Today we’re going to kick back and take a look at a couple of recent movies because, hey, we just like movies, you know.
We even have a sort of theme this time — music-based films. These two movies were out this summer, and maybe you saw them and maybe you didn’t. By next week, they’ll both be out on DVD.
“Rocketman” is described on IMDB as “a musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years.” The use of the word “fantasy” twice in one sentence should give you a clue about this movie’s presentation. The film is directed by Dexter Fletcher who directed “Bohemian Rhapsody,” last year’s movie about Freddie Mercury and Queen that scored four Oscar wins including Best Actor Rami Malek, as well as a Best Picture nomination. That movie was done in the more classical biopic style, much like 2004’s “Ray.” (Jamie Foxx took home the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Ray Charles.)
Argos Productions Managing Director Jeston Cole Lewis sums up the movie as “a dynamic look at an iconic performer’s early life and the struggles of growing up, dealing with fame, family and friends.”
But if you think “Rocketman” will follow that same flight pattern as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” you may or may not be disappointed to find it is not told in that classic structure. If you were to go through Elton John’s scrapbook and cut out parts here and there and glue some of those moments into a collage and then make a Broadway musical out of it, that is what this movie feels like. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on the stage someday.
Of course, the songs are great, and they vary in style from “West Side Story” choreography to swirling, flamboyant extravaganzas. Fantastical, as they say. Yet not unlike Elton’s own wild public persona. Underneath all that fun lies a storyline that puts just a bit too much emphasis on the down side of his life — the drugs and drinking, the excesses, the moody spoiled attitudes and the feeling of being unloved. While the ending pays off, critics who didn’t love the movie (which included my girlfriend) saw the poor-me storyline as lacking character balance. You may feel differently. (IMDB gave it a 7.5, while the Metascore/Metacritic score was 69.)
The movie has an intriguing start, the songs are always great, and many people enjoy the collage-like presentation of Elton’s crazy persona and life. Star Taron Egerton does a very commendable job as the iconic singer, doing all the singing himself. You’ll remember him as Eggsy in the two “Kingsman” movies. (And BTW, Elton himself is in the second “Kingsman” movie as his own self, a celebrity hostage.) Jamie Bell also does a good job as co-songwriter Bernie Taupin.
It’s hard not to recognize and appreciate the work of Egerton, Jeston said. It gives the movie a “modern musical feel — especially since he can actually sing.” Watch this:
Like others, Jeston found the fantasy aspect of the movie enjoyable and gives the movie a full five stars, stopping just short of becoming “too much like a Mary Poppins film.”
“I find this to be a critique of the movie industry at large; the loud parts are extraordinarily loud to the point of being damaging over time,” he said. “But I thought this was a great way to portray the life of an artist, not 100 percent historical, but not wholly inaccurate.”
While I, too, salute the choice to make a “fantastical” movie rather than a standard biopic, it didn’t work as well for me as it did for others. As a fan of early Elton music, I was a bit unsettled by the messiness of the song chronology aspect, which I suppose won’t be noticed by average fans. There are other little things films are wont to do (Elton took his name from Long John Baldry, NOT John Lennon, for example), but that is not untypical. His four-year marriage to a woman also came and went without exploration, just a quick snap in the collage. And although he comes to terms with his personal demons in classic movie style, the story ends before we get to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Princess Diana or his late-in-life love and marriage to David Furnish. (They have two sons.)
The costumes are incredible — and accurate — while the movie and musical montages, years in the planning, are exactly as Elton and his husband wanted it to be: “based on a true fantasy.”
“Yesterday” is another fantasy, musician-based movie, this time involving a frustrated singer-songwriter (Himesh Patel) who finds himself in a parallel universe in which The Beatles never existed. (No Coca-Cola either; sorry.) This is an intriguing concept directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008).
Once again, you have a film in which music-over-story carries the movie. Our hero realizes any world without Beatles music is seriously missing something, so he begins his mission to recreate those songs for this world.
