Showing posts with label Duped. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Duped. Show all posts

Friday, June 7, 2019

"Rocketman" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the Elton John biopic "Rocketman" as well as "The Perfection (now streaming on Netflix) and the DVD "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms."  The Book of the Week is "Duped: Double Lives, False Identities and the Con Man I Almost Married" by Abby Ellin.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Cow."]


The rise to fame of the incomparable Elton John.

It's inevitable that comparisons will be made between this film and last year's hugely successful "Bohemian Rhapsody."  Both are biopics about an amazingly talented singer/songwriter/performer with a complicated and tragic personal life, both films included stellar performances, and both films were directed by the same man, Dexter Fletcher, who stepped in to finish "Bohemian Rhapsody" when original director, Bryan Singer, was fired. But that is pretty much where the comparison of the two movies ends. 

"Bohemian Rhapsody" was a fairly straightforward story about Freddy Mercury's life and rise to fame in the legendary rock band, Queen, and the singing was confined to Mercury's on stage performances. Also Mercury's homosexuality was only briefly touch upon. 

"Rocketman" is more of a classic musical in that the songs are not confined to stage performances but rather turn up all over the place with people breaking into song at improbable moments. There is literally dancing in the street and Elton and the audience even levitate during an iconic performance.  Think "La La Land" or even some of the classic musicals of the past.  In some ways, it's a fantasy version of Elton's life. But the fantasy aspects of this film aside, I would call this movie an "autobiopic (I think I just made up a word)," because it's autobiographical.  Elton is one of the producers, and though it's clearly an homage to Elton, it is also brutally honest and raw when it comes to his personal demons and sexuality.  His issues with his sexuality play center stage as do his feelings that he was never loved "properly." When you realize that Elton gave all of this the green light, the film becomes even more poignant and heartfelt.

Elton John (Taron Egerton) was born Reginald Dwight to an indifferent father and a flaky mother. But his grandmother took an interest in him and when he showed musical promise early, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.  It wasn't long before he was in a band and started writing music. He didn't think Reggie Dwight was much of a rock singer name so he took the first name of one of his band mates and, when put on the spot by a musical producer for his last name, a picture of John Lennon came into view.  Enter Elton John.  But it wasn't until he met Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) that Elton's career really took off, with Bernie writing the lyrics and Elton setting them to music.  The rest is history.

However, Elton was plagued by insecurity.  He masked his insecurities and shyness with his outrageous stage costumes and wild onstage shenanigans.  He also hid his homosexuality and loneliness with drugs and alcohol and all kinds of other excesses. He was happy for a time with John Reid (Richard Madden) who became his manager and romantic partner.  However, Reid eventually took advantage of him and the two parted and Elton eventually cleaned himself up.  He has been sober for 28 years.

The film begins with Elton leaving a concert in full Elton stage regalia complete with orange sequined jumpsuit and devil horned headdress to head to an AA meeting which is used as a device for him to tell his story.  And the film ends with an epilogue covering the years following the film with pictures of Taren in the film side-by-side with pictures of Elton back in the day.  He really DID wear those clothes and he really did practically levitate off that piano!

Written by Lee Hall, I might be causing controversy here, but I liked this film more than I liked "Bohemian Rhapsody."  In fact, I loved this film.  It is a poignant, raw story of a guy whose life started out rough and who overcame his problems to find a happy ending. And then there are all of those wonderful Elton John/Bernie Taupin songs.

Taron is wonderful and nuanced as Elton especially when you consider he also did his own singing.  He is probably best known for his work in the "Kingsman" movies but here he gets the chance to really show off his acting chops. Jamie Bell is just the right partner for him as Bernie and Bryce Dallas Howard is almost unrecognizable as Elton's indifferent mother, Sheila, and that's a good thing.  She was great.  The veteran actress Gemma Jones who played Elton's grandmother always delivers and the handsome Richard Madden was just right as John Reid.

