Friday, May 31, 2019

Movie Review: “Rocketman”


**** 1/2 out of 5
121 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, some drug use and sexual content
Paramount Pictures

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Comparisons are going to be made between Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman — and I am, too. Both feature incredible performances, astounding soundtracks, the same director, and a gay centerpiece. For those paying attention, Rocketman is the better of the two films, and features a superior performance. As good as Rami Malek was at impersonating Freddie Mercury, it shows that’s all it was. Especially when comparing him to Taron Egerton’s complete embodiment of Elton John. The film soars — when it’s not edging toward cliche — and features some of the best renditions of Elton and Bernie Taupin’s greatest hits since they first graced the airwaves.

Elton has arrived … at A.A. and he’s here to tell everyone the story of how he made it from childhood to surviving celebrity status after abusing drugs and alcohol. And sex. And shopping. And bulimia. Starting with Young Reggie (Matthew Illesley), all he wants from his father, Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), is a hug. “Don’t be soft,” he tells him, and keep his hands off his record collection. His mum, Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard), tries to be a decent mother, while his grandma Ivy (Gemma Jones) helps him with driving to the Royal Academy of Music to hone his skills as the err, piano man, we all know and love. But Elton has to also deal with his homosexuality as he falls in love with his manager, John Reid (Richard Madden), while Bernie (Jamie Bell) tries to keep his best friend from killing himself through his addiction to booze, sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

One of the biggest problems with Bohemian Rhapsody was its PG-13 rating and directors Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher merely skirting around Freddie’s sexuality. But make no mistake, Rocketman revels in everything gloriously Elton John and is never scared to pull out all the stops. The production design is top notch leaving nearly no Elton costume unturned. Flashy, heavily choreographed — “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) is a showstopper — hilarious, and heartfelt, Rocketman is the best biopic anyone could ever hope for in a film about Elton John.

If there’s one issue with the film, it’s the way it handles the daddy issues. It’s so on the nose it borders on parody. Thankfully, it’s whittled down to one scene and is over before it gets too painful — sadly, not in the way intended. But we came here for the show and Taron delivers marvelously. Considering Malek won Best Actor for Rhapsody, Egerton deserves two. Even Jamie Bell comes off far more likeable than normal. Fletcher has made the film he probably wishes he could have made after taking over Rhapsody, but it’s far more fitting here, considering the subject on hand.

Despite the subject matter, it’s all handled surprisingly lightly. It never gets too heavy handed or melodramatic and keeps the pace flying by. I don’t know if I would call it Best Picture worthy, but it’s far more than the other biopic that keeps getting mentioned. Rocketman is a total blast from start to finish and flies by at the seat of its pants. A good time for all is guaranteed and make sure to stick around the end credits to hear the Elton John/Egerton duet written just for the movie. It’s too bad “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” plays over the credits, it may have killed its chance at Best Song, but it’s still an incredible effort and a fantastic send off to a musical spectacular spectacular.

Movie Review: “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

**** out of 5
131 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some language
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at

It took five years to get a sequel to Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla and it was worth it. Kong: Skull Island managed to hold us over. But now, Godzilla: King of the Monsters proves how well Warner Bros.’s MonsterVerse is working. And who better to keep it in high gear than Michael Dougherty, director of Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus. Godzilla has finally returned and continues to breathe subatomic life into the 65-year-old Toho property.

Five years ago Godzilla turned San Francisco into ground zero. Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has made it her mission to figure out how to communicate with the newly risen Titans after losing her son in the destruction. Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) has decided to abandon his wife, Emma, and daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) due to the calamity. But the family — along with Monarch and the rest of the planet — soon become stuck in the fight of their lives after Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) puts his plan into action to awaken more Titans (Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah) in an attempt to revive the planet from climate change.

If you’re in the market for spectacle, look no further. Dougherty makes good on his promise for a huge monster battle royale, decimating the globe in the process. It’s gonna be interesting to see how Godzilla vs. Kong plays out, considering there’s not a whole lot of world left. And while some could consider this spoiler territory, don’t act like you forgot what Las Vegas and San Francisco looked like by the end of the first Godzilla.

The cast are on point, even if Farmiga seems a little flustered with her role before the credits roll. But Brown makes a great debut, with the film never pushing her to stretch too far out of her comfort zone. And Chandler has been repeatedly making a great pseudo-action man in everything from this to Peter Jackson’s King Kong to J.J. Abrams’s Super 8. While always a great everyman, it’s fun to see him kick it up a notch when things take a turn for the worst.

