Tonight’s very exciting post is all about – not music in movies, but movies about music!

220px-bohemian_rhapsody_poster

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Starring Rami Malek as Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, Gwilym Lee as guitarist and hair farmer Brian May, Ben Hardy as singing drummer Roger Taylor, Joseph Mazzello as dorky bass player John Deacon, and Branson from Downtown Abbey as Super Bad Gay Dude.

From the moment I saw the trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody, I knew I wanted to see it, even though I have never wanted to see Queen.

My enthusiasm waned when I realized no one could make a movie about Queen without including the dreaded music of Queen. I pictured myself wrapped in a ball beneath my seat while the house speakers pummeled me with “I’m in Love with My Car” (“With my hand on your grease gun/Mmm, it’s like a disease, son”) and “Fat-Bottomed Girls” (“Heap big woman, you done made a big man of me”).

But on a rainy night when our only other choice was Mary Poppins Returns, we grimly fastened our safety harnesses, faced the camera, said, “Let’s do this,” and walked in slow motion into the suburban multiplex while cars and helicopters exploded behind us.

(Is there a musical line I won’t cross? Oh yes, and I know exactly what’s on the other side: Close to the Edge, the Yes biopic.*)

Two and a half hours later, we left the theater wrapped in a happy rock-and-roll daze. What a film! Rami Malek, who had barely heard of Queen before he was hired, resurrected Freddie. When people in the far future envision Freddie Mercury (which they will, despite everything I’ve said about him here in the present), they will think of Rami Malek.

I didn’t like how the film played with Queen’s actual history – Freddie didn’t break up the band by being selfish, Freddie broke up the band by being dead – and there were zero mentions of the glam rock and art rock worlds that birthed them, but I still give this film Four Paws Up for its superlative performances, exceptional sound, and riveting scenes that give us a notion of what it was like to be in the band. The recreation of Queen’s set at Live Aid in 1985 was a spectacle on a level with the “Once in a Lifetime” sequence in Stop Making Sense or the chariot race in Ben-Hur.

Can I do the fandango? Yes, but I prefer not to.

I wanted to see Bohemian Rhapsody because I love films about bands. Naturally, I’ve made a list of all the ones I’ve seen (and some I haven’t). I’ve divided my list into four handy categories (with two subcategories). I don’t claim this list is complete – your nominations are welcome, and will be ridiculed.

Note: Documentaries are off-limits. So no mention of the legions of Beatles docs (such as Imagine: John Lennon and George Harrison: Living in the Material World) or the Decline of Western Civilization movies (punk and metal).

Also, I am arbitrarily striking off all the Star Is Born and Phantom of the Opera movies, including Phantom of the Paradise. This is just too much work.

Ready?

Tonight, Category A:

Biopics about The Beatles

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
The ultimate band movie, this one about a day in the life of a band that’s very like but not exactly like The Beatles, played by real Beatles. A Hard Day’s Night will not be equaled until they start making fantasy RPG movies where you can be Paul’s grandfather.

Birth of the Beatles (1979)
This was the first movie about The Beatles after their break-up. The songs were recorded by a Beatles tribute band with contributions from Paul McCartney. I don’t recall this film as amounting to much of anything, but it might be nostalgic to rewatch it. We’re probably better off with the next entry, even though like most people I can only handle a finite amount of Pete Best:

Backbeat (1994)
Young Beatles on a rampage in Berlin. The film is only above average, but the soundtrack – ooh-la-la! Alt-rock musicians covering The Beatles covering black R&B hits. Sweet.

Now for Beatles films I haven’t seen:

The Hours and the Times (1991)
Two of Us (2000)
Nowhere Boy (2009)
Lennon Naked (2010)

There are no Beatles songs on these soundtracks. The first two don’t even have songs, just the music that follows the actors around. The other two have some Lennon solo tracks. I can’t claim I’m in rush to see them.

Where are the Ringo movies??

Subcategory: Biopics about bands based on The Beatles

Head (1968)
Correct me if I’m wrong, Princess Internet, but A Hard Day’s Night and Head are the only movies about a band in which the band is played by the band (The Beatles and The Monkees, respectively). Unfortunately for The Monkees, the distance between A Hard Day’s Night and Head is about as wide as the distance between the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the bottom of an abandoned swimming pool. A living-room full of stoners would vote to watch Mary Poppins Returns.

