Shanghai Express-1932

Shanghai Express-1932

Director-Josef Von Sternberg

Starring-Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook

Scott’s Review #913

Reviewed June 29, 2019

Grade: A-

A film way ahead of its time and firmly affixed to the female perspective, Shanghai Express (1932) is riddled with drama, intrigue and adventure culminating in a slightly too tidy of an ending. Forgetting that slight embrace with traditional been there, done that film climax, the story has layers of interesting tidbits and will assuredly keep audiences on their toes. Marlene Dietrich sizzles in the lead role and benefits from the film being made pre-American code, which put restrictions galore on pictures, watering down many.

With flashes of a story like Murder on the Orient Express, Shanghai Express gets off to a strong start as a group of strangers of differing backgrounds begin to board the self-titled train from Istanbul, Turkey through civil war-torn China. Causing a stir is the presence of Shanghai Lily (Dietrich), a woman of questionable morals, with her sidekick Hui Fei in tow (Anna May Wong). Lily reconnects with her former flame Captain Donald Harvey (Clive Brook) as passengers shun her and political matters reach the boiling point, leading Lily to prove her undying love for Donald.

Keeping in mind that the film was made in the year 1932, the plot and surrounding elements all resound to being female driven which is both courageous and forceful. Dietrich is glamorous and photographs beautifully with no better example of this than the scene when she trembles and shivers in fear as she clings to a cigarette, her character deep in thought and anxiety. The image and lighting were so powerful that it became the cover art for the promotional photograph. A promiscuous woman but never being ashamed of who she is Lily proudly proclaims the immortal line, “It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.”

Dietrich is nearly overshadowed by Anna May Wong, the mysterious and deadly Hui Fei. With her exotic demeanor the audience is perplexed by her, not knowing much about her, and longing for more exposure and reveals. Hui Fei comes full tilt during the final act but remains an elusive character. Throughout the run-time of the film-short at one hour and thirty-two minutes, I found myself thinking about Hui Fei continuously, wanting more explanation about her life, her background, and how she came to be associated with Shanghai Lily.

The film’s atmosphere is a championed success as the roaring engines of the fast-moving train mixed with the bells and dazzling, luxurious train cars make the background details tremendously important, keeping the fast-paced action ongoing and crackling. The supporting characters like judgmental Christian missionary Mr. Carmichael (Lawrence Grant), who at first condemns the two as “fallen women”, and the boarding house keeper Mrs. Haggerty (Louise Closser Hale) with her strictness for discipline and cleanliness, add life and a good comic balance to the heavy drama.

Shanghai Express’s tremendous attributes with cagey female characters and perspective, so strong an appeal, ultimately lead to a glaring letdown at the end of the film. Understood is how Lily is madly in love with Donald and the physical tension they share throughout the film is palpable and noticeable.  She is willing to agree to go with the film’s villain, the dastardly Chang (Warner Oland) to his palace, presumably for sex or to become his kept woman, all in the name of her love for Donald. Lily and Donald find their way to a strong embrace as the film ends but this feels contrived given the immense other qualities.

Lovely is having the experience of viewing a film not too distant from celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary and noticing aspects highly influential to other films. Thanks to a fantastic performance by Dietrich and cleverly written characters the film is a high achievement and should be exposed to young film fans studying in film school as evidence of an early treasure. Shanghai Express (1932) is a cinematic success peppered with complexities and voracious theater.

Oh Lucy!-2017

Oh Lucy!-2017

Director-Atsuko Hirayanagi

Starring-Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett

Scott’s Review #912

Reviewed June 20, 2019

Grade: B+

Japanese culture meets American culture is the underlying component of Oh Lucy! (2017), an interesting dark comedy and the feature film debut from female director Atsuko Hirayanagi. The film was once a short but progressed into a full-length project, deservedly receiving Film Independent nominations for Best Female Lead and Best First Feature. The co-settings of Tokyo and Los Angeles and the tremendous performance by star Shinobu Terajima make this a worthy watch.

