Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Rocketman (2019)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, New Republic Pictures, Marv Films, Rocket Pictures

Rocketman – Film Review

Cast: Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Synopsis: A look at the life of musical icon Elton John from his first moments playing the piano as a youngster, to an international best selling superstar, and all the partying and drunken shenanigans that ensued…

Review: When two films about two icons of British music come out within a year of each other, comparisons between these two films are pretty much inevitable, especially since they share a director (kind of). However, while the first of these films ultimately chose to play things very safe with its source material about the life of its subject, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. For Rocketman, and the life of its subject, Elton Hercules John, this is decidedly not the case.

The film covers quite the broad spectrum, but it mainly initially on Elton’s younger years, back when he was known as Reginald Kenneth Dwight. As a rather timid child being held back by his not-so-supporting parents. Until when given some helpful supporting nudges, he gets a spot at a prestigious music school and that leads him down the path of becoming a very eccentric entertainer. From there he meets lyricist Bernie Taupin (Bell) and together with Bernie providing the lyrics and Elton providing the vocals, they become an effective and cohesive team committed on the journey to super-stardom.

Dress down Fridays definitely didn’t catch on…

Every so often, there is a casting choice that just feels absolutely perfect, and for Taron Egerton as Elton John, this is one of those instances. In what may be his best performance of his career so far, Egerton goes all out with just about every aspect of the role. The bright and wacky costumes, the mannerisms of the great man himself and, yes he does all of his own singing. With just about every facet of this performance, he captures the drama that he has in his life with his romances and the hard and intense party lifestyle that he leads in his younger years, without sugar-coating any of it, not least the relationships he has, most notably with Richard Madden’s John Reid. The friendship between Elton and Bernie is very heartfelt, and Bell brings a level of sincerity to his performance, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mum Sheila couldn’t have been more perfect.

Dexter Fletcher, who came into to complete Bohemian Rhapsody after the original director was fired, shows that he has got a real knack for these musical biopics. While he didn’t get the credit for BoRhap, this is completely his own movie, and with that he brings a great deal of visual flair to the film. There’s no jaw-dropping sequence like the Live Aid scene in BoRhap, but that doesn’t stop the musical numbers in Rocketman are entertaining and very unique in their own right. With the script from Lee Hall, Fletcher chooses to mesh the intense drama with some musical numbers that are interspersed throughout the film. Given that the life of someone in a business like this has its ups and downs, these can feel a little jarring at first, given how the film has moments in it which are really quite melancholic.

The film strives to avoid those familiar tropes of the musical biopic genre, but despite its best efforts, it does revert to some of these. Yet while Bohemian Rhapsody was a very safe, and (sometimes inaccurate) version of the man it was portraying, Rocketman is anything but by-the-numbers. There are some aspects of Elton’s life that are covered, but in such a fleeting manner that could have done with a bit more development. It’s above all else, a reminder that while such a career can be extremely rewarding, there are some dangerous pitfalls that can happen to anyone, no matter how rich, or famous, or popular they may be.

Visually striking and with a marvellous performance from Egerton, Rocketman blasts off but doesn’t quite stick the landing due to a tonally unevenly told story.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Regency, and Queen

Bohemian Rhapsody – Film Review

Cast:  Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers

Director(s): Bryan Singer (Dexter Fletcher)

Synopsis: A look at the lives of the legendary rock band Queen, charting their formative years and initial success leading up to their Live Aid concert performance in 1985.

Review: There’s a moment in this biopic where one music executive completely rubbishes the idea a song that spans six minutes could possibly become a radio hit. Oh how wrong he was. That six minute song in question is of course “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the band behind this true masterpiece of a song was Queen. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that as a band, Queen produced some thumping great tunes, and the legacy and impact that they have had on the music industry is truly substantial, and will likely continue to endure for decades to come.

Of course, not every band achieves such phenomenal success instantaneously so when we first meet Farrokh Bulsara as he was known before adopting his more familiar name, he spends his days working at London’s Heathrow Airport and going to gigs at night. During one such gig, he meets Roger Taylor (Hardy) and Brian May (Lee), who as luck would have it need a new singer, which Freddie gladly accepts. With John Deacon (Mazzello) also on board as the bass player, their royal highness, Queen was born.

However, the journey to get this Queen biopic to the big screen has not been an easy one. With original director Singer having been fired quite late into filming, up stepped Dexter Fletcher to complete the film. In circumstances like this, there’s a substantial risk that the whole film could completely fall apart. Though Singer gets the sole director credit, the work that both directors put in ensures that this biopic does not bite the dust.

