Rocketman (2019) Review

So there I am, in the middle of an intense brainstorming session in the ideas factory/pub and over Cigarettes And Alcohol, my script-guy dared me to review Rocketman with no fewer than 30! other British pop songs titles seamlessly woven into it. After polishing off my Champagne Supernova cocktail I decided Who Wants To Live Forever?

Now, as I’m Under Pressure to hit my deadline and not feeling too clever, I’m wondering if we should have Imagine(d) a different challenge.

Anyway, Rocketman tells the story of Elton John played not by Michael Caine but by  Taron Egerton who does all his own singing and that boy has some lungs. He gives an amazing performance as the lead role, telling us the story using the tried and true method of the flashback! In the context of crashing an AA meeting and proceeding to tell us what happened Yesterday when he lived in Our house with his Killer Queen of a mother (Bryce Dallas Howard operating under seemingly the sole instruction to make Dolores Umbridge look human). His Father Figure leaves pretty early on and Elton sets off to become a music superstar!

Wonderwall.

Director Dexter Fletcher who finished off Bohemian Rhapsody (that one doesn’t count by the way) after issues with the films original director has really Reach(ed) For The Stars with this one. I was reminded a lot of the Blues Brothers (AKA the greatest musical ever made) as random groups of people start breaking out into choreographed song and dance routines all over the show.

But at the same time this film feels like it has something of the theater about it. Like you have the big song and dance number, then Elton narrates a bit whilst the curtain is closed and they change the set dressing around. It’s not a complaint as such, but if this turns up in the West End in a few years It Only Takes A Minute to remember that I called it.

Anyway, the films got the usual issues in that I have no idea how much of Eltons (Yes, i’f perfectly aware that his real name is Reginald Kenneth Dwight but everyone knows him as Elton John. It’s a similar deal with Maurice Joseph Micklewhite and Stanley Martin Lieber)

But back to Space Oddity and we find that whilst Taron is great in the role, the film is very nearly stolen by I Wish I Was James Bond Richard Madden who plays the slimiest, most toxic character outside of a pantomime and very nearly steals the show with his one liners and charm.

Another huge thing this film has over Bohemian Rhapsody (still doesn’t count as I’m talking about the horrifyingly over-rated film) is that this, well, it actually feels like a film instead of a product designed to sell a brand. We see Elton Under Pressure, living the life of a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star which, whilst it’s debauched and hedonistic looks horrifying and empty.  We see Elton, days after a Cardiac Arrest being forced to perform on stage by Madden who seemingly lives by the phrase that The Show Must Go On.

I would have liked a plot thread about how if Eltons habit of taking his Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da out of his Baggy Trousers for the Right Guy as opposed to Fat Bottomed Girls to have been explored a bit more. It’s brought up, implied that it could end his career if Anyway Anyhow Anywhere it ever reches the light of day. I know that sacrifices have to be made to fit years of a Human life into a 2 hour film but it just seems a bit of a waste. His ill-advised straight marriage is also something that I would like to seen explored in greater detail.

However, during the film your barely notice as we zip through Golden Years and see Elton’s life as a fantasy flashback. It puts a smile on your face and a hell of a lot of his songs sound amazing, even if they weren’t the soundtrack to much of my younger years (No way was I trusted with the Radio Gaga dial when I was a Kidz.)

At the end of the day, Rocketman is arguably the best music biopic I’ve seen since Ray and I was so grateful that they went down the musical fantasy route rather than just telling the story straight. (See, I can do puns as well.)

The supporting cast are all they need to be and I did like the films habit of just having Elton wake up after Rolling In The Deep for who knows how long to not only show us how near to the sun the Rocketman flew but also as a pretty cool way to show us that we’re a little further down the road.

Bohemian Rhapsody. (This one counts.)

All in? This is a fascinating, funny, thought provoking look at one of the greatest aritsts of all time and it’s the first major studio film to depict a male gay sex scene on screen. Now, it’s true that Brokeback Mountain and Call Me by Your Name also depicted gay sex scenes, but these were both released by smaller “boutique” studio off-shoots and therefore don’t count as they were seen by baba o’riley  and maybe 3 other people.

