Yesterday is a complete delight. Directed by the ingenious Danny Boyle, Academy Award winner for Slumdog Millionaire, and Love, Actually writer-director Richard Curtis, Yesterday is charming, romantic, and quite funny. The acting is wonderful as well with a core duo of newcomer Hamish Patel and Lily James providing romantic and friendly chemistry that leaps off of the screen. All of that, and some of the greatest music of all time and Yesterday becomes irresistible.
Jack Malik (Patel) has spent 10 years trying to make his music industry dreams come true with no success, but his trusted friend and manager Ellie (James) always at his side. Despite Ellie’s constant support, Jack finally appears ready to give up his dream and return to teaching when something dramatic happens. On his way home from his last gig, Jack gets in an accident just as all of the electricity on the planet goes out for 12 seconds.
When Jack wakes up in the hospital the following day, minus his front teeth, he makes a reference to The Beatles that Ellie dismisses in unusual fashion. Later, after Ellie gives Jack a guitar to replace the one he lost in the accident, Jack goes to play “Yesterday” by The Beatles and his friends react as if they have never heard the song before. A confused Jack returns home in a rush and begins googling The Beatles only to find that they no longer exist in any way.
Apparently being the only person on the planet who remembers The Beatles songs, Jack decides to start performing Beatles songs from memory, not without a serious struggle, as if he had written them. Jack finds success in a fashion not unlike the Fab Four, with a brief struggle and then a massive breakout, all while Jack wrestles with his conscience over the decision to capitalize off of someone else's art and his relationship with Ellie which he has misjudged for the past 20 years.
Director Danny Boyle is a directorial chameleon, leaping from genre to genre, country to country and masterwork to mediocrity. Yesterday, thankfully, is in the masterwork category. While the movie is minor in social relevance, unlike his Steve Jobs or Slumdog Millionaire, it is masterful as a work of genre. Yesterday is gloriously, ridiculously, heart on its sleeve romantic in ways that modern Hollywood has struggled to be for decades.
Much of the credit, of course, goes to screenwriter Richard Curtis, who has been at the forefront of the romance genre since the 90’s and the release of his Four Weddings and a Funeral. Curtis is a genius at giving a unique spin to the romantic cliches that are at the heart of the romance genre dating back to the early days of sound in film. What makes Yesterday even more unique is Curtis teaming with a visual master like Danny Boyle who places Curtis’s big romantic ideas into a wonderfully visual, eye-catching package.
Of course, both Boyle and Curtis are helped by the fact that they have somehow secured the chance to use some of the greatest music of all time to tell their story. It’s famously not easy to get the rights to use the music of The Beatles in a project but the team of Boyle and Curtis were apparently enough to get this movie a break. Of course, I am sure, $10 million dollars in rights fees also helped their case.
The music in Yesterday isn’t used as you might think. You might assume that Jack deploys the songs in a specific fashion related to his place within the story. Instead, the movie subverts expectations by having Jack simply record Beatles songs in an almost random order, just as he is able to remember them. It’s a clever approach that allows the story to exist outside of The Beatles. Was this done in case the producers could not get the rights to The Beatles and they acted accordingly in building the story? Perhaps, but the approach works nevertheless.
The supporting cast of Yesterday is exceptionally well chosen. Kate McKinnon of Saturday Night Live fame plays Jack’s new, high powered manager who treats him like dirt even as she is giving him worldwide fame. McKinnon’s oddball dialogue which combines radical honesty with a sociopathic zeal, rarely fails to get a laugh in Yesterday. It’s a brilliant comic performance. McKinnon is backed up by pop star Ed Sheeran who sheds all pop star ego to play himself as a fan of Jack who is willing to compare himself to Salieri to Jack’s Amadeus in one particularly great scene.
Yesterday, as I said at the start, is a complete delight. It’s a delight for any audience that gives it a chance but it is a special treat for fans of The Beatles. Yesterday is a love letter to The Beatles that balances idolatry and fandom without becoming overly precious. Yes, the film is entirely uncritical of The Beatles but it felt to me like a genuine appreciation and not overly worshipful. The Beatles are only part of this story and not the entirety of it.
The heart of Yesterday is the romance between Jack and Ellie and the struggle to escape preconceived notions of romance and friendship. There is a warmth and complexity to Jack and Ellie’s relationship that I bought into simply because I loved these two actors so very much. Hamish Patel and Lily James are just wonderful together and I fully believed in their choices, from Jack being blind to Ellie’s feelings to her heartache and his revelation. It’s a simple but well portrayed arc and I think everyone who loves a good love story will appreciate it as much as I did.
