Revolutionary RRR – Rajamouli’s Hyper Epic

If you know cinema, then unless you’ve seen RRR you only think you know cinema.

S. S. Rajamouli’s delirious blockbuster is equal parts quasi-historical, bromance, musical, melodrama, and romance, mixed with the most insanely and thrillingly over-the-top action sequences.

The director’s Baahubali franchise will give you some idea what to expect, but the dial has been turned up to eleven for this John Woo on speed, three-hour slice of delirium.

RRR (“Rise Roar Revolt”), is an anti-colonial fable and a fictional story following two real-life Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao), and the twists and turns of their imagined bromance as they fight against the British Raj. The cast also features Ray Stevenson and Alison Doody as sneeringly sadistic Brits whose kidnapping of a young Indian child set off the chain of events.

It’s almost impossible to spoil how wild Rajamouli’s film becomes, but when you see Bheem endure a Braveheart-style scene of public flogging and torture while breaking into a musical number, still managing to feel entirely authentic to the crowd-enflaming emotion of the scene, you understand you’re in the hands of a filmmaker at the height of his powers. That this same character wrestled a tiger to the ground earlier in the film and will go on to beat a man to a pulp with (with… not on) a motorcycle will give you some idea of the sheer exuberant nature of the violence meted out here.

And if you think violence is all you get in RRR then, once again, you only think you know Indian cinema.

The soon-to-be iconic party scene, highlighting the song Naatu Naatu, serves as both a blunt but joyful plot device to highlight the despicable racism of the British in India with a breathless and intoxicating dance sequence.

If any of this sounds even remotely hyperbolic, I assure you, it’s really not. Okay, perhaps my opening statement, but even then… only just.

Ideally seen where it belongs on the big screen (though thankfully Netflix have made it available for wider exposure on their streaming service, albeit in Hindi rather than the original Telugu), Rajamouli’s ultra-nationalistic and hyper-stylised epic is what the art of cinema was created for, pure spectacle that is all at once hugely personal and hugely thrilling.  


Image: DVV Entertainment


Putting The Goth In Gotham – The Batman Review


There’s a lot to love about Matt Reeves’ take on The Batman.

The character’s introduction is one of the best onscreen portrayals of him yet, as we see how two years of dwelling in the shadows has bred fear into the criminals of Gotham, with some chilling shots of them staring into dark alleyways, fearful of what will emerge. And there is a fresh arc to the Batman’s role in Gotham, evident by the end of the film, a take on the character we haven’t really seen highlighted for some time. Gratifyingly, it’s an arc earned both plot-wise and emotionally.

His relationship with Jeffrey Wright’s excellent Jim Gordon (though really, when isn’t Wright excellent…!?) is a highlight, though doesn’t pay off as satisfyingly as we might expect. Perhaps they’re saving that for the inevitable (and bluntly teased) sequels.

And finally, after decades of being ignored in the various cinematic versions of Batman, ‘the World’s Greatest Detective’ (as he’s known in comic books) takes to the screen, and very welcome he is (albeit set against a typically convoluted film noir plot).

Noir is a major touchstone here, and Jake Gittes would be at home in Reeves’ Gotham as much as he was in Polanski’s Chinatown (I almost expected someone to pull Gordon aside and say “Forget it, Jim, it’s Gotham”).

The other influences are strong: Scorsese’s Taxi Driver weighs heavily on Pattinson’s Batman/Wayne, and Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac loom close at hand in numerous ways, while the dynamic between Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Batman here could easily be traced back to Sutherland and Fonda’s in Pakula’s Klute. Meanwhile, comic book series such as Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween also make their presences keenly felt (Zoe Kravitz’s winning take on Kyle/Catwoman has its DNA placed firmly in the former).

These textures make for a far more refreshing version of the character than I was expecting, and while the distinctly non-frenetic pace is to be applauded, a tighter edit could easily have trimmed fifteen to twenty minutes from the bloated three hour running time without any detraction from the overall film.

While Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne occasionally veers a little too close to being a moody emo boy under his floppy locks, he nevertheless brings a fine vulnerability to the role, gifting the character with liberal (*cough*) doses of white guilt and a couple of touching revelatory moments for both of his alter-egos. Happily, the actor/director/studio choice not to make Wayne growl absurdly as Batman pays dividends, as that has been too much of a diversion in recent iterations of the character.

The film’s main villain never feels quite as present or chilling as he should be. Despite some truly grisly crimes he tends to get a little lost in the story’s mass of convolutions, and his final confrontation with Batman ultimately suffers when compared to, and yes, that is an elephant in the room, Ledger’s Joker. Indeed, The Batman is unable to escape from the long shadows cast by the far-too-recent Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy (or, to a far lesser extent, the Snyder Batfleck efforts), and perhaps expects audiences to have moved on too quickly from that cultural juggernaut. It’s a sure bet that Reeves’ outing with the Caped Crusader would have felt fresher with a little more distance from those films.

Having said that, Reeves should be applauded for his almost stoic anti-blockbuster approach, deftly juggling elements of noir, horror, and mystery, for resolutely refusing to spoon fed audiences yet another version of the Batman origin story, and for leaving the character in a place that bodes well for his next outing.

Though maybe next time Reeves could bring some sharper scissors to the edit suite.

“This Never Happened To The Other Feller.” No Time To Die Review



Time weighs heavily on James Bond in Daniel Craig’s final outing.

No Time To Die, the 25th film in the beloved James Bond franchise, had quite the tortuous road to cinemas, as reported in several posts here on Out Of Dave’s Head: the hiring and departure of director and writer Danny Boyle and John Hodge, replaced by Cary Joji Fukunaga and long-time Bond scribes Neil Purvis and Robert Wade (with the later addition of Phoebe Waller-Bridge), and then the little matter of a worldwide pandemic, saw Bond 25 shift from it’s original release date of November 2019 several times until it’s eventual release this week.

So it’s pleasing to report that the finished production shows little of the troubled path taken by its long development. No Time To Die is a fine addition to the long-running series, and a superb send-off for the Daniel Craig era.

Opening with the first ever flashback sequence seen in a Bond film, the first indication of time’s conceptual importance here and the closest Bond has ever come to horror, the story then shifts to pick up almost where the previous entry, Spectre, left off: with Bond and Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann driving off into the sunset for a life of bliss. But fate (and the scriptwriters) have other plans for the couple as both of their pasts catch up with them in a fantastic action sequence through the streets of Maltera, Italy.

Five years later and Bond and Swann are in very different places, but the past refuses to die, bringing together a plot to eradicate large portions of the population of the world, with many of the characters who have featured in Craig’s Bond’s narrative, from Casino Royale onwards.

The film is not without its faults, the twin villain strands detract from each other, leaving Rami Malek’s terrorist Lyutsifer Safin curiously underdeveloped, the editing often feels like sequences have been cut too short (particularly affecting Malek’s character in the climax), and Lashana Lynch’s much heralded new 007, Nomi, is something of a characterless let-down and a creative dead end.

But No Time To Die is excitingly directed by Fukungawa, with some genuinely breathtaking sequences and it all moves at a great pace (despite a little wavering in the middle third). The film’s secret weapon, Ana de Armas, is a delight and a joy, playing against the character’s initial impression to become one of the highlights in a sequence set in Cuba that manages to be both a throwback to the classic Bond elements of charm and style while simultaneously updating those elements with humour and panache. The campaign for her character, Paloma, to get her own spin-off movie, officially starts here!

Everything leads towards an ending which, though somewhat messy in execution, has a huge emotional pay-off, something that hasn’t really been achieved in a Bond film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in 1969. It’s a massively bold choice for Bond and one for which the makers should be applauded. To say I was in tears would be an understatement.