It’s also another point against Bohemian Rhapsody which didn’t show same-sex love-making in the such detail, despite the sexuality of the protagonist, good old fashioned lover boy  Freddie Mercury.

Look for it in the top half of my top ten at the end of the year. I’m off to lie down and plot revenge on whoever’s stupid idea this was at the same time as resuming my vigil for a film version of the Madness musical Our House.

My Score- See It Now 

 

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Aladdin (2019) Review

One day, someone is going to explain what the point of all these Disney live action remakes is because if the studio was on the verge of bankruptcy then I could understand. Except it isn’t that. Disney owns EVERYTHING. Their shutting down franchises left and right. If I boycotted every non-Disney blockbuster for the rest of the years i’d be reviewing Hobbes and Shaw as well as that ghastly new Terminator film and that would be it. Probably!

But as long as the Fantastic 4 show up in the MCU and people with creepy DevintArt accounts can giggle like Japanese schoolgirls over the fact that the Xenomorph is now a Disney princess I guess no-one else cares that DISNEY. OWNS. EVERYTHING.

And it’s not like their using that money and power for good! Poeple that work for them have to live in their cars, their decimating the environment and their releasing films like Aladdin (2019- not the 1992 one.)

Now, I want to make it clear that i’m going to make no reference to the first animated version. There’s no point as it would be like comparing Hellboy (2019) to Hellboy (2004) Everyone knows which one is better and doing the old compare and contrast isn’t going to help anybody.

No, I will judge this pointless film on it’s own meager, fleeting, pitiful charms.

Starting with the director who 20 years ago was the toast of British cinema with two stone cold classics in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, then made arguably some off the worst films in history and then defiantly made some of the biggest bombs in history in The Man From Uncle and King Arthur: Legends Of The Bored.

He does a mostly passable job here which is all that Disney seems to ask from these films which I imagine make a hell of a lot from toy and merchandise sales because they ain’t gonna make much from this film

For those of you unaware of the plot of one of the most well known fairy tales of all time, the plot is simple: According to IMDB, this film is about A kindhearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true.

My wish for that 183 million dollars budget to be spent on a Dredd sequel has not yet come to pass.

Now, it’s a very simple plot and I’m fairly sure that with a couple of interesting songs and a competent villain as well as some interesting practical effects mixed in with top of the line CGI (massive budget remember, nothing less than top of the line will do.) This could work….

Oh.

Look, I applaud the fact they actually hired non-white actors for the lead roles and erm… give me a second.

There must be other things this film did well. The CGI monkey and parrot are pretty good but their going to age very poorly, very quickly as is the fate of all CGI creations.

The songs are watered down from what you might remember and were I comparing films I would state that the original films songs were faster, better, got stuck in your head and were generally more fun to watch as if cartoons are better at being cartoons than live action CGI hybrids with over-inflated budgets but as I’m not, then I wont.

What I will say is that these actors who all seem to be perfectly nice people and i’m certain that this is a star making turn for at least one of them (no, not you Jafar. You go back to… The Mummy? Ben-Hur? What Happened To Monday? Mental Note: Avoid anything this guy is in if possible. ) But none of them have the slightest bit of chemistry with each other.

The pace drags with unneeded and unnecessary characters and subplots killing what little momentum the film has. Did the genie need a love interest? What’s the point in another prince hanging around? He could have been a viable and interesting competitor for Jasmines affections but instead he’s a joke who could  have been cut completely.

And Jafar, the cool, interesting, manipulative, sophisticated villain what have they done to you? He’s played by yet another very dull, very nice piece of cardboard who like every non sultan male in this film has yet to discover that shirt buttons have a function and is about as  cool, interesting, manipulative and sophisticated as Donald Trump. Which is what they’ve turned him into. They’ve stupidly given him a backstory for no reason I could work out- Disney villains (much like James Bond villains) don’t need backstories. Giving him a song would have been nice. Jasmine gets a song, it’s irrelevant, kills the pacing, the choreography during it sucks and it gets sung twice for some ungodly reason but it’s THERE.

Kids were fidgeting during my screening, I was fidgeting, the while thing was just falling flat for me. And it shouldn’t have because all the ingredients were there but there was just something not clicking for me.

