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Queen is Drawing a Fine Line Between Tribute and Exploitation - by Colin Gawel

Brian May & Roger Taylor Should Let Freddie Mercury Rest in Peace.

I finally made it out to see the movie Bohemian Rhapsody. In fact, I saw it the night before the Oscar awards were chosen. I had been resistant to seeing the movie because as most Queen fans and certainly all of my music snob friends know, the film is basically BS. I’m not going to go through the whole thing, but if you need one example, Freddie Mercury had not been diagnosed with AIDS before the band’s legendary Live Aid performance. If you are rock n roll fan like myself, that is a troublesome bit to work around.

Still, I went into the theater beer in hand, ready to enjoy the dish Hollywood was serving. I told myself “Lighten up, this is just like a big, glorified VH1 movie. You love those.”  And you know what? I loved it. I mean, I literally turned to my wife during the opening scene when Freddie was getting ready to go onstage at Wembley and said, “This is awesome, I already love this.” Obviously, Rami what’s-his-name killed it in the lead role, which really helped too.

When I shared my thumbs-up review later that night on social media, my opinion was met with a resounding thumbs-down. I couldn’t really argue with the critics, I just enjoyed the movie. It’s funny, I never considered myself a huge Queen fan (relative to the other Queen fans I know), but I suppose - compared to the rest of the general public - I’m relatively hardcore. As a kid taking the bus down High Street every weekend to blow my paper route money on used records, I bought almost every Queen album. Hell, I even bought the soundtrack to Flash Gordon the day it came out and saw the movie opening weekend too. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, consider yourself less of a Queen fan than myself. Still, I never saw them live so I’ve spent countless hours watching YouTube footage and the famous Live Aid show itself probably.….35 times? And I even went to that Queen play. It was pretty good. (editor’s note: Huh? WHAT Queen play? I’m simultaneously fascinated AND appalled. And check out the rest of our music page here)

Another random Queen fact: My favorite song is Dragon Attack.

So you get the gist: I like Queen and damn the torpedoes, I like the movie Bohemian Rhapsody too.

However…. the next night when the Oscar’s opened the show with Queen performing and Adam Lambert playing the role of Freddie, something about it made me queasy. It was one thing for the band to go out and play with (gulp) Paul Rodgers and now this latest line-up when they were kinda, sorta under the radar, but in light the of the movie’s success it felt really tacky. I felt gross watching. I felt bad for Freddie. This was his band. And now they are going on another huge tour, without him. From the tour press release:

“This is a great opportunity,” May said. “Our last tour featured our most ambitious production ever, and got us our best notices ever.”

Really, Brian? “Our best notices ever.” So you guys are better without Freddie Mercury? I mean Lambert does a fine job, but what’s next? In the future will Adam Levine be fronting the Stones on their final tour in honor of Mick? The line Queen is drawing between tribute and exploitation is getting increasingly blurry.

The surviving members taking yet another victory lap after this huge theatrical success feels disrespectful to Freddie. And to the legacy of the band. Of course it smacks of a money grab, but even worse, a glory grab. Right now Queen is the most popular they have ever been. It’s time for them to stand down and let people remember them as the band fronted by Freddie Mercury. Not by Adam Lambert or Paul Rodgers or Rami Malik or anybody else. They twisted Freddie’s life to make this movie. He brought them fame & fortune and everything that goes with it.. And this is how you thank him? Brian May and Roger Taylor should stand on their history and let Freddie Mercury rest in peace: remembered as the amazing lead singer of the rock band Queen. - Colin G.

Colin Gawel wrote this at Colin’s Coffee. He also plays in the band Watershed and The League Bowlers. Below is one of his favorite Queen clips and one example of how future generations should remember the band.

Bonus video!!! They don’t really show this side of the band in the movie, but I would guess that metal fans were the majority of Queen fans right up until around Live Aid. Then the pop fans sorta took over. Still, all true headbangers respect the band. Dig the clip below for a taste why.

"Mock and Roll" / One Year Later - by Pete Vogel


Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Stewart, a local filmmaker who debuted his feature film – “Mock and Roll” – at the Gateway Theater in Columbus last November.  This was his debut film and he was showing it to local audiences for the first time. The film was shot primarily in Columbus, so having a hometown debut was both a blessing and a curse, with all the highs and lows that accompany a homecoming of this nature.  Mark’s journey was a little off the beaten path—he left his day job in HR (after working 34 years) to pursue his passion of music and movies, so there was a lot at stake for his Gateway debut as he began his sixth decade.


