“Rocketman” is the Elton John biopic that is both musical drama and comedy. I was able to see an early screening last week and because I’ve been so busy I have not yet been able to post a review at least until now. Let me just say I was really impressed with his film and I enjoyed it immensely. There are things about it that some may not care for, but if you like musicals, this is going to be your “cup of tea”.

Unlike last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, “Rocketman” does not attempt to tell the story of its subject in a linear fashion using the songs as a structure for the subjects chronology. Rather, the songs in this particular film appear in no particular order except to reflect events that happen in Elton’s life and make a particular point.

The story starts with a flashback to his childhood as he is coming to grips with his own demons. Elton John appears to have been a prodigy as a child when it came to listening to music. After briefly hearing a complicated piece of music he could reproduce it on his own on the piano. This talent made it possible for him to attend a Fine Arts Music Academy, where his talent could be developed. Since the story is based on Elton’s own ideas, it seems that the only person who backed up his desire to learn the piano and develop his talent was his grandmother. If Elton’s parents are still alive they might very well be disappointed at the way they have been portrayed on screen. His mother appears to be a lazy indifferent woman who had little interest in her son other than what he might do for her. His father was a cold hard man who did love jazz but seemed unable to share this love with his son. Much of what follows reflects Elton John’s attempt to connect with his parents through his fame and success in the pop music field.

The director of this film, Dexter Fletcher, who had a hand in completing Bohemian Rhapsody last year, has been given much greater freedom in telling the story of this pop phenomena. The musical sequences are staged very much like old style Hollywood film where the neighbors might form the chorus line and where the audience becomes a choir. We often fade out of a real world situation into a fantasy element which mirrors the emotion that are reflected in the story. Of course those emotions are heightened by the fantastic music of Elton John and the lyrics of his partner Bernie Taupin, played by Jamie Bell. The two actors who portrayed these partners do an excellent job but special credit certainly must go Taron Edgerton who not only does a credible impression of Elton John as a character, but also performs the songs himself lending credence to the scene by using his own voice. Edgerton is not the only person who sings on screen several secondary characters also have moments where they a warble a few lines or sing the chorus of one of those very familiar tunes.

There are some fantastic visual elements in the film highlighted by the depiction of Elton John’s star making turn at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. This was a concert that I remember reading about in the Los Angeles Times back when I was in middle school. The dynamic performance and the setting turned an English pop star, who is not yet famous in his own country, into one of the biggest stars in the United States. This galvanizing event brings John and Taupin into the Southern California music scene where the usual tropes of a rock and roll tragedy and then redemption are played out. There is of course a great deal of attention paid to Elton’s use of alcohol and drugs and the effect they had on his mood and self esteem. The biggest negative however appears to be, the romance he began with a man who became his American manager, played by Richard Madden.  The passion that he felt is portrayed on the screen effectively but so is the disappointment that he has in this fickle and somewhat backstabbing character.

Of course other highlights in the film include mini concert performances including his appearance at Dodger Stadium in front of a massive crowd. Even in this grandiose setting however, we can see the faults in Elton John’s emotional journey. We sympathize with the contradictory circumstances of his professional success versus his personal failures. There is a devastating scene where Elton connects with his father and the father’s new family. It’s easy to understand how a relationship like this could drive his ambition but frustrate his heart. Taron Edgerton manages to pull on our heart strings but also frustrate us with his depiction of Elton’s poor choices. It’s only after Elton reaches bottom, including a brief marriage to a woman he barely knew and whose heart he broke, did he begins to come to grips with his faults. Again the musical sequences dramatize these events very effectively and in a completely different way did the diorama version of Freddie Mercury that we got last year.rocketman

If it weren’t for the fact the Bohemian Rhapsody received award attention this last season, “Rocketman” would be a contender for many prestigious film awards next year. It is somewhat hard to imagine that the Academy would give it’s award for performance, two years in a row, to an actor portraying a pop star. If ever it was necessary to repeat yourself at the Oscars this year should be one of those situations, Edgerton is that good.

