Adelaide's own Sia has gone and directed a film, which sees her alter ego Maddie Ziegler play a non-verbal autistic young woman. Kate Hudson, Juliette Lewis (The Other Sister, anyone?), Leslie Odom Jr., Hector Elizondo and Ben Schwarz also star. Anyone concerned that this film may prove very problematic?
America is obviously not a utopia – nowhere is – so David Byrne’s well-established sense of irony is apparent here even in the very title. There are, however, also moments of unselfconscious joy and passion in the course of this doco. Not to mention anger about various contemporary issues.
The original American Utopia was an album, co-written by Byrne and Brian Eno. What we have here is the Broadway show – its season started in late 2019 – which featured songs from the album plus a generous quotient of (mostly earlyish) Talking Heads songs. But to say that there’s a lot more to the show than that would be a huge understatement.
What’s singular about it is that Byrne is accompanied by eleven musicians and dancers, many of them percussionists – and all of them “untethered”, i.e. not plugged in to anything – who leap tirelessly about the stage from beginning to end. And all this is somehow achieved, we are assured, without any use of playback. They and Byrne are, incidentally, all clad in identical grey suits.
There are inspired moments, certainly, best of all being a sublimely beautiful a cappella version of “One Fine Day”. And the audience is clearly enraptured.
Spike Lee’s directorial style is not particularly evident here; the connection is more one of attitude. This is a fairly straightforward recording of a show, spectacular aerial shots, ‘chessboard’ effects and monochromatic lighting notwithstanding. As such, its appeal is simply a question of whether you’re drawn to the music, its predominantly funky treatment and the performance itself. The latter is incredibly well staged, the performers are amazingly tight and seemingly inexhaustible, and Byrne’s patter is sharp and acerbic. But the whole thing is arguably a bit less than the sum of its parts.
If Cats hasn't ruined musicals for you, then this adaptation of the hit Broadway musical by the prolific Ryan Murphy may have you tapping your toes, especially with that cast - Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, James Corden, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells, Tracey Ullman, Mary Kay Place, Ariana DeBose and newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman.
Disney have premiered the trailer for an adaptation of the hit musical of the same name, about a British teenager who wants to be a drag queen. If it's half as good as Billy Elliot, We Are In. Or should that be Out?
Biopics about subjects who are still very much alive are always a tricky proposition. The creatives involved want to tell a story that’s as true as possible, but at the same time don’t wish to risk offending the subject. We saw this in action with 2015’s Straight Outta Compton, an entertaining film that nonetheless heavily sanitised the historical details of the surviving members of N.W.A. Then again, even when the subject is deceased, as in the case of 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody, the tendency to omit the more complicated details persists; in the case of that film Freddie Mercury’s drug use and prolific sexual adventures. All of that brings us to Rocketman, a bright and intense biopic about Elton John and a film that seeks to straddle the line between warts and all truth and misty-eyed hagiography.
Rocketman opens with Elton John (Taron Egerton) dressed in a stunning devil costume, crashing an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and spilling his life’s story. This is used as a framing device, giving writer Lee Hall license to skip back and forth through time, to better understand how a chubby little boy named Reginald Kenneth Dwight became the incandescent superstar we all know him as today. The action plays out as a sort of musical fantasy rather than a straight drama, with various characters breaking into song or choreographed dance numbers to underline an emotional beat or emphasise a specific moment in time. It works, for the most part, with plenty of joyous singalong sequences including a stunning scene where Elton makes his American debut at the iconic Troubadour club in Los Angeles.
Performance wise, Edgerton nails not only Elton John’s physicality but even has a crack at singing a surprising number of the songs himself and doing so really rather well. His turn isn’t quite as groundbreaking as Rami Malek’s from Bohemian Rhapsody, but in a film that spends much of its runtime questioning who Elton really is, that seems oddly appropriate. Jamie Bell is also excellent as Elton’s creative partner Bernie Taupin, who often seems to be the rock idol’s only true friend. See, for all the glitz and glamour, Elton has had a frequently sad life. His parents Sheila and Stanley (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh) were manipulative and unavailable respectively, his lover/manager John Reid (Richard Madden) was a dead-eyed sociopath and despite all the adoring fans screaming his name, the man was unable to love himself.
Director Dexter Fletcher, who himself was brought onto Bohemian Rhapsody after credited director Bryan Singer went walkabout about two thirds of the way into production, crafts an imaginative and engaging story here. Although much less grim in its delivery, it has shades of Bob Fosse’s All that Jazz, and the puckish, playful moments set the biopic apart from its safer genre mates. Things do drift a little towards the mawkish and sentimental by the end of the film, but generally speaking it feels earned.
Ultimately, Rocketman is a colourful, exciting tribute to a colourful, exciting musician, brimming with solid performances, imaginative direction and great music. And while it certainly glosses over some aspects of the man’s life, it contains an emotional truth that will likely resonate with you for a long, long time.
The zombie comedy sub genre has become almost as stale and overused as the very zombie genre it seeks to parody/pay homage to. The high-watermark remains Edgar Wright’s wonderful Shaun of the Dead but other flicks like Zombieland and Dead Snow have their slight charms as well. The problem is it’s all been done before. Over and over and over again. To be a memorable zombie comedy in this most crowded of markets a film really needs to add something new. Anna and the Apocalypse from director John McPhail asks ‘what if it was a musical?’ to mixed, but mostly engaging results.
Anna (Ella Hunt) is a teenage student in her last year of high school. She wants to travel and see the world, much to the chagrin of her sensible dad, and has a close group of fellow misfit friends all obsessed with their own minor problems and triumphs. Everything goes tits up when a zombie apocalypse breaks out on Christmas and Anna and her mates must reach their nearest and dearest before it’s too late. And, of course, they’ll belt out a few songs along the way.
Anna and the Apocalypse is at its best when it plays to the angst and self involved myopia of being a teenager. One particularly striking number features Anna and her best friend (who would like to be more) John (Malcolm Cumming) singing about a brand new day, blithely oblivious to the fact that they’re prancing through a neighbourhood beset by zombies. A lot of the early moments ring true, authentically portraying the real concerns of adolescence without becoming cloying and twee. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite sustain this and in the second half becomes a much more familiar zombie romp, replete with gore gags and undead humour you’ve seen before, done better.
Still, charm goes a long way and Ella Hunt is an extremely watchable screen presence, managing to convey genuine pathos even while singing and dancing. The songs, overall, are a bit hit and miss – and there’s possibly one tune too many – but if you’re sitting within the venn diagram of “millenial”, “loves zombies comedies” and “lives for musicals” you’re likely to have a spectacularly good time with Anna and the Apocalypse. And the rest of us can, at the very least, admire a zom com that attempts to gnaw on something a little different.