REVIEW: “ROCKETMAN” (2019) Paramount Pictures

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Where do we start here…well with Elton Hercules John a.k.a. Reginald Kenneth Dwight of course. This is one movie I predict is going to get very mixed reviews because while it has an R rating and can show a bit more spunk, it’s also more Broadway musical and flits between scenes of Elton’s life at a very high speed, most especially in it’s second half.  I predict many will love it, and some might revile it. I was caught somewhere in the middle. Without giving any actual spoilers away and going step by step through the film every scene, consider this:

1. If you absolutely do not like musicals, save your money. This is the John/Taupin equivalent of a Rodgers & Hammerstein show. It is not presented as a straightforward biopic in the same manner as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘, though honestly these two films shouldn’t even be compared side by side because of many different factors, some of which include the rating (R vs PG-13), that they were two completely totally different types of musicians, one was  a band, one is a solo artist etc.. so just don’t do it. Don’t compare. It’s silly.

2. Much as I like Elton John, this “rock & roll fantasy” of his life treads a little too far into campy territory for me, with two, maybe three very (thankfully) brief moments in the film that can only be described as cringe-worthy. (“Oh, come on, guys–seriously?” moments.) There were times when I genuinely felt this was going to end up as the Ken Russell version of ‘Tommy’ for the new millennium.

 

These few things however, are about my only problems with the film. Credit must be given where it’s due:

1. Taron Egerton is just amazing as Elton. Some might see his acting as occasionally over the top, but frankly and for all we know, maybe EJ really did act that “extremely” at times, considering his anger issues. His singing, most of the time, is virtually spot-on, catching EJ’s lilting singing style quite well.

2. The supporting cast: Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin), Bryce Dallas Howard (Sheila – Elton’s mother) , Richard Madden (John Reid – EJ’s agent & self-centered 1st lover), Stephen Graham (Dick James), a simply standout performance by Tate Donovan (L.A.’s Troubador Club manager Doug Weston), Gemma Jones (Ivy, EJ’s grandmother) & Steven Mackintosh (Stanley – EJ’s cold, uncaring father) and all others in the film are essentially faultless.

3. Much as I wasn’t prepared for a musical/rock opera, it’s hard to find fault with the staging and choreography of the musical numbers. Very professionally done.

4. You will learn many things about EJ’s life in this film, most especially his early family life that you may not have known before…I know I did.

5. Don’t leave right away after the credits roll.

So, is it worth seeing? My criticisms aside (and we all know what they say about opinions), it really comes down to this: if you’re a fan–and especially a dedicated fan most definitely go see it. Decide for yourself if my few gripes hold any water.

Grade: B-

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, May 22, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

“ROCKETMAN” IS NOW PLAYING WORLDWIDE 

REVIEW: “BOOKSMART” (2019) Annapurna Pictures

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Every decade comes with its own teen movies.  ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’, ‘Clueless’, ‘Superbad’ or any and all of John Hughes films can be par for the course of this genre.  Most are fun and years later you can give them a watch as a reminder of fun moments in life.

“BOOKSMART” might be another one that some will no doubt, add to their list.  Early word of mouth was mostly positive so going in early also and fully expecting to enjoy it, I was dismayed when the film was making “Funny, huh? Wasn’t that funny?!?” noises despite nothing particularly funny happening. Olivia Wilde gets points here though, for making a very colorful and energetic movie that might indeed convince a lot of people through sheer high spirits that it’s a great comedy. But instead it felt just strenuous to me, trying too hard to cover the fact that the funny, clever, witty material you found in all those John Hughes films, wasn’t actually there.