The opening track, “Porpoise Song,” is a representative sample of late-’60s psychedelia, but other than that, I recommend you watch The Monkees’ old TV show.

The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978)
The first Beatles parody. My problem with Beatles parodies is that after I hear the first song, I want the real thing. I’m afraid if tonight I watched All You Need Is Cash, I’d be disappointed.

In our next movies-about-music posts we’ll tackle Biopics about non-Beatles, Totally fictional biopics, and Old biopic crud from Hollywood. Until then, we will, of course, rock you.

The song “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t make sense, but, to be fair, neither does “I Am the Walrus.”

* There is no Yes biopic. I just said that to scare you.

Welcome to the sparkling fresh world of 2019, colleagues. I survived the floodplains of December thanks to a diet rich in readily available carbohydrates:

  • Bread
  • Variations on bread
  • Sugar, flour, cinnamon, chocolate
  • Stuffing (bread)
  • Jams, jellies, butters
  • More bread
  • Rice Krispies golf balls paved with peanut butter and frosted with chocolate
  • Probably bread again
  • Fruitcake (fruit safely entombed in bread)

As you can guess, counteracting my month on this diet is one of my New Year’s resolutions.

All right, already. How do you succeed with your resolutions?

Hold on to your Foghat, I’m about to tell you.

Men’s Journal has a cover headline about “Crushable New Year’s Resolutions.” Men’s Journal has to say ridiculous stuff like that because it’s a magazine for drama queens. Personal growth isn’t a contest, it’s about enjoying your life by acquiring new skills and meeting new goals. It’s about imagining a new you and making at least some of your imaginings real. You don’t spike the ball in the end zone just because you learned ballroom dancing or built a boat in your basement.

The whole secret to achieving what you resolve is slow and steady growth. Here are the steps:

  1. Pick something you want to do.
  2. Make sure you pick something that humans can do.
  3. Break it into small pieces, then decide how you’ll do each piece.
  4. Do the first piece. Then the second piece. Then the third piece.
  5. That’s all there is, unless you want me to say bread again.

You might get to February 1st and despair because you’ve accomplished nothing or not much. Don’t despair – rejoice. You’re trying. I guarantee that as disappointed as you may be that you haven’t lost 50 pounds or gone on a dream date with Elon Musk in near-Earth orbit, you’ll be much happier than the people who never tried at all.

(Goals chosen for illustrative purposes only. Run-DMSteve assumes no responsibility if you actually try to lose 50 pounds in January or go on a dream date with Elon Musk in near-Earth orbit.)

Figure out where you went off the rails. Correct your mistakes. Refine your resolutions. Then try again.

I can’t waste my time with New Year’s resolutions. I’ve got problems!

Who doesn’t? Have you spent 31 days living on the All-Carbs Carbogenic Diet?

My parents are so old, they’re on the National Register of Historic Places. All of my pen pals have kicked the bucket. The two fiction magazines I most respect are about to disappear (Glimmer Train) or abandon paper (Tin House.) My novel is a balloon with leaks. My dog refuses to become a cash cow. But I have some plans, and I’ve broken them into small pieces.

It’s 365 days to 2020, it’s dark, and I’m wearing sunglasses.

Hit it!

Random Pick of the Day 1
Cassandra Wilson, Glamoured (2003)
This sneaky album is best played after your guests have gone home and you’re wandering the back yard, collecting the empty wine glasses. Wilson is smooth, sexy, and in control of the blues, folk, jazz, and R&B. She sounds like a polished-glass version of Phoebe Snow, except when she sounds like she’s falling asleep. I especially like “Honey Bee” and her cover of “Lay Lady Lay.”

Random Pick of the Day 2
Gioacchino Rossini, Overtures (1994)
Conducted by Yoel Levi & His Soggy Bottom Atlanta Symphony Boys
Awhile back I said that early Hollywood owes a debt to Mendelsohn. Early Hollywood does, but it owes the farm to Rossini. Overtures proves it. The magnificent seven tracks on this disc include Guglielmo Tell and the one about a barber.

The advantage to owning these overtures is that you don’t have to listen to the operas.

Magnus Carlsen defeated Fabiano Caruana in the lightning round of the championship today, winning the first three games of the four-game rapid series (25 minutes per side) and thus the title. Ho. Hum.