“Mock and Roll” was a dream come to fruition, a perfect blend of music, satire and storytelling.  It follows a local band (Liberty Mean) that parody another local band (The Black Owls) in their attempt to gain fame and fortune as a cover band.  It’s a mash-up of “The Office,” “This is Spinal Tap” and “Fargo” all rolled into one, with the storyline focused around a cadre of hapless millennials.


In the spirit of “The Odyssey,” Liberty Mean is set to embark on a sojourn to Austin TX to attend the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Festival, even though they weren’t booked for the event, nor had any idea what to do once they arrived.  They decided to raise funds for the trip by setting up a crowd-funding page, but their contributions were paltry at best—on par with their paying gigs. This didn’t stop them from their quest, however, and they ended up engaging in questionable scientific experiments to raise funds for the trip…..Tomfoolery ensues.


There are many plot twists and turns, so I’ll leave it at that.  If you like music, DIY, dreamers, cameo appearances, satire, mockumentaries and homegrown art, you’ll love “Mock and Roll.”  It’s got something for everyone.


The film has been featured in many festivals since last fall, including the Orlando Film Festival, Oklahoma’s Eyecatcher International Film Festival, Austin’s Revolution Film Festival and Cincy’s Inside the Loop Film Festival.  They received several nominations (Best Comedy, Best Director, Best Editor, etc.) and received awards for Best Feature and Best Original Score. It also took home awards from Cleveland’s Indie Gathering Film Festival. Stewart and company have enjoyed an entire year of basking in the spotlight.  


More good news: “Mock and Roll” is currently available on Amazon for the low price of $9.99.  It’s a perfect stocking stuffer for the holidays. You don’t have to be a member to purchase; you can simply follow the link here: https://amzn.to/2zvFWOE


Congratulations to Mark and his team that brought us “Mock and Roll.” It was a wild ride.  We definitely look forward to the next project! - Pete V.




        



No Respect for Penny Marshall - by Wal Ozello

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Penny Marshall died earlier this week from complications with Diabetes. Like many my age, I grew up with reruns of Laverne and Shirley on my local UHF channel. While my parents were watching the news and game shows, I was laughing away at the bumbling, ever funny, Laverne played by Penny Marshall. It was a great lesson in comedy.

She was probably one of the greatest comediennes of her time but never won the big prize. She was nominated for three Golden Globes but never a winner, losing to Carol Burnett in 1978 and Linda Lavin in 1979 and 1980. (If you don’t know who that is, don’t feel bad. I had to Google her name, too.)

While her comedic performances are at the level of Jerry Lewis, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, her directing talents were even better. She had this knack for weaving real comedy into heartfelt stories. Ones that can make you laugh one second and touch your heart the next. Few people had that talent and Penny Marshall was a genius at it. It shines through in one of the best baseball movies ever, A League of Their Own.

A League of Their Own had only two Golden Globe nominations: Geena Davis for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical and Madonna for Best Original Song - Motion Picture. Here’s some perspective: Honeymoon in Vegas was nominated for a Golden Globe Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical and A League of Their Own wasn’t. Pathetic. And as for the Academy Awards? No nominations.

Big was another amazing film directed by Penny Marshall. Also starring Tom Hanks, Marshall does a wonderful job of getting the best out of Tom by placing him in perfect situations for him to shine. I’m sure after years of being in front of the camera, she knew how to give her actors exactly what they needed. What works the best about this piano clip is the timing. It’s perfect.

Big got two Academy Award Nominations that year. Tom Hanks for Best Actor and Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. At least the Golden Globe gave it a Best Picture nomination but it lost to Working Girl. But again, no love for Penny Marshall. (Side note: Big was the first movie directed by a woman to gross $100 million at the U.S. Box office. That was 1988.)

Ms. Marshall is able to open a door and give us a tour to the inside of the human soul. Her movies are not huge and dramatic. Instead they are calm but moving. You don’t know where they suck you in, but at some point they make you feel better about improving the lives of others. Here’s a clip from her movie Awakenings. If you haven’t seen this movie, rent or download it. It’s a masterpiece.

This got the most nominations seeing it’s the most dramatic of her movies. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (given to the producers), Robert DeNiro for Best Actor and Steven Zallian for Best Screenplay. Robin Williams got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. No love for Penny Marshall.

She hired some amazing talent: Tom Hanks, Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro and got them to create masterful performances. Made movies that are historic and loved by millions. Made the world laugh as an actress. But never received a Golden Globe or an Oscar. How immensely sad.

But they’ll be no crying today. Instead, let’s celebrate Penny Marshall and thanks her for giving us a glimpse of humanity covered in laughs and comedy.

