We just watched a biography of a rock star win four Academy Awards – Bohemian Rhapsody. In addition, the film earned a ton of money and earned Rami Malek, playing Queen front man Freddie Mercury, excellent reviews. Having just seen Taron Egerton inhabit the body and soul of Elton John in a stunning performance, however – this is the performance Malek should have given.
Egerton is positively brilliant in the role and, guess what? He does his own singing, sounding not exactly like Elton John but certainly close enough to convince this hard ass critic he was the real deal.
The film is directed by Dexter Fletcher who finished Bohemian Rhapsody when Bryan Singer was fired from the film. Perhaps seeing everything Singer did wrong helped Fletcher decide what was right in telling this story.
Much of Elton John’s life plays like a fantasy, so the choice was made to set many of the life-altering events to his music, turning the sequences into fantasies which tell the narrative. It works most of time- a few fail, but even in their failure they are bold, breathtaking sequences that are spellbinding to watch.
We watch Reginald Dwight, a shy young man feeling unloved, audition for the Royal Academy of Music, and recognizing his immense gifts, he makes it in. The film moves briskly through his career, a key sequence being John’s now legendary performance at the Troubador, where his explosion of “Crocodile Rock” had the audience all but levitating out the door. At that moment, a rock star was born.
He hooks up with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) for the most important creative partnership of his career, and moves from singing in packed clubs to stadiums where tens of thousands scream for his music. But Elton John always gave them a great deal more, his showmanship was extraordinary to behold. Crazy colourful costumes, literally thousands of pairs of eye glasses, feathers, wings – he drew attention in what he wore.
Throughout the film we see the rocker battling various addictions, no punches are pulled. At various times he was addicted to cocaine, painkillers, sex, shopping, alcohol, and God knows what else. The filmmakers have the courage to portray much of that in the film, giving the actor a great arc to portray, and Egerton shines bright throughout. The story even includes the deep and very real love Elton had for heterosexual Taupin, a love that could never be.
Where the film shines is during the musical numbers, which are electrifying, especially those that cross into fantasy. Egerton feels every lyric he sing – you see it on his face and hear it in his voice, and it is utterly transformative. He far surpasses what Rami Malek, a fine actor, accomplished as Freddie Mercury, but will he be in the running for an Oscar? He should be. So good is Egerton there were moments I forgot I was watching a film.
The fantasy elements work beautifully, because so much of John’s life must seem to him like a fantasy. His rise in the 70s is explored lovingly, honestly, the songs of the time used through the film. His bizarre period in the 80s is fraught more with addictions and scandal than music, and one of his more popular songs, the cheesy “I’m Still Standing” is used to close out the film, and the cheesiness actually works.
As stated, Egerton is magnificent as Elton John, from the slightly pudgy face, which endears him to us at once, to the incredible stadium performances, through suffering the pain of drug rehab. He creates a full-bodied, three dimensional character. Does he sound exactly like the rocker? No, but close enough to get my attention. The longing he presents for Taupin is heartbreaking, but it is clearly a love he can never have.
Jamie Bell, young star of Billy Elliott (2000) all grown up, is excellent as Bernie Taupin, who, because he does not perform is often out of the limelight. Their creative split was a big deal, but each managed to move on without too much collateral damage.
In a wild piece of woeful miscasting, Bryce Dallas Howard is dreadful as John’s mother, a chilly, remote woman who leaves everyone wondering how the boy was conceived? Howard has been, on occasion, a very good actress but here she is so miscast she cannot be anything but atrocious. Thank God her screen time is limited.
It is way too early in the year to even begin predicting the Academy Awards, but Egerton is so good in the film it has to be discussed. I suspect the film will be a huge hit, possibly more so than Bohemian Rhapsody, and if it is even its equal at the box office, Egerton gets nominated. If not, he gets passed over.
Far superior to Bohemian Rhapsody, not perfect, but a fun, warm celebration of the great Elton John.
Remember Beanie Feldstein from Lady Bird (2017)? She played the best friend alienated by Lady Bird herself, though they manage to reconcile before a valued friendship was lost forever.
She is also the sister of Oscar nominee Jonah Hill, and if her brilliant performance in this film is any indication, she will herself be an Oscar nominee, perhaps this year for this film.
The real revelation here is Olivia Wilde, who directs what is an absolute masterpiece of teen girl angst. Who saw this coming from the gorgeous former co-star of TV’s long-running medical drama House and a spate of recent movies? Her most notable role might be as the date in Her (2013), Spike Jonzes’ superb film about a man falling in love with his computer operating system.
