Friday, March 15, 2019

FRIDAY 'ROUND-THE-HORN.



Players only.

•  I'm seeing a lot of people saying The New Zealand Muslim Slaughterer didn't mean those things he said -- at least the ones that embarrass local wingnuts. Like when he wrote these words:
The person that has influenced me above all was Candace Owens. Each time she spoke I was stunned by her insights and her own views helped push me further and further into the belief of violence over meekness. Though I will have to disavow some of her beliefs, the extreme actions she calls for are too much, even for my tastes.
Seems, in terms of basic English, clear enough to me -- but according to various Internet Lawyers he was just trolling, "shitposting," being "extremely online," or even trying to get Owens in trouble --  at least that seems to be Tichael Macey's take:



It's like the white power sign: It's a signal to your fellow Nazis until you get in trouble, and then it's just "OK" God you people see Nazis everywhere!

This must also be why the shooter mentioned Trump and Anders Brevik, too -- in fact maybe he's really a liberal, talking religious war and murdering 49 Muslims just to make the Right look bad.

•  Meanwhile Trump has said this out loud:
You know, the left plays a tougher game, it’s very funny. I actually think that the people on the right are tougher, but they don’t play it tougher. Okay? I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad. But the left plays it cuter and tougher. Like with all the nonsense that they do in Congress...
Maybe he's shittrolling, like the Christchurch shooter! Actually gloomy as I often am, I doubt that the army and the cops, or even "Trump's Bikers," would rally to his side if he were lawfully removed from office. It's possible he's trying to demoralize opponents, though I expect this will just go in the huge pile of things he does that pisses them off. Most likely he's trying to make his rump of supporters feel strong and supported. His 2016 campaign summoned them out of the hollers and klaverns, and given the polls they may be feeling pretty stranded right now -- but as long as The Leader is threatening to murder liberals, they're getting what they came for, which has nothing to do with a better country and everything to do with inchoate rage, minorities everywhere, and grandchildren who never visit.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

HE'S JUST SAYING WHAT WE, THE BIGOTS, ARE REALLY THINKING!

I'm unlocking another Roy Edroso Breaks It Down newsletter issue -- this one about the mishegas around Michael Jackson. As you may imagine I'm not entirely convinced that people who have suddenly realized MJ was a child molester are acting in good faith. (By the way, I swear that you're missing a lot of other first-class material if you're not a subscriber -- go here and get on board.)

Speaking of people who have a strange reaction to explosive revelations, I'm not shocked that conservatives are uniformly defending Tucker Carlson's racist and rapist comments. Typical is this guy (formerly a famous Latin-pseud crackpot) at MAGA cult site American Greatness:
Let’s be completely clear here. Nobody—least of all the leftwing mobs attacking Tucker Carlson right now—cares what he said on the radio a decade ago. Except to the extent that his words can be wrapped around his neck like a noose. 
All the feigned outrage is exactly that: feigned. David Brock and his henchmen, along with their instantly mobilized Twitter mob, are not outraged. Not in the least. They’re giddy! And why wouldn’t they be? They’ve been looking for a way to get “Tucker Carlson Tonight” canceled since the show debuted. The search intensified as its popularity rose and its message caught fire. 
The imperative to kill the show reached a fever pitch after Carlson’s now-legendary January 2 monologue, which is the most searing indictment against a failed ruling class since Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.
Three sputter-filled grafs (and about a dozen thereafter) and no mention of what Carlson actually said; you'd think he had defended motherhood and the flag rather than child rape and white supremacy.

But frankly the unearthed Carlson is just a more-upfront version of the Carlson we've known all along -- the Carlson who told Lauren Duca "stick to the thigh-high boots" and dog-whistles racists with alarming regularity. And more-upfront Carlson excites them for a reason. Someone on Twitter lamented that the right's solidarity with Carlson showed how devoted to "tribalism" people have become. But I say these guys aren't defending Carlson because he's of their tribe -- even some conservatives, after all, peeled off the Roy Moore bandwagon in the final days. No, they defend Carlson because they agree with what he said. Not to put too fine a point on it, they're white supremacists and misogynists, and only wish they could say such things themselves and get away with it. Well, as the Trumpification of the Right progresses, I'm sure they'll get their wish.