Middle-aged Setsuko (Terajima) lives an unfulfilled daily existence in Tokyo, working a drab office job and living in a cluttered one- bedroom apartment riddled with comforting junk. She wears a protective mouth cover, common in her city, to avoid breathing in bad air, but also chain smokes. She is unpopular at work and wishes to date more but is unlucky in love. One day she is convinced by her niece Mika (Shiori Kutsuna) to take English lessons and falls for her handsome instructor John (Josh Hartnett), who nicknames her “Lucy” making her don a blonde wig and talk “American”. A fellow classmate, “Tom” (Koji Yakusho) seems interested in “Lucy”.

When Mika runs off with John to Los Angeles prompting Setsuko and her bitchy sister Ayako (Kaho Minami) to follow suit concerned for her safety, adventure begins. Setsuko and Mika both jockey for position with John, her vacation from her dreary job and her growing obsession with him energizing her, as a rivalry between Setsuko and Ayako hits full throttle. Setsuko begins to exhibit bizarre and unbecoming behavior.

The film delves into an interesting characteristic among Japanese females; rivalry, as the subject matter is heavily female centered in nature. The trio of Setsuko, Ayako, and Mika are family, and love each other unconditionally, but do they like each other? Immediately we are made aware that long-ago Setsuko stole Ayako’s boyfriend, or so she claims. Eventually Setsuko tries to steal Ayako’s man, so there is reoccurring conflict between each of the women. Ayako has a rebellious streak, we assume just like Setsuko did at her age.

Despite the triangle/quadrangle of drama and issues, the main story and focal point belongs to Setsuko and her infatuation with John. From the first moment they embrace, as part of a teacher and student dynamic, Setsuko is hooked, longingly remaining in his arms until he insists she let go. This is a key moment an intrigue looms- does she feel more comfortable and confident with her blonde wig and new persona? Does this give her courage and the guts to flee her boring life for a chance at love in Los Angeles?

John clearly loves Mika, or more importantly, he has no feelings for Setsuko, despite her best efforts. In a pivotal and hilarious scene, John and Setsuko smoke marijuana as he teaches her how to drive in a deserted parking lot. As they feel the effects of the drug, Setsuko comes on to John and before he knows it they have sex. This only deepens her obsession with him as she decides to get the same tattoo as he has. He realizes she may not be stable as the audience, still enamored with the character, becomes to pity her.

Hirayanagi is careful not to make her film a downer and she does an amazing job in that regard. When Setsuko returns to her meager existence in Tokyo she is unceremoniously fired from the job she despises but has held for decades. Is she devastated or liberated? Perhaps a bit of each, but she has reached her breaking point and succumbs to sadness, longing for John. Fortunately, a surprise appearance by an unexpected character uplifts her spirits and the entire film.

Oh Lucy! (2017) is a great example of an independent film from an inexperienced director that is laden with good qualities. A wounded main character who is sympathetic to viewers leads a dynamic story of loneliness, melancholia, but also with witty dialogue and crackling humor, and a multi-cultural approach. A hybrid Japanese and American film with location sequences in both areas, the film will satisfy those seeking an intelligent, quick-witted experience.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg-1964

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg-1964

Director-Jacques Demy

Starring-Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo

Scott’s Review #911

Reviewed June 17, 2019

Grade: A

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), translated in French to mean Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, is a darling and daring film, unique like none other, consisting of all dialogue being sung recitative, like an opera or a stage musical. But wait there’s more. The film has an abundance of colorful and dazzling set designs that enrich the entire experience amid the lovely French culture and atmosphere. Interspersing one of the loveliest melodies imaginable and the result is a stoic treasure. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and several other nominations.

The film is divided into three parts and moves along chronologically over the course of six years. Part One is The Departure, Part Two is The Absence and Part Three is The Return, each title representing a meaningful part of the story. Madame Emery (Anne Vernon) and her sixteen-year-old daughter Genevieve (Deneuve) own a struggling umbrella boutique in Cherbourg, France. Genevieve falls in love with Guy (Castelnuovo), a local mechanic, and they have sex the night before he is drafted to war, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy.