The whole thing looks very… set like. It was hard to believe in the world because it didn’t look like a world. It looked like a bunch of sets in a made for TV movie. Moments that should have excited and charmed were dull and uninteresting. Instead of allowing Ritchie to put some grit in this world it all seems so wholesome and… Disney. I don’t mean go full Dark Knight on this film but a speck here or there would have ruled.

And then there’s the big issue with this film. The big blue (some of the time) issue. A role (in this film) portrayed by one of my childhood icons who in my eye could no wrong until After Earth and then has just seemed to be flailing around trying to recapture the effortless cool that he just used to have. It’s the same here- when he’s doing his Will Smith thing he’s  fine but when he’s trying to be the genie he first of all falls victim to some really bad CGI and second, he just seems lost, waiting for direction that never seems to come.

What else is there to say? This is yet another live action fail from Disney with the same issues that Dumbo had and that The Lion King probably will have. It’s bloated, padded, dull, in dire need of a serious visit to the editors suite, some serious re-shoots and some new sets.

Apart from that it’s yet another Disney masterpiece.

My Score- Skip It. 

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum Review

Are the John Wick films pulp or art? One one level it’s the story of a nigh unkillable hit-man racking up a body-count that even an 80’s action film would think to be a bit over the top whilst taking on a super secret society of assassins with more influence, manpower and indecipherable rules than the post office.

On the other hand though, my God these films look and sound so… good that it makes every other film look like their just not even trying. The framing of shots, the choreography of the numerous fight scenes  the fact it looks like they paid their editor by the cut and the budget was really running low by that point, the near total use of practical effects and the way that the more that’s revealed to us through hints and whispers the more we want to know, the minimal use of dialogue and fact that this film just seems to take its-self seriously when it could so easily fall into camp.

I’m prepared to think that it’s some sort of miraculous hybrid which exists because a hell of a lot of people put in a hell of a lot of work to create this piece of part? Alp? Put? Pulart?

Anyway…

We pick up ten minutes after the end  of John Wick 2: Wick Harder, where, to paraphrase Finding Nemo  There are 7 billion people in the world, and all they’re looking for one. As soon as the buzzer goes off. Manners count.

Then a ton of fight scenes happen, Halle Berry finally gets some cinema work that she can feel proud of for the first time in a decade and 131 minutes later the wife picks my jaw up off the floor, pops my eyeballs back in and says that no, it is not a good idea for me to start taking martial arts lessons again and I start counting down the days until part 4 gets released.

Because whilst this is an amazing incredible beautiful film which brings in some awesome new characters and develops some existing ones, I mean The Italian Job (1969) had a less obvious cliffhanger ending!

I suppose I could comment on how there seems to be no situation that Wick ( By the way,  technically, it isn’t the wick that gets set off, right? You light the wick, sure, but then it burns down until the flame reaches some kind of explosive, and THAT’S what gets set off, right?)

Sorry, where was I? Notes, notes, notes….

Oh, right, there’s seemingly no situation where Wick doesn’t have some sort of favor or loophole or McGuffin to exploit when he’s not killing every non-dog organic life-form in a 5 mile radius. Because apparently every non-dog organic life-form in a 5 mile radius is an assassin in this universe. Apart from me. Obviously. I’m not an assassin. (As far as you know…) I’m not too sure about my script guy though. That guy is weird.

Tiny, pitiful, irrelevant niggles aside, this film is awesome. It’s got the best horse chase since True Lies, the only interesting underwater fight I’ve ever seen, every character is cool, interesting and fun. Even if one did get a bit weird towards the end, I mean there are films where you can chew the scenery and some where you can’t. John Wick 3: Wick A Vengeance is in the latter case.

But minor niggles aside, this film is the Mona Lisa of action films. It’s a simple, basic story  which is nevertheless full of twists and turns and never less than enjoyable. I liked that the films theme of actions having consequences is carried over to so, so, many characters and it’s got more inventiveness in it’s fight scenes than every other blockbuster this year put together.

Not too sure about the upcoming TV series though. Think that might be a step too far. Once more to wrap everything up with before this franchise gets crushed under it’s own weight and allow film geeks like me to hold it up for the ages whilst everything else gets covered in CGI, 12a sludge.

