Monsters of Rock and Other Substances
Elton John, with characteristic reserve and reticence, has apparently been trying to get his life story turned into a movie for almost two decades; an uncharitable observer might suggest this is why he hasn't produced much memorable music in the same period. Still, here it is, in the form of Dexter Fletcher's Rocketman, which may one day not end up being constantly compared to Bohemian Rhapsody (which Fletcher was un-credited co-director of), but clearly not today.
It certainly has the same mixture of biographical detail, triumphant self-realisation, rock star excess and banging classic tunes, as musical prodigy Reggie Dwight learns to tinkle the ivories, carves out a career as a musician, and then meets lyricist Bernie Taupin. The result is, of course, immense success, wild partying, addiction to pretty much everything going, colossal record sales, and Watford losing the 1984 FA Cup final (although that last part may not be strictly causally linked).
The main differences are as follows: Elton John still being with us, the film lacks a neat conclusion and there isn't an obvious choice for a climactic scene like an appearance at Live Aid; but on the other hand Elton was apparently instrumental in ensuring this film wasn't too sanitised – the other two things are present along with the rock'n'roll. Also, this is a full-on musical, with some proper song and dance numbers in it, and Fletcher stages them with style and imagination.
The tunes, naturally, are crackingly good stuff, even performed by Taron Egerton (who plays the star). I've always been rather underwhelmed by Egerton in the past (his dodgy choice of scripts hasn't really helped much), but here he is genuinely impressive when it comes to both the singing and the acting. He is well supported by Jamie Bell, who gives a nicely-judged performance as Taupin, while Richard Madden turns up as the de facto baddie, the singer's one-time manager and lover.
In the end the film doesn't really have the unexpected emotional wallop that the Queen movie delivered, and the overall portrait of Elton John presented is very generous (perhaps unsurprisingly, given he was heavily involved in its production). However, we enjoyed it very much, even if some of the more outrageous stories from Elton's past are completely omitted. This is a story about a man who was given more than the usual share of both talent and personal demons, and how he managed to avoid letting the burden destroy him. As such it is genuinely quite touching, as well as being inventive and funny.
Japan's biggest film star (and I'm not talking about Ken Watanabe) returns in Michael Dougherty's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, thirty-fifth movie in the unstoppable franchise. I am not the best person to give you an objective opinion on any film connected with this particular series, but let's see what I can do.
The story goes as follows. Since the events of the 2014 film, agents of the monumental monster-monitoring monopoly, Monarch, have turned up nearly a dozen other giant monsters which they are duly keeping tabs on and attempting to contain. Attempts have even been made to build a widget with which to communicate with them via ‘bio-sonar', but it looks like this may have been a bad idea when fanatical eco-terrorists steal it and head for Antarctica, intent on defrosting the triple-headed dragon Ghidorah in the belief he will demolish industrialised civilisation and restore the balance of nature. Maybe Godzilla can help, but he might need some assistance…
Well, I should probably start by saying that the whole movie has an odd kind of 1990s vibe to it, which some people may have an issue with, and to be brutally honest Kyle Chandler is all at sea playing the supposed human protagonist of the movie. The plotting with the human characters is melodramatic at best, although Charles Dance has a lot of fun as a plot-device Evil British Man.
However, this is a Godzilla movie, so you could certainly argue that thin and melodramatic plotting is an established part of the formula, and the old-fashioned blockbuster feel is important for a film which is working hard to incorporate many of the weirder elements of the Japanese monster movie tradition. This is a film, after all, which prominently features a nuclear dinosaur, a gravity-warping space dragon, a mystically-charged caterpillar and a volcanic pterodactyl, and even hints at their strange inner lives and the relationships between them (‘So these two have some kind of a thing going on?' asks one character, when the traditional alliance between Godzilla and Mothra becomes apparent). This is, of course, wholly absurd, and yet the film manages to find the right kind of tone – it doesn't take itself too seriously, but neither is it actively jokey or frivolous when it comes to its monsters.
The big draw for this sequel is the fact that Godzilla is joined by Toho stable-mates Mothra, Ghidorah, and Rodan, and huge attention has clearly been paid to presenting these characters in a way that will satisfy long-term fans (all of them have appeared in multiple movies in careers lasting over half a century). And if you are a long-term fan, the results are hugely impressive – they look and act exactly as you might hope, and the film is loaded with little references to the original Japanese movies, including terrific new arrangements of musical themes by composers Akira Ifukube and Yuji Koseki. The monster battles themselves are vividly created: for better or worse, this film feels like a real fusion of the traditional Hollywood blockbuster and the Japanese kaiju movie.
Of course, if neither traditional popcorn fare nor suitamation tokusatsu are really your bag, then it's a reasonable bet that Godzilla: King of the Monsters isn't going to be your cup of tea, and you may as well stay at home for next year's Godzilla Vs Kong, too (it is, needless to say, heavily telegraphed here). No-one's going to mistake this film for high art, or one with a message for the ages (there's a general 'live in harmony with nature' vibe going on, though expressed somewhat unusually), but it knows what it needs to do and mostly succeeds in doing it. I enjoyed it very much indeed.