Tom Augustine enjoys an Elton John biopic, marvels at John Wick 3 and picks DocEdge films.
Despite a now-infamous awards campaign that saw last year's Bohemian Rhapsody come dangerously close to a Best Picture Oscar, the film is as likely to draw deep hatred as kindly notices from the average cinephile. It was with some trepidation, then, that I headed into Rocketman (dir. Dexter Fletcher, Rating M), expecting another fusty, historically questionable biopic playing it entirely too safe.
And it's true, Rhapsody's co-director Dexter Fletcher sticks pretty close to the now-rote biopic mould of Walk the Line or Ray in his exploration of the life of the great Elton John. Rocketman succeeds where Rhapsody failed, however, in its embrace of the fantasy of the biopic structure.
There's no way to truly, accurately, depict the life of a great artist in the space a film framework, and life rarely conforms to the three-act rise and fall of a traditional story narrative. To counteract this, Rocketman largely plays out as a classical musical - layering Elton's iconic songs into the key stages of his life - growing up in working class England, partying hard in Los Angeles, grappling with addiction and rehab.
It's an incredibly effective ploy, weaving the winking fantasy of Elton's work into the fabric of his story and allowing Fletcher to stretch his creative muscles in muscular dance sequences and trippy dream sequences. Highlights include a spirited rendition of "Rocket Man" that takes place at the bottom of a swimming pool and a passionate, high-energy performance of "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)" that takes the title very literally.
As Elton, Kingsman alum Taron Egerton is genuinely fantastic, convincing as a truly lived-in version of the character where Rami Malek's Freddy Mercury often smacked of mere caricature. There were times when Egerton was woven into iconic images of the fabulous rock star where the similarities forced me to do a double-take.
A splash of colour and inspiration and a great central performance elevate Rocketman just beyond its stodgy, well-worn biopic structure.
RATING: Four stars.
Also in cinemas is the third installment of the wildly successful action franchise with an aesthetic somewhere between high art and a teenage stoner's bedroom: John Wick 3: Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahelski, Rating R16).
Featuring a wonderful Keanu Reeves performance reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, the latest John Wick continues the series' exploration of its fabulously silly, Illuminati-esque underworld of assassins. Boasting some truly astonishing action sequences, including a jaw-dropping sequence involving a whole lot of knives, Parabellum is a fairly shallow but wonderfully executed slice of action that only outstays its welcome a little.
RATING: Three and a half stars.
Lastly, make sure to support smaller local festivals by getting along to the DocEdge Festival this weekend. My picks for this awesome little programme are Gaza (dir. Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell, Rating TBC) and American Factory (dir. Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, Rating TBC), which both appear to be urgent, powerful examinations of the modern world from very different angles and points of view. The DocEdge Festival is taking place at venues across Auckland and Wellington from 30 May - 23 June 2019.