Rosy the Reviewer I said, I liked this one better than "Bohemian Rhapsody."  Even with the fantasy sequences, it seemed more real while at the same time magical.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

Now Streaming on Netflix

The Perfection (2018)

Think "Black Swan," except this time with cellos and not as good.

Knowing this was a horror film and Alison Williams, who was in "Get Out" was in it, made me think this was going to be good.  It wasn't.

Charlotte Filmore (Williams) was a star pupil at the Bachoff Academy of music and a brilliant cellist who put her career on hold to care for her ailing mother.  Now her mother is dead and Charlotte has been called upon by her former mentor Anton Bachoff (Steven Weber) and his wife Paloma (Alaina Huffman) to act as a judge for a cello competition in Shanghai.  There she seeks out Elizabeth "Lizzie" Wells (Logan Browning), the new "best thing" in the cello world who is also a judge. Lizzie has had an acclaimed career and appears to be everything Charlotte was unable to achieve. They acknowledge each other's mutual talents and even have a bit of an affair, but it's also clear they are also rivals.

The two decide to go on a "rough and tumble" around China, so Elizabeth/Lizzie can unwind but Lizzie starts to feel sick and then becomes crazed thinking that bugs are crawling underneath her skin. She becomes so crazed that she chops off her hand.  Charlotte just happens to have a butcher knife with her.  I know. That's when they lost me. Then the film literally rewinds so we can see what happened to Lizzie and why she fell ill. I never did find out how Charlotte just happened to have that butcher knife, though. We discover that perhaps Charlotte is not the sweet girl we thought she was.  In fact, nothing is as it seems in this film.

Fast forward three weeks, there is a new wunderkind at the Academy, Charlotte is back in Boston and Lizzy is seeking revenge.  But everything gets turned around when we discover who the real evil person is here and what "The Perfection" is.

Written by Eric C. Charmelo, Richard Shepard and Nicole Snyder and directed by Shepard, the whole film is a series of twists and turns.  Just when you think you know what is going to happen, it doesn't.  Something else does. Part "Black Swan," part "Rosemary's Baby," this film is very homoerotic with touches of witchcraft and child abuse.  And if that's not enough, it's also very kinky, very camp, lots of vomiting, peeing, pooping, all very over the top.  Almost so bad it's good but not good enough for me to recommend it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I know I say all kinds of good things about Netflix, but sometimes Netflix lets us down.  You don't need to chill with this one.


The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

Yet another retelling of the classic Christmas staple - "The Nutcracker."

It's Christmas Eve and Mr. Stahlbaum (Matthew Macfadyen) and his three children are celebrating. Well, as best they can because the mother has died.  But Mr. Stahlbaum gives the children the presents she had meant to give them. Clara (Mackenzie Foy), the youngest child, receives a fancy egg with a note from her mother that says the egg contains all she will ever need, but the egg needs a key to open it, and Clara doesn't have the key. 

The family then attends a party at Mr. Drosselmeyer's (Morgan Freeman).  He is an engineer so Clara asks him if he will help her open the egg.  Drosselmeyer explains that he made the egg for Clara's mother when she was young and her wish was that Clara should have it.  Later, at the party, the children are all given gifts on a string.  They must follow the string to find their gift.  Clara's string leads her into a forest where she sees a mouse -- and the key!  But the mouse scurries away and Clara follows it, much like Alice following the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole except this time instead of Wonderland, Clara finds herself in The Fourth Realm with Captain Phillip Hoffman (Jayden Fowora-Knight), who is in fact the titular Nutcracker.

Captain Hoffman introduces Clara to the rulers of the Four Realms - The Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley) who rules the Land of the Sweets; Shivers (Richard E. Grant), who rules the Land of the Snowflakes; and Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez), who rules the Land of the Flowers.  They are all at war with The Land of Amusements which is ruled by Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren, and what she is doing in this thing god only knows)!  Clara also learns that her mother, Marie, had created this world where she was the Queen making Clara Princess and Clara is now called upon to stay and create harmony among the Four Realms.  

OK, as if all of that wasn't complicated enough, it all gets even more complicated and clumsy.