I was a little worried by the trailer for the film that Yesterday would simply be a movie with a clever premise and little more. What a wonderful thing to have all of my worries dashed in the first few scenes and then to grow more and more comfortably immersed in this movie as it unfolded. Yesterday invites you in and if you are open to it, especially if you love this music, and you simply fall in love with it. Yesterday is just so darn charming.
If you haven't heard of it by now, whether through your kids, your kids kids or just perusing through the internet, Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse has been one of the best superhero films to come out in the past few years. If your a fan of superheroes like I am, you would agree. And with the Oscar-winning film now on Netflix, I decided to have myself a rewatch last night. I gotta say, it does not lose its luster one bit. Let's get into it, shall we?
If you haven't seen it by now and want to avoid possible spoilers, turn back now, but if your curious about the soon to be animated classic, check out Sean's review by clicking here. Are you back from checking his review? Nice. One of the best aspects of this movie (there are many) is the art direction. The film's use of the classic comic-book dot art, known in the industry as the Ben Day process, named after Benjamin Henry Day Jr, is beautiful. It can throw you off at first but as the movie goes on, you get the feeling you are watching a comic book in motion. It feels even more like a comic when Miles' begins hearing the inner dialogue in his head.
Another great aspect is the character design. As the film deals with multiple dimensions with the base universe being dubbed the Ultimate Universe (confusing yes), classic villains like Green Goblin look totally different then what we are used to (Willem Dafoe anybody?) as he is just a giant flying beast. Heck, some villains are completely different from the original Earth-616 universe (the original Marvel universe) as Doctor Octopus is a woman in the film. Instead of Otto Octavius, we have Olivia Octavius. My favorite aspect of her design is the beehive haircut and robotic tentacles on her back. Not just the villains have great designs as the heroes sport some near perfect designs based on their comic book counterparts. But my favorite has to be the Miles' outfit he wears before saving the day. I'm not even mad it was spoiled in the trailer. The hoodie and basketball shorts he wears over the suit just shows he hasn't lost what defines him as Miles Morales.
Enough about the great character design. I would like to talk more about it, but you don't want to be here all day do you? This film has been loved and adored by so many comic book fans. It had so much heart put into it by Sony, Marvel, its producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller. It was a film comic nerds like myself needed at the time, as legend Stan Lee passed away a month prior. Seeing Stan in one of his final cameos made me cry in the theater with my friends from college and seeing the tribute to he and Steve Ditko (who also passed in 2018) made the film even more special to me. This film deserved its Oscar win for Best Animated Feature. Talks about a sequel being in the works gives me hope that more films like this are made. Thanks for coming along for this somewhat revisit to Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse. If you have a Netflix account go have a revisit of your own.
I keep imagining that at some point the team at Pixar is going to slow down, that the quality will begin to slip and that the high standard they’ve held for more than 25 years has to decline at some point. And yet, quite wonderfully, they never fail. The latest example of Pixar’s unfailing quality is an even greater testament to the company’s standard of excellence. For the fourth time, Pixar has made a Toy Story movie that manages to transcend expectations.
Sequels are never expected to improve upon the original. In general, Hollywood sequels are more often than not mercenary efforts intended solely to grab cash while taking advantage of the public appetite for something comfortingly familiar. The folks at Pixar however, are not ones to compromise on quality. Sure, few things are as comfortable and familiar as the chemistry between Woody and Buzz, but Pixar is not a company to rely only on that.
Toy Story 4 is as brilliant, emotionally complex and funny as any of the other Toy Story films. And to add to the degree of difficulty, the film is directed by a debuting director, Josh Cooley. Taking over for John Lasseter, who founded the franchise and carried it to a wonderful sequel and Lee Unkrich who pushed the concept of Toy Story to a place of remarkable poignance and humor in Toy Story 3, Cooley had a nearly impossible task in front of him. That Toy Story 4 equals the standard of the first three films is utterly remarkable.
Toy Story 4 picks up the story of our toy heroes, led by Woody (Tom Hanks) as they live life as Bonnie’s toys. Lately, Woody has fallen out of favor, often being left in the closet while the rest of the toys go to play. This however, has not dampened Woody’s dedication to Bonnie and when she is leaving for her first day of Kindergarten, Woody covertly tags along in her book bag. Woody then secretly helps Bonnie through her first day by getting her the art supplies she needs to create a new friend.
