Tuesday 15 October 2019

Film of the week: Rocketman

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Taron Egerton stars in ‘Rocketman’ which charts the turbulent life of rock star Elton John
Taron Egerton stars in ‘Rocketman’ which charts the turbulent life of rock star Elton John

The 1997 feature documentary Tantrums and Tiaras was a candid portrait of Elton John that almost gloried in the diva-ish exigence of the gap-toothed pop monarch.

A dramatic treatment of his life has been in development in the 20 years since. But the world has changed quite a bit in that time, and John, now 72, probably has as well. Rocketman (co-produced by John's husband David Furnish) is more sensitive to the personal problems of its subject, the things that were at the root of not just his outbursts, but his battle with booze, drugs and his own sexuality.

Committed to paper by Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall and directed by Dexter Fletcher (who took the reins on Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer's withdrawal), this biographical musical is a lesson in biding your time and getting the recipe just right.

Bookended by therapy sessions, Elton (Taron Egerton) flashbacks to his early years - the buttoned-up suburban childhood as piano-mad Reggie Dwight, the apathy of mum Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and absentee dad Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), before a meeting with lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) saw the awkward, gifted musician find his elixir.

A meteoric rise and impending collapse follow, but it is the charade put on for wider society, even during Elton's torrid tryst with manager John Reid (Richard Madden) that you feel was most destructive.

This is perhaps painting a rather gloomy picture when Rocketman is anything but. In fact, so ebullient and vital are the musical interludes, the dance choreography and the embrace of its subject's flamboyance, that it occasionally threatens to burst out of the screen and dance up the aisle, showering you with goosebumps as it passes.

After a few duds, Egerton arrives with a bona fide star-making turn. On his axis turns a carousel of fragility, redemption and outrageousness. Throw in that catalogue of hits and you have quite the cocktail. ★★★★★ Hilary A White



Cert: PG; Now showing 

When Will Smith decided to take on the role of the genie in the live action remake of the 1992 cartoon Aladdin, he wanted to walk a fine line. His aim was to make the role his own but also to pay homage to Robin Williams who had voiced the animated genie.

The end result feels a bit like the joyous Queer Eye cast: flamboyant fixers who deliver so much more than your wish for better hair. And for me this worked. Aladdin is great fun.

Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is a pickpocket in Agrabah when he falls in love with the undercover Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott).

He is bemoaning the circumstances that keep them apart when scheming Grand Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) kidnaps him to retrieve the magic lamp from a cave. And in that lamp he discovers the musclebound blueness that is the genie (Smith).

The romantic leads are great but the show is Smith's. Although Kenzari's understatedly intense baddie proves sneakily memorable.

Guy Ritchie directs and co-writes this all-singing, all-dancing Disney spectacular and if not terribly deep on emotion, it is great fun. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor


The Secret Life  of Pets 2

Cert: G; Now showing

Fluffy bunnies and cute pooches (all voiced by sassy stand-ups and familiar screen personalities) created both ecstatic reviews and a cash juggernaut in 2016 with The Secret Life of Pets. Can lightning strike twice is the big question.

Given his recent fall from grace, the voice talents of comic Louis CK have been deemed too controversial so he is replaced by Patton Oswalt as the voice of Max. He and shaggy housemate Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are adapting to change now that their owner Katie has only gone and got herself a partner and - eek - a child! A trip to the family farm sees city-slicker Max whipped into shape by a stern country dog (Harrison Ford's first animated voice-over role), equipping him with what it takes to guard the family as he feels he should.

Back in New York, meanwhile, Snowball the bunny (Kevin Hart) now believes he is a superhero and comes to the aid of a plucky shih tzu called Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to help rescue a smuggled tiger cub.

It all bounces and bounds about the place in a whirl of fast-talking computer animation. While there is still plenty of charm and cheek to work with, the novelty of the original film has now departed so it falls to the characters and their different plotlines to keep everything motoring. This turns out to be not quite enough, though, and the satisfying punch of the first film is indeed notable by its absence. ★★★ Hilary A White


Memoir of War

Club Cert: Now showing, IFI 

Marguerite Duras's book, La Douleur (Pain) is the source material for this thought-provoking French film.

Writer-director Emmanuel Finkiel uses two of the book's six segments and is faithful to Duras's genre-defying style. But you can put a book down, a film you have to stick with and, but for Melanie Thierry's strong central performance, this could have permanently skidded over the line into tedious.

In 1944 Paris, Marguerite (Thierry below) worries for her husband arrested by the Nazis. Her fellow members of the Resistance, Dionys (Benjamin Biolay) and Morland (the real code name of Francois Mitterand) are divided about her information-gathering friendship with a collaborator (Benoit Magimel). Where the film is strongest is showing the end of war not as a time of unmitigated glory, but one of complex emotions. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

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