Rocketman (2019)

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard

Screenplay: Lee Hall

121 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content.

 

It’s about damn time we got an Elton John biopic, and boy was this one worth the wait.

Elton John (Taron Egerton, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Sing), in classic biopic form, needs to go to rehab, and while he’s there, he recounts all the moves in his life that led him to this place, from his friendship with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot, The Adventures of Tintin) to his explosive working relationship with music manager John Reid (Richard Madden, Ibiza, TV’s Game of Thrones). In his recollection, Elton begins to see that the biggest obstacle in his happiness might just be the reflection in the mirror.

Rocketman might just be the best musical biopic I’ve seen in a long time, and perhaps the best one, though I’m speaking as someone who thoroughly enjoyed it and just saw it. Director Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle, Sunshine on Leith) has seemingly craft a film that is equal parts musical extravagance and true life biopic storytelling. The events are somewhat incorrectly placed on a timeline, but it is done in the service of the character and the story, and I didn’t mind. What Fletcher does so well in this film and in previous work is that he has such a flair for making his style its own character without sacrificing the story and characters. His style has the similar effect as what Quentin Tarantino does with his musical choices. He uses them to aid his characters. If he has a flaw in the film (and it’s really only a nit-pick), it’s that he goes full classic biopic by having the main character recount his entire life in rehab, a move that almost feels cliché now, but I brushed past it.

Taron Egerton is on fire here. It’s his best performance of a small but impressive career. He owns the screen in every scene, aided by John’s impressive wardrobe (someone start talking Best Costume Design here), but it is his performance, a richly-layered look at Elton John on the inside and outside, that is the biggest takeaway from the film. He blends into Fletcher’s visual storytelling so well, and the chemistry between him and the supporting players is astounding. Then there’s the singing (Egerton does his own in the film), which, although not sounding exactly like Elton John, aids the character he is playing and has a real feeling to it that doesn’t feel like he’s just trying to match someone else. I’d rather have it this way.

The supporting cast does a great job when not overshadowed by the grandiose nature of Elton John. I really like Jamie Bell and it is great to see him get some impressive moments to shine in conversations with Egerton. Richard Madden needs to be in more movies after work in Game of Thrones and Bodyguard, and he plays John Reid in such a menacing and cruel way that works well without seeming completely mustache-twiddlingly villainous. Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World, A Dog’s Way Home) appears in the film in a physical transformation as Elton’s mother Sheila, and it’s some of her best work as well. Dexter Fletcher has a knack for collaborating and getting the absolute best from his actors, and it’s on full display here.

Rocketman has become my favorite film so far this year. It’s an impressive feat that showcases why filmmakers like Dexter Fletcher need to be getting more work, and it is a great standout performance from Egerton. See this one as soon as you can. This is one film we’ll be talking about for some time.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

A Dog’s Way Home (2019)

Director: Charles Martin Smith

Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King, Alexandra Shipp, Wes Studi, Edward James Olmos, Chris Bauer

Screenplay: W. Bruce Campbell, Cathryn Michon

96 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements, some peril and language.

 

This is A Dog’s Way Home, a movie with a dog as its main character and the whole film is narrated by the dog. No, you’re thinking of A Dog’s Purpose. That came out two years ago. This is different. No, it’s not the sequel either. That’s A Dog’s Journey, which sounds exactly the same but it’s different. No,really.

Bella (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World, Gold) is a dog that has spent her whole time as a puppy raised by cats in the wreckage of an old home. That is, until she meets Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King, Ashes in the Snow, Old Boys), a nice young human who works at the VA hospital where his mother Terri (Ashley Judd, Double Jeopardy, Allegiant) spends much of her day. Bella quickly becomes a member of the family until a law in Denver forces Lucas and his mother to move to a smaller suburb in order to keep Bella. Bella doesn’t understand this as she is sent to New Mexico for a few days while the move takes place. She believes that Lucas needs her and she runs away toward Denver to find him, 400 miles away.

I really had very little interest in A Dog’s Way Home after seeing the trailer. I felt like the entirety of the movie was given away. Then again, the title and the expectations of a film like this would lead one to believe that they know how the story is going to go, and they are pretty much right. There isn’t anything shocking or unexpected in this film, and for most people, that’s going to be fine.

I felt as though this is a film of two halves. The first half of the film revolves around Bella’s relationship with her human Lucas and his mother Terri. That’s where the film finds its heart. I found myself won over by the relationship and love in this family dynamic. It mostly works except for a few truly groan-worthy moments like the one featured in the trailer where Terri and the others at the VA hospital hide Bella in a couch so that the doctor doesn’t find out. Yeah, not everything works in the first half, but more of it than I expected actually did.

The second half of the film is where the title comes into play. Bella ends up 400 miles from home and does everything in her power to find her way back to Denver. This is where the film struggles. The most blatant problem with the latter half of the film is that Bella’s wanderings seem so happenstance and uninteresting. They all seem like things that I would have guessed to happen without even seeing the film, as though they were a checklist of things that missing dogs have to accomplish to find their way to home.

There’s one exception to the clichés of the film’s second half, and it’s the newly formed relationship between Bella and an orphaned baby mountain lion, which she called Big Kitten. The problem with this character is that the CGI in the film is atrocious, and, Big Kitten being a completely CG character, it pulled me out of the film completely whenever Bella and Big Kitten were together. If a film cannot afford to do good CGI, then they just shouldn’t use CGI. Do a script rewrite and move past it. A Dog’s Way Home swings for the fences with Big Kitten, but it just doesn’t work due to shoddy CGI.

I also believe that A Dog’s Way Home could stand better with a different title. Yes, I understand that it’s the name of the book this film is based on, but I think there’s some confusion about this being a sequel to A Dog’s Purpose, especially with the upcoming sequel to that film, A Dog’s Journey, hitting theaters this year. I think it would positively impact the film’s box office if it stands aside from those films.

A Dog’s Way Home is flawed, yes, but it still contains enough light fluffy warmth to make it an enjoyable family film to start off 2019. It was better than my expectations for it (though I expected garbage), and I think it has an audience among families and dog lovers. If you thought the trailers looked good, I think you will find something to like in A Dog’s Way Home.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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