Tag: taron egerton

Rocketman


Rocketman (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Maybe I should’ve tried to be more ordinary.”

In the opening sequences of Dexter Fletcher’s entertaining and surprisingly moving “Rocketman,” which focuses on Elton John’s breakthrough years, it is communicated with blinding clarity that the subject will never receive the love he deserves from his parents (Bryce Dallas Howard, Steven Mackintosh). And so the viewers are inspired to make an assumption: The rest of the picture will be about Elton attempting to fill that void. On the one hand, the presumption is accurate. There is an abundance of rock-and-roll, sex, booze, and drugs. On the other hand, the film is able to overcome the expected trappings of a musical biopic because it is willing to embrace a more introspective approach—even if it means applying the breaks on its forward momentum. It dares to take risks—sometimes unnecessary risks. And that’s rock ’n’ roll.

It is an interesting way to tell a story, particularly when real-life events merge—at times quite suddenly—into imaginings and longings. The approach is never the same. A song and dance number can break out at any time: in the middle of a suburban street, at a psychedelic party, while making a record, while arguing over a record, back stage before a big show, even when one’s life is on the balance. It makes the point that putting on a performance is almost like another addiction for Elton. That is why when confronted by the searing question of why he feels the need to put on ostentatious outfits during a show, he cannot provide a strong answer. A performance is expected out of him, on and off the stage. He feels the need to deliver because he does not wish to disappoint his fans—just as he is afraid to disappoint his parents who are already cold to him.

While all of Elton’s memorable songs are present, from “The Bitch is Back” and “Your Song” to “Crocodile Rock” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” notice that if these were stripped away completely, the movie would be able to stand on its own. Taron Egerton plays Elton John with such high level of vivacity, even when his character is in the dumps, that it is near impossible not to feel impressed with his all-in approach. Egerton shines most when paired with Jamie Bell, portraying Bernie Taupin, the lyricist alongside Elton’s melodies and Elton’s best friend. The love shared between Elton and Bernie is so strong and infectious, I caught myself wishing they had a movie of just hanging out, laughing, being silly, writing songs.

It does not glamorize the life of a superstar. In fact, the screenplay by Lee Hall makes a point that it can be such a cripplingly lonely profession. It is a great challenge to discern between those who only want you for your fame and money and those who genuinely care about you. Elton is able to find financial success, but he remains that child who yearns to be hugged by his father. This theme runs throughout the film and it becomes sadder every time the subject is disappointed by a person he thinks is being true. And so he snorts another line of cocaine. Followed by gulping down yet another bottle of vodka.

Unlike the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Rocketman” is proud to embrace its subject’s sexuality. Instead of hiding it, or toning it down, or shaming it, as in the former picture, it is celebrated here—not by flooding the movie with characters who nod or smile approvingly but through Elton’s resiliency as a gifted artist who just so happens to be a homosexual. Here is a musical biopic with elements of fantasy that gets it exactly right.

Billionaire Boys Club


Billionaire Boys Club (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

James Cox’s misfire “Billionaire Boys Club” attempts to tell the true story of recent college graduates, Joe Hunt (Ansel Elgort) and Dean Karny (Taron Egerton), who create a high-risk investment firm—a Ponzi scheme—in order to establish a perception of success. Because in their world during early 1980s Los Angeles, being rich on paper and cash poor is better than the idea of being perceived as what they actually are—struggling, like mostly everybody else, to become financially successful. Although supposedly based on real life, it is plagued with inaccuracies, like softening the characterization of Hunt so he is more sympathetic. With this in mind, the work must be evaluated based on what it has achieved.

The first half of the picture is stronger than the latter. It is interesting that although it attempts to tell a story from thirty years ago, there is a modern feel in the way the picture is put together. The clothes, the makeup, the cars, the influential figures running around the City of Angels are vintage and yet the feelings it evokes are out of its time. This can be attributed to Amy Collier and Glen Scantlebury’s curious editing: it strives to match the manic energy, even the hedonism, of the young men who wish to prove themselves, hungry for money and public admiration but not self-respect. As the resourceful pair manipulates potential investors, an upbeat feeling is generated; the fast climb atop a mountain pregnant with purpose.

Elgort and Egerton make convincing accomplices. They look good in suits even when under extreme pressure of breathing out one lie after another. It is the screenplay, however, that is not up to the level of their talent—which is why the second half is thoroughly problematic. Because the writing is so sloppy, particularly when repercussions must be painted on the canvas, one gets the impression that the film does not know how to be resolved—strange since the final destination is already written by life. The duo’s downfall feels rushed and messy. It is the writers’ responsibility—James Cox and Captain Mauzner—to make sense of every step so that the viewer can have a complete understanding of the crime.

Thus, the film, as a whole, is rendered ineffective. I have no problem in how Hunt and Karny are written or portrayed. The people within biographical crime dramas are stretched or embellished most of the time. But the crime itself—how the subjects get there and the accompanying fallout that sometimes follows—this is something that must be captured with feverish accuracy. What is the point of telling this particular story otherwise? Superior films within the genre even take the material further by connecting the critiques of the past to something similar that is occurring today. This film is uninterested in striving for much.

“Billionaire Boys Club” can be criticized for being shallow—and I do not disagree. On the one hand, that is, I think, part of the point: the young men’s dream of becoming financially secure for life and gaining positive social recognition is indeed quite shallow. On the other hand, the dream of striking it rich fast and being socially respected transcends time and culture. After all, in many people’s eyes, money goes hand in hand with respect. The screenplay ought to have been ironed out in order for this story to command undeniable cultural relevance in modern times. Examples can be found everywhere, from the cars we drive, the brand of shoes we wear, down to the color of our credit cards. I was disappointed by its unwillingness to overachieve.