UPDATE. As usual, making everything worse, National Review's David French:
Here’s the way it works. If you’re a conservative or a Republican who attains any kind of prominence at all, then the hunt is on. Media Matters has its rolling list of allegedly bad or silly things I’ve said and written, for example. And the more prominent you are, the more diligent the hunt.
Being accurately quoted is persecution! Or, in the words of A. Ridiculous Pseudonym at RedState, "Maoist totalitarianism."

If only Lonesome Rhodes from A Face in the Crowd had tumbled to this racket! After embarrassing himself at the end of the movie, he could have attacked those liberals who were persecuting him by describing what he said.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

RODDY DREHER IS TOO SENSITIVE TO WORK AT THE POST OFFICE.*

* apologies to Charles Bukowski, really, but get a load of this from Rod Dreher's latest:
Here’s something interesting. On Jonathan Haidt’s test for moral foundations, I scored unusually high on the “purity” scale. It so happens that I am extremely sensitive to certain aromas that most people find disgusting (and even some that most people don’t). It’s so bad that there are times when I will have to leave the room quickly so as not to vomit (which means my wife is the one left behind to clean up the dog poop, and suchlike).
[Lips pursed, arms folded] Snnnkkk. Snnkk.
It is entirely involuntary. Entirely. When I was a kid, I couldn’t be nearby when the men gutted and skinned a deer they had killed. It wasn’t the visual imagery; it was the smell. I would double over gagging, and couldn’t help myself. 
[Hand over mouth] Snkkk. Snnkk. Snnkk.
This is also why I can taste and smell pleasant nuances in food and drink, and enjoy eating more than most people.
BAA HAA HAA HAA oh my god -- you peons just gobble your food but Sensitive Rod tastes the rainbow! When he's not vomiting, that is.
Two of my three kids are the same way — except their sensitivities are ramped up so much that they don’t like to eat things that taste vivid. All three of us can detect aromas that most people can’t, and when we find them unpleasant, we also find them to be intolerable. Weirdly, my daughter cannot stand the aroma of bananas. It’s so severe for her that we don’t eat them in her presence. Just the sight and smell of a banana is enough to put her on the edge of vomiting.
Those poor kids.
Does this have anything to do with my conservative politics? Maybe...
Ha ha, I know guys, but wait that's not even the real punch line --
...but how would this theory account for the extreme sensitivity that so many left-wing college students have to the mere presence of conservatives in their midst?
Those SJWs -- such sissies! Oh, sorry, honey, I can't clean up after the dog -- I'm too SENSITIVE.

Have we decommissioned "pussy" as an epithet? Pity. (What I wonder is, does Rod ever get too sensitive to enjoy his sacramental meats?)

ANOTHER ONE JUST LIKE THE OTHER ONE.

I've unlocked for you a Roy Edroso Breaks It Down newsletter issue (to which newsletter you should subscribe! It's Cheap!™), which takes the form of a transcript from a Republican rally against anti-Semitism -- that is, in favor of hysterical misreadings of what Rep. Ilhan Omar actually said about AIPAC.

This has been as phoney-baloney a manufactured controversy as I've ever seen, and I suspect that conservatives are hitting it hard because they know they can count on the support of the kind of neolibs one can always expect to fall for bothsider gibberish, e.g. Jonathan Chait. (Chait, like others among the tub-thumpers, seems to think the title of an old Puff Daddy joint is "a longstanding anti-Semitic trope," and that "the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country" is not a clinical description of what AIPAC and other such organizations do.)