The screenplay by Anthony McCarten, does feel a little paint by-numbers in terms of its structure. The film spends a substantial amount of time focusing on Freddie’s relationship with Mary Austin. Which ultimately does leave certain aspects such as his relationships with men, and his battle with AIDS as something of an afterthought.  These aspects are touched upon, but it is perhaps in not the extensive detail that it maybe could have been. However, what this film does above all else, is choose to celebrate the band’s incredible music, which given how utterly amazing said music is, that’s not a bad thing at all.

The man to step into the great Freddie Mercury’s shoes was a bit uncertain for a long time. Initially it was Sacha Baron Cohen, then came Ben Whishaw, but ultimately Rami Malek was the man who stepped up to the microphone. Though it would have been interesting to see what the former could have done with the role, Malek is simply outstanding giving such an incredible performance that sees him pretty much transform into Freddie Mercury himself. Everything from the hair and make up, to the costumes is completely on point. Though Malek’s Mercury does steal pretty much every scene he’s in, the rest of the band mates are also excellent, but their development is scarce at best.

Towards the second act is where the tension is really injected into the film, but again certain aspects of Freddie’s career are only given the barest minimum of development. It is when we get to the Live Aid performance, that the film really perks right back up again. The work that is done to recreate that is just simply breath-taking, you will have a hard time not singing along. As Queen themselves sang “We Will Rock You,” Malek and co do exactly that. Killer Queen(s) indeed.

Though the screenplay could have gone into much more depth, Malek’s career-defining performance and the celebration of their stellar music ensures that this biopic hits (mostly) all the right notes.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

I, Tonya (2018)

Image is property of AI Film and Neon

I, Tonya – Film Review

Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale

Directors: Craig Gillespie

Synopsis: Telling the story of controversial ice skater Tonya Harding who, whilst competing for her country in the Winter Olympics, becomes embroiled in a scandal following on attack on a fellow competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

Review: The lives of sports stars and professional athletes, are so often very glamorous, particularly when they enjoy success in their field and acquire incredible wealth and fame on a global scale. However, every once in a while, an athlete finds themselves in the public eye for all the wrong reasons. Take for instance, ice skater Tonya Harding. In the build up to the 1994 Winter Olympics, after an attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan was carried out, a massive public scandal ensued, and the fallout was quite extensive.

This infamous incident is not the focus of the whole movie though. Indeed director Craig Gillespie chooses to focus on Tonya’s entire life, from her early upbringing and being forced into ice-skating by her pushy/over-bearing mother LaVona Golden (Janney) to her marriage to Jeff Gillooly (Stan) to of course the infamous attack on Nancy Kerrigan. He chooses to tell this story in a very unique way, by having the characters as if they were being interviewed by us the audience, and then flashing back to the key moments in Tonya’s life. Constantly jumping back and forth in this manner can be problematic but the film is edited together tremendously well, ensuring it flows coherently.

In a performance that has landed her her first Oscar nomination, Robbie really shines as Tonya Harding. Despite some of her less than pleasant mannerisms and behaviour, she is in many ways a very tragic character. Clearly very talented, she never quite fully realised that potential, this is perhaps more down to factors beyond her control. Of course she isn’t perfect but, her extremely difficult mother and her topsy-turvy home life certainly didn’t help matters. Janney as Tonya’s mother is also getting some well deserved recognition. Almost every word out of her mouth is profanity or a derogatory utterance directed if not at her daughter, at someone else. Though she strives to do what’s best for her daughter, it certainly doesn’t yield the right results, and she certainly wouldn’t win any Best Mother of the Year Awards.

For a person who had more than a few dark and bleak moments in her lifetime, the screenplay does manage to inject some humour into this picture, which is in no small part down to LaVona’s outbursts, and the bumbling incompetence of some of the characters who played a key role role in the attack on Kerrigan. The aforementioned use of editing in the interviews to tell the story, intertwined with some frequent fourth wall breaking keeps the plot moving for the most part along as briskly as an ice skater who’s right in the middle of their routine would.

The film does suffer from a few pacing issues though, as it seems unsure as to which element it really wants to focus on at least in the first act.  There’s also the not-so-small matter of the ice skating scenes themselves. While the camerawork to make them happen is impressive, there are a few scenes in which it is very apparent that we are looking at a stunt double, and not Robbie herself, which can be just a little bit jarring. Yet once we reach the third act and the now infamous attack on Kerrigan becomes the main focus, it becomes wildly entertaining, and serves a reminder of how even the smallest action can have devastating consequences on people’s lives and careers.

Unconventional in how it chooses to tell its ultimately tragic story, but with excellent performances from Robbie and Janney in particular fused with some very dark comedy ensures this biopic has some legs (or should that be skates?)

