Rocketman Sparkles And Soars But Doesn’t Dig Deep Enough

rocketman your song

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.

Marvel Phase 4 – Black Widow Begins Filming In Norway (English Language Exclusive)

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Blue Bayou – the shooting title adopted by Marvel for the production of the first movie in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow, has begun filming here in Norway.

The unit production base has established itself in the small village of Sæbø, in Sunnmøre on the western coast of Norway. The Sagafjord Hotel was overrun with a fleet of trucks as rumours first exploded locally that this was filming for the latest James Bond film (which is actually also shooting here, not too far away on The Atlantic Road and in Rauma, slightly further north in the region).

Per Henry Borch, line producer for Truenorth, the production and service company, confirmed to NRK that the film wasn’t Bond 25 in an effort to stop interested fans swarming to the site, obviously not considering that there might also be plenty of Johansson or Marvel fans ready to make the trip.

But your roving reporter can confirm that trucks, equipment and local signs are festooned with the legend Blue Bayou, revealed back in February as the shooting title for Scarlett Johansson’s first solo outing as Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow.

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Local newspapers are suggesting that Sæbø and nearby Bondalen (oh, the irony) are standing in for Romanoff’s childhood home in Russia.

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Shooting titles are often used to deter curious onlookers for location shooting and Marvel Studios productions have recently used covers including Mary Lou (Avengers: Infinity War/Avengers: Endgame), Open World (Captain Marvel), and Bosco (Spider-Man: Far From Home).

Crewmembers at the base remained tight-lipped and impervious to my requests for the movie’s entire plot-line, but filming will continue throughout the week. Production of the film is based at Pinewood Studios in the UK (as seen in the exclusive photos here), while the film is being directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Jac Schaeffer (Captain Marvel, the forthcoming Vision & Scarlet Witch TV series).

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No official release date has been given for Black Widow, but you can be sure you’ll be updated on these pages.

Stop Everything! It’s The Brilliant New Trailer For Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

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First of all, stop what you’re doing and watch this wonderful new trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s new movie (debuting ahead of its premiere at Cannes)…

Regular followers of this site will already know I’m full-blown down for anything that comes from the mind of Tarantino, and that I’m super vibed for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (as we’ve been following its production here from those initial casting announcements).

And this features one heckuva cast, including  Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Luke Perry, Margaret Qualley, Bruce Dern, Emile Hirsch, Lena Dunham, Damian Lewis and Al Pacino (HOO-HAH!). I mean, come on…! Who doesn’t want to watch, well… anything… that stars this bunch!?

The teaser trailer was great, but this first full trailer, in all its Neil Diamond-glory, literally makes me want to wish away the days until July 26th (but that would mean missing Godzilla: King of the Monsters, so I’ll have to curb my enthusiasm).

Featuring the first proper reveal of Charles Manson (as played by Damon Herriman) and his family on the Spahn Ranch, and the first sense of how this story might play out, it certainly seems that this will be as thrilling (and probably divisive) a ride as we might expect from one of my favourite cinematic provocateurs!

Let’s not even get started on the flame-grilled Nazis…

NIN’s Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross Will Score HBO’s Watchmen

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So, I get it, we’re all pretty sceptical about HBO’s forthcoming Watchmen series. Showrunner Damon Lindelof has a somewhat mixed score card, plus it’s… well… it’s Watchmen.

Still, the cast has been shaping up nicely (including Jeremy Irons, Don Johnson, Regina King, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr., Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Adelaide Clemens) and now the series has added ace musos Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from Nine Inch Nails (currently on tour with new album, The Perfect Drug) to provide the soundtrack.

The pair have scored several movies (together and separately, and nabbed an Academy Award for their work on David Fincher’s The Social Network.

Whatever happens with HBO’s Watchmen, at least now we’re sure it’ll sound good!

Danny Elfman’s Justice League Theme – And Score To Include Iconic Batman Theme

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(UPDATE: Williams’ Superman score is in and can be heard in the track I’ve just added, Friends And Foes)

Whatever the heck comes out from the complicated production history of Warner/DC’s Justice League movie, at least we’ll be getting some kickass music.