Mention of George Lazenby’s only outing as Ian Fleming’s character is entirely appropriate, as that film is quite deliberately echoed both in one of the film’s thematic conceits and indeed in reprising John Barry’s song, We Have All The Time In The World. Long time Bond fans will appreciate the callback and newbies will immediately recognise the weight it gives to No Time To Die‘s story.

Craig’s Tom Ford boots are going to be difficult to fill, as both he and the producers caught the zeitgeist, with Craig playing against the archetype to make Bond a deeper, richer and more human character. His unconventionally handsome, rock-face features and pugnacious interpretation of Bond will be greatly missed. But his time in the role has been rightly celebrated in his imperfect but courageous final outing, proving that the Bond franchise still has the ability to surprise, after all this time.

Following the film’s emotional denouement, it was indeed something of a relief, for those of us who stayed in the cinema to watch the credits roll, to read the familiar final caption: James Bond Will Return.





Let Them Fight – Godzilla vs. Kong Review

Godzilla vs Kong – come for the monsters, forget about the humans.

The important point first: Legendary’s Monsterverse mash-up is a HUGE amount of fun. The storyline is enjoyable, and while scrupulously avoiding spoilers, I’m happy to announce that the monster action is bug nuts crazy. And there is a LOT of action, and there are a LOT of monsters.

Kong and Godzilla are the final remaining apex predators among Earth’s titans, so the stage is set very simply to bring the two into conflict. And those conflicts will absolutely not disappoint: huge, ear-shattering, eye-popping battles that really deserve to be seen on the biggest possible screen, with the best sound system you can find.

Then there’s the plot. Well, that’s gossamer thin but a heap of fun too, pure sci-fi pulp, involving the search for a power source that ties together threads from previous entries in the franchise.

So that’s the good news. The bad news is the human protagonists: the Team Kong gang (Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle) are written almost entirely without character, very nearly complete blanks. But at least they carry their section of the plot by sheer force of likeability, thanks to the actors. The real problem comes with Team Godzilla.

A returning Millie Bobby Brown is pretty much wasted (particularly so considering the easy shorthand she should have provided from our previous encounter with her character), while her partners-in-exposition, Brian Tyree Henry and Julian Dennison, are two of the most absurdly irritating, charm free zones to grace the screen in quite a while, whose every attempt at humour falls resoundingly flat. I felt them derailing the film every time they appeared, which thankfully isn’t too often. Demián Bichir props up part of the plot reasonably but not memorably, while Kyle Chandler pops in and out briefly without affecting much of anything. They’re all shockingly poorly written, so let’s quickly move on…

Without a doubt, the strongest characters are the title stars; Godzilla takes more of a secondary role, but that works effectively in providing a suitable threat to Kong, whose arc here builds on the mythology in a curiously compelling way.

I had a great time with Godzilla vs Kong – particularly in the climax, as the titans go to town on each other in a neon-drenched Hong Kong, a quite beautiful sequence of which director Adam Wingard can be rightly proud. But it does feel like this should probably be the, mostly satisfying, conclusion to the Monsterverse.

You’ll enjoy yourself as much as I did if you go in knowing this is ALL about the monsters.






Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Spoiler Free Review

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker comes with so much baggage it actually feels difficult to write a full review after my initial viewing.

I came out with some hugely conflicting feelings, so rather than a fully considered review, this might best be considered a collection of immediate, post-screening thoughts.

The film, of course, is the conclusion not only to this most-recent Disney backed trilogy (comprising The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi), but it also concludes the entire Skywalker saga (preceded by the films in the Prequel and Original trilogies).

Many fans will, I suspect, find The Rise of Skywalker to be a hugely satisfying ending to the nine film cycle, as returning director J.J. Abrams and his team play far safer than The Last Jedi’s controversial Rian Johnson and pack the film to the rafters with many fan-pleasing elements. Perhaps too many.

