Rocketman

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Swanner: Rocketman follows the life and career of Elton John. If you’re thinking this is a bio picture, you’re almost right. This film is more of a fabulous musical based of the life and songs of Elton John. The film starts with Elton entering rehab dressed as the devil. He sits down and starts to share his story from when he was a young boy living in London in the 1950’s with a head-in-the-clouds mother and a bastard of a father,. When the family realizes he has musical talent they started lessons. At 11, he won a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of the Music.

Judd: Rocketman stars Aaron Egerton (Elton John), Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin), Bryce Dallas Howard (Elton’s mother Sheila), and Richard Madden (manager/lover John Reid) and is directed by relative newcomer Dexter Fletcher, with the screenplay by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, War Horse, Victoria & Abdul). The film is a powerhouse of talent on screen and off, and Rocketman does not disappoint.

Swanner: People are going to immediately compare this to Bohemian Rhapsody since they are both dealing with 70’s rock stars. Bohemian Rhapsody was telling the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen in a very by-the-book bio pic way. Pretty straight forward. Rocketman plays with John’s songs by using them where they fit the situation, and not following a definitive timeline. It works because fans who demand the truth in a bio pic, Rocketman can do whatever works for the film.

Judd: I did like the way they kept certain time periods vague. We knew when it was the late 60s, the 70s, and when we moved into the 80s-early 90s. The script moves as a phenomenal pace, and the movie never slows down. Egerton’s performance must be given full credit for giving a relatable, human side to the self-indulgent, histrionic, tantrum-throwing, Elton John.

Swanner: Egerton is the film. All the other performances are great, but the film is about Elton John. Not one time in this film did I feel he wasn’t Elton John. This is a career making performance and the Oscar race has officially started. Don’t be surprised if this isn’t it’s own Broadway musical in a few years. Rocketman is a big screen must see.

Swanner: 4 stars
Judd: 4 stars

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Ma

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Judd: Ma kicks things off like your typical teenage slasher flick. A group of kids, looking to party in a beat-up commercial van, asks strangers to buy them booze. The stranger that finally honors their request is Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer) who invites these rambunctious teens over to party in her basement. “Better safe than sorry,” is the excuse she uses to entice them over. Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers, Missi Pyle, and Luke Evans round out the names in this Tate Taylor (The Help) directed thriller.

The thrill of Ma is seeing Octavia Spencer get creepy and murderous. Spencer has proven she can do no wrong, and seeing her stretch out a bit and have some fun is the draw. Unfortunately, the movie sticks with it’s party-hardy teenagers far too long. Sue Ann doesn’t go full psycho until the last thirty minutes of the movie – and it’s not like there weren’t opportunities before the 60 minute mark. The problem lies squarely on the shoulders of writer Scotty Landes, who’s best known for Workaholics, Adam Devine’s House Party, and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America. Television shows not exactly known for their thrills and chills. It is reason enough to believe that the script focuses on the partying teens because that’s what Landes is comfortable with. It’s too bad that he didn’t write in the humor that he’s capable of to give the far too numerous partying scenes a little flare – or at least something the break up the monotony before Sue Ann loses her shit.

The movie telegraphs Sue Ann’s reason for her murderous bent from the start, and that’s not a problem. There are plenty of characters in plenty other horror films motivated by the same thing, so there is no real letdown when we get to the root of her rage. However, there are other under-explained plot points that could have been used to fill out the story, had we not had to suffer through yet another scene with Ma gettin’ jiggy with the kiddos.

I can’t say that I hated Ma, but it certainly didn’t live up to my expectations. Had Spencer gotten more screen time being a threat instead of a nice, scatter-brained old lady who lets the townie teens party in her basement, the movie would have been something I could recommend. The movie’s titular character shouldn’t have been written as a secondary, especially when she’s played by Octavia Spencer.

Judd: 2 stars

Aladdin

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Swanner: A young street rat frees a genie from an old lamp. Once freed, the genie grants him three wishes. Following in the success of the live action The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast, Disney now gives the 1991 animated film Aladdin a big screen live action reboot. The two big questions here are can Will Smith fill the shoes of Robin William’s genie and why is Guy Ritchie, a filmmaker known for his crime action films directing this family musical.

Judd: I’m not a Disney purist, and I haven’t seen the original since the last century on a VHS tape, so I’m able to look at this Aladdin for what it is, as it stands, and not what it was and/or should have been. I have no idea who made a better genie Williams or Smith, but I will say that I was disappointed in the quality of Smith’s voice – as well as the voices of most of the performers. For songs that have become standards and a show that has made its way onto Broadway, I was expecting better singers. As far as Guy Ritchie’s direction, I think Aladdin makes up for some of his more recent mistakes.

Swanner: I was surprised with Smith’s voice too, especially on the opening number Arabian Nights. I also was surprised with a lot of the acting. Up until Smith shows up, it was all pretty terrible. Once there, the genie sets the pace and the shows works from there on. What does work are the sets and costumes. It’s beautiful and worth the cost. I also liked the addition of Jasmine’s song Speechless and Naomi Scott gives a strong girl power rendition. Answering my first question, Will Smith doesn’t try to imitate Robin Williams’ and really shines in the film. Since he was entertaining, it made the rough spots palatable.

