Film Review: ROCKETMAN (UK/USA 2019) ****

Rocketman Poster
A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John‘s breakthrough years.

Director:

Dexter Fletcher

Writer:

Lee Hall (screenplay)

You got to love it when a subject executively produces his own biopic.  And even more when the subject is Sir Elton John.

Elton John is world famous and known for his outrageous performances, flashy costumes an controversial remarks.  His biopic, directed by Dexter Fletcher and written by Lee Hall who wrote BILLY ELLIOT) opens with him in bright orange gear, entering a bright light, which the audience assumes is going to be a grand stage, but turns out hilariously to be the room for an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering.  As the orange clad figures discusses his life, the biopic relates the story of one of the world’s best signer/songwriter from little boy to the present.

The film’s next scene has Elton as a little boy in a song and dance number that is immediately reminiscent of Ken Russell’s THE WHO musical TOMMY where little Tommy is inserted in a number called “Bernie’s holiday camp”.   Russell’s TOMMY has important significance to Elton John as he had a cameo role in the film as the pinball wizard, with the popular song later performed in its full entirety by John in the biopic.

By inevitable comparison to the recent BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (Director Fletcher was named the replacement director for BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and helped finish that film though only Bryan Singer received director’s credit) which won 4 Oscars including the Best Actor prize for Rami, ROCKETMAN is more enjoyable to this reviewer for 2 reasons.  This reviewer is a true Elton John and not a Queen fan, and so every song crooned in ROCKETMAN brings both nostalgia and joy.  The film is also splashy and more daring (the sex scene that was left intact in the film, according to the Daily Mail article, compared to RHAPSODY where there were no sex scenes).  The sex seen in ROCKETMAN, with John and his lover doing the nasties both butt naked in bed is sufficiently eye-opening though no intercourse is actually on display.

Both Tagor Egerton as Elton John and Jamie Bell (BILLY ELLIOT and THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN) as his lyricist and friend, Bernie Turpin are close to perfect in their roles.   Elton John has himself praised Egerton’s performance in the film.  What could be a better complement?  Egerton also gets the Elton John mannerisms down pat to a ‘t’.

Certain songs in the film add a certain resonance not realized by many.  One prime example are the lyrics of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” crooned by both Bernie Turpin and Elton John.  ‘….going back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny black toad, I’m going back where my future lies, beyond the Yellow Brick Road”.  This segment is not only the most moving but most powerful part of the film which effectively forms the climatic moment of the film.

ROCEKTMAN which clocks just over the two hour mark reveals both the genius and demons of this talented individual.  Owing to the nature of the subject, the downward spiralling of John is still glamorously displayed and neither dismal looking nor dull.  One prime example is his diving in the pool fantasy sequence where John meets his boy-self at the bottom playing ROCKETMAN on is toy piano.

A few facts on his life are missing on the screen most notably his spat with Madonna and his knighthood.  These would have added even more spice to the otherwise heavily layered dessert.

ROCKETMAN has been chosen as the Opening Night film for Toronto’s 2019 LGBT Inside Out Film Festival.  This weekend the film goes head-to-head competition with two other blockbusters, GODZILLA 2 (Ugh!) and MA.  Elton John fans around the film should (their numbers alone) make ROCKETMAN the number 1 at the box-office.  ROCEKTMAN deserves to be, anyway.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3vO8E2e6G0

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TIFF 2018 Review: SKIN (USA 2018) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Skin Poster
A destitute young man, raised by racist skinheads and notorious among white supremacists, turns his back on hatred and violence to transform his life, with the help of a black activist and the woman he loves.

Director:

Guy Nattiv

Writer:

Guy Nattiv

Nothing about the KKK on film and all of a sudden two films about infiltration of the Kuklaxklan, though SKIN does not specifically refer to this clan but a general neo-Nazi group.  The other difference is that the infiltrator in this one is white, and goes by the name of Byron Widner (Jamie Bell).  

He is caught on camera brutally attacking a black by the feds and forced into snitching or face jail time and losing everything he has.  At the same time he falls for a single mother, Julie (Danielle Macdonald) with three kids.  Nattiv’s film follows Byron as he slowly but surely gives up his racism.  His neo_Nazi mother and father go all to to prevent him from doing so.  Every time he disposes of one aspect of racism, he has a particular part of a tattoo on his face removed, a very painful process.  

