“Rocketman” Movie Musical Review

Well, it’s better than BoRhap, but I should’ve rocketed passed this one. Before you throw tomatoes at me, as my opinion is clearly in the minority on this one, let me start out by stating that I do not care for rock n roll fever dream musicals. If you are unfamiliar with that subgenre of movie musicals, they are best described as those musicals that are surreal, nonlinear, and ultimately driven by emotion and image versus action or plot. Think of a poem versus prose. If you’re looking for an example of this type of movie, then look to Across the Universe. If you enjoyed Across the Universe or are simply a fan of Elton John’s music, then you will definitely enjoy Rocketman. If you are like me and do not care for the modern approach to a musical or unfamiliar with Elton John’s music beyond Step into ChristmasRocketman, or The Lion King, much like me, then you may want to consider blasting past this one. As outstanding as Taron Egerton’s impersonation of Elton John is, I am not ready to give him an Oscar nod. Personally, I do not consider excellent impersonations on par with acting. Impersonation and acting do not weigh the same, in my opinion. However, his performance appears to be highly committed and accurate to Elton John, which adds immense support to the tagline Taron Egerton is Elton John. Furthermore, this performance provides demonstrable evidence that Egerton is capable of a wide range of future roles. Where I do hope the film sees Oscar-nominations is in the spectacular costuming and mesmerizing production design. Those costumes were absolutely mind-blowing! For fans of Elton John’s music or simply the modern approach to the movie musical, then this will certainly be one to catch in the cinema on the big screen.

Rocketman is a modern movie musical that takes audiences on a fever dream journey through the highs and lows of Sir Elton John’s career from his breakout years to headlining Madison Square Garden to addict recovery and his resurgence in the 1980s.

Even before I told my friend that I did not care for the movie, she already knew. Why? Because she knew that I didn’t care for modern musicals; therefore, she extrapolated a hypothesis that I did not like Across the Universe. She knows me very well. Now, before you think that I only like classic musicals, let me elaborate. When I say modern, I am referring to a modern approach to the narrative structure and execution of the musical numbers. For instance, I absolutely loved La La Land and greatly enjoyed The Greatest Showman. However, both of those are classical in their respective approaches to the movie musical. In terms of Broadway, I love Sunset Boulevard and Mamma Mia, both of which are chronologically modern, but the former is still a classically structured musical and the latter’s worldwide success is attributed to the timeless music of ABBA, with which I am very familiar. If I use Mamma Mia or Mamma Mia Here We Go Again as modern movie musicals, that I liked, to which I compare Rocketman, then I assess that if I was more familiar with Elton John’s music, then I would have probably enjoyed the movie a lot more. After all, I went into it with the certainty that I was going to enjoy it. As there are no real shortcomings in the movie (except for some of the clunky dialogue), I am left with the evaluation that I simply do not care for this type of storytelling, so that is why I did not care for the movie.

My favorite moments in the movie are the ones between Elton and Bernie, specifically the one just before a concert in which Bernie urges Elton to reconnect with his child-self to remember why he loved music to begin with. Elton refuses to acknowledge his life before his Elton John persona, and snaps at Bernie. Two seconds later, he reaches out his hand to grab Bernie’s and apologizes. This shows the complexities of their longstanding platonic friendship, and therefore visually communicates the strength and depth of their relationship. At the core of this movie, it is about the rise, fall, and rise of the central character that is guided by an unreliable narrator. The nonlinear narrative begins in the present day, then flashes back to the past. And this goes back and forth until the showdown wherein we move past the moment that we opened with to jump forward to Elton’s recovery and end BEFORE The Lion King. I know. I was hoping that we were going to get a reference to The Lion King and then end the movie. Because this is a rock n roll fever dream musical, it was important to establish Elton John as an unreliable narrator because we then interpret what we are about to watch through a highly subjective lens. Subjectivity is important in the interpretation of a dream, and this story is very dream-like. Since the movie begins with an addict Elton John and ends with a recovered Elton, this unreliability allows for a greater character growth arc that is emotionally driven. Emotion is of vital importance because this story has far more in common with a poem than prose.

