Rocketman Review

Last year we got Queen, this year we get Elton John. Taron Egerton takes on the role, allegedly handpicked by Elton John himself. Could he follow in the footsteps of Remi Malek and smash this out of the park. Dexter Fletcher, the uncredited director of parts of Bohemian Rhapsody, and after what he did with that film, I was excited to see what he could do with this story. 

That is the end of the Bo-Rap comparisons for now, as I don’t want to discredit the film by just comparing it to another movie. Elton John’s story is one I knew of vaguely, but none of the details were clear to me. The film shows the pure talent of the musician, but also dives in deep to the core of the man. We see the highs and the lows, and it doesn’t pull any punches.

Getting the right actor to be Elton was always going to be the element that would make or break this film, and I have to say that Taron Egerton absolutely smashes this role. He becomes Elton for the duration of the film, and he shows he can carry a film and deliver on the emotional moments that are scattered through the film. On top of that, he has the voice and physical ability to carry off all the singing and dancing this film throws at him.

That brings me to the most fun element of Rocketman, the music. I went in expecting some of the biggest hits and a few concert recreations, but that is not what Rocketman delivers. This is a full-on musical, just with world famous songs that are positioned at the perfect times to fit the story. If you watched the film with no idea of Elton John or his music, you could easily think the music was created originally for this film. “Saturday Night Alright for Fighting” to “Your Song”, a big handful of Elton’s best-known music is served up.

The music punctuates key scenes, and for me worked at its best when it functioned as the exclamation point on key scenes. The other interesting use that may not work for everyone, is the use of his songs to stop the audience dwelling on any of the lower moments. We see Elton hit rock bottom, the lowest he could go, and it leads into a rendition of the title song. The way the song is filmed and performed, it worked perfectly for me and kept the movie from feeling too heavy at any time.

So far, it’s all been about Elton in this review, but whilst he is of course the main character, we do get some really good work from the supporting cast. His mum played by Bryce Dallas Howard is excellent as is his co-writer and best friend Bernie, played by Jamie Bell. Both have key roles in the film and share the stage with Egerton without ever outshining him, although I am not sure that would have been possible in this film.

The other major character in the film is John Reid, Elton’s manager and lover. He is played by Richard Madden, who does well in the role but the character itself is the main flaw in the film for me. Whilst the music numbers are fantastical and dreamlike, all the character moments between them felt real. As the film progresses John Reid goes from slightly manipulative to being full on moustache twirling evil. I felt he became a bit too cartoonish by the end of the film and that is a real shame as that is pretty much the only element of this film I didn’t enjoy.

Rocketman delivers on the potential the story has and is an incredibly fun time in the cinema. A brilliant performance by Egerton, that for me outdoes even Remi Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, is one of many reasons to go and see this film. Unless you hate Elton John’s music, you will have a great time watching this.

Good:  Taron Egerton’s performance may be the best in 2019, Musical numbers that will have your feet tapping and a smile on your face and will leave you with a new appreciation for Elton John.

Bad: I found one character a bit too over the top evil, and that is the only real knock I can have. Oh and no Circle of Life. Come on.

9.5/10 – Leaves you feeling like a little kid. 

 

 

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Aladdin (2019) Review

I am back after a few weeks off writing other things (maybe one day you will see what) and to get me back in the saddle I had a choice of John Wick 3, Rocketman, Brightburn or Aladdin. As you can tell from the title of this post, I went for the re-imagined Disney classic. My memories of the original Animated Aladdin are a little hazy, but A Whole New World is a certified banger and you all know the words, and that alone puts it high on the list of all time Disney movies. 

Of course a huge part of the animated film was the Genie, brought to life by great animation and arguably the greatest comedic voice acting performance ever given by Robin Williams. I think a major concern everyone has with the new Aladdin is that Will Smith, even with all his charisma, couldn’t possibly be up to that historic performance. I am so glad to report that he gives a brilliant performance as the Genie, and does it completely in his own way. Much like the 1992 Genie was a vehicle for Robin Williams’ improvisational personality, this 2019 Genie is gives Will Smith the same platform for letting his own brand of entertainment ensue.

I’ve started with the Genie because he is a huge part of the film, and every scene with him in he owns the screen and you could watch him having fun with his unlimited powers all day. Smith shows that the Genie isn’t a character who can only be played by Robin Williams, just that it’s a character that needs to be played by someone with a huge personality and Will Smith certainly brings that in spades. As entertaining as he is, he is by no means the only star in the show.