Wal Ozello is a science fiction techno-thriller novelist and the author of Assignment 1989 ,  Revolution 1990, and Sacrifice 2086. He's the lead singer of the former Columbus rock band Armada. His film work includes directing Dad Can’t Help You Now by Colin Gawel.

Rocky Balboa Returns in Creed ll, a.k.a. Rocky Vlll - by Johnny DiLoretto

Maybe this is crazy, but Sylvester Stallone is a genius. Sure, he’s produced more crap than a flock of geese, but he invented Rambo (the onscreen version anyway) and the beloved Rocky Balboa, one of the all-time great characters in movie history. He puts that hat on, that leather jacket, and lays down some doe-eyed, slack-jawed philosophy, and suddenly the world and my place in it seems clearer. I think it’s that way for a lot of people.

All told, there are six true Rocky films: Rocky (still a masterwork of underdog pathos), Rocky II (a smart, heartfelt sequel), Rocky III (the next logical progression in the to-riches part of the saga), Rocky IV (a short and satisfying glasnost-era melodrama), Rocky V (the one we don’t like to mention) and the absolutely underrated Rocky Balboa, a brilliant low-budget comeback that reintroduced the character after a 16-year hiatus, and that takes us back, full circle, to the spirit and scrappy indie production values of the 1976 original.

In Rocky Balboa, the former champ is lured out of retirement for an exhibition match with the current champ to breathe some life into their dying sport and to quench the never-say-die fire in Rocky’s belly. It’s Stallone’s Unforgiven, an elegiac and sweetly made send-off to the character that made him a superstar and who still inspires millions of people to face down their demons and go the distance, often by running up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

But a funny thing happened after Rocky Balboa. We didn’t want to say goodbye to the Italian Stallion just yet. Frankly, it was just so nice to see him again. The character had still more life, more fight in him and more wisdom to impart to an audience for whom humility and quiet dignity have become fast fading concepts. And, so, Creed was born.

In much the same way that Casino Royale rebooted and reinvented James Bond, the Creed movies are a savvy, baton hand-off of the franchise to a younger star and directors, but (in an inspired creative move) Stallone doesn’t do the obvious and simply write a younger Rocky into the mix, he shifts the focus to the son of his former adversary and best friend, Apollo Creed.

Rising screen sensation Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed outwardly bears little to no resemblance to Rocky. First off, the obvious, he’s black; secondly, he’s got a streetwise confidence that belies his inner sweetness; and third, he’s riddled through with daddy issues. But under Adonis’ toughness is the essential element required for these films to work: his character’s fragility, a sad, broken heart and the deep-seated desire to fight to find his self-worth. Enter Rocky as the perfect supporting character.

The Creed films put Rocky in his protege’s corner as both trainer and life coach. It’s another completely sensible and satisfying story pivot: turn Rocky into Mickey, his own former trainer and mentor. But whereas Mickey was tiny, gruff and occasionally cruel; Rocky, though sometimes reluctant, is a lumbering sweetheart always there to lift Adonis up, coach him through his toughest battles and inspire him to rise up when he’s knocked down.

It’s a testament to the timelessness of Stallone’s formula, and the ways he keeps repackaging it with sincerity and love, that the image of an underdog fighter, bruised and bloodied, getting up from the canvas to the strains of that indelible theme music still has the power to stir the heart. It’s the kind of thing that can give you the strength to fight any number of personal crises. You can apply it to nearly every one of our emotional or psychological wounds.

And that’s the beauty of this enduring character: Rocky no longer needs to fight to inspire us. We’re no longer cheering him on - he’s now squarely on Adonis’s and our side, whispering in our ears, telling us how great we can all be if we’re just willing to bear down, do the hard work, and fight through the pain and disappointment life punishes all of us with. Like he tells his estranged son in Rocky Balboa, “It’s not how hard you can hit. It’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” That’s clearly not about boxing at all...

Fortunately, with Creed 2, an absolute blast that ties Adonis’s evolving story to the fourth Rocky film (in which his father is killed in the ring by the Russian juggernaut, Ivan Drago), the Rocky saga just keeps moving forward with the same invaluable lessons for a new generation. In fact, counting the new Creed movie, there are now a total of eight Rocky films: and these new movies have earned inclusion in the franchise in their own right, but mostly because Rocky is still there informing the soul of the stories.

You know, if you went through each one of these movies and edited together all the scenes where Rocky has something to say, you’d have a nice little blueprint for how to be a good man and a decent human being. Stallone can make 20 more of these movies for all I care. It’ll be a sad day when the 72-year old’s not around anymore to guide the spirit of his creation. But, like the Stallion says, “It ain’t over til it’s over.” Thankfully, Creed 2 is a wildly entertaining reminder that it could do all of us a little good to go another round or two with this guy in our corner.