My Score- See It Now

Detective Pikachu Review

For those who didn’t grow up in the 90’s, the pokemon universe is a dark, twisted place where schooling is held in such contempt that parents would rather their children roamed the land attacking each other with wild animals before heading to the gym.

But enough about daily life in South London, I want to talk about detective merchandise sales because I was actually quite surprised.

Not because it’s being described as ‘the best video game movie ever because that bars so low it could be reached by each screening burning down the auditorium.

No, I was surprised because, well, this is a good film. Not a great one, but a good film in and of itself which stands alone. No setting up 15 other films or being constrained by 15 previous films but an actual good standalone film. I mean I thought they’d all gone extinct.

Its not perfect- it’s hero played by Justice Smith ( not one of Will Smiths, I checked.) Is called Tim for one, which is possibly the least heroic name ever and as such will be called Clint Thrust from this point on. Clint teams up with… erm… a female reporter who wants to prove that even though she’s really, truly, insanely badly written, she has a purpose in this film beyond pleasing creepy fanboys.

It’s not to give Clint someone to share action sequences with as that goes to the person who steals the show- Ryan Reynolds as an amnesiac, coffee addicted pikachu  who promptly steals the show along with every other walking toy.

I mean pokemon.

Because the big success story of this film isn’t Clints attempts to find out what happened to his dad. It certainly isn’t trying to spot the villain (unless you’ve never seen a film before). It’s not even really the fact that this film sort of confirms that Home Alone exists in the pokemon universe.

It’s firstly the fact that this feels like a world. With a history and stories different to ours that seems to actually exist rather than being a collection of set pieces and dialogue scenes.

Secondly, despite the fact that the CGI varies from the amazing too the clearly running out of budget, the pokemon themselves are amazing, unique and colourful. Also their not so overdone as to send anyone over the age of 12 into the nearest bar for… help, which was a serious weakness of the original film. Seriously, if.your parents took you to that in the cinema, then firstly you need to call them more and secondly, you have no idea how truly, deeply loved you are because that thing is almost unwatchable.

It’s got good pacing, a few fun twists and it was a fun place to spend 100 minutes reliving my childhood.

It’s not perfect though. Not by a long shot, the first two minutes need to go. Not tinkered with or altered, they just need to go. Along with 20% of the dialogue. Giving Clint and all his friends more depth than a jelly baby that’s recently had an argument with a steamroller would be amazing. As would just one practical effect. Is that really too much to ask in a 150 million dollar film? Also, making the script seem slightly less like it had been sitting on a shelf since 1995 and then made as was wouldn’t have hurt.

Is this the best video game.movie ever? Until that doom movie comes out, yes.

Is it a masterpiece? God no. It’s a good fun diversion and an interesting , fresh look into an old property that i have no intention of ever watching again.

My Score-. If Nothing Else

The Wandering Earth Review

So this is where we are…

China’s second highest-grossing film of all time, 2019’s third highest-grossing film worldwide, the second highest-grossing non-English film of all time, and one of the top 20 highest-grossing science fiction films of all time….

Is based off a idea that when Superman had it, Batman rejected it out of hand two seconds later.

Superman: Maybe I could move the Earth out of the Way

Batman: If we had a week I couldn’t list all the reasons that won’t work.

(Justice League: Doom 2012.)

Because that’s the plot of this film. Based on a novel which apparently went the Starship Troopers route as aside from the title they appear to be completely separate things sharing only the loosest of themes and possibly a few characters- I would’t know.

But, comparing this to Starship Troopers doesn’t help anybody (aside from reminding me that I am in dire need of a Verhoeven binge) as Starship Troopers was made in the corrupt, decadent, debauched, Capitalistic west. Whereas The Wandering Earth was made in the glorious peoples Republic of China and as such operates under some relatively minor restrictions which are including but not limited to the following:

1)Defamation of revolutionary leaders, heroes, People’s Liberation Army, armed police, national security apparatus, public security apparatus, and the judiciary branch, etc;
P2) ornography and cheap taste: prostitution, rape, masturbation, incest, homosexuality, hentai, sexual assault, sexual violence, extramarital affairs, one-night stand, sexual freedom, wife swapping, prolonged or provocative scenes of physical intimacy;
3) Feudalistic ideology which is pseudoscience: spirit possession, reincarnation, witchcraft, etc.