As a complete newcomer to my eyes, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed Mena Massoud in the title role. He is great casting for Aladdin, and he plays the role with the right amount of cheek and wit. Him and his monkey Abu have a somewhat believable bond, even if the monkey does seem a little too smart at times. I found it hard to have any real problems with him though and there was enough chemistry for me to buy into the budding romance between him and Jasmine.

Power Rangers star Naomi Scott plays Princess Jasmine, and I personally liked a few of the new choices they made with the character this time round. Her desire to be a good ruler for the people is a little bit heavy handed at times but I liked the idea they were going for. The new solo song “Speechless” is heavy handed in a lot of ways but again, I appreciated the message even if it was hammered home a bit too much. Outside of the singing, I think she did a great job playing the princess as a strong character, with her own ambitions beyond just the love of a prince.

I like all of the protagonists a lot, and I wish I could say the same for antagonist Jafar. Marwan Kenzari is fine in the role, but he did become a bit too over the top at times, and he didn’t bring that menacing presence I was hoping for from the character. This kind of makes some parts of the film, mainly the scenes involving Jafar being intimidating, fell a bit flat for me. His sidekick Iago always felt like an evil version of Zazu in Lion King in the animated version, but here he is a relegated to just being a super intelligent parrot, similar to the role Abu plays for Aladdin.

Aladdin doesn’t break any new ground beyond a few lines of Jasmine’s dialogue, and in terms of the plot there is nothing new. If you have seen the ’92 film, you know what is going to happen. The enjoyment I derived from this was seeing a new vision of that story, with a new genie and for me it was a really entertaining film. To some, this film could feel like nothing more than a well funded tribute act, but for me it was like a great band did an awesome cover. This is the movie equivalent of the Fall Out Boy cover of Michael Jackson’s hit Beat It. It’s not the original, but it’s pretty damn good, and you can sing along to every word.

Good: Will Smith crushes it as the Genie, Great breakout performances from the two leads, and the songs are brilliant.

Bad: Jafar underwhelmed me, and if you have recently watched the ’92 Aladdin, it may well give you Déjà Vu.

8/10 – Not a whole new world, but an entertaining one. 

Us Review

After flirting for a couple of months now I think it’s time to talk about Us. I just feel like our relationship is ready to go to the next level and if that is something you’re interested in lets talk. If not, here is a review of the new movie from Get Out director Jordan Peele. 

My apologies for that terrible joke of an intro.

So Us’ looks like a really interesting film with several elements that intrigue me. I am not really a horror guy, and I will go into why as I review this. Jordan Peele’s first effort with Get Out is one of my top rated horror/thrillers I have ever seen. Therefore going into this I was excited to see how Peele followed up his breakout success.

From the trailers Us looks like a straight up horror, but in reality it’s a lot more of an amalgamation of different types of films. Primarily it is a horror film and those beats are the parts that I don’t particularly think did much for the film. The horror genre frustrates me when it relies on the protagonists making nonsensical decisions, and there was several moments in Get Out that really had me asking “Why on earth would anyone do this?”. That is my biggest gripe with Horror as a genre, as it takes me out of the film when you know the only motivation the character had for their actions is because it had to happen to serve the story.

For me the actions of the characters should inform the story, not the other way round. Of course the film would have been a lot shorter and much less dramatic had the characters just driven off, but I think that is down to the writers to come up with a more compelling, realistic version that feels natural for why characters choose to do things.

That element aside though, I think Us does a lot right. The slasher/action elements are fun, and we don’t ever get to the torture porn realm I was kind of nervous we might get to when scissors are being brought out left right and centre. The tension is palpable when the action kicks in, even if the slightly comedic tone that kicks in halfway through the movie does destroy some of that. That comedic note is supplied by Winston Duke, who plays an upbeat dad, and one who somehow doesn’t get too flustered by any of the events happening. He sees some horrific stuff, and kind of takes it in his stride, much easier than the rest of the family.

The two kids are played by two talented child actors. I don’t know what has sparked the recent trend of child actors being really good, but these follow in the footsteps of the Stranger Things cast in being endearing, whilst also playing their twisted doppelgänger counterparts just as well. To take on the dual sided roles they are given here is a real show of talent and I hope these kids stick in the industry and continue to grow.

