Rocketman review

ROCKETMAN

Director: Dexter Fletcher
Cast : Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham, Gemma Jones, Charlie Rowe, Steven Mackintosh
Genre : Biography/Fantasy/Musical
Run Time : 2 h 1 mins
Opens : 13 June 2019
Rating : R21

           After Bohemian Rhapsody took home multiple Oscars, including one for Best Picture, all eyes were on the next high-profile rock star biopic on the slate, Rocketman. The film tells the story of one Sir Elton John, offering up a flight of fancy rather than a grounded documentary-style take, and is all the better for it.

Elton John (Taron Egerton, Kit Connor and Matthew Illesley at different ages), born Reginald Dwight, was raised in suburban 1950s England by his indifferent mother Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his kindly grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones). Reggie, as he is known, doesn’t have much of a relationship with his father Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), who serves in the Royal Air Force.

The film tracks young Reggie’s journey from his time as a student in the Royal Academy of Music to his gigs playing in a backing band for touring American jazz musicians. Reggie changes his name to ‘Elton John’, and is signed on to a music publishing company as a songwriter. Soon afterwards, he is introduced to lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell), who will go on to become a long-time collaborator. Elton attains stratospheric success after a stunning American debut, but his personal life is in shambles. He is approached by music manager John Reid (Richard Madden) who pursues a relationship with him, but Elton finds little fulfilment, eventually becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs. It is up to Elton and those who care for him to turn his life around and ensure his talent doesn’t go to waste.

The rock star redemption tale told in Rocketman is a familiar one, and it hits all the beats one would expect: the initial struggle to get noticed, the breakthrough, a rocky personal life with relationship problems and substance abuse, and then a triumphant comeback. However, Rocketman turns this sense of familiarity into a strength, and benefits from its fantastical approach. Instead of being a staid biopic, the film is punctuated with fantasy sequences and musical numbers, and that’s where it’s able to become more than the sum of its parts.

While there are moments of Rocketman that are necessarily dark, director Dexter Fletcher infuses the whole movie with an unmistakable, almost childlike joy. Fletcher took over from Bryan Singer as director of Bohemian Rhapsody and being able to see the development of Rocketman from the ground up allows him to put more of his stamp on this movie. The film’s use of music and its placement of songs is impeccable. Because of the fantasy element, it’s not tied down to a strict timeline, allowing songs that were written later to appear earlier in the story. For example, “I Want Love” becomes a song about Elton’s childhood, and the yearnings of each member of his family.

Elton John is known for being outlandish and over the top, and the film embraces that while always emphasising his humanity. The film is produced by John himself and his husband David Furnish, and there was every danger that it could feel like a self-aggrandizing vanity project, but it’s clear that Elton John has a sense of humour. The film is an invitation to look at his life through his eyes, and while artistic license has been taken, there’s a moving honesty that flows through the movie.

At one point, Justin Timberlake was rumoured to be the frontrunner for the lead role, with Tom Hardy later attached to the part. Taron Egerton more than proves he was the right choice for the role. The Kingsman star showcases an impressive singing voice and inhabiting both the swagger and the secret insecurity that is key to bringing a part like this to life. In both his singing and mannerisms, Egerton doesn’t do a mere imitation of John and constantly seems dedicated to portraying all the facets of the singer, beyond the ones the public is familiar with.

Some of the film’s best moments are in its depiction of the friendship between John and Bernie Taupin. Jamie Bell’s portrayal of Taupin is sweet, earnest and withdrawn: John is the one in the limelight, with Taupin remaining behind the scenes, but there’s no denying the significance of his contribution to John’s music. The scene in which the two first meet and bond over their love of the country song “Streets of Laredo” is genuinely heart-warming, and the depiction of their major falling out is equally heart-breaking. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is reimagined as a duet between John and Taupin and is one of the film’s most effective emotional beats.

Rocketman doesn’t purport to be a balanced take on events, it purports to be John’s take on them. As such, several characters are portrayed as one-dimensionally nasty. Both of his parents come out of this looking bad, and Bryce Dallas Howard has fun with the role of John’s uncaring mother. One almost wants to reach into the screen and shake her, yelling “your son deserves your love!”