Friend to the cinematic capes Danny Elfman (Batman, Darkman, Spider-Man etc) is scoring the film and insists he will use his iconic Batman theme (as heard in the 1990s movies and Batman – The Animated Series). In fact, there even seem to be traces of it heard in the new Justice League theme (hear for yourself below).

Rumours are also running rife that the film will reintroduce John Williams’ even more iconic (iconicer?) Superman theme.

This certainly all lends credence to the suggestion that DC are using the retooled-by-Joss-Whedon Justice League to do a major spot of course correction with their flagship characters, no doubt spurred on by the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. Hopefully this pans out and we’ll get to see the more hopeful, upbeat representation these characters deserve and leave behind Zack Snyder’s dour, grimdark take on the DC universe.

We’ll know for sure in just a few weeks, but in the meantime here’s the brand new Justice League theme from Elfman. Enjoy…

 

(UPDATE: Here’s a track featuring John Williams’ Superman Theme)

Rare Grooves – The Green Slime

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Welcome to the latest in an occasional series of articles where I’ll be looking at the songs that have graced some of my favourite films through the years. Of course, since this is OODH, it’s unlikely I’ll be tackling anything from Grease or The Little Mermaid (fabulous as the Ashman & Menken tunes were in the latter).

The Green Slime is a truly wild piece of space opera which, like the previous entry in this series, The Last Dinosaur, was an American/Japanese co-production, here between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Toei. MGM provided the funding and script while Toei provided the film crew and location to shoot the film. In fact a third country was involved, as the storyline originated in Italy and was supposed to be part of Antonio Margheriti’s Gamma One tv movie series.

The script was written by William Finger (the co-creator, arguably the creator, of huge swathes of what we now recognise as the Batman mythos), Tom Rowe and Charles Sinclair from a story by co-producer Ivan Reiner. The film was shot in Japan with a Japanese director and film crew, but a non-Japanese cast of Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel and Luciana Paluzzi.

The plot sees a group of scientists sent into space to destroy an asteroid on collison course with Earth. They return from their mission to the asteroid with an unwanted guest, a glowing piece of space fungus which mutates and multiplies into the screeching, tentacled green slime monsters of the title.

It’s camp, goofy and madly entertaining, and never less than breathlessly directed by Kinji Fukasaku, who also made the seminal Battles Without Honor and Humanity film series (1973-74) and the controversial Battle Royale (2000).

The music score was written by Toshiaki Tsushima, but Charles Fox re-scored much of the film for its release in United States. Fox, of course, was co-composer (along with Norman Gimbel) of Grammy winning hit song Killing Me Softly With His Song, and created the famous theme tune for Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman TV series (“In your satin tights, fighting for your rights…”).

And it’s the theme song for The Green Slime which brings us here today. Written by Fox and produced, arranged & performed by surf music pioneer Richard Delvy, the song gives us outré lyrics such as:

“What can it be; what is the reason?
Is this the end to all the seasons?
Is this just something in your head?
Would you believe it when you’re dead?
You’ll believe it when you find
something screaming across your mind …green slime!”

Once heard, never forgotten, this song will worm its way into your psyche like… well… green slime. Enjoy!

 

Thor: Ragnarok Wins Battle of the Led Zeppelin Trailers!

Thor Ragnarok poster

In the last week or so we’ve been treated to two trailers for forthcoming big, studio tentpole movies, both of which rely on the trusty wailing, axe slashery (as in guitars, though there are plenty of real axes in the trailers themselves) and drum pounding of the mighty Led Zeppelin!

First out of the gate came Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, accompanied by Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (from the Zepp’s 1969 debut album). It’s all very blokey and muddy and grey with a bunch of Ritchie’s usual tics (speed ramping, etc) and ultimately, for me at least, didn’t feel in any way unique (and it has some very big boots to fill against John Boorman’s mad and operatic, Excalibur). The Arthur story appears to have been given the Game of Thrones/Sherlock Holmes treatment and if you’re up for that, then I guess I know where you’ll be spending your movie cash this summer.

