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Josh Reviews Rocketman

Rocketman tells the story of the life and career of Elton John, starting with his humble beginnings as a boy named Reginald Dwight, being raised by his mother and grandmother in Britain in the ‘50s.  Reggie’s piano skills quickly become apparent, and when he connects with song-writer Bernie Taupin, they form a friendship and a creative partnership that will last for decades.

Rocketman was written by Lee Hall and Directed by Dexter Fletcher, who worked on this film soon after helping to complete 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

The film leans into Elton John’s colorful public persona. My favorite sequences in the film were those when the film stepped outside of the box of a conventional musical bio-pic structure, and embraced a musical-fantasy element.  I enjoyed the song-and-dance numbers (an early sequence at a fair set to Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting was a highlight of the film for me) as well as the film’s framing device (in which an outrageously-attired Elton tells the story of his life, gradually stripping off pieces of his costume as we get closer to seeing the real Reggie inside).

But the film’s weakness is that, despite those trappings, it still hews fairly closely to the familiar structure of a musical bio-pic.  The film has a predictable structure of Elton’s rise and then his unhappy struggles and fall.  (I had a similar complaint regarding Bohemian Rhapsody.  And as was the case with Bohemian Rhapsody, I enjoyed the fun first half of Rocketman far more than the more somber second half.)

Taron Egerton is terrific as Elton John/Reginald Dwight.  Just like Rami Malek’s ferocious performance was, in my opinion, the main reason to see Bohemian Rhapsody, so too is Mr. Egerton’s charismatic turn here the best aspect of Rocketman.  I enjoyed Mr. Egerton’s work in the two Kingsman films (which were directed by Matthew Vaughn, who produced Rocketman), but I didn’t know he had this type of performance in him!  This is a star-making turn.  Mr. Egerton is electric with Elton John’s charisma and energy.  He also, apparently, did all of his own singing in the film!  That is amazing, because there is a lot of singing in the film (no surprise), and Mr. Egerton does a fantastic job in singing so many of Elton John’s famous songs.  (Much credit must also be given to the film’s musical director Giles Martin — son of the famous Beatles producer George Martin — who did a terrific job incorporating so much of Mr. Elton’s great music throughout this film.)

Mr. Fletcher has assembled a terrific supporting cast.  Jamie Bell (King Kong) is great as Bernie Taupin, who wrote the lyrics for most of Elton’s songs.  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury.  We follow Freddie all the way from when he was a nobody, working at an airport hauling luggage, through Queen’s meteoric rise, and on to his early death of AIDs at age 45.  I’d read a lot about this film last year; I’d heard it was a solid film, despite all the behind-the-scenes turmoil of its making (in which credited director Bryan Singer was apparently removed from the film late in production, with the film completed by Dexter Fletcher).

I quite enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody!  Freddie Mercury has a very interesting life story; he’s a great subject for a film.  I had no idea, for example, that his real name was, Farrokh Bulsara, and that his family were Indian Zoroastrians!

This film succeeds primarily because of Rami Malek’s exuberant, exhilarating performance as Freddie Mercury.  Mr. Malek’s passion for this character and this project really shows through.  Freddie Mercury was such a unique figure, with such a distinct voice, that I’d have thought it’d be an enormous challenge to portray him on film, and yet Mr. Malek thoroughly inhabits Mr. Mercury on screen.  It’s quite astounding, doubly so because Mr. Malek (despite the fake teeth and various hairstyles used in the film) doesn’t really look much of anything like Mr. Mercury.  And yet, he FEELS like Mr. Mercury.  Mr. Malek is incredibly magnetic on screen.  This is a full-throated, movie-star caliber performance.  I have been a fan of Mr. Malek’s ever since his strong work in the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks miniseries The Pacific; but this work is several large steps above above anything I have ever seen him do before.

This film is packed with so much fun music.  They have done a great job weaving a ton of classic Queen songs into the film, beautifully recreated by the cast.  When we hear Freddie sing in the film, it’s apparently a collaboration between Rami Malek and singer Marc Martel.  The result is really great!  This is one of the most impressive aspects of Mr. Malek’s overall performance.

The film culminates in a lengthy recreation of Queen’s 1985 performance at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium.  This sequence is a bit indulugent (it’s longer than in needs to be), but I can easily forgive that indulgence because the sequence has been so skillfully created.  The filmmakers clearly went to a lot of trouble and expense to mount this recreation of this enormous live concert.  The film’s cast/band is at the top of their game, brilliantly recreating this iconic Queen performance.  It’s a joyous, exhilarating conclusion to the film.

My main complaint about Bohemian Rhapsody is that it sticks rather closely … [continued]