I cannot emphasize enough what Wilde has accomplished here, finally bringing one of the most talked about scripts to the screen with perfect tone, perfect casting, great humour, pathos and so much truth.
Molly (Feldstein) and her best friend Amy (Kaitlyn Denver) are over-achievers in high school, brainiacs who manage to be top of every class. True to form, Amy is heading off to do volunteer work before going to university, continuing her fight for causes, while Molly has been accepted to an Ivy League school. Both girls worked hard through high school, putting their books and their studies first, and after overhearing a conversation in the washroom, they are now second guessing their choice.
Amy hears a trio of party girls and stoners talking about their acceptance into Ivy League schools, while one of them will start a six figure job at an online company. Furious Amy roars at them that they never cared about school, whereas they reply, logically, “No, we just did not care ONLY about school.”
Molly is equally stunned and furious when told of the trio, so the girls make a pact. After graduation, where Molly will give the valedictorian address, they will spend the rest of that single night partying, catching up on everything they missed. They will drink copious amounts of alcohol, take drugs, (though panic hilariously when cocaine is presented, and manage to act out as criminals). And off they go.
Now, what gives the film an edgy difference is that these are not two girls looking to get laid by guys. One of them came out two years previous but has yet to kiss a girl. Her secret crush will be cruising the various night parties and this could be her chance.
We are not dealing with two doofus nerdy guys looking to have sex; we instead are dealing with two off-the-chart brilliant girls who know what they want, but not how to get it. Much of the comedy comes in watching them move through the night.
Feldstein and Denver are each superb in star-making performances, because without one the other would weaken. They are the type of friends who know everything about each other, including masturbation secrets, which leads to scenes of paralyzingly comic genius. Their chemistry is pure magic as they do a goofy last day of high school dance, then move through the night in search of trouble. After spending the last four years avoiding trouble of any kind they are both smart enough to find it, but neither has mastered how to get out of it once in. Both girls are an absolute delight to watch, each giving revelatory performances. Who said women can’t? Ever hear of Carol Lombard, Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Madeleine Kahn or Melissa McCarthy? These two young girls join that elite company with their ground-breaking work here.
And Miss Wilde? Wow. Who would have believed she would be basking in the kind of reviews usually reserved for Scorsese or Spielberg or Kathryn Bigelow. Women are finally being taken seriously as directors and not only are they doing fine work, they are excelling. Till today, Peter Jackson’s documentary They Shall Not Die was at the top of the list for me as the year’s best film. Respectfully, it just got bumped.
Do not miss BOOKSMART. It is a bonafide, uproarious masterpiece, acted with breathtaking purity by two gifted young actresses, guided by a sharp director who understood the material perfectly.
SUMMER MOVIE PREVIEWS
Here is a preview of what the coming months will bring.
THE LION KING is the biggest in the Disney animation to live action, though in this case the CGI dominates the film. The Lion King (1994) might be the most iconic of all their animated films – stunning song score, brilliant adaptation to Broadway and now this, back to film. The only returning cast member is James Earl Jones as the doomed King Mustafa, while Donald Glover takes on Simba and Beyoncé is Nala. In the key role of Scar, Chiwetel Ojiofor steps in for Jeremy Irons, which sounds exciting. The film is directed by Jon Favreau, who has guided Disney animation to live action art before with the acclaimed The Jungle Book (2016). This should be the biggest hit of the summer.
ALADDIN could be huge, though nay-sayers have been attacking Will Smiths’ blue Genie since the trailer premiered online and in theatres. Again, Disney turns an animated classic into live action, though the ghost of Robin Williams hangs over this production. It does not matter if Will Smith delivers the greatest performance in film history, he cannot win. No one will ever do what Williams did with the role. No expense has been spared into bringing old Arabia to life and the visuals are splendid.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is the ninth film from Quentin Tarantino and could be the one which lands him that Oscar for directing. Yes, this summer release could be the year’s best film and an instant pop culture phenomenon. Suffice to state the obvious, the expectations are huge. A massive cast enacts the late 60s in Hollywood, with the Manson gang and murder hanging on the peripheral. Remember, Tarantino has changed history before, killing Hitler off in a movie palace in Inglorious Basterds (2009), so will the Manson gang be able to see their nights of horrors through? Brad Pitt, Leonardo Di Caprio, Margot Robbie, and a cast including just about everyone in Hollywood should delight, shock and stun audiences with its look behind the scenes of 60s Hollywood, television, the hippy culture and the madness of Manson.