Perhaps the narrative execution is not to my liking, but the musical numbers are highly engaging and lots of fun to watch. If you love the music of Elton John then these musical numbers will tug at your heartstrings or make you jump to your feet and dance along with the movie. The first act is quite strong, and the second act is moderately strong, but the third act is a little clunky. Still, every moment of this movie was more enjoyable than BoRhap. The movie would have played stronger for me had it not been filled with one-dimensional characters wrapped up in a lackluster plot. But hey the music and costumes are great! If you want the full experience of Rocketman, then I feel that you want to watch it in a Dolby Cinema auditorium for the exquisite audio and picture quality. Whereas BoRhap was mostly about the music, this one is all about the imagery followed by the music.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom” movie review

“Your (executives) were so pre-occupied with whether or not could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Ironic, isn’t it. A haunting but accurate assessment by Dr. Ian Malcolm. Let me say first, Jurassic Park is my favorite movie of all time, followed closely by Sunset Boulevard and Psycho, so it’s difficult to separate fanboy me from critic me. However, I shall do my best to keep my personal bias in check. As a longtime fan of the franchise that captured my imagination as a kid and with the original filled with depth, irony, tragedy, and more, I was excited as I sat down in the theatre last night to watch Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom (JWFK). And suffice it to say, my friends and I enjoyed our time and felt entertained; however, it’s simply not a great movie. And it pains me to write those words. At the end of the day, the movie suffers from a poorly written screenplay. Some may even describe the screenplay as a generic, vapid paint-by-the-numbers summer popcorn crunching blockbuster movie. The movie is not without its thrills, but I wish more attention was paid to the plot. Director J.A. Bayona takes suspension of disbelief to far reaching levels. The life of this franchise is in the balance; how I hope it finds a way to overcome the weak sequels since the strong original in 1993 that still holds up (and I’m not talking about the technology). Reasons for why it holds up could be entire articles in and of themselves (a lot has to do with the screenplay), but we are here to talk about JWFK.

Three years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, Owen Grady and Claire Dearing return to the island of Isla Nublar to save the remaining dinosaurs from a volcano that’s about to erupt. When the search and transport operation meets with capitalistic opposition, the mission takes them to an underground arms market, they must stop the demented auction from placing humanity it mortal danger. During their covert operation, they encounter terrifying new breeds of gigantic dinosaurs, while uncovering a conspiracy that threatens the entire planet.

Unlike the soft opening of Jurassic World, the sequel begins with an opening scene similar to the tone of the opening of Jurassic Park. Encouraging, right? It’s dark, filled with tension, and ends with a kill. All this, and it doesn’t feel overstuffed with dinosaurs. Like a screenplay should, it hooks the audience without lots of gimmicks. The focus is on the drama, and not simply “look what we can do with dinos.” After this scene, I was looking forward to the rest of the movie. And even in the senate hearing with Dr. Ian Malcolm, this could’ve been used as a great setup for a dynamic ethics debate but it was not followed through. Like other ideas of Colin Trevorrow’s, many turning points, characters, and events are introduced but not developed. These elements often play off as mere plot devices to hurriedly cause something to be able to happen without having to truly develop it. Every character is flat. No dimension to anyone or anything, really. I cannot help but take note of the many opportunities that Trevorrow had to truly craft a cinematic story, and ostensibly ignored it. In an effort to help the vapid screenplay, J.A. Bayona attempted to add dimension to the flat plot but only so much can be done to fix a flawed story.

Examples of characters as mere plot devises are systems analyst Franklin and paleo-veterinarian Zia. Both were setup to be developed further beyond their main skill, but were abandoned. They exist only so two important actions can happen, but that is the extent of their respective development. Such wonderful opportunities to include strong characters, buy they are left as flat as the plot, lacking in any subplot or goals of their own. There is also a fantastic opportunity to provide some exposition on the days before John Hammond’s innovative theme park resort destination. We meet his former partner Benjamin Lockwood, and he explains how the first DNA was extracted in a state of the art lab in the basement of his mansion. There is also a nostalgic shot of a model of the original park’s Visitors Center, complete with Jungle Explorers and the famous gate. Although we have lost Sir Richard Attenborough, there is certainly ways of crafting a flashback to the first time DNA was extracted or even just a few moments of exposition through dialogue to learn about the early days and ultimately why Hammond and Lockwood split. We are given a reason that likely led to the split, but I imagine there was more to it, including the direction to go with the dinosaurs. Again, this is another example of exposition and dimension lost. Could’ve been used as character building and development time.

On the topic of nostalgia, there is plenty of fan service in the movie. Lockwood delivers a line taken directly from Hammond at the end of Lost World and we get to revisit the site of the Jungle Explorer that T-Rex pushed over the retaining wall in the original. There are other moments as well that remind me of the raptor kitchen and more. Furthermore, there are moments in the movie that act as a mirror to the original. Instead of seeking to lock the dinosaurs up, the goal is to free them. But I won’t get into details.