Madame Emery and Genevieve must decide what options are best when she is courted by wealthy jeweler Roland (Mark Michel), who is unaware of her pregnancy. Genevieve and Guy continue to write letters to each other as she softens towards Roland and a decision is made. An injured Guy returns from the war and events kick into high gear as the love birds face uncertain future amid surrounding barriers to their happiness.

To embrace the flavor and pacing of the film takes a few minutes of patience- like some viewers becoming accustomed to sub-titles in general, which the film also possesses, the singing is initially quite jarring but before long is to be embraced and appreciated for its unique nature. To stress the point, the film is not a standard musical, with songs mixed in with conventional dialogue, each line of the film is sung.

Deneuve, who with this role gained wider recognition beyond simply a French audience already familiar with her work, shines brightly in the lead role, never looking lovelier. The young lady, hardly appearing just sixteen (in truth she was twenty-one) carries the film with a chic and sophisticated style perfectly in tune with the 1960’s time-period. Her magnificent grace and elegance make her the primary reason to tune in as she sings her lines flawlessly and with unforced precision.

The story is unequivocally a basic one of girl meets boy, boy is drafted into the army, girl becomes pregnant, girl meets another suitor, boy returns home as conflict arises, but the magic is what director Jacques Demy does with the piece. Everyday life is presented in situational scenes adding substance and commonalities. Genevieve and Guy are in love and face external as well as internal obstacles. At the same time Madeleine (Ellen Farner), a quiet young woman who looks after Guy’s aunt, is secretly in love with Guy, as she adds a secret weapon to the film.

The audience cares for the characters, especially Genevieve and Guy, but the supporting characters add a robust quality worthy of mention. Anne Vernon is pivotal as Madame Emery, stylish and lavish, she is both concerned for her daughter’s well-being, while slyly seeing opportunities to save her boutique. Guy’s sickly Aunt Elise provides security and love to those who heed her advice and is remarkably played by actress Mireille Perrey.

The vivid colors and sets make The Umbrellas of Cherbourg tough to forget. Stark and florescent painted pinks, greens and blues, mainly on the walls, provide zest and flavor, a grand style all its own. With bright and crisp designs, the result is reminiscent of a lavish Hollywood musical, but with a cultured French twist. The result is perfect, and one can easily immerse themselves in both the singing and the artistry. The reoccurring main song “I Will Wait for You” (the main theme, also known as “Devant le garage”) is delicious and emotional as it appears in many poignant scenes.

For those seeking a charismatic and distinctive experience with nuances and a hint of experimentation will undoubtedly sink their teeth into this fruity and tasty treat. With French atmosphere for miles, the film is simply encompassing of all that is good and cultured about French film. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) will entertain and unabashedly knock your socks off, with something grandiose and sizzling with flavor.

12 Angry Men-1957

12 Angry Men-1957

Director-Sidney Lumet

Starring-Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb

Scott’s Review #910

Reviewed June 14, 2019

Grade: A

A fond memory of Junior High School was reading the play and then being treated to a viewing of the film version of 12 Angry Men (1957), a bristling and suffocating film that infuses progressive thought and thinking for oneself in the face of animosity. A valuable lesson for a teenager to learn, or anyone else for that matter, the film is an important one, providing life lessons and tremendous drama holding up well and still brimming with texture.

The film begins as the audience is introduced to twelve men as they deliberate the conviction or acquittal of a defendant based on reasonable doubt. The defendant is an eighteen-year-old Puerto Rican male living in a poor neighborhood, accused of fatally stabbing his father. The witnesses are the lady who lives across the street and an old man. The juror’s instructions are quite clear; if there is any reasonable doubt, they are to return a verdict of not guilty. If found guilty, the accused will receive a death sentence.