And this seems to have been done to the detriment of a cohesive movie, as Rise lacks a certain elegance in narrative to play very episodically, with MacGuffins galore leading our heroes from one set piece to the next.

While Johnson seemed determined to use his film to kill off certain elements of past Star Wars films to suggest a new future path, Abrams and co have apparently paid careful attention to the howls of outrage over this approach from the hordes of man babies and over-entitled toxic fans and dialed back on this by making a film about resurrecting the dead. And boy, do the dead rise up in this film. Literally and figuratively.

There are tantalising glimpses of a thematic element, present in all three films of the Disney trilogy, of the Rebellion against the evil Empire spreading out beyond the usual resistance fighters and causing “the people” to find the will to rise up against their oppressors, but it’s almost too casually thrown away here, and not developed strongly enough to add depth to the narrative. A definite missed opportunity which could have given these films a far greater resonance.

It’s also difficult to see that these films were created with a firm road map, rather each feels like a reaction to the previous film, and so this might just be the least satisfying trilogy, thematically and in terms of overall arcs.

The trilogy leads (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issac and Adam Driver) all do excellent work, even when their roles are not developed as well as we might have hoped – yes Finn, I’m looking at you. Personally, I’d like to have seen more emphasis on Boyega, who the camera loves, than on time spent with the introduction of a pointless droid or even (sorry, Bill Dee Williams), the largely irrelevant Lando Calrissian.

The film deals pretty sensitively with the death of Carrie Fisher and just about manages to give Princess Leia/General Organa a useful role and an emotional send-off. No mean feat, under the sad circumstances.

And, as mentioned previously, there are (many) nods to fans of all three trilogies (and event offshoots like Star Wars: Rebels), familiar faces and voices and callbacks, visually and thematically, that this mostly works as a wrap-up of the saga with a big bow on it. And of course, much of this may play well on repeated viewings, but it might have been a stronger film had it concentrated on finding its own identity instead. In fact, I’m not sure I could see the film working for newcomers to the saga, and those resistant to the charms of George Lucas’ creation will find nothing to persuade.

Now all this sounds as if I didn’t have a good time. I did, and will almost certainly enjoy revisiting The Rise of Skywalker. As a fan, I can say it certainly leaves the characters where I might have expected them to end up. And, as with all Abrams films, it moves like a bullet and looks beautiful. There’s also a rather nice coda which plays against the expectations of a vocal area of fandom with a central character, and leaves us with a touching return to the saga’s beginning.

Perhaps the film simply had too much baggage to be the conclusion of over forty years of filmmaking, or perhaps my own baggage won’t allow me to enjoy it for what it is.

Right now, however, I’m satisfied but lacking that triumphant, gleeful feeling something with less reliance on its own past might have left me with.

Send In The Frowns – Joker Review

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So I’m very late to the game with this one, but much of Joker is, of course, amazing.

I’m sure I don’t need to explain that Joker is a step away from the fairly disastrous DC Extended Universe. It’s a standalone tale, starring Joaquin Phoenix, that explores the background of Batman’s arch-nemesis, containing nods to films from Network (he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore, indeed), Taxi Driver (you almost expect Phoenix to snarl “You talkin’ to me?”), The King of Comedy (with both elements of the plot and the perhaps too on-the-nose casting of Robert De Niro) to The French Connection (particularly in one of the shootings that takes place on a subway stairway).

But away from the greatest hits of the Easy Riders, Raging Bull generation, Joker centers around a truly mesmerising, heartbreaking and ultimately repulsive performance from Joaquin Phoenix, who thoroughly deserves every award bound to be thrown at him.

It’s absolutely Phoenix’s movie, as he dominates every inch of the screen, ably abetted by Lawrence Sher’s gorgeous cinematography, and further supported by Mark Friedberg’s bold and beautiful production design, bringing to life Gotham City by way of 1970s New York.

