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Posts Tagged ‘Jamie Bell’

Taron Egerton as Elton John

“ROCKETMAN” My rating: B+

121 minutes | MPAA rating: R

I’m not sure exactly what I expected from “Rocketman” — probably just another musical biopic — but this retelling of the rise and near-fall of Elton John is nothing short of terrific.

Oh, sure, it has the standard-issue narrative — musical genius rises from nothing to fame and fortune, then almost loses it all in a whirlwind of drugs, drink and ego — but writer Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot”) and director Dexter Fletcher (“Eddie the Eagle”) keep finding inventive, eye-popping ways to tell the story.

It doesn’t hurt that they had access to the Elton John musical library of hits (at one time he was selling nearly five percent of all albums worldwide) or that young star Taron Egerton (of the “Kingsmen” franchise) is absolutely riveting in the transformational starring role.

Toss in a slew of very fine supporting performances (especially Jamie Bell as Elton’s long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin) and you have one of the best musical biopics ever made, one that blows “Bohemian Rhapsody” out of the water.

The film begins with the flamboyantly attired Elton (orange sequined jumpsuit, red angel wings, horned helmet) charging into a rehab group session.

As he “shares” with the other addicts, the film shoots back in time to the boyhood of little Reggie Dwight (Matthew Illesley), keyboard genius and unloved son of an emotionally numb military man (Steven Mackintosh) and a borderline floozie mum (Bryce Dallas Howard, utterly convincing as a working-class British mater).

The first sign of just how off the rails this film is willing to go comes early with a scene set in the local pub where the teenage Reggie (now played by Egerton) witnesses a bar brawl and in one complex, uninterrupted shot stumbles out into the streets singing “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fightin’,” weaving in and out of dozens of gyrating dancers.

It’s a bacchanal of music and sex and heavy-breathing (it’ll leave audiences breathless) and announces that “Rocketman,” though remarkably factual, will at times be played like a Felliniesque musical fantasy. (At times I was reminded of Julie Taymor’s Beatles tribute “Across the Universe”…and that’s a very good sign.)

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Jamie Bell

“DONNYBROOK”  My rating: C (Opens Feb. 15 at the Screenland  Tapcade)

101 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Donnybrook” is a fistful of  cheap melodrama, what with its emphasis on the drugs and violence its protagonist encounters en route to an underground bareknuckle slugfest.

At least give writer/director Tim Sutton props for trying to elevate this yarn with the sort of ashcan realism and social commentary most commonly found in the work of Brit auteur Ken Loach (“The Angels’ Share,” “Jimmy’s Hall,” “I, Daniel Blake”).

Which is not to say that Sutton pulls it off. You can see him struggling to give this chunk of cheese relevance by peppering it with  observations on blue-collar American angst.  That approach worked in “Hell or High Water”; here not much of it sticks.

When we first encounter Jarhead Earl (Jamie Bell…yeah, the original Billy Elliott) he’s robbing a gun store and smashing the owner in the face.  This is our hero?

Well, yeah.  Jarhead  may do bad things, but he does them to support his meth head wife (Valerie Jane Parker) and two young kids. By the logic of “Donnybrook” this makes him a hero.  Everybody else in sight is far worse.

Especially Chainsaw Angus (Frank Grillo), the neighborhood drug dealer.  Accompanied by his sister Delia (Margaret Qualley),  with whom he has a master/slave relationship that reeks of incest, Chainsaw cuts a wide path of bloody destruction.  He may be the only dealer who’d rather kill his clients than sell them drugs.

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John Hurt, Chris Evans and Jamie Bell in "Snowpiercer"

John Hurt, Chris Evans and Jamie Bell in “Snowpiercer”

“SNOWPIERCER” My rating: B (Opens July 2 at the Tivoli, Screenland Armour and Leawood)

126 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Allegorical sci-fi doesn’t get much more headsmackingly ambitious than “Snowpiercer,” a claustrophobic epic from Korean director Joon-ho Bong.

Joon-ho got a toehold in the American market with “The Host,” a superlative monster movie that mixed genuine thrills with offbeat humor. He followed that up by going in exactly the opposite direction with “Mother,” which follows the trials of an unsophisticated Korean woman whose only son is accused of murder.

“Snowpiercer,” though, is his most ambitious movie to date, one filled with big-name actors (Octavia Spencer and Ed Harris, for instance, take small but pivotal roles) and overflowing with political and social satire. It’s as if “Das Boot” were mated with Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.”

In the near future the world’s great powers try to deal with global warming by shooting into the atmosphere rockets filled with some newfangled chemical that’s supposed to lower Earth’s temperature.  It works all too well, plunging the planet into a new Ice Age that kills just about everything.

But 1,000 lucky — or maybe not so lucky — survivors have found shelter in an ultra high-tech, mile-long train that runs on nuclear energy and for the last 18 years has been roaring unceasingly on a non-stop circuit around the Earth.

We’re first introduced to this brave new world at the back end of the train, where the unwashed proletariat squirm in an existence only a dozen feet wide and hundreds of yards long. it’s like the world’s biggest submarine.

These poor bastards survive on gelatinous protein bars passed out by black-armored riot police who several times each day line everyone up for head counts. Now and then these thugs snatch young children and take them to the front of the train for purposes too unpleasant to contemplate.

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Charlotte Gainsbourg in "Nymphomaniac"

Charlotte Gainsbourg in “Nymphomaniac”

“NYMPHOMANIAC” My rating: C (Opening April 25 at the Screenland Armour)

241 minutes | No MPAA rating

You can’t ignore a film by Lars von Trier. No matter how much you might want to.

The guy’s a genius, but a twisted one. He’s a first-class visual artist and a narrative anarchist who presents himself  as a cinematic provocateur. (I sometimes view him as a child playing with his own feces.) The beauty often on display in his films must be balanced against the inescapable fact that he’s awesomely misanthropic.

In his last movie, the spectacularly good “Melancholia,” von Trier destroyed our planet and everyone on it…but he did it with such artistic high style that we are seduced nonetheless.

His latest, “Nymphomaniac” (how’s that for a punch-in-the-mouth title?), is a much rockier affair. It’s the story of one woman’s tormented sexual history, complete with nudity, erect penises, and even a few fleeting shots of real sex acts. It’s almost as if von Trier is daring us to keep watching the screen.

Yet the film isn’t the least bit erotic (just another sign of von Trier’s perversity). One leaves this four-hour experience with the feeling that sex is hell.

Of course, in von Trier’s world most everything is hell.

(“Nymphomania” currently is available on Time-Warner on-demand. It’s presented as two 2-hour films, each of which must be purchased separately. Vol. I costs about $7; Vol. II costs nearly $10. In some cities it’s being shown theatrically, but none of Kansas City’s art theaters have it listed as an upcoming attraction.)

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“THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN” My rating: B- (Opening wide on Dec. 21)

107 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin” has so many jaw-dropping moments of visual splendor that it takes a while to realize that there’s really nothing much of interest here except the jaw-dropping visual splendor.

Employing the motion-capture animation techniques employed in films like “The Polar Express” and the Jim Carrey “Christmas Carol,” this screen adaptation of the late Herge’s universally popular comic book hero should please long-time fans. But it’s hard to imagine it winning many new converts to the Tintin brand.

Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell of “Billy Elliott” fame) is a perpetually boyish, carrot-topped newspaper reporter who goes nowhere without a tan trench coat, brown knickers and a white pooch named Snowy.

He’s sort of like a junior Sherlock Holmes who’s always up to his neck in one mystery or another.

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