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

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Director: J.A. Bayona

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, BD Wong, Jeff Goldblum

Screenplay: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.

 

I think a lot of people would say, when Jurassic World came out back in 2015, that it was the best film in the series since the original. That may be true. What’s also true is that it was the safest choice to make by following very closely the trajectory of the original film. That’s not really the case with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Fallen Kingdom picks up some time after the events of Jurassic World. The park is closed and deserted. Dinosaurs roam free. But people haven’t forgotten about Isla Nublar. There are groups of dinosaur rights activists, one of which is led by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help, Gold) who are trying to protect these precious species. When Claire is given the opportunity to work with a team on the island to save these creatures from certain destruction at the hands of the island’s no-longer-dormant volcano, which is set to erupt, she goes to Owen Grady (Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Lego Movie) for help. With a team assembled, they head back to the island in hopes of saving these creatures, but there’s a much more nefarious reason for this expedition.

Fallen Kingdom got a lot of hate this year for a film that performed so well at the box office. I got married the week it was released so I didn’t actually catch it until it hit home video. This means I was able to temper my expectations, which were high considering that it was directed by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls), a highly-skilled director with a particularly good eye for horror.

What’s great about the choice of Bayona as director is what he brings to the second half of the film. I won’t delve into spoilery territories but there are elements to the back half that are reminiscent of a horror film. And this is really a film of two halves.

The first half of Fallen Kingdom boils down to a standard sequel to Jurassic World. In fact, it’s a plot point hinted at since the original Jurassic Park novel by Michael Crichton that a dormant volcano lies at the center of the island. The second half of the film is ballsy and ambitious. Does the second half work? Some of it did for me. I’ve heard criticisms about the final moments of the film and yes, I agree, they are infuriating for how they play out, but I get it given the character development we’ve seen from these people over the course of two films.

The biggest issue that rises up from me is some of the timing inconsistencies in the film. The opening literally has characters talking about a dinosaur that should be dead by now that are not, and then there are moments brought up later on that do not confirm this timeline. Even co-screenwriter Colin Trevorrow’s answer to the mystery of how much time has passed makes it seem like he really didn’t put much thought or care into the decision of setting the film at a specific distance from Jurassic World.

I think that Fallen Kingdom puts the characters from Jurassic World to better use in a more interesting narrative. Claire is more accessible and, in a lot of ways, this is more her movie whereas the previous film is more Owen-centric.

Overall, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a really ambitious installment of the franchise, and while I don’t think it really works as well as it should, I found myself engaged with the plot of both halves of the film, and I’m shocked that it was allowed to be made at all. If you haven’t seen this one yet, don’t listen to the naysayers and give it a go. I enjoyed it more than I expected to, and it makes me very excited for where the series will go next.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Jurassic World (2015)

jurassicworld2015c 

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan

Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, Derek Connolly

124 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril.

 

It has been 22 years since the events of Jurassic Park, and now John Hammond’s vision has been fully realized. Jurassic World has been up and running for about a decade, and has been run by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help, 50/50) to great success. Now, though, with declining numbers, the park’s owner Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi, The Amazing Spider-Man) wants something new and bigger to boost attendance. He has enlisted Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong, Mulan, Focus) with the task of genetically hybridizing a new dinosaur species called the Indominus Rex, but this new species is much smarter than they could have realized, and now a raptor trainer named Owen (Chris Pratt, TV’s Parks and Recreation, Guardians of the Galaxy) must help Claire find her nephews, Nick (Nick Robinson, TV’s Melissa & Joey, The Kings of Summer) and Gray (Ty Simpkins, Insidious, Iron Man 3), who are missing in the park.

In this third sequel to the Jurassic Park franchise, we see something that has been almost promised for just as long: a fully functioning theme park, exactly what John Hammond would have wanted. It is a completely new experience for fans of the series, and it offers a cadre of new set pieces for director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) to completely destroy.

Chris Pratt gives another leading man performance that proves he has the chops to continue raking in the dough. Now Owen isn’t played as well to Pratt’s strength, and he comes off rather wooden at the beginning of the film before really finding his character beats as the film progresses. His chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is pretty strong, though the developed romance between feels way contrived in the grand scheme of the story.

jurassicworld2015a

The supporting players all mostly give in to the conceit of the film and perform admirably. Our child actors Robinson and Simpkins do enough to get by, though Simpkins underwhelms when compared to previous work in the Insidious franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Vincent D’Onofrio (TV’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Run All Night) is great as the slimy Hoskins who wishes to use Owen’s raptor skills to train the beasts for militaristic purposes. He is matched perfectly by Irrfan Khan’s Masrani, an eccentric billionaire very similar to Hammond and who wishes to follow in his footsteps and do right by him. The term “Spare No Expense” comes to mind several times.

B.D. Wong returns to the franchise from the original film as the genius Dr. Wu, a character much expanded upon from the original source novel by Michael Crichton. In this film, Wu defends his place in the history books as the clever mind behind many of the park’s greatest attractions.

Now the dinosaurs here as missing much of the Stan Winston touch that made them so magical in the 1993 film. They still look amazing from the terrific visual effects work, and some of them, like the mighty aquatic Mosasaurus, but it is something I missed. Looking back on Steven Spielberg’s original film, I still look in wonder at the magic on the screen, whereas here I know I am seeing CGI.

Michael Giacchino’s score is also a great feature of the film, subtly using John William’s original themes while adding notes of grandeur and chaos to reinvent it. When we first see the gorgeous set pieces accompanied by the original music, it made my heart skip a beat.

Flaws? Yeah, there are several. The use of the Gyrospheres being completely controlled by the attendees? Yeah, no safety features required there…not! This film makes several of the same mistakes that we’ve seen before, making the characters seem like they paid no attention to the mistakes made in previous installments.

JURASSIC WORLD - 2015 FILM STILL - Pictured: The Indominus rex dominates all creatures in her path - Photo Credit: Universal Pictures   © 2014 Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Thankfully, the film is much saved by how great the wins are. There are several faults at play, but overall this is the best film in the franchise since the original. The little pieces of homage to the T-Rex, Spinosaurus, Mr. DNA, John Hammond, and Ian Malcolm help validate this film as a strong installment in the series that holds its own and opens new avenues for the future of the story.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So have you seen Jurassic World? What did you think? Did this film’s life find a way or go extinct in the process? Let me know!

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

 

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