The premise is while some might find ridiculous, can actually happen. Two bookworm protagonists Molly (Beanie Feldstein) & Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), are horrified to discover that after all their sacrifices for the future, all the party-hearty types at their high school ALSO got into Ivy League schools. This would make sense if it took place in a wealthy community where everyone was a “legacy” student thanks for their family’s donations. But the movie makes a point of singling out two characters as the only “truly rich” ones here. Those two, Nick (Mason Gooding) & Gigi (Billie Lourd), like every character save the two lead girls, are complete “SNL”-style caricatures. What’s worse, they all also seem to be played by actors who are about a decade too old, once again apart from the two lead girls.  Add in the trying to be cool character Principal Brown (Jason Sudeikis), who side-lines as a Uber driver role, the crazy girl Triple A (Molly Gordon), who actually is one of the few that brings along the laughs, the poor rich kid with no friends and has to buy them routine character Jared (Skyler Gisondo), and wrap it all up with the lonely oddball teacher Miss Fine (Jessica Williams), (who’s name can explain the entire character to you) that ends up at a school party and sleeps with the over-aged 19 yr old senior student Theo (Eduardo Franco) that really is just weird and oh-so-wrong!

Even so, the premise and the casting and everything might have worked if “Booksmart” were an outright farce. But it seems to be aiming to be sorta-kinda “real,” while the characters nonetheless behave like no teenagers past or present. Everything here is so over-amped and contrived for effect, yet the ingenious comedy situations and bright lines that approach might have served are nowhere to be found.

While it’s can be very lively and somewhat well-crafted movie, it nonetheless felt completely phony and unfunny for the most part.  It’s not boring, but I have no idea what people who like it are responding to, beyond the fact that its being lauded as the “‘Superbad’ for high school senior girls” which is probably good enough for many, though it should be aiming for more.  You could say it tries for a mix of “Superbad” and John Hughes, but those movies do a much better job turning recognizable teenage life into farce with some heart, and if Wilde intended something similar, on the whole she misses the mark.

‘A’ for effort, in the ‘C+’ average range for derivative/uninspired content and it’s no brilliantly put together film like last years brilliant ‘Eighth Grade’ .  It’s like a student paper with a very splashy cover but nothing original or thoughtful inside.

Grade: C+                                                                                                                                                      @pegsatthemovies

 

Review Screening: Tuesday, May 7, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Film group                  ‘BOOKSMART’ IS NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE//WORLDWIDE RELEASE FOLLOWING

 

REVIEW: “TRIAL BY FIRE” (2019) Roadside Attractions

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If like me, you are someone who is completely conflicted on something like the death penalty, “TRIAL BY FIRE” might just be the movie for us all to see.  My conflict mostly arises from the fact that for me, anyone who hurts a child just shouldn’t get a second chance ever.  Yet, as we know from such wonderful trials as OJ Simpson or Brock Turner’s, the justice system is flawed and while some cases are cut and dry guilty, some aren’t.  Hence the story of imprisoned death row inmate Cameron Todd Willingham (Jack O’Connell).  Willingham is a poor, uneducated heavy metal devotee with a violent streak and a criminal record to boot.  He is convicted in the arson related death of his own three children in 1992, deaths so awful a swift accounting for is demanded and given and Willingham is sentenced to death with the ‘justice’ system moving with particular swiftness and speed in this case.

What follows is the overwhelming story of this mans life.  Showing him to be the angry and flawed human that he is.  Chronically unemployed or employable to say the least, he is a brawler, womanizer, and yet the caregiver to his three children because he won’t or can’t work, shows another side to him.  Even wife Stacy (Emily Meade), while being the breadwinner of the family, notes that this is a man who loves his kids.  Being that she is away the morning of the fire that engulfs their home and the three children, while Willingham makes it out alive, gives her character the sympathy that is deserved.  But is all really as it seems or does the law just adjust their crime scene to fit the narrative they want to convict.

This is where the story truly picks up what happens when they do decide this and because justice is wanted so badly, that no other scenarios are even discussed.  Except for the small fact that Willingham has never given up on the fact that he is innocent.  Investigators claim to find evidence of a fire accelerant. A jailhouse snitch reports that Willingham confessed to the crime, and during the trial, a disinterested public defender repeatedly advises Willingham to avoid the death penalty by pleading guilty. When Willingham refuses, the lawyer loses interest. No serious defense is mounted, and Willingham finds himself on death row, awaiting lethal injection in Texas, a state that likes to keep the line moving.

Alone and isolated in prison, when through a random encounter with someone who knows about the case, a woman named Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern),  volunteers to correspond with him, hears his claims of innocence, and trying to do the right thing, she re-investigates his case, even though the obsession with it all leads to the detriment of duty to her own family home life.  She uncovers what looks increasingly like a shoddy investigation (the arson “evidence” is refuted) and slippery prosecution, even showing the jailhouse snitch recanting.