Caruana played well in the first game, but he was overpowered finally by Carlsen, the best player at speed chess since the invention of clocks. Caruana’s performance in the next two games got worse. Carlsen was never seriously threatened.

At the postgame press conference, Carlsen was his usual effervescent self, which we haven’t seen since the match started, which seems like about a year ago. Caruana was quiet, but he’s always quiet. They sat next to each other, but despite having spent weeks with Caruana inside a soundproof booth, Carlsen never looked at or acknowledged him.

After Carlsen’s decision in the 12th and final game of the regulation match to offer a draw even though he had the superior position, a strategy that would minimize his risk and send the match into extra innings at the faster speeds at which he excels, today’s events were kind of depressing.

“Magnus needs to get rid of this fear of losing the title,” former world champion Vladimir Kramnik said after the 12th game. “I cannot imagine him doing this a few years ago.”

Whatever will be the result of the match he should start to think a little bit, to ask himself a few questions: Why does he play chess? Does he really enjoy it? What does he want in chess?

It seems like he just wants to keep his title and to get rid of this match somehow.

“They should put an asterisk after Carlsen’s name,” my wife said.

I’ll think of something happier to write about next time. Maybe my list of the most depressing albums of the 21st century. (I’m up to four.) Until then, one of the last questions at the press conference came from a reporter who said that Donald Trump wanted to meet the players. Would they accept an invitation to the White House?

Both players basically said, “No comment.”

Kramnik’s comments courtesy ChessBase.com.

I once worked at an ad agency with an artistic gentleman who brought more flair to his life than everyone working for Paper Mate. J5 was never at a loss for something to say. If he was at a loss, he would fall back on a Swiss army knife catchphrase, good for the office, the opera, the 50-yard line, or a chess match:

WHAT the FUCK is UP with THAT?!

Today, in the final round of regulation chess, Magnus Carlsen, playing black, built up an enormous advantage against Fabiano Caruana — and then offered the challenger a draw.

WHAT the FUCK is UP with THAT?!

I’ll tell you what the fuck is up with that. Carlsen, the world champion of tournament chess, rapid chess, and blitz chess, decided ahead of time that he would bluff. He would force a draw and take his chances in the playoffs, where he and Caruana will decide the title by playing rapid and, if necessary, blitz.

Caruana, looking down the barrel of an attack that even I might have been able to bring home, was surprised. He accepted the offer.

Hungarian Grandmaster Judit Polgár, the World Chess commentator for the games, the former #1 woman chess player in the world and the only woman to defeat a ruling men’s world champion, had a different explanation for the draw offer: “Carlsen was afraid.”

Garry Kasparov, the world champion Polgár defeated and the man who once compared women chess players unfavorably to “circus puppets,” agreed with her:

In light of this shocking draw offer from Magnus in a superior position with more time, I reconsider my evaluation of him being the favorite in rapids. Tiebreaks require tremendous nerves and he seems to be losing his.

This result makes this championship the first championship in the history of chess where every game was tied. This result lowers chess to the level of checkers, where the 1863 world checkers championship ended with all 40 games drawn. Most games of checkers at the master level are drawn because CHECKERS IS A SOLVED GAME, like Tic-Tac-Toe. This result makes chess look STUPID and BORING. And possibly FIXED, as the players make more money if the match goes into tie-breaks.

At the postgame press conference, a writer from ChessBase asked about that difference, “more money than a journalist makes in a year,” he added, to laughter. Mag Wheels, who looked grumpy and defensive, deflected the question. Fabio said, quietly, “I don’t care about the money.” You tell me who really wants this title.

On Wednesday, Carlsen and Caruana will play four games of rapid chess, with 25 minutes per side per game. If that doesn’t produce a winner, they’ll play two games of blitz, 5 minutes each.

If they still haven’t gotten anywhere after all that, they’ll go to something called Armageddon.

When I first heard about Armageddon, I imagined the players fighting with meat cleavers in scuba gear. Nope. It’s one game, no weapons or costumes. Mag Wheels, playing white, would get 5 minutes. Fabio would get 4, but he would only have to draw to win. The odds of the match going to Armageddon, as calculated by Oliver Roeder, chess correspondent for Fivethirtyeight.com, are about the same as the soundproof booth where they play being invaded by a sharknado.