Richard Madden is supremely slimy as John Reid, who is depicted as heartless, manipulative and promiscuous. The same character also appeared in Bohemian Rhapsody, played in that film by Aidan Gillen. It is in the portrayal of Reid as an outright cartoon supervillain that Rocketman runs the risk of having its credibility questioned, but the movie has a built-in defence of all this being from John’s point of view.

Rocketman ends relatively early in John’s career, so events like John’s friendship with Princess Diana and his writing music for The Lion King are not shown – perhaps there might be room for a sequel. There are moments of Rocketman that are awkward and cheesy, but thanks to Fletcher’s palpable love for John’s music and Egerton’s stirring performance, its charm is irresistible. It’s a movie that tells John’s truth in the purest way, cheesiness and all.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom review

For inSing

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM

Director : J.A. Bayona
Cast : Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Isabella Sermon, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, B.D. Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, Jeff Goldblum
Genre : Action / Adventure / Sci-fi
Run Time : 128 mins
Opens : 7 June 2018
Rating : PG-13

Just as life finds a way, so has the Jurassic Park franchise. There was a 14-year break between Jurassic Park 3 and Jurassic World, but the response to the latter showed audiences were hungry for more dinosaur mayhem. Jurassic World grossed $1.6 billion worldwide and became the second-highest-grossing film of 2015, making a follow-up inevitable.

Three years have elapsed since the events of the last film. The Jurassic World theme park lies in ruins on Isla Nublar, off the coast of Costa Rica. An impending volcanic eruption threatens the remaining dinosaurs who roam free on the island. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), former Jurassic World operations manager-turned dinosaur activist, has founded the Dinosaur Protection Group to save Isla Nublar’s Saurian inhabitants.

Claire is contacted by Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), the executor of Sir Benjamin Lockwood’s (James Cromwell) estate. Lockwood was the partner of the late John Hammond, creator of the original Jurassic Park. Mills needs Claire’s help to facilitate the evacuation of the island. Blue, the last Velociraptor, is still alive. Claire ropes in Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the dinosaur handler who raised Blue, to help locate her. Claire’s employees at the Dinosaur Protection Group, paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) and systems analyst Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), join the mission too. Owen and Claire soon find themselves entangled in a nefarious conspiracy that could throw the world as we know it into irreversible chaos.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom comes extremely close to blockbuster perfection. Hiring J.A. Bayona proves to be a canny move on the producers’ part. The filmmaker kickstarted his career with the Spanish horror movie The Orphanage and made the disaster drama The Impossible and the dark fantasy fable When a Monster Calls. This is by far the largest project he’s presided over, and he worked closely with the previous film’s director Colin Trevorrow and producer Steven Spielberg, who directed the first two Jurassic films. The result is distinctly atmospheric, with an emphasis placed on scenes of sustained tension, without sacrificing the grand spectacle audiences come to these movies for.

Trevorrow co-wrote the screenplay with Derek Connolly, and they’ve devised a great reason to return to Isla Nublar. At first, the story seems like a re-tread of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, complete with paramilitary personnel rounding up the surviving animals and Ted Levine as a grizzled big-game hunter. Then, the movie swerves in an interesting direction, one which the trailers have misdirected us away from.

The film is paced marvellously, packing in action – and more importantly, action with some variety to it. It’s a given that most of the characters will spend a lot of time running away from dinosaurs. There’s that, to be sure, but there are also creepy, well-staged moments steeped in shadows and incorporating a sense of claustrophobia that are exceedingly effective.

Several of the dinosaurs possess enough personality to be accepted as characters. Blue’s bond with Owen is further developed, and both she and the T. rex get their share of ‘hero’ moments. Animatronic effects are used more than they were in the preceding film. Neal Scanlan, the creature effects supervisor for the recent Star Wars films from The Force Awakens onwards, oversees the practical dinosaur effects. He and his team have done excellent work, and the computer-generated visual effects are a notch above those seen in the previous film too. There’s even physical comedy courtesy of a rambunctious Stygimoloch.

The film is at its best when it echoes and builds upon the themes inherent in the first film and the source novel by Michael Crichton. The manmade dinosaurs could be viewed as an affront towards nature, with nature now reclaiming itself by way of the volcanic eruption. Hammond and Lockwood opened Pandora’s Box, and there’s no coming back from that. Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm pops up in a cameo reiterating his initial fears of the implications resurrecting dinosaurs would have. These creatures were intended as theme park attractions, which seems innocent enough, but the applications for this technology were never going to stop there. The film tackles this in a slightly deeper, headier way than one might expect from summer popcorn entertainment.

