Some Kind of Monster

Metal has come of age and so has its practitioners. It’s weird seeing youth culture music still being played by middle aged family men who’ve head-banged their way to male pattern baldness.

The two directors of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster reconnected with the group ten years after the infamous (and justifiably highly-regarded) film. Both are available on Netflix and make solid back-to-back viewing.

Always staunchly anti-music video (until they weren’t) Metallica embraced digital to the point where they were the subject of not one, but two films —  the concert flick, Metallica: Through the Never and of course, Some Kind of Monster.

The Monster metaphor of the lumbering Frankenstein may fit with popular misconceptions about heavy music, but Metallica’s lunk-head image always belied their musical sophistication. With their affectations they’re a heavy metal Morricone (whose The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme precedes every show).

However, Some Kind of Monster captures them at their artistic nadir, trying to will their way to creativity by discarding anything that previously made them successful. Although they’d be the first to deny it, music of all stripes requires a formula. And theirs was James bringing in a riff and a few scraps of lyrics into the studio, Lars adding some sonic touches and then the rest of the band shaping it into form.

Going into a studio formless, meant no chain of command. No direction. And their jams here are those of a worn out bar band, “stock” as they themselves concede in several instances.

Absent is the fire that blazed through Master of Puppets (a near-perfect metal song). And what we’re left with is internecine squabbling: with one another, their band’s 40k/month therapist, and with producer Bob Rock (who looks and sounds so much like Spinal Tap’s David St. Hubbins it’s unreal).

It’s a fascinating look at the group’s individual personalities: singer James Hetfield and his sober-living solipsism, drummer Lars’ abrasive implacability and guitarist Kirk Hammet, the passive peacemaker and the group’s dispensable Ringo.

***1/2 (out of 5)

 

 

 

 

Bohemian Rhapsody

When it comes to their approach to Bohemian Rhapsody, there’s a wack of critics who’d probably confuse beach reading with Tolstoy, if Rotten Tomatoes is to be believed.

The world’s most fan-friendly band deserves a fan-friendly movie, and Bohemian Rhapsody is just that. Critics, who seem to delighting in the phrase, “is this the real thing, or is this just fantasy,” as if they’ve discovered a new element of the periodic table, are missing the mark: needlessly nitpicking timelines, bellyaching about whether the movie accurately depicts Freddie’s sexuality or descent into debauchery (as if that, rather than insights into the creative process, is something more interesting to an audience expecting to see the story of Queen) and ruminating about the use of CG for crowd scenes (we’ve got news for you: wrangling 10,000 extras to recreate Wembley stadium ain’t in the cards).

Bohemian Rhapsody (as it should be), is performance-driven in terms of musicality and thespianism. Rami Malek’s incredible physicality is more than enough to carry the day. He fills out Freddie’s wife-beater and makes the mercury rise. See guys, two can play at the Queen pun-game.

Yes, the beats are often Behind the Music, yes the “clap clap stomps” that inspired “We Will Rock You” are so cheesy they should be grated on bruschetta, and yes the band members not initialed F.M. fade into the background more than they should…but there’s no denying (despite what you’ve read elsewhere) that this is an immensely enjoyable popcorn movie.

Mike Myers is cracking as a nay-saying EMI exec who bought into Pink Floyd’s excesses but balked at Queen’s. Aaron McCusker (of the original, superior UK version of Shameless) is sweetly endearing as Mercury’s love interest, Jim.

Is the Freddie characterization too straight, too gay, not bi enough, not gay enough? He could’ve been defined in life, so leave him alone in death.

Will you get more subtext than text about what made him tick? Hardly. But what you’ll come away with is the rush of being able to experience the rise to fame of one of the world’s greatest bands, if you were too young to experience it the first go-round.

And for a supersonic talent like Freddie Mercury, that’s tribute enough.

On with the show.

***1/2 (out of 5)