When Bonnie returns home from school, she returns with not just Woody in tow. Woody introduces the rest of the toys to Forky (Tony Hale), Bonnie’s new favorite. Bonnie made Forky out of a spork, some sticks, glue and a pipe cleaner. Forky’s existence is a crisis, not for any of the toys, but for Forky himself. Forky does not see himself as a toy but as a disposable, trash item and he seeks to fulfill his trash destiny.
Woody takes it upon himself to keep Forky with Bonnie at all cost. When Bonnie’s family decides to take a road trip, Forky makes a break for it by jumping from the moving RV in the middle of the night. Being the dedicated toy hero that he is, Woody jumps after him and the main plot of Toy Story 4 kicks in. Woody must convince Forky to accept life as a toy and make it back to the RV before it leaves the following morning from a nearby RV park.
Before Woody and Forky return, Woody gets distracted by something in an antique shop. It appears to be the lamp of Bo Peep (Annie Potts), Woody’s long ago friend from his days as Andy’s favorite toy. Bo Peep was given away years earlier and was thought lost forever. Woody decides to see if she is in the antique shop but before he can find her, Woody and Forky are waylaid by the latest brilliant villain of the Toy Story universe, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a talking baby doll with a broken voice box.
Gabby Gabby and her dummy minions see that Woody has a voice box and they are eager to get it from him. Gabby takes Forky hostage when Woody escapes and it will be up to Woody to try and rescue his new friend while his old friends try to keep Bonnie’s family from leaving without Woody. You were probably wondering what role our old friends were playing, specifically Buzz (Tim Allen), Jesse (Joan Cusack), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark) and Ham (John Ratzenberger). They’re all back but they are mostly sidelined, used sparingly in the Bonnie’s family subplot.
Buzz does get his own story as he goes looking for Woody and explores his inner voice, which he mistakes for the literal voice that comes out when he presses the buttons on his chest. The cluelessness here feels a little off brand for Buzz who has grown in the previous three movies but Allen’s voice work sells it with wit and energy. Allen’s comfort level with the character and this universe could likely make any character trait work for Buzz Lightyear, short of becoming a serial killer.
The new cast members of Toy Story 4 are a rich group of comic possibilities. Christina Hendricks brings nuance and likability to Gabby Gabby who is not the straight ahead villain you expect. Gabby Gabby has the poignance of Ned Beatty’s Toy Story 3 teddy bear but not his tragedy. Gabby Gabby’s story has an unexpected outcome that I won’t spoil here other than saying it is quite satisfying.
In the smaller supporting roles, Keegan Michael Key, Jordan Peele and MVP of 2019, Keanu Reeves, each bring big laughs to Toy Story 4. These characters are a smart innovation for the franchise. While Woody is carrying a rather dramatic story, Key and Peele’s Ducky and Bunny and Keanu’s Duke Caboom, are purely comic inventions. I really loved the running bit that Key and Peele get that I won’t spoil here, it’s silly but it works.
Toy Story 4 is a really great movie. It’s not only because we already love these characters, it’s because the creative team at Pixar cares so deeply about giving these movies a reason to continue. Here, the story is about the growth of Woody. Tom Hanks’ voice has aged perfectly into where Woody is as a character. He’s a little hoarse, he’s a little tired but he’s still eager to please and brimming with dedication, empathy and care.
The relationship between Woody and Annie Potts’ Bo Peep is a wonderful story, truly the heart of the movie. The Woody and Bo Peep story would be enough on its own to make Toy Story 4 transcendent but Pixar is, as always, an embarrassment of riches when it comes to storytelling and Toy Story and because of that, there are numerous things to enjoy about Toy Story 4, perhaps the single most durable and enjoyable movie franchise of all time.
Men in Black International stars Tessa Thompson as Molly. As a kid, Molly witnessed the mythic Men in Black neuralyzing her parents after their home was invaded by an alien. Molly avoided the mind erasing and developed a single-minded obsession with finding aliens and becoming part of the Men in Black. Cut to adult Molly and she is still seeking the Men in Black. She has dedicated her life to finding her way into the super-secret secret agency and her opportunity has finally arrived.