The family is all good in their roles but head and shoulders above everyone is Lupita Nyong’o. She has been excellent in all of her work to date, and continues to shine here. Easily portraying the creepiest member of the doppelgänger family, she also hits it out of the park as the haunted mother whose traumatic childhood weighs heavy on the film’s plot. Seeing her as the villain really made me wish Star Wars didn’t waste her as the orange Maz Kanata, as she’d have been an incredible Sith. Although I guess that could still happen… Please do it Disney CEO Bob Iger, I know you’re reading this.

As I mentioned earlier with the comedic shift, the tone doesn’t shift and stay there. Throughout the film the tone evolves, and this is where director Jordan Peele shows his skill. The film doesn’t feel out-of-place as a horror, a slasher, a horror comedy, or a thrilling chase film. Everything is blended well and that takes a lot of filmmaking skill, it’s a trick that Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw didn’t manage to pull off as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.

Us is a pretty entertaining, very well acted movie that, for me, was let down by the horror elements. Each character has a moment where they fall into a horror cliché which to me just doesn’t work. I think big fans of the Horror genre will get a real kick out of this, but those choices kind of wasted what I think is a very intriguing premise. The Doppelganger’s origin is something I would have loved to have been shown more of, but that would have changed the film into a thriller/mystery and probably led to the horror elements melting away. Us is decent, but it didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

Good: Excellent performances all round, intriguing premise and some good characters that could withstand the tonal shifts.

Bad: Horror elements just fell completely flat for me, and characters make choices that nobody would ever make.

6/10 – Horror fans will love it a lot, I am not a horror fan.

What We Do In The Shadows (2014) Review

What We Do In The Shadows is a 2014 mockumentary directed and starring Thor Ragnarok director Taika Waititi.  It was mentioned a lot during the press events for Thor Ragnarok and touted as a big reason he got given the Thor Ragnarok chair. I went back and watched to see if the film holds up. 

Shadows is essentially Taika Waititi’s sense of humour put onto film. The comedic style of Thor Ragnarok is clear to see, with the documentary style serving as a great framing device for the New Zealand native’s excellent writing. Him and co-writer Jemaine Clement also star in the film, and whilst the acting is nothing special, their comedic sense gets them by and their timing is great throughout.

The film is unabashedly weird, and it may be a little too odd for some audience members. The weirdness is contrasted by the realistic lens that Shadows is shot with, the camera work and effects complimenting each other to keep you engaged with the film. Some of the camera work is really clever, and shows how a lack of budget can be worked with to create some really great moments that a larger budget would have solved with throwing money at a special effects team. I like seeing films do this stuff, and really appreciate the ingenuity required to make a low-budget film look this good.

The jokes have a pretty high success rate, although there were a few duds for me. Sometimes the jokes are a little forced, but that’s really in the minority. For the most part I at least smiled to myself and a couple of times I laughed out loud. This is Waititi’s humour at its raw,  unfiltered. Ragnarok showed us his refined, sharpened wit and his writing has only improved over the last few years. What We Do In The Shadows has some really well written jokes and set ups that pay off in entertaining ways, and that ability to find something entertaining in nearly all situations is one of the reasons Marvel went after the filmmaker.

Mock documentary films rarely move the needle for me, as I find it hard to connect with the characters and the jokes sometimes feel a bit forced. However, as I learnt shows like The US Office and Parks and Recreation, when they’re executed well, they’re brilliant. What we do in the shadows is the first film I have watched that really got me invested since the uniquely flavoured Borat in 2006. This film isn’t nearly as politically incorrect (nothing really is compared to Borat) but it does the same job of introducing outlandish characters and putting them in funny situations.

I haven’t watch Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakhstani parody for a long time, but I can’t imagine it holds up terribly well today. What We Do In The Shadows does hold up from 5 years ago, and I think it has the right ingredients to stand the test of time. What is certain is that Taika Waititi is on the up, with clear improvements in his directorial skills as well as his writing from this to Thor Ragnarok. All that means I can’t wait to see what comes next from the Kiwi, and I hope he can stay on this trajectory.

Good: Brilliant writing, outlandish and fun characters, Stu is a great guy, and the filmmaking skills used to get the most out of the budget are great.

Bad: The acting isn’t the best, and there are a few flat jokes. May be a bit weird for some audiences.

8/10 – What Will Taika Do Next?