Next up comes Taika Waititi’s first crack at the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, well, take a look for yourself:

The Thor films have frequently felt like the poor relations of the Marvel movies, neither quite reaching the targets they were aiming for (though I still find them both very enjoyable… Dark World in particular only really misses its mark due to the now frequent Marvel trope of the underdeveloped villain, with poor Christopher Eccleston doing his best under heavy make up).

A trailer is no proof of the finished product, of course, but judging from what we see here Marvel have let the Flight of the Conchords/What We Do In The Shadows director have his head of steam.

Already we see something lighter, brighter and far more cosmically ‘out there’ than the previous entries in this franchise, and certainly allowing Chris Hemsworth’s comedy chops to shine is a stroke of genius. Plus of course, there’s *that* guest appearance… it’s no trade secret that Thor: Ragnarok borrows from a certain set of well- loved stories from the comic books and the sight of those two characters (I’ll avoid spoilers here in case you’re the only person on the planet unaware of this) facing off against each other is just too delicious. Additionally, everyone knows Jeff Golblum automatically improves any movie he’s in.

Finally, we have the use of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, from 1970’s Led Zeppelin III. Now you might want to subtract a point or two after the song’s spellbinding use in the trailer for David Fincher’s slightly less spellbinding The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but really that would feel somewhat churlish in light of its perfect use here.

Imprisoned on the other side of the universe, the mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself in a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), his former ally and fellow Avenger. Thor’s quest for survival leads him in a race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela (Cate Blanchett) from destroying his home world and the Asgardian civilization.

If this official synopsis above for Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t get you vibed (along with Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2), well, there’s always King Arthur for you to look forward to. I’ll be gleefully diving into Waititi’s gloriously colourful immigrant song…

Rare Grooves – The Last Dinosaur

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Welcome to the first in an occasional series of articles where I’ll be looking at the songs that have graced some of my favourite films through the years. Of course, since this is OODH, it’s unlikely I’ll be tackling anything from Grease or The Little Mermaid (fabulous as the Ashman & Menken tunes were in the latter).

In 1977, Japan’s Tsuburaya Productions (creators of Ultraman) teamed up with Rankin/Bass in the U.S. (famous for animated specials such as Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Mad Monster Party) to co-produce an odd little gem, the Tokusatsu movie, The Last Dinosaur. Richard Boone and Joan Van Ark star as two Americans who travel to an Arthur Conan Doyle/Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired lost continent beyond the polar ice caps (accompanied by a Maasi warrior tracker and a scientest, played by Luther Rackley and Tetsu Nakamura), to find a lost geologist, played by Steven Keats.

Co-directed by Alexander Grasshoff and Shusei Kotani, billed as Tom Kotani, the finished production aired in the United States February 11, 1977 as a television movie on the ABC network and shortly afterwards was released in Japan as a theatrical feature.

The film comes roaring from the gate, all guns blazing, with its astonishing main attraction right from the outset. That’s not, as you might imagine, the snarling, drooling Tyrannosaurus Rex as featured prominently in the film’s posters and trailer, but rather the snarling, drooling, sexist, drink-sodden, wealthy big game hunter, Maston Thrust (…no, really). Hollywood legend Boone gives his all (and then some) as the aptly-named Thrust, starting out at ten and then dialling up the amp from there. Subtle and nuanced the performanced isn’t, but it sure is a thing of beauty!

Maury Laws was chosen to compose the film’s score (a job he did for many of the Rankin/Bass specials and series) while the title song, with lyrics by Jules Bass, was sung by Nancy Wilson, and arranged and conducted by Bernard Hoffer.

Bass, of course, was also one of the film’s producers, while Hoffer was later the composer of the theme song from beloved 1980s animated series, Thundercats.

Singer Nancy Wilson, also known as “The Girl With the Honey-Coated Voice”, was world-renowned for her career in blues, r & b and jazz. For The Last Dinosaur, her vocals show no condescension at the material and she gives a superb performance in this Bondian recording. The lyrics can hilariously – and quite rightly – be read as referring to both Maston Thrust AND the film’s killer T-Rex, an achievement never topped by John Barry or his lyricists for any of the James Bond title songs.

Sit back, pour yourself a shot of whisky and let your ears be seduced by the 70s elegance of The Last Dinosaur.

