Review – Bohemian Rhapsody

Short Review

Bohemian Rhapsody is a celebration of Queen’s music featuring a loving tribute to Freddie Mercury. Don’t expect a documentary or a traditional biography. This is a perfectly cast love letter to Queen fans around the world. And if you ever liked any Queen songs, you’ll enjoy this movie. I give it two thumbs up!

(Really) Long Review

Spoilers below the trailer

***

The first Queen song I ever heard was “Another One Bites the Dust.” I was 9 and my Mormon best friend warned me that we shouldn’t listen to it because it was about drugs. Not being one to just blindly ban music, I listened carefully to the lyrics and decided that it was about gangsters, and the more I listened, the more I liked it. How could something with such a slick bass line be bad?

I wouldn’t consider myself a Queen fan, but Queen was definitely part of the soundtrack of my life. I know most of the songs, but they are interspersed among Big-Hair-Bands of the 1980s, the oldies played by 94.5 KATS FM, the new and shiny videos on MTV back in the day when they played music 24/7, and British New Wave Bands.

Queen showed up again at my high school pep rallies. Stomp. Stomp. Clap. Stomp. Stomp. Clap. As we shook the bleachers, we solemnly vowed to rock our opponents. And when we won, we were the champions with no time for losers. We were the champions of the world!

It was Wayne’s World that finally brought “Bohemian Rhapsody” into my consciousness.

Even now, when I finish a big project, I play “We are the Champions!” and march around the living room with my fists in the air. When I’m frustrated and need some inspiration, “I Want to Break Free!” When a series of projects gets finished, “Another One Bites the Dust.”

I saw Bohemian Rhapsody on opening night. It wasn’t my plan, it just worked out that way. Almost every Israeli I’ve spoken to is a big Queen fan, which explains why the movie is playing on three screens in one theater.

This movie is a celebration of Queen’s music and a way to introduce it to a new generation of fans. Interspersed with the story of the music is the story of Freddie Mercury, a complex person who was much more than the stage persona. The movie is called Bohemian Rhapsody and when you put all the pieces together you can understand why.

Definition of rhapsody 

4a musical composition of irregular form having an improvisatory character

Every role in this film is perfectly cast. Rami Malek plays Freddie – well, he doesn’t just play him, he becomes him. Brian May’s wife came on set and was apparently shocked by how much Gwilym Lee looked like Brian at that age. Joe Mazzello called his mother to confirm his parentage because he looked so much like John Deacon. And Roger Taylor could be Ben Hardy’s uncle.

queen-1989-billboard-1548BH actorsIn case you’re confused, the bottom picture is from the film. 🙂

Somewhere along the way, you are perfectly cast in the film too. You aren’t an observer of the film, you’re a participant in the story. Two notes and one chord in, you know the song. You laugh along with the band and their jokes. You hang out at the parties. You’re in the audience when the spectacle of Queen is on stage.

More than that, we are with Freddie at his highs and his lows. The saddest moment in the film, and one of the most powerful, is when Freddie gets his diagnosis. He goes alone to the clinic and we see the doctor reflected in Freddie’s mirrored sunglasses. We don’t hear what he’s saying, but we know. And then the reflection shows the floor. That split second was probably more devastating than hearing the diagnosis and seeing a reaction. As Freddie walks out, a fan – obviously sick – recognizes him and softly sings: “Ey Oh!” And Freddie answers back: “Ey Oh!” He was alone and yet we were all there with him.

Superfans will rankle at the fact that Freddie didn’t actually get his diagnosis until 1987 and this is meant to be 1985. Superfans might be annoyed by many details in this movie. (Rami’s eyes aren’t brown!)

But we have to acknowledge that this movie is not a lot of things.

It’s not a Hero’s Journey. Disney is the master for heroes on a journey. Freddie was Freddie and nothing more or less.

It’s not a documentary. There’s plenty of footage on Youtube if you want that.