Owen and Claire are good people who have unwittingly been used by bad people for their own ends. Both characters seem less like the broad caricatures they were presented as in the previous film, giving Pratt and Howard more to work with. Owen and Claire grapple with their involvement in Jurassic World, and how much of the chaos that unspools in this film is their fault. They also find themselves in the thick of the action and have so many near-misses that they come across as at least a little superhuman.

Some of the new characters are played a little too broadly, especially Justice Smith’s anxious tech expert. The human villains aren’t dimensional enough and have straightforward, avaricious motivations.

The new addition to the cast that stands out is Isabella Sermon, who plays Lockwood’s precocious granddaughter Maisie. Beyond being the requisite imperilled child each of these movies must have at least one of, she becomes integral to the plot and protecting her gives Owen and Claire a secondary objective.

The new dinosaur being highlighted is the Indoraptor, following in the clawed footsteps of the previous film’s Indominus rex. Just as the Velociraptors have generally been scarier than the T. rex in previous Jurassic films, the vicious Indoraptor is considerably more menacing than the Indominus rex, proving a formidable foe for our heroes, human and dinosaur alike.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the best film in the series since the first. It packs in all the exhilarating theme park ride-thrills we expect from the series, while attempting to bring the moral and ethical quandaries at the heart of the premise back to the surface. The film is a satisfying experience, while naturally leaving the door open for a sequel. Stick around past the credits for a fun little stinger scene.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Pete’s Dragon

For F*** Magazine

PETE’S DRAGON 

Director : David Lowery
Cast : Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Oona Laurence, John Kassir
Genre : Adventure
Run Time : 1 hr 43 mins
Opens : 1 September 2016
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences)

Pete's Dragon posterCall it “Re-Pete’s Dragon”: Disney has remade one of the lesser-known films in their canon, changing the setting from a seaside Maine town in the 1900s to the forests of the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s. Pete (Fegley), has spent six of his 11 years alive living in the forest after being stranded there following an accident. He has since befriended a green, furry dragon named Elliott (Kassir), who has the ability to turn invisible. Elderly wood-carver Meacham (Redford) claims to have encountered a dragon in the woods in his youth, but everyone writes it off as a tall tale. Meacham’s daughter Grace (Howard), a forest ranger, takes Pete in after Natalie (Laurence), the daughter of Grace’s boyfriend Jack (Bentley), spots Pete in the forest. In the meantime, Jack’s brother Gavin (Urban) becomes obsessed with capturing Elliott, thinking it will bring him fame. Pete must learn to live as a regular boy, but yearns to be reunited with his friend Elliott.

Pete's Dragon Elliott and Oakes Fegley 1

Pete’s Dragon is quite the wonder in that in contains nary a shred of cynicism. Director David Lowery strives to recapture the charm of old-school ‘A Boy and his X’ tales, and largely succeeds. Little of the original 1977 musical film remains: there’s a boy named Pete and a dragon named Elliott who can turn invisible, and the characters of Nora and her father Lampie are reworked into Grace and Meacham. Pete’s Dragon is what a remake should be: key components of the source are repurposed to fit a new vision and it isn’t a beat-for-beat re-tread of what came before. It’s warm-hearted but does take a while to get into gear, with a few moments bordering on cheesy. Pete’s Dragon stands on the shoulders of kids’ adventure films like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and The Iron Giant, its old-fashioned sensibilities contrasted with the advanced visual effects technology used to bring Elliott to life.

Pete's Dragon Oona Laurence, Elliott and Oakes Fegley

Elliott is a supremely loveable creation, with some design cues taken from The Never-Ending Story’s Falkor the Luck Dragon. Lowery justified giving Elliott a furry coat by saying he wanted Elliott to be “the kind of dragon you really want to give a hug to”, and this reviewer did indeed very much want to hug Elliott. The visual effects work, supervised by Tony Baldridge and Eric Saindon, makes Elliott feel like a living, breathing creature. The moments in which Elliott interacts with his environment, knocking over trees, splashing about in the river or sliding into the grass after a rough landing, are uniformly convincing. Elliott possesses multiple doglike attributes, with his vaguely Chewbacca-like vocalisations provided by voice actor John Kassir. Every whimper and growl makes Elliott seem more like an actual animal, and the in-universe explanation of the dragon being regarded as a folk legend cryptid gives this flight of fancy some grounding.