“I enjoyed the concept,” Jeston said. “The idea of the removal of a huge influential piece of history is fun. And the adaptations were enjoyable, especially the montage of his initial recordings.”
Overall, this is a pleasant movie, and I rather think of it as a well-done Hallmark Channel type of alternate-life-choice movie. The difference in this case is our protagonist is not trying to correct a road not taken, but instead needs to make those decisions without anything to guide him.
The upside of the movie is watching one person’s quest to bring the music of the Beatles to an entire planet, even throwing in a rooftop concert. If there is a downside, it is that the movie neglected an opportunity to explore the moral and personal decisions of our character in more depth. He recreates the songs because he can, not because he has a personal relationship with the lyrics. There is no Strawberry Fields in his own life. Ed Sheeran is in the movie as himself, which added a bit of unrequited weirdness to the movie. And Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon added her own hilarious take as our hero’s new, money-focused manager.
Jeston agreed McKinnon’s heartless agent was fabulous, and he enjoyed the nervous subplot involving a couple mysterious characters that we won’t give away here. But he also felt some of the writing could have been stronger. “There were some motivational issues for the main character, especially when it came to him falling in love.” He also felt Sheeran’s acting was “undercooked and sometimes felt disingenuous” when it came to talking-up Jack as a great songwriter. “There’s a flaw in the premise because of how influential the Beatles have been. An argument could be made that Ed Sheeran’s music wouldn’t be the same without the Beatles.”
“Yesterday” is an agreeable, lazy day movie. IMBD folks have given it a 7.0 rating, while Metascore/Metacritics were a bit harsher with a 56 average score. I wonder if that isn’t because there were higher expectations in a Danny Boyle-directed movie. His portfolio includes “Shallow Grave,” “Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later…,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “127 Hours” and more.
Jeston gives the film 4 out of 5 stars and says the film is an enjoyable indie-feel flick with great music. “If you enjoy the Beatles, this will be a really fun movie for you. I think even those who aren’t big Beatles fans will have a good time.”
Even the trailer is a good time:
IF YOU LIKED THOSE MOVIES …
- The aforementioned “Bohemian Rhapsody.” If you’ve been avoiding this for some reason, don’t. It works well.
- “Hearts Beat Loud” is a feel-good movie from 2018 about a father and daughter who become a very unlikely songwriting duo before she takes off for her first year of college. Dad is played by Nick Offerman of “Parks and Recreation” fame.
- “Begin Again” is a 2013 comedy-drama that is another take on an unlikely musical partnership between two disparate characters played by Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. The song “Lost Stars” was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song.
There must be a million musician-related movies. We could talk about them literally all day. I’ve already typed and deleted a handful of ideas to recommend.
- This will seem obvious, but many haven’t seen it. It’s the 1976 “Bound for Glory,” the story of Woody Guthrie nominated for six Oscars and taking home two wins: Cinematography and Best Score. Look at the list of Best Picture nominees that year. They all could have won: “Rocky,” “All the President’s Men,” “Network,” “Taxi Driver” and this one. Yikes, what a year.
- Good luck finding this one, but it is totally wonderful: “Le Concert.” From 2009, it was a Golden Globe nominee for foreign film. I believe it’s available in both subtitled and dubbed versions.
- Here’s a 2012 documentary-mystery that went under most people’s radar despite winning Oscar for Best Documentary: “Searching for Sugar Man.” Just watch it. Odds are good you’re going to add a new artist to your music collection.
- For Beatles-related movies, watch “A Hard Day’s Night” or “Help!” and then tell me you want to live in a world without them.
- And finally, check out this 2004 Danny Boyle-directed movie “Millions.” It doesn’t have a music theme, but I know you didn’t watch it. I can’t find anybody who did. But you really should consider putting it on your list. It’s fantastical in its own way. As the young protagonist says, “It’s not suspicious, it’s unusual.”