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Rocketman – A SPOILER FREE Movie Review


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Taron Egerton has arrived. Make no mistake about this point. Following his work as Elton John in the explosive, propulsive and ebullient Rocketman, Egerton leaps from nice actor to leading man.

“Leaps” is it the correct verb.

His work in the movie will, likely, be endlessly compared to Rami Malek’s as Freddie Mercury in last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Obviously, Malek was terrific (and took home the Best Actor Academy Award) but Egerton goes him one better. In Bohemian Rhapsody Malek provided an almost note perfect impression of Mercury. In Rocketman, Egerton makes the audience believe he is Elton John and when the movie launches into a frame-by-frame recreation of one of the singer’s most iconic music videos, Egerton owns it in a way only a performer can. He does not simply ape Elton John, he becomes him and, for the run of the movie, manages to replace him.

It is amazing work.

From its opening scene, Rocketman tells the audience that it is not a rote biopic and, for some, I suspect that will be a bit off putting. The trailers have only hinted at the extent that the tagline “Based on a True Fantasy” is an operative directive for this movie. Believe it. This movie, while concerned with telling Elton John’s amazing and often quite sad story, is not preoccupied with delivering in pseudo-documentary fashion. Rather it invites the audience into the frenzy and fashion and frenzy of Elton John’s life and it does so rather well.

Egerton is terrific and does remarkable work with Elton John’s music. In the run up to the movie, it seemed an odd choice not to use the music icon’s voice and accompaniments during the movie, but the structure of the film more than justifies this decision and Egerton holds up his end of the bargain. Supported by Jamie Bell and collaborator Bernie Taupin and Richard Madden as unscrupulous manager John Reid (along with a dark turn by an all but unrecognizable Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton John’s mother), Egerton explodes off the screen in musical numbers that are electric and in despair that is endless.

The movie looks amazing with a production design that befits the flamboyance of the lead character and each time period in Elton John’s life is masterfully recreated. That director Dexter Fletcher was able to mount this production while pinch hitting in the eleventh hour on the troubled Bohemian Rhapsody is something of a feat in-and-of-itself.

There are a few moments where Rocketman seems to struggle against itself, losing its momentum as it illustrates scene after scene of Elton John’s struggles with self doubt and isolation. Perhaps this is by design – as the character bogs down in his challenges, the movie does as well. That it sacrifices a bit of the excitement of the early reels in this shift is to be expected and it does regain its energy with a terrific number by the end. Rocketman ends as a wonderful if sometimes distressing love song about one of the greatest pop artists of all time and does so – seemingly – without sugar coating its subject. It is not perfect, but it is perfectly earnest and engaging. And the performance by its star alone makes it worth seeing.

ROCKETMAN receives FOUR CRIES FOR HELP out of a possible FIVE

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Long Shot – A Movie Review


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Both Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen are incredibly likable in Long Shot, a romantic comedy, beauty and the beast story that places old acquaintances Theron (as the Secretary of State) and Rogen (as a crusading, social justice warrior) in each others’ paths 20 years after their last contact. That last contact was a particularly embarrassing one of Rogen and a particularly important one for Theron.

Long Shot‘s stars a loaded with charisma and share a surprising amount of chemistry as they make their way through a plot line that the audience has seen before: boy and girl re-meet after years, boy and girl think they like each other, obstacles get in the way of their budding romance, boy and girl have to decide what they will do for their love.

I’ve got chills. They’re multiplyin’.

No one, however, in under any delusions that Long Shot is Shakespeare and no one needs to be. Long Shot, primarily, falls nicely into the respected and time-honored genre of romantic comedies and it works very nicely as one. Theron is a remarkable actress, but she never feels here that she is above the material. Rather she seems like she is having a terrific time. And Rogen, who can be incredibly funny, tamps down his more overt antics in favor of creating a character that might actually be able to exist in Theron’s world. The movie does a great job selling this relationship and giving it just enough emotional heft to carry the film.

