About 2 years ago I talked about a film called God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in the Darkness, a biblical sermon disguised as a film made by people who don’t know how films work. In that review, I made the point that a film is going to need more than just religion to work for me. Sure, religion can be an element, but if the entire thing is basically a sermon then I’m not going to be kind to it no matter what the religion is. Enter I Still Believe, a biopic (of sorts) about a contemporary Christian musician named Jeremy Camp and how he met his first wife while making his rise to fame. In theory, this film does what I’m talking about. Faith is a huge factor in the story but there is a story outside of the faith. In theory, I’m OK with this. In practice, it’s a hard pass from me.
In 1972, Aretha Franklin was indisputably one of the biggest artists on the planet. With massive hit songs like Respect, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and Think, Aretha could lay claim to being the greatest vocalist of her generation. She was an artist so talented that she managed to record a cover version of an Otis Redding song (Respect) and do it so well that we now associate that song with her rather than him. She was one of the greatest artists in the world up to her passing in August of 2018… and then, shortly after her passing, a documentary about one of her albums was released to universal acclaim by critics and while I get that, I have some problems.
The first Beatles song that I remember hearing was Octopus’s Garden. I remember it being performed in my grade school class with big pieces of cardboard cut out into various sea animals and painted with fluorescent paint that a bunch of small children would wave around randomly while singing a cover version of the fifth track from Abbey Road. I’m not sure if we were on key, but we were precious children and so everyone claimed to like it because you’d have to be some kind of monster to tell a bunch of kids that they didn’t do a good job of paying respect to one of the greatest bands of all time. I hope we can all agree that telling a bunch of children that they’re bad at doing a Beatles tribute act would be mean… however, if you want to tell a bunch of grown adults making a million dollar film that their Beatles tribute act is bad then that’s OK. I mean, I plan on spending the next few paragraphs saying exactly that, so it’d be a bit silly if I thought it was mean.
I first became aware of the Jonas Brothers at the same time that the world became aware of them, Camp Rock in 2008. While I never watched that movie, the image of a trio of dark-haired teens trying to be a band was instantly engrained in my head along with the phrase “Corporate Created Crap”. What can I say; even when I was 20, I was a cynical bastard. They just were not my kind of band, they were a band that seemed manufactured to get the attention of 13-year-old girls, they had dorky songs about a Lovebug that wasn’t named Herbie and had a stupid Disney sitcom and were one step below High School Musical… again, I WAS (and still am) A CYNICAL BASTARD. I just didn’t get their popularity, they came up out of nowhere and I could swear they were another band like The Monkees. You know, created by a label to make a stupid sitcom where a new song would be attached to every episode and the idea was to basically force them into a market that probably didn’t want them. Give me a C. Give me a Y. Give me a –NICAL BASTARD. So anyway, when they released a documentary onto Amazon Prime about their life I, now being a 30 something cynical you-know-what, decided to see if maybe there was more to them. It may have taken me a decade, but now I finally get it.
Released: 30th May Seen: 25th May (Advance Screening)
Last year I reviewed a little indie film called Bohemian Rhapsody, you might have heard of it. At the end of that review, I gave the film a 3 and a half rating, a good score for a good film but the more I’ve ruminated on it, the more I realise how the film just isn’t that good. If I were to review it today it’d probably get a 2 and a half star rating. That’s kind of the fun thing about reviewing, as you watch more films you build up a bigger library of references and can spot flaws easier. So when I saw the trailer for Rocketman, I was ready to be a lot more critical about the film. I was ready to not be won over by whimsy but to actually do this properly, and when I found out that the director of Rocketman was the same man who was brought in to replace Bryan Singer on Bohemian Rhapsody after everyone finally realised that Bryan Singer is a bit of an asshole (to put it lightly) I was excited. This is it, a do-over, a chance to try again and make sure that this time I spot a gaudy mess for what it is… and then they just had to screw up my plans by actually producing a fun enchanting film that put the biggest smile on my face. I swear, it’s almost unfair.
When it comes to topics that will spark an intense conversation about a movie, there is none quite as fraught as the delicate subject of race. It’s a subject that must be handled with care because the fact of the matter is that when trying to explore the history of racism in a movie, you can run the risk of accidentally making things worse in your attempt to explore it. I’m certain, for example, that the filmmakers behind Crash had the best of intentions when making their film regarding racism and were clearly trying to explore what causes it. At the time the film was given critical praise and a Best Picture Oscar… now we look back on it as a poorly executed film that is all surface and no depth. Even the people who gave it the award now look back and say “Oh damn, we should’ve given it to the one with the Cowboys”. To quote Ta-Nehisi Coates article ‘Worst Movie Of The Decade‘ from The Atlantic:
“I don’t think there’s a single human being in Crash. Instead, you have arguments and propaganda violently bumping into each other, impressed with their own quirkiness.”
For the record, I only know this quote because of Lindsay Ellis’ fantastic video essay on the movie Bright, another film that brought up racial issues without thinking them through for more than about 15 seconds. The point is that this is a very tough topic to talk about and I want to address this difficulty at the top because I’m aware of how important this is and how, as a white person, I’m probably the last guy who should be talking on this topic… HOWEVER it’s an element of the film I saw, I talk about films I see here, so it would be pretty weird if I didn’t address it in some way. I encourage you to seek out reviews of this movie by people of colour who can undoubtedly address this topic better than I can, but since you’re here let me fill you in on my thoughts about this movie.
There is probably no movie that’s been remade more times than A Star Is Born. It started as a film called “What Price Hollywood” back in 1932 before it got the iconic title we now know in 1937 when Janet Gaynor took on the lead role. It was an episode of the TV series Robert Montgomery Presents back in 1951. 1954 brought us the Judy Garland version of this story. Barbra Streisand had her turn at it in 1976 and now it’s Lady Gaga’s turn to take on the role of a young songwriter who falls for an older alcoholic who slowly pulls her into the spotlight and might end up taking her down with him… I look forward to the remake in 2035 when a sentient AI that sings will star in the new version.
Released: 1st November Seen:26th October (Advance Screening)
I want to start with a simple declarative statement of fact. Everyone’s favourite band is Queen. I know you’re going to say “Mine isn’t, mine is (Insert the wrong answer here)” but just be honest, every single person on the planet loves Queen in some form. You know at least 5 of their songs, you’ve sung We Will Rock You on the school bus, you bang your head to the song that this movie borrows its title from, they’re everyone’s favourite band and that’s the end of that discussion. This leads us to ask why it’s taken so long for Hollywood to make a biopic out of them, this film has been stuck in development hell for eight years. Sacha Baron Cohen was going to be Freddie, but he bailed due to creative differences, then it was going to be Ben Whishaw but he was also replaced by Rami Malek who gets the honour of saying that he brought Freddie Mercury to the screen and god damn it did he bring him to the screen.
Edgar Wright has been somewhat of a miracle of cinema since he burst through the door with Shaun of the Dead. He’s a man who knows what he want’s to make and always had a way of selling his work. From Shaun to Hot Fuzz to Scott Pilgrim, time and time again Edgar proved to everyone that he knew his stuff. Edgar has never made anything quite as perfect as Baby Driver.