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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 | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


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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 

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

GotG2

Upon viewing the movie again for this countdown, I immediately started smiling when the first moment of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 unspooled. The prologue is great and the opening scene is perfect.

Most of the movie is perfect, actually. My complaint (and it feels nitpicking about a movie I enjoy as much as I do this one) is that it is a little over-packed. There is simply TOO MUCH. There are so many characters and subplots. It is as though writer/director James Gunn decided to give us everything we loved in Guardians of the Galaxy but, you know, more!

It works because the characters are so very appealing. Spending almost two and a half hours with them is a ton of fun. The film also gives the audience not one, not two, but a ridiculous five mid-to-end credit sequences. As mentioned earlier, the movie is terrific, if a bit indulgent,.

It also features the best Stan Lee cameo of them all – the one that explains ALL the other Stan Lee cameos. And, for what it is worth, there are homages here to The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Knight Rider, Star Trek V and, believe it or not, Mary Poppins!

And, another quick note,i n the overall sequence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is the only Marvel movie that comes right after its original. Vol. 2 takes place about 2 months after Vol. 1. At this time period in the Marvel movies, the Avengers have yet to encounter Ultron and the destruction of Sokovia is months away.

When I reviewed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 last summer when it was released, I gave it FOUR AND A HALF MIXTAPES out of a possible FIVE. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but the movie is a bit overpacked.


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • Ego (the Living Planet)
  • Mantis
  • Stakar
  • Taser Face
  • Ayesha
  • The Watchers
  • Adam (Warlock)

CONNECTION(S) TO ENDGAME:

  • The audience is reminded that Peter Quill can hold an Infinity Stone in his hand and not die. That may well be critical to the plot of Endgame. But it may not given how poorly he did in Infinity War. Didn’t he allow Thanos to succeed?
  • There is much talk about the Kree. Captain Marvel, as we now know from her triumphant movie debut, is a human/Kree hybrid and will be in Endgame.
  • All of the Guardians are critical to Endgame, one would think but, as the movie begins, only Rocket is actually still alive having been the only Guardian to escape “the Snap.”

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SHAZAM! – A SPOILER FREE Movie Review


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With the release of SHAZAM! it is very, very clear the powers that be charting the course of the DC Movie Universe have completely altered their direction. While the early offerings were dark, real-world and gritty, the latest films (Wonder Woman, Aquaman and, now, SHAZAM!) are wildly different in tone from the earlier offerings and from each other. This is not a bad thing at all and, if it accomplishes nothing else, it does set the DC movies apart from their Marvel counterparts.

SHAZAM! is a different creature from all of the mainstream superhero movies that precede it in that it embraces the nature of its story so completely and that nature is family. SHAZAM! is the first, true family superhero movie. And it works. Overtime.

Though it does not share the dark overtones of many of the DC films, it is clearly in the same universe and their are constant reminders of this fact. Telling the story of Billy Batson, a young foster child moved from home-to-home, SHAZAM! is also something of a superpowered homage to Tom Hanks’ classic BIG.

Billy receives magical powers from a wizard which turn him from a 15-year-old boy into a superpowered adult with untested and unknown abilities. Part of the fun of the film is watching Billy (Asher Angel) as Shazam (a terrific Zachary Levi) learn just what it is he can do. Aided by Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) , a foster child Billy meets in his latest home, Shazam learns he can fly, is amazingly strong and has “bullet immunity” among other things. The interplay between Angel and Grazer is almost as fun as the exchanges between Levi and Grazer, the constant being Jack Dylan Grazer. This kid is fun!

And so is the movie. With a plot line that tips its hat to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Monster, INC, Ghostbusters and Big, a wonderful turn by scenery-chewing Mark Strong as the unrepentantly evil Doctor Sivana and a major, last reel reveal that should delight even the most cynical among movie goers, SHAZAM! is a world of fun. Director David O. Sandberg leaned into the craziness that is the story of Shazam and that was absolutely the right decision. He also littered the movie with just enough fan service connecting it both to the DC movie universe and the comic book history of the title character.

Be sure you stick around for both post credit sequences. One is incredibly funny. The other is incredibly bizarre. Both fit SHAZAM! perfectly.

SHAZAM! receives FOUR AND A HALF MAGIC 8 BALLS out of a possible FIVE

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