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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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

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

Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

mary queen of scots poster

At 18 years old, Mary Stuart’s marriage to the Dauphin of France ends with his death. Returning to Scotland to reclaim her throne, she has to cope with political machinations both at home and from neighbouring England. England has been in religious turmoil following the changes wrought by Henry VIII and his succession by his two daughters in turn, one fervently Catholic and the other Protestant. With Elizabeth on the throne, her courtiers are not best pleased to find a Catholic not only on the throne of Scotland, but with a valid claim on England’s, too.

But neither religion nor auld enmities can hold a candle to the outrage of 16th Century men being forced to obey a woman… o_O

I went into this movie with very low expectations, which worked in my favour: it wasn’t that bad at all. It also wasn’t great, but that was – in my view – more to do with the storytelling and odd editing choices, and nothing against any of the performances.

Accents first. Elizabeth is played by an Aussie (Margot Robbie), and Mary by an Irishwoman (Saoirse Ronan). Thankfully, both seem to manage very well, even if Saoirse does sound as putting-it-on as I do when I try to ape my Irish relatives 😉 It’s nicely not distracting, though, which is a relief.

Even with such momentous events across the two countries, the filmmakers have taken the understandable approach of making the story about the two women on a more personal level. They even fabricate a meeting between the two, which never happened.

However, I felt that somewhere in the quick-cuts between Mary standing down a belligerent Robert Knox (an almost unrecognisable David Tennant) and 30 seconds of Elizabeth throwing a strop over her paper quilling project, I somehow felt the film got a little lost between historical-ness and trying to make a point, and fell a bit short on both.

Overall: not awful, but not surprised it’s not up for Oscars. It was, in some ways, the opposite of The Favourite (2018): that was a Very Good film but hard to watch; MQos was much easier to watch but overall close to just being popcorn fluff – and not on purpose, I imagine!

Released: 18th January 2019
Viewed: 23rd January 2019
Running time: 124 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6/10

The Favourite (2018)

favourite poster

It’s the early 18th Century, and Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) deals with poor health and amuses herself as best she can, while close friend, Lady Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weiss), dictates governing policy on her behalf. The relationship between the two is more than friendship, but not always kind. When Sarah’s impoverished cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), comes to court begging for a job, there’s a space for her to show kindness to the poor Queen, and gain affection – to the detriment of Sarah’s position.

Thus we have a movie about rivalries and politics, wars of many kinds, double dealing and back stabbing – and, of course, rabbits. Wait, what?!

To say this is a strange movie is understating things. It’s purposefully a mix of period and modern anachronisms – some subtle, such as costuming, and others just downright bizarre, like a dance scene that looks like a spoof of Strictly Come Dancing, regency style. What?!

Undeniably, the performances are excellent. Olivia Coleman in particular is just fantastic. However, it’s not an easy film to watch. The music only adds to this: often discordant to the point of painful, doing a great job of setting an uncomfortable tone, but not particularly pleasant to sit through.

And so, while I’d be very happy to see this win a ton of awards, I can’t offer it a higher rating. While ‘good’, it wasn’t exactly enjoyable and not something I really want to see again – especially with such a ‘wait, what?!’ ending.

Released: 1st January 2019
Viewed: 11th January 2019
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Outlaw King (2018)

Outlaw King poster

Cinema and history do not always go well together, and if Braveheart is your reference for Scottish history – oy! Let’s not start there. Going in to the story of Scotland’s other big historical hero, Robert the Bruce, I was then facing some trepidation.

From and Aussie William Wallace (was I the only one chuckling at the film’s passing reference to him being dead already? Maybe it wasn’t meant as a movie swipe, hmm!) to an American Bruce, let me first say that Chris Pine does surprisingly well on the accent (actually, Glaswegian Tony Curran’s attempt at an island dialect is far more distracting).

As for the rest of the movie… well, it’s no Braveheart (ironically, that title was more Robert’s than William’s) and I mean that in a good way – mostly. It’s still not 100% historically accurate (and as another aside, I’d suggest children in Scotland are shamefully not being taught most of this – our own history – out of, what? Anti-nationalism?), but it doesn’t take half as many liberties in the name of telling a more rousing story.

And that in itself is a bit of a problem. Bruce was not an immediate hero, but the film has to err on the side of likeability. To be honest, he’s not entirely charismatic, either: whether by design or not, there’s an attempt at a lot of ‘acting via long moody looks’ that has mixed success. Also, the story sort of muddies an attempt at an ending – which, historically, is sort of fair, but… hmm.

Best bit of the whole movie – no, not the blink and you’ll miss ‘full frontal’ that got so much press, for goodness sake! – is the absolutely stunning Scottish scenery. The movie set in it is decent if not as awe-inspiring. Take that as you will!

Released: 9th November 2018
Viewed: 11th November 2018
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 7/10

First Man (2018)

first man poster

First Man is a biopic of astronaut, Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), detailing his time with NASA and becoming the first human to walk on another planetary body. It’s at once a deeply personal story, and yet captures one of the most monumental human achievements of all time.

There was nothing easy about the ‘space race’. Hurling oneself out of Earth’s atmosphere, at the speeds required to escape gravity, would be terrifying enough at any time, but limited to 1950s/60s technology it becomes an exercise in ambition over common sense, it seems! Certainly, the American programme is fraught with accidents, often deadly, and the movie uses those to ramp up the tension levels and really pull on the audience’s emotions.

If anything, that need to constantly try to pull on the heartstrings is my only complaint about the movie. We’re shown a lot of Armstrong’s personal life, and in doing so it slants the whole achievement to being connected to the death of his daughter. Wouldn’t it be enough just for its own sake?

That said, the story is incredible and the performances are amazing. One complaint I heard was a dislike of how cold and distant Armstrong is portrayed – although, his living children have reportedly said this is the best representation they’ve seen on screen of their father. Personally, I found the personality very relatable: I do think men of that era would be cold rather than show emotions, and Neil was very much an engineer and physicist, given to logic thought.

I do with the climatic events were allowed to be a little more wow. The film makers have gone for downplaying this absolutely remarkable thing, and given how in awe I am of the reality, the movie didn’t quite capture that for me.

Still. Wow. And the film’s not half bad either 😉

Released: 12th October 2018
Viewed: 9th November 2018
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10