Even though I might have an issue with performances of many Brits/Aussie’s trying to play the southern accent, the performance here by O’Connell goes beyond that.  He plays Willingham as wronged, but you find heart in him as the story unfolds.  Emily Meade is secondary only in the fact that she plays his wife who shows throughout that she too, is conflicted by what might or might not be the truth.  Dern, though the ‘victorious’ character you could say, still comes off as a bit bland and even though its true, you wonder why she took this interest and it’s never really told to you.  That could be the fault of director Edward Zwick though, as the movie evolves without really showing us the messiness of real life in-between the lines.

The movie allows that Willingham can be innocent and still be manipulative and angry and flawed, and concludes with a wallop of emotion as Willingham is executed all while waiting for a Governors stay of execution.  A significant point made in the end titles is that for all means and purposes, Willingham is notably innocent, hence my referral back to being so conflicted by something like the death penalty, because it’s just not 100% fool-proof.

Grade: C+                                                                                                                                        @pegsatthemovies

 

Review Screening: Wednesday, May 15, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Film Independent

“TRIAL BY FIRE” IS NOW PLAYING IN SELECT CITIES

INSTA-REVIEW: “UGLY DOLLS” (2019) STX Entertainment

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“Ugly Dolls” brings a wonderful adaptation of the kids books to the big screen. It’s sweet story with a wonderful message behind it all, that is actually for kids!! No double entendre here nor is it filled with references like a few other kids movies, that go right over their heads..nope..this one is truly for the kids and its lovely.

Also different and very enjoyable, is the voice cast is made up almost entirely of music superstars. Kelly Clarkson voices our plucky pink doll heroine Moxy with Janelle Monáe coming in as Mandy, Moxy’s ally.  Nick Jonas and Blake Shelton offer up their voices as rivals Lou and Ox, the leaders of their respective town’s of Perfection and Uglyville. And most surprising, is a fun debut by Pitbull as Ugly Dog who is one slick rapper!! 😁

The storyline of Moxy wanting to break out of Uglyville and find a child who will love her for all her imperfections could be any one of us charting our way thru life. Being held back at all points by people telling you only the perfect ‘dolls’ can pass thru life and find true happiness, only to learn to embrace herself and fearlessly show others how to love themselves and flaws can be special and there is truly someone out there to love us all.. it’s a sweet, strong message that all children should be taught.

The music/songs are wonderful and catchy tunes you will find yourself singing long after the movie is over. My message to you is to take your kids and yourself to see this one..you will be happy you did.

Grade: B
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Media Premiere Review Screening: Saturday, April 27, 2019 ~ Courtesy of STX Entertainment (post carnival event was absolutely amazing with giant slide, fun house, face painting and so much more for the kids!)

“UGLY DOLLS” IS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE FRIDAY, MAY 3, 2019

Side note: Running into Kelly Clarkson & Gwen Stefani on the side street while walking up as they were having a nice chat – was a good highlight! 🙂

INSTA-REVIEW: “LONG SHOT” (2019) Lionsgate

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Charlize Theron hasn’t been the best at comedies.. that all changes with Long Shot . Paired up with Seth Rogan here is maybe the key as their characters really have nothing in common. Charlotte (Theron) is running for President and needs a speech writer.. Fred Flarsky (Rogan) is actually a kid she used to babysit whom had an undying crush on her. 20 years later he comes on board her team as said speech writer.
You would think such an odd pairing would have no chemistry..but they most definitely do. And while you won’t find any breaking out of the box – rom com formula here.. it is just a good fun ride of a comedy.
The supporting cast help make that happen in a big way, most especially June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel. Bob Odenkirk lends a hand as POTUS, Andy Serkis is thrown in for a bit Alexander Skarsgård as Canadian PM & potential romantic partner for Theron, is hysterical as playing the cad. The weakest support coming from O’Shea Jacksons character of Lance, BFF to Fred.

All in all Long Shot – while formulatic, is a fun watch!
Grade: B-

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Review Screening: Monday, April 8, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV meetup.