FlixChatter Review – ROCKETMAN (2019)

Directed by:Dexter Fletcher
Written by: Lee Hall

I’m always hesitant to review biopics; it just feels weird to critique a story about someone who actually exists, and it’s tricky to talk about the writing, because who am I to say if something seems rushed or melodramatic if it actually happened that way? Fortunately, this movie still gives me a lot to talk about.

Rocketman chronicles the life of iconic musician Elton John (Taron Egerton), from his childhood with a self-absorbed mother and emotionally distant father (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh) to his meteoric rise to fame after teaming up with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and his following struggles with substance abuse and depression, feeling cripplingly lonely despite being adored by fans all over the world.

Taron Edgerton with Bryce Dallas Howard and Richard Madden

While story-wise this is a straightforward biopic, it’s also a jukebox musical, incorporating several of Elton John’s more well-known songs into non-diegetic numbers used for exposition and scene transitions. It’s a creative use of the music, and I love that it’s used in a different context than just scenes of Elton writing or performing within the narrative. But the pacing is a little weird; there are a few musical numbers at the very beginning, but then there’s a long stretch without one, and the few that come after that are inconsistent. It’s a great storytelling method in theory, and the musical numbers don’t dull the darker aspects of Elton’s life; the titular song “Rocketman” is performed during a heartbreaking suicide attempt, and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” sung by Bernie Taupin after following an argument with a drug-and-booze-addled Elton John, nearly made me cry. I just wish the filmmakers had committed to the style a little more.

Edgerton (Elton) with Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin)

Besides that, though, I don’t really have anything else to complain about. The cast is spectacular; Taron Egerton is perfect as Elton John, both dramatically and musically (Egerton does his own singing in the film). Jamie Bell is wonderful as Bernie Taupin, and he and Egerton have excellent chemistry. Richard Madden is amazing as the suave but slimy John Reid, Elton John’s abusive manager and ex-boyfriend. After only seeing Madden play the noble Robb Stark in Game of Thrones, I was impressed to see him pull off a much more villainous role.

Madden as John Reid

Obviously, I can’t talk about an Elton John biopic without addressing the costumes, which are just as spectacular as the music and the acting. Besides being beautiful and elaborate and wonderfully glittery, they play as much of a role in the storytelling as the music does; the movie begins with Elton bursting into a drab, gray room for a substance abuse group therapy meeting wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, matching bedazzled demon horns and enormous wings, and heart-shaped rhinestone sunglasses. As the scenes alternate between him in the group therapy setting and flashbacks of his life and career, he gradually strips the costume away.

Even if you’re not a hardcore Elton John fan (which I’m not; I spent most of my childhood thinking of him as “the guy who wrote the Lion King songs”), I would absolutely recommend checking out Rocketman. It’s a fascinating look at a musical idol’s background with an incredible cast and memorable music. It’s definitely a movie I plan on watching again.

laura_review


Have you seen ROCKETMAN? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – THE HUSTLE (2019)

Directed by: Chris Addison
Written by: Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning, Dale Launer, and Jac Schaeffer

The Hustle follows two con artists: bold and brash Penny (Rebel Wilson) and cool, calculating, professional Josephine (Anne Hathaway). The two meet when Penny travels to the glamorous French Riviera town where Josephine lives in the hopes of scoring some bigger cons, and Josephine feels there isn’t room for the both of them. The two make a bet on which one can scam a young tech millionaire, Thomas Westerburg (Alex Sharp) out of $500,000 within a week to prove which con artist reigns supreme-and Penny has learned more of Josephine’s tricks than Josephine might realize.

My biggest gripe about The Hustle is that the story it delivered wasn’t the story that was advertised; from the IMDB plot summary to the TV and radio commercials, the movie was described as being about “female scam artists […] who team up to take down the men who have wronged them,” and that really doesn’t happen at all. That would have been an interesting twist on the con artist movie trope, especially considering this movie is already a remake of a remake (1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is a remake of 1964’s Bedtime Story). Firstly, the two barely team up; Josephine briefly trains Penny in her more sophisticated scamming ways, and the pair does scam a handful of men out of expensive engagement rings, but the team-up portion of the movie doesn’t last long; most of the focus is on the two women competing, which is a pretty tired relationship dynamic. Secondly, the women don’t target “men who have wronged them.” While Penny does focus on men who are exceptionally shallow, and Josephine briefly mentions that men underestimate women, which is why it’s easy to scam them, none of it is personal; they’re just doing it for the money and the jewelry, which, again, isn’t exactly a fresh motivation for a con artist story.

