“ Rocketman”

One sees the film “ Rocketman” for Taron Egerton. This thirty-year-old Welsh actor does all his own singing ;and like his name, which is a variation of “thunder” in Welsh, he literally thunders on screen. The energy of his performances is breathtaking. Two key scenes are memorable. One has Egerton as Elton John rise with his legs behind him while still playing the piano keyboard. The audience levitates to his performance while singing ” La la la la” to the razzle dazzle. The second visual fantasy has Elton diving into his pool in a drug and alcohol whacked suicide attempt only to have his childhood-self sitting in a space helmet on the pool’s floor as Elton slowly swirls in his silk Versace robe.

Director Dexter Fletcher of “Bohemian Rhapsody” fame uses a musical video format to outline Reginald Dwight’s rise to fame as Elton John. Matthew Illesley plays the eight-year-old prodigy with the song ” The Bitch Is Back”. He directs fantasy orchestras from his bed and warrants placement in music classes for the gifted. On a Royal Academy Of Music scholarship, Dwight is taken to lessons by his grandma (Gemma Jones). His mother ( Bryce Dallas Howard) is busy with her philandering, and his father ( Steve Makintosh ) is cool to his son’s ” softness” and equally self-absorbed.

The lonely, emotionally neglected boy plays out in AA therapy sessions with the circle repeated in his abuse of alcohol, drugs, and sex. Bulimia and non-stop shopping get mentioned, as does poor anger management. While these sins are enumerated, the executive producer ( Elton, himself) and the producer ( David Furnish, his partner) balance the warts with Elton’s 450 million dollar philanthropic activities. This being said not much character insight is given. Compared with Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Elton seems underexamined ,and therefore, more shallow.

The character with depth is Bernie Taupin ( Jamie Bell ). Taupin is the lyricist, who for fifty years supplied Elton with the grist for his themes. Elton composed the music and and added the accoutrements of performance art. Be it feathers, outlandish glasses, sequins, or platform shoes. Twenty some songs wend their way through the film: “Crocodile Rock”, ” Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, “I’m Still Standing”, “ I Want Love”, “ Hercules”, “ Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, ‘Rocketman”,“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Pinball Wizard”, “Honky Cat”, “ Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest”, “ Border Song “, and my favorite, “Your Song”. Others  like “ Candle In The Wind” are given a few lines and chords. It is quite a song fest of adulation.

Jaime Bell’s Taupin is a great foil to the self-serving new manager and pretend-lover, John Reid (Richard Madden). I loved the scene where Taupin and Elton collaborate on a park bench. Bernie later tells Elton that he doesn’t have to put up with the unfaithful John. John is vehement and tells Elton that his 20% of the profit will stay long after Elton kills himself. Elton feels “ frozen on the ladder of life”. At 28, Elton is back in re-hab and soon after marries an Italian studio producer named Renata. They sleep in separate bedrooms, and the marriage does not last long. “Rocketman” ends on a positive note with pictures of his now partner, David Furnish, and their two sons.

This saga of mega-celebrity is channeled beautifully by Taron Egerton. His frenetic energy owns the film.

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”

How can a movie have such an incredible cast and such superb acting and still sink to mediocre? Poor screenwriting, I’d answer. Film reel credits for Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, and Julie Walters entice and draw us in, only to have us wonder why anyone cares about a true story of an aging narcissist. Gloria Grahame is our  subject. Grahame was in over 38 films, and was nominated for the Oscars’  “Best Supporting Actress” twice. She was married four times, and scandalously married the son of her second husband.

The film “ Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” centers on another relationship with a much younger man, three decades younger. Peter Turner’s story is the crux of the film. He accepts her, loves her, and is hurt by her. She is diagnosed with breast cancer, keeps it from him, but when it reoccurs  she seeks solace with his, the Turner, family in Liverpool.

The 1951 sex scandal aftermath and Gloria’s four word acceptance utterance ( “Thank you very much” ) are screened. “ The Bold and the Beautiful” ( 1953 ) seemed to be the title of her life story. Bening does not play to type here. Gloria is obsessed with her looks, spends much of her time before the mirror, and generally is unlikeable. Her painful descent into stomach cancer includes a scene where she asks Peter to burp her. Flash back to their earlier flirty days makes the depressing demise of the deluded star bearable, but just. We see them viewing ‘Alien” together.

Peter is an actor too. They talk about the craft. Gloria likes  monologues because, “ you get to say all the lines”. She confesses that she would have liked to have played Shakespeare’s Juliet. One of most touching scenes has Peter taking the sick Gloria  on a field trip where they sit on stage and perform a scene as Romeo and Juliet. It is sad, heartfelt, and a balance from sex, sin, and salvation where they watch reruns of her old movies on red sheets.

Gloria spends a lot of time ordering Peter around. She sends him to health food stores for apricot kernels and black grapefruit juice. She refuses to call any of her four children, all as young as Peter. She continues to be demanding, hyper-sensitive , and distant. Peter lovingly packs her suitcase for her death trip to NYC., and she leaves a headshot from her earlier days for him on the chenille bedspread.

The sound track is abysmal. When we hear “slip, slipping away” the gag reflex hits. “You really got a hold on me” makes us yell out the question, “why?”. This film never makes the attraction clear.