Clara's mother had also created a machine that could turn toys into real live people.  The Sugar Plum Fairy tells Clara that she needs a key to the machine so she can defend against Mother Ginger.  Clara discovers that the key to the machine is the same one she needs to open her egg, but when the key is found and Clara opens the egg she discovers that her egg is just a music box. But of course there is more and a female empowerment message.  All kinds of shenanigans ensue and it is a surprise who is evil and who isn't.

If you are familiar with the story of the Nutcracker and the ballet, this is a reworking of that story, sort of, and the first half hour was promising but then it bogged down into nonsense.

The actors were fine.  The film just had too much going on but not in a good way.  In a dull way.

The high point of the movie was Tchaikovsky's music and Misty Copeland's dancing which is used as exposition for how Clara's mother discovered the Four Realms.  The Nutcracker ballet is also used at the end of the film over the credits.  Sadly, those are the best parts of the film.  I wish the entire film had been the music and the dancing.

Written by Ashleigh Powell and directed by Lasse Hallstrom, though Joe Johnston mysteriously did reshoots and received co-directing credit, the film has a steampunk feel (is that still a thing?), but all in all, not a very engaging story.  Despite the great costumes by award-winner Jenny Beavan and the makeup (loved Keira's cotton candy hair), beautiful cinematography by Linus Sandgren, that lush Tchaikovsky score and colorful set decoration (Lisa Chugg), I don't think this will be a Christmas classic. It was kind of a dud. Go see the ballet instead.

And let me rant for a moment.  I haven't done that lately and feel the need. 

With the most recent Disney live action remake, "Aladdin," in theatres now, with "Cinderella (2015)," "Beauty and the Beast (2017)" and "Dumbo (2019)" behind us, and "The Lion King" on the horizon, Disney clearly wants to cash in on its cash cows by remaking those animated classics into live action.  Sadly, some are successful and some aren't.  And when they aren't, I feel that my childhood favorite movies are somehow tarnished.  My message to Disney:  Stop it!

Rosy the Reviewer says...this film is one reason I just wish Disney would stop remaking classic stories.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

92 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Cow (1969)

This is what happens when you fall in love with a cow!

Well, maybe not in love exactly, but let's just say that Hassan (Ezzatolah Entezami) has a "very special relationship" with his cow.  He lovingly bathes her in the river, talking to her endearingly, plays with her in the barn and sleeps with her at night. His poor wife.  He calls her "woman" and would rather sleep with the cow. 

However, Hassan's love idyl with the cow comes to an end when he goes off for the day and the cow dies.  His wife and the villagers don't know what to do.  They know the loss of the cow will be a huge blow to Hassan.  His cow is the only cow in the poor village and Hassan's whole persona and sense of privilege is tied up with that cow, so they concoct a plan to tell him the cow ran away. They bury the cow and wait for Hassan to return.

When Hassan returns he doesn't believe that his beloved cow would run away and is so distraught, he goes mad and becomes the cow!

As strange as this movie sounds, I really understand Hassan's love for his cow.  That's how I feel about my little Tarquin. 

And speaking of the cow...I have to give kudos to the cow, the real one.  If she wasn't really dead, she sure played dead very well.  I mean, how do you get a cow to act?

Written and directed by Dariush Mehrjui, this is an odd little film that smacks of Italian Neorealism. It won acclaim at the Venice Film Festival in 1971.  It was also twice voted the best Iranian film ever made by a survey of Iranian film critics.  However, I have to wonder just how many Iranian film critics are there?

Why it's a Must See: "Rumor has it that after seeing [this film], the Ayatollah Khomeini opined that perhaps there might be a place for filmmaking in the Islamic Republic...[This was] the first Iranian feature film to attract international attention."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...despite the implausibility and strangeness, surprisingly poignant and effective.

(b & w, in Farsi with English subtitles) 

***The Book of the Week***

Duped: Double Lives, False Identities and the Con Man I Almost Married by Abby Ellin (2019)

Yet another woman "duped" by a man pretending to be someone he isn't.