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Steve Jobs (2015)

steve jobs
Image is property of Legendary Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions, Mark Gordon Company, Universal Pictures

Steve Jobs – Film Review

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan, Jeff Daniels

Director: Danny Boyle

Synopsis: An account of the founder of Apple Steve Jobs, focusing on three different points in his life, before the launch of 3 different new products.

Review: Chances are good that if you’re reading this, you have some sort of apple product at your home or in your office, be it an iPod, a Mac or an iPad. There’s little question the impact that Apple has had on this market, quite simply, it has revolutionised the industry. But with all the hype that surrounded the launch of these products, there were a few behind the scenes issues that confronted the company’s founder Steve Jobs, and this focuses on the challenges that he faced prior to the launches of these inventions, personal and political. The second film about the creator of Apple, and a film that does do the man some justice. It’s a tale of motivation, what pushes his buttons to bring these revolutionary products to market, and will they work?

With screenwriter Aaron Sorkin on board, a writer who managed to make a website about one of the biggest websites the world has ever seen, Facebook, insanely enjoyable and interesting. Similarly with the little details about numbers and maths behind a sport. He does provide once again some very fascinating and riveting dialogue as Steve Jobs battles with assistants and angry ex girlfriends about children that may or may not be his, or if the product launch is encountering a thousand and one problems, whilst also feuding with former employees who are demanding some of the credit for the products that Apple has created. The writing, as usual with Sorkin, is excellent. All of this stuff should sound very boring for many of us, but through brilliant writing, it could easily bore the audience to tears with a load of technical mumbo jumbo that could whizz over our heads, but it does not. That being said, with the film being dialogue driven, some of it does come off as less uninteresting than some other parts.

Therefore with mostly great screen-writing, you hopefully can expect some great acting, and everyone in this film is absolutely on point. Most of all is Michael Fassbender as the late Steve Jobs. He has the accent nailed, the look nailed, and he really gets into the role and plays him as tremendously well as someone with Fassbender’s insane talent can, and certainly much better than Ashton Kutcher did. Along with Fassbender, the rest of the cast also bring their A game. Kate Winslet as Jobs’ assistant and good friend Joanna Hoffman, who is supportive of Jobs while also frustrated at his stubbornness. Also venting his anger at Jobs is Steve Wozniak played by Seth Rogan who is unhappy that Jobs is not giving him credit where credit is due for what he believes is his contribution to the company of Apple.

The film is divided into three acts, each act set in a different time before Steve is unveiling different products and each act is shot in a different way, the earliest being on 16mm film, with the most recent act being filmed on digital. It was a very smart decision and reflected the way that the technology has changed as time passes through each act. However, despite the dialogue being very interesting, there are some parts that do drag, most notably the controversy between Jobs and a woman who is claiming that a girl is his daughter. It just feels a bit repetitive with her popping up every so often saying that Jobs owes her money for this, and for that, and it just gets a bit irksome. The technology behind these products is what is interesting but there’s just a bit too much focus on the family drama.

Nevertheless, the film remains very interesting to watch with some very good performances that could very well get some Oscar nominations for the acting and the writing. Boyle does a tremendous job with the directing as well, he gives everyone a chance to shine, from Jobs, to Wozniak, to Jeff Daniels’s John Sculley. It’s not quite on the level of The Social Network, or Moneyball in terms of a very riveting and very intriguing. Yet it does remain a very interesting and well acted dialogue driven movie, that gives its audience a glimpse into the life of the man who created one of the most successful companies the world has ever seen.

Despite some slow moments, the screenplay ensures the dialogue is for the most part very interesting, with assured direction, and the performances are all electric, that could get some awards nods.

b

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Mr Turner (2014)

mr turner

Mr Turner – Film Review

Cast:  Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, Marion Bailey, Dorothy Atkinson, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson

Director:  Mike Leigh

Synopsis: An account of the life of the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, detailing his final years.

Review: The fine stroke of the paintbrush of a distinguished artist is comparable in some way to the art of making a film. Each shot feels like it needs precision and accuracy to acheieve the perfect moment. Yet like an artist at work, the shots in a film can fall flat, they can feel disjointed, and they can bore certain people. With this biopic of the artist J.M.W. Turner, it feels like a piece of artwork on a canvas being set up ready for viewing, only to see someone come along and ruin it.