Director Todd Phillips surprises (in fact, shocks) with his ability to allow his lead actor to fully explore the fragility, pain and brutality which punctuates this journey into mental illness. It’s also a surprisingly sharp commentary of the selfish, unfeeling world we’ve allowed to fester around us, resulting in the likes of Trump and Johnson.

However…

I can’t help but feel the film is something of an exercise in futility, as it takes so much care to explain away a character who ultimately doesn’t need to be explained. Heath Ledger’s multiple Joker “origins” in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight were as intriguing and satisfying as everything Phillips and Phoenix put their character through (taking two discomforting hours instead of a few pages of dialogue).

I came away almost wishing they hadn’t hooked their story to Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson’s character, but instead created their own. Is this too much of a comic book geek’s complaint?

Perhaps, but when as storytellers you attempt to give a voice to the too-often neglected corners of society in such painfully gritty terms, it then feels almost like you want to have your cake and eat it too by connecting this to a psychotic comic book villain. It’s almost as if the film is daring itself to give voice to the toxic parts of our culture likely to hold the four-colour character of the Joker aloft as an anti-hero.

I’m honestly not certain where the film stands on this, but it is undeniably deserving of greater contemplation than an immediate post-screening collection of thoughts such as these, and it’s certainly one I am curious to see again.

Regardless of these caveats, while I don’t think anything in the film (beyond Phoenix’s performance) raises it to the level of genius that’s been heaped upon it, Joker is a powerful and bold, utterly nihilistic, shattered funhouse reflection of the world around us. And that’s no laughing matter.

Bollywood And Beyond: Mission Mangal

mission mars

Welcome to Bollywood And Beyond, our new regular column looking at the incredible movies coming out of Bollywood and Indian cinema, with our host, Chris Conway.

Mission Mangal (translated as Mission Mars) tells the true story of the Indian Mars orbiter mission, that was successfully launched back in September, 2014. It’s not an action film or edge-of-seat drama, like Apollo 13, but like Ron Howard’s movie, it tells the audience a story we know has actually happened.

Initially announced in 2013 and going into production as the real-life Mars Orbiter was launched, the film’s story is loosely based on the lives of scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation and focuses on the largely female team and their driven mission director, who all made it happen against incredible odds.

Director Jagan Shakti (previously a second unit or assistant director on films including Dear Zindagi, Holiday and Thupakki) put together a very engaging cast: Akshay Kumar (one of Bollywood’s most prolific actors) is perfect as the slightly eccentric director, and among the female team is the always excellent Vidya Balan (from films including Lage Raho Munna Bhai) struggling to balance work with being a mom and wife. Sonakshi Sinha plays a smoking, serial dating propulsion expert, Tapsee Panu portrays a soldier’s wife and payload expert. Add a pregnant woman, a separated Muslim woman, a nerdy young guy and an elderly man (at 59?) – and that’s quite a team.

The main story follows the mission’s beginnings and the problems faced by the team along the way, allowing us to get to know and empathise with the characters. This is greatly helped with the inclusion of some gently funny scenes, highly enjoyable as Akshay and Vidya are such likeable actors.

It’s all been slightly romanticised, of course – several times a team member will find something from everyday life which is the solution to a problem, and the film doesn’t really do science – in fact the team always use simplified terms, even in mission control.

The film even slips a song or two in there, this is Bollywood, after all. You’d be disappointed if there were none (certainly Indian audiences would be).

Shakti (along with fellow writers R. Balki, Nidhi Singh Dharma and Saketh Kondiparthi) makes sure the story is big on Indian patriotism – and why not? It is the first Asian Mars mission (and the cheapest!) – but if you’re not in a hurry with the plot everything carries you along to a nice ending.

In fact, if you’re looking for a word to describe the film, “nice” would fit perfectly.


Chris Conway is a Bollywood enthusiast who sees at least twenty Bollywood films a year, often at Leicester’s Piccadilly Bollywood Cinema. He’s also a jazz pianist, vocalist, composer and songwriter who is currently celebrating his thirtieth year of recording and performing. He also loves cloudy days and J-pop.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood -Tarantino’s Fairy Tale Triumph

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Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, is his masterpiece. There, I’ve said it.