Johnny DiLoretto is a longtime broadcaster, media personality and performer; co-host of the long running, Cinema Classics, host of the currently on hiatus, Not So Late Show; and the director of community relations at Central Ohio’s original NPR station, WCBE 90.5 FM.



Movie Review: Hearts Beat Loud - by Ricki C.

Hearts Beat Loud is currently playing at the Drexel and Gateway Theaters, check the links for showtimes.


There are precious few ways to grow old in rock & roll music, fewer ways still to grow old gracefully.  Longtime readers of Pencilstorm will be painfully familiar with me grousing about this fact in past blogs: for every whip-crack, spark-spitting Joan Jett & the Blackhearts gig, playing their hearts out at the likes of the terribly-unforgiving Obetz Zucchini Festival, there’s a dispirited, not-even-going-through-the-motions Blue Oyster Cult appearing at a Q-FM Wing Zing, looking (and, in fact, PLAYING) like insurance salesmen, not like the Dark Princes of Heavy Metal they were when I loved ‘em in the 1970’s.

And don’t even get me STARTED on Pete Townshend & Roger Daltrey of The Who.

Anyway, the movie I caught over the weekend at the Drexel (and – let’s face facts – wouldn’t you much rather see a movie at the Drexel than the Gateway?) (Actually Ricki, I prefer the Gateway - Colin) Hearts Beat Loud, addresses that exact topic of Growing Old With Rock & Roll.  (Not coincidentally the title of my old blog, 2012-2013.)

In Hearts Beat Loud, Nick Offerman (apparently from Parks & Recreation, a TV show I never saw a single episode of) plays Frank Fisher, a 40-something Brooklyn record store owner and widowed father of 17-year old Sam, played by Kiersey Clemons, who is simply incredible in this movie, and whom I would like to think is somehow related to Clarence & Jake Clemons from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, but she probably isn’t.

There’s really not much plot to the film: dad & (reluctant) daughter write & record a song together at home, which becomes a hit of sorts on Spotify (whatever THAT is, I’m 66 frickin’ years old, I have never ONCE listened to a song online, maybe Colin can fill in the blanks here).  But the plot is not really the selling point of this movie, it's the PERFORMANCES – from Offerman & Clemons, from (of all people) Ted Danson, from Toni Collette & Blythe Danner, and from the heartbreaking Sasha Lane, playing Sam’s love interest - that propel the picture.  (I have to credit director Brett Haley - who I've never even HEARD of - and his co-writer Marc Basch for pulling out performances this consistently brilliant from his cast.)  (Also, I calculate that the budget for this movie was probably IN EXCESS of $137.50.  I bet the producers of The Avengers spent more on DONUTS for the special-effects crew than the entire budget for this superlative flick.)

I’m a connoisseur of rock & roll movies (for a semi-complete rundown, check out The Best of Everything, part two in Growing Old With Rock & Roll), and lemme tell ya, for every masterwork like Almost Famous or Rock & Roll High School, there is always a The Runaways or Begin Again lurking around the corner.  And I’ve gotta say, Hearts Beat Loud is THE BEST r&r movie I’ve seen since 2016’s Sing Street or 2009’s Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges. 

Hearts Beat Loud actually shares a lot with the aforementioned Almost Famous.  The first time I saw Almost Famous, by 45 minutes into the movie I loved it SO MUCH that I spent the rest of the film holding my breath, waiting for the writers & director to screw it up, to pull out something that would NEVER REALLY HAPPEN to a real rock & roll band, to trot out something so hokey-Hollywood that they would ruin the picture for me.  And it never happened.  Almost Famous was perfectly great, start to finish.

I felt exactly the same way on Sunday afternoon at the Drexel, taking in Hearts Beat Loud.  I was certain they were gonna screw it up somewhere in the final half-hour (i.e. Frank & Sam wind up on the Jimmy Fallon show or at Madison Square Garden, Beyonce shows up wanting to cover their song, etc.) but they never did.  It was wonderful.  You should go.  – Ricki C. / July 2nd, 2018


(ps. It has been pointed out to me that I never mentioned the TUNES in a music movie.  The songs Offerman & Clemons perform in Hearts Beat Loud were by written by Keegan Dewitt and they were pretty great.  They mighta been a little too indie-rock for this over-the-hill devotee of Mott The Hoople and The Dictators, but they were still great, and PERFECT for the film.)