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Film Review - Bohemian Rhapsody

Gwilym Lee, from left, Rami Malek and Joe Mazzello appear in a scene from "Bohemian Rhapsody." 

Bohemian Rhapsody

At Cinemark

(PG-13)

Grade: B+

Brain May, lead guitarist for the British band Queen, made a simple promise:

“We will we will rock you!”

Promise kept, Brian.

Most lists of the greatest rock bands of all time include Queen in the top 10, along with familiar suspects such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who, Pink Floyd, AC/DC.

Well-known Queen hits include “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Killer Queen,” “We Will Rock You,” and “We Are the Champions.” The band has been praised as “one of the great live experiences in rock history.”

The face/voice of Queen was lead singer Freddie Mercury, who Billboard Magazine recognized and celebrated as one of the most popular leading rock singers of all time.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen, including their rise to fame, their break up and their reunion for their most memorable concert ever: The 20-minute set at the Live Aid concert on July 13, 1985, in Wembley Stadium, England.

That Live Aid concert is recreated so brilliantly that I clapped as if I were at Wembley. I may well go back to the theater just to see that 20 minutes one more time. It’s an electric capturing of the charisma of a band that enjoyed whipping its fans into a frenzy. Note: These “musicians” are actors, but they totally dissolve into Queen.

The crowd enthusiastically launches into the “stomp, stomp, clap” that accompanies “We will rock you.” Hands were always in the air, waving side to side.

Another unforgettable section from “Bohemian Rhapsody” involves conception and creation of that signature song.

BBC writer Fraser McAlpine described “Rhapsody” this way:

“‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen is one of the strangest, most inspired and least-understood songs in the history of rock,” wrote McAlpine. “It manages to sound like a serious work of art, a moving lament and a moment of extreme silliness at the same time… and jumps from power ballad to light opera to heavy opera to hard rock and back to power ballad again before ending, nearly six minutes after it began, on a decisive gong.”

The movie shows Freddie Mercury conceiving and creating “Rhapsody” – and the band trusting him totally, even when he asks them to launch into operatic high notes for “Galileo, Galileo.” And why wouldn’t May go with Galileo? May owns a doctorate in astrophysics!

It’s exhilarating to see music in the making, in a way that feels authentic.

Unfortunately, the film is not always quite this good. The long segments retelling the life of Mercury are revealing, but not often as poignant as intended. Mercury fell deeply in love with Mary Austin, only to later “discover” he was bisexual. His need for connection led to a flurry of sexual relationships. He contracted HIV, which took his life.

The script condenses and oversimplifies his private life, causing some hard-core Queen fans to claim that the script doesn’t have a clue who Freddie Mercury really was and that “it doesn’t understand his sexuality.”

Some critics have attacked the film for “straight-washing” Mercury by prominently featuring his relationship with Austin, while relegating his gay life to background.

Mercury was gay, but Mary was clearly his beloved muse. She was as quiet and sweet as Mercury was loud and flamboyant. She could center him.

Austin’s book is the source for the film, however, and Mercury left much of his fortune to her. Still other articles detail dozens of factual inaccuracies, including that the band’s reunion happened before Wembley – and that the group’s formation is depicted incorrectly.

I can’t sort out all the furor over the accuracy of the portrayal of Mercury, but I do know the movie lost momentum when the band left the stage.

But it’s hard to find fault with the fully committed lead performance by Malek, who has said he lip-synched the vocals in the film. Malek gets inside Mercury, especially when he’s on stage. Band member Brian May has complimented Malek’s performance.

I ended up quite hooked on the film, especially during the grand finale at Wembley.

I stayed through last second of the last credit while the Cinemark staff twiddled their brooms, waiting for us to leave so they could clean up. And, like the other two dozen fans still in their seats, I applauded before I left. Not because I had seen a great film, but because I had a great seat for a memorable “live” performance. The XD screen was a great way to soak up Queen. Sit close.

Afterwards, I headed to my laptop to Google the original Live Aid concert performance. What a trip! Freddie unplugged!

I had a very good time hearing the music of Queen come alive yet again. They are the champions, my friends.

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