Rocketman (2019)

rocketman poster

I’m not particularly a fan of Elton John, so this might not have been the most obvious choice of movies for me. Indeed, if you are a fan then the movie experience probably held a lot less surprise, but I got to learn about Reggie Dwight the child prodigy (able to play something on the piano when he’s literally just heard it – wow! And, so jealous!), the problems behind the rise to super stardom, and the unexpected marriage…!

The basic story isn’t too dissimilar to Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), with humble beginnings leading to stardom set against a host of personal problems. However, the rest is very different. Rocketman takes a more fantastical approach, with moments of outright musical – as in, big spontaneous song and dance routines in the street – as well as dream-like moments that conjure some of the drugged-out highs (and lows). It also has a huge plus in that Elton John is still alive and was quite happy to have a ‘warts and all’ approach. “I’ve been a c*** since 1974” he/the character says at one point, and the movie doesn’t try to shy away from showing some of that. Drugs, sex addiction, shopping binges, bulimia – the movie makes the musicality and professional success seem oh so easy, but everything else very much not.

Large praise has to go to Taron Egerton in the lead role. Amazingly, he’s doing his own singing – and he isn’t half bad at all! He also manages to do enough to convey an impression of Elton without focusing too much on that to the detriment of the acting. All in all, he absolutely makes this movie work.

There’s not much else to say. The music is excellent, the story involving, and the approach intriguing. Fan of the man or not so much, this is a really great movie biopic. Recommended.

Released: 22nd May 2019
Viewed: 7th June 2019
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

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Aladdin (2019)

aladdin poster

I’m far from convinced about this plan to turn all the Disney cartoons into live-action movies. Beauty and the Beast (2017) sort of summed things up for me: not as good as the original, why did you bother? I ran screaming at the thought of sitting through Dumbo (2019), and the trailer for Lion King (2019) looks like a car crash, quite frankly. And yet, Aladdin (1992) is one of my favs from the House of Mouse, and so triumph or disaster, I was curious to see what they had done to it.

So, you know the story. Street rat and petty thief falls for the princess and winds up being used as a pawn by the evil vizier. But, instead of handing over the magic lamp he’s been tasked to steal, Aladdin ends up with a genie granting him three wishes. Can he improve his life, win the princess, yadda yadda yadda?

There are a few minor deviations in this new version. Princess Jasmine gets a new song and a 21st Century update, now trying to convince her father that a girl can be a ruler, not just a wife. I approve! It also felt very well done, imo, quite organically woven into the script and not just a tacked-on moment of ‘girl power’ (I’m looking at you, Endgame!).

The other big change that hits you the most is the loss of the wonderful Robin Williams as the genie. I can’t imagine anyone being brave enough to step into those shoes – but then, if it was going to be anyone, Will Smith makes a lot of sense. He’s been derided quite harshly for the role, but – perhaps going in with such low expectations – I actually think he manages pretty well. Still, it’s a little jarring mixing the genie we know with the Fresh Prince persona slipping through, and then a sweet if odd choice of adding in a crush on the princess’s handmaiden. Hmm.

Otherwise, it feels like the aim was to match the cartoon as closely as possible, and this might have been a flaw. The rooftop chase parkour looks like CGI not gone entirely right, and a few other scenes too end up looking cartoonish – and not in a good way, often running at a slightly odd speed or just looking juddery.

So… I dunno. It wasn’t awful, even while it wasn’t great. I was entertained enough but would rather watch the original. On the other hand, it was far more successful than e.g. B&tB, and more than I expected. I’m glad I quenched my curiosity, I’m mildly impressed that they translated as much of the animation as they did, and if nothing else, Friend Like Me and Prince Ali are fab songs – and Will Smith does them well.

Released: 22nd May 2019
Viewed: 8th June 2019
Running time: 128 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 6.5/10

Tolkien (2019)

tolkien poster

It seems crazy that there hasn’t been a biopic of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, almost certainly the most famous fantasy author of the 20th Century (if not all time, but only because these young folk have no sense of history ;)). Then again, his life wasn’t the most gripping of sagas – his ‘jam’ (as those young people say) largely involving making up languages. Kudos to the writers here for coming up with a way to blend history, poetic license, and a bit of raw imagination to come up with a movie I rather enjoyed.