It almost feels glib to make such a bald, bland statement about this often breathtakingly complex work, but if this is to be his penultimate movie (and his tenth and final film will be “epilogue-y” as the director recently stated), then he has left us with something that not only stands as a brilliant expansion and culmination of his cinematic style and obsessions but also as arguably the most intricate and layered film in his body of work.

It’s a beautiful and elegiac love letter to not only Hollywood but also international filmmaking, it uses a potentially troublesome real-life tragedy and gives it catharsis in the most surprisingly touching and tender way, and it presents a simple bromance that eventually reveals itself as something deeper.

Set across two brief moments six months apart, Tarantino shows us a Hollywood in transition, beset by television, the dying embers of the studio system giving way to the bright flames of New Hollywood, the encroachment of international films and indeed, of the death of the 1960s as an ideal, we’re introduced to fading star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman-cum-personal driver-cum-gopher, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).

As the two weave their way through dwindling career opportunities, we meet their mirror opposite, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), whose star is on the ascendant and ready to burn brightly. As Al Pacino’s Hollywood producer offers Dalton a lifeline in Italy to feature in Spaghetti Westerns and Euro-spy movies, Tate glimpses the wonder of her craft and the two threads play out with some of Tarantino’s most perfectly measured storytelling since Jackie Brown (now my second favourite film from the director), all the while magnificently slowly building towards the tension and violence of the era-ending and personal tragedy we know is about to unfold.

DiCaprio continues his run as a driven, fearless performer, handling every level of Dalton’s movie star bragadoccio and insecurities with ease, never failing to find the most human of reactions, while Pitt further reveals himself to be the character actor in a movie star’s body those of us with more attuned tastes have always known him to be. His role could easily have played as unlikable or even offensive, but he strides across this with his easy going charm, leaving us with an arresting and enjoyable ambiguity.

Pitt and DiCaprio make for such an impeccable screen teaming that if it wasn’t so all-fired perfect here already, I’d be begging to see more. But their transition from employer and employee to deep friendship is so beautifully bittersweet that I can’t see any other, future pairing as anything more than anti-climatic.

There has been much criticism of Tarantino’s handling of Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate, with many saying she is underused. This is, of course, complete nonsense (as is the storm in a tea cup over Bruce Lee’s role in the story, which willfully misunderstands the nature of the film). Tate is the joyful glue that binds the film, an even more impressive feat of both writing and acting considering many of her scenes see the character playing not off others, but reveling in her life, by and for herself, in the moment before her Hollywood stardom explodes.

Robbie, the writing and direction of her, gives us a wonderful character and a heartfelt tribute to the real life actress. The scene of her watching herself on a Westwood cinema screen, delighting in not only her own performance (made even more multi-faceted by the fact we see the real Tate) but also in the reactions of the audience around her, has instantly become one of my favourite Tarantino sequences from all of his films. Rather than marginalize the actor, Tarantino has the confidence in his star to let her carry this all out wordlessly.

It’s a scene which also stands as one of two moments in particular (though I suspect further viewings will reveal more) which startlingly play with perceptions of how, and perhaps even why, we watch films in ways I’m still trying to unravel, but this and DiCaprio’s incredible address to himself in his mirror where he instead makes perfect eye contact with the audience were genuinely spine-chilling.

The playful blending and juxtaposition of films in our real world and films in Tarantino’s reel world is also sure to leave film lovers with examination and critique that will no doubt reward, infuriate and entrance for decades to come.

Tarantino’s films all pay off with multiple viewing, but this is a genuine treasure chest which unfolds to reveal multiple levels of jewels which will catch the light to reveal themselves the more we look into it.