If I had known how this match was going to go, I would’ve written about the women’s world chess championship, a knock-out tournament that began earlier this month with 64 circus puppets and ended in an exciting four-game match with the reigning champ, Ju Wenjun of China, defeating Kateryna Lagno of the Ukraine. But I thought Carlsen-Caruana was where the action was. I fucked up. I trusted them.

Even if Carlsen wins, his reputation will be forever tarnished. He’ll be the champion who was too afraid of losing his celebrity and his clothing line to fight like a champion. You think Ju Wenjun would pull a stunt like this? How about hell no?

Enough grumbling. Let’s look at two chess players who aren’t afraid of whaling on each other. R. Praggnanandhaa is 13. He was a grandmaster before he was a teenager. Here he plays blitz against former world champion Viswanathan Anand. Pragg and Vishy fight like they’re on a tightrope, with both sides ready to topple on every move.


I have never seen such composure from a boy this age.

See you Wednesday. Watch out for sharks.

 

 

 

Today’s game between defending champion Magnus Carlsen, playing white, and Fabiano Caruana was a draw, the 11th straight. There’s one game left before the tie-breaker round (if necessary).

I’m not going to discuss today’s game except to say the champ didn’t show us much. I’ve seen more action from our dog after another pitched battle with his bed.

This is how we roll
This is how he rolls.

What I will mention are two moments from the postgame press conference. Mag Wheels, who is normally gregarious with the press, was restrained. I’ll bet he’s unhappy with his play, especially in the games where he had white. You can’t change the past. Fabio was his usual nerdy, laid-back self. He hasn’t changed by one complex carbon molecule from the first game, which they played three weeks ago.

Question to Carlsen: The Ukrainian Grandmaster Sergey Karjakin, whom Carlsen defeated in his championship defense in 2016, said it would be “better for chess” if Carlsen won this match because “people like to see a dominant champion.” Do you think that, if you won, it would be better for chess?

The journalists and officials laughed, but Carlsen, who can be witty in Norwegian and his second language, English, didn’t take advantage of this easy opening. He grimaced, shook his head, and said, “I can’t answer that.”

The moderator, English Grandmaster Daniel King, put the question to Caruana. Would it be better for chess if you won?

Fabio, looking confident, smiled and tossed it right back. “Oh, I don’t think chess would change much,” he said.

The other moment was when the players were asked what they would do on Sunday, their last off-day.

Fabio: “I’m going to rest.”

Mag Wheels: “I need to find some energy.”

The 12th game is on Monday. Fabio will have white. They’re still the two highest-rated players in the world, but if 90% of this game is mental, Fabio has the advantage. All he has to do to claim the crown is win. Imagine being 26 years old and having the power to turn your life inside-out in one day.

Yogi Berra, the ultimate chess fan, said it best. It ain’t over till it’s over.

 

 

Magnus Carlsen and Fabriano Caruana took serious chances in today’s game. At one point, U.S. Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura said Carlsen was about to go “true caveman” against Caruana’s king. “I don’t see how this could possibly be drawn,” he said.

It was. The players mixed sulfur, potassium nitrate, and charcoal in bamboo tubes and fired diamonds at each other and still, nobody won.

This was exciting, fabulous chess. Both of these boys like to control the board. They don’t like surprises. That’s not what we got today. “I don’t know where the ball is going to go,” Crash Davis, the catcher, admitted to the batter after Nuke LaLoosh uncorked another wild pitch. “I could have lost it in the end,” Mag Wheels said during the postgame show. Everyone in Norway fainted.

I should note here that the final position of a draw between masters at this level might look to the amateur like there’s plenty of play left:

Game 10 final

True, the computer says that Fabio, playing white, had a better chance of winning than Mag Wheels. That doesn’t mean Fabio could actually win, it just means the computer fancies him. Don’t get a swelled head, kid, the computer is fickle.

Seven hundreds years of chess practice (ever since the pawns were given the powers we know today) have taught us that this position is a draw. Black can block white forever so long as he or she refuses to trade rooks. The only way you can win this one is by voter fraud.

Two amateurs arriving at this position would keep playing (I speak from personal experience) until somebody blundered. Or maybe, after another 30 moves, they’d agree to a draw after all. Chess in Asgard is not like chess at my level.