Henry Fonda plays Juror # Eight, who initially is the only juror to vote “not guilty” when the others assuredly vote “guilty”. He adamantly questions how reliable the two witnesses are and disagrees with the argument that the knife used in the death is an obscure brand as he produces an identical knife of his own. Juror # Eight can convince one juror to change his vote allowing discussions and analysis to reconvene much to the chagrin of a few of the men, especially Juror # 3 (Lee J. Cobb), the main antagonist.

Director Sidney Lumet provides dynamic atmosphere in his debut film with astounding results. The black and white cinematography is brilliantly mixed with the humidity of a scorching New York summer day as the one set used is claustrophobic, bringing the audience into the action and suffocating along with the men. As tensions mount and one juror attempts to kill another juror out of rage, a thunderstorm erupts outside, breaking the heat and changing the momentum in the jury room as the tide slowly turns in a different direction.

The story is wonderfully written as each juror’s backstory is slowly revealed providing insight as to why each man may think the way he does, or perhaps has preconceived notions about the accused instead of giving him a fair shake. Juror #3 is a bully who is estranged from his own son, while Juror # 7 mistrusts “foreigners”. Some of the others “go with the flow”, intimidated by conflicts and afraid to ruffle feathers.

12 Angry Man teaches a lesson of utmost importance; the power of change against all odds. By standing by his convictions, Juror # 8 is slowly able to influence each of the other jurors into seeing what they were either unable to see or refused to see. He forces them to question their morals and values. By the time the film has concluded the audience is smacked across the face with tremendous impact perhaps questioning their own views. This is an example of the power of cinema.

Just like the stage version, the plot requires the audience to think and determine along with the characters, the power of reason and strong dialogue. The fact that all the jurors are white males is never lost on me, but neither does it detract from my enjoyment. This is how things were done decades ago. Fonda is brilliant in the lead role and as charismatic as he has ever been in film.

12 Angry Men (1957) is a timeless story told and retold wonderfully on the live stage. Lumet brings the production to the big screen in a powerful and effective way by using cinematic elements to produce the proper emotions from his audience. The film holds up very well as sadly many of the stereotypes and beliefs that the jurors possess are still held by many Americans to this day. On the more positive scale, people with strong and empathetic wills, like Juror # 8 also exist and unquestionably influence more than they lose.

Midnight Lace-1960

Midnight Lace-1960

Director-David Miller

Starring-Doris Day, Rex Harrison

Scott’s Review #909

Reviewed June 13, 2019

Grade: B+

Midnight Lace (1960) is a straight forward psychological thriller made during a period in cinematic history when the genre was beginning to garner more popularity. The film was clearly influenced by the Alfred Hitchcock craze which was front and center at this time, and a robust departure for its lead, Doris Day, who until this time was mostly nestled securely in the romantic comedy domain. The film is a good watch and a challenging role for Day, who proves she has the acting chops to carry the film.

Day portrays Kit, an American heiress, newly married to British financier Tony (Rex Harrison), residing together in London. When she is terrorized by an odd voice in a London park one misty night, her panic is dismissed as rubbish and pranksters having their way with her. When the threats return and escalate by way of telephone calls, Tony alerts the authorities who question whether Kit may be imagining things or creating a panic to gain the attention of her husband. Tony, in turn, begins to ask the same questions.

Day, an American sweetheart and forever good girl, was brave to tackle a role that was left of center for her. Despite her fine acting and impressive range during scenes of peril though, Doris Day is still Doris Day, and it is tough to shake the image of her playing herself. Attractive, Day is not the sexpot type, so a few scenes of her being flirty by attempting to seduce Tony with sexy nighties do not work so well. To be fair, Day has never looked lovelier than she does in this picture.

The plot rolls along at a quick pace with wonderful glossy production values and I never found myself tuning out or wondering when the film would end. The drama heightens minute by minute turning into a whodunit while the film wisely never disqualifies the question of whether Kit could be staging the shenanigans herself.

