‘Rocketman’ Review

Everyone who knows me knows I love a good musical/musician biopic. I was not a fan of last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody because of the terrible script, but I love Walk the Line, DreamGirls, A Star is Born 2018, Sing Street, Blinded by the Light, Love and Mercy and many more. A good musician piece uses the music and tropes of the genre to draw the viewer in and make for a satisfying heroes journey. However, for every film that gets the balance right there’s tons that get it wrong. After being burned by Bohemian Rhapsody I approached the biopic about Elton John called  Rocketman cautiously. Fortunately, I kind of loved it!

ROCKETMAN

What I loved so much about Rocketman is how fresh and new it felt. Sure it hits the traditional beats but the fantasy elements helped everything feel alive and the use of the music was so creatively done! There would be a basic moment and then it would cut away to a musical fantasy sequence put to Elton John’s songs. This was so much better than a dry boring version of his rock n’ roll story.

The casting is also phenomenal. Taron Egerton is perfect as Elton John and his singing voice is so good (any of us who enjoyed Sing already knew that). I also loved Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin (the real hero of the movie!) and the 2 little boys who play young Elton (or Reggie I should say) do a great job. Richard Madden is very dreamy as John Reid (his role is a bit one-note but I didn’t really care because the movie is so over-the-top it fit to have a big bad hunky villain).

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The concert scenes were great and heightened by the incredible costumes by Julian Day and the energy/singing of Taron Egerton’s takes on Elton John’s fantastic songs. It was like Across the Universe but way better.

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Going into it I heard a lot of talk of it being a strong R rating and maybe I’ve been desensitized, but I have to disagree. Everything seemed totally conventional on that level to other biopics (alcoholism, drug use, a little profanity). Honestly unless a gay relationship/intimate scene depicted makes something R, which it shouldn’t, it seemed no more offensive than the PG-13 Bohemian Rhapsody.

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Finally, I loved the message of Rocketman. Like many a biopic, it’s about overcoming demons and the power of a creative genius at work; however, I also responded to the theme of dealing with loneliness and never giving up hope for a happy life. I especially loved the relationship between Bernie and Elton both as a creative force together and a friendship that never had an argument. It’s a beautiful, hopeful thing and will make you want to call your friends and thank them for being there for you.

The only flaws I have with Rocketman are more nitpicks. Bryce Dallas Howard didn’t quite work for me as his Mom and there were a couple characters I could have seen more of or gotten to know better.

Mostly I loved the creative vision of Rocketman. It was new and vibrant and had me grinning from ear to ear the entire time (even the grim sections were done with so much visual flair that I thoroughly enjoyed them). Go see it! It’s terrific!

smile worthy

9 out of 10

 

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Blind Spot 32: Young Girls of Rochefort

I’m really glad I decided to make Jacques Demy’s classic The Young Girls of Rochefort  my August Blind Spot pick because it seems like such an interesting forebearer to films such as the recent Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and certainly the Oscar winning La La Land. In fact, after seeing it, I almost feel like Damien Chazelle took the happy moments from Rochefort and the sad moments from Umbrellas of Cherbourg and birthed a movie. They are so similar it is weird- even the score sounds the same.

Anyway, it’s easy to see why filmmakers like Chazelle would be inspired by Jacques Demy as both Umbrellas and Rochefort are incredible films. Rochefort like Mamma Mia 2 is an effervescent bubbly celebration of love, and I kind of loved it! (Obviously Mamma Mia 2 isn’t near as good but it does have a similar tone)

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The story isn’t very important to Rochefort but it follows twin sisters Delphine and Solange (Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac who are real life sisters) as they meet 2 carnies Etienne and Bill (George Chakiris and Grover Dale) and have a romantic adventure for the weekend.

We also learn about their mother Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux) who had a love that she foolishly let go as a young woman because she didn’t want to have his last name. She meets her former love Simon (Michel Piccoli) and his American colleague Andy (Gene Kelly) and has her own romantic adventure.

And that’s about it. The movie isn’t about the story. It’s about the continual singing, great choreography and an overall feeling of joy. Just look at the opening ballet number and how much fun it is (and how much La La Land used for its opening number!)

I love that this movie took real care to make the singing and dancing great. It does not feel half-baked at all.  They dubbed all the singers so that the singing would be good. They have very impressive dancing throughout and all the costumes and colors are so dazzling.

Look at this effervescent delightful scene with Gene Kelly. The tap dancing at the end is perfection

I probably still like Umbrellas of Cherboug a little better because it is so moving but The Young Girls of Rochefort has definitely taken a place in my heart. I can watch Cherboug when I want something deep and watch Rochefort when I want to smile. Well done Jacques Demy!!