Fighting With My Family Review

The world of wrestling was a source of much entertainment for me as a child during the early 2000s. I had the likes of the Rock, Stone Cold, Shawn Michaels and Triple H in their prime and I was absorbed by the stories they were telling. Towards the end of my time following the WWE, I enjoyed the rise of John Cena, Kurt Angle was a big star and Batista was an absolute animal. What’s missing from this troop of names? The females of the WWE. I do not follow it much now except for an annual WrestleMania viewing, but I have heard over the last few years that the Women’s division is the new hot thing in the industry, and not just because of Scantily clad women.

Fighting With My Family tells the true story of WWE Star Paige, delving into the trials she endured on her journey from her English wrestling family to the top of the WWE world. Starring a few unknown actors alongside a couple of familiar faces, this is a film focused very much on Paige’s journey, with the subplot of her families various struggles along the way. Writer and first time Director Stephen Merchant is behind the camera, and as a fan of his work, particularly The Office, so I was looking forward to a witty, cleverly funny script and intrigued by the storytelling ability of Merchant as a director.

Merchant’s first effort behind the camera is excellent, directing the actors brilliant and getting some great performances out of the main cast. Florence Pugh stars as Paige, real name Saraya Knight, giving a performance full of heart and embodies the character well. She’s likable enough to get us on side at the same time as being clearly a bit of a social outcast. You feel like part of her journey and that goes down to both the actress and the direction of Stephen Merchant to get the audience invested in the film.

The other stand out for me is Jack Lowden as Saraya’s brother Zak. His journey is arguably even tougher for him to deal with than his sister’s, and again I felt invested and connected with the struggles he was going through. These two characters act as the heart and soul of the movie, both sharing the first act equally before the movie focuses on Saraya’s journey. Lowden shows a wide range in this performance, with highs and lows being engaging moments.

The side characters of the film include the parents and the WWE coach. First off Nick Frost is funny in his role as the father of the siblings, but I felt he struggled a little to live up to the performances around him in the more emotional scenes. Lena Headey is transformed in the role, with her unrecognisable when compared with the sinister Cercei she plays in Game of Thrones. She is almost the opposite of Frost, thriving in the dramatic scenes and none of her funnier lines really hit me how they should have. Vince Vaughan is the best of the three for me, displaying a blend of the serious acting with his comedic timing that I felt matched the tone of the film just right.

The rise to stardom of Paige is an interesting story to have picked, as even in the film its established as being a reasonably common path. Dwayne Johnson, the biggest star the WWE has produced when it comes to branching outside of the ring, hints at having a similar story himself in this very movie. Whilst it’s easy to appreciate the look at the journey, I don’t necessarily think there is anything shocking or unusual about this story, making it a little bit predictable even if you didn’t know the details beforehand. This wrestlers life after the end of this movie has more drama and twists than the story this film tells, both in the ring and outside of it.

Fighting With My Family delivers a thoroughly entertaining insight into the world of professional wrestling and the hard work required to make it to the top of the chain. The comedic touches of Stephen Merchant really bring the film together. Without those it would have been a solid film, but with them it’s a really good one. Boasting some top performances and a healthy side dish of Dwayne Johnson being himself, Fighting With My Family is a great time.

Good: Excellent performances, well-directed, and some good laughs make this an all rounder of a film.

Bad: Has a predictable and not particularly remarkable story for the wrestling world.

8/10 – Fun for the whole family.

Nightcrawler (2014) Review

Nightcrawler was a film I missed back in 2014, despite it looking like a film I would really enjoy. Jake Gyllenhaal received heaps of praise for his role as Lou Bloom, but no Oscar nomination which many saw as a snub. Would his performance live up to my expectations?

The short answer to that question is Yes. What’s more, he was definitely snubbed an Oscar nomination. In a year when Christian Bale received one for American Hustle, I think Gyllenhaal more than deserved a place on the list of five for that year. He disappears into the character of Lou Bloom and the intensity he brings draws you into the film.

The character himself is unneringly creepy and yet somehow you’re complete with him on the journey. You don’t quite route for him on the level of Joe from Netflix series You, but it’s a similar feeling of cheering for a bad guy at times. Lou is very clearly, from the first moments of the film, a bad guy. He’s out for personal gain, and that’s it. He’s close to being comic booky in his motivation being so self-centred and his lack of empathy towards others is shocking. Gyllenhaal plays him so well, that what seems like vulnerable moments you realise are calculated moves to manipulate people.

His employee for the duration of the film is played by Riz Ahmed, who shows more talent in this performance than I have seen from him on any other film. He’s not given a very well.developed character, but he is entertaining and makes the most of playing off Gyllenhaal’s performance. I think the sidekick role suits his mannerisms and he’s much more at home here than he was in Venom.