What I really loved was the attempt to portray inspiration, the way ideas meld from a half-dozen different sources. Cleverly, the film jumps back and forth through time, showing us Tolkien’s early life, orphaned young, falling in love with a fellow orphan; school days; and experiences n the trenches. Fans of Lord of the Rings have long known that those experiences of war fed directly into the book. But here we also get suggestions of where the magical concepts may have come from, and impressively those moments aren’t just jammed down the viewer’s throat: no, there’s a subtlety, that again mirrors how I think of ideas formulating.

The other aspect that comes across well is how the long process of getting all those elements to gel can be. That’s still probably downplayed a bit, but glad it isn’t all “boom” and the story lands fully fledged. Much 😉

Away from writerly themes, the film mixes romance and its period setting. I’m a big fan of the latter, and all of those dusty schooldays at Oxford bits appealed to me somehow. The romance is handled well enough, as is the sense of comradeship that is at the core of it all.

I can understand that non-Tolkien fans might be less gripped by this, but it’s lovely to see biopics of writers – and who, really, can claim quite the impact of JRR? I’m sure he didn’t actually see dragons rising through the smoke on a battlefield, but as poetic images go, it fits perfectly.

Released: 3rd May 2019
Viewed: 3rd May 2019
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Endgame poster

So… here we are. Twenty-two movies over eleven years, and one way or another we are in the Endgame. The Infinity Saga ends here.

Last year’s Infinity War ended on something of a cliffhanger, and we pick up with the aftermath of those devastating events. The 3-hour run time allows the story to flow at a less than break-neck event, such as the previous movie, which is essential for this finale. As well as tying up the plot lines, we need to have an emotional connection with all of these characters, and to watch their emotional journeys – and that takes a little time.

As well as finding out what happens, and how, what I loved about this was the way it pays homage to all 11 years that have gone before. There are so many little nods back to the characters’ previous top moments, without becoming overly saccharine or just about patting themselves (ie the filmmakers) on the back. Sure, a few characters could have done with a little more screen time, but overall the fierce pride and joy at the whole series is brought to the screen.

IW was dark, and this is also pretty bleak at times especially – and appropriately – as it opens, but there is a large amount of humour sprinkled throughout. America’s ass might be my favourite… (or at least the least spoilery one!)! 😉 Given how joyful the series has been, it makes a lot of sense to remind everyone of the humour, especially as the series’ tone has darkened, plot-wise.

There’s not a lot to talk about while avoiding any spoilers at all, but I do think it’s worth going in ‘blind’. There are so many bits – major and very minor – that work perfectly for not seeing them coming. Indeed, the whole movie managed to be less predictable than I might have assumed, which is quite a feat after 21 movies of build up. Are there flaws – logically, in particular? Sure, but the action is high, the fan-nods are amazing, and overall it’s so, so easy to just let the imperfections go in favour of just how well they’ve pulled the nigh-on impossible together.

Is it perfect? No. But as a culmination of over a decade of genre-busting success, I don’t think they could have wrapped up this first chapter any better, with any more love to or from the fans on both sides of the camera. And so, my first 10/10 movie review on sheer satisfaction factor.

Released: 25th April 2019
Viewed: 25th April 2019 (in a Captain America t-shirt, natch ;))
Running time: 181 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 10/10 – no, it’s not ‘perfect’, but near as dammit and can’t imagine they could have done much better!

Hellboy (2019)

hellboy poster

When the Blood Queen, Nimue (Milla Jovovich), first tried to usher in an Age of Monsters, it was King Arthur (yes, that King Arthur, as the voice over tells us!) and Merlin who stopped her. Unable to end her unnatural life, they settle for dismembering her and sending the caskets of her pieces (arms, head, etc) to be buried at the four corners of the world.

Rescued as a spawnling at the end of World War II and raised by Professor Broom (Ian McShane), Hellboy (David Harbour) is about to have his ‘teenage’ angst moment, wondering why he helps the humans kill the ‘monsters’, when he himself is so obviously part of the latter group. And of course, a sorcerous little voices isn’t shy of pushing that thought into his head…

This is a reboot of the Hellboy series, following two films starring Ron Perlman in the titular role. He was so good, even if the movies were a bit mixed, it was a tricky prospect thinking of anyone else stepping into those boots. In fact, I’d say David Harbour (previously the sheriff in Stranger Things) is one of the best things about this adaptation, capturing the look, the snark, the entire attitude.

Alas, reviews were not promising going in to this – but it does help having low expectations. It’s not actually bad, just a bit overly-busy and slightly odd in tone. It is, however, very comic-book-esque, which fits rather well with the source. I think that sways how people find the whole thing.