The Young Girls of Rochefort is definitely smile worthy!

smile worthy

La La Land Review

la-la-land-reviewsIn 2014 Damien Chazelle directed the music-oriented thriller Whiplash to great acclaim. I liked that movie but not nearly as much as most people I know. His latest music-oriented romance La La Land I like much better, but I still don’t know if I love it as much as most. If there ever was a case of being a bit disappointed a film is only in my top 10 of the year than this is it. It’s lovely, nostalgic and a joy to watch but not the perfect movie I was hoping for.

La La Land starts out as an homage to old school Hollywood musicals like Singing in the Rain and American in Paris. In probably my favorite sequence, we are introduced to the world of LA through a musical sequence on the crowded LA freeway.

la-la-land5Then we meet our lead characters- struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone). They meet through a series of meet-cutes and it is their dreams of artistic greatness that unite them and help them to fall in love. That is the theme of the movie that there is something noble about those who dream and keep trying to succeed in LA.

However, I must warn you guys. If you are expecting a Broadway style musical you might be disappointed.  La La Land clearly shows Damien Chazelle’s jazz background. In fact, I would call it more a jazz/dance showcase than a musical. In the middle there really aren’t any songs aside from a song played by Sebastian’s band and him playing jazz at a piano. Ryan Gosling rarely sings in the movie and when he does it is more a gravely quiet voice not a Broadway style singing voice. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s just what it is.

la-la-land2There’s more dancing than singing than I expected, and I particularly enjoyed a tap dancing sequence called A Lovely Night. This captured the nostalgia that Chazelle was going for.

The side characters including John Legend aren’t developed very well but it doesn’t really matter because Gosling and Stone have terrific chemistry. You bought them as these struggling artists and hoped they could find a way to both achieve their dreams. la-la-land4The cinematography by Linus Sandgren is lovely and I completely understand why everyone in LA is going so nuts for it- their city never looked better. It would be a funny comparison to look at this and Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups back to back. You couldn’t get two more different interpretations of the movie industry and LA!

However, the true star of La La Land is the score by Justin Hurwitz. It is without a doubt the best of the year. Especially if you love jazz music you will love this score! Most of the songs didn’t stand out to me the way the songs in Sing Street or Moana did but the score was beautiful. la-la-land3La La Land at its core is a movie about work, which is a subject close to my heart and something I often contemplate. The dreams of Sebastian and Mia are ostensibly about their jobs. They aren’t dreaming about families or possessions. In fact, such things are literally hindrances from achieving their dreams. They want to do something great- meaning they want to have their dream jobs in the movies and music.

The interesting question the film fails to ask (and fails in Whiplash also) is does this dream when granted equal a happy life? You will have to see how their dreaming impacts their love in the movie but in my experience happiness is more ephemeral than can be contained in ANY job. Perhaps the movie argues that art/music is where the real happiness comes from but that feels a little hollow to me compared to the happiness of family and faith. Also, the movie dove a little bit into the sacrifices of dreams couples must make in order to be together, but I could have used even more of that.

Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent. La La Land is a beautiful movie about dreamers with a jazz showcase of songs and music. What’s not to like about that? It’s light, fluffy and very entertaining to watch. I did not connect with it as emotionally as Sing Street or Moana and none of the songs were as good as those movies songs but it still was a very enjoyable, engaging film.

I think a lot of people who don’t typically like musicals will like this film because the songs are fairly sparse and done in a jazzy way not a Broadway style. It’s something couples should see together- once on Netflix it will be the perfect cuddle movie.

I guess it might sound like I am being critical of it but I really did love the film. It was wistful, nostalgic and magical. However, I’m not sure how long it will stay with me and if it will be a favorite musical of mine the way I’m sure Sing Street and Moana will. But that’s just me. It’s still really good! You should all see it.

Overall Grade- B

My youtube review

Favorite Villain and Forgotten Disney Songs

I just thought I would quickly share with you guys 2 videos I did this week that relate to Disney music. I participate as part of my youtube channel in a series called The Friday 5. This is where we get a topic and have to pick 5 songs for that topic.

Well, this week the topic was ‘favorite Disney villain songs’. But I got confused and thought it was wild card week so I initially posted ‘favorite forgotten Disney songs’.  Then realizing my mistake I went back and did a villain song post as well (these Friday 5 videos are pretty easy to put together).