My daughter is not a huge fan of Elton John but she was looking forward to this film quite a bit because she is a fan of young Edgerton and loved him both in Kingsmen and Eddie the Eagle. Surprisingly, she only recognized about a third of the songs in the film. I on the other hand,  knew every song and was suitably impressed by the way they were being used by the film makers. Both of us felt that this was one of the more satisfying films we’ve seen this year and we look forward to revisiting it when it opens wide next week.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Upfront I want anyone reading this to know that I am a big fan of “Kingsman:The Secret Service“. I am a sucker for British Spies and that maniacal dip into comic laced espionage was one of my favorite films of 2015. The cast was great and the over the top violence made the film feel very cartoonish in a good way. As a consequence, “The Golden Circle” enters this year’s movie experiences as one of my most anticipated films. I looked forward to further adventures and there was a promise of a returned Colin Firth, which made me want to know how they were going to pull that off. The advance information also tipped us to the fact that we would connect with the American counterpart of the private intelligence agency, so this stoked my interest even more. The director, Matthew Vaughn, has made several films that I really enjoy, including my favorite film of 2010, so I had great confidence in his ability to pull this movie together. Such confidence has been rewarded my friends. “The Golden Circle” is what you hope it will be for the most part.

One of the things that I find attractive about the series is that it is not afraid to be a little politically incorrect. James Bond might be a sexist pig, but his attitude is always tempered by a PG-13 rating. Kingsman goes all out in using sexual exploitation for humorous purposes and that might make the series unappetizing to film goes who want their movies to be socially just. In “The Secret Service” there is a punchline based on a promise of a forbidden sex act. It’s just the thing a 12 year old mentality would laugh at and the film is upfront about that. That joke was one of the widely criticized moments of the first film. Writer/Director Vaughn has taken that joke and turned it into a plot point for this film. I really appreciated that the Princess Tilde returns to this franchise in a greatly expanded role and with a lot more dignity. That however allows the original tasteless joke to be a background to two sexually inappropriate moments of humor in this film, one of them involving Elton John. The other moment will be the focus of criticism by haters for this film. It involves a GPS device and the mucus membrane, and it certainly is a sequence that will make delicate sensibilities squirm. That plot point aside, most of the rest of the film is standard comic violence with over the top moments of gruesomeness.

There is a second aspect of this film that I really appreciate as well. The plots of both of these movies turn trendy social issues on their heads and use them as the motivation for the villain’s plot. Global Warming was the theme of the first film, Drug Legalization is the driving force for this movie. The aptly named Poppy, played by Julianne Moore, is motivated to make her product socially acceptable through the use of international hostage taking. It is a creative plan that to a large degree mimics the plot of the first film but still manages to allow some twists in the story. There is a great shot against the U.N. that puts the U.S. President in the story. Unlike the feckless Obama impersonator in the first film, this character gets lines and is played by a recognizable actor, Bruce Greenwood. His approach to the plot is as deranged as Poppy’s so the two intelligence agencies here are caught between a rock and a hard place.  The only thing missing from this is a satisfying comeuppance for the players, in the manner of the delightful head exploding climax of the first film.


Restoring Harry Hart to the storyline of the Kingsman is tricky. Being shot in the face is a pretty definitive exit for a character. I appreciated that the solution here was not a quick fix and it ends up being a secondary plotline in the story. There is a pivotal point with a dog and that also insures additional pleasure for most viewers.  Colin Firth adds so much class to the project and in future episodes (should they be made) his character will lend gravitas to the proceedings. We do lose a couple of characters that really could have made future stories great as well, but in the long run the films have to circle around Taron Egerton’s Eggsy and Firth’s Harry Hart.

The Statesmen organization has several good characters to add to the film. Jeff Bridges is a welcome addition to any film and Halle Berry is a fun match for the American version of Mark Strong’s character of Merlin. At the moment, these are background players, the really active American counterparts are played by Pedro Pascal and Channing Tatum. The major drawback that I have with the film is the under utilization of Tatum’s character “Tequila”.  After a solid introduction, he is sidelined for the remainder of the picture. Pascal’s “Whiskey” has to carry the American load and does so effectively for most of the picture. There are some twists that feel a bit forced but they do make for a rousing conclusion to the movie.

While there is nothing as excessive as the church scene from the first film here, there are some great action scenes that use the mix of slow motion and accelerated filming that the church sequence used. This style appears to be Vaughn’s signature touch and although it might be a bit cliched if over used, I thought it was reasonably judicious here. A cab chase at the start of the film and the final attack on the secret lair both take advantage of that style and it works well in those scenes. Much of the rest of the film is presented more traditionally, including initiation rituals for the bad guys and Elton John’s scenes. Oh yeah, did I mention that Elton is in the movie? He is pretty funny sending himself up in feathered costumes and parodying his own drug troubles. Julianne Moore gets to abuse him a little but he verbally gives it right back in great comic form.