It is so well-observed a phenomenon that the American conservative movement has never been a sincere supporter of any minority group except billionaires (though it is very adept at claiming victimized-minority status for Christians and men) that I'm surprised some people can pretend to not hear the bullshit detector going off every time they do it.



Friday, March 01, 2019

THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS.

Erick Erickson was once a Trump skeptic, but when Trump won he began almost immediately to turn:
Take Erick Erickson, the former CNN pundit who for months denounced Trump in nearly apocalyptic terms — e.g. “With the rise of an authoritarian menace to our republic, it is important to go on record now, while he can be stopped, that we will play no part in his rise.” 
After the election, Erickson was conciliatory — not toward voters who had tried to stop Trump, but toward Trump himself. “Perhaps,” he mooned, “as only Nixon could go to China, maybe only Trump can reunite the country.”
Last month Erickson declared himself all-in for the big win:
This week in 2016, I declared I would be “Never Trump.” A friend suggested I use a hashtag that had started circulating on Twitter, i.e #NeverTrump. The piece exploded and pushed me into a whirlwind of coverage. Despite lots of pressure, protestors literally on my front porch, and harassment directed towards my family, I did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. I voted third party.
Some of my concerns about President Trump remain. I still struggle on the character issue and I understand Christian friends who would rather sit it out than get involved. But I also recognize that we cannot have the Trump Administration policies without President Trump and there is much to like...
In the rest of that column Erickson mainly complained about the Democrats' abortionism and environmentalism -- complaints he had already made many times, pre- and post-Trump -- but closed, "I will vote for Donald Trump and Mike Pence. And, to be clear, it will not be just because of what the other side offers, but also because of what the Trump-Pence team has done. They’ve earned my vote."

Yet Erick Erickson, proud Trump voter, just can't quit the contrarian shtick. Here's Erickson recently talking about "Jeremiah 29 Conservatives" who "have given up on national politics. It has become too ugly, too compromising, too unaligned with their values" and who believe "Republicans and conservative institutions in Washington have made too many compromises to be effective"; such Jeremiahs have "retreated from national politics because they could not stomach the character flaws of the President or the direction of the Republican party..." In response to their withdrawal, Erickson says, "Conservatives in Washington and the conservative donor class need to reconsider how to engage on the local level with those more worried about their children’s education than a border wall."

In other words, the big-time conservatives like Erick Erickson have fucked up, and the lost lambs of the movement should take the advice of small-town conservatives like Erick Erickson.

In the long con that is modern conservatism, the advantage of beating the base in the head with bullshit for so many years on end is that it renders them too dazed to recognize that the guy they paid going into the funhouse is the same guy taking their money as they come out.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

THE CONSERVATIVE MORAL CASE FOR YOUR IMMISERATION.

Kevin D. Williamson has it made; during his time of trouble the conservative intellectual establishment turned out to sing his praises, and they are apparently disinclined to revisit that evaluation (because who would that leave, Ben Shapiro?), as Williamson has been just churning out bile-burps at National Review ever since. Dig this lede:
Senator Bernie Sanders, gamely making the case for socialism on CNN, offers a familiar argument: that access to health care and other goods like it should be understood as a “right.” 
Properly understood, that claim is literally nonsensical, having the grammatical form of a sentence but no meaningful content, inasmuch as it is logically meaningless to declare a right in a scarce good. (I am using scarce here in its economic sense rather than in its common conversational sense.)
Does his lofty dudgeon leave you unconvinced? Brace yourself, here comes the argument:
For example: If you have twelve children and six cupcakes, the possibilities of division remain the same even if you declare that every child has the “right” to an entire cupcake of his own. Goods are physical, while rights are metaphysical, and the actual facts of the real world are not transformed by our deciding to talk about them in a different way...
[Several irrelevant slurs later]
When a politician declares a “right” in a scarce good, it indicates either that he is a simpleton or that he believes you to be, and one’s as good as the other, that being another defect in democracy.
Health care is a limited resource like the hypothetical twelve cupcakes -- you cannot create more health care by, say, having a rich nation that drops trillions on wars and billionaire tax cuts spend its money instead on training and employing doctors and medical facilities, any more than you can make more than twelve cupcakes.