I am trying to use songs I haven’t already used on the Friday 5 so a few were out for that reason but I think I came up with good lists. For the Forgotten Songs it is more forgotten by general masses not Disney nerds who read this blog, so keep that in mind.

Let me know what you think and enjoy!

and Forgotten Disney songs

Blind Spot 4: Yentl

yentlEvery time I see a Barbra Streisand movie I think ‘this is the most Barbra movie ever made’ and then I see another and quickly recant my words. There is something about her brand of ego that is like no other. She’s the Shyamalan of actresses. Yentl is one of the most ridiculous entries in the Barbra canon.  It’s not a good film but there is something about it’s version of nonsense that is entertaining.

Yentl is based on Isaac Baschevis Singer’s short story ‘Yentl the Yeshiva Boy’ and tells the story of a woman named Yentl who pretends to be a man to study at the Talmud school in Poland.

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Sing it Barbra!

On the surface it could be a decent Mulan-type movie but oh does it get silly. It ends up being a yiddish telenovella, and I found that fun to watch.

To begin with any man who thinks Yentl is a man needs to see counseling. She looks ridiculous. Mandy Patinkin is charming as that man named Avigdor. He is Yentl’s school chum and he can’t figure out why he is so attracted to this man. Their dialogue together is so laughable. Never have you heard such philosophy talk with long stares and confused glances.  You even see way more of Patinkin than you want in a bathing scene. Oh my!

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I’m going to touch you a lot even though I think you are a man. The Talmud never inspired such hot tension before

And then he is engaged to a girl named Hadass played by Amy Irving who is a dutiful woman who Yentl oddly judges and envies. In an insane turn of events Yentl ends up married to Hadass. I can’t even begin to tell you how entertaining that dialogue was. Ha.

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Tell me more about female empowerment you sexy fool…

And let’s talk about the songs. The songs are terrible. ‘Papa, Can You Hear Me’ is passable but the rest are awful and Barbra is the only one who sings a line in the entire movie and not just sings but acts like she is in a cabaret, really mugging it up to the camera. And the songs are so obviously lip synced and often are her thoughts being sung while she stares longingly at Patinkin. It felt like a silent movie sometimes she was so over the top!

And the lyrics are awful. The rhymes were particularly embarrassing. I especially liked

“Who cares when the food’s so delicious
‘Not to mention these beautiful dishes”

“A matched set- from France yet
No wonder he loves her,
No wonder to me
With ribbons and laces
In all the right places,”

And these silly lyrics all while Barbra is acting like she is singing the Star Spangled Banner. Hilarious.

Yentle wants to be all things in the film.  It is part drama, part coming of age, a musical, comedy, sex farce, romantic comedy and all Barbra. I thought the Mirror Has Two Faces was her most ridiculously entertaining movie but this may be even better (that movie has no songs). In Mirror she plays a woman who decides to marry a man with the agreement they won’t let sex get in the way.  Ha! Only Barbra would think of these stories.

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I’m not just Barbra. I’m short hair Barbra.

And the supposed empowering dialogue between Yentl and Avigdor is laughable. Barbra and Patinkin have decent chemistry and it is kind of fun to see them wonder about their gender identities but it is all so silly. From a modern audience you just want to say ‘make out already!’ because such a scene would fit in with the campy dialogue and dopey drama.

And the resolution is completely unbelievable. He’s angry and then looks into her eyes and see’s her true heart and all is right with the world. And he goes back to marry Hadass despite her having just been declaring her love for Yentl days before. It doesn’t matter because he’s learned the right way to treat his woman. (Plus, a day in soap opera Barbra time is like 3 years. We all know that). Ha!

yentl
Thank you for teaching me the true way to be a man my mysterious friend with tiny hands

It’s one of those movies that is tough to give a grade for because I can’t deny being entertained. It’s like watching a soap opera. It’s campy and in love with itself and it makes it kind of fun. There is absolutely no doubt that Barbra felt this was the most important movie ever made. I can’t believe that she won a Golden Globe for this nonsense and the film won for Best Comedy/Musical. The score won an Oscar and that included the lyrics! Must have been a rough year but then again who can resist the egomaniac that is Barbra.

Overall Grade- C-

Next month is Steve Martin in The Jerk

Friday 5: Favorite Songs from Animated Films

Each Friday I get to participate in a series called the Friday Five on my youtube channel.  It is really fun where Sara Crawford gives us topics and we have to pick out 5 of our favorite songs that fit that topic.  This week she gave us a doozy with ‘favorite songs from animated films’!  To narrow it down I decided to only focus on Disney Canon and then to eliminate villain songs.  I ended up with a list of 20 songs that I will try and share with you some time.