Still, it was far from perfect. It loses points from me because it rehashes the story I’ve already seen. I was going to say the fantasy-leanings were a bit fresher, but no, we’ve had faeries and goblins and that kind of thing in both of the previous attempts. Ho-hum.

Harbour was good, but the rest of the cast did very little for me except hurt my ears with atrocious, plummy and fake English accents. Why?! Although of course it’s tough not to like Ian McShane being very himself. His voice-over at the beginning is a high point, detailing daft fantasy things with a lot of swearing and a very non-fantastically sensibility (“They were call the dark ages for a f-‘ing good reason”).

Ah yes, the swearing. This is a 15 and they do seem to be going to town on the blood splatter and cursing to try and make the most of it. There were a few points that did make me wonder just how awful you’d have to get for an 18 rating.

So… yeah, and no. It wasn’t awful, by any stretch. I was plenty entertained. But I couldn’t say it was a good movie, or even the best they could have made. Disappointing? A little. But no regrets on having seen it.

Released: 11th April 2019
Viewed: 14th April 2019
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10

The Lego Movie 2 (2019)

lego movie 2 poster

Five years have passed since the events of the first Lego Movie. But, the arrival of the Duplons from the Sis-tar system (geddit?) have left the formerly awesome world a wreck. Instead of a neat orderly town, we’re into Apocalyse-ville, and what can only be Mad Max Fury Road minifigs, I reckon!

With ‘Armomageddon’ looming, can Emmet save Lucy and the others from the Queen of the Sis-tar system? Can Emmet ever be as cool as new friend, Rex Dangervest? Will everything ever be awesome again?!?!?!

For the first five or so minutes of this, I thought “Oh no, I have made a terrible mistake!” So a lot of my review has to be coloured by sheer relief that it got a fair bit better! 😉

There is actually a solid moral to this story, which I won’t spoil, but along the way the in-jokes aren’t half bad. I – and the two other adults in the screening, I reckon! – laughed out loud at a Radiohead joke. Showing our age 😉 Other swipes include the fact that Disney/Marvel wouldn’t get involved this time, so we’re missing a host of characters that cameo’d in the first. Many of the jokes are at Chris Pratt’s other roles. It’s even self aware enough to poke fun at the fact that Emmet was the ‘hero’ of the first movie, despite Wyldstyle doing all the actual heroics…!

I rather liked the songs here – a good part of the movie’s humour from the lyrics – although ironically “This song’s gonna get stuck inside your head” didn’t manage to oust the remix of Everything is Awesome – or, not awesome, now, which is quite frankly a bit more valid to life than I was expecting from a movie like this!

It’s not a must-see, in my view, but a better sequel to a daft yet cult movie than I was expecting – especially in those opening few minutes 😉

Released: 8th February 2019
Viewed: 23rd March 2019
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 7/10

Fisherman’s Friends (2019)

fishermans friends poster

Based on a true story, this movie tells of a group of Cornish fisherman who went on to achieve chart success – continuing to this day! – with an unlikely album of sea shanties. It’s got feel-good, heart-warming British comedy-drama written all over it, and I went in (mainly to avoid Five Feet Apart but also) fully expecting to have my cockles warmed, foot a-tapping, and feeling good.

Alas, things did not go according to plan. It’s not a bad movie, and it does have many elements of the above. But, contrary to the advertising this is not so much a movie about hard-working shanty-singing salt of the earth types (I’m using all these cliches on purpose, btw – it suits the movie to a t!). Instead, we get the rather less appealing story about the cynical record exec finding that Cornwall’s heart is better than London’s glamour, blah blah, so much blah, yawn blah.

The focus on the movie is so skewed, in my opinion, that it takes a ‘real’ story and instead trots out every cliche known to man. There isn’t a beat in the narrative that doesn’t follow the archetypal story: love won and lost, darkest moment before the dawn, ‘hero’s’ change of heart. All of which bored and annoyed me in equal measure. I didn’t particularly want the London knob head to get a redemption story or happy ending. I actually dislike Daniel Mays as an actor, so putting him ahead of the actual supposed subjects of the movie was just… everything that’s wrong with the UK’s London-centricity, in a movie that was meant to distract me from politics. Argh!!

tl;dr: not enough fishermen, too much London tosser. Two hours of gorgeous Cornish scenery and the shanties would have left me happier without the story.

Released: 15th March 2019
Viewed: 22nd March 2019
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5.5/10