Saturday, June 15, 2019

Rocketman, 2019 - ★★★★½

Taron Egerton is a full-blown Hollywood star after this fantastic turn as Elton John in Dexter Fletcher's Rocketman. As a biopic/musical of the life of the English musical legend, this film stands out as the PROPER way to do a rock biopic. A much more accomplished and engaging experience than the bland Bohemian Rhapsody from 2018, Rocketman delivers on all levels thanks to inventive and creative musical numbers and strong performances all around.

Jaime Bell shines as Bernie Taupin, John's frequent collaborator and songwriter. Bell brings a loyalty for Taupin and we really understand his platonic love for John which built one of the most prolific collaborations in the history of the music industry. Richard Madden (Game of Thrones, The Bodyguard) is excellent as well as John's manager/love interest John Reid. We get two strong turns by Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh as John's disapproving parents. All of these characters end up explaining why John's life turned into a symphony of drugs and alcohol which Fletcher ends up illustrating brilliantly through fantasy sequences perfectly timed to John's discography.

The real meat of this film comes from two sources: Elton John's wonderful song catalog and Egerton's dynamic and personal performance. From the get-go we know that Egerton is going for it full blast. He's very engaging and outgoing as John, delivering one hit after another. His singing is actually very good and makes me fully enjoy his performance far more than last year's undeserving Best Actor winner Rami Malek. Let's hope the Academy at least honors Taron with a best actor nod after the complete control that Egerton brought to his portrayal of Elton John.

This film just works from start to finish and is really a fun ride in the theater. I found myself listening to the Elton John catalog days and weeks after I saw this. This is a great tribute to an influential musical pioneer and a fun film that has a lot of rewatchable potential.

Booksmart, 2019 - ★★★½

Olivia Wilde's directorial debut is clever and witty, featuring a great performance by Jonah Hill's sister Beanie Feldstein and a solid supporting turn by Kaitlyn Dever (Beautiful Boy) as two best friends finishing out their days in high school. The movie has some clever scenes and is written well but ultimately doesn't really deliver as many laughs as I was looking for. There are slow moments and it seems that Feldstein really is the only one bringing her true "A" game.

Wilde's direction is very good though and her choice of musical scoring is very effective. I feel she has a future behind the camera as well as in front of it. It was nice to see her include her husband Jason Sudeikis in a handful of scenes as the school principal. While the film tries to hard to push the played out Superbad theme of one "wild and crazy night" it manages to be relatively entertaining throughout. Definitely worth a home viewing and I'm thinking that Feldstein is about to break out as a true young star with her next film.

Ma, 2019 - ★★★½

Tate Taylor's Ma is an interesting take on the high school party scene and what happens when a social outcast tries to take revenge later in life. This is an Octavia Spencer vehicle all the way and she simply dominates every scene she's in. You can't take your eyes off her and you know she's just having a blast playing the role of "Ma" a local mother who invites high schoolers into her basement to party with friends.

What starts out as a seemingly friendly gesture from Ma turns into a typical horror gross-out slash fest along the way. Supporting turns from Luke Evans, Juliet Lewis and newcomer Diana Silvers help move the story along, but we're always just waiting for Ma to get back on screen. The movie really goes over the top towards the end and it's really not inventive or memorable overall. I did enjoy Octavia so much that I would recommend a home viewing here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, 2019 - ★★★

This is more of the same and just a continuation of the first film. In a ways, watching this type of film this feels a lot like playing a video game (Uncharted, God of War, and other third person action games). There are levels setup between nearly useless plot advances and narratives. Reeves, Fishburne, Berry and others service the story well and bring their top bad-ass personalities to the table, but overall it's just more of the same. I find myself zoning out in some of the fight sequences because it's so repetitive. There's a lot of gross out moments in this one including the knife to the eye early on. However, I can only take so much of the same punch-kick-punch then pistol to the face or skull over and over again.

I'm not sure if I'm ready for a fourth film but I bet we get one. Maybe I'm just burned out from watching all three films for the first time in a span of a couple weeks. Worth watching if you've seen the first two, but expect more of the same and not a lot of imagination.

Bonus kudos to Mark Dacascos who went from being the chairman in Iron Chef (SECRET INGREDIENT) to going toe-to-toe with John Wick.