The rest is almost as bad:
Senator Sanders points to the Scandinavian model as an example of what it means to have health care as a right. Senator Sanders has traveled widely in his life — he found much to praise in the Soviet Union while honeymooning there, and said so — but he is, like many American progressives, almost completely parochial.
I'll spare you: Williamson is not dumb enough to repeat the much-ridiculed conservative argument that Scandinavian healthcare is not socialist and we can't have it here because that would be socialism. He does come close, though; he tells us Scandinavian healthcare is not socialist -- for example, "private out-of-pocket spending on health care is proportionally higher in Sweden... than in the United States," though you don't hear as much about Swedes being left homeless or doing without life-saving medicine due to cost as you do in the U.S. due to their, um, not-socialism. He also admits U.S. health care sucks.

So why, then, can't we have what Sweden is having? Williamson's trick answer -- and this will surprise no one familiar with his contempt for dying hillbilly communities-- is that the Swedes are morally superior to grasping Yanks:
[Swedish] citizens are understood not as baby birds with open beaks being fed by the state, but as having primary responsibility for themselves. “It has the connotation that you have the social obligation to be competent,” Sanandaji says. 
Not a right, but a duty...
Get that through your fat heads, leeches!
In the United States, we have a poor and diminished notion of citizenship, that citizens are only “taxpayers” and “voters.” Good citizens, in the inescapable contemporary formulation, are those who “play by the rules and pay their taxes.” That’s the real individual mandate: Pay and obey. The progressive proposition is that, in exchange for this obedience, childlike citizens are to be provided for by government in loco parentis, and that their role in this is almost entirely passive: submit to taxation, follow the regulations, receive the benefits. Hence the rhetoric of health care as a right. 
A fuller and more mature notion of citizenship would be one that holds, as ours once did, that among the first duties of the citizen is to provide for himself and look after his family so as not to burden his neighbors unnecessarily.
In other words: Swedes understand what their taxes pay for, and are thus worthy to have their cancer treated, while Americans are all weak-willed socialist moochers who must have socialized medicine forcibly held back from them by bigbrains like Kevin D. Williamson.

It's not that you can't have it because it's socialism -- you can't have it because you suck. Vote Republican!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

OSCAR PREDIX FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY.

Okay, it's minutes away -- too late to affect the betting line, but just in time to embarrass me! You've seen my Best Picture nominee reviews. And now the proto-envelopes, please:

Best Picture: Green Book. My big sucker bet! I know everyone says Roma, and I loved it, but like I said, it looks and moves too much like a museum installation -- Green Book is old Hollywood stuff and pEoPlE LiKeD iT. (Also: Driving Miss Daisy didn't get a Best Director nomination that year, either.)

Best Actor: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Best Actress: Glenn Close, The Wife
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Best Supporting Actress: Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

I'm sticking with conventional wisdom all the way, except for Weisz, whom I think will lap the field out of sheer magnificence.

Best Director: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Best Original Screenplay: Green Book
Best Adapted Screenplay: A Star is Born

My other sucker bet! I think a split ticket on Best Picture and Screenplay is the sort of comity gesture Academy members might like.

Best Original Score: Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman
Best Cinematography: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Best Production Design: Black Panther
Best Costume Design: The Favorite
Best Film Editing: Vice
Best Song: "Shallow," A Star Is Born
Best Make-Up and Hairstyling: Vice
Best Sound Mixing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Best Sound Editing: A Quiet Place
Best Foreign Language Film: Roma

Blanchard is always great and his style and Lee's dovetailed so well here it's giving me a serious hunch. Roma was too good for CuarĂ³n not to win a craft award. The other craft award predix are based on previously observed Oscar wealth-sharing.