Whatever Universal and Amblin are doing presently, they need to stop and throw out the playbook from Jurassic Park III, Jurassic World, and now JWFK. I liked Jurassic World well enough but I thought the next installment was going to be more gripping, thrilling, exciting, but it went out with a whimper. I was cautiously optimistic when I heard it was going to be darker, closer to the horror that was the original 1993 blockbuster, but it wasn’t terrifying at all. And what parts were creepy, were already shown in the trailer (but that’s the marketing company’s fault, not the director or writer). Crichton is likely rolling over in his grave right about now, rest his soul. The next writer in the Jurassic franchise needs to be someone who understands what it takes to create a great story that CAN sell tickets and reach blockbuster status while holding up years down the road. Take the iconic Tim Burton Batman and Batman Returns, for examples. The reason why these, especially Returns, hold up so well is because Returns is a classic Tim Burton film that happens to have Batman characters, whereas the original is a Batman movie directed by Burton. So, the third installment in the Jurassic franchise needs to attach a writer and/or director who can write/direct a science-fiction horror movie that happens to have dinosaurs and legacy Jurassic Park characters.

While many critics are calling for this franchise to go extinct, this film scholar believes strongly that it can be saved. Much like Claire and Owen are determined to save the cloned dinos from a second extinction, Universal and Amblin need to go back to the beginning and study WHY the first one worked well. The short answer is the screenplay, followed by casting, and lastly the directing. An approach could be to write the screenplay without dinosaurs; write a solid, compelling narrative. Make sure there is a clearly defined goal with clearly defined opposition to the goal, simple plot, and complex characters. Then find places to add in the dinosaurs as anti-heroes. It’s far more effective to retroactively add dinos in and modify the screenplay than write it with a focus on seeing dinosaurs and write a story around them. The former is narrative-heavy with supporting, terrifying action sequences whereas the latter is spectacle heavy with a one-dimensional narrative. Subtext, subplot, and theme need to be infused back into the Jurassic franchise.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed myself. I did not feel as if my time was wasted. You know what, I had fun. And for that, I appreciate the movie. It may not have truly memorable characters or scenes, but it was a fun watch. If more fans speak up, perhaps the next film will go back to its DNA and deliver a sequel that would make the original proud.

For my review of Jurassic World click here.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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Review of “Jurassic World”

JurassicWorldBack with a roar! The Jurassic Park franchise returns from the dead with a vengeance in the newest and highly anticipated installment since the original back in 1993, and certainly since The Lost World in 1997 and Jurassic Park 3 in 2001. Jurassic World will take you back to the island that started it all and deliver the same WOW factor as the original beloved favorite. Return to Isla Nublar to experience the park John Hammond envisioned but could never have dreamed would become a reality. “The park is open!” Enjoy the adventure, pseudo-science, character development, plot, the acting, and the music that you loved about Jurassic Park (1993) in a film that holds true to the very essence of what made the original such a great film but adds in the visual storytelling technology we enjoy today. For lovers of the ride at Universal Studios (FL/CA), you will enjoy experiencing the park in ways you may have only dreamed of, and for lovers of the franchise, despite the poorly produced past sequels (even though they are still fun to watch), prepare for your expectations to be greatly surpassed as you return to your childhood and experience Jurassic World.

Jurassic World takes us back to Isla Nublar off the coast of Costa Rica. Just south of the original park, a new theme park has been opened and is bustling with park guests and dinosaurs alike. The luxury theme park and resort is jointly ran by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and of course the once chapter 11 InGen BioEngineering company founded by John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough). For the last few years, the guest satisfaction ratings have plateaued at Jurassic World and Claire has worked with InGen’s Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) to develop a genetically modified hybrid to wow the guests and increase profits. But as Ian Malcolm once so eloquently put it “life will find a way,” the attempts to control the park’s “assets,” will not go as planned. After the newly minted genetically modified hybrid Indominous Rex cleverly escapes the paddock, it is up to Claire and her unconventional Navy veteran turned dinosaur control/safety expert Owen (Chris Pratt) to save Claire’s nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) as well as the over 20K park guests from the jaws of history’s top notch predators.

Where to begin? It seems so much easier to write a critique for movies that are just okay or even terrible. When working with such an incredible movie, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to begin and even harder to know when to stop. Going into the movie, I had my reservations-especially after seeing what I thought was a ridiculous scene from the trailer of Owen facing off and talking with the raptors–but I can honestly say that is this movie that I, as well as millions of others in their mid-to-late 20s and early 30s, have been waiting for since we saw the original as kids in theaters. It truly embodies everything that made the original great and capitalizes on it by adding in the digital effects and visual storytelling techniques we enjoy as part of modern cinema. The best movies are those that simultaneously embrace current technologies whilst remaining grounded in the very essence of what a movie should be: exceptional visual storytelling in terms of the art and science of filmmaking. This truly is the sequel we have been waiting for since the helicopter left Nublar 22 years ago.