THE HUSTLE features two solid comedic actresses: the hysterically funny Rebel Wilson and Academy Award winner Anna Hathaway as a couple of hustlers, conning wealthy men out of their millions. They could not be more different, with Hathaway, confident, smooth, sexy, trying to teach the uncouth Wilson the better ways to pull off a con. The pair have a lovely chemistry together and make the film a great deal of fun throughout.
MA has Oscar winner and nominee Octavia Spencer as a villain, leaving behind her best friend roles which she has been cast into far too often. She steps away from that typecasting as a dangerous homicidal woman who offers a group of teenagers her basement for play and parties. The closer they get to her, the more they realize she has been horribly abused in her past, which has turned her into a very dangerous maniac. While she smiles, there is insanity under that smile. Director Tate Taylor again works with Spencer and the results could be very cool.
GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is another attempt to make Godzilla relevant to today’s movie goer. After the god-awful film of 1998 with Matthew Broderick running from the big green lizard in New York, I had hoped we had seen the last of him. No such luck – he’s back in a new picture battling a group of monsters. A sequel to the hit film of 2014, it continues the mayhem brought about by monsters fighting Godzilla. Has kind of a “who cares” vibe to it. Sorry. Did we really need another Godzilla picture?
SPIDER MAN: FAR FROM HOME sees Peter Parker off to Europe for a class trip, London specifically, where he will, of course end up swinging from webs as Spider Man. Brought back to life in The Avengers: Endgame in an incredibly moving scene, Spider Man is back. Tom Holland returns as the engaging teenage super hero, with Jake Gyllenhall as a magician who becomes an ally of the webslinger when Nick Fury recruits the kid for an assignment in London. Like all the Marvel films, this is critic proof, and a money machine for guess who? Yep, Disney. Again.
ROCKETMAN is the story of how Reginald Dwight became Elton John. After the staggering success of last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), which included a Best Actor Oscar for Rami Malek and three other awards, I suspect we might see several of these rock star bios. Taron Edgerton is cast in the plum role of the young man who will become Elton John, one of the greatest singers of this era. An extraordinary showman, John disappeared into the character of Elton onstage, enjoying the flamboyant costumes and bizarre eye glasses. Edgerton is terrific, but it is being released in the formidable shadow of the hugely overrated Queen film.
YESTERDAY has one of the most interesting narratives I have heard in a long time, and is a film I am genuinely excited about. Suppose you were a young musician about to give up on your dream, when you woke one morning to discover no one, except you, knows of the Beatles and their music. It seems they have been wiped from history. So Jack, our hero, passes some Beatles tunes off as his own and before you know it, he is a major star, hailed for his songwriting as much as his singing. Digging into the songbook of the Fab Four, he becomes the greatest song writer of his time, but can it last? Danny Boyle directs, could be great.
BRIGHT BURN poses the fascinating question, what if a baby arrived on earth in the same manner as Clark Kent, was raised by farmers, educated in a small town, had the same powers as the man of steel but was entirely evil? No truth, justice or American way for this kid, he is evil incarnate and realizes he can use his magnificent powers against humanity. Imagine having the powers of a God and knowing there was nothing mankind could do to stop you? Elizabeth Banks is the woman who adopts this monster, played with icy raw power by Jackson A. Dunn, in a terrific performance. This could be a sleeper hit, huge.
TOY STORY 4 is yet another in this year’s Disney domination. My question is, how will they even begin to top the Oscar winning Toy Story 3 (2010), an instant classic and tear inducing masterpiece. Can they even come close? The plot involves Bo Beep returning to the gang, Woody and Buzz very much in charge. They have done a great job keeping the plot quiet, nearly impossible in this age of instant news. No reason to think this will not be as good as those previous, and a massive hit. Walt will be smiling listening to those box office coffers.
IT – PART II is the final chapter in the adaptation of Stephen King’s massive horror story. The first film explored the horror of the small town and how It murders children, taking them to his lair. Pennywise, the horrific clown, manifests into whatever the victim is terrified of, killing them, then hibernating a number of years before coming out of its long sleep. The kids in the first film sent the clown to its long sleep, but now he is awake, or rather It is awake. The kids, now grown, come home to try and end the creature. The first film was a knockout, brilliant, and there is no reason to believe this final instalment will be any less. Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy headline a terrific cast, with young Bill Skarsgård back as the murderous clown.
And much more, including remakes of Child’s Play, Shaft, an international Men in Black, and a new X Men film.