Did she fall into a bus or was she pushed? Why did she hire someone to call her? Is the menacing voice disguised? The questions become more frequent as the film progresses which is what good thrillers should do. I was able to figure out only half of the big reveal, but the other half caught me off guard so that the finale was climactic and satisfying.

The film belongs to Day, but the additions of Harrison and the legendary Myrna Loy add class and flavor to a film that could have been dismissed as only cliched in lesser hands. Harrison is effective as the concerned but stoic husband and the audience is made to wonder if Tony has something to do with Kit’s stalking or if he is a caring man. Does the sub plot of a discovered embezzler in Tony’s company have anything to do with it? If so, how are the stories connected?

Handsome John Gavin, a Rock Hudson type who was made famous for Psycho (1960) is a handsome addition as contractor Brian, the man showing up at the right time to save Kit making him a prime suspect. Loy plays Kit’s Aunt Bea, who comes to town for a visit; the part is nothing special but it’s lovely to see the actress in whatever role she tackles. Finally, Malcolm Stanley (Roddy McDowell) adds drama as a money hungry man, and son of Kit’s maid. Characters are added to the story as potential suspects.

The viewer is treated to their share of exterior shots of London which provides the film with enough British flavor to almost forget that Day is American. With the additions of Scotland Yard and an Inspector, the British culture is firmly placed, adding a wonderful British element. Tony and Kit are rich, so their lavish home and exclusive neighborhood are placed on display in a fine way.

The title of the film, represented during a cute scene when Kit seductively holds up a sexy outfit she has purchased for Tony, seems straight out of the 1980’s slick television movie thriller genre, and primed for the lifetime television network. This is not a criticism because the title works well and holds a tantalizing darkness.

Midnight Lace (1960) is a nearly forgotten piece of film that is a fine watch and a nice tribute to the talents of Doris Day, who makes the film her own and is the main reason to watch. Though she does not sing or play the girl next door, she does turn in an above average performance, showing her range as an actress. The rest of the film’s trimmings, especially the locale and the supporting actors are additions beneficial to the viewing pleasure the film possesses.

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

The Bridge on the River Kwai- 1957

Director-David Lean

Starring-William Holden, Alec Guinness 

Scott’s Review #908

Reviewed June 11, 2019

Grade: A

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is a war film that serves as an example of character driven story-telling from the perspective of each person. Films of this genre frequently do not steer too far from the straight and narrow showcasing the war event perspective so that this often becomes larger than the humanity piece. A key is the American, British, and Japanese points of view hurling the grand epic experience into a more personal one. The film was awarded numerous Oscar nominations culminating with a Best Picture of the year victory.

The time is early 1943 amid the powerful and destructive World War II when a group of British prisoners of war (POW) arrive at a Japanese camp. Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) commands all prisoners regardless of rank to begin work on a railway bridge that will connect Bangkok with Rangoon. The British commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) refuses manual labor and a battle of wills erupts between the two men. Meanwhile, an American, Commander Shears (William Holden), also being held at the same camp, vows to destroy the bridge to avoid court martial.

The complexities of the relationships between the men are the main draw of the film and an aspect that can be discussed at length. Each possesses a firm motivation, but the emotions teeter back and forth as they face various conflicts. Each of the three principals are analytical juggernauts in the human spirit, ranging from courageous, cowardly, and even evil. We are supposed to root for Shears and supposed to not root for Saito but why is that not so cut and dry? Is Shears too revenge minded? We cheer Nicholson’s resilience but is he too stubborn for his own good?

The film’s whistling work theme nearly became famous when the film was originally released in 1957. Ominous and peppered with a macabre depression, the prisoners go about their work in a near ode to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cheerier “Whistle While You Work” anthem. As they dutifully continue to build the bridge the audience feels a sense of dread and a foreboding atmosphere. What will ultimately happen? When two prisoners are shot dead while attempting to escape the film takes a different turn.