Molly uses her computer hacking skills to locate an alien that is returning to Earth, with a nod to the Weekly World News tabloid, a callback to the original 1997 movie which posited tabloid alien stories as real stories. Molly's investigation stumbles over the MIB HQ and she invites herself inside. Once inside, a chat with Emma Thompson’s MIB boss, a character introduced in MIB3, she gets Molly a probationary gig as an agent.
As Agent M, Molly is assigned a task in the London office where she will be partnered with long time agent, Agent H (Chris Hemsworth). Agent H is a bit of a washout. Something happened the last time that he saved the world and he’s never really recovered. Since then, he’s bounced around from case to case, narrowly avoiding being killed and generally being a pain in the backside for his boss and former partner, Agent T (Liam Neeson), cheekily referred to as High T.
Together, Agents M and H go on a worldwide whirlwind that takes the duo from London to Morocco, to the lair of a criminal dealing in Alien technology, Riza, played by Rebecca Ferguson, and to Paris where the Eiffel Tower serves as a bridge for the worst aliens in the world to attempt an invasion that is being coordinated by a rogue MIB agent. M and H must find the rogue Agent and prevent the alien invasion while overcoming M’s inexperience and H’s broken spirit.
The story I have described for Men in Black International sounds like a story that should work. The arcs are clear with M pursuing her dream and overcoming her inexperience and H seeking redemption while not being sure of what needs redeeming. It’s not a special story but if you build in good gags and solid action and effects, this is a good enough structure to support them. Sadly, director F Gary Gray brings absolutely nothing new or fresh or funny to his take on MIB.
Men in Black International differs from the original, 1997 Men in Black by not being particularly funny. Neither Thompson or Hemsworth appears interested in being funny, each appears to be waiting for the movie around them to be funny and it never happens. Kumail Nanjiani, playing an alien, nicknamed Pawny, is the closest thing to a character that is genuinely funny but the laughs remain few and far between.
The only innovation that the makers of Men In Black International bring to bear on the MIB franchise is moving the action from New York City to London and several other international locations. Beyond that, the aesthetic of Men in Black has not changed much in 22 years. The ending of the first Men in Black had more innovation than this modern sequel and all that did was update the suits to high fashion and put Will Smith in a more modern car.
If anything, Men in Black International is a step backward for the franchise. That’s odd since the MIB3 literally traveled into the past and felt more modern than International. Men in Black International looks like Men in Black in every way which is fine for a sequel but the movie doesn’t innovate on the franchise in any way. Without bringing something fresh to the franchise and without being funny, Men in Black International struggles to justify its very existence.
Men in Black International is a bizarre failure. We know that Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth are funny, we saw that in Thor Ragnorak. And yet, there is no evidence of their humor in Men in Black International. Thompson is remote and occasionally withdrawn, delivering a perfunctory approximation of the uninspired script. Hemsworth meanwhile, rehashes pretty boy cliches that weren’t all that funny in Ghostbusters or the Vacation reboot and certainly don’t feel fresh here.
Men in Black International is professionally made. The film looks as if it should be entertaining. There is nothing wrong from a cinematography or design perspective and yet the movie is lifeless. The cast is going through the motions of a story that isn’t anything special and without any big laughs, Men in Black International just lingers onscreen going through the motions of a very average action movie.
A good example of the failure and lack of inspiration in Men in Black International are the film's villains. Les Twins, Laurent and Larry Bourgeois play characters literally referred to as Alien Twin 1 and 2. The pair is known for their innovative dance videos on YouTube and yet we get barely a sample of what makes the twins special. A scene in a nightclub is intended to give them a showcase but the scene is clumsily shot and the dancing is blink and you will miss it.
The twist is that a rogue MIB agent is the true big bad which explains why the Twins have no real characters to play but then why include them at all? The inclusion of Les Twins in Men in Black International is further evidence of the mercenrary, marketing driven motivation behind this lifeless, soulless rehash of a well known property. The makers of Men in Black International hired Les Twins for their high social media profile and not to actually use them to serve a story being told.
Why was this movie made? If the makers of Men in Black International had nothing new to say with this inventive premise then why did they make this movie? It appears to have been a purely mercenary effort on all sides. Everyone in the cast and crew appears to have been on hand solely to pick up a paycheck and deliver the absolute minimum effort with the only goal being to capitalize on a well known intellectual property.