Best Animated Feature: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Best Documentary Feature: Hale County This Morning, This Evening 
Best Special Effects: First Man
Best Animated Short: Bar
Best Life Action Short: Skin
Best Documentary Short: A Night at the Garden

I am totally guessing. I'm guessing on all of these, really -- who knows the heart of the Academy voter anymore? But this is part of the fun for me, and maybe you. Now, on to the Pantages!

(Oh, I'll try to be responsive in comments should you be so inclined.)

UPDATE. Well, I'm losing already.

UPDATE 2. Okay, got the make-up thing, I'm a star, yay.

UPDATE 3.  Why did I bother.

UPDATE 4. I won at something! I feel good now!

UPDATE 5. FIRST MAN FOR VISUAL EFFECTS I'M A  G E N I U S

UPDATE 6. LOL all the woke people are mad about Green Book. Guys, this is Hollywood. What did you expect? It’s like being pissed they didn’t nominate The Love Witch. Anyway, I shoulda put money on it!

ON TO OSCAR 2019, PART 7.

(Other Best Picture Nominees considered so far: Black Panther, A Star is Born, Roma, BlackKkKlansmanThe FavouriteBohemian Rhapsody, and Green Book.)

Vice. Lively, politically astute, but a bit of a mess. In The Big Short, reformed funny-movie maker Adam McKay dramatized the fucking-over of the American economy, and amplified it with explanatory montages. Vice, about the fucking-over of America, is similar but with even more weight on the montages -- in fact, most of the historical characters are introduced mainly as pieces of the Brechtian educational filmstrip; for example, Frank Luntz has lines but no character; his main usefulness is as a living demonstration of how Republican propagandists used focus groups to not just sell policies but also poison the public discourse. Long passages are just tableaux or archival footage, cutting political events with clips of The Rifleman, Survivor, and Jane Fonda's Workout, seasoning history with zeitgeist.

You can see why Cheney looked like a great focal point for the story: He not only has a fat hand in every Republican outrage from Nixon through W, he also exemplifies the Republican success story: Be a total fuckup, get religion either figuratively or literally, latch onto some scumbags who respect your scumbaggery and scam your way to the top. The film suggests a similarity between the trajectories of youthful drunkards Cheney and George W., but also acknowledges the big difference: Unlike Bush Cheney is not even passably good with voters; he only shines among his fellow power jocks; as one of the film's many joke sequences underlines, his gift is to look serious and knowledgeable even when pitching total nonsense. In other words, he can bullshit the bullshitters, and he's not above hauling in an expert or two -- trained legal analysts, for example, with no excess of scruples -- to back his bullshit up.

The main problem with this approach is, Dick Cheney is not a tragic or a comic or even an anti-heroic figure -- he's just a piece of shit. Christian Bale dives to the center of the character and comes up with a believably not-too-bright guy who loves his family and finds a way to raise their standard of living by joining Today's GOP. This is a sensible explanation of the real Cheney's career, and Bale does it well -- but it has very little to do with the political lesson McKay's giving, other than to unnecessarily explain that amoral men make amoral movements. What would it mean if Cheney were a different person? What's the functional difference between Cheney and, say, fellow country-wrecker Donald Trump? After a while the Dick Cheney story diverges from the political story and, despite a half-hearted attempt to link some family drama to Republican hypocrisy (which could be yet another movie!), loses focus.

As Lynn Cheney, Amy Adams manages to spell out the personal frustrations that she displaces by feeding Dick's ambition without turning into a Lady Macbeth bitch-caricature (with a script that does her no favors), and Sam Rockwell does a good job of catching both W's weakness and charm. And I enjoyed all the cameos and special guest appearances, including Madea as Colin Powell. But the real doubles act, to me, is Bale's Cheney and Steven Carell's Donald Rumsfeld. There's a lot of student-exceeds-the-master in the relationship, and while Carell never makes the old bastard genuinely likable, there's some poignance in his profession of admiration from an abandoned office to the old friend who's just cut his throat. If we could strip away the superfluities, that's the part I'd keep.