However, there are moments in Long Shot where it is clear the movie loses track of what it wants to be. Is it going to be a romantic comedy of old or a raunchy comedy of today. In trying too hard to straddle this line, Long Shot squanders potential. Much more a romantic comedy, the movie seems disjointed and trying too hard each time it introduces and over-the-top sequence in an attempt to shock to amuse.

But, as a slight and fun diversion, one could do much worse than taking a flyer on it. Long Shot delivers more than enough laughs as it relies on the wattage of its stars to justify a viewing… if you like this sort of thing. And it does something else that lovers of this genre demand: it gives the audience a wrap up to let us know where the characters go after the end credits!

LONG SHOT receives THREE AND A HALF SECRET SERVICE MEN out of a possible FIVE







LONG SHOT receives THREE AND A HALF SECRET SERVICE MEN out of a possible FIVE

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Avengers | Endgame – A SPOILER FREE Movie Review


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It is very difficult to review Avengers | Endgame without spoiling something. One of the recurring reactions during this movie was “how did they hide THAT?!?” In this age of spoilers, the fact that so much of this movie unfolded without the audience knowing what was coming next is something of a superheroic accomplishment in-and-of-itself. I found myself shocked and pleased by each successive surprise and, as I consider the movie a few days after seeing it, utterly pleased by each-and-every moment that directors Joe and Anthony Russo and the screen writers packed into this 3 hour movie, a runtime that never once felt long.

There is much to accomplish in this movie. If the title and the press is to be believed, it is the wrap up of 22 prior films and provides a coda to the story line that was originated in 2008’s Iron Man. The most impressive feat of the movie is that it lives up to those expectations. It accomplishes all it sets out to do and it is surprisingly funny in doing so.

We know the story: following the events of Avengers | Infinity War half of the population of the universe has been annihilated and the surviving Avengers are wrestling with what to next. Can they find a way to undo what Thanos’ snap accomplished? Do they continue to “avenge” in this new world? Are they done with the superhero game all together?

One of the most impressive things about the movie is that any and all of the above answers seem possible. The audience has very little idea of where this movie is going to take them (even if they assume that time travel is, in fact, involved). Somehow, the filmmakers manage to engage, amuse and surprise with this Tale to Astonish and the ride is terrifically fun.

But the stakes are real. They are high. There are repercussions. Deaths count. Actions have reactions. Decisions have consequences.

That’s a good thing after the emotional investment many have made in these movies and in these characters.

One of the things that have set these Marvel Studios films apart is the spot-on casting and the all-in nature of the performances that the actors have given in their iconic roles. Robert Downey, jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner – the original Avengers – are all so very good in this movie as they have been in all of these Marvel films, that one hates to see the closing credits roll. Without question, things have changed. The endgame has been reached. Each of these actors has terrific moments in the movie and each deserves them. Likely we will never see them assembled together in quite the same way.

Telling a “last” chapter is a challenging thing. Think of the final installments that have preceded this movie. They are often less than fulfilling either as a conclusion to running plot lines. They are often less than fulfilling as a conclusion to emotional arcs. Avengers | Endgame satisfies on both of these fronts and on so many more.

If this is truly the end, what a magnificent end it is!

AVENGERS | ENDGAME receives FIVE CODAS out of a possible FIVE

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Breakthrough – A Movie Review


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I am glad we live in a world where movies like Breakthrough get made and are in wide release. I am glad there is a market for movies like this and I have found that, in the Easter season, they fill a emotional and thematic space that needs filling.

At least for me.

Starring Chrissy Metz of This Is Us fame, Breakthrough tells the (based on a) true story of John Smith, a eighth grader who falls through the ice of a St. Louis river and dies only to somewhat miraculously come back to life after doctors have given up hope. Metz is excellent as Joyce Smith, a devout Christian mother who is struggling with her son growing up and with the new pastor at her mega-church. The underappreciated Josh Lucas is, well, underappreciated here as her husband Brian and is given too little to do. Topher Grace (so creepily good in last year’s BlackKklansman) is Jason Noble, the pastor of the Smith’s mega-church and Joan’s foil for most of the film.