First time director Dan Gilroy begins his directorial career with a brilliant effort. He gets the best out of Jake Gyllenhaal, and one of the main parts of a directors job is pulling the best from his cast. His direction combined with some good editing make this feel like a well put together film made by a seasoned pro, not a first time effort. He also directs Gyllenhaal in Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw, which is next on my queue to watch so I hope he’s continued his solid start.

The films story is kind of paper-thin in a way, it’s all about Lou Bloom, and that’s the crux of the entire film. As such there’s no real story to be engaged with, just the question of what the manical character is going to do next. This kind of took away from the film for me, as there is no plot to keep you engaged. It’s as good a film could be without a decent plot though, with the performances really coming through to make this a very enjoyable film.

Nightcrawler is a film I think a lot of people will enjoy. It’s got one of the best acting shows of the decade for me, and that alone makes it worth 2 hours of your time. We often see Director/Actor partnerships develop in the industry, most famously Scorsese and Dicaprio. It’s given me a lot of hope for Velvet Buzzsaw, as the duo of Director Dan Gilroy and Gyllenhaal clearly enjoy working together. Hopefully there is a bit more to chew on in the story department, but Nightcrawler is a great start to the duo’s creative relationship.

Good: Acting, Cinematography and all round good film-making techniques on show. Character driven film.

Bad: Story is thin, and no real lessons learned by the characters by the end of the film.

8/10 – Worth it for Jake on his own. 

Children of Men – Review in Time

After years of being badgered by a work colleague, this past weekend I finally sat down and watched Children of Men. Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron’s film set in an infertile future. The world has seen no new-born humans for 18 years, until now, and Clive Owen’s character has the task of escorting the pregnant woman to safety. 

That is a very basic summary of this film, one which doesn’t touch upon the themes and messages the movie tries to deliver. Children of Men felt like a very arty film made on a small budget. The cinematography is brilliant, with a lot of long, uninterrupted shots lasting minutes at a time. The technical aspect of this film is probably the part I appreciated most about it. There is one scene in particular, a 12 minute incredible one shot scene, where the camerawork, set design and every side actor’s performance is perfect.

In a film that could border on pretentious with its messages of hope in a dying world, Clive Owen’s performance keeps this film very grounded. His reluctance to become the heroic character you expect in these kind of gritty Sci-Fi films is a little disarming at first. He is not an ex army man, he isn’t a fighter and at no point does he pick up a gun and become Rambo. He is just a man who finds himself in a situation where it’s up to him to do the right thing. At first he is in it for himself and doing his job, but by the end of the film he is there because he believes it’s the right thing to do.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Caine and Julianne Moore all pop up with terrific cameo roles, Ejiofor probably the most used of the three talents. I hope Michael Caine was paid handsomely as he has to wear maybe the worst wig in history. Clara Hope Ashitey, who I have not seen in anything else, gives a really solid performance as Kee. I did find myself caring about the outcome of the story thanks to her and Clive Owen’s dynamic, Something I didn’t think would happen a third way into the movie.

At the start of the film I couldn’t buy into the story or characters much. I am not really sure why, but the only reason I could think of is the very odd style of camera work chosen for this film. There are no fourth wall breaks, nobody ever looks into the camera, yet it is mostly shot at eye level, on a moving, shaky camera. This documentary style works for the film a lot of the time, but at first I felt like I was missing something. This style does give you the feeling of being in the world, which is great, but with every jump and step felt in the lens, I feel like there was an unacknowledged presence in every scene, that of the cameraman who has been following them around.

It is a very odd thing to talk about, as I did find the style useful especially in the car chase and the one shot scenes. I think it does take some adjusting though, perhaps because i have watch the entirety of the US Office in the last few months, and that has the same documentary camera style. So to see that in a arty, serious drama, threw me off a little.

Children of Men is a great piece of art, showcasing some of the best skills in the industry and getting me excited to watch Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, which is on Netflix now and looks to be just as arty. It is a bit of a tough watch if you’re looking for something easy to put on and shut off from the world. If you engage with it and let yourself be immersed in the world, you will have a great experience, if not a particularly uplifting one.

Good – Production Design, futuristic but believable world, Cinematography, Story and Performances all combine for a very good film.

Bad – Not one for the faint hearted, and the odd camera choice may feel a little odd for some.

9/10 – Alright Tom, you was right, Children of Men is a great film.