Ellin tells her story of meeting the Commander, being caught in his spell and falling in love.  He told her he was a military hero, involved in international espionage and all kinds of other tall tales, but as his story fell apart, Ellin was able to disentangle herself and share her story.  It was then that she discovered she was not alone, that there have been many people deceived by their loved ones - gaslighting is a real thing - which led to Ellin doing research on the psychology behind the great imposters: why people lie, how they lie and how common this kind of thing really is.

And it is. I can't tell you how many times as a librarian I was asked by customers to verify that someone had won the Medal of Honor.  There really are people out there walking around bragging about being war heroes.

In addition to her own story, Ellin shares the stories of some of the most famous and notorious of the imposters and those who lived double lives: Kim Philby, the British spy who was also working for the Russians and was so good at playing his role that when it was uncovered, his friends and neighbors were flabberghasted; Ferdinand Wado Demara Jr. AKA "The Great Imposter," who took on other people's identities, passing himself off as a monk, a doctor on a naval ship, a professor and even a cancer researcher; and Frank Abagnale, who inspired the book and movie "Catch Me If You Can." Then there  were those who faked their own deaths: Peter Young, who faked his own death to escape prison and John Darwin, a British ex-prison officer who "disappeared" to escape his mountains of debt.

But it's Ellin's own story which is a fascinating one, especially the great lengths the Commander went to pull the wool over her eyes. And to Ellin's credit and amazing ability to put herself on the line in this book, she admits that IT HAPPENED TO HER AGAIN!  Not long after breaking up with the Commander, she met another guy who bamboozled her but to her credit not for long. 

This is not just Ellin's personal story but the stories of many who have been caught up in a web of lies by a duplicitous partner, people who were smart and self-aware and could never believe they could be deceived.  She shares how and why this happens to smart people, how gullible we can be and how it's OK to be a little skeptical. It just might save your life. 

So how does this happen?  How come we are so gullible?

Well, in many cases, it's in our DNA to believe people.  But more importantly, we just don't pay attention. There are holes in our perception.  Take for example, the many tests people are given to pay attention to one action while something else enters the picture - and no one notices.  An example is "The Case of the Invisible Gorilla."  Six people, three in white shirts, three in black are filmed playing basketball.  Observers are told to count the number of passes the people in the white shirts make.  All of a sudden a person in a gorilla suit saunters into view and thumps his chest.  Would you notice the gorilla?  Of course you would.  But in fact, half of the people told to watch the basketball players in the white shirts did NOT notice the gorilla.  The researchers concluded that we miss much of what goes on around us and, worse, we have no idea what we are missing.

So what do we do?

Well, for one, pay attention!  But as Ellin says, it's OK to be a bit paranoid.  Also there are scientific studies and even classes where you can learn how to detect lying. You look for nonverbal clues, clusters of actions that all add up, watching for qualifying words, non-answer statements and asking follow up questions.  But even with that, science also shows that it's very difficult to tell when someone is lying.  Lie detectors are not even 100%. So the bottom line is, you may be smart, you may be aware, but you can still be gaslit.

So next time you watch Dr. Phil (I already confessed to watching the occasional Dr. Phil so stop your tut-tutting) where some poor old lady has given all of her money to a Nigerian scammer because she thought he was the hot military guy who approached her on Facebook or "Catfish (one of my favorite shows), where a young girl living on a farm near Dubuque thinks the model in NYC who she had never met was going to marry her, have a little compassion. Instead of thinking what losers these people are and laughing at them, just remember it could happen to you.

"No one really gets it unless they've been duped themselves.  They don't understand what it's like to believe in someone and be utterly, completely mistaken.  To discover that the person closest to you is actively working against you.  One of the main reasons to be in a relationship is to have someone who's got your back...There's scant support for people who've been hoodwinked, little to reassure them -- us -- that they're not the only fool walking the earth."

Rosy the Reviewer says...So bottom line, be skeptical and watch your own back!

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday




The Week in Reviews

(What To See and What To Avoid)

as well as

the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project" 

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Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.