Emma Thompson delivers the most nuanced, engaging and charismatic performance of 2019 thus far in the new comedy Late Night. Written by and co-starring Mindy Kaling, Late Night stars Emma Thompson as Kate Newburn, a staple of American late night television, despite her British roots. Now in her late 50’s Kate has grown complacent and while she remains sharp, her show has grown stale and a network busybody, played by Amy Ryan, wants to replace her with a young, foul-mouthed comic, played by Ike Barinholz.
The simple notion of Late Night, sold by the film’s trailer, is that Kate fires her male staff and hires Molly, played by Kaling, and their opposing personalities lead the show to renewed greatness. Thankfully, Late Night is far more unique and demanding than such easy to swallow fluff. Sure, Molly does shake things up among the roomful of Harvard educated, male comedy writers, including Hugh Dancy. Reid Scott and Max Casella, but only a couple of the unnamed writers actually get fired.
What actually happens in Late Night is not so simple to describe. As much as Late Night is a genuinely funny and very engaging movie, its story is about the search for an authentic voice, a nuanced and not easily captured idea. Emma Thompson may have elements of Meryl Streep’s nasty 'The Devil Wears Prada' persona but there is a great deal more depth here. Thompson plumbs the depths of Kate Newburn and seeks a truth that applies both to the male dominated landscape of late night television and into something human and true about relationships, business, aging and love.
John Lithgow plays Walter Newbury, Kate’s exceedingly educated house husband. Walter doesn’t go out much since the diagnosis of his disease. This however, is by design for both he and Kate as they are exceptionally private and insular people. Part of the journey of Late Night is forcing Kate out of that insular comfort zone and out into a world that changed around her while she stood still in the midst of depression and a few bad decisions.
Mental and physical health, gender, and bad decisions are each a big part of Late Night. Emma Thompson combats each of these but not in a way that is simple. She may be the main protagonist of Late Night but that doesn’t stop her from being exceedingly prickly or narcissistic. It’s a journey for her to become a better person but part of who Kate is remains a narcissistic, attention seeking know-it-all. She gets better at being kind but she’s not becoming a saint and that makes the journey of Late Night so very authentic.
I have barely made mention of Mindy Kaling, the other side of this double headed movie. Kaling’s Molly is rather underwritten. We know she doesn’t come from a comedy background, that she’s young and unafraid to say what is on her mind but in terms of actual incident in Late Night, she’s mostly sidelined. Editing appears to have cut much of her romantic subplot opposite Dancy and Scott while her scenes with Kaling and Thompson are heavily charged, filled with back ad forth, they are exclusively about Thompson’s character and not Molly.
Kaling does provide a solid foil for Kate, a wide-eyed innocent in a cutthroat comedy industry but don't expect to learn much about her struggles, it's not her movie in the end. Molly's earnestness is the counterpoint to Kate’s stultifying cynicism and while we know Molly will win her over eventually, I enjoyed the ways in which the movie subverts expectation in Molly and Kate’s relationship by focusing on Kate. The script, written by Kaling, has a contempt for earnestness that I really appreciated and Thompson is at her best puncturing Molly’s enthusiam.
Late Night is funny because Emma Thompson makes Kate funny. She’s harsh and depressed and yet, razor sharp when she wants to be. Watching Molly see just how sharp she is off camera versus on camera is part of the plot of Late Night but, again, just making Kate speak her mind is too simple for this super-smart movie. Kate has to psychologically get out of her own way first before she can be authentic on her show and the pitfalls of that self-examination are at the heart of this brilliant little movie.
Dark Phoenix sadly, isn’t very good. This latest adventure in the X-Men franchise has some good moments but the film fails to sustain the good in the face of the bad. Former X-Men screenwriter and producer Simon Kinberg nails a few of the emotional beats, especially the bits about family and in capturing the performance of Sophie Turner, but his lack of experience with special effects and the overly earnest to the point of cheesy, beats are cringeworthy.
Dark Phoenix picks up the story of the X-Men with the world in a form of detente between humanity and mutant-kind. The goals of Dr Charles Xavier (James MacAvoy) have seemingly been achieved and mutants are allowed to live freely and thrive within society. Charles himself, even has a direct line to the President of the United States. Things look quite rosy indeed, even if Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) remains uneasy about the current peace.
The story kicks in when the American space shuttle gets trapped in some sort of energy field in space and slowly begins to be torn apart. The X-Men are called upon to save the astronauts on board and while Mystique finds the mission to be far too big a risk, she goes along with it for the good of the team. Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), senses her friend’s unease but heeds the call of Dr X anyway as lives are on the line and time is short.