But here are my top 5.

Some other youtubers choices you might like

My Fair Lady 50th Anniversary Release Review

my fair ladyToday I had the treat to see the musical classic My Fair Lady on the big screen!  It is a specially remastered edition and even included the intermission.  It’s amazing how with a great film 3 hours goes by without me even noticing it; whereas, I’ve sat for 1 hour films and been very antsy.  I hadn’t seen My Fair Lady for a little while but I listen to the music quite often.  Let’s just say it was even better than I remembered it.

My Fair Lady was of course based on the Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical, which in turn was based on the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion.   It is basically a variation on Cinderella with the homely girl finding out she really is a princess (which British nobility and genteelness basically is).  We’ve seen it in Princess Diaries, What a Girl Wants and many other films.   While the plot may not be groundbreaking it is executed with such warmth, humor and charm it made me smile from beginning to end.

my fair lady3Rex Harrison was famous for playing Henry Higgins on Broadway and his live singing with the speech singing style is proof of that kind of nightly performance you get on Broadway.  Some people may see Higgins as a bit of a pig but I think the movie knows he is a pig and for the most part Eliza is up to the challenge and certainly doesn’t back down to his bullish ways.  While watching Higgins I kept thinking of Sherlock Holmes or Sheldon Cooper, these characters we see from time to time who are selfish but kind of in an innocent way.  They see their world as making the most sense and everyone else should just come around to their genius.

my fair lady7I guess if you don’t know Henry Higgins is a professor of the science of speech.  One day he meets a Cockney flower girl named Eliza Doolittle played by Audrey Hepburn. She overhears Higgins boast he could teach her to be a duchess at a ball, so the next day she makes a proposal to him to pay for lessons.  This starts Higgins, Doolittle and their friend Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) on a 6 month struggle to change the way Eliza speaks.

my fair lady6Eventually Eliza  is tested out at the Ascot Raceway where she can’t help but be a little competitive.  The costumes by Cecil Beaton during this segment and the ball later on are some of the greatest in movie history.   Cecil Beaton not only won Oscar for Costume Design but also for Art Direction which is also outstanding.

my fair lady4Notice Eliza is the only one with any color to her hat.

The hats alone are works of art.

my fairl lady6George Cukor does a fine job directing the film with an ease and flow and an incredible attention to detail.  Henry Stradling’s cinematography and the art direction make each scene a joy to watch whether it is a street in London, Ascot or the Ball.   George Groves weaving sound mixing of Harrison’s live singing with the dubbed singing of Hepburn and others is also remarkable.  My Fair Lady still holds the record I believe for 8 academy award wins.

my fair lady9Some people were upset at the time Julie Andrews wasn’t chosen to pay Eliza but with Hepburn winning an Oscar for playing a princess in Roman Holiday the choice made sense and I think she is lovely in the part (as I’m sure Andrews would have been but then we might not have gotten her in Mary Poppins!).  Marni Nixon does the dub work for Hepburn and what a pro she is.  To think she is the same singer for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Natalie Wood in West Side Story it is pretty amazing.

my fair lady5The music is so divine.  Wouldn’t it Be Loverly, The Rain in Spain, I Could Have Danced All Night, On the Street Where You Live, Show Me, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face, are all completely lovely and I found myself singing to myself as I exited the theater. I think my favorite is I Could Have Danced All Night.  It’s actually a very difficult song with a full octave range and some very high notes!

The only songs I could do without are sung by Stanley Holloway as Eliza’s dopey father, a character I could also do without. Holloway is a good singer and you can see his Broadway background but the character is such a lazy bum I don’t really find it that charming.

my fair lady10The ending isn’t my favorite.  I would rather they went with the ending of the original play but I don’t hate it so much to ruin the film.  I think with Higgins singing I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face moments before it feels more acceptable that he does love her and may treat her well.

my fair lady8For Sherlock Holmes fans we get to see a young Jeremy Brett as Freddy Hill.  He isn’t a super developed character but there is a charm to Brett’s performance. I like him and Hepburn in Show Me.

my fair lady11One critic said of My Fair Lady “the film’s charm is undeniable”.  I agree!  That is probably apparent from the framed poster I have in my living room. 😉

my fair lady111It’s certainly one of my favorite old school musicals and one definitely worth checking out.  Meanwhile I will keep singing the songs to myself! 🙂

The special release I saw is available for pre-order right now on Amazon with all kinds of special features. I know I have it on pre-order!

Overall Grade-  A (not an A+ just because the Dad stuff isn’t my favorite)

My youtube review