4) Showcase excessive horror, psychological pain, hysteria, causing strong stimulation to senses and emotions with uncomfortable pictures, lines, music, and sound effects, etc.

And since a lot of big films these days need Chinese box office Renminbi to turn a profit that means hey have to abide by these rules as well. And you wondered why blockbusters have gotten so bland and simplistic in recent years

But back to The Wandering Earth and we discover that the sun was dying out so we built a giant bomb and sent Cilian Murphy to go and debate God with a man made out of pepperoni for some reason.

Oh no, sorry, that was Sunshine- Danny Boyle’s attempt to do the same. I think. That film was weird.

Here, the solution is to instead build 10’000 giant thrusters on the Earth and then push it to a new solar system. A journey which will take 2’500 years, kill everything on the surface which means that giant citys have been built underground to ensure that humanity/morlocks will survive, all the while following… I think one of the space ships from 2001 A Space Odyssey.

As you could imagine with such a simple plan, things go south, a lot of VERY SERIOUS PEOPLE along with an irritating ‘comic’ relief seem to be in a competition to see who can have the noblest death scene set off to try and put things right. By journeying through a load of CGI with a McGuffin in the back of their truck.

And that’s one of the main issues with this film i that there’s no antagonist. No sign of anyone asking if this massive sacrifice is worth it or even a movement to turn the Earth around. Which I gather was a massive part of the book. Instead it’s simply nature as the main villain of the piece which is a shame as without other points of view or even someone to oppose, the films slightly dull. All the characters are generic one dimensional slabs of cardboard who’s ultimate fate you can guess at without much trouble, the CGI ranges from looking like a PS3 cut-scene to slightly above average and it’s all very dull to look at.

Which is a shame as I do like the idea of  a film or TV series about people of a long journey who will die and be forgotten long before the mission is over. The idea of people working towards a goal that they will never see and might be nothing more than a pipe dream to that humanity can go on eking out an existence underground for a few more years is a fascinating idea.

But everyone here is so determined, so committed to this plan that I wound up playing a game of who’s the next to die? Which is never a good sign.

The Wandering Earth is a film that I think would be better as a TV Series. There is a lot of potential in this idea but it needed more interesting, developed, conflicted characters, something to oppose other than the weather and to be honest some more money spent on the special effects.

Which is a shame because seeing films from a different cultures point of view is fascinating but this is just a slightly dull, generic film which wastes a very interesting if slightly far-fetched premise.

My Score- If Nothing Else 

The Curse of La Llorona Review

Of the 9, that’s 9 films released to the big screen on the weekend of the third of May, I am reviewing this one because…. it’s part of a franchise that I’ve consistently hold solidly mediocre things about?

Nope.

Is it because i’m a big fan of films that feature pretty much nothing but jump scares from a villain who seeming has 500 million weaknesses to the extent that she needs backup from a squidgy mortal with a gun to make her a threat?

Nope.

Is it because I love films that don’t develop characters or feel the need to have any more than the most basic, contrived, cliched plots?

Nope.

Is it because i’m desperate for a break from either big CGI blockbusters or really good, low budget coming-of-age dramas?

Possibly.

Is it because i’m actually in a part of the barren, savage world known as ‘Not London’ where i’m sitting on a beach experimenting with the human body’s maximum cocktail capacity and caught an advanced screening of this film thanks to Cineworld and would much rather they’d done an advance screening of Tolkein or Hotel Mumbai?

….Yeah

But drunk beggars can’t be choosers so here we are. With a film set in the conjuring Universe (The Conjurverse?) They seem to be about as connected as most MCU films so I don’t feel like I missed out on anything.

Because there’s not much to miss out on. It’s your basic plot (person who doesn’t believe in curses does something silly, gets haunted, goes to disgraced priest for help blah blah blah.)

The main actors are fine, I wasn’t cheering for the evil demon woman (saying or even typing her name causes “My Sharona” by The Knack to get stuck in my head for three days.) To get rid of the child actors as I usually am which is always nice.

