Playing Catch-Up — Bohemian Rhapsody; Birds of Passage; Ralph Breaks the Internet


Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher, 2018). This biography of Freddie Mercury, concentrating on his time as the frontman of Queen, is almost startling in its ineptitude. Put aside that it treats the basic chronology of the band’s history as jumble of incidents that can be rearranged at will, reduces most of the characters (including the protagonist) to flavorless dopes, and even that it fabricates an extended hiatus in order to inject phony suspense to the famed performance at Live Aid. In its most fundamental narrative mechanics, it is a baffling failure, made with a level of clumsiness that somehow passed through an array of entertainment business gatekeepers. The torturous production history is partially to blame, but no one deserves extra credit for conducting a rescue mission in a leaky boat. Dexter Fletcher is officially uncredited for his efforts as an unexpected understudy to director Bryan Singer, who was fired midway through production. If his name had been put on the posters, he would have been forgiven for traveling theater by theater to cross it off. Rami Malek is no more than a mediocre mimic as Mercury. As with every other part, the wigs, makeup, costume, and other transformative elements account for the majority of the performance.


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Birds of Passage (Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego, 2018). Many of the beats in this crime drama are familiar. The novelty of the setting jolts the story away from any narrative weariness. Birds of Passage is sharp and dizzying, lofting its tangled conflicts between drug trade factions to Shakespearean heights. Spanning from the early nineteen-sixties to the cusp of the eighties, the film has a headlong momentum into violent collapse, made yet more fascinating by the cultural particulars shrewdly adding another level of convincing motivation to the treacherous pride and vengeance that practically guarantee a brutal fate. Directors Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego flash a strong visual sense without sacrificing clarity, even in the handful of moments built around dream logic. The performances are all solid, with an especially strong turn by Carmiña Martínez as the family’s matriarch who’s equal parts spiritual and pragmatic.


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Ralph Breaks the Internet (Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, 2018). Like its predecessor, Ralph Breaks the Internet leaps joyously into a premise laden with possibilities and then draws surprisingly little inspiration from it find there. This time out, Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) brave the World Wide Web in search of a part needed to rescue the latter’s home video game from the scrapheap. There’s fun to be had with the vagaries of online culture, and the film absolutely has some clever bits. It’s telling, though, that the comic highlight is some mischievous tweaking of Disney princess tropes which could have have been mined with justification if Ralph were breaking cinema history, the children’s section of the local library, or, thanks to a nifty parody song with music from none other than Alan Menken, a soundtrack-heavy CD collection. There’s simply not enough rigor to the storytelling. Silverman gives a terrific voice performance as Vanellope, building who emotional journeys into single lines.

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