In space, the astronauts appear saved by the X-Men until they realize they had forgotten one of them. In returning to the space shuttle Jean Grey is able to provide the chance for the astronaut and her fellow X-Men to escape but finds herself engulfed by this bizarre and explosive energy form. Despite the power of this energy, Jean is able to absorb it and keep the rest of the X-Men from being harmed. That she emerges seemingly unscathed only serves to set up our real plot.
Aliens. Yes, aliens are the real plot of Dark Phoenix. Why aliens? Only director Simon Kinberg and a few comic book fans know for sure. All I can say is, this is one of the many missteps of Dark Phoenix. There is zero need for aliens in this plot. Not one bit of the alien baddie played by multiple time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain, is necessary to the plot of Dark Phoenix. The aliens are perfunctory and dull villains that even Jessica Chastain cannot render intriguing.
The problem here is that Dark Phoenix already had a really great villain: Jean Grey. The desire to not allow Jean to be the big bad of Dark Phoenix is a huge failure. There is no need for aliens, Jean has all of the conflict, all of the power-mad vengeance, all of the deeply personal demons to explore. Make Jean Grey become consumed by Phoenix, let her wreak havoc and divide the X-Men into factions of Jean needs to be stopped for the good of the world and Jean is not really bad and can be reasoned with and rescued from herself.
That plot has all of the complex emotions necessary for a strong dramatic arc. Have Nicholas Hoult’s Beast join forces with Michael Fassbender’s Magneto in the kill Jean side of the argument and have Charles and Cyclops on the ‘there is still good in Jean’ sde of the argument and see where this plot goes from there. Chastain and her alien buddies merely muddy the water and get in the way. The plot does not need them and the superfluous nature of these unneeded villains drags down Dark Phoenix.
The other thing that prevents Dark Phoenix from soaring are some seriously silly looking special effects. The effects in Dark Phoenix are rubbery and exist on the wrong side of the uncanny valley. The effect that allows Lawrence’s Mystique and Hoult’s Beast, to morph endlessly from human to mutant and back, comes off as cheesy in Dark Phoenix. The effect looks like something Windows Paint might have produced in the early part of this decade.
I realize that Dark Phoenix is set in 1992 but that doesn’t mean the special effects have to look like 1992. Our eyes and our expectations for CGI and practical effects have become more keen, jaded, and desirous of things that make a movie appear seamless. Dark Phoenix is far from seamless. The rubbery texture of the effects of Dark Phoenix make the movie look low rent and, at times, make the movie look like a parody of itself.
I’ve been awfully hard on Dark Phoenix thus far, so let’s wrap up by talking about a few of the good things about Dark Phoenix. I really enjoyed the backstory and the developing traumas of Jean Grey. Sophie Turner has come a long way from her rough and uneven performance in X-Men Apocalypse. Given a meaty role to chew on in Dark Phoenix, Turner is impressive. The fierceness of her charisma sells the agony at the heart of Jean Grey.
I also enjoyed the psychology of Dark Phoenix, the ways in which the film depicts trauma in Jean are raw and complicated and quite moving at times. When Dark Phoenix forgets about the aliens and focuses the attention on Jean and the growing tensions among the X-family, Dark Phoenix begins to get good. What a shame then when the lame effects and those darn aliens swing back into the plot and mess things up.
I don’t have a strong dislike for Dark Phoenix, Sophie Turner is far too compelling for me to completely dismiss the movie. Sadly, I can’t recommend Dark Phoenix however, because too much of the rest of the movie is laughably unnecessary, especially those cheesy aliens. We already have mutants, why do the producers of Dark Phoenix insist upon aliens? The story is Jean Grey, not Jessica Chastain acting well below her remarkable talent and stature.
Rocketman is one of my favorite experiences at the movies in some time. This dream of the life of Elton John won me over from the first moment and held me in rapt attention throughout the two hour plus runtime. I am a fan of Elton John’s music but I would not call myself a super fan, I wasn’t predisposed to love Rocketman in the ways that some Elton fans undoubtedly were and yet, this review will likely come off as that of an Elton fanboy because I adored every moment of Rocketman.
The first important thing to know about Rocketman is that it is not a straight forward, entirely linear biopic. On top of being a musical, Rocketman plays like Elton John recalling a dream of his own life. Elton acted as Executive Producer of Rocketman and I like to imagine the script as Elton attempting to remember his life through a haze of drugs and resentment and decades of removal. Those musings are then given to Bernie Taupin who picked out choice collaborations to accompany Elton’s fond and not so fond remembrances.