Though based on a true story, the relationship between Byron and Julie is just not believable that he would give up all for her, for obvious reasons as seen on the screen.

Trailer: (unavailable)

TIFF 2018 Review: DONNYBROOK (USA 2018) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Donnybrook Poster
Two men prepare to compete in a legendary bare-knuckle fight where the winner gets a $100,000 prize.

Director:

Tim Sutton

Writer:

Tim Sutton

FIGHT CLUB meets BILLY ELLIOT.
  Jamie Bell is all pumped up in the role of an ex-marine trying to get out of drugs.  Drugs are bad!  His wife is addicted and he has to escape the wrath of a meth cook/dealer.  The story eventually ends with the two men — the ex-marine, Earl who struggles to provide for his family and that violent drug dealer with an undefeated fighting record — competing in the Donnybrook, a legendary, bare-knuckle brawl with a cash prize of $100,000.  
 Sutton’s film is not perfect, choppy and paints an unflattering look of America – best envisioned by a woman singing of the U.S. National amidst having a drag of her cigarette.  It is an America of clandestine drug deals, shady motel rooms, alcohol-fuelled brawls, and abandoned dreams.  
The film depends largely on Bell, who thankfully is believable as a tough guy though not believable to be tough enough to fight his opponent.

Film Review: FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL (UK/USA 2017)

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Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool Poster
Trailer

A romance sparks between a young actor and a Hollywood leading lady.

Director:

Paul McGuigan

Writers:

Matt Greenhalgh (screenplay), Peter Turner (based on the memoir by)

 

British director Paul McGuigan and Paul Bettany broke into the film scene with their energetic GANGSTER No. 1, full of brutal violence and drama. In McGuigan’s latest effort, this time with young BILLY ELLIOT actor Jamie Bell (watch the dancer’s hustle scene with Annette Bening), the energy and freshness are clearly missing.

FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL, they die in New York City.  At St. Vincent’s Hospital, to be exact.  The film star in question is Oscar Winner, Gloria Grahame (portrayed by Oscar nominee Annette Bening) who dies of cancer after one last fling (at the age of 57) with young beau, Peter Turner (Bell).  She spends the her last days in Peter’s home in Liverpool, must to the chagrin of her family.  The film based on Turner’s own memoir and adapted into a script written by Matt Greenhalgh alternates between the years 1981 of her death and 1979 when Grahame and Turner first met in Liverpool.  It seems awkward to call them a couple, because they look so awkward as a couple – both in real life and on the screen.

The film is an affectionate tribute to Gloria Grahame but the film is a total bore.  Audiences have had many chances of watching a romance between an old man or woman or vice versa and someone half their ages.  Films with this subject have always been a disaster from Clint Eastwood’s BREEZY (William Holden and Kay Lenz) to SAY HELLO TO YESTERDAY (Jean Simmons and Leonard Whiting).  Though FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL is a true story based on the memoir written by Turner himself, the film still fails despite solid efforts by Bell and Bening.

Bell looks too cute and adorable to be falling for an older person.  Are there no younger women in Liverpool?  I have never really liked Bening in anything, so I will save any negative comments here, except to say she gave her best performance in AMERICAN BEAUTY (though the real bitch in real life turned out to be Kevin Spacey).

McGuigan attempts to pull at the heart strings, with an archive clip of Oscar night when the real Graham accepted the Oscar with a short ‘Thank You’.  Oscar Host Bob Hope remarked in the film’s funniest moment: “She made it!”  One problem is that Gloria Grahame is shown in the film possessing no redeeming qualities so it is difficult to like the film’s main character.  Not much insight is offered on the life of Gloria Grahame either, nor her work.  There is only brief mention of her memorable films like THE BAD ANDTHE BEAUTIFUL .  She is portrayed as a rich and spoilt movie star obsessed with her glamour – the typical cliched portrayal of an ageing star.

Surprisingly more interesting that the Grahame and Turner’s romance is Peter’s parent’s romance.  Early in the film, the mother (Julie Walters) complains of her marriage of being married to a lump of nothing, but near the end of the film shown holding hands affectionately with her husband (Kenneth Cranham).  Vanessa Redgrave has a cameo as Gloria’s mother in the film.

Though shot in Liverpool, there are more scenes at Turner’s house with the old staircase and musty wallpapers than exteriors.  There is one scene of the two at the beach.

Film stars might not die in Liverpool but this film dies a quick death.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCwt4kYWOHA

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