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

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 Poppins Returns (2018)

mary poppins returns poster

The two children from Mary Poppins (1964) have grown up and, in Michael’s case, had children of his own. Following the death of his wife, however, Michael’s life is sliding into mayhem. The final straw is a repossession notice on the family home. Can the Banks family – Michael (Ben Wishaw), sister Jane (Emily Mortimer), and the three children who are more looking after the grown ups than the other way around – find a way to save their house before the bank forecloses? Well, perhaps when a strong wind blows in a familiar face…

Let’s not beat about this bush: I can only hope this is the worst movie I see this year, and what a woeful start! It’s definitely not ‘practically perfect’ in any way – more perfectly dire in far too many ways.

Where to start? Emily Blunt looks great as Mary Poppins – her shoes are a highlight of the movie for me, genuinely (!) – but then she opens her mouth and what the heck?! The mangled, talking-through-marbles fake posh accent is like some horrible impression of… I don’t even know what.

Having to listen to that my ears were well primed to start bleeding when the youngers began singing o_O

The rest of the cast are at least tuneful, but the tunes themselves are insipid in the extreme. Not one has stuck in my head – I came out of the cinema humming “Fly a Kite” from the original, after one bar of it is used in the background. C’mon!!

I did quite like the cartoon-world song and dance, something about a book and its cover, but I do not think it belonged in this movie at all. The innuendo, MP’s sudden cockney turn – what?! As much as I usually like Emily Blunt, her take on MP is borderline obnoxious at times, too.

I yawned through a lot of this movie. I couldn’t stop fidgeting. I wish to heck I’d gone to see The Favourite instead.

Some people seem to like this movie, but I really can’t imagine why – unless the ‘U’ stands for ‘under fives only’. I suppose bits of it look pretty good? But it’s so tonally off it was a painful experience. At least the only way for my moving-viewing year to go is up – which must be what that last song meant!

Released: 21st December 2018
Viewed: 4th January 2019
Running time: 130 minutes
Rated: U

My rating: 3/10

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

bohemian rhapsody poster

The first proper album I ever bought was Queen’s A Kind of Magic. I sort of remember the Live Aid concert (I was a little young!) which forms the framework for this bio-pic of, if not the band, certainly lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

I’m still struggling to completely have an opinion on the movie. I *loved* the 2+ hours in the cinema – I laughed, I sniffled, and I could not sit still with the fabulous music. Is it a good movie? I dunno, but it was fun. Is it an accurate biography? I have no idea – certainly the timelines are messed about a little for dramatic effect, but I have to assume that band mates and producers, Brian May and Roger Taylor, weren’t going to let anyone be too mean to the late, great Freddie.

Certainly it all starts well. Moving away from his parents’ traditional family life, Farouk Bulsara offers to replace the singer in Brian and Roger’s band. From the first moment, his showmanship starts to grow and we get a super-speed through Queen’s creation and rise to mega-stardom, with some nice scenes of certain songs being crafted.

The real focus of the plot, however, isn’t the band but the frontman. Freddie has to come to terms with fame, his family’s disapproval of his lifestyle choices, his sexuality, and how these things collide. Fame and fortune aren’t guards against loneliness. Adrift in his own life, he’s easy pickings for the unscrupulous. He does come across a little as a victim, with perhaps hints that the ‘scandalous’ lifestyle was more association and gossip than reality, which may or may not be true.

You can’t review Bohemian Rhapsody without heaping praise on Rami Malek. The climax of the movie – that Live Aid set – is played almost in full. As the camera pulls out over the massive audience, I actually wondered if the big screens at the side of the stage were playing the real footage, so spot-on is Malek’s physical performance.

Absolutely recommended. Make up your own mind on how well it all fits together, but you are guaranteed a foot-stompingly great soundtrack along the way.

Released: 24th October 2018
Viewed: 26th October 2018
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8.5/10

A Star Is Born (2018)

a star is born poster

There are films that no one should ever, EVER attempt to remake (ahem Princess Bride ahem) and then there are movies on their fifth version and (apparently) stronger than ever. Having only seen this latest version, I’ll take someone’s word for it – because this is a very strong movie, remake or not.

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a successful singer/guitarist, but fame has brought issues. Tormented by tinnitus, he’s increasingly drunk and/or high. By chance he stumbles across Ally (Lady Gaga), who is all talent and little confidence. The pair are drawn to each other, and the movie charts her rise, his fall, and the tumultuous relationship between them as their positions switch.

I was utterly impressed by this movie. I went in relatively blind, and not expecting much – I’m not a fan of romances, or real life type dramas, and this offered plenty of both. But, oy, does it do them well.

I’m not a huge fan of Lady Gaga, and she was the weak point for me – not always, but just occasionally she can’t hide her talent and confidence when she’s playing a shy little thing. Still, her voice is amazing. And to be fair, Bradley Cooper holds his own – that was a surprise and a half! It doesn’t overshadow the amazing job he does acting, though, which was also something of a surprise given he more or less started as the ‘pretty one’ from the Hangover franchise.

Reader, I confess I sniffled rather a lot through this. The music is great, but the story is heartbreaking. Take tissues, but do see it.

Released: 5th October 2018
Viewed: 13th October 2018
Running time: 136 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

mamma mia 2 poster

Five (movie; 10 real) years have passed since the events of Mamma Mia! It’s a year since (spoiler only if you haven’t seen the trailer!) Donna died, and Sophie has dedicated herself to her mother’s dream. As we join the run-up to the big hotel launch, we also dip back in time to see Donna’s discovery of both the island and her self – and, of course, the events that led to the big ‘who’s the father?’ mix up of the first movie.

Mamma Mia! is one of my slightly embarrassing, go-to feel-good movies. Abba’s music is wonderfully catchy, and the sense of fun the cast are having is contagious. And the gorgeous sunny location doesn’t hurt either!

I was therefore a little dubious going in to the sequel: was it going to tarnish my fun? Nope! 🙂

I still had a few mixed feelings after my first viewing. The songs are less well known, and I felt they were a lot more shoe-horned in (there are a few too many ‘performance’ scenes with the characters hitting a stage) rather than quite as organically telling the story. I also didn’t really feel the need to have Donna’s encounters with Bill, Sam, and Harry ‘justified’, almost as if there’s an apology due somewhere.

But… y’know what, I had to go back and see it again. And I did relax from the scrutinising and just bloomin’ enjoyed it! This is an utterly joyful romp of a musical movie, but also quite affecting: the message of grabbing life by the horns (so to speak) is pretty well done. There is also scope for a need for tissues: there are a few scenes that just ‘hit the feels’, probably more so because the rest of the movie is so bouncy.

Don’t think about it too much. It’s daft. It rocks. Have fun! 🙂

Released: 20th July 2018
Viewed: 24th July 2018 / 14th August 2018
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10