This movie can’t quite reach the satisfaction level of the original, few sequels manage to do so. “The Golden Circle” however does entertain and it meets our need to have the action a little bit bigger and the comedy a little bit broader. It is jammed with characters that complicate the story but also provide a lot of jokes. They have managed to bring back a character from the dead in a credible way for an improbable, over the top, spy adventure. I don’t know that it will win over many converts. If you disliked the first film you will certainly not care for this movie. If however, you are like me and took fiendish pleasure in the undermining of political correctness and the shear joy of silly violence just for the comedic effect, than the Kingsman Golden Circle is tailored perfectly for you.

Eddie the Eagle

I always turn to the sports page first. The sports page records people’s accomplishments; the front page nothing but man’s failures.”– Chief Justice of the U.S. Earl Warren

I love some sports because of the drama inherent in the competition. I love all sports ultimately because of the drama inherent in taking a sport seriously and trying to do your best. “Eddie the Eagle” might at first seem an odd subject for an inspirational story. The real world character appeared to be a bit of a joke at the time he made his Olympic appearance, and let’s face it. he was not a winner by any stretch of the imagination. He was however different, and judged by the true spirit of the Olympic games, he may be one of the biggest winners of all time. It’s unfortunate in my mind that the world as become so cynical, that a sweet, inspiring movie like this will be crushed underfoot by other films that will be forgotten in a week, despite their budgets. 

This is a small story about an unusual character,  it fits into the “Inspirational Failure” category of films pioneered by the original “Rocky”. Since the main events of the story really did happen, it has a place in popular culture outside of the movie context and it is hard to understand why it would not be more successful, except that “upbeat” and “inspiring” seem to have become negative descriptions in Hollywood these days. Eddie was not a fool, and in fact he was portrayed as a competent skier ( and in real life, he narrowly missed being on the British Downhill skiing team). What is accurate is that he switched to ski jumping to give himself a better chance at making the Olympics, even though he had little experience. 


Taron Edgerton from last years great “Kingsman: The Secret Service”  plays the adult Eddie after a quick opening section showing Eddie as a child and as a teen. One of the things that help make this movie work is that it does not spend a long time following the child Eddie but uses him simply to set up the contemporary version. It keeps the story focused and it avoids some of the wandering that traditional biopics sometimes get lost in. We get to know him as the awkward, sincere and somewhat innocent athlete who strives to be the best he can, but falls short of the Olympic ideal that he holds out for himself. The movie plays up a battle and antagonism between himself and the British Olympic Committee as a way of building tension and I thought that the largely fictional characters played by Hugh Jackman and Christopher Walken help get the focus on the issue of his desire rather than on the showboating. The IOC has since instituted qualifying rules that would keep out someone like this, but much like the Jamaican Bobsled team, these are the kinds of stories that make sports so compelling. Competition at elite levels is important, but we need the “Rudy” type characters to be able to be part of the pageant of sport as well. 

This movie gets a lot of comedic value out of the situation, but never at the expense of the character. He always comes across as passionate and a big dreamer. Exactly the kind of person who would ask a world champion for some tips and who would not mean it ironically. I doubt that it is true but there was a nice moment when Eddie is going up the lift for his big moment when he encounters the World’s Greatest shi jumper, and they share a moment that is about sports and not about winning. If we could get that kind of moment more often in real life, people who see sports as unimportant or distracting from more significant pursuits would get a chance to know the impact that sports can have on character. We have far too many examples of negative sports characters that have dominated the world lately, it’s really important to have some from the other end of the spectrum on a regular basis to balance out the less pleasant aspects of competition. 

Jackman plays a cliche role created for the purpose of making the story “more” than just the journey of Eddie, and I liked the fact that he was willing to be in the background for much of the film. The director, actor Dexter Fletcher, manages to make us cringe with every vertigo inducing view of the ski jumps and we flinch when we see the mistakes that inevitably are part of the world of ski jumping. If you are too young to remeber “the Agony of Defeat” take a quick look at this clip:

A ski accident happens at 70 miles an hour and it isn’t pretty. Several times I looked over and saw my daughter cringing behind her hands as the true danger of the sport was exhibited. Ultimately, the thrill of victory, even a small one, seems to be enough to get a dedicated person to take the risk. “Eddie the Eagle” is a touching reminder that while not all of us are gold medalists, it is our hearts that ultimately make a soar like eagles.