Yesterday, Rocket Man, Bohemian Rhapsody

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Yesterday directed by Danny Boyle is all the movie poster promises — it’s a feel-good movie of the summer. If, you are a Beatles fan. If you aren’t bothered by the preposterous premise, and if you enjoy the direction of Danny Boyle. I can say “yes” to all my ifs, so I enjoyed the movie. It’s a nostalgic, love story paying homage to The Beatles and that was Danny Boyle’s intent. The strength of the film owes to the performance of Himesh Patel who is the boy-next-door nowhere man, Jack Malik, who suffers a twelve-second bicycle accident and wakes up as the only one on the planet who knows who the Beatles are. He becomes the rock n roll star by passing himself off as the originator of the Beatles music. Feeling guilty for living a lie, he wins the girl, straightens things out, and they live happily ever after. First, when the script focused on the music — remembering the lyrics, the reactions to them — the music uplifts and is still timeless after all these years. I loved the scene where current pop star Ed Sheeran takes on Jack Malik in a song-writing contest at a party. “The Long and Winding Road” wins, what a surprise, and it’s Patel’s clear voice and emotion that sells it. Also, Jack Malik’s viper, L.A. manager Deborah, was played to perfection by Kate McKinnon. Finally, while it made no sense, I couldn’t help but gasp at the end of the movie where Jack Malik goes to a lone seaside house and knocks on the door. What a shock when the door opens. It would be a spoiler, so I’ll refrain from describing the scene except by saying it made me wish the scene were true. The weakest part of the movie was the love story. Poor Lily James, who could be Keira Knightley’s little sister, who played the one-dimensional girl-next-door, Ellie. Boring and predictable. I wanted Mr. Boyle to get back to the music. Favorite scene? “We all live in the Yellow Submarine.” Yes, a world without the songs of the Beatles would be a sad world, indeed. 3.7 of 5.

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I went to see Rocketman knowing it was more musical than a biopic. It has to be said that Elton grips my emotional heartstrings more than Queen or the Beatles. I vividly remember walking along dusty roads feeling lonely and uncomfortable with being twelve, and there was “Bennie and the Jets” playing on the radio. It cheered me up. I grew up listening to Elton. His over-the-top costumes and the sex, drugs, and rock and roll seemed “normal” for me living through the seventies and eighties. Therefore, little surprise, I enjoyed Rocketman very much. Taron Egerton possessed the talent to convince me he was Elton John. Director Dexter Fletcher took an audacious story and executed Elton’s life with some magical realism that worked for me. I enjoyed many of the dance numbers set to his songs to match the stage of his life. Two brilliant scenes stand out: “Pinball Wizard” choreographed to match Elton’s out of control lifestyle. The second when he announces on his swimming pool diving board that he is committing suicide. In he goes and he’s floating at the bottom of his pool looking up and singing “Rocketman”. Abused little Reggie (Matthew Illesley) accompanies the adult Elton (Taron Egerton) throughout the movie. The two learn how to forgive and survive. Melodramatic? Overplayed with the emotionally vacant father and condescending mother? You bet. The interesting parts of Elton’s life are not his sexual forays but his brotherly relationship with Bernie Taupin played perfectly by Jamie Bell. I was interested in the story of collaboration the most. It’s a film I could watch again if only for the outrageous costumes and dance numbers. I haven’t seen anything this crazy and fun since The Who’s Tommy. 4.2/5.

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Bohemian Rhapsody was released in November 2018, and I was surprised how much it affected my high school students. They were obsessed with Freddie Mercury and fell in love with Queen. I thought it amusing when I casually mentioned how they were from “my” generation and when I shared personal accounts about their songs from a person “who was there” (Live Aid Concert, televised) I held their attention. Anyway, the only thing really worth mentioning about is the fantastic performance by Rami Malek, who most are aware won the major awards. I was happy to see he got all his accolades. 4/5. 

Which one of the three did you like the best? There seems to be a trend, yes? What British star will we hail tomorrow? David Bowie must be curious about walking through that nostalgic turnstile. 

FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt: Appearance and Reality in Films and History

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Many have played Franklin Delano Roosevelt on stage and film. Three personal favorites include Bill Murray in Hyde Park on Hudson (2012),

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Jon Voight in Pearl Harbor(2001)

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and Kenneth Branagh in the HBO film, Warm Springs (2005).

All I know is, every time I see some one portraying FDR, I really crave a cigarette.

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90 miles north of NYC on Rt. 9, please visit FDR’s estate of Hyde Park on the Hudson River as well as their prestigious neighbors, the Vanderbilts.  Two miles down the road from Hyde Park is Eleanor’s cottage sitting on 180 acres, Val-Kill. The architecture, grounds, and beauty of the Hudson River from up on the hill is worth the trip out of the city.

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The family estate, Mrs. Delano’s house, the side of the Vanderbilt Mansion

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Val-Kill , married for forty years

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt’s father Elliot Roosevelt was the brother of US President Theodore Roosevelt. That makes them fifth cousins, not considered taboo.

Hyde Park on Hudson had its flaws. Historically speaking, it was more fiction than fact. If you want to know how, take a look at this:

http://www.npr.org/2012/12/26/167537602/hyde-park-an-fdr-portrait-thats-more-fiction-than-fact

It’s a pretty film. I can still appreciate the acting while swallowing the pound of salt. The romanization of a leader’s accomplishments and their imprint in history is common in films and textbooks and biographies. Like most biopics, the audience sees the human behind the icon. This is always interesting. The hero is human? Hard to fathom, but it’s nice to know those who seem larger than life are just as flawed as the rest of us. Take FDR, for example. Hated by Republicans, he was a fatherly savior to many Americans during the Great Depression. FDR is generally considered one of the better leaders we’ve had. He carried the weight of the world on his shoulders and did so while he hid his legs made useless by polio.

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The biopic Hyde Park on Hudson shed light to his philandering ways. Sigh. Secret liaisons. So what else is new? I suppose I had high hopes for the film because I liked all the actors and were rooting for them. Laura Linney played FDR’s lover, sixth cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Stuckley. Linney narrated Daisy’s side of the story. She was the “wife” and true love of Franklin based upon boxes of letters and her journal found under Daisy’s bed when she passed at the age of 100. All the while, FDR was married to Eleanor Roosevelt for forty years. In fact, Daisy and Eleanor learned to accept their roles much like the arrangement in the film, The Duchess.

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It might explain why Eleanor moved out and lived two miles down the road with her personal secretary and life long friend, Malvina “Tommy” Thompson.  I assume it is only a matter of time before a biopic about their relationship is made. If Franklin’s companions gave him comfort and love, I’m glad Eleanor had hers. Is this the message of biopics? To show the burden of rank and privilege, or is this a universal story made interesting because they are famous?

I am a big fan of Naomi Watts, but I fear the upcoming biopic, Diana, released around the anniversary of her death will be, well, predictable.

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Didn’t I read all about it in People?

Eleanor Roosevelt

She is far more interesting than Franklin. She is my personal role model and a source of inspiration.  Orphaned, homely, privileged, isolated, educated, loyal, generous, humanitarian, and a champion for all–she managed her hardships and advocated for human rights. Thankfully, Hyde Park on Hudson showed the strength and compassion of Eleanor’s character.  You’ve probably heard her many maxims:

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Whenever I’m scared, I think about her wisdom, and she gives me courage.

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