At today’s press conference, the players were asked if a woman would ever play for the world chess championship.

“Right now, the current crop of players, it’s hard to imagine,” Carlsen said. “But in the future I don’t see why not.”

“In the future it’s possible but right now there don’t seem to be any players currently,” Caruana said. “So maybe not in my time, but certainly one day.”

This is an improvement over Bobby Fischer’s assessment, almost 50 years ago: “Women are weakies.”

And now, for everyone who has asked me about chess-themed songs. I found one!

Now that my eyes have been opened, I see that Juga is all over YouTube. Get over there now and check out her song about Capablanca, which she performed at the Marshall Chess Club in New York.

Yesterday, during a five-on-a-side game of football, Magnus Carlsen and an opposing player cracked skulls. Their own. The men suffered cuts and bruises but no concussions and finished their game.

The other guy was a Norwegian journalist. Insert your own joke about the fake news media here, I’m tired of making these things up.

Id rather fight than switch
Magnus Carlsen: “I’d rather fight than switch!”

I don’t know what Fabiano Caruana was doing on his off-day. He was probably listening to Kendrick Lamar and Killah Priest (he’s evolved from Metallica and Led Zeppelin) and preparing to play the black pieces in Game 9, not sucking down Big Gulps and watching There Will Be Blood.

Was Mag Wheels rattled or ignited by his collision? He got off to a strong start today and came close to a winning position…until move 25, when he pushed a rook pawn for the second consecutive move. That’s his normal level of aggression (as the Norwegian journalist found out the day before), but too much for this game. Fabio, whose position until then had looked about as stable as banana Jell-O at a kindergarten birthday party, immediately spotted a way to fight back. The game was equal by the 30th move, but Mag Wheels, clearly upset with himself, plugged along until move 56 when he accepted reality and the draw.

In chess, we call a substandard player a wood pusher or a pawn pusher, implying that they are barely competent to push pawns, nevermind the other pieces. Carlsen’s first pawn move was a clever idea, a dagger pointed at Caruana’s kingside. “From Hell’s heart I stab at thee!” The second pawn move was more like one of my wood-pusher ideas.*

Even Homer nods, especially when his head hurts.

Three games to go. Something’s gotta give?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States. We celebrate that happy day by overeating and throwing asylum seekers into POW camps. This year at the dinner table, everyone will be talking about chess. Don’t be the person sitting silent in a corner like a character in a Left Behind novel. Just memorize the following list:

My favorite chess quotes!

  1. Professional chess requires a level of peak mental alertness that most of us achieve only in the throes of searing tooth pain. (Seth Stevenson)
  2. Chess is a constant struggle between my desire not to lose and my desire not to think. (Jan Gustafsson)
  3. [Chess is] as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you could find anywhere outside an advertising agency. (Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye)
  4. In chess you may hit a man when he’s down. (Irving Chernev)
  5. The chess mentality offers rich pastures in which psychoanalysts may safely graze. (David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Bobby Fischer Goes to War)
  6. Chess is not something that drives people mad; chess is something that keeps mad people sane. (William Hartston)
  7. When you don’t know what to play, wait for an idea to come into your opponent’s mind. You may be sure that idea will be wrong. (Savielly Tartakover)
  8. Chess has this in common with making poetry, that the desire for it comes upon the amateur in gusts. (A.A. Milne)
  9. Chess has no social purpose. That, above all, is important. (Marcel Duchamp)

There’s a lot of good writing about chess. Vladimir Nabokov’s The Defense leads the pack, though after I read it I was depressed for two years. Sometimes you find something memorable in unexpected places. The English master Jonathon Rowson, in a review of Neil McDonald’s The Benko Gambit Revealed, produced this gem about a particular position. It won’t get you extra stuffing at Thanksgiving, I just enjoy reading it:

…Black has much less pressure than normal here, according to McDonald. I was going to leave it at that, but I have to say that this assessment is not as compelling as it might be, and I’m taking the author’s word for it to some extent. This makes me wonder if he is taking someone else’s word for it, and so on and so on, back to the baseless conjecture of a forgotten man in a drunken post-mortem, in a pub that has since closed down.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

* Emanuel Lasker, who was world chess champion from 1894 to 1921, once said about players like me, as if to console us: “In life we are all duffers.”