The leading ladies are the movie’s saving grace; while the material isn’t brilliant, Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway do a spectacular job with what they’re given. Rebel has proved her comedic skills time and time again, and her performance in this movie is no exception. Anne is hilarious as well, especially when she’s pretending to be someone else for a con (her German doctor persona toward the end cracked me up), although as just Josephine she is a bit one-note. The supporting cast is good as well; Alex Sharp is genuinely likable as Thomas Westerburg, and Nicholas Woodeson as Albert, one of Josephine’s employees, gives an especially funny performance despite having next to no dialogue.

While the plot and dialogue are pretty forgettable, the acting is enjoyable, so while I wouldn’t say The Hustle is worth seeing in theaters, it might be worth a watch if it’s available on Netflix or any other streaming service.

laura_review


Have you seen the latest THE HUSTLE? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Post – A remake that’s actually worth seeing: Fahrenheit 451

TedSaydalavongBanner


Around mid 1990s, Mel Gibson pitched a remake of Fahrenheit 451 to Warner Bros. and they agreed to let him shoot it. Gibson had directed two films so far, The Man without a Face and Braveheart, he won an Oscar for the latter. So while in his directing mode he wanted to remake Fahrenheit 451 and at one point he was thinking of starring in it too. But he realized he was too old for the role and also because he already directed and starred on both Man without a Face and Braveheart, he just didn’t want to go through that again. So with a new script that stayed true to the book and the support from the studio, he was looking for a leading man. He pursued Tom Cruise around 1997 and he already had a team doing some pre-production work on set designs. The movie was going to be set 50 years in future. At the time, Cruise has just started shooting Eyes Wide Shutwith Stanley Kubrick and couldn’t commit to the project. So Gibson decided to wait for Cruise to finish shooting Kubrick’s film and he went and did Lethal Weapon 4 (the worst Lethal Weapon film IMO).

But when the shoot of Eyes Wide Shut went longer than expected, Gibson couldn’t wait for Cruise anymore because the studio had scheduled Fahrenheit 451 to come out in the summer of 2000 and also Cruise had committed to shooting Mission: Impossible 2 and Minority Report back to back. M:I-2 was supposed to come out summer 1999 and Minority Report in summer 2000. Of course as you all remembered, M:I-2 came out in summer 2000 and Minority Report in 2002, the long shoot of Eyes Wide Shut really cost Cruise a few of potential box office hits, with Enemy of the States and Fahrenheit 451 being two of them. I’ll come back to why I brought up Minority Report later in the story.

So around 1998, Gibson was under pressure to look for a new leading man and also he realized that he needed to update the script for modern day audience, this was the era when the internet was starting to dominate the world. The role was offered to Brad Pitt but he was not interested, opting to do The Fight Club instead with David Fincher. Rumor has it that Gibson even offered the role to Johnny Depp, but at the time Depp refused to do big budget studio films.  Remember this was few years before Pirates of the Caribbean. With no leading man and a script that still in need of some retooling, Gibson informed the studio that he cannot finish in time for the summer of 2000 release and the project was put on limbo a couple of years later. Warner Bros. just had a lot of troubles trying to remake a few movies back in the 90s (read about Tim Burton’s Superman here).

Frank Darabont

Fast forward to mid 2000s, the project landed on the hands of Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), he rewrote the script and pitched it to the studio. He even got Tom Hanks to come on board to play the leading man. The studio executives were interested but they didn’t green light the project, yet. Darabont had a new film opening at the time, The Mist. I believe the studio executives wanted to see how that movie performs at the box office before giving Darabont $150 mil to shoot Fahrenheit 451. The Mist opened and it failed miserably at the box office and of course the executives pulled out of Fahrenheit 451. On top of that,  in late 2007 Tom Hanks decided to leave the project, leaving it without a leading man. Last I heard, Darabont is still shopping the script around Hollywood, hoping another studio will pick it up.

Personally I would love to see this remake on the big screen, I mean I Am Legend went through some hell before it finally hit the big screen, so hopefully we’ll see the new version of Fahrenheit 451 playing at the local cinemas real soon.

