Released Aug. 27 (on DVD; streaming dates vary): “Rocketman.” Coming off of the success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” — a big-budget biopic of a tormented gay British rock superstar — “Rocketman” had a lot of pressure on it. If the Freddie Mercury story could excite moviegoers, certainly the Elton John story had the potential to do the same. Dexter Fletcher, the former actor who took over the reins of “Bohemian Rhapsody” when Bryan Singer was fired, was hired to direct “Rocketman.” Rising young British actor-singer Taron Egerton was cast as John, with high hopes, as well, particularly after Rami Malik won an Oscar for playing Mercury. Despite the hyped comparisons, “Rocketman” turned out to be the far superior film. Where the “Bohemian Rhapsody” script is simplistic and crass, the “Rocketman” screenplay by Lee Hall is thoughtful and honest, filled with emotional fantasy and polished Sirkian melodrama. John grew up in a Freudian nightmare: his mother was deeply critical and withholding, as was his father, and they both seemed to blame him for their failed marriage. His profound musical gifts were the key to his acceptance, but love remained elusive, and addiction would soon replace it. Only Bernie Taupin, his straight lyricist (played with believable warmth and depth in the movie by Jamie Bell), offered John affection without strings attached. Egerton, who displayed puckish charm in the “Kingsman” spy movies, is a revelation in “Rocketman.” He tones down John’s flamboyance without sidestepping it, and conveys the pain of fame — the emotional emptiness, the indulged ego-tripping — without a hint of cliché. Though John ultimately found true love, a family, knighthood and a legacy of lifelong creativity, that fulfilment is merely a future dream in the movie. Even so, the knowledge that that will happen grounds John’s struggles with addiction and closeted homosexuality in a way that Mercury’s pitiful and tragic end could not.
Released Sept. 10: “The Dead Don’t Die.” Jim Jarmusch’s decidedly eccentric, comic riff on George A. Romero’s zombie movies, filled with deadpan (no pun intended) absurdist humor and self-reflexive twists, was a dud at the box office. Yet it’s classic Jarmusch, with a three-ring cast of oddball greats and a hipster’s pose of despair. Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny are cops in the all-American small town of Centerville; Tilda Swinton is a Scottish mortician with a thing for samurai swords; Tom Waits is a wise and hairy hermit, living in the woods; Eszter Balint (“Stranger Than Paradise”) is a waitress; Selena Gomez is a pretty young thing driving through; Danny Glover and Steve Buscemi are townies; and Iggy Pop, Carol Kane and Jarmusch’s partner Sara Driver are among the undead who eat flesh. It’s easy to see why some in the audience will feel that it misfires, since it’s slow-moving and film-buff-obsessive without the manic zest of a Tarantino script. But if you meet the film on its own terms, it can be enjoyed as a rich comic-book allegory of Trumpist America.
Released Sept. 24: “Yesterday.” Director Danny Boyle and romcom screenwriter extraordinaire Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”; “Love, Actually”) have fashioned a retread of “Slumdog Millionaire” with a different, and cheekily clever high-concept premise: an unsuccessful British musician of Asian descent, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), awakes from a bicycle accident (and power blackout) in a world where no one has heard of the Beatles except him. He turns that into an opportunity, singing Beatles songs as his own, and catapults himself into stardom, leaving his small-time manager (Lily James), a teacher who secretly loves him, behind. The fable-like structure is deceptively simple and sentimental, an “It’s a Wonderful Life” tale of personal redemption that has been gussied up with cyber-jokes and fantasy, Boyle’s fast-cut, wild-angled cinematic energy, Kate McKinnon as an amusingly heartless record exec, and lots of slick British quirkiness. The movie’s joyful resolution is as unlikely as the one in “Slumdog,” but you’d have to be an aesthetic Scrooge to care. “Yesterday” is sophisticated yet shallow entertainment.
Released Aug. 27 thru Sept. 24, in brief: “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” a drama of gentrification and a Sundance fave; “Men in Black: International,” an exhausted sequel with Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thomson as alien-fighting feds; “Aladdin,” a lame, live action remake of the latter-day Disney animated classic, with Will Smith as the genie; “Echo in the Canyon,” a documentary about the Laurel Canyon, L.A., music scene that produced The Byrds and The Mamas and the Papas; “Bodied,” in which a white grad student learns battle rap; “Skin,” with Jamie Bell as a white supremacist skinhead who tries to turn his life around; and “Pavarotti,” Ron Howard’s documentary portrait of the legendary opera star.