That's it! In an hour or two, my predictions; then, showtime!

ON TO OSCAR 2019, PART 6.

(Other Best Picture Nominees considered so far: Black Panther, A Star is Born, Roma, BlackKkKlansmanThe Favourite, and Bohemian Rhapsody.)

Green Book. I don't get the alleged problem with this movie. I don't see it as "The White Savior" -- I see it as The Odd Couple.

Dr. Don Shirley is black, brittle, and insistent on his rights -- for which who could blame him, as he's an educated, talented classical musician forced to play pop to get over, and it's 1962. He can't take comfort in his blackness, either; backstory and behavior suggest his education and ascent from poverty has left him cut off from his roots. (He professes not to know who Aretha Franklin is, surrounds himself with African artifacts, and never talks to his family.) Despite his bitter experience of the world, he's surprisingly unworldly -- putting himself in obvious mortal peril throughout his tour of the Deep South -- and you get the impression he hangs onto that unworldliness, as he hangs onto his nightly bottle of Cutty Sark, because if he were constantly seeping in the undiluted ugliness of the world it would kill him.

For his Southern tour Shirley enlists as a driver/guardian Tony Lip (so-called, he says proudly, because he's "a bullshit artist... I'm good at talking people into doing things they don't wanna do"), a streetwise, unbright Bronx goomba with an extremely que-sera-sera attitude -- which isn't easy to maintain, as he's uneducated and marginally employed with a family to feed. When the Copa, where he works as a bouncer, shuts down for a few months, he's mainly qualified to win short money on hot-dog eating contests and he won't work for the Mob, so when someone gets him the Shirley gig he takes it, even though -- we have clumsily telegraphed to us early on -- he's prejudiced against black people.

Can two diverse men share a Cadillac Seville without driving each other crazy? [Cue theme music]

Yes, Green Book has the kind of Lessons-In-Life-and-Love howlers you would expect. The weirdest is when Tony gets the fastidious Shirley to play some R&B at a local black juke joint. (Shirley delicately removes a glass of whiskey from the upright first.) And Lord help us, those clips on TV aren't a joke, Shirley does help Tony write love letters. To his wife!

But the movie has a trick up its sleeve, and the trick is dramaturgy. Because of the way the characters are built, not only are those scenes less obnoxious than they could have been, the whole Driving Dr. Shirley thing works pretty well, too. First, when Tony really does play White Savior (and, blessedly, we get the first instance of this out of the way early), Shirley is ungrateful and mainly outraged at the unfairness of a system that makes it necessary that he be saved. So it's not really the whitesaving that turns the relationship around. But Tony's enough of a go-along type -- and, let's face it, used to servile gigs -- that he doesn't get too indignant about that. That gives him room to pay attention. And he's also, as a bullshit artist, a good enough student of human nature to actually pick up on what's eating Shirley, and a good enough human being to care. (Key line: "I been working nightclubs in New York City my whole life. I know it's a complicated world.") Shirley may be alienated, but not so alienated he can't pick up that Tony is actually listening, and in response he begins to unburden himself more to him -- even when it's in anger. Time then does its work.

So what if it's corny? I think I would have preferred it if [spoiler!] on Christmas Eve Shirley just stayed home and called his estranged brother instead of going all the way from West 57th Street to the freaking Bronx IN A SNOWSTORM to hang out with the Italians who, a minute ago, were calling black people eggplants. It ain't Frantz Fanon, it's a Hollywood movie. I was held.

