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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Rocketman

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and “The Secret Life of Pets 2” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Elton John (Taron Egerton) creates an imposing silhouette in the opening shot of “Rocketman,” director Dexter Fletcher’s biopic of the iconic piano playing pop star from a screenplay by Lee Hall. John is wearing a flashy orange and red costume that has giant feathery wings and a pair of fairly intimidating horns coming out of the head. As he comes into focus and heads into an addicts’ meeting, the symbolism is clear: His demons have taken over and he is there to exorcise them. As “Rocketman” progresses and more about who John is and how he got into heavy drug, alcohol, and sex addiction becomes apparent, the costume is removed. First the horns are snapped off. Then, once enough soul-searching and purging is done, we see John completely out of the costume and sitting at the meeting in a gray robe. This is a brilliant yet subtle visual metaphor that shows Fletcher’s creative mind at work.

Of course, he is greatly assisted not only by Egerton’s heartfelt performance, but also by the eye-popping costume design by Julian Day, who more than likely is headed for an Oscar nomination for his work here. Anyone familiar with the real-life John’s oeuvre knows that his stage costumes were every bit as important as his music. Day does a great job at capturing John’s costumes faithfully and with flourishes of his own added here and there. A side by side comparison of the real Elton John’s costumes next to Day’s costumes makes the closing credit sequence worth watching.

“Rocketman” covers a good portion of John’s life, starting with his childhood in the UK back when he was called Reggie—his real name--with parents Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) as well as grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones). We see his talent early on as he one day sits behind the living room piano and starts playing. We also see that his parents had a very rocky and loveless marriage, and this lack of love extended from Stanley to young Reggie, who wishes for no more than for his father to hug him, just once. It’s here where the seeds are planted that will lead to John’s issues in later life, as he fills the void with substance abuse and toxic relationships, most notably with manager John Reid (Richard Madden), whose portrayal in the later years of he and John’s relationship is numb, unkind, and purposely hurtful.

But there is good along with the bad. After young Elton John meets lyricist Bernie Taupin, the two become his life-long friends. John’s popularity and influence on pop music throughout the 1970s and ‘80s is unquestionable. As expected from such a movie, a lot of John’s big hits are played, including a rousing version of his younger self, played by Matthew Illesley, singing “The Bitch Is Back,” as well as, of course, the song that gives the movie its title. Also as expected, there may be songs you want hear that aren’t included. “Candle In the Wind” gets tinkered with on piano early on but we never hear it come to full fruition. We only get an homage to John’s contribution to the rock opera “Tommy” by The Who when John is playing with a pinball machine in the background of one scene. Personally, I would have liked to hear “Sad Songs,” since that is one the first songs by John I remember hearing as a kid in the 1980s. But another one from the same era, “I’m Still Standing,” is featured, complete with Egerton’s portrayal of John inserted into the music video, and it’s played at the perfect moment.

“Rocketman” is an artistic achievement on many levels: visual, auditory, performance, and story-telling. It’s about one of the most memorable and iconic figures in pop music for decades who we are lucky to still have around today. Based on this movie, he’s fortunate that addiction and/or disease didn’t take him at a young age. We’re lucky too. It’s hard for me to imagine the soundtrack of the 1980s without John’s contribution. Sad songs indeed. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Since the introduction of “Gojira” (AKA “Godzilla”) in 1954, movies about the mayhem-inducing monster have been hit and miss and everything in between. The plots of “Godzilla” movies are known for being nonsensical and serving as little more than a vehicle to show cool monster battles. The giant radioactive lizard’s most recent outing, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” is one of these movies.

The human motivations in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” are an afterthought. Some are clear, like our hero Mark Russell’s (Kyle Chandler) desire wipe out all of what they in the movie call Titans. The counter-argument to that is presented by Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watnabe), who believes that humans and Titans can co-exist. The ideas behind what Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), Mark’s estranged ex-wife, are thinking make no sense. When the action pauses for her convoluted explanation, it only makes things worse. This character is all over the place, and to say she has questionable motivations and decisions is an understatement.

But who cares—you’re watching this movie to see big monster showdowns. At this, the movie succeeds. The effects are very impressive as notable fellow monsters from Godzilla’s past are paraded out one after the other, the chief ones being Mothra, Rodan, and his arch-nemesis for the title of King of the Monsters, Ghidorah. The showdowns are large-scale and epic, and the monsters get to show off their special powers as they fight. The only cop out that irked me is that Ghidorah has the ability to form clouds and storms with his presence. This means that the fighting is largely done in a dark, murky setting. While this is convenient for the visual effects team so they can take shortcuts where needed, it’s a disservice to the fans who want to clearly see these monsters fight. If there is one thing I request from the next “Godzilla” movie, it’s to have at least one fight take place in sunlight during the day.

It’s plausible that this request will come to be, given the last shot during the closing credit sequence. There is also an after-credit scene that foreshadows a movie further down the road, but the next one has got to be the one they tease with the cave painting. If done right, it’s the one the fans will line up to see. Rent it.

The Secret Lives of Pets 2

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” tries to recapture the magic of the original movie from 2016, but with mixed results. There are funny moments, my favorite of which was when fat, lazy cat Chloe (voice of Lake Bell) teaches small dog Gidget (voice of Jenny Slate) how to act like a cat and engage in proper annoying cat behavior so she can rescue a toy that was entrusted to her by Max (voice of Patton Oswalt). However, this is just one of three plot lines that last for an hour of the movie’s 86-minute run time. The other two involve fluffy white rabbit Snowball (voice of Kevin Hart) rescuing a tiger from a circus and dogs Max and Duke (voice of Eric Stonestreet) spending a weekend on a farm and learning to rough it with alpha dog Rooster (voice of Harrison Ford).

Narratively speaking, the movie plays like an extended sitcom as scenes shift back and forth from one storyline to the other until everything comes together in the final act. It’s a worthy enough sequel for the laughs, adventure, and the life lessons it offers, but it’s nowhere near as good as the first one. Plus, no headbanging poodle. What’s up with that? Rent it.

More New Releases: “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” about a young man with a big dream (and a quirky best friend) searching for home in the changing city that seems to have left him behind, starring Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover, and Tichina Arnold.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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