Dougherty has a lot of fun with the screenplay — co-written by his TrT/Kampus cohort Zach Shields — paying respect to the glory days of Godzilla. From Akira Ifukube’s original Gojira score to a remake of  Blue Öyster Cult’s “Godzilla,” Dougherty clearly adores the franchise. He’s also come up with some amazing monster fights and beautiful imagery. Not something typically associated with monster films. It may not be the smartest entry — there are some obvious plot holes and dopey character moments — but it’s definitely one of the biggest. There are certain films that demand to be seen on the biggest screen possible, and this just jum

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Movie Review: “Aladdin”


**** out of 5
128 minutes
Rated PG for some action/peril
Walt Disney Pictures

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Disney started pillaging their own box office successes in search of fortune and glory a few years ago. Some with greater success than others, and also striking fear for fans worried their favorite Disney classic will become the next unnecessary remake (I’m looking at you Beauty and the Beast and Dumbo although The Jungle Book is still the best).

Trailers be damned, Aladdin winds up being way more fun than expected. Director/co-writer Guy Ritchie may not seem like the best choice for a CGI-heavy Bollywood-infused musical adventure, it’s his very own quirkiness that pulls these elements together. It will never erase our childhood memories of the original classic, but it’s a worthy update overflowing with charm and hilarity.

In this telling, we start with a family sailing the high seas as a Mariner (Will Smith) begins to spin them a tale. The Queen of Agrabah has been killed and the Sultan (David Negahban) keeps Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) from venturing out of the castle to protect her from the same fate. Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is still our favorite street rat, wandering the city with Abu when the two meet-cute as expected.

Aladdin and Jasmine find their fates entwined after Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) forces Aladdin to become the diamond in the rough, only to unleash our favorite Genie (Smith). Now, Aladdin must convince Jasmine that he’s the prince she deserves with Jafar hot on his heels with the help of Iago, to prove Aladdin is a con and try to crown himself Sultan.

The first thing you’re going to notice in this version of Aladdin is some of the song changes. The pacing is a little different, a few of the lyrics have been updated, and the music repurposed. With the help of original composer Alan Menken, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (The Greatest Showman, La La Land) give the songs new life. Bigger, punchier, and as lively as ever, every song is more cinematic. They’ve even written a new song (“Speechless”) that, while fantastic, sticks out like a sore thumb. Thankfully Ritchie keeps it from derailing the film’s momentum.

A lot of people have been complaining about Smith as our favorite Genie. Don’t worry, he’s as charming and hilarious as ever. He never tries to replace Robin Williams’s performance, but manages to make this Genie his own. Massoud makes for a great Aladdin, I just wish they’d given him more opportunity for comedy. The scene where he meets Jasmine as Prince Ali, Massoud kills it.

And then there’s Scott as Jasmine who completely owns the film. This may be called Aladdin, but it’s really the Jasmine show. Scott may come from a Disney Channel background (Lemonade Mouth), but she gets her chance to completely shine now. Full of the Jasmine spirit we know and love, if there’s one thing Aladdin really gets right, it’s in letting Ritchie — and co-writer John August (Go, Big Fish, Frankenweenie) —  add a heaping helping of girl power.

This Aladdin never tries to replace the original, but it’s a great adaptation offering tons of laughs, a few action scenes, and a huge amount of heart.

Movie Review: “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum”

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

***** out of 5
131 minutes
Rated R for pervasive strong violence, and some language
Summit Entertainment

Article first published at

John Wick set a pretty high bar for action franchises. John Wick: Chapter 2 raised it even higher by not only besting the original, but by being one of the best action films ever. Now, it fills me with delight that John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum surpassed all expectations. The law of diminishing returns need not apply to John Wick, because Parabellum is the best chapter yet.

Everyone wants to be wanted, but super-assassin John Wick is wanted with a $14 million Excommunicado bounty on his head. Picking up immediately where Chapter 2 left off, we find John on the run with everyone out to make good on the reward. Now, John has to rely on old friends (Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Anjelica Huston) and cash in on even older promises if he wants to stay alive. A meeting with The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui) will give John his penance and keep The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) from wiping out every ally he has.

Director Chad Stahelski has crafted astounding and jaw-dropping action sequences, pitting him alongside Quentin Tarantino and Gareth Evans. It’s a shame Joe Carnahan is behind the remake of Evans’s The Raid, not just because it doesn’t need to be remade, but if anyone could outdo the original, it’s Stahelski. This is some of the best filmed and choreographed action ever put on film.