Pete's Dragon Oakes Fegley

The live-action actors expectedly play second fiddle to Elliott, but they all take this quite seriously. Fegley’s Pete is the second feral boy in a live-action Disney movie this year, after Neel Sethi’s Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Fegley brings a wildness and physicality to Pete, whose years in the forest have made him adept at climbing pretty much anything. His interactions with Elliott are the very stuff that warm fuzzy feelings are made of.

Pete's Dragon Oona Laurence, Bryce Dallas Howard and Wes Bentley

Between this and Jurassic World, it seems giant CGI creatures just won’t leave Howard alone. She doesn’t get much to do, but her performance does feel straight out of an 80s Amblin movie. Redford’s gravitas, warmth and that perpetual twinkle in his eye give the film plenty of heart. Meacham is an old-timer who never lost that sense of imagination. Laurence was one of the child actresses who originated the role of Matilda in the eponymous musical on Broadway, and glimmers of the precociousness integral to Matilda are present here. She gets to boss Redford around a little, and it’s a lot of fun to watch the living legend getting barked at by a kid. Bentley is passable if not terribly interesting as a blue-collar dad, while Urban sinks his teeth into the antagonist role even though it’s a little thinly written. He sneers the line “the dragon is mine!” with admirable conviction.

Pete's Dragon Robert Redford

While it bears more than a few similarities to that recent Boy and His X favourite How to Train Your Dragon, Pete’s Dragon is charming is different ways too, thanks to its wholesome Americana vibe. Live-action kids’ adventure movies are a bit of a dying breed, but Disney’s recent live-action successes might mean a resurgence for the subgenre. As an avid indoorsman, this reviewer enjoys experiencing the wonders of nature from the comfort of a cinema hall. New Zealand doubles for the Pacific Northwest, and the actual scenery is as pleasing as the computer-generated visuals. Daniel Hart provides a rousing score, and ‘hip-hop violinist’ Lindsey Stirling makes her feature film debut performing Something Wild with Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. It all makes for a simple, wistfully-told story that harks back to simpler times and yet doesn’t drown in schmaltz.

Pete's Dragon Elliott and Oakes Fegley 2

Summary: Despite starting out slow, Pete’s Dragon becomes an absorbing adventure boasting marvellous visual effects work. Toothless has got heady competition in the ‘cutest dragon’ stakes.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Jurassic World

For F*** Magazine

JURASSIC WORLD

Director : Colin Trevorrow
Cast : Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 125 mins
Opens : 11 June 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)
“The park is open.” With those four little words, the 14-year-long wait for a new Jurassic Park film has finally come to an end. 22 years after the events of the first film, Isla Nublar is now home to a fully functioning dinosaur theme park called “Jurassic World”, welcoming thousands of visitors each day. Billionaire Simon Masrani (Khan) has been entrusted with overseeing the park after the passing of founder John Hammond. As visitors hunger for more excitement, the park’s geneticists, led by Dr. Henry Wu (Wong), have spliced together a new hybrid dinosaur, the vicious Indominus rex. In the meantime, the park’s overworked Operations Manager Claire Dearing (Howard) is expecting her nephews Zach (Robinson) and Gray (Simpkins) who are spending the weekend at the Jurassic World resort. When the I. rexescapes and threatens the safety of the visitors, it is up to Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Pratt) and the Jurassic World security team to contain the savage behemoth.

            A fourth Jurassic Park film spent over a decade clawing its way out of development hell following 2001’s Jurassic Park 3. Director Colin Trevorrow, known for the indie comedy-drama Safety Not Guaranteed, was given the responsibility of breathing new life into the franchise, not unlike how InGen’s scientists bring dinosaurs back from extinction. The expectations were massive and Trevorrow’s lack of experience with big blockbusters seemed to be against him, but he has come through, not unlike the Russo brothers with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly and Trevorrow, contains a healthy amount of self-awareness. There are jibes at corporate sponsorship and an explanation as to the focus group origins of the name of the Indominus rex. Visitors to Jurassic World have grown difficult to impress, demanding bigger, more exciting genetically-engineered attractions, not unlike moviegoers and their ever-increasing appetite for effects-laden tentpole extravaganzas. The main difference is it’s unlikely for Avengers 8 to break out of the screen and eat the audience alive.