I was watching Jurassic Park 3 with a friend in order to finish the first three movies prior to seeing Jurassic World last night, and I asked him and myself  “what was it about the first one that makes it such a great film and in the top 20 grossing movies of all time (and that’s even when adjusted for inflation)? We talked a little, and both decided that is was the dynamic plot, clever writing, memorable characters, and that wow factor of seeing dinosaurs like never before on the big screen that made the first movie not just a successful movie but a GREAT movie. That same dynamic plot filled with subplots and subtext, memorable characters, and more is captured by the current installment. Yes, this movie is high concept as summer blockbusters usually are; but just because it’s high concept doesn’t mean that we cannot experience character development, subtext, exceptional writing, and great visual storytelling. From the moment that I heard the all-too-familiar music and returned to Isla Nublar, I knew then that this was going to be one of the most exciting and phenomenal movie-going experiences of my life. And you know what? It was as exciting as seeing the original for the first time. Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, and Legendary Pictures harnessed the power of what made the first movie great and brought a nearly extinct franchise back from the dead.

Just like the characters from Jurassic Park (1993) helped to make the movie what it was, so do the characters of Jurassic World. You have Claire who, much like Hammond, is a dreamer. Although, she is definitely more concerned with money than Hammond ever was. Witness as she goes from a cold shrew business woman to a courageous and loving aunt to her two nephews. Speaking of whom, witness the transition of Zach as the older mean brother who couldn’t be bothered with his sibling to risking his life to save his brother Gray’s. Dr. Henry Wu reprises his role as the genius behind the science that made Jurassic Park and now Jurassic World work. Every movie needs that hero who is unconventional and has subtle sexual tension with the strong female lead, and we get that, in spades, with Owen. There is the chief financier Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) who is concurrently overly concerned with making a profit but still genuinely concerned that his park guests are having fun. And finally, we have Lowery (Jake M. Johnson) who sports an original Jurassic Park t-shirt and has rubber dinosaurs on his desk because he loves the original park and is thrilled to work at the new one. Each of the characters has very unique personalities and traits that are meticulously woven into the plot in order to continually advance the story.

I also wanted to touch on the references to the previous films in the franchise. Early on, it was made known that the old Visitors Center would make a cameo appearance, but I did not expect the extent to which the old compound plays an intricate part in Jurassic World‘s diegesis (narrative). Claire is even dressed in all white like Hammond. Not only is the music powerful–almost to the point of tears–and harkens back to the first time you heard it, but the movie helps to make Jurassic Park feel like a real place because of Lowery’s t-shirt he bought off eBay and the banner of “when dinosaurs ruled the earth” now covered in dirt and mold that fell from the ceiling at the close of the first movie. Although not formerly acknowledged, there are many references to not only the first movie but also 2 and 3, and even the Jurassic Park Ride. From lines of dialog to easter egg camera shots and even to the Jurassic Park 1992 Jeep Wrangler, Jurassic World uses material from its storied past to support the current narrative and evoke fond memories. Interestingly, the movie also deals with the element of third party companies grossly sponsoring attractions and exhibits in theme parks. Just like even Disney’s Magic Kingdom is now sporting a Starbucks on Main Street, the same can be seen in many theme parks. Sometimes it seems like theme parks are sacrificing storytelling and creative theming for the almighty dollar. Perhaps this movie shows us what happens when greed overpowers creativity.

I feel that Universal Pictures (a Comcast Company) has been searching for its cash cow franchise like Disney’s Pirates, Avengers, and now Star Wars or like Warner Bros. Harry Potter (even though Universal rakes in the dough from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at it’s Florida and soon California parks), like MGM’s James Bond, or 20th Century Fox’s Avatar or X-Men, but after the two failed sequels to Jurassic Park, all seemed lost. Until now. This installment in the 22 year-old franchise has been successfully resurrected and could quite possibly be a contender and a worthy opponent in the franchise competition. The way the final shots of the island were in the movie, I have a feeling that this was the official goodbye to this chapter in the Jurassic Park novel and the opening of the floodgates for followups to this movie that will hopefully continue the embrace of the essence of the original whilst continuing to advance the story of what happens when man creates and manipulates dinosaurs.

I don’t know what you have planned this weekend, but you NEED to get to the theatre to see this movie. I am even planning to see it again this weekend myself. But, I need to find an IMAX that is showing it in 2D (yes, that is correct 2D). Prepare to be taken back to your childhood and relive the experience all over again in the newest chapter of Jurassic Park.

As always, if you liked this review, please follow or subscribe or at least share the link on social media.

For my review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom click here.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry

Thrillz (theme parks): Thrillz.co