Standing as a love letter to Hollywood and an ode to that town’s ever-changing tides of filmmaking, as an ode to the end of an era, as the reclamation of a terrible real-life crime and celebration of the life of the woman involved in that event, as a charming buddy movie examination of the changing dynamics of friendship and as an investigation of cinema and our relationship to it, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood really is Tarantino’s most emotionally mature and singularly impressive work.

It’s also the first Tarantino film to bring a tear to my eye, with a quite beautiful, and delicate closing scene which perfectly encapsulates what the film is: a Hollywood fairy tale, with all the romance and darkness of the very best fairy tales.

In fact, it’s his masterpiece. There, I’ve said it again.

*You can read more about the cinematic legacy of Charles Manson here.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate – All In The Worst Possible Taste

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the infamous Tate – LaBianca murders and, much like waiting for a bus, along come three movies to mark the date in various ways. I’ve yet to see Mary Harron’s Charlie Says and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, but I think it’s safe to assume that if The Haunting of Sharon Tate set out to be the worst of the three then it can be considered a rip-roaring success.

It’s pretty tough to figure out what was going on in anybody’s heads in their efforts to make this movie. Hilary Duff, who could most charitably be described as awful, runs the gamut from cloying to annoyingly hysterical (not in the humorous way either), playing Tate as little more than a blank slate.

But then the script she has to work with gives her no help whatsoever, keeping the characters character-free and running fast and loose with the unsubstantiated real-life rumour that the actress had a premonition of her own death. In doing so, it attempts to turn cult leader Charles Manson (who instructed four of his followers to kill the inhabitants of 10050 Cielo Drive) into a Freddy Krueger boogieman-type apparition, and that’s probably the least boneheaded element of this truly wretched movie.

Following the real events, Duff’s Tate arrives back at the home she made with her film director husband, Roman Polanski (off in Europe working on the script for Day of the Dolphin, as the script leadenly points out), with her friend and former lover, Jay Sebring (Jonathon Bennett) and three other friends who are looking after the house.

Almost immediately, Tate begins hearing noises, gets spooked by cupboard doors creaking open and windows being left ajar (to the point where you’re screaming at the screen: “JUST CLOSE ALL THE GODDAMNED WINDOWS, ALREADY!”) before playing a kind of Ouija board game that adds nothing to the mix and having a quick conversation about destiny. Oh, and dropping as many expository factoids about Polanski and Tate into six or seven lines of dialogue as humanly possible. Its even more irritating than it sounds.

Then the interminable music (by someone possibly wisely named only as Fantom) which wallpapers every scene SUDDENLY GETS REALLY LOUD AND SCARY as a hippy turns up at the house looking for the previous owner, music producer Terry Melcher. That’ll be Charles Manson then, folks. Or maybe it’s Freddy Krueger. Tough to tell from that music.

From then on, Tate’s unease turns to full blown hysteria as we see the murders play out as her nightmare and she imagines blood pouring out of the bath taps while the audience starts wondering if Hilary Duff might return to her singing career soon because that would be marginally less painful than sitting through the rest of this film.

Just when you think the movie can’t get any worse it goes and exceeds expectations by getting much, much worse: Tate is turned into a gun-toting Linda Hamilton clone, seeing off Manson’s followers with great vengeance and furious anger, as she reimagines taking charge of her destiny (foreshadowed in her earlier conversations about, well… destiny, geddit?).

And, uh… that’s it… 94 minutes of something utterly ghastly, filled with a billion beauty shots of the Hollywood sign and surrounding hills (you could certainly never be unclear where this film took place), would-be portentous dialogue and a hilarious shot where Duff’s Tate is sitting by the pool reading a book titled REINCARNATION, in nice, big friendly text. Oh, and the vaguely rotten aftertaste that The Haunting of Sharon Tate is indulging in a little victim blaming by suggesting that the ill-fated party might have lived if only they’d been resourceful enough to fight back a little harder. Or they’d had Linda Hamilton to hand.

