop – that’s why this is Underrated.


Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Kennedy Center Honors Jazz Saxophonist, Composer, and Comic Writer Wayne Shorter

Cover art for Wayne Shorter’s “Emanon”

The Kennedy Center has named its 2018 honorees. This year’s recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors include country singer Reba McEntire, composer Philip Glass, Cher, and the creative team behind the musical Hamilton.

One stood out and has a connection to the comic industry, jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter. Shorter is a progenitor of jazz fusion and collaborated with Miles Davis, and he’s also written comic books too.

When Shorter was 15 he wrote and illustrated his own comic book with a ballpoint pen, that was 1949. Since then, he’s a 10-time Grammy winner and a highly regarded composer in modern jazz. Through that success in music Shorter held on to his teenage love of superheroes, sci-fi, and comics. His new release, Emanon, which comes out August 24th, includes an original graphic novel.

The graphic novel, co-written with Monica Sly and featuring art by Randy Duburke, is a cosmic-heroic odyssey. There just so happens to also be three discs of new music.

That music is by the Warner Shorter Quartet which features Shorter on soprano and tenor saxophones, Danilo Pérez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums. Disc one also features the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, a 34-piece ensemble, performing a suite composed and arranged by Shorter.

That suite has four movements, “Pegasus,” “Prometheus Unbound,” “Lotus,” and “The Three Marias,” each with their own theme in the graphic novel. It draws inspiration from the concept of a multiverse and features a character names Emanon (No Name backwards) standing in for Shorter. The story alludes to dystopian oppression taking ideas from Shorter’s anchoring in Buddhist teachings.

This year’s ceremony will take place Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018 and will be broadcast on CBS December 26 at 8 p.m. ET.

wayne shorter

Deadpool 2’s Original Motion Picture Score Gets a Picture Disc Vinyl and Parental Advisory Warning

Fans of the Deadpool 2 Original Motion Picture Score (released via Sony Music Masterworks) can get excited for its official vinyl release on August 17, 2018. Pre-orders for the 180-gram single-disc picture vinyl record is now open.

The first ever “parental guidance” labeled score album features music from award-winning composer, Tyler Bates (John Wick, Guardians of the Galaxy, Watchmen) and contains popular explicit numbers such as “Holy S*** Balls” and “Make the Whole World our B***”. The album is currently available to stream or download digitally.

DEADPOOL 2 (Original Motion Picture Score) tracklist:

  1. X-Men Arrive
  2. Fighting Dirty
  3. Hello Super Powers
  4. Escape
  5. Vanessa
  6. Weasel Interrogation
  7. Holy S*** Balls
  8. Mutant Convoy
  9. The Name is Cable
  10. Sorry for Your Loss
  11. You Can’t Stop this Mother F*****
  12. Ice Box
  13. Docking
  14. Make the Whole World our B****
  15. Pity D***
  16. Knock Knock
  17. Let Me In
  18. Maximum Effort
  19. The Orphanage
  20. Cable Flashback
  21. Genuine High Grade Lead
  22. Courage Mother F*****

Deftones’ Chino Moreno Unveils “Brief Exchange,” a Solo Track in Celebration of Dark Nights: Metal

Chino Moreno from Deftones has released a solo track entitled “Brief Exchange,” inspired by DC Entertainment’s new graphic novel Dark Nights: Metal: Deluxe Edition available now in comic book shops, bookstores and digitally on Tuesday, June 12. This also marks Moreno’s first collaboration with DC.

This deluxe hardcover collects issues #1-6 of the Dark Nights: Metal monthly series and is written and drawn by the best-selling creative team of writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. Batman has uncovered an ancient and evil mystery… One that could destroy the very fabric of the DC Universe! A Dark Multiverse has been revealed, full of devastating threats and vile creatures that have been loosed upon the DCU, with only The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes rising to the challenge of defending it!

Produced by Grammy Award-winning icon Mike Elizondo and film composer and former Marilyn Manson guitarist Tyler Bates, “Brief Exchange” spotlights Moreno.

“Brief Exchange” features Bates on guitar, Elizondo on bass and Gil Sharone from Dillinger Escape Plan, Puscifer behind the drum kit. Its dark lyrics remain befitting of the graphic novel’s themes. “Brief Exchange” showcases yet another facet of one of rock music’s most prolific forces.

This release marks the 2nd in this series of tracks inspired by DC Comics’ new graphic novel, beginning with “Red Death” by Brann Dailor—co-vocalist, drummer, and co-founder of Grammy Award-winning heavy rock juggernaut  Mastodon. “Red Death” is available now.

The Weatherman Inspires an Original, Synthwave Soundtrack

Image Comics has announced an original soundtrack for The Weatherman curated by synthwave phenomenon Magic Sword and featuring song contributions from today’s hottest synthwave artists including…

This original soundtrack will kick-off The Weatherman #1 anticipation with Magic Sword’s song “Colossus”.

SDCC 2018: Lights’ Skin&Earth will Feature Exclusive Access to New Art, Bonus Materials, and Album

Alt-pop phenom and comics artist Lights has announced the graphic novel edition of her ground-breaking comic series Skin&Earth, set for release this July via Dynamite Entertainment. The six-issue story arc, written and illustrated in its entirety by Lights and in conjunction with last fall’s Skin&Earth album, is collected in a 200-page hardcover edition and trade paperback, along with a personal introduction by Lights, digital codes giving access to the music, and additional variant art, including a contribution by comic heavyweight, Jim Lee. The comic series and corresponding album are combined here for the first time in this interactive edition, which will be premiered by Lights at 2018 San Diego Comic Con.

The collected edition includes:

  • All six issues of the Skin&Earth comic book
  • Interactive ShareCodes to access the full album, music videos and other bonus content
  • Links to merch from the series
  • Variant art from Jim Lee, Joby Harris, Derek Lewis, Gianna Rose, and Matt Mitchell
  • New bonus content
  • Personal introduction from Lights
  • Dustjacket and special cover

Panels to Chords: Talking Instrumental with Creator Dave Chisholm

In this latest episode, Ben and Madi chat with the creator of the musical comic Instrumental, Dave Chisholm. He tells us about how the book came to be and how creating a concept album adds a new layer to the reading experience.

Instrumental is available from Z2 Comics and can be purchased at Amazon, local comic shops and bookstores.

The concept album is available at Bandcamp:

 

Deadpool and Céline Dion Team Up

Music superstar Céline Dion is gearing up for another movie soundtrack hit as her “Ashes” is featured on the Deadpool 2 soundtrack. Yes, Dion is giving Deadpool some music to rock out to. Canadians have to stick together.

Deadpool 2 is in theaters May 18.

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