            A fully-functioning dinosaur theme park seems like the natural place for a new story to unfold and, for a series ostensibly about a theme park, is long overdue. A tourist attraction at full capacity means more potential for things to go horribly, entertainingly awry. There is a lot of effort put into designing the park and the filmmakers have achieved a sense of verisimilitude with the chain restaurants, open-air arenas, monorail systems and bored employees seen in real-life theme parks. While pushing the franchise forward, there is no shortage of very respectful nods to the past and aficionados of the first Jurassic Parkmovie will find many rewarding Easter Eggs. A sequence set in the derelict visitor’s centre from the first film borders on the indulgent but this reviewer was too busy squealing with fan glee to really be bothered.

            A crucial element of what made the first film so enjoyable was the suspense. The classic T. rex paddock escape and the “Raptorsin the kitchen” scene were masterfully staged and dripping with tension. There are several great scenes in this movie that go for the scares and that do have that adrenaline-pumping thrill ride quality to them. One does get a kick out of seeing the Indominus rex make quick work of heavily-armed, highly trained security contractors and a scene in which a swarm of Pterosaurs escapes their aviary to pluck hapless visitors from the park’s grounds is a wonderful “all hell breaks loose” scene of full-on panic.

The Indominus rex is an appropriately formidable creature, but sometimes lacks the tactility of the T. rex in the original. There’s also that classic movie monster pitfall, where the big bad beast is so impervious to anything that it can get a little tedious trying to defeat it. Many were worried that the element of trained Velociraptors would detract from the ferocity of these iconic dinosaurs, but rest assured that they’re still unpredictable and still scary. After all, people train Rottweilers, lions and bears, with sometimes-deadly consequences. The film does slightly disappoint with some of the visual effects work – for the most part, the dinosaurs are adequately convincing, but the scene in which a sight-seeing “gyrosphere” travels amongst herds of herbivorous dinosaurs feels particularly artificial. Animatronic effects are still employed, but this one does lean far heavier on CGI than the earlier movies.
    
        The characters in this film are archetypes and are all relatively simple, but then again, so were the characters in the first movie and in this case, it’s done pretty well. Chris Pratt further cements his A-list action star status as the rugged ex-Navy man Owen Grady, ably carrying the film as a traditional hero. In the scenes in which Owen is interacting with the four Velociraptorsunder his charge, Pratt displays a knack for acting against nothing, perhaps a skill he honed working with Rocket and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy. Bryce Dallas Howard plays more of a caricature, the tightly wound career woman just seconds from snapping under pressure, but it’s great that there’s a woman in charge of running things at the park this time around and we are profoundly impressed by how well she can run in heels.

            Vincent D’onofrio’s hard-nosed Vic Hoskins, the head of security operations for InGen, is also one-dimensional, dead set on using Velociraptors in military applications. This may be an in-joke referring to an early draft of the film, which had gun-toting human-dinosaur hybrid mercenaries. Yes, we’re glad that didn’t happen too. Irrfan Khan chews some of the lush jungle scenery as eccentric Richard Branson-wannabe Simon Masrani. Ty Simpkins is the stock “kid in peril” and Nick Robinson is his aloof older brother – a film with as high an “embracing one’s inner child” quotient as this one has got to have kid characters in it, and they do far less shrieking than Lex and Tim did in the original. Jake Johnson’s comic relief techie Lowery gets some excellent lines and is, thankfully, not annoying. It’s also really nice to see B.D. Wong again – his Dr. Henry Wu is the only returning character from the first film.

            Jurassic World hits all the notes expected of a Jurassic Park film without merely feeling like it’s going through the motions. It’s clear that there’s earnestness and passion behind this and that Trevorrow is a fan who wants to do right by other fans. There’s definitely a tip of the hat to Steven Spielberg and the contemporary sci-fi masterpiece that was 1993’s Jurassic Park – at the same time, there isn’t a slavishness to what has come before. If there’s anything today that could come close to inspiring the wonderment and terror that Jurassic Park did in the kids who first watched it in 1993, Jurassic Worldwould be it.

Summary:Well worth the 14 year wait. A new world beckons; come on in!
RATING: 4out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong