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Rocketman

It's gonna be a long, long time before you see another biopic this good

     Reginald Dwight (Taron Egerton) is a lonely little boy saved by his ear. Neglected by his mother and spurned by his father, little Reg turns to music. When his grandmother realizes he can copy music from the radio on the piano, she suggests lessons.
      As a young man, he learns some harsh lessons: No one is interested in talent without a gimmick; being openly gay will kill his career; no one is going to buy an album from someone named Reginald Dwight.
      And so Elton John is born.
      This new creation finds his most meaningful relationship with writing partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell).
      With success inevitably comes problems. The phenom isn't immune to the pulls of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Constant touring, orgies and drug use wear him down.
      Can he rise above these problems? Or is he a tragedy waiting to happen?\
     Ostentatious, overly dramatic and utterly ridiculous, this brilliant fantasy-biography seems to distill the essence of the performer into two watchable hours. With Elton John's husband David Furnish a producer, the film has an intimate sense of the man. Surprisingly, it doesn't shy away from the less savory aspects of the star's personality or career. The result is a glitter bomb of a jukebox musical featuring joyfully lavish numbers and surprisingly grounded performances.
       Director Dexter Fletcher finished Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer was fired. That movie garnered awards attention, but as a biopic of a fascinating musical icon it was rote, stale and sanitized. Given free reign over Rocketman, Fletcher does amazing things. John's sex life and bad behavior are frankly presented. The movie dares you to look at the star's foibles.
       Because Fletcher takes big swings in artistry, it's more difficult to notice his misses. Rocketman is a biopic, and as such it falls prey to many of the cliches of the genre. There's the downfall, a rehab confessional, the hopeful rebound. However, telling the journey through song alleviates some of these hackneyed problems. It's not every day you see an interpretive dance during a stomach pumping. Musical numbers pause the rote narrative and keep the feeling fresh.
     Egerton gives an absolutely brilliant performance. His Elton John is sweet, sensitive and utterly impossible to manage. He captures the performer's charisma and talent, lighting up rooms when he plays. 
      The relationship between Elton and Bernie is the heart of the film, with Bell as well as Egerton conveying the decades-long brotherhood between lyricist and musician. Bernie is fiercely loyal to Elton, refusing to give up on him even when the singer's foibles run out of control. Their tender story of platonic love drives the film.
     Though Rocketman may play a little loose with facts, it's a joy to behold. The entire experience is like listening to Elton John himself tell you his life story, with all the embellishments you would expect. That's far more entertaining than a by-the-book biopic. 
Excellent Musical Biopic \ R \121 mins.\
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Dark Phoenix
 
      From childhood Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) has been a powerful mutant. When her powers threaten to exceed those of her mentor, Professor X (James McAvoy), he places a block in her mind to quell her burgeoning strength. 
      When Jean discovers her true powers, and the betrayal of her friends and family, will she choose to forgive or take revenge on those who have wronged her? 
      This iconic X-Man storyline should be a scary, tragic tale. An excellent actress, Turner should make the Jean Grey story compelling. Still, this series has done little to develop the younger generation of characters, meaning Jean's peers will need to work hard to be interesting.
      This is the last X-Men movie released before Disney bought the rights and announced that the characters would be cycled into the larger Marvel universe. It's the end of an era for a darker more mature X-Men.
Prospects: Flickering \ PG-13 \ 113 mins. 
 
 
The Secret Life of Pets 2
 
      Max (Patton Oswalt) thought change climaxed with the arrival of second dog Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Just when Max has adjusted to being one dog in a two-dog home, change strikes again.
      With his owner married and a new child in the family, Max finds it hard to cope. Then the family takes a trip that tests his phobias.
       This sequel to the highly successful movie about what your pets are doing when you're not looking should be a fun family romp. Jokes and sassy pet personalities will keep kids giggling and probably entertain adults as well. You won't find the nuance and story depth of a Pixar film, but if you've ever followed the hijinks of animals in Facebook videos, this flick should amuse. 
Prospects: Flickering \ PG \ 86 mins.