‘Rocketman’ review: The glamorous and heartbreaking life of Elton John

With its highly imaginative direction and Taron Egerton’s magnetic performance, ‘Rocketman’ finishes on a high note.

It’s impossible not to think of Bohemian Rhapsody while watching Rocketman. Not to mention the fact that Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher himself assumed directing duties after Bryan Singer’s untimely exit while shooting Bohemian Rhapsody, both musical biopics feature flamboyant, gay pop-rock icons who reinvented themselves amidst adversity.

Rocketman, however, has a surefire edge over the other as Taron Egerton here does his own singing. We first heard him spectacularly perform an Elton John classic in Dreamworks’ Sing, and that credential alone suggests that he might have the vocal chops to do the rest of his jukebox. And he does not disappoint. Egerton may not exactly look or sound like Elton, but he channels the superstar’s flair and vibe with such authenticity that goes beyond an impersonation. Donned with signature over-the-top costumes, he successfully puts on a fearless and electrifying show. If Rami Malek can win an Academy Award for his work in Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s only righteous to start the Oscar hype as early as now for Taron Egerton.

“…how wonderful life is when you’re in the world.”
Taron Egerton as Elton John performs ‘Your Song.’

Both movies pretty much follow a standard template for musical biopics – a calculated yet effective retelling of the rise, the fall and the rebirth of an icon, accompanied by a wheelhouse of greatest hits. In Rocketman, piano prodigy Reginald Kenneth Dwight (Elton’s birth name) meets an aspiring lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and together, they produce a number of hits that skyrockets Elton’s hollywood career to superstardom. The costs of fame soon catches up and he falls into an abyss of depression and various addictions – shopping, alcohol, painkillers and even sex. Whereas Bohemian Rhapsody is on a disadvantage for being confined to a PG-13 setting, Rocketman greatly benefits from its R-rating as it avoids sugarcoating the edgy chapters in Elton’s extravagant and promiscuous lifestyle.

But what makes Rocketman truly soar is Fletcher’s assured and adventurous direction that deftly weaves fantasy elements into Elton’s trajectory. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, the film disregards the chronological release of his songs and goes for a full-blown musical: the characters break out in songs and dances whenever the narrative calls for it. Given the eccentric nature of its protagonist, it’s quite easy to suspend disbelief and allow the film to take us to wherever it wants to go.

Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin) and Taron Egerton bring warmth and sincerity to their friendship in ‘Rocketman.’

Musical scorer Matthew Margeson brings new arrangements to some of Elton’s songs and in doing so, the film produces multiple music genres that bear wide range of emotions. An energetic “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” marks Elton’s rebellious transition from childhood to young adult. The “Crocodile Rock” performance – where gravity cease to exist for a moment and the crowd starts floating – represents an insurmountable joy during Elton’s music career. “Bennie and the Jets” is played with an increasingly aggressive tempo to portray his psychedelic descent to rock bottom. The highly imaginative sequence of “Rocketman” is presented as an accompaniment to Elton’s suicide attempt and desire to leave the spotlight.

The film also shines with its slow ballads like the iconic “Tiny Dancer” being reinterpreted as a song about longing and unrequited love; an intimate “Your Song” that brings earnestness to the film’s core friendship; and an emotional duet of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” that reflects Elton and Bernie’s anger and disappointment at each other. It’s an epic celebration of the superstar’s enduring legacy and Elton’s spirit is very much alive throughout.

A rising star. Elton John performs “The Crocodile” in Troubadour, London.

At times, Rocketman feels like a Broadway production, where its pompous musical numbers occasionally outweigh the introspective drama involved. But thankfully, Fletcher takes us back to a third act where film’s cliché narrative setup – a frustrated Elton recounts his life during a therapy session – finally pays off as he confronts his inner demons. It’s in this moment when the pieces fall together and we understand the complexities of the character. Here is a son who poses a peculiar persona in a subconscious attempt to gain the affections of his uncaring father (Steven Mackintosh) and promiscuous mother (Bryce Dallas Howard). A performer who took risks in the music industry because his dashing yet devious manager/lover (Richard Madden) urges him to leave a mark in the world. A gay man whose told to be choosing a life of loneliness because of his decision to embrace his sexuality. A star who succumbs to self-destruction after failing to earn the validation of the people who mattered to him. And finally, a flawed human who decides to turn his life around with the help of his loyal best friend.

Livin’ the high life? Taron Egerton, Bryce Dallas Howard (Sheila) and Richard Madden (John Reid) in ‘Rocketman.’

With all the entertainment that Rocketman offers in its great performances and splendid production design, there lies an incredibly relatable tale of unconditional friendship, atonement, freedom and self-actualization. It’s only fitting that the film ends with the song “I’m Still Standing” to cap off Elton John’s moment of redemption. This can be your song too, and you can tell everybody.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Dexter Fletcher, ‘Rocketman’ stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham, Gemma Jones, Jason Pennycooke, Kit Connor, Matthew Illesley, Charlie Rowe, Steven Mackintosh, and Tom Bennett. 121 minutes. R-13.

‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ review: Hollywood weaponizes dinosaurs

J.A. Bayona’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom continues to show more interest in its dinosaurs than its human participants. If taken as a ride, this should come out as thrilling.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom picks up three years after the events of Jurassic World where Isla Nublar’s iconic theme park was once again closed when things went massively out of hand. Apparently, an active volcano sits on top of the island (the franchise has never mentioned it before) and its impending eruption can lead to the extinction of all the prehistoric creatures inhabiting there. During a senate hearing, Jeff Goldblum reprises in a cameo role as Dr. Ian Malcolm (of the original trilogy) and presents this sequel’s moral conflict: Should dinosaurs be given the same rights and protection extended to endangered species? Or should they let nature take its course?

READ MORE: New epic global trailer for ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ astounds

For its first half, the film’s goal is to save most of the dinosaurs as possible with the help of returning key characters Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) – both of which seem to have swapped beliefs since the last time we saw them. Gone with her corporate career attitude, Claire is now a dinosaur rights activist. She comes round to family values in the end of JW but this sequel does little convincing why she persists on their evacuation despite having experienced the dangers of dino genetic engineering—a technological advancement that proves to be more disastrous than beneficial for humans. It is Owen, the compassionate raptor trainer, who is now reluctant to go back to the island but nonetheless tags along the adventure to save his favorite velociraptor, Blue. The usual dynamic follows: Owen does most of the work while Claire widens her eyes and screams in distress. Thankfully, this time, she ditches her high heels in favor of a more sensible footwear and later on, she gets to do more work.

Chris Pratt as Owen Grady training velociraptor Blue.

Claire and Owen need all the help they can get so joining the rescue team are the gutsy paleo-veterinarian Dr. Zia (Daniella Pineda) whose mostly used as a plot device and the scaredy-cat IT technician Franklin (Justice Smith) whose high-pitched shrieks of terror rivals Howard’s. Of course, this won’t be a proper “Jurassic” movie without an endangered kid in the mix: inquisitive girl Maisie (Isabella Sermon) comes out as the most interesting here, albeit a fragment of her character seems to be missing to fully pay-off in the end. On the other hand, the villains played by Rafe Spall, Toby Jones and Ted Levine, are all painfully one-dimensional; they don’t care that these dinos can practically end the human race, they just want to sell them for a couple of million dollars, that’s it. I’m not even sure why these dinos come a bit too cheap? And one can even question the justification for Jones’ character when it can be merged with Spall’s (the former seems to be uninterested for most parts anyway). Better yet, the film could have benefited if these three slightly disappointing villains are amalgamated into a superbly formed nemesis instead.

READ MORE: Chris Pratt, the alpha male takes on ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

If there’s something that the Jurassic World franchise has edge over the original Jurassic Park trilogy, it is that the dinosaurs here have better characterization. Reprising writers Collin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly place the dinosaurs in a dichotomous position. Apart from being portrayed as Hollywood’s scaly green monsters with razor-sharp teeth, hell-bent on eating every human flesh in sight (at least for the carnivore ones), these creatures are also presented as victims needed to be empathized and preserved for future generations. The film consistently flips back and forth to these perceptions as evidenced by the numerous predatory cardio chases and Owen’s bond with his favorite velociraptor, Blue. With the help of some archival footage, a decent paternal relationship has been established between the two, though not as potent and sentimentalized as the simians from Rise of the Planet of the Apes (feat. James Franco and Caesar the Chimp) or at least with the recently-released Rampage (feat. Dwayne Johnson and George the silverback gorilla). Yes, I do have to mention “The Apes” franchise, because by its second half towards the end, the film has taken a similar path and more outlandish themes are in play. Occasionally, a few of them don’t work, and I’m mostly pertaining to the ‘dinosaur auction’ scenes.

Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing and Justice Smith as Franklin Webb

Still, the change of scenery is most welcome and director J.A. Bayona employs his horror background skills to spin the expansive island adventure into a more domesticated and claustrophobic level of fear—dinosaurs running loose in tiny hallways, stony basements and children’s bedrooms. It’s an eerie, gothic sight; but for the first time, the franchise actually feels dangerous. Never mind the shot of Owen, Claire and Maisie playing hide-and-seek with an Indoraptor – that scene is downright ridiculous. Surely, it should have smelled them a few feet away after establishing the fact that this dino has heightened senses.

READ MORE: Bryce Dallas Howard: more determined, focused in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

Bayona may be working with an average and campy script, but he finds strength and tension through his outstanding use of shadows and light, along with the impeccable marriage of CGI and practical effects. He transforms action beats into memorable visions like the silhouette of an allosaurus looming in the end of a tunnel, Blue roaring on top of a moonlit roof during a storm, and the most poignant of all is the shot of a brachiosaurus trapped on the edge of an island, only to be consumed by smoke and lava. I also have to mention that this film’s opening sequence is the best one that they have in the franchise.

Franklin, Owen and Claire caught in the middle of a dinosaur stampede

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, like its predecessor, continues to show more interest in its dinosaurs more than its human participants. Come to think of it, most of the story here is actually propelled by the baffling actions done by its characters and in general, these dinos act more rational than them. Villains keep on making hybrids as instruments of biological warfare while completely disregarding the threat it poses to the human race. Even the heroes that we’re supposed to root for do a couple of stupid decisions too.

From a story standpoint, our prehistoric dinosaurs deserve better depth and realism, but if taken as a ride, this should come out thrilling. Sure, predictability starts to kick in by the third act especially when the film insists to retread certain themes from the past. But given the wake of JW’s box office success (5th highest-grossing film of all time), this sequel has the luxury to display overconfidence in its abilities. Its promising ending hopefully provides the jaw strength it needs to take things to the next level and further postpone its extinction.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Now playing in Philippine cinemas, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum, Ted Levine, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, BD Wong, Rafe Spall, Daniella Pineda, Geraldine Chaplin, Justice Smith and Isabelle Sermon. Directed by J.A. Bayona from a screenplay written by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly. Based on the characters by Michael Crichton. Runtime: 128 minutes.

Bryce Dallas Howard: more determined, focused in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

Coming-off a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series for Netflix’s Black Mirror, Bryce Dallas Howard returns to the role of Claire Dearing in Universal Pictures’ Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the sequel to the 2015 global megahit Jurassic World.

Her character, Claire, has been irrevocably changed by the disastrous events of three years ago. “In Jurassic World, Claire goes on a very clear arc,” reflects Howard. “You see who she is on the exterior, but you don’t know who she is on the inside. By the end of the first film, you know what this person is really made of and can clearly see who she is.”

While Owen (Chris Pratt) retreated into a life of solitude, Claire has done the complete opposite—creating the Dinosaur Protection Group (DPG), whose mission is to save the dinosaurs remaining on Isla Nublar. “She is still dealing with the fact she needs to take responsibility for everything that happened,” Howard continues. “She made a mistake she can never take back because she was a part of the creation of the Indominus rex; she wrote the check for that. Now the world is a different place because of her actions. She opened Pandora’s Box, and she can never close it again. All that Claire wants to do is be on the right side of history. It’s her cause and mission.”

Howard wanted to imbue her character with layers that are far-too-often absent in female characters in action films. “They will be a damsel in distress or a strong heroic woman, and there’s no in-between. What I love about Claire is that you don’t necessarily like her all the time, but you relate to her; you understand her and believe the fight in her. Getting to play a woman who is determined and focused, while also at times being clumsy and self-righteous, is exciting because that’s a human being.”

As Howard reunited with Pratt, she reflects about his keenest of instincts: “Chris just knows the absolutely most fun thing that can happen in a Jurassic movie. When we’re in a scene together, and I see Chris moving, I’d say, ‘Guys…Chris’ Spidey sense is tingling.’ He knows what he would want to be watching, and we feel like kids when we’re on this movie set. You haven’t experienced fun until you’ve acted opposite Chris Pratt in a Jurassic movie.”

Naturally, Claire’s much discussed style from the first chapter has also changed along with her new world view. “That haircut and the white impeccable suit from the first movie represented a certain kind of person, who Claire was,” sums Howard. “In this film, I wanted to show right away that she is dramatically different. Claire is a sensible, intelligent woman who is well prepared.” She laughs: “I’m now wearing really sturdy boots, and I’m very happy about that.”

In Philippine cinemas June 6, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

About Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

It’s been three years since theme park and luxury resort Jurassic World was destroyed by dinosaurs out of containment. Isla Nublar now sits abandoned by humans while the surviving dinosaurs fend for themselves in the jungles.

When the island’s dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event. Owen is driven to find Blue, his lead raptor who’s still missing in the wild, and Claire has grown a respect for these creatures she now makes her mission. Arriving on the unstable island as lava begins raining down, their expedition uncovers a conspiracy that could return our entire planet to a perilous order not seen since prehistoric times.

With all of the wonder, adventure and thrills synonymous with one of the most popular and successful franchises in cinema history, this all-new motion-picture event sees the return of favorite characters and dinosaurs—along with new breeds more awe-inspiring and terrifying than ever before. Welcome to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Bryce Dallas Howard follows up ‘Jurassic World’ with ‘Pete’s Dragon’

Bryce Dallas Howard goes from one big adventure to another as she follows up the global blockbuster “Jurassic World” with Walt Disney Pictures’ new, re-imagining of “Pete’s Dragon,” based on the ‘70s classic and cherished family film of the same title.

The new “Pete’s Dragon” is the adventure of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliott, who just so happens to be a dragon.

Howard’s journey with “Pete’s Dragon” is almost as magical as the film itself. The actress thinks of the original film as a fundamental part of her childhood. “It was one of my favorite films as a child,” Howard says. “One of my earliest memories of watching a movie is watching ‘Pete’s Dragon.’ There’s something singular about that film…I don’t know what it is, but it immediately touches the inner child in me.”

So when producer Jim Whitaker, whom Howard has known for a long time and considers a very dear friend, called her to discuss the film, it was almost too good to be true. Whitaker was thinking of her for the role of Grace, the forest ranger and daughter to old wood carver Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) who is initially skeptical as to Pete’s claim that his friend Elliot is a dragon, and wanted her to meet with director David Lowery.

Howard was already familiar with Lowery’s work, calling “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” a “fantastic movie, and a really nuanced, impressionistic, sophisticated film as well,” and was thrilled to hear he was attached to the project. “Just thinking about what someone like David could bring to a story like this, elevated everything even more,” she says.

After meeting with Lowery, she was heartened to learn that this “Pete’s Dragon” would be not so much a remake, but a film which would complement the original. “I loved the tone of the script, and David was not looking to step on people’s memories of the first film, but wanted to create a film that could stand side by side with the original,” she says.

Howard continues, “It is a smart, family film but it’s also a compelling adventure, too, and I believe audiences are craving a family film that’s smart and emotionally engaging. The best Disney films are cathartic and feature characters that start with nothing and end up receiving more than they could ever have hoped for, and they provide children with opportunities to process difficult feelings, which this film does as well.”

“What David really understood about the film, is that it had these sophisticated themes running throughout but also had a storyline, which, at its essence, wasn’t necessarily all fun and laughter and music,” Howard says. “But from that kind of realism and from that very real loss that Pete has experienced can come healing, as well as a journey and an adventure that does have fun and does have beauty and friendship and family in it.”

Howard had numerous conversations with Lowery about how to give her part resonance, and together they realized that while Pete is embarking on a journey, Grace is on her own journey as well: a journey to find who she was as a child and to reconnect with that time in her life. “Pete is searching for a home but doesn’t know where it is exactly, and Grace’s friendship with Pete helps her to reconnect with her father and to begin to visualize herself with a family of her own,” she says, “And I just found that to be a really beautiful balance.”

Opening in Philippine cinemas on September 7, 2016, “Pete’s Dragon” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures.