“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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“Bohemian Rhapsody” full film review

Ready Freddie? Adapted from the Queen Wikipedia article, comes the anticipated tribute film Bohemian Rhapsody. Mostly directed by Bryan Singer, but after his unexpected departure, directed by Dexter Fletcher, this could be one of the first films to almost not be a film at all, yet produce an Oscar-worthy performance in Malek’s Freddie. It’s a good thing that your favorite Queen songs are sort of in the movie because the screenplay is off key. In short, the problem with this biographical film can be traced back to the weak writing and misguided direction. Anytime a film has to change directors in the middle of production (for whatever the reason), the film has a high chance of suffering in the transfer of power. There are exceptions; for instance, Poltergeist was directed by Tobe Hooper and Spielberg, and became one of the best horror films of all time. On the topic of writing, paraphrasing Hitchcock, a writer (or director) should start the scene as close to the end of the scene as possible in order to streamline the plot and keep the focus on conflict moving the scene forward. Unfortunately, this movie starts each scene as close to the beginning of the scene as possible and cuts it off just before the ending. Whereas the camera lingered in A Star is Born in order to allow the emotion of the scene to sink in, this camera lacks focus and moves around the scene in a way to document what is doing on, not show us the story and subtext. Speaking of subtext, Bohemian Rhapsody is very much a textbook example of “on the nose” storytelling. There is a great lack of subtext anywhere in the film.

A celebration of the timeless music of Queen, this film chronicles the band’s beginnings to the famous Live Aid concert. Following the band from playing in bars to headlining sellout concerts at world-famous venues, this film takes you behind the scenes to watch the development of the band and–also–spending some time with Freddie’s personal life. Witness Freddie Mercury defy what his family wanted for him and what popular culture defined as a lead singer, and become the icon that he is.

Although the film is lacking in almost every area of storytelling, there is one standout element that cannot be ignored, despite the poor writing and direction. And that is Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury. Now, I am not a huge Queen fan; yes, I know the same handful of Queen songs that most people know and really enjoy listening and rocking out to them. But, I do not know enough about Freddie in order to know how close Malek’s performance was to capturing the real man. Mainly because I was a really young when he passed away. However, even not knowing much about the real Freddie, I can still assess a great performance, and Malek’s impressed me from start to finish. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him! The commitment to his character is incredible. Not only does he resemble Freddie, but at no point did I ever feel that I was watching an actor play Freddie, but it was like watching Freddie himself (what I know about Freddie, anyway). It will be interesting to watch to see whether or not he gets an Actor in a Leading Role nomination even though the rest of the film will not likely show up on the Academy’s radar. Perhaps the film would have been better if it had been a Freddie Mercury biopic instead of covering the band as a whole. But due to Queen having so much control over the story, the focus consistently shifts from Freddie to the band so that there is no true direction for the conflict to go in order to deliver a powerhouse of a film.

The storytelling is so incredibly disconnected that there are moments that do not feel like a movie at all. Other than the recreation of the Live Aid performance (with a crowds of bad CGI and real shots of the same group of spectators over and over), the best scenes in the film are during the intimate moments between Freddie and Mary. These are the only times that I feel that the film is diving deep, and attempting to evoke emotional responses from the audience. Even during some of the moments that should have been the most gut-wrenching and impactful such as Freddie’s coming out or when he finds out that he has AIDS, just play off as surface-level; they fall flat. Never once does this film dive deep into anything. As soon as the story is about to hit a home-run, it bunts the ball. Fasts-forward to first base, if you will. I am also shocked at the lack of music in this movie. With the title being Bohemian Rhapsody and being about Queen, I half expected that moments would feel like a rock concert. By no means, did I want to watch a 2hr music video or vicariously attend a concert, but I had hoped that the music would have been a bigger part of the story. And the title song is not a significant part of the movie. Honestly, a more precise title would have sinply been QueenBohemian Rhapsody is never completely performed in its entirety.

If you don’t like to read Wikipedia articles, but want to learn the same information, then checkout Bohemian Rhapsody this weekend. Or if you are a fan of the entire band–not just Freddie–then this movie is for you. Although you get very few songs performed in their entirety, you will hear Under Pressure, We Will Rock YouWe Are the Champions, and others.

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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