The film is slightly linear, it does work somewhat chronologically through the life of Elton John from when he was 5 years old through the mid-1980’s and his first days after overcoming a debilitating and almost deadly abuse of drugs. But don’t think you will be able to figure out exactly when the incidents of Elton’s life are actually taking place, as I said earlier, this is a dream we’re talking about and the movie is filled with dreamlike images and logic that extend beyond the necessity for chronology.
Taron Egerton portrays Elton John from his late teenage years through his middle age and that approach makes complete sense within the dream structure of Rocketman. Egerton neither looks much or sounds much like Elton John but as the representative of a dream that Elton has of himself, he makes perfect sense. Of course Elton remembers himself as better looking and less talented than he actually is, a mixture of narcissism and self loathing is a rather common trait in all humans.
Egerton proves himself in Rocketman to be a remarkable talent worthy of the hype that came from his starring roles, opposite Elton cameos, in the Kingsman franchise. I am buying in hard on the Taron Egerton movie star idea. Egerton oozes charisma and complexity in equal measure in Rocketman. He can sing well enough, he sells the songs with remarkable confidence and that proves to be more than enough in the structure of Rocketman.
Jamie Bell portrays Elton’s longtime best friend and writer Bernie Taupin and you can be forgiven for not realizing the two are just friends. For years, many people have held the mistaken notion that Elton and Bernie were a couple, how else to explain such a perfect marriage of singer and songwriter. Rocketman does a wonderful job of capturing the complicated emotions that led to their partnership and friendship and the ways Bernie completes the story of Elton. Bell also can belt out a song as needed and it’s beautiful.
Bell is rounding into an amazing character actor despite how his hunkiness is making being just a side man, a supporting player, harder and harder to buy into. Bell appears to be one starring role away from becoming a permanent leading man with perhaps his heavy accent the only thing keeping him away from massive stardom. None of those observations are particularly necessary, the point is that the child star of Billy Elliott has proven remarkably resilient and increasing in talent.
Rocketman is rich with wonderfully detailed supporting performances. I mentioned Jamie Bell and now we can turn the spotlight on Richard Madden. The now former Game of Thrones star portrays Elton John’s villainous former lover and manager John Reid. Less kind reviewers have called Madden the weakest part of the film as he is nearly a mustache twirling baddie, broad enough to be a silent film outlaw.
What those reviewers are missing, again, is that this is Elton John’s outsized memory of Reid. Rocketman is a burlesque of John Reid the real life former everything in Elton’s life. Of course Elton recalls the worst of Reid as well as the best. No one remembers the average moments of their time with a former lover. You remember the moments of passion, the extremes, the big love, the big loss, the great sex and the ugliest rows.
Richard Madden is playing the man that Elton John has despised for decades since their partnership ended in ugly, tabloid fashion. Of course Madden plays the character with a broad sense of nastiness and savage wit, that’s how Elton would choose to remember him in his less charitable moments. The film also depicts the obvious passion the men shared as well, in a fashion that is likely more broad than reality. That’s how a dream or a memory tends to go.
Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh round out the cast as Elton’s parents and once again, many critics are missing the point. Howard portrays Elton’s mother as a blowsy broad from 50’s Middlesex and an aging, angry, homophobic harridan and while this is certainly not capturing the complexity of the real Mrs. Dwight, it captures Elton’s reasonably resentful idea of this woman who failed to be as supportive and loving as one would hope for in a mother.
Elton’s father is also not particularly complex. Mackintosh, like Howard, is playing a broad burlesque of an absent, cold, English father. Both parents are Freudian approximations of Elton’s most basic psychological shortcomings and well they should be. Again, that’s how many people view their parents when those parents are absent, or they associate those parents with specific or non-specific trauma.
Director Dexter Fletcher and his incredible cast bring these wonderfully broad ideas to brilliant life all the while jukeboxing Elton’s amazing catalogue and using Bernie Taupin’s remarkable lyrics as a storytelling catalyst rather than a device. Bernie Taupin was a poet and while you can try to literalize some of his words, Rocketman is not interested in anything particularly literal. The music adds to the dream like state of the entire movie and in that way it deepens and enriches the film.
I completely adore Rocketman and I would not be surprised to find it at or near the top of my list of my favorite movies of 2019 when this year comes to an end.