John’s death and recovery are, obviously, the engine that makes Breakthrough run. The horrific accident and the rescue efforts both in the water and at the hospital are really well documented and engaging. Metz proves her mettle as she prays for God to bring back her son and then spends much of the rest of the movie incredulously opposed to those who would suggest to her that the recovery is anything but a miracle and that those who would suggest that anything other than Joe regaining his former life before the fall are not welcome, that their support is not needed.

Where the movie has any conflict is here: Brian and Pastor Jason are not as fully faithful as Joyce and the tension among them on this point ignites a bit of theological debate on the nature of faith.

But only a little.

Breakthrough is a paint-by-number movie, holding no real surprises for the audience. Fortunately for me, I like this particular canvas and it gave me all I wanted.

(And Chrissy Metz has a terrific voice – that’s her over the closing credits)

BREAKTHROUGH receives THREE AND A HALF CHRISTIAN RAPPERS out of a possible FIVE

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Countdown to ENDGAME | Thor | Ragnarok


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Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk| Iron Man II Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Captain America: Civil War | Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther | Avengers: Infinity War | Ant-Man and the Wasp | Captain Marvel

Thor | Ragnarok

Thor Rag

It is said of Thor | Ragnarok that director Taika Waititi allowed his cast to improvise wildly on set. Re-watching the movie, it is obvious this is true. The film is almost as fun as the Guardians of the Galaxy installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and has a villain in Cate Blanchett’s Hela that is far superior to any adversary the Guardians faced. Add to the mix a truly wonderful character in Valkyrie and you have all the ingredients of a superior superhero film if…

… you ignore the fact that the deus ex machina at end of the movie and the salvation of the Asgardian people is, essentially, the exact same one utilized at the conclusion of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

This movie is a significant set up for Infinity War, far more a lead in than Black Panther, which immediately precedes it. It also is significant fun in its own right. Far superior to Thor: The Dark WorldRagnarok is more confident and knows what it wants to accomplish. It closes a number of plot lines while advancing others. Great movie. Great performances. Great fun.

(But it does have THE WORST soundtrack – bracketing Immigrant Song – of all the Marvel movies – it is really bad)

Thor | Ragnarok is a terrifically fun movie and, when it opened last fall, I gave it FOUR and a HALF AIR CRAZY CAMEOS out of a possible FIVE. 


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • Scourge
  • Hela, Goddess of Death, sister of Thor and Loki
  • Valkyrie
  • The Grandmaster
  • Korg
  • Thor’s new “Thunder” power

CONNECTION(S) TO ENDGAME:

  • Thor starts the film by informing the audience what he has been doing since we last saw him: he has been searching for the Infinity Stones and he has not found any.
  • Thor has an extended (albeit utterly unnecessary) conversation with Doctor Strange.
  • “Fake” Infinity Gauntlet – apparently the gauntlet that Odin has (along with some other trinkets in his trophy room) are fake. When Hela gives Scourge a tour, they also pass the Tesseract – the Space Stone – one of the Infinity Stones Thanos will pursue in Infinity War. Did Loki steal it before the destruction of Asgard, by-the-way?
  • Oh, so this is where the Hulk has been!
  • We know from Infinity War that things for the Asgardian refugees did not go well.

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Countdown to ENDGAME | Spider-Man | Homecoming


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Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk| Iron Man II Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Captain America: Civil War | Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther | Avengers: Infinity War | Ant-Man and the Wasp | Captain Marvel

Spider-Man | Homecoming

SpiderMan

Tom Holland is perfect as Spider-Man. Perfect. Marvel directors seem to have unerring instincts in casting and their choice for Spider-Man (who debuted in Captain America: Civil War – a film creatively revisited in this one) in Tom Holland is spot-on. This is a very fun film and does a massive amount of world building while telling a compelling Spider-Man story, too. The filmmakers based their take on the high school movies of John Hughes, and they do a great job generating that vibe.