It’s not a biography. Freddie didn’t write all the songs and he wasn’t alone in the band. He was larger than life on stage, but this story is not exactly about him. He is interwoven in the music.

It’s not a story of coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation, or redemption, or a son finally earning the approval of his father. It’s all there, but none of that is the story.

It’s not a reenactment of a rock-and-roll lifestyle.
(Attention parents who want to share their love of Queen with their kids: It has a PG-13 rating; much of the darkness and hedonism is softened. There are hints, though.)

It’s not a finely crafted, manicured storyline. (See the definition of rhapsody above.) It’s kind of a mess that has a more or less linear timeline. Kind-of like life. And that’s what makes it feel real.

It’s not … well, true. Lots of things are accurate to the smallest detail, but a lot of things are written off to “poetic license.” If anyone believes that in the same afternoon Freddie found his final life partner after visiting every Jim Hutton in the whole London telephone book, introduced him to his family, reconciled with his father, and then played Live Aid, well, clearly that person lives in an awesome fantasyland.

Fun Points:

The Live Aid concert was filmed note for note, step for step. Watching the Live Aid footage afterwards, I was stunned at how accurate it was.

Mike Myers is in the movie playing the record exec refusing to promote “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Says he: “No one will ever be driving in their car banging their heads to this song.” HA!

In the press interviews, it’s clear that all the actors took their roles extremely seriously and will carry their characters with them. This was a special experience for them and you see it on the screen, and more importantly, you feel it. The actors also carry the burden of responsibility for the message that they want the movie to send:

Be who you are.

Embrace all your idiosyncrasies and imperfections.

You are not alone.

Listen to Queen

In answer to the question: Is this a good movie?

The answer is a resounding YES.

If a movie stays with you for days afterwards, if you are scouring the internet looking for more and more and more information, if you find yourself suddenly a Queen superfan, then there’s no question it’s a good movie.

Go see it!

Civic duty

This past week Israel held municipal elections around the country. We had a government-endorsed vacation day to encourage voting. Businesses that stayed open were required to pay employees 200% (as if they worked on a holiday).

I went to my neighborhood polling station and found about 10 people outside promoting their candidates. They completely ignored me as I walked by. Did I project an aura of “I’ve already made up my mind, so don’t even”?

I expected to have to wait to vote. But there was not another voter in the whole building. It was just me at 1 o’clock in the afternoon doing my civic duty.

People often take pictures of themselves voting and post them on Facebook. Taking pictures of the voting process is perfectly fine. But I didn’t do it because the voting system is frankly a bit ridiculous.

In Jerusalem, you vote for a party list and you have a separate vote for the mayor. You don’t mark a ballot or vote on any particular issues.  Personally, I feel like a kindergartner voting for class president.

When you walk in, you give the registrar your ID card and you receive two envelopes: a yellow one for the mayor, a white one for the party. You walk behind a cardboard partition and you’re faced with a divided tray filled with slips of paper. There are 21 parties each with their own letter (that may or may not obviously relate to the party name) and 5 mayoral candidates. You can also write in candidates.

Votingscreengrab source

One slip of paper in each envelope, seal them, and drop them into the locked cardboard box.

Pick up your ID and go on your merry way having completed your civic duty.

Seriously, Jerusalem? WTF?

The next morning we find that we will have a run-off election because no mayoral candidate passed the 40% majority threshold.

Not among the two left standing is the candidate who was endorsed by the outgoing mayor, the prime minister, the Likud party, and other candidates who stepped out of the running. Well, there was a report that he had loan guarantees provided by quite a few Russian oligarchs.  And there was a weird text message campaign against him. I kept receiving anonymous messages saying that Gargamel doesn’t love the Smurfs and he doesn’t love Jerusalem either.

The young, secular guy who is left in the race was not endorsed by any major players and hasn’t raised as much money – although there is a rumor that he has money coming in that doesn’t have to be reported. On the down side, he has no management experience, he hasn’t worked with the Knesset, and he has a reputation for not getting along with colleagues.

