Jamie Bell plays Elton John’s best friend in ‘Rocketman’

The songwriting team of Elton John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin is one of the most enduring, successful and beloved creative partnerships in music history.  This unique relationship is celebrated in Paramount Pictures’ critically acclaimed musical, Rocketman.  British actor Jamie Bell plays Bernie Taupin opposite Taron Egerton’s Elton John.

“What they have between them is kind of a beautiful, harmonious marriage, lightning in a bottle,” explains Bell. “In the film we see them meet, and they’re kind of two loners, who find each other and form a friendship that lasts a lifetime.”

And to think, it was a friendship that very nearly never happened in the first place. As Rocketman  documents, the meeting between the two men who have dominated the music charts for six decades happened entirely by chance.

“Bernie was only 17 or 18 when he met Elton,” says Bell of the moment that would change the course of music history forever. “Bernie had become a bit of a juvenile delinquent and ended up becoming a chicken farmer and saw no way out. He felt trapped. He saw this music advertisement and replied to it with something like, ‘I’m a poet and have some lyrics, if you are interested.’ There is even some lore that he didn’t send the letter; he might have put it in the bin and his mum picked it out of the bin and mailed it, or he left it on the mantle and she mailed it, something like that. But the bigger idea is that there was this good fortune for both Bernie and for Elton of quite randomly finding someone that understands you, who gets you.”

That understanding is not just what has kept the pair together, but what has kept one of them alive. “Bernie has always been this rock to Elton, because he was someone who always knew who he was,” says Bell. “Whereas Elton was someone who was really trying to grab onto something, some identity or person or persona, or some love or career or drugs or whatever. Bernie represented this steadfastness. ‘I know who I am and, I am your friend.’”

To play the lyricist, Bell began by telephoning the real Taupin, to introduce himself. Taupin invited him over to his house for dinner. “It’s the right thing to do when you are playing someone (real), to make contact and say, ‘This is what I intend to do.’ I drove up to see him in Santa Barbara. He was very generous with his time. Back then, in reality, they were writing number one album after number one album – I think they had three in a row, which had never been done before, was never even heard of in their time. Bernie had his pressures and his demons too, but I think that knowing who you are inside makes it easier to deal with. Bernie would say that Elton was his best friend, the loveliest guy in the world, but could also be the devil incarnate at times.”

That intimate understanding of their relationship served Bell well throughout the course of making a movie that saw him stretch himself more than ever before. In a performance that, just like Egerton, sees him not just act but sing too, it’s Bell who performs ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ – a song he recorded at Abbey Road – for a scene that captures a moment in which the creative partnership came very close to ending.

“The amount of inner turmoil Elton has had to live with throughout his life makes things incredibly challenging for him,” says Bell. “So, to have someone like Bernie, who’s just present and consistent, is everything. The way that Elton talks about Bernie is so loving. The bond is very profound. It’s well documented that Elton once kind of made a fleeting pass at Bernie, and Bernie was like, ‘I love you, but that’s not going to happen.’ What I love about Bernie is that Bernie doesn’t judge. He accepts Elton for who he is. And even when Elton gets bigger and bigger, with the costumes and all that, he tells him that he doesn’t have to. He really believes in Elton’s ability. And when Elton sings at that piano, he gives people all this joy, and Bernie gets that. In the film, Bernie is always trying to course correct Elton back to the simple thing. That’s why he has always been so important.”

In Philippine cinemas June 19, Rocketman is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures. #RocketmanMovie  

About “Rocketman”

Paramount Pictures’ Rocketman is an epic musical fantasy about the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. Directed by Dexter Fletcher, the film follows the fantastical journey of  transformation from shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight into international superstar Elton John.

This inspirational story – set to Elton John’s most beloved songs and performed by star Taron Egerton – tells the universally relatable story of how a small-town boy became one of the most iconic figures in pop culture. Rocketman also stars Jamie Bell as Elton’s longtime lyricist and writing partner Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as Elton’s first manager, John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother Sheila Farebrother.

‘Men in Black: International’ review: Enjoy the fun while it lasts

Like its title suggests, Men In Black: International offers plenty of globe-trotting and standard action set pieces to distract you from its bland and confusing plot.

Thanks to Thor: Ragnarok, MIB: International already has one asset under its belt: the charming chemistry of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson. In here, Hemsworth continues to win you over with his dashing looks and silly antics, while Thompson balances their dynamic with her poised and confident composure. While the new leads don’t necessarily match the perfect combination of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, they’re sufficient to carry the weight of this film, even if the material lets them down. The script bears some moments of breezy humor and satire (which Taika Waititi so generously offers in Ragnarok), but more often than not, the dialogue comes out generic and forced that it would only elicit pity laughs from the kindest viewers.

The one move that MIB: International does to revamp the franchise for this feminist era is introducing its first female lead. As a young girl, Molly (Thompson) wasn’t “neuralyzed” (i.e. have someone’s short-term memory be erased) by the MIB after witnessing a supernatural sighting. Since then, she makes it her life mission to be a part of the clandestine organization, and twenty years later, she finally tracks down their headquarters and gets recruited in the process. What becomes the running joke here is rookie agent M (Molly) continually upstaging his senior, Agent H (Hemsworth). There’s much discussion of how Agent H is no longer the skilled agent he once was, but not much history is shown on screen to actually see the difference. As far as we’re concerned, H mostly uses his charm to wriggle his way out of a sticky situation, while M is the more level headed one with reliable methods. Each has their own way of getting the job done.

Agent M (Tessa Thompson) and Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) test drive an overpowered blaster.

The two take on a high stakes mission to prevent alien malevolent forces from getting their hands on an intergalactic weapon. By doing so, the film detours from the crowded markets and remote desert of Morocco, to the exotic castles in Italy. With all the globe-trotting involved, the plot starts to feel like it’s a rip-off from the James Bond franchise, except the film fails to mine the maximum tension needed. For one, this spin-off features a personality-free villain called The Twins (played by dancers Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) – a shape-shifting celestial duo that pretty much resembles the invasive space dust in Dark Phoenix. In one scene, M and H bring out various big guns to shoot these creatures to no avail. For a blockbuster director, F. Gary Gray has shown more creative sequences in his previous work in The Fate of the Furious or The Italian Job. MIB: International, on the other hand, is filled with loud laser shootouts and mandatory car chases, all of which go against the idea of the MIB remaining anonymous to the public.

It goes without saying that the true appeal of this secret organization works best when the story is focused within a single environment, to show how extraterrestrial activities (and the covering of such) hide in plain sight. This world-building is demonstrated when H and M make their way down to an alien night club via a hidden tunnel located inside a taxi. Or that part where the film introduces its funnier creation – an anthropomorphic chess piece named Pawny (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) who happens to be a pocketful of sunshine and sarcasm. These small moments, not the uninspired action sequences, is what brings the magic of the original. Only if the film sustains them throughout.

Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani) pledges allegiance to Agent M.

MIB: International really should have worked as a simple plot but its strange narrative decisions make it look unnecessarily confusing. The ending feels rushed as not much time is given to build the emotional core found in the supposed father-son relationship of Agent H and his mentor, High T (Liam Neeson). The thing is, this film is under the false pretense that ‘bigger equals better’ hence its priority to showcase bland spectacles and its apparent lack of a much more ambitious goal, say injecting an insight or two about the current political or environmental landscape.

The basic ingredients for your summer blockbuster are found here but what really leaves the impression is Hemsworth and Thompson’s charismatic buddy comedy act that reminds us of the franchise’s infinite (yet squandered) potential. You can enjoy the fun while it lasts for I can guarantee you that it’s quite forgettable. No neuralyzers needed.

3 out of 5 stars
Directed by F. Gary Gray, written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, ‘Men in Black: International‘ stars Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Liam Neeson, Rafe Spall, Rebecca Ferguson, Laurent Bourgeois, Larry Bourgeois, Emma Thompson and Tim Blaney. 115 minutes. PG-13.