I always forget how many truly great songs Queen have had. The trailer alone for this film packed half a dozen songs together into a stunning mashup with incredible editing. Then you’ve got the story of the band, and particularly Freddie Mercury which gives more than enough story. Sadly, while the material is all there for a 10/10, the film only manages to get to 8/10. There were a few too many elements that I felt needed just one more polish – dialogue and direction were at times just too obvious, most of the characters were too thinly painted (particularly Paul and Mary) and I don’t think there was really a commitment about how to handle Freddie’s sexuality. Not to mention quite a lot of artistic licence with history.
BUT while these things niggle from the point of view of making an outstanding film, they don’t detract from the pure enjoyment of watching this film. I was entertained throughout, and firmly convinced of the joy and heartbreak of Freddie and Queen’s music. I watched most of the last 20 minutes with both a huge grin and streaming tears. I’m writing this a couple of hours later with Queen thumping out of the stereo and I’ve stopped typing several times just to sing along.
A Star is Born
First of all I want to say that Lady Gaga is absolutely phenomenal in this film. I knew she could act a bit from her tv work, but here she is a full blown, award worthy actress. The character has depth and complexity, she is clearly saying one thing while thinking another, and often not even really knowing how feels. It is a stunning performance, and I’m just disappointed that the rest of the film didn’t feel as worthy of her talents.
The biggest problem for me was that I felt the film presented itself as a love story and music film, and didn’t dig hard enough into the issues of exploitation and power dynamics. The issues were there, but never challenged and explored, continually sidestepped with a rousing musical number or emotionally manipulative confrontation on a different subject. I felt uncomfortable the whole time, even when I was also enjoying the music and spectacle. Was Ally being exploited by the older star who found his own passion for music and life reinvigorated by her as a muse and the music industry trying to change her image to sell more records. Or was Ally very aware of that and playing the game to her own gain? From their very first meeting Ally and Jack set off all my “me too” alarm bells with a famous, older, drunk man picking up a younger woman and offering her a path to her dreams. Maybe neither side felt there was a trade being done, but there was clearly a power imbalance at the heart of their relationship and I don’t think the film addressed that at all, it just romanticised everything. I would have much preferred if Ally hadn’t known who he was when they first met and she could obviously fall in love with the person rather than any uncertainty. Add to that the timeframe within the film felt rushed, but the film itself dragged. I spent the whole film feeling uncomfortable and the more I think about it, the more frustrated I get.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (netflix)
This is actually five short films stuck together and I’m honestly not sure whether I liked it or not. I watched the first 4 stories back to back one evening and I was utterly bored. But then I finished off the fifth one and I found myself rather charmed by it, and also thinking back fondly on the sections that previously I’d found quite dull. It’s a great cast of character actors, all giving it there all to bring characters to life so quickly. The stories are fairly minimal, but that works well to celebrate the acting and not outstay the welcome on any messages. There’s some lovely directing and cinematography as well. Maybe it’s best to watch each one individually.
Rewatches – I had a day of watching Disney films and playing with Lego. It was brilliant.
Up – Another really really amazing film from Pixar. The opening was really beautiful, similar to Wall-E in telling a meaningful story with very few words. There’s a slight disconnect between the beauty of the opening and then the more standard Disney style adventure, which I found a little tricky to process. But once I settled into the adventure it was a lot of fun. Once again Pixar made me laugh out loud and bawl my eyes out. They really are leading the way in film making, not just for animation but for family films in general.
Wreck-It Ralph – I don’t like the title. That really is the only criticism I have of the film, everything else about it was just so bright, original, entertaining and expertly crafted that the title really is the only thing that stands out as not being completely perfect. The care and attention that went into the design of the world, the characters and the storyline created something that seems to effortless that you come out wondering why other films aren’t that good. In many ways my gushing about this film almost doesn’t seem right, because it’s not really a groundbreaking film. It doesn’t try to do anything epic like some of Pixar’s films do, but that doesn’t feel like a lack of ambition, instead it feels like all of that creativity and skill has instead gone into producing a near perfect animation.
The Sword in the Stone – This certainly ranks near the top of my Disney films list, it’s certainly one of my favourites of the roughly described ‘pre-modern-era’. I must have seen this a dozen times growing up and I definitely remember it being one that my Dad would cheerfully watch over and over with me. It’s got that great Disney blend of humour and heart, enough action and laughs to keep the attention, and a good enough story and message at its core to give it life beyond the fun. It’s not the best animation admittedly, the style is quite rough in places looking like it’s more of a first draft than a finished offering (although the squirrel sequence, which presumably could re-use animation and studies from previous critter cartoons is more impressive). The songs however are wonderful (the Sherman Brothers strike again!) and the voice acting charming. Utterly wonderful.
Ranking: 8 / 10
Zootropolis – The lines between Disney and Pixar are really blurring under John Lasseter’s leadership of Disney and that’s turning into a really really great thing for Disney. Zootropolis does all the things we’ve always expected from Pixar – smart, bright, original and with a huge heart. It’s playing with classic ideas of the cop genre, taking a keen new recruit and throwing them into the reality of the city and partnering with a more worldly wise companion (in this case a conman). I laughed pretty consistently through the film thanks to the verbal and visual gags, particularly the elegantly included grown up references that in no way would detract from a child’s entertainment. There were a couple of slower segments in the middle where plot was explained and the kids in the audience got a bit fidgety. Also the moral message was really hammered home until it became a little frustrating, but given how important a message it is, I shouldn’t really complain. Another great entry into Disney’s catalog.
Moana – Another great entry into the Disney catalogue, it’s a good long while since they’ve had a dud, and they continue to meld both all the traditional elements that make Disney great while bringing innovation in tone, style and story that continually surprise. Moana’s focus on a very different culture is respectful of traditions without compromising on incredibly strong female characters. Like Frozen there are complexities in who the ‘baddie’ is which adds a lot of depth to the story. The animation is beautiful, and the voice acting is superb, completely integrated with the animation, never feeling like celebrities putting on voices and disjointed. The songs are catchy, and actually grow on me every time I hear them. I rewatched it on DVD and am actually improving its rating, which rarely happens. It had lost absolutely none of the joy or freshness on repeat viewing, and actually I saw even more strength in the characters and story, and more nuance and beauty in the animation.