But the worst thing is that even though there was a campaign to increase voter turnout and it was a holiday, Jerusalem’s voter turnout went DOWN from the last election. Last time it was 39% and this time it was 35%.

As I was walking to the voting station, I overheard a conversation:

“Are you going to vote?”

“Nah. I don’t like any of the candidates.”

You might think that Jerusalem was any old village in a far-flung corner of Nowheresville, not the home of 3 monotheistic religions, the crossroads of 3 continents, a flashpoint of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Center of the Universe, and the capital of the State of Israel.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem are encouraged to boycott the elections (as a method of not recognizing Israel), so you can understand why they didn’t vote. But all of the 65% of eligible voters who didn’t vote pretty much thumbed their noses at the future of this city with a hearty “Whatever, losers!” and went to the beach.

The run-off is on November 13 and it’s not a holiday. I have a sinking feeling that Apathy will be the winner on that day too.

A sore thumb in Abilene

I ran across an article this week about the Abilene Paradox, which admittedly sounds like the title of a Big Bang Theory episode. Apparently it is a social phenomenon in which a group of people come to a decision that none of them wants. The back story is that four people decide to go to dinner in Abilene and have a terrible time only to find out later that none of them actually wanted to go.

The author stated that this would never happen in Israel because everyone is so vocal about their opinion and that this sounded like a phenomenon “in a society of very polite gentiles.”

The point of the article was not a comment on society, but rather how to encourage teens to follow their own hearts and not bow to peer pressure.

In that moment, I was transported to my childhood – I grew up in a small town in the US, in those days “a society of very polite gentiles.”

My best friend – a Mormon, who was probably my best friend because there were no other kids our age in the neighborhood – told me that she was worried about me. Apparently she had spoken to her mother about my weird behaviors: walking out of music class when it was time for Christmas carols, skipping the Christmas pageant, being altogether different.

Her mother’s sage advice, which my friend shared with me, was: “If she wants to stick out like a sore thumb, then let her.”

Me? A sore thumb?

Listen, without being too full of myself, I was adorable and everyone liked me. Even if they thought my immortal soul was going straight to hell because I was Jewish, they wholeheartedly prayed for me and hoped that I would see the light because it would be such a shame for a sweetie like me to rot in hell for eternity. But a sore thumb? I don’t think so.

It was one of those transformative moments in life that you only recognize in retrospect. I could have been sad that I was a sore anything and was different. But the truth is that your hand functions best with a thumb, sore or not. And if I’m going to be a thumb, then by golly, I’m going to be a great one!

So with all due respect to Abilene, I’m not going. But if you want to go, I’m not going to stop you.

motivation-721822_1920
Even stock photos agree: Thumbs are Awesome!

The Rule of Law

One of the big headlines in Israel this week is that the Supreme Court of Israel ruled to allow a student to enter the country to attend Hebrew University in a Master’s program even though this student has a history of supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel. It was among the first test cases of the anti-BDS entry law that Israel passed last year blocking entry to Israel of people who actively advocate BDS and act against Israel. (*Note: this is not the law that allows suing for damages if Israel is harmed by BDS activism. That was a different test case.)

Crash course on Israel’s governmental structure

Israel is not at all like the US system and is much more similar to the UK system. The Prime Minister is the head of the party that wins the election (thus the executive branch and legislative branch are combined). The President of Israel is a ceremonial position and is filled by a person elected by the Knesset, usually after a long career in politics. The President appoints the 15-member Supreme Court based on the recommendations of a judicial committee. Judges on the Supreme Court may serve until the age of 70 unless they resign for other reasons.

The Supreme Court in Israel serves two functions. Like the US Supreme Court, it is the final court of appeal. But unlike the US Supreme Court, the Supreme Court in Israel – operating as the High Court of Justice – may also hear petitions to rule on the legality of laws or other issues that would not normally be heard in a court of law. Since Israel doesn’t have a constitution, the Court uses the Basic Laws of Israel as its guide.

