Skip to main content

She's killed my piano.

Rocketman
(2019)

(SPOILERS) Early on in Rocketman, there’s a scene where publisher Dick James (Stephen Graham) listens to a selection of his prospective talent’s songs and proceeds to label them utter shite (but signs him up anyway). It’s a view I have a degree of sympathy with. I like maybe a handful of Elton John’s tunes, so in theory, I should be something of a lost cause with regard to this musical biopic. But Rocketman isn’t reliant on the audience sitting back and gorging on naturalistic performances of the hits in the way Bohemian Rhapsody is; Dexter Fletcher fully embraces the musical theatre aspect of the form, delivering a so-so familiar story with choreographic gusto and entirely appropriate flamboyance in a manner that largely compensates. Largely.

Astute casting also more than pays dividends, as Taron Egerton graduates from his previous biopic collaboration with Fletcher – the cheerfully undemanding Eddie the Eagle – with endlessly brimming confidence, both in physical and vocal performance (unlike Rami Malek, these pipes are all Egerton’s). Sure, he’s significantly more photogenic and likeable than actual Elton (and at no point appears to have piled on the pounds enough to be convincing when he labels himself fat), but captures the egotistical, indulgent, temperamental artist with both the necessary flair and despair.

Jamie Bell, who may actually be the better singer of the two, despite playing a character who professes to be tone deaf, plays the contrastingly angelic Bernie Taupin, always professing brotherly affection and showing it by being there for him in rehab, having suffering through the tantrums and occasionally expressing doubt about the tastefulness of the tiaras. Richard Madden is at the other end of the scale, coming on like a gay Sean Connery as the manipulative, coldly calculating John Reid (I can definitely see the reason for all the Bond talk now, having previously skimped on The Bodyguard and been unconvinced by his Game of Thrones turn). Similarly strong are Bryce Dallas Howard (just when did she become eligible for the mum parts?) and Stephen Mackintosh as his respectively capitalising and distant parents (Gemma Jones is his unstintingly encouraging gran).

So while there’s nothing to complain about on that front – although, perhaps appropriately, or not given the director, the young Eltons display a sub-Bugsy Malone flair during early song-and-dance routines – the screenplay by Lee Hall (previously of Billy Elliot – you can see the genetic makeup in the early life – and adaptations including Pride and Prejudice, War Horse and the upcoming Cats) is less unimpeachable. It may simply be that Elton’s life, unlike his frocks, isn’t sufficiently cinematic – not in terms of eventfulness, perhaps, but with regard to that all-important dramatic arc. Certainly, the lack of delineation after a certain point – subsequent to his rise to the top, when he can’t go any higher – leads to an unfiltered melange of excess and injury, with Elton haunted by familial rejections and injustices to the point of weary repetition (how many times does he need to see his younger self, or have his parents remind him that he isn’t wanted – cue wounded look).

Accordingly, might also have helped to pin down the periods a little more; I knowthis a loose fantasy-musical version, and I’m sure the heady days all car-crashed into one for enervated Elton, but what appears to be a thirteen-year period following hitting it big at the Troubadour in 1970 has little to separate and define itself. There are some great visuals put to songs, most notably Elton and the audience collectively rising off the ground at the inaugural aforementioned Troubadour gig (‘72’s Crocodile Rock being his first performance) and a genius piece where Reg Dwight has a heart attack and is gurneyed into a suit via a silhouetted production-line, culminating in his launching into Pinball Wizard for a rapt audience. Then there’s Elton’s triumphant rebirth with I’m Still Standing, deliriously recreating (or inserting Egerton onto the original footage?) the cheese-encrusted ‘80s promo.

Along the way, we witness management fallouts (Dick James comes off looking hard done by; from the evidence here, it seems incredible that Reid continued as Elton’s manager until 1998), attempts to reconcile and be disappointed by parents, a very brief marriage, and Kiki Dee. We also learn that the Queen Mom was a big fan, which I guess would make sense if her daughter had indeed “chipped” Elton (ask Donald Marshall).

As a whole, Fletcher plotted the surest course in summoning the spirit of Ken Russell era musical biopics, but where I found Bohemian Rhapsody struggled somewhat to find its feet before clicking in the second half, nearly the reverse is true here, with the picture in danger of succumbing to the same kind of self-indulgence Elton did during the period depicted (which again, you could argue is entirely the point, but it’s debatable whether that makes for the greatest version of his life story).




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Hey, my friend smells amazing!

Luca (2021) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s first gay movie ? Not according to director Enrico Cassarosa (“ This was really never in our plans. This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world ”). Perhaps it should have been, as that might have been an excuse – any excuse is worth a shot at this point – for Luca being so insipid and bereft of spark. You know, the way Soul could at least claim it was about something deep and meaningful as a defence for being entirely lacking as a distinctive and creatively engaging story in its own right.

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.