The film focus on the final twenty five years of the artist’s life. Timothy Spall certainly brings him to life in a charismatic way, albeit with a considerable amount of grunting. Leigh does an incredible job in which we see scenes of Turner at work. There can be a certain amount of awe as he effortlessly creates a piece of art, sometimes even using his own spit to create an effect. Or in some cases, being tied to a ship to create the perfect piece.  Spall certainly humanises the artist as becomes increasingly eccentric in his later years, and is the stand out performer. Being the titular character, you would expect him to be the most developed and he is, by a considerable distance. The rest of the cast don’t quite match the very high standard that Spall set,  with many actors feeling a bit over the top in their performances.  Furthermore, there are some characters, such as Turner’s first mistress who are left severely under-developed. In spite of this, the film boasts top direction and cinematography.

Yet, the plot feels a bit disjointed. One scene he’s in Margate and another scene he’s back in his home. There are random moments in which he and his housekeeper get intimate, and you’re never really sure what’s going on or why it is happening. With the plot feeling a bit all over the place, there is much to be desired and it feels tedious at times to sit through. In addition with a run time of two and a half hours, you cannot help but feel some parts of the film could have been cut out. Like an artist finishing off a masterpiece there is almost a sense of relief when the credits start to roll. The biopic was presented as a view of the life of a great 19th century artist, and on paper it appears to represent the work of such an artist like turner. Yet at times it feels like a botched attempt to recreate a famous 19th century masterpiece, just ask Elias Garcia Martinez, the woman who brutally failed to restore a famous piece of 19th century art. Leigh’s story is by no means on that scale of horrendous, yet there is not a lot here that is worthy to be put on display.

With a charismatic leading performance by Timothy Spall, the brush strokes of the movie were set for an interesting biopic. However, the framed final piece falls flat with a disjointed somewhat dull plot and underdeveloped characters 

C

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

Image rights belong to Pathe, Videovision Entertainment, Distant Horizon, Origin Pictures
Image rights belong to Pathe, Videovision Entertainment, Distant Horizon, Origin Pictures

Mandela: Walk to Freedom – Film Review

Cast: Idris Elba, Naomi Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa, Jamie Bartlett, Lindiwe Matshikiza, Terry Pheto, Deon Lotz

Director: Justin Chadwick

Synopsis:  An account of the life and journey of South Africa’s first ever black President. From his early years as a lawyer to his rise to political prominence, to his time spent in prison and finally his accession to Presidency of South Africa and bringing the end of apartheid.

Review: As the great man once said “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” One of the many powerful quotes of the legend that is Nelson Mandela.  The life and legacy of the man and the legend is brought to the big screen in a powerful and emotive way.

The timing of the release of this film could not have been more poignant as Mandela sadly passed away in December 2013. Thankfully Mandela saw the film before he passed away. In its 2 hour and 20 minute run time, the film captures Mandela’s entire life. From his early beginnings as a young boy to his rise to prominence, his time spent in jail and last but not least the making of history by becoming the first black President of South Africa and bringing about the end of apartheid. The scenes in his early years are among the most powerful as it is shown how he went from a lawyer to a strong political activist. He was a man with a voice and people stopped and listened to what he had to say. Whatever he said, he said it well and people listened to what he had to say.

As the film captures Mandela’s life in its entirety, there are some events that are breezed over rather quickly. His early life as a lawyer is not explored in great depth and did feel a bit rushed. In spite of this, it would be a hard ask to cover every event of the man’s life in great detail and achieve that running time. However, the film definitely captures the key moments that made Mandela one of the greatest people of the 20th century. The moment where he has been sentenced to jail and leaves his wife Winnie behind are heart breaking to watch. The fleeting visits that Winnie makes are also tough to watch as you feel your heart break for the both of them.

The role of Mandela needed an actor to represent the charismatic individual that he was, and in this respect Idris Elba was perfect in the lead role.  He captured Mandela perfectly and had the compelling presence and influence that Mandela had in his early years. His voice and accent were also on the money. Elba’s performance was so convincing that Mandela believed he had actually made an appearance in the film.    As his time in jail goes on, while his charisma never diminishes, he becomes a patient and peaceful individual as his campaign to bring the end of apartheid goes to even while he spends the best part of thirty years in captivity.  Alongside Elba in the leading role, Naomi Harris also gives a strong performance as Winnie Mandela. The chemistry between her and Elba was strong.  Harris also goes on a transformation from a loving wife to a  political figure of rebellion.

The film does its best to capture the man and the legend. While some aspects are slightly touched upon, the film touches on the important events well and in this respect it hits all the right notes. A solid portrayal of Mandela  is provided by Idris Elba in what is arguably the best performance of his career to date. With an equally strong performance by Harris, the end product is a fitting tribute to the man who  made a substantial mark on the world and who will be remembered for decades to come.

Anchored by two excellent lead performances ensures that this biopic of one of modern history’s most influential leaders is a story worth telling.

b