Given that David Lean, responsible for such epic masterpieces as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and A Passage to India (1984), directs The Bridge on the River Kwai, should be telling as far as the sweeping exterior landscape treats in store for the viewer. The lavish Asian landscape, so picturesque and beautiful, is peaceful amid the chaos and vile way the prisoners are treated. This imbalance is wonderfully rich and poignant against the robust story telling.

The climax of the film is bombastic (literally!) and a nail-biting experience resulting in a stabbing, an explosion, and a heap of tension. A train carrying important dignitaries and soldiers is racing towards the newly constructed bridge as one man is intent on detonating a bomb and cause destruction as another races against time to prevent the bloodbath. The suspense, action, and cinematic skill is placed front and center during the final act.

Deserving of each one of the accolades reaped on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), the film is the thinking man’s war film. Layered with an underlying humanistic approach and little violence given the subject matter at hand, one can sink into empathy for each point of view presented instead of being force fed a one-dimensional message film. Fine acting and gorgeous cinematography make this film one to be forever remembered.

Pillow Talk-1959

Pillow Talk-1959

Director-Michael Gordon

Starring-Rock Hudson, Doris Day

Scott’s Review #907

Reviewed June 6, 2019

Grade: B+

Pillow Talk (1959) is the ultimate in romantic comedies from the age of innocence in cinema. In 1959 pictures were still largely wholesome and safe, providing happy stories and charming characters. The film is a lovely and enchanting experience with intelligent characters and wonderful chemistry among its leads. Combined with good romance and comic elements it makes for a fun watch that still feels fresh and bright decades later.

Doris Day and Rock Hudson smolder with sensuality as singles living in Manhattan, New York City. Day plays Jan Morrow, a perky, independent interior decorator who dates frequently but has not yet found love. Hudson plays Brad Allen, a talented, creative Broadway composer and playboy who lives in a nearby apartment building. Jan is frustrated by a party line that allows her to hear Brad’s endless phone conversations with the women in his life. He is equally annoyed by her prim and proper, holier than thou attitude. They bicker on the phone but have not met.

Through their mutual, yet unknown to them, acquaintance Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall), Brad realizes who Jan really is, which leads to hilarity as he fakes a Texan accent and invents a new persona: Rex Stetson, a wealthy Texas rancher. He succeeds in wooing Jan who falls madly in love with him while unaware who he really is. Events culminate in the inevitable big reveal when the couple vacations at Jonathan’s cabin in nearby Connecticut.

Rock Hudson oozes masculinity and charisma in this film with nearly every woman he meets falling madly in love with him. With Hudson’s sexuality preferences hidden from the public but well known within the film industry, one wonders if a few comical situations were added as an inside joke. One can speculate if these additions were done with or without the stars knowledge; rumors abound that Hudson reportedly carried on an affair with actor Nick Adams (Tony) during filming.

A recurring theme involves Brad mistakenly walking into an obstetrician’s office (twice!) and the doctor and nurse assuming he may be the first man to ever become pregnant as they attempt to locate Brad when he continues to disappear. Later, Brad attempts to trick Jan into believing Rex might be a homosexual because of his love for effeminate things.

The supporting players bring wit to Pillow Talk and is a key piece to the enjoyment of the film. Randall as Jonathan is not quite the nice guy but not entirely the foil either. As he has designs on Jan he warns Brad to keep away from her. His intention, which fails, is to woo her with money, but Jan seeks true love. Thelma Ritter as Alma, Jan’s boozy housekeeper, is delicious, adding necessary comic timing and a sardonic humor. When she ultimately finds love with the elevator operator we crackle with delight.

The lavish set design is flawless and brightens the film while adding luxurious style and sophistication that only New York City apartment living can bring. The combined sets of both Brad’s and Jan’s apartments are gorgeous to witness. With bright colors and 1950’s style furniture one can easily fantasize how beautiful it would be to reside in an apartment of this brilliance- I know this viewer did!

A Doris Day film would not be complete without the addition of several songs that the singer/actress performs. “Pillow Talk” during the opening credits, “Roly Poly” in the piano bar with Blackwell and Hudson, and “Possess Me” on the drive up to Jonathan’s cabin.