Also it's Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, so if nothing else you can soak in their craft. Ali's Shirley is a real old-fashioned fusspot -- you can imagine Shirley learning and adopting a Clifton Webb facade, and shifting to the shit-eating smile when there are white folks to be pleased -- but even from the beginning you can perceive the years of hurt behind it, and when it's exacerbated -- as when a couple of black horseshoe players at a motel call him "fancy pants" -- you can feel the wounds reopen. And his pride is real and he can't be moved off it. (And he's funny! He really nails "I knew you had a gun.") Mortensen's technically ridiculous -- I mean, 'ey, gabagool, 'ats-a some accent, chief. But he's believably a creature of instinct who has operated so effectively on it, and has had so little need (or maybe capacity) for higher orders of thought that you can believe he'd unthinkingly accept Arthur Avenue bigotries, and unthinkingly say the ridiculous shit he says to Shirley (including that Shirley isn't as black as he is!) but, when his instinct tells him he had it all wrong, he would heed that, too. These guys have some great scenes together -- the one in the rain after they get sprung from jail, ending Ali climbing the ladder on "so if I'm not black enough, and if I'm not white enough, and if I'm not man enough, then tell me, Tony, what am I?" (Imagine being given that line on a piece of paper and getting what Ali gets out of it!); but I almost prefer watching them do the dumb scenes like the love letter ones, because as much as my eyes roll to describe it, they don't roll when I watch it.

Friday, February 22, 2019

ON TO OSCAR, PART 5.

(Other Best Picture Nominees considered so far: Black Panther, A Star is Born, Roma, BlackKkKlansman, and The Favourite.)

Bohemian Rhapsody. I've often said that the biopic is an intrinsically minor artform, and that only extremely rare exceptions bend the curve. Bohemian Rhapsody looks good and moves with some of the strut and glide of Queen's music, but it has all the traditional biopic problems -- for example, outside the star, there are no real characters. Credit Tom Hollander for sneaking a hint of dry humor into his lawyer/manager Jim "Miami" Beach (and Mike Myers -- had me fooled!), but everyone else is a cipher. Maybe it's because they're all still alive and could make trouble but the movie bandmates don't give us anything besides the most pro-forma behind-the-music moments: The lightbulb that's-a-great-riff! moments, the Freddie-you've-gone-too-far moments, etc. Even Mercury's female "love of my life" Mary never shows any feelings but Freddy-related feelings, and out of a regrettable soap opera at that. What if they'd been a little playful about it? When Freddie says "I think I'm bisexual" and Mary says, "you're gay," didn't anyone on the set realize how funny that is? I was laughing, anyway.

In fact all the stuff about Freddie's sexuality is weirdly fraught -- I haven't seen a leather scene like that since Cruising. (Wait'll they make the Rob Halford biopic!) Well, the closet can do strange things to a man and, given his background, Mercury was particularly [cue the music!] under pressure from both directions -- pushed not to go too far for obvious social reasons, but compelled to reveal what was going on inside himself for artistic reasons. That's a lot to take on and I can hardly blame Bryan Singer,  the superhero-movie director of a big-budget can't-miss biopic (who has some issues himself), for deciding that the answer is the true love of a decent bloke you can bring home to your stereotypically uptight immigrant dad. But sweet as that is, judging by his music I bet that wasn't all Freddie Mercury was going for.

But if the script doesn't show us, at least Rami Malek's performance is able to suggest it. There have been a lot of jokes about Rami Malek's dental prosthesis doing the acting for him, but like any good actor Malek makes the thing work for the character -- sometimes the teeth are a totems of his fears and sorrows, something to hide and brood over, and sometimes they're the prow of a proud ego-ship steaming late into rehearsal. And despite being 90% of the movie, Malek's Freddie is still able to remain a little mysterious -- even in the cliche good-love and bad-love scenes, you can feel that he's protecting something inside himself -- his heart, maybe, or his ego, or his talent; something, in any case, that can't stand too much handling. Whether at the top of his game or the height of his madness, that makes Mercury vulnerable and lovable and fascinating, and not just someone we're staring at because he's famous. For a biopic that's an achievement.