 

Daniel Radcliffe Is The Only Stiff Thing About Swiss Army Man

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What if I were to tell you that the most heartwarming, life affirming movie of the year involves the farting corpse of Harry Potter showing Paul Dano the meaning of friendship and love? I should mention that it also verges on being a musical.

If that seems unlikely, then the opening of the film, written and directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, will do little to persuade you. Dano, marooned and hysterically lonely on a tiny desert island, is attempting to commit suicide before being saved by the appearance of Daniel Radcliffe’s flatulent corpse washing up on the beach.

What follows next is a journey, both geographically (although that might be part of a grander delusion) and emotionally, of these two lost souls, who gradually connect with each other and, in that bond, reconnect with the world they left behind.

Dano is charming, desperate and possibly off his rocker, but he makes being delusional seem like a highly likable trait (for most of the running time, at least), while Radcliffe further proves his post-Potter career as being of increasing interest. His corpse is, paradoxically, full of life, showing constant curiosity at the strange new/old world that’s trying to come back into focus around him. Despite the constant farting, he is as likable as his co-star, and their utterly charming relationship is a joy to behold even as it flirts with homo-erotic necrophilia. How many films can you say that about!?

It’s all as strange as it sounds, but the quirkiness is held together by a strong emotional core, never quite tipping over into careless whimsy (though a large chunk of the final act veers dangerously close). This is a film full of beautiful and fragile moments, while at the same being chock full of farts and erections. It’s a bold and beguiling mix and the music score and songs, by Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull and Robert McDowell are magnificently uplifting, adding yet another wondrous layer to this strange confection.

If you’re not put off by the bizarre description you’re likely to be rewarded with a disarming buddy movie quite unlike any other, one that will make you laugh out loud and tug at your heartstrings. It will linger in your mind long after the final hilarious sequence which somehow manages to turn flatulence into something quite emotional.

And if all that doesn’t convince you, where else can you spend so much time focusing on a dead Harry Potter’s rampant erection!? Trust me, there’s nothing stiff about this film (apart from Daniel Radcliffe).

Looking For The Perfect Beat But This Ain’t It – The Get Down

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Baz Luhrmann’s swirling, sprawling new series for Netflix, The Get Down, came with such promise.

One of the channel’s most expensive series treads on fertile ground, chronicling the black and latino generation who revolutionised music by breaking from disco to invent hip-hop, and set against the tinderbox background of the Bronx in the late 1970s. This is vast, dramatically untapped territory, and it’s an important point in cultural history.

Rather than a straightforward drama, the show, created by Luhrmann and Stephen Adly Guirgis, tries to edge towards the wild, freewheeling and highly theatrical approach Luhrmann has used in films like Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge. Sometimes this works, the sense of mythologising feels note perfect against the backbeat of hip hop, and during the musical numbers it hits an undeniable, infectious energy, and of course the soundtrack is blistering.

Unfortunately, and all too frequently, the theatricality feels like a let’s-just-put-the-show-on-right-here high school play, and distances us from the hollow, one dimensional characters – youngsters fighting against familial and societal barriers to realise their dreams. It’s mythology writ small, rather than large.

The cast try hard, injecting spirit into their roles (particularly Justice Smith, Herizen F. Guardiola and Shameik Moore, who manages to make his character likeable despite being saddled with some seriously irritating whirling dervish mannerisms) but they’re swimming hard against the tide of bombast and cliche. If you think Martin Scorsese & Mick Jagger’s Vinyl lacked depth, you’ll find much of this thinner than a 1980s flexi-disc.

Ironically, and particularly in the pilot episode, it feels like a show at war with itself, neither theatrical enough or dramatic enough, leaving it stranded in the middle of the dancefloor making some particularly awkward moves.

The show does seem to stand a little steadier on its feet by the last episode, so perhaps there’s hope for the next six episodes (which will air next year) but right now it feels like too little, too late. I went into this with a palpable sense of excitement, but found myself mostly unmoved.

This is a story waiting to be told and a record waiting to be spun, but Luhrmann and Netflix have skipped the groove on this one.