Pillow Talk (1959) is an example of a rich romantic comedy with great elements. A bit fantasy, a bit silly, but containing style, sophistication, and humor. The film was an enormous success, understandably so, being deemed “the feel-good film of the year” in many circles. Hudson’s career was re-launched following the film after having hit a snag year’s earlier.

Rocketman-2019

Rocketman-2019

Director-Dexter Fletcher

Starring-Taron Egerton

Scott’s Review #906

Reviewed June 5, 2019

Grade: A

Following in the footsteps of the unexpected success of 2018’s rock biography Bohemian Rhapsody, comes the similar themed Rocketman (2019). This time the subject at hand is Elton John rather than Freddie Mercury, but both storied figures contain unquestionable comparisons as their successes, failures, and struggles are well documented. Both films take their name from popular title songs and both have the same director in the mix, Dexter Fletcher.

Freddie Mercury and Elton John are both larger than life onstage personas while both reportedly suffered from shyness, creating characters to portray to ease difficulties. Rocketman gets the slight edge over Bohemian Rhapsody when comparing the two, with experimental and psychedelic sequences making the experience more left of center than the latter and lacking a hefty feel-good component. I would venture to assess that Rocketman has darker overtones.

The film opens in an impressive way as a now adult, successful Elton John (Taron Egerton) is in rehab, begrudgingly attending a support group therapy session- this scene will reoccur throughout the film as John slowly reveals more to the group about his childhood, rise to fame, and struggles with numerous demons. This is key to the enjoyment of the film as it backtracks in time frequently and we see John’s development as both a musician and on a personal level.

Many scenes play out like a Broadway play which is an ingenious approach, not only a treat for fans of John’s huge catalog of songs, but immensely creative from a cinematic perspective. The high point of the film, the scenes are not only showy, but catapult the direction of the film instead of slowing down the events. Fantastic are offerings of hit songs like “Tiny Dancer”, as shown during John’s first trip to Los Angeles, as he is forced to witness his then crush Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) take up with a supermodel at an LSD infused Hollywood party.

The musical numbers offer glimpses into the mind and heart of Elton, and other characters, through song. A teary number occurs early on when a pained, boyish Elton is learning piano, facing struggles at home. When the song begins it is Elton’s tune to carry but then his father sings a few lines, then his mother, then his grandmother. Each person offers his or her own perspective based on the lyric they are singing. The beauty of this scene is powerful and sets the tone of the scenes to follow.

Rocketman is an emotional film, triggering laughter and tears throughout its duration. Thanks to Egerton who carries the film, the audience cares for him as a human being instead of a larger than life rock star. We feel his pain, cry his tears, and smile during rare moments when he is content. He faces insecurity, sex addiction, drug and alcohol addiction, and an eating disorder. Through Egerton, we face the battles alongside of him.

Elton John serves as Executive Producer of the film providing a measure of truth and honesty in storytelling, something Bohemian Rhapsody was accused of not containing. John’s parents are portrayed accurately and decidedly, and both mother and father are dastardly, nearly ruining Elton’s self-esteem for life. Dallas Bryce-Howard as his mother is happy to capitalize financially on his fame but sticks a dagger in his heart when she professes he will never be loved since he is a gay man.

His father is nearly as bad. Abandoning his loveless marriage to Elton’s mother, he eventually finds happiness with another woman and produces two boys. He can never love his eldest son despite Elton’s efforts to reconnect. To add insult to injury, his father asks him to cross out the words “to Dad” on an album autograph, instead requesting it go to a colleague. Elton is devastated.

Events are not all dire and dreary as with his parents and a major suicide attempt. Happier times are shown and his grandmother (wonderfully played by Gemma Jones) remains an ardent supporter. His relationship with Taupin is one of the most benevolent and a life-long cause of trust and respect, and once his act is cleaned up Elton can appreciate the finer things in life more completely.

