Summer’s back–errr….has been back since The Avengers decided to kick things off back in April with their global domination of the box-office. With Summer Movie Season being such an onslaught of major releases, it can be hard to keep up with it all — particularly for yours truly who spent much of May on the road. Nevertheless, we’re back with Part 1 of our 2019 Summer Catch-Up series, taking a look at Keanu Reeves’ third round as the titular John Wick, Elton John trying to replicate Freddie Mercury’s success at the box-office, and a brash new entry in the Coming of Age genre. Let’s dive in…
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
One of the great surprises of the past couple of years is the way Keanu Reeves has given himself a career-resurgence as an action star with his John Wick franchise. The first entry was a refreshing jolt of beautifully-choreographed old school, bare-knuckles, action while Chapter 2 expanded the world and mythology of its titular character in all the right ways. Picking up immediately after Chapter 2‘s excellent cliffhanger, John Wick is on the run in New York with literally every killer alive hunting after him. Chapter 3 is a film that starts fast and never lets up with some of the best staged action sequences this side of Mission: Impossible. Halle Berry joins the ranks with her own pack of attack dogs and it’s great to finally see a movie that makes proper use of her immense talents. While John Wick 3 is a non-stop thrill ride, it does feel like it peaks during the Berry section of the film and all of the fighting does become a bit numbing by the end. However, this is one of Hollywood’s best franchises and each entry is as good or better than the one before. Grade: A-
The music bipoic is a genre that can lead to great frustration where mileage can vary greatly. If you’re a big fan of the band or singer being portrayed, more than likely you’ll enjoy seeing their hit songs being performed on the big screen. However, most music biopics have a tendency to all feel the same the way superhero movies feel the same. You have a prodigy plucked from obscurity, makes it big, has a downfall, and rises again. Most music biopics stick to this formula and let the music do most of the work. While following this playbook to an extent, Rocketman is not most music biopics, and separates itself from the pack in major ways.
Directed by Dexter Fletcher, who picked up the pieces of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody, he turns Elton John’s journey into a subjective, fantastical, full-on musical experience that plunges the depths of Elton’s interiority and family demons. This is the first major musical biopic that I can remember to actually treat its story as one big musical, which seems like such an obvious idea. What Fletcher does here is fully-realize the capabilities of the genre he is working in and taking them to heights not yet achieved by its predecessors. The music performances themselves are downright electric and Taron Edgerton as Elton is a tour-de-force performance. Special recognition should also be paid to both Jamie Bell and Richard Madden as Elton’s songwriting partner and manager, respectively. Rocketman is simply one of the best entries in its genre and one of the year’s finest films. Grade: A.
Actress Olivia Wilde steps behind the camera to make her feature directorial debut with the hilarious, sharp-witted, and poignant Coming of Age comedy Booksmart. While this tale of high school hi-jinks isn’t breaking any big conceptual ground — teens trying to make it to the big party the night before graduation — its central friendship of Amy and Molly (played magnificently by both Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein) does blaze a fresh trail in its depiction of female friendships on film. The chemistry between both Dever and Feldstein is off the charts and is what makes the whole wild night so much fun. While it is fair to compare this with a movie like Superbad, it stands on its own by the way it reflects our current culture in smart and incisive ways. It also is able to mine Amy and Molly’s friendship in both moving and profound fashion. Booksmart feels like a movie that captures both the moment while being timeless and is one of the year’s best. Grade: A.