Taron Edgerton is a magnificent Elton John. He manages to capture the out-of-control rock star who rose, as they say, “from humble beginnings” to become a legend. John’s status might have been less elevated without the partnership of Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) with whom he still collaborates, but John has an almost mystical ability to capture the essence of a lyric and put it to an accessible tune.
John was a lonely kid who discovered his musical talents almost by accident. He just kept expressing himself and astounding even his parents with what he came up with. Early on we hear the lament, “I Want Love,” which is a theme of the film from its early minutes when a young Elton discovers his mum (Bryce Dallas Howard) making out with a “friend.” She later remarries, happily, but has trouble reconciling with Elton, not for his homosexuality, which she knew about, but for his self-destruction through alcohol and drugs. In fact, the movie spends some amount of time stringing elements of Elton’s life through his sessions at group therapy where he progresses through various forms of anger to realization of his problems. As his lyrics often point out, “I’m a juvenile product of the middle class.” John spent some amount of time and effort trying to deal with the fact that he had left the middle class and a normal life behind as his fame accelerated. Though assured that: “You can be anyone you want,” Elton can’t figure out who he wants that to be.
There are several lyrical, gorgeous scenes in the film capped by the underwater ballet sequence that is designed to represent Elton’s attempt at suicide that puts him in the hospital. It is done to the theme song of the film, “Rocketman,” and is totally incredible. After an unsuccessful and moving failure at heterosexual marriage, his mother caps off an unsuccessful reunion by telling him: “Do you even know how disappointing it is to be your mother?”
After rehab Elton sings “I’m Still Standing’ and begins, so far, 28 years of sobriety, a marriage to a man this time and two children plus a career that, minus touring, still keeps him at the top of the popular music world. This is a tuneful, colorful delight for the elder members of the family. Leave the young ‘uns at home because of the drugs and implied and explicit sexuality.
All Is True (PG-13)
It is the late 16th century in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England. William Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh) is puttering in his garden, and puttering is about as much as he can do. Shakespeare has retired after writing “King Henry VIII,” subtitled “All Is True.” Amid the most beautiful scenery ever put on film, Shakespeare tells his wife, Anne Hathaway (Judi Dench), “This is Hamnet’s garden.”
She pointedly responds, “Hamnet’s in Paradise. He doesn’t need a garden.”
Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died in 1596 at age 11, allegedly of the bubonic plague. That Hamnet’s twin sister, Judith (Kathryn Wilder), did not also die of the plague confounds Hamnet’s diagnosis somewhat.
Both Judith and her older sister, Susannah, were the subjects of scandal in Puritan Stratford, but that was nothing new there. Susannah’s husband, John Hall (Hadley Fraser), is a priggish example of the worst of the Puritans in the film. His treatment of Susannah underscores the absence of women’s rights that is a subtext in the script. According to the film, Judith actually created the sonnets of Shakespeare. Hamnet merely wrote them down because only males were allowed literacy in that society. Shakespeare accepted the poems as Hamnet’s and treated them as near-holy relics of his dead son. Anne insists, “Hamnet died of plague. God accepted it,” even as she knows the truth of his death. Passions run high as Judith, present when Shakespeare accepts the fact of the sonnets’ true creator, asks, “So are they worthless now?”
Upon a visit from the Earl of Southampton (Ian McKellan), it is hinted that Shakespeare may have had a crush on the earl in his youth and that several of the sonnets were, in fact, about him rather than a woman. And so, we move to the end of Shakespeare’s life.
A visitor reminds the poet that he has been able to successfully retire, unlike most of his contemporaries who died miserable deaths. He sums up Shakespeare’s career: “Anyone can die alone. You made it home.”
Yet, the film posits that Shakespeare died not knowing how much influence he had on his age and with no sense of his own immortality. This is one astounding film with magnificent performances and the most evocative scenery and settings I can recall in a film about this period.
Yes, a horror film, but the horror is preceded by a fair plot this time. Olivia Spencer as Ma is a mysterious character. We meet her at the convenience store where she buys alcohol for a group of under-age high schoolers, including newcomer to school Maggie (Diana Silvers). Silvers is also relatively new to the big screen, oddly enough appearing simultaneously in “Booksmart.”
Ma’s place soon becomes party central for an ever-larger group of drinking and drugging teens. The only rule is: “Don’t go upstairs.”
Maggie and Haley (McKaley Miller), of course, go upstairs to the bathroom at a party where the downstairs toilet is occupied by canoodling teens. Maggie soon becomes enamored of Andy (Corey Fogelmanis) and they agree to “go out,” while remaining comparatively innocent.
All the time the partying is going on, the rest of the plot is as well. Ma, or Sue Ann as she is known by her former classmates,
seems to have an incredible system of keeping track of all her teen guests and their parents. Ma’s face and quixotic temper soon let us know that all is not well.
Unlike most obvious horror films, the tension in this one is very gradually ratcheted up with significant parts of the motivation for Ma’s behavior kept hidden for some time. Observant horror film fans will pick up the clue that explains her weird behavior, and I won’t reveal it here. Suffice to say that it centers about a single event in high school that Ma has not forgotten. When the violence—and it is extreme—occurs, it takes the form of an explosion that takes some time to unwind and grows more horrible.
This is unusual for its genre in that it is a Blumhouse production with some pace. Also, not all the horror is introduced with the usual Blumhouse banging and screaming. It makes the scary moments scarier.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (PG-13)
Yes, he’s here again after 208 mentions of the beast on IMDB from television and the screen (my favorites being “Godzilla Meets Bambi” and “Godzilla Meets Mona Lisa”). This one is notable only for its array of computer-generated imagery effects and a rambling plot that seldom makes any sense at all.
This is essentially a rescue film with Earth as the victim. The Titans (all Godzilla-like monsters) have begun to shoot up all over the world, usually spouting through volcanoes, and a scientist, Vera Farmiga (Dr. Emma Russell), has figured out a way to sort of talk to the monsters and more or less calm them down.
Called “Orca,” her app is a marvel except when the monsters keep attacking all over the Earth. It turns out that only Godzilla can stop them from annihilating all of humanity.
Kyle Chandler is the Doc’s divorced husband, Mark. He leaves Madison, in her teen years (Millie Bobby Brown), to help Mom save the world by resurrecting a somnolent Godzilla. They succeed of course, or major audience disappointment would follow. Meanwhile, an attentive audience is left to wonder how spaceships and US Army helicopters make it from Antarctica to Fenway Park in a matter of moments. Fenway gets a bit torn up, but the rest of Boston is decimated so few fans will be left to complain about the conditions. Bradley Whitford has a clever turn as Dr. Rick Stanton, for those who like Whitford. Other than that, stay home and watch the Red Sox beat the Yankees.