Now back as to why I brought up Minority Report, well Spielberg and Cruise were going to shoot this film around 1999, but because Cruise was stuck doing Eyes Wide Shut and he wanted to do M: I-2 right after, they had to reschedule. Also, Kubrick passed away in 1999, so Spielberg wanted to do AI: Artificial Intelligence to honor him. So when both Cruise and Spielberg finally got together to shoot Minority Report in 2001, Spielberg decided to bring the team that was building the sets for Fahrenheit 451 over to Minority Report. So if you’ve already seen that sci-fi movie, then you’ve seen what Gibson had envisioned for the look of Fahrenheit 451.


Have you seen the François Truffaut original? What do you think of this remake idea?

Are fresh ideas a thing of the past in Hollywood?

 

Jonah Hex, Iron Man, Karate Kid, Amelia
Jonah Hex, Iron Man, Karate Kid, Amelia

I was checking my email and there it was on the Yahoo main page that Russell Crowe is in talks to do a remake with Paul Haggis. I couldn’t help thinking, yet another remake? Which is a strange coincidence the fact that my hubby just quipped last night how Hollywood is filled with oodles and oodles of comic-based flicks. Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, Thor, the list goes on and on and on. It’s as if Hollywood has this mentality that originality is for losers, as most people would rather pay to see Wolverine than say, Away We GoI can’t remember the last time I saw a film based on an original screenplay (Ok, ok, I’m finally gonna see Juno as my colleague just lent me his DVD). 

All this led me to deduce that most mainstream flicks being made lately fall into these three categories: remakes, comic-based or biopics. Wait, I’m forgetting one more: sequels! As soon as a flick’s box office hit at least twice its budget, you can bet a follow-up is already in the can. Horror films are notorious for this—we’ll be seeing SAW 12 before the decade is over—which seems to carry over to mind-numbing action fares such as Fast and Furious. Thank goodness indie productions are generally still on the artsy side, but you’d literally have to fight your way to find most of them in your local theater.

This site has tracked no less than fifty-five (you read that right, 55!) remakes in the works. And that was back in December so that number could very well double by now and some of them might’ve already been made. It came as a surprise to me that The Taking of Pelham 123 was a remake, and so is State of Play. I shook my head as I perused down the list, many of them aren’t good enough to begin with I couldn’t fathom why they warrant to be redone (I mean, Karate Kid? Seriously!)

It seemed like it wasn’t that long ago that seeing a superhero-type flick was a novelty thing. There were Superman in the 70s, Batman films in the 90s, but it seems as though once Bryan Singer’s X-Men became a huge hit at the turn of the century, a plethora of superhero-themed flicks began popping up faster than you can saw ‘pow!’ Just check out Superherohype.com, a site that’s perhaps created to fulfill a niche market in the film industry. But now it has become the norm as original script is as rare as icicles in the sahara. Hardly a week goes by without a new comic/graphic novel adaptation being announced. Marvel and DC are constantly one-upping each other as the two main comic publishers, but Hollywood isn’t just adapting English-comics, there are a boatload of  International comics such as Japanese manga that’s still largely untapped by US market. 

Now, what’s Bruce Lee, Lance Armstrong and Judy Garland have in common? They’re all subjects of new biopics in the works. The trend of late seems to be female-based biopics. Julie & Julia (Julia Child), Amelia (Amelia Earhart) and Coco avant Chanel (Chanel fashion house) are all out this year. You don’t even have to be a ‘legend’ of sorts to be made into a biopic, rumor has it even Britney Spears will have its own biographical movie! And I’m sure you’ve heard the hullabaloo about Susan Boyle biopic, I guess now just being a contestant in some lame reality show gets you in the same league as Amelia Earhart? Oh well, the list is endless, with celebrities dead or alive being the answer of the industry’s creative drought. I’m not against biopics mind you, it’s just that Hollywood is habitually more interested in sensationalism than truth. But a handful of those do have merits, as we can all learn from somebody who has the courage to overcome adversity, or how an ordinary person beats the odds to follow his or her dreams. 

Likewise, there are well-written and good quality remakes out there (Scarface, Cape Fear – I bet you didn’t know Scarface was a remake, did you? Neither did I!). And some comic-based flicks can be as good as award-winning classics. The Dark Knight for one, is robbed of an Academy Award nomination.  

So who knows how long this trend will last, but my guess is they’re all here to stay. This blog says it best, the reason why they keep making them, is because we, the movie goers, keep paying for them.