‘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.

‘Game of Throne’s’ Richard Madden fights terrorism in ‘Bastille Day’

Richard Madden who has gained mainstream attention with his notable role in the global hit TV series “Game of Thrones” takes action on the big screen in “Bastille Day” starring alongside award-winning Idris Elba. Michael Mason (Madden) is an American pickpocket living in Paris who finds himself hunted by the CIA when he steals a bag that contains more than just a wallet. Sean Briar (Elba), the field agent on the case, soon realizes that Michael is just a pawn in a much bigger game and is also his best asset to uncover a large-scale conspiracy.

“Bastille Day” finds two everyday man and unlikely heroes in present-day scenario when all the world is doing everything at all cost to fight terrorism. They’re thrown into a drama and they are forced to team up and navigate their way through a heinous plot aimed to kill thousands of people.

For his part, Madden saw the character of Michael as “a street rat, with not much of a moral compass or sense of responsibility for his actions. He’s an American pickpocket in Paris, and he’s a bit adrift, but he’s got this incredible skill set, he’s really wonderful at what he does. But I think he’s not sure who he is and who he wants to be and he’s slightly lost in the world and has a certain sense of perhaps self-loathing and but he’s really ready to embark on a journey and try to find a different side of himself.”

The actors did most of the stunt work, including the fight scenes. Not having to cut between the actors and stuntmen was a way of keeping the film grounded in reality. Stunt coordinator Jimmy O’Dee worked for several weeks with the actors, preparing them for the scene. He would cut the action into manageable parts and then design the choreography of the fight and the actors would train together until they were completely in sync.

Madden was just as thrilled to be involved in the action scenes. He started training with the stunt team about six weeks before filming. “They built these 15-foot high obstacle courses which I’d have to run up and over, jumping over things, throwing myself through windows, tumbling down stairs. It was really tough but it prepared me for the chase sequences where I had to scramble over roofs and hang off the edge of buildings. It was important that it didn’t look too professional because Michael isn’t a base jumper or anything; he’s just an ordinary guy, so the rooftop chase is quite scrappy. I wanted him to slip and fall and really scrambling for his life trying to get away.”

A more interesting aspect of the training for Madden was learning how to pickpocket. Working with a consultant named, appropriately, Keith the Thief, Madden learned sleight of hands tricks and distraction techniques. “We wanted some of the manoeuvres he pulls to be a bit flamboyant so that it reflects Michael’s cockiness at his own ability. Director James was very keen to make sure that that the stealing didn’t appear to be like magic, but that it seemed realistic. So if anyone watching the film on DVD pauses and watches it in slow-motion to check it’s really me doing it, I did actually do it!”

Another of the main set pieces which required a tremendous amount of preparation was the bomb blast. Production designer Paul Kirby, and his team, built a replica Metro stop into the back of a building located right outside of Paris. David Kanter adds “Richard worked really hard. He was pulled on a wire, repeatedly, to dramatize the force of the explosion. Everything had to be timed out right; there’s the explosion part which we did in different sizes and is comprised of many different components that convey a truly awful moment.”

“Bastille Day” opens April 20, 2016 in theatres nationwide from Axinite Digicinema.

 

Idris Elba, Richard Madden face bomb attacks in ‘Bastille Day’

Timely as today’s major concerns on battling terrorism comes the riveting action film “Bastille Day” based on true events starring Idris Elba and Richard Madden out to stop a series of bomb attacks in Paris.

In “Bastille Day,” Michael Mason (Richard Madden from ‘Game of Thrones’) is an American pickpocket living in Paris who finds himself hunted by the CIA when he steals a bag that contains more than just a wallet. Sean Briar (Idris Elba from ‘Luther’ and “Prometheus’), the field agent on the case, soon realizes that Michael is just a pawn in a much bigger game and is also his best asset to uncover a large-scale conspiracy.

Going against commands, Briar recruits Michael to use his expert pickpocketing skills to help quickly track down the source of the corruption. As a 24hr thrill ride ensues, the unlikely duo discover they are both targets and must rely upon each other in order to take down a common enemy.

“Bastille Day” is a story with buried layers – personal, action, and geopolitical – and, even though it’s a very, very fast paced action thriller, it does touch on the anger that a lot of people have in terms of feeling disenfranchised from the political process. You see it in London, you see it in Paris, and it is a big theme in the plot because the bad guys exploit it. As Michael demonstrates to Briar, we live in a world of sleight-of-hand where ‘it’s all about the distraction.’

Taking the lead is Idris Elba as Sean Briar, the CIA operative who has been confined to a desk job in Paris after a mission in the Middle East went wrong. Elba describes Sean Briar as “a CIA veteran, he’s been around for a long time and the posting in Paris is a step down for him after the high profile covert work he was doing before. He’s an army guy who just wants to get the job done and go home. His boss, Karen, instructs him to go and get Michael, who’s the prime suspect in the bombing, but Briar believes that there’s more to the story than that. So he has to follow his hunch even though he’s disobeying orders. These two characters – Briar, and Michael- make for an unlikely duo of heroes. They’re thrown into and are forced to team up and navigate their way through the twists and turns of the impending catastrophe. It’s not just action for action’s sake. It’s an action-packed film; but at the heart, there are characters that you care about and there’s a very compelling storyline. “Bastille Day” feels unique and modern, because it’s a European take on an action film.”

One of the most visually impressive and logistically challenging set pieces is the rooftop chase at the beginning of the film featuring Idris Elba’s character, Sean Briar, and Richard Madden’s character, Michael Mason. The chase starts in Michael’s apartment, moves out and up to the rooftops of Paris and then plummets into the hustle and bustle of a crowded market.

The actors did most of the stunt work, including the fight scenes. Not having to cut between the actors and stuntmen was a way of keeping the film grounded in reality. Stunt coordinator Jimmy O’Dee worked for several weeks with the actors, preparing them for the scene. “Jimmy O’Dee was really specific about being fit,” says Elba. “I’ve never done a film with so many fight sequences before, and I loved it. I have a little martial arts training so it was great fun for me to exercise some of my knowledge. I think the film definitely attempts to be as raw in the fight sequences as we can get. Scrappy was the word I kept hearing. I mean it really feels like you’re in there.”

Join the war against terrorism when “Bastille Day” opens April 20, 2016 in theaters nationwide from Axinite Digicinema.