In 2017, a law was passed in the Knesset that said that a non-citizen who actively uses a public forum to call for a boycott of Israel and has a reasonable expectation of causing a boycott to occur, can be barred from entering Israel. This more-or-less applies to leaders of organizations, not someone who supports BDS on Facebook.

scales-145464_1280

It’s pretty divisive issue in Israel. The Left says that the law and its application violates freedom of speech and that Israel has nothing to hide. The Right points out that the democratically elected members of Knesset are acting on behalf of the will of the people and defending Israel at the border against enemy agents trying to destroy Israel from within.

Other BDS activists/supporters have been turned away at the airport, but the student in question here decided to take it to court.

The Court ruled that the law itself was in accordance with the Basic Laws, but that it did not apply in the student’s case. She claimed not to be involved in BDS for the last year and a half and was not planning to be a BDS activist while in Israel. So she’ll be starting at Hebrew U. next week.

Two comments

Academia the world over tends to lean to the left and it’s the case in Israel too. There are a good number of Israeli academics who support the BDS movement – even if it sometimes backfires and they themselves are uninvited to conferences or blackballed in publications. So while it seems on the face of it that the student wanting to attend Hebrew University, and who was backed in court by Hebrew U., is not supportive of BDS, I’m not so sure that it is quite so clear-cut. I guess we’ll see what this student does while she’s here.

This court case is a microcosm of the existential question of what kind of state Israel will be. Will Israel be a state of wide-ranging freedom for all or a repressive state that only allows opinions that agree with the majority?

And that’s where the Court comes in. It should not be a question of political Left or Right, but a question of what is just, not only legal. When the Court took upon itself the responsibility of protecting human rights, the Right called it an “activist court.” And when the Court allows a law to stand that the Left feels is repressive, the Left calls the Court a “rubber stamp.” The truth, of course, is somewhere in between. The Court must act to stop tyranny of the majority, but they must also allow the state to act on behalf of the safety and security of its citizens. The principle is simple, the application is complicated.

“Justice, justice shall you pursue.” – Deuteronomy 16:20

palace-of-justice-1088522_1920

Palace of Justice, Jerusalem

Something to make me smile – Ethiopian Women Bus Drivers

In some ways, Israel is quite progressive in gender equality. And in many other ways, Israel is still in the Dark Ages.

Bus driver was one of those jobs in Israel that was always done by a man. Ethnicity didn’t seem to matter, but it was always a man. I don’t know if it’s related, but bus drivers are notoriously aggressive drivers. I was once on a bus – a double-length bus with an accordion middle junction – on a two-lane street. The car ahead of this bus was annoying the driver and in spite of the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the bus somehow passed the car. There may have been some popping up on the curb and shouting back and forth, but I cannot really explain how it was physically possible for a double-length bus filled with people to maneuver in traffic like a two-seat roadster.

Egged

A few years ago, I noticed that things were starting to change. I saw more Arab drivers, still men though. And then I saw a woman driver.  And then I noticed more women drivers, even Arab women drivers. Women drivers are still pretty rare to see, but I get very happy when I see them. Is our sexist country finally starting to change a little bit?

I have to say that I’m happiest when I see an Ethiopian woman driver.

When you examine the social strata of Israel, I think the group with the most obstacles facing them is Ethiopian women.

They face blatant racism. There are plenty of rabbis in the rabbanut (the religious authority in Israel) who do not accept Ethiopians as properly Jewish and require that they go through a formal, Orthodox conversion.

The Ethiopian struggle to come to Israel is awe-inspiring. Some were brought in emergency airlifts having never seen a plane before. Some walked the whole way facing hunger, thirst, natural dangers, and human dangers. They faced unimaginable odds and obstacles at every turn. And many thousands died along the way.

Some Ethiopians face a cultural gap – in some cases a chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon. Can you imagine living in an African village, more or less self-sufficient in your community, and then you arrive in a place that is technologically a hundred years more advanced? Once you didn’t need to read and write, and then suddenly everyone is asking you to fill out a form in a foreign language?

It’s a sad fact that some older Ethiopian men haven’t adjusted to life in Israel very well. They come to Israel and because they don’t succeed in society, they feel emasculated. And their frustration gets taken out on their families, especially wives.

But then you see her, a petite Ethiopian woman – the steering wheel of the bus is nearly the entire length of her arm – and she’s maneuvering this monster vehicle in the crazy traffic of rush hour Jerusalem and dealing with impatient, hot, frustrated passengers.

Imagine a two-lane road with cars parked with two wheels on the sidewalk (yep, that’s legal parking) along both sides and both lanes are bumper-to-bumper. Now you have some idiot who parked their car badly and it’s sticking out in the street blocking part of the lane. You’re the bus driver who has to get this huge vehicle through an even smaller space than usual.

It just so happened that in the opposite lane was a bus from a bus-driving school with an instructor and a student driver. As our Ethiopian woman driver perfectly executed the right moves to get the bus through the narrow gap left to her without touching any other cars, she got cheers and fist pumps from the instructor and student in the other bus and a murmur of approval from the passengers who could see what was going on.

And in that moment, she was on top based on her own skill, her own merits, and her own grit in getting things done. It was a beautiful thing to see!

(And I was much more forgiving when she nearly missed my stop, which was right after this little drama.)

 

Book review: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

Actually, I listened to it. I’m a huge fan of audiobooks and am a proud member of Audible.com. Audiobooks allow you to get stuff done while enjoying a story, a lecture, or listening to advice. My first book was Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, performed by the incomparable Edoardo Ballerini. I use the word performed because readers don’t just drone along in a monotone (like I probably do when I read aloud), they do the voices and they bring the story to life. When it’s really good, in all honesty, you can’t do anything else but listen.

After that, I was hooked.

I recently finished The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg. You might remember the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, which is based on another one of Fannie Flagg’s books. The main characters have a few things in common, I think.

The best scene from Fried Green Tomatoes: “Face it, girls. I’m older and I have more insurance.” Nobody does it better than Kathy Bates.

Fanny Flagg performed her own book and it was nice to hear her lightly southern-accented voice tell the story while bringing out other characters – like the ones from Wisconsin with their own completely different accent.

Short review: It’s excellent. Give it a listen!

Long review: Below the picture. Watch out for spoilers.

Cover

We meet Mrs. Earle Poole Jr. Her first name is Sookie, but it seems that she has no identity except in relation to other people – wife, mother, daughter, sister. She feels like she’s never been good enough or smart enough. Well, in comparison to her narcissistic, drama-inspiring, southern belle mother, she’s pretty tame.

Until the letter arrives. At the age of 60, she finds out she’s adopted!

The story splits and we stay with Sookie trying to figure out her place in the world and also hear the story of her biological mother – a Polish Catholic girl from Wisconsin who flew airplanes in World War II!

I loved the movie Fried Green Tomatoes and its message of empowerment. Here again Fannie Flagg reminds us that women are amazing just by doing whatever it is that makes them happy and fulfilled.

It was a bit sad to listen to the history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). They were just as good as the men and when they were needed, they were tolerated, but when they started to threaten the jobs of men who didn’t want to be foot soldiers, they were shoved out and forgotten. Only recently were these brave, inspiring women recognized and remembered.

By the end of the book, Sookie learns that she’s wonderful just the way she is. She has her own talents and she has grown into who she is all on her own. She has her southern roots in the family that raised her, but she also has her roots in the DNA that was passed down to her. Now, she’s learned to be proud of the life she’s lived – she was not “just a housewife”– and to use her talents to the fullest. It’s a good message for women and frankly anyone.