Spider-Man | Homecoming is absolutely jam-packed with delightful easter eggs… Bruce Banner’s picture on a classroom wall display of famous scientists, the principal of Peter’s school is the grandson of a solider who fought with Captain America in World War II, Captain America’s educational videos, the Sokovia Accords, Donald Glover (soon to explode as Lando Calrissian is on hand), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is on screen, and Jennifer Connelly – the wife of Paul Bettany who provides the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. and is the Vision – is the voice of Peter’s suit, which he names Karen. There are many more and, somehow, they do not overwhelm the movie.

Spider-Man | Homecoming also features one of the best Marvel villains in Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Fun, breezy and suitably Marvel, this is the second best of all Spider-Man movies (it does trail Spider-Man 2 by a pretty wide margin). It is also the most multi-cultural of all the Marvel movies (prior to Black Panther) and that casting serves it very well. There are a series of great set pieces here and the interplay between Spider-Man and Iron Man is fun to watch. It is so pervasive, however, that it does lead one to question whether Spider-Man will be able to carry his own movie.

Oh, and the twist ending is very, very well handled.

When Spider-Man | Homecoming opened, I gave it FOUR AND A HALF (because Holland is just SO good) FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOODS out of a possible FIVE.


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • Adrian Toomes, The Vulture
  • Damage Control
  • MJ (Mary Jane, perhaps?)
  • The Shocker (two, in fact!)
  • Aaron Davis (the Prowler)
    • Miles Morales is referenced… he will become a Spider-Man, too!
  • Phineas Mason, The Thinker

CONNECTION(S) TO ENDGAME:

  • For a movie that almost immediately precedes Infinity War, there are surprisingly few lead ins to the movie, however…
  • The so-called Iron Spider armor is introduced at the end of the film when Peter turns down Avengers membership. He accepts it in Infinity War.
  • Tony Stark’s relationship with Pepper Potts seems very much back on after the “break” the two were on in Civil War… and we certainly know more given that they are engaged in Infinity War.
  • The new Avengers upstate New York headquarters features prominently in the last act. We will be seeing more of it in ENDGAME.

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Countdown to ENDGAME | Captain America | Civil War


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ONE A WEEK UNTIL Avengers Infinity War opens in May!

Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk| Iron Man II Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Captain America: Civil War | Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther | Avengers: Infinity War | Ant-Man and the Wasp | Captain Marvel

Captain America | Civil War

Civil War Mondo

If you can get over the fact (and I think I have – it has taken me four years) that the plot of this movie hinges on the heroes acting exactly as the villain intends and that a two-decade old VHS tape must play in order for the movie to work, it is almost perfect.

Civil War transcends the typical trappings of “make heroes fight each other” and pits the Avengers against each other with stakes that seem real. While the team disintegrates, the movie, somehow, manages to perfectly introduce two major new characters: Black Panther and Spider-Man, both of whom who have since headlined movies of their own.

Add to the proceedings humor, brilliantly staged action and pathos, and you have an excellent movie and one of the best Marvel films. To paraphrase the title character: “I could watch this all day.”

By-the-way, though I think his plan would never have worked, the villain won in this one. The Avengers are, for all intents and purposes, no more at the end of this film.

I gave Captain America: Civil War FIVE VHS TAPES out of a possible FIVE when it came out. It deserved all five.


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • T’Chaka; king of Wakanda
  • T’Challa; The Black Panther
  • Everett Ross
  • Baron Helmut Zemo
  • Spider-Man
  • Aunt May

CONNECTION(S) TO INFINITY WAR:

  • Of all the films preceding it, Captain America | Civil War prepared for Infinity War in the most clear fashion. It left the Avengers broken and scattered. It leaves them ultra-vulnerable to an attack, like the attack Thanos mounted. They will come back together – we hope – in Endgame.
  • The Vision has a conversation with the Scarlet Witch about the Mind Stone embedded in his head which came from Loki’s staff and also created the Scarlet Witch’s powers.
  • The Winter Soldier is left in Wakanda at the end of the film. He will be there in both Black Panther and was there in Infinity War. Until he wasn’t.
  • “That shield doesn’t belong to you…” I do not know that the filmmakers knew what a key line that would be when they wrote it, but it set up Black Panther’s terrific “get this man a shield” line in Infinity War.

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