Egerton performs beautifully in acting as well as singing capabilities but lacks the singing chops that Elton Jon has. The decision was made not to have Egerton lip-sync which deserves its own measure of praise. Interesting to wonder what the opposite choice would have resulted in, like with Bohemian Rhapsody, we are left with a brilliant portrayal of John by Egerton.

Watched in tandem with Bohemian Rhapsody, a great idea given the back to back releases, is one recommendation for comparison sake. Offering a more creative experience- again the musical numbers are superb, and both switching through back and forth timelines, Rocketman (2019) squeaks out the victory for me and doesn’t the victor go the spoils? If Rami Malek won the coveted Best Actor Oscar statuette what will that mean for the tremendous turn that Egerton gives?

Tully-2018

Tully-2018

Director-Jason Reitman

Starring-Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis

Scott’s Review #905

Reviewed June 2, 2019

Grade: B

Tully, a 2018 film release, was awarded wide recognition largely because of a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress- Comedy achieved by its star, Charlize Theron. The actress does carry the film and delivers a wonderful performance in an example of great casting. The film is clearly targeted for a specific audience, that of females with newborn babies, a mother of a child with behavioral issues, or women who have experienced something similar during their lifetime.

As such, the perspective is clearly from the female point of view and men may not find much, if anything, to relate to. Nonetheless, the film is a worthy watch though not sure I’d classify it firmly in the comedy category, but this may have more to do with who directed it. Jason Reitman, famous for his creations Juno (2007) and Young Adult (2011) is known for coming-of-age films with dark edges. Nonetheless, I’d carefully teeter the film more into the drama genre than straight comedy.

We meet a very pregnant Marlo (Theron) as she is about to give birth to her third child, the implication being that it is an unplanned pregnancy. She is already frazzled from her other two children, one of whom is Jonah, who has a developmental disorder causing stress. Her world consists of battles with Jonah’s school, her absent-minded husband Drew (Ron Livingston), and her brother Craig (Mark Duplass), who has married an affluent woman and tries to help Marlo. Chris offers to pay for a night nanny which would allow Marlo peace and quiet, and she finally accepts, meeting the bizarre Tully (Mackenzie Davis) who slowly changes her life.

Theron reportedly gained over fifty pounds in preparation for the role and completely immerses herself in the part. Ordinarily a gorgeous woman as well as an astounding actor, she is convincing as the tired and unfulfilled suburban mother. Haggard, going through her day to day routines, it is revealed that she yearns to be young again, and finally revisits her old stomping grounds in Brooklyn where her passion is awakened, New York. Theron not only transforms her appearance but portrays an enormous amount of emotion teetering between responsible mother and flighty middle-aged woman.

To say that Tully is a “woman’s film”, a phrase I dislike, is not entirely fair, but women will relate to the film most of all. Men are not written especially well; we witness Drew meandering around the house mostly holing up in the bedroom, oblivious to his surroundings. He is somewhat aware that a night nanny exists but is more concerned with playing video games or traveling for work than with who is raising his child. He loves his family yet is somewhat only half there and his motivations and feelings are never explored very well. The writing of this character perplexed me, or rather I wondered why the character was written this way to begin with.

As events progress Tully serves up a brilliant twist ending, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality in a daring way. The character of Tully becomes a godsend for Marlo. Suddenly, she is inspired by the younger woman who has her whole life ahead of her. Could Marlo be a bit jealous of the young and thin nanny? Tully inspires Marlo, but could she not be all that she seems? The final reveal leaves questions dangling over the viewer. Is Tully all in Marlo’s head? Is it merely a coincidence that Marlo’s maiden name is Tully or the reason for the nanny in the first place?

Tully (2018) plays like a female centered coming-of-age story perfectly suited for women over the age of thirty. It can be enjoyed by others as the story has layers and borders on a character study, but the target audience is clear. The surprise ending is tremendous and rises the film way above mediocrity, otherwise being a traditional genre film. The performance by Theron also adds an immeasurable amount to the film.