Eddie the Eagle


Eddie the Eagle (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Dexter Fletcher’s “Eddie the Eagle,” about the first British ski-jumper who represented Great Britain during the 1988 Winter Olympics, is a feel-good biopic, certainly able to offer more than a handful enjoyable moments due to its enthusiastic lead performance, but one that is ultimately forgettable. The screenplay by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton fails to explore deeply enough into the mind and heart of the highly determined twenty-two-year-old Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) and so his failures and victories oftentimes come across superficial.

Perhaps the approach of not digging too deeply is a conscious choice. Maybe the goal is to tell Edwards’ story without the typical razzle-dazzle of ace biopics but tell it as simply and directly as possible. But an argument can be made that exactly because the story is not about winning medals but about a person who has always dreamed of becoming an Olympian, the filmmakers should have strived to make their work stand out.

Eddie is a highly relatable character because all his life just about everyone he knew at one point tried to convince him, explicitly and implicitly, to settle for a life that is ordinary. A potentially interesting character is Terry (Keith Allen), Eddie’s father, who tells his son that he should drop his dreams, learn to be practical, train to become a plasterer. We wonder why this is Terry’s attitude toward his only son but the material never answers our questions. As a result, during Terry’s change of heart at the latter end of the picture, the evolution comes across as forced and artificial. The sentimentality is cringe-worthy.

Even the story of Eddie’s coach, former ski-jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), is undercooked and formulaic. The fallout between Bronson and his former coach, played by Christopher Walken, is quite uninteresting and whenever it becomes the focal point of the picture for a time, the momentum is slowed almost to a halt. Too many gaps of information are not filled in and we never quite see their entire story come together. Instead, Bronson is seen drinking a lot of alcohol to show he has become a failure. This is formulaic. There is no refreshing angle in terms of how Bronson’s past connects to his current coaching duty.

Always a joy to watch, however, is Egerton who fills the screen with overwhelming gusto. I wished he had reeled in a bit more when it comes to delivering exaggerated facial expressions—to his credit, the Olympian he is portraying does have such ticks—because there are instances when real emotions are overshadowed by such a depiction. Still, Egerton proves one scene after another that he knows how to perform and keep his character fresh even though the screenplay struggles at times to come up with novel elements to keep us thoroughly engaged.

“Eddie the Eagle” is worth seeing at least once for Egerton’s performance and the source material’s uplifting message, hence the marginal recommendation, even though there is nothing particularly memorable about the work. At one point in the film, there is a discussion about being willing to go all the way, to take necessary risks to attain a goal. Otherwise, why even bother trying. Maybe the filmmakers should have taken a bit of that advice in order to have made a stronger picture that undeniably makes its own mark.

Kingsman: The Secret Service


Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Spy action-thriller nowadays default on looking gloomy and dark in order to be taken seriously. Who would have known that one that is bright, funny, and vivacious proves to be a breath of fresh air in a sub-genre that is increasingly becoming one-note?

“Kingsman: The Secret Service,” directed by Matthew Vaughn, is a highly entertaining, creative, and good-looking picture that takes inspiration from early Bond films—eccentric villains included—and runs with it till the finish line. Couple such qualities with good performances and pacing that can keep up with The Flash, what results is a mindless good fun for those who are not easily offended and willing (or craving) to embrace the unexpected.

With Lancelot (Jack Davenport) dead after being cut in half, there is an open position in a top secret government intelligence agency. Arthur (Michael Caine), the leader, requires his fellow agents to recruit potential candidates who have the potential to replace Lancelot. Once gathered, a challenging and thorough training process will take place. Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who feels indebted to a man who saved his life seventeen years prior, chooses a Royal Marines dropout named Eggsy (Taron Egerton)—the only son of that same man who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and fellowmen.

Its level of violence is very high and so although at times it comes across light or high-spirited, somewhere along the veins of Robert Rodriguez’ “Spy Kids,” it is absolutely not for children. Having said that, the violence is never meant to be taken seriously or offensive—including the church massacre that a surprising number of viewers point out as unnecessary or just plain sick. I believe that it is meant to be over-the-top in order to demonstrate the evil that the villain is willing to execute. I found the scene to be well-choreographed, well-edited because we can actually observe the action unfold instead of attempting to make sense of random cuts, as well as exciting and amusing.

The villain, Valentine, is played by Samuel L. Jackson who sports a thick lisp and a strong dégoûté, ironically enough, for blood. His crazy plan involves saving the human race from extinction due to global warming. However, in order to save the species, he is willing to initiate a mass genocide. The details of his plan has to be seen to be believed. I have not seen a villain like this in years and he is a true throwback from classic Bond pictures. His lethal assistant, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), reminded me of those kick-ass women from Quentin Taratino’s “Kill Bill.”

Egerton is a breakout star partly because of his performance but mostly because of his looks. I bought him completely in terms of playing a character who has been raised in a rough neighborhood, very tough and street-smart. The actor has the kind of face of a big movie star in the making. Given the right role in the right project, if it did not happen to be this one, his career, in my opinion, will skyrocket. Furthermore, anybody with an accent Egerton employs can come off rather threatening but the performer draws us in by maintaining a level of sensitivity or vulnerability even when he looks like he is ready to fight. That is key because it makes us root for him.

Based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is the kind of movie I am happy to revisit once every year or two because of its infectious energy, willingness to be fun, and creativity. If a sequel were to happen, consider my seat booked.