Judd: The movie has a very “Disney Channel” feel to it, and it looked cheap – though it obviously was not. Much of that has to do with the fact that the movie was shot for a 3D experience, and we saw it in 2D, which made everything overly bright and lacking texture. Cheap would also describe Aladdin’s wig, but now I’m just being picky. I agree that the movie shines in the large set pieces, with the greatest spectacle coming from the Prince Ali number, which would have been amazing in 3D. However, I felt that Jasmine’s “Speechless” felt tacked on and unnecessary. I know they were going for the Disney Princess Girl Power Moment™, but the movie isn’t about her, which is evident in the title alone. One subtle twist that was very Ritchie is that Aladdin is a parkour expert and dashes about Agrabah with gymnastic athleticism that is borderline ridiculous, but I thought worked.

Swanner: Answering my second question, I really have to blame Ritchie for what doesn’t work here, but then someone did hired him to write and direct so maybe the the fault goes higher. I’m not sure what someone thought Ritchie would bring to the film, since none of his style was anywhere to be seen. By the way, Marwan Kenzari’s Jafar was definitely Disney Channel acting. Was the film entertaining? Sure, but it just wasn’t very good.

Judd: I want to disagree that Ritchie is as fault, but better performances could have been coaxed out of the actors  – particularly Kenzari – and the movie should have felt bigger and grander than it was. You’ve convinced me that Aladdin adds to Ritchie’s growing pile of not quite good enough.

Swanner: 2 ½ stars
Judd: 2 ½ stars

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Swanner: When we last saw John Wick, he and his dog were on the run from the international assassin’s guild, the High Table, who has lost favor with Wick and has placed a bounty on his head of $14 million dollars. This has every would be assassin looking to kill Wick. Chad Stahelski returns to direct for this third installment, bringing his years of stunt work into one big beautiful big screen dance. When I say dance, I mean there is less choreography in West Side Story than in The John Wick’s films. It’s hypnotic, and a work of art.

I always remind people that in John Wick’s world, everyone is an assassin, from the homeless man on the streets, to the woman selling tickets at the box office. So, when they hear that $14 million dollars is offered for his head…everyone wants that payout. In this third installment, Wick looks for help from his allies. He goes to the director (Angelica Huston), Sophia (Halle Berry), The Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), and even the The Manager (Ian McShane) for help, but all know by helping Wick they could be facing the same fate. The cast is as good as it sounds…yes, even Halle Berry. Berry’s character has two shepherds that completely steal every scene they’re in, and now I want a shepherd.

During the screening, the audience was laughing every time he has a really great kill. It’s not because we are all desensitized with the violence, no; it’s because John Wick is a hero. He loved his wife and his dog. Once both were taken from him, someone had to pay. Our Hero likes his revenge, and so do we. Say what you want about vigilante films. Sure, we know there are laws that we have to follow, but in film, we see the good in immediate payback. You mess with me, you mess with my dog…

Swanner: 4 stars

 

Pokemon Detective Pikachu

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Swanner: In Pokemon Detective Pikachu, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) gets the call that his father was killed. When he arrives outside his father’s apartment he meets Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) a reporter who tells Tim that his father was working on something big that got him killed. Once in his father’s apartment he meets Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) who was his father’s Pokemon, but he has lost his memory.  Together they will find out how his father was killed or if his father is really dead at all.

Judd: The movie was directed by Rob Letterman who has other children’s animated films under his belt, and written by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, and Derek Connolly. While the performances are all fine, with Bill Nighy and Ken Wantanbe rounding out the rest of the cast, the movie will appeal to fans of the cartoon, but a confusing script and too many forced cameos by various Pokemon (Pokemen?) leave the uninitiated wanting.

Swanner: I really have no background with the Pokemon world, so I was surprised that adults had Pokemons as well. I thought it was just a thing for children, much like this film. You mentioned the performances were fine. I found the two leads lacking experience in CGI acting, with their eyes and hands missing their mark, and the general performances very Disney Channel. All the “adults” were fine. Ultimately this really is just another Ryan Reynolds vehicle. 

Judd: I was too confused by the script to notice the missed marks. Goodman has daddy issues, the villain has daddy issues, there are a couple twists that come out of nowhere, and a literal plot device that was so easy to defeat it was almost like the screenwriters weren’t even trying. Maybe if there weren’t so many of them, the script would have felt more coherent.

Swanner: As I mentioned, it felt like a kids movie. It was enjoyable learning about the different Pokemon monsters but I think most folks will already be familiar with them. Past that, it was a simple story with very few surprises. Nothing too complicated, I found myself just going with it. It’s not a film I expect myself to watch again, and I was entertained while I watched the screening, but I think it’s target audience would like it more. 

Swanner 2 stars
Judd: 1 ½ stars