It’s a shame that this film wastes so much of it’s limited potential because towards the end there was a bit of a siege movie vibe happening and that kind of stuff is my jam but it was never allowed to develop as the film races through it’s 90 minute run-time which, whilst it is the type of run-time a film like this should have, another five minutes to develop some dread or creepy horror vibe would not have provoked riots in my screening. Hell, Pete Semetary was 101 minutes long and that had plenty of dread as well as naff jump scares.

Which is pretty much all that’s in this films arsenal. There’s nothing subtle about this film, just the whiff of the conveyor belt as this horror film by numbers comes onscreen, does it’s thing and then goes away again. Hell, I was pretty much able to set my watch by the damn jump scares.

If you absolutely, defiantly, need to watch a horror movie in the big screen this very moment then The Curse Of My Sharona will do you. But that’s about the only way I can recommend it. Slowing the pace down would have helped. As would developing the characters, having more than one type of scare. Doing something about a jump scare at the end which made me burst out laughing as well as…

Sod it.

It’s a low budget horror movie from a franchise which I didn’t care about coming in and My Sharona has done nothing to convince me to seek out any more of them.

I’m sure future me wants to get back to the bar so… I’ll see you next time.

My Score- Skip It. 

 

Eighth Grade Review

When a film is released the same day as Avengers Endgame, this raises two possibilities in my mind- Either this film is so amazing and low budget that it can go up against what will probably become the biggest film of all time and turn a profit from parents who want to see something whilst little Timmy is distracted by all the CGI.

OR, it’s a bad idea to have the unpaid intern decide your films release date.

And having seen the film then I can confidently answer… (Drum-roll)

Yes.

To both.

Eighth Grade is an incredible piece of film-making which would normally have an audience of maybe twelve people but because of the unpaid intern is going to get one of maybe 6. Although I get the feeling that a lot of secondary schools will be buying copies.

Because culturally this film is worth about 100 Endgames. It’s a film about coming of age (which I don’t recommend. I did it once, it sucked and I had it a hundred times easier than today’s kids) owing to the ubiquity of social media sites.

But also, this film, I think represents something of the beginnings of a sea change in the film industry. The writer/Director Robert Pickering “Bo” Burnham began his performance career as a YouTuber. The lead actress Elsie Fisher was discovered on YouTube athough she has previously starred as one of the interchangeable girls in Dispacable Me). Hell,  Steven Spielberg recently announced that the role of Maria in his new version of West Side Story has gone to Rachel Zegler a 17-year-old whose highest-profile stage experience to date was her school production of Shrek. But Zegler has thousands of subscribers on her YouTube channel, where she’s been belting out pop covers and showtunes.

Performing to the camera is a part of everyday life for this generation, and a YouTube channel is a permanent showreel – edited, curated and subject to the demands of the medium to be sure, but for the time being, an authentic showcase for raw talent. Old Hollywood practices such as the “screen test”, the “audition” or the “talent scout” seem quaintly redundant in this new realm. It could spell the end for a whole tier of middlemen, not to mention that other notorious tool of movie-industry exploitation, the “casting couch”. None of which I feel are going to be missed by anyone who isn’t part of this system already.

Back to Eighth Grade though and it’s lead actress gives an amazing performance as someone trying to navigate what can be a very awkward and character forming part of life. And a certain scene towards the end (during which time the lighting budget had apparently run out) set in a car had me squirming in my seat.

As you may have guessed, social media plays a huge, almost overwhelming role in the film. The main character is a YouTuber, more comfortable communicating with people via technology than in real life- especially with her father and I don’t think any film has used “Orinoco Flow” by Enya to better effect.

Don’t go into this film expecting something as slick as mean girls, this film is more naturalistic and understated than that. It feels very realistic and as something that could have happened to me or someone I know. As a coming of age film I think this could become a classic if people ever actually hear about it, but as a film about coming of age during this modern cyber age it could well become indispensable.

Surprisingly, as someone who normally avoids coming of age films I can truly recommend this film.  smiled at some parts, reminisced at others and squirmed when that scene in the car happened.

Stupidly though, it has a 15 rating in the UK thanks to profanity and some more ‘mature’ aspects of coming of age it’s not going to be seen by the audience that needs it the most.

Because it was released against Avengers where it received no oxygen and this week has at least ten films coming out meaning it’s going to be lost in the shuffle.

What a shame.

My Score See It.