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June 21, 2019

GHOST LIGHT

Ghost Light PosterAt a time when Hollywood has lost its mojo, low budget indie films such as “Ghost Light” come with simple theatrical pleasures that remind us there is a world of talented, inspired artists who have not fallen prey to America’s industrial Cinema complex of military indoctrination — see any superhero movie made in the last 15 years.

The long-observed stage curse incited by speaking the name of “The Scottish Play” aloud inside a theater, comes back to haunt a troop of actors performing a small town production of “Macbeth” in this cinematic amuse bouche. Whistling in a theater is another no-no that one of our irreverent actors is all too willing to test. Theatre superstitions are nothing to trifle with.

Although the writing could be stronger, “Ghost Light” has some shining moments thanks to the reliable scenery-chewing efforts of stage legend Carol Kane, and (surprisingly) of Shannyn Sossamon in her Lady Macbeth incarnation. Carey Elwes manages to mask his less-than-impressive acting abilities in the context of an amateur stage production of one of Shakespeare’s most admired plays.

The film’s play-within-a-play narrative landscape allows for sufficient suspense to build even if the movie comes to an anti-climactic finish.

Ghost Light

The ghost light of the film’s title refers to a stage light that must remain lit on an empty stage if a production is to be successful. It’s a metaphor befitting our current filmic wasteland. It takes films such as “Ghost Light” to maintain a glow of hope that one day American Cinema will be reborn. In the meantime, Shakespeare’s plays remain a wellspring of material to rinse out Hollywood’s static noise. “Ghost Light” is good, clean (if a little bloody) fun. For Hollywood, it’s back to the woodshed.

Not Rated. 102 mins. (B-)

Three Stars

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June 12, 2019

ROCKETMAN

RocketmanHindered by faulty construction and lax editing that tires out the audience long before its two-hour run time passes, “Rocketman” is nonetheless an energetic fantasy version of Elton John’s incredible career in music.

Inspired musical vignettes set to magnificent Elton John songs such as “The Bitch Is Back” or “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” arrive with dance sequences that put “La La Land” to shame. There are times when it feels like the scattershot story gets in the way of the music.

This film’s overall success derives directly from Taron Egerton’s infectious performance as Elton John. His facial expressions deserve their own chapter in the latest book on the craft of film acting. There is magic here.

Rocketman-Taron-Egerton

This picture should serve as Egerton’s break-out feature film role given the vast gifts of physicality, emotional register, and dynamics on display here. You may not be familiar with Taron Egerton from his part in the forgettable “Kingsman” movie franchise, but Egerton’s Elton John blows Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury off the stage. Judging from Egerton’s work here, it seems as if there is nothing this fine British actor cannot, or will not, do.

Rocketman

Jamie Bell elevates his supporting role as Bernie Taupin, Elton’s songwriting partner, to something sublime. Bell matches Egerton note for note, beat for beat, in every scene they share. The effect is mesmerizing. Bryce Dallas Howard fulfills her role as Elton John’s cruel mother Sheila with laser-like precision. It makes you want to see Bryce Dallas Howard in more movies.

Rated R. 121 mins. (B+)

Four Stars

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March 06, 2019

MADE IN SHEFFIELD

MadeThe industrial city of Sheffield, England was the birthplace for the electronic pop explosion of post punk bands like "Vice Versa," "The Human League," "Heaven 17," "ABC,” and "Cabaret Voltaire." Slick style and cultural cool pulses, heats up, and grows on an international level in a bastion of fearless creativity. Here is an essential chapter of musical history brought to relevant life and context.   

In this enthusiastic, if brief (it clocks in at only 52 minutes), documentary filmmaker Eve Wood charts the lineage of the daring young musicians who created a modern and challenging brand of utopic music that lives on today through bands like "Stereolab" and "Ladytron." 

Made In Sheffield

Through interviews with band members (such as Phil Oakey of The Human League), and rare live performance footage, "Made In Sheffield" fills an essential period that linked Punk to the British New Wave with bands intent on destroying rock music. Interview subjects like the late John Peel, The Human League’s Phil Oakey and Ian Craig Marsh, and music critic Andy Gill shed light on the indispensable influence of Sheffield’s electronic music scene. This documentary is an important film for any serious music lover.

Not rated. 52 mins. (A-)Four Stars

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