Bad taste can be invigorating, thrilling and hilarious or it can just be bad taste. This is definitely the latter, and is nowhere near clever enough to realise just how obnoxious it is.

It would be a real cheap shot to say this film is truly Duff, but fuck it, it doesn’t deserve anything better.

Rocketman Sparkles And Soars But Doesn’t Dig Deep Enough

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Elton John is one of the world’s most famous rock stars and this authorised account of the singer’s life and career (with Elton and his husband, David Furnish, serving as executive producer and producer, respectively) begins on the usual biopic trope of the comeback concert, but immediately takes an intriguing turn as the narrative style weaves an inventive path with the equally standard flashbacks.

Rocketman wears its themes (the need for love, self-acceptance) on its attractively garish sleeve like the lyrics of a Taupin/John song, and that’s no denigration as the film is exciting and emotional from start to end. It shuffles both time, story and songs like a Spotify playlist, and works all the better for it, allowing the visuals and the many well-loved songs to tell much of the story, instead of the usual, oftentimes trite biopic dialogue.

And in speaking of trite dialogue, it’s worth mentioning the similarities between this film and 2019’s other big rock biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody: iconic gay rock stars who emerge, chrysalis-like from ‘umble, workin’ class backgrounds to become hedonistic stars of the 1970s and facing the challenges of falls from grace before life-affirming, triumphal returns to public and creative favour, despite the pitfalls of predatory rock and roll managers and all manner of troubled love lives. Plus of course, both were directed by Dexter Fletcher. Mostly anyway.

There is a world of difference between Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody, which Fletcher came onboard to complete after the removal/departure of original director, Bryan Singer. That film felt felt like the compromised vision it was in every sense of the word (and featured some of the most atrocious editing seen in a major feature since, well, probably one of the last Transformers movies).

Rocketman instead feels like the work of a more singular voice, one with a vibrant visual flair. I don’t know whether Fletcher was deliberately referencing the late British bad boy auteur, Ken Russell (which would be apt considering the links between Russell and Elton John), but his direction here is frequently redolent of the great man’s work – inventive, bombastic and florid, but capable of finding the quieter, emotional moments.

One of the big draws to the story here is the love and friendship between John and long- time lyricist, Bernie Taupin (a winning performance from the always reliable Jamie Bell). Brave enough to show much of their relationship as unrequited love on Elton’s behalf, including a lovely sequence set to Tiny Dancer (which still doesn’t transcend the song’s sublime use in Almost Famous, but comes close) and a scene where the singer finishes composing Your Song as a ballad to his friend was beautifully direct. A tear or two may have been shed.

It was also good to see Elton’s sex-life not shied away from, though I’m sure many would suggest it didn’t go far enough (an element I feel sure Russell would have insisted on handling more boldly).

But the whirlwind, jukebox tour of Elton’s life comes at a cost.  Despite the hugely impressive performance by Taron Egerton (and it really is superb), we never quite seem to reach deep enough beneath his skin to make the part fully resonate. Although, for example, the script and performance show a kindness towards his ill-fated marriage to Renate Blauel, we’re never allowed to truly feel the indignity such a union must have been for both of them. So although the film excels at showing us why Elton is such a highly regarded artist, it doesn’t succeed so fully in showing us the man behind the artistry.

I was happy the film didn’t fall back on giving us a huge, uplifting comeback finale (that comes a little earlier, with the recreation of the I’m Still Standing video) of the dishonest kind provided by the Queen film, but I suspect many would have left the cinema waiting for that last, big triumphant number.

On that note however, I side with Fletcher, who’s penning a smarter tune here than on the film he was brought in to rescue, and leaves us with a more satisfying and engaging production, despite its flaws.

And while you might leave the cinema still not fully knowing the man behind the spectacles and wondering if Elton had any fun at all after his initial rise to fame, the fantastical, fantasy sequences and greater visual fluency makes this film the clear winner of the 2019 Dexter Fletcher musical biopics.