Hyperbole, you say? Just you wait! See John Wick use everything from dogs, horses, books, motorcycles, knuckles, other people’s bodies, knives, and of course, guns, to save his ass as he works his way from one boss level to the next. It’s a feat unto itself for any sequel to even be as good as the original, let alone to continually get better with each entry. Typically by the third go-round the series has run its course.

Stahelski — along with his co-writers and stunt team — deliver in spades doing what every sequel should: broaden the franchise’s universe while upping the ante without jumping the shark. Something I would meet with ample glee in future installments. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is pure adrenaline from start-to-finish and never lets up. Even during exposition there’s an urgency for Wick to make it to the end. By the time the credits roll your eyes won’t believe what they’ve seen.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Movie Review: “Pokémon Detective Pikachu”

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

**** out of 5
104 minutes
Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at

The announcement of a live-action Pokémon movie was met with just as much eye rolling as fan excitement. Then came word Ryan Reynolds would be voicing its most popular character — Pikachu, of course — titled Pokémon Detective Pikachu and interest grew. Finally, the first trailer dropped and even non-fans exclaimed in excitement Warner Bros. may have managed to make it good. After having seen the movie, I still barely know the difference between a Bulbasaur to a Psyduck. But rest assured, director/co-writer Rob Letterman keeps the jokes/mystery moving along to ensure everyone has a good time.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) has just arrived in Ryme City to investigate his father death. Along with the help of journalist Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), and amnesiac Pikachu, they set out to close the case. What they soon discover is that Tim’s father was onto something bigger than they ever imagined involving a serum that turns the cute and loveable Pokémon lethal.

Letterman (Goosebumps, Gulliver’s Travels, Monsters vs. Aliens, Shark Tale) — along with a slew of writers and story credits — have crafted a great fan service film. Centering the plot in the noir genre is a fantastic way to keep the adults invested while the youngsters in the audience salivate over seeing their favorite characters come to life. And just look at Pikachu himself. Who wouldn’t want him to come to life? He’s one of the most adorable critter creations since Gizmo.

Yes, the surprise/life lesson at the end of the movie is super obvious — if you think about it for two seconds that is. But if you just sit back and bask in the genre love, there’s plenty to enjoy. And of course Reynolds is even more hilarious in the film than the trailers — some of the jokes will fly over kids heads, but it’s amazing what made it past the MPAA. Pokemon Detective Pikachu may not have had the power to convert me — I have absolutely no intention of ever playing Pokemon Go! — but if Warner Bros. continues to keep making the films this enjoyable, then I’m completely onboard.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Movie Review: “Long Shot”

Long Shot

**** 1/2 out of 5
125 minutes
Rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use

Article first published at

Director Jonathan Levine has come a long way from his Sundance slasher All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. Since then he’s managed to bring his delightful blend of comedy and drama through various genres. Drugs (The Wackness), cancer (50/50), zombies (Warm Bodies), Christmas (The Night Before), adventure (Snatched), and now we can add politics with Long Shot. Returning along with him is Seth Rogen for another sterling example of how to make a film that’s timely, heartfelt, raunchy, effortlessly charming, and above all, funny AF!

Fred Flarsky (Rogen) is a committed extreme journalist. So dedicated to the truth that we first meet him attending a White Supremacist meeting, nearly getting a white power tattoo before throwing himself out a window. Unfortunately, Fred’s paper just got bought by their worst enemy: Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis), an international media mogul who likes to cover up the truth spending time on tabloid topics. Fred quits and meets up with his best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), who swears he’s going to show Fred the night of his life.

While at a party, Fred runs into his old babysitter, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), who just happens to be the U.S. Secretary of State. Turns out, Charlotte has just been given backing to run for President by current President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk), who longs to return to his television roots. A Boyz II Men performance/fall down the stairs incident later, and Fred is swept up by Charlotte — much to her assistant Maggie’s (June Diane Raphael) chagrin — to be her new writer to punch up her poll ratings. And soon enough, the two begin a will they/won’t they relationship that only real life could possibly mirror.

There’s no denying the appeal of Rogen, and combined with the star power of Theron — in a hilarious turn — the two are one of the best on screen couples in years. The jokes fly by at a rapid pace with Rogen and Theron almost upstaged by Jackson and Raphael. The two are deadpan at its finest. Long Shot ticks off political topics with finesse, while managing to hit some well deserved Hollywood targets as well. Levine continues to prove he can do whatever he wants. It’s going to be interesting to see how long it takes before he starts repeating himself. In the meantime, Long Shot is another in a long line of crowd pleasers and one of the freshest surprises before the summer season kicks off.