Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2019: Yesterday (dir by Danny Boyle)


It’s a bit of an odd film, Yesterday is.

Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik, a singer-songwriter who has struggled to find much success.  The only person who believes in him is his manager, a school teacher named Ellie Appleton (Lily James).  (Given the film’s subject matter, Ellie’s last name is a significant one.)  One night, the entire world is hit by a brief blackout.  Jack misses most of the excitement because he’s in a coma, having been hit by a bus.

When Jack wakes up from his coma, he’s shocked to discover that he’s lost several teeth and now looks kind of silly whenever he speaks, sings, or even smiles.  However, he also eventually discovers that he is now apparently the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles!

Somehow (it’s never explained how), that global blackout changed history.  It’s not that the Beatles ceased to exist as individuals.  In one of the film’s more affecting scenes, Jack drives out to the country and meets John Lennon (Robert Carlyle), who never became a superstar and who, as a result, was never assassinated.  However, in this new world, the Beatles never came together as a group and, as a result, some of the most beloved songs in history were never written.  Only Jack knows the lyrics and music for Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, The Long and Riding Road, Let It Be, Back in the USSR, and …. well, everything!

(Oddly enough, the Beatles no longer existing has also led to several other things no longer existing.  It’s impossible not to laugh when Jack discovers that, without the Beatles, there was never an Oasis.  At the same time, there’s also no Coke or Harry Potter books.  I guess the Beatles weren’t around to inspire J.K. Rowling but why Coke would vanish is a bit more confusing.  Since Coke predates the Beatles by a century, perhaps the the film is less about how strange the world is without Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and instead about how we owe everything good in the world to John Pemberton.)

Needless to say, this leads to Jack becoming a huge star.  He’s soon touring with Ed Sheeran and recording his debut album.  And yet, through it all, Jack is haunted by the fact that the music isn’t truly his.  Will Jack continue to plagiarize his way to stardom?  And will Jack and Ellie ever realize that they’re in love and totally meant to be together?  Watch to find out, I suppose!

As I said at the start of this review, Yesterday is a bit of an odd film.  Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis, it’s a meeting of two talents that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to compliment each other.  Surprisingly enough, though, the mix of Curtis’s sentimentality and Boyle’s more subversive instincts works well.  This is to especially be found in the scene where Jack meets John Lennon.  On paper, the scene shouldn’t work but it does work because Boyle is enough of a contrarian to direct his actors to play the scene with a wistful sadness.  The script may have intended the scene to prove that Lennon would have found happiness no matter what but Boyle directs it as if to say, “It probably would have been better for John if the Beatles has never existed….”  Stylistically, Boyle is too much of a cheerful anarchist to fully embrace Curtis’s romcom-style love of the Beatles.  At the same time, Curtis’s more earnest dialogue often undercuts Boyle’s more excessive instincts.  The end result is a sweet-natured movie with an edge.

Making his feature film debut, Himsh Patel is likable as Jack, even if he doesn’t quite have rock star charisma.  (Then again, that’s also a part of the film’s humor.  On his own, Jack is destined to forever be the opening act, the acceptable performer who is forgotten as soon as the headliners show up.  It’s only after the Beatles are wiped from everyone’s memory that Jack is able to become a star.)  Lily James does her best with an underwritten role and Ed Sheeran plays a hilariously vapid version of himself.

Yesterday is a good-natured tribute to the power of music and one band in particular.

Spring Breakdown #6: The Beach (dir by Danny Boyle)


Here’s a lesson for any and all aspiring film bloggers:

Even if you’ve seen the movie before, always rewatch a film before you write about it.  This is especially true if it’s been a while since you last saw the film.  Often the pressure to say whether a film was bad or good can lead to your memory playing tricks on you.

That was certainly the case with me and the 2000 film, The Beach.  For the longest time, I remembered The Beach as being a gorgeously shot but rather shallow film, one that featured one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s least impressive performances.  Whenever I had to explain my theory that DiCaprio didn’t become a consistently good actor until 2003, The Beach was inevitably one of the film’s that I would cite as proof that, early on in his career, DiCaprio had a tendency to overact.

In short, if I hadn’t rewatched the film on Saturday morning, you would currently be reading a really negative review of The Beach.  However, I did rewatch The Beach and I discovered that both the film and DiCaprio’s performance were a lot better than I initially remembered.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  The Beach is still a frustratingly uneven film and the voice over narration (which DiCaprio recites in a rather overwrought style) still makes me cringe.  But still, it’s hardly the disaster that I initially remembered it being.

DiCaprio plays Richard, a privileged American who finds himself in Bangkok, searching for adventure.  When he meets the appropriately named Daffy (Robert Carlyle), a bemused Richard listens as Daffy talks about an uncharted island in the Gulf of Thailand.  Daffy swears that it’s a paradise that is populated by other travelers.  When Richard smirks and asks Daffy if he’s “fucked in the head,” Daffy responds by drawing Richard a map and then promptly committing suicide.  Richard and his two French friends, Françoise (Virginie Leydon) and Étienne (Guillaume Canet), go searching for the island.

And they find it!  It turns out that Daffy knew what he was talking about.  On the island, they discover a small but thriving commune.  Soon, Richard is killing sharks, having affairs, and becoming close to the leader of the commune, Sal (Tilda Swinton).  Unfortunately, Richard is also starting to lose his mind.  He grows to love paradise so much that he chooses ignore the dangers all around.  When a member of the commune is attacked by a shark, he’s left out in the middle of the jungle because no one wants to deal with the reality of his suffering.  Even more dangerous are the neighboring marijuana farmers, who allow Sal and her followers to live only under the condition that they keep the island a secret.  The problem is that Richard’s not good at keeping secrets.  Before he even knew if the island was real, Richard showed the map to a group of American surfers.  And now, the surfers are coming….

The Beach was directed by Danny Boyle, so it’s not a surprise that the film looks great and that it has an absolutely brilliant soundtrack.  (The film makes great use of both Moby’s Porcelain and Out of Control by the Chemical Brothers.)  At the same time, Boyle is too much of a subversive to fully buy into his film’s vision of paradise.  From the minute that Richard and his friends reach the island, Boyle is offering up hints that utopia isn’t as wonderful as people assume.  When Sal asks for a volunteer to accompany her to the mainland on a supply run, Boyle practically delights in showing everyone freaking out at the idea of having to indulge in responsibility.  Boyle often contrasts Richard’s pretentious narration (which, at times, sounds like it could have been lifted from a Beto O’Rourke medium post) with the rather mundane details of living on the island.  Though it may not be obvious from the start, The Beach works best when viewed as being a satire of middle and upper class ennui.

As for DiCaprio’s performance as Richard ….. well, let’s just say that he spends a lot of time yelling.  During the early part of his career — essentially the pre-Scorsese years — DiCaprio had a tendency to overact.  For all of his obvious talent, it took DiCaprio a while to really get to a point where he seemed as comfortable underplaying as he was just going totally overboard.  The Beach has its moments where DiCaprio gets awkwardly shrill.  (The scene where Richard talks about killing a shark always makes me cringe.)  But, at the same time, DiCaprio’s performance gets better as the film progresses.  (The scenes where DiCaprio is running around the jungle and trying to act like an animal are actually quite good.)  If DiCaprio’s performance sometimes seems shallow or histrionic, that’s because that’s who Richard is meant to be as a character.  (In one scene, Françoise even calls Richard out for being shallow and pretentious.)  Just because Richard’s narrating and is played by the star of the film, that doesn’t meant that we’re necessarily meant to like him.

These are all things that I didn’t really understand until I rewatched the film.  Maybe I was too immature the first time I saw the movie to understand what Boyle was really going for.  Maybe I was just having an off night the first time that I watched The Beach.  Or maybe my memory was just faulty.  For whatever reason, I’m glad that I rewatched this often uneven but still rather interesting film.  For all of its flaws. it was definitely better than I remembered.

Here’s The Latest Trailer For The American Release of T2 Trainspotting!


T2, Danny Boyle’s sequel to Trainspotting, has already been released in the UK, where it received good but not great reviews.

(If anyone is interested in opening a TSL Bureau in the United Kingdom, please let us know.)

It’ll be released in America later this month.  Here’s the latest trailer for the American release!

Lisa’s Way Too Early Oscar Predictions For January


2013 oscars

Why are these Oscar predictions “way too early?”

Well, unlike every other movie blogger right now, I am not attempting to predict who and what will be nominated on January 24th.  Instead, with this post, I am attempting to predict which 2017 releases will be nominated next year!  In short, I am attempting to predict what movies and which performers will emerge as Oscar contenders over the next 12 months.

Needless to say, this is more than a little bit foolish on my part.  I haven’t seen any of the films listed below.  Some of these films don’t have release dates and others are coming out so early in the year that, in order to be contenders, they’ll have to be so spectacular that neither the Academy nor the critics end up forgetting about them.  For the most part, the true picture of the Oscar race usually doesn’t start to emerge until the summer.

For now, these predictions are, for the most part, wild guesses and they should be taken with more than just a grain of salt.  Each month, I will revise my predictions.  At the very least, next year, we’ll probably be able to look back at this post and laugh.

(Whenever trying to make early Oscar predictions, one should remember all of the award bloggers who predicted Nicole Kidman would win an Oscar for Grace of Monaco, just to then see the movie make its long-delayed premiere on Lifetime.)

With all that in mind, here are my way too early Oscar predictions for January!

Best Picture

All Eyez on Me

Battle of the Sexes

The Beguiled

Blade Runner 2047

Crown Heights

Darkest Hour

Downsizing

Dunkirk

T2: Trainspotting

War Machine

Again, for the most part, these predictions are a combination of wild guesses, instinct, and wishful thinking.  It’s entirely possible that none of these films will actually be nominated for best picture.  (Some might even end up premiering on Lifetime, you never know.)  Here’s why I think that some of them might be remembered next year at this time:

All Eyez On Me is a biopic of Tupac Shakur.  Assuming the film is done correctly, Shakur’s life would seem to have all the elements that usually go into an Oscar-winning film.

Battle of the Sexes is a film based on a true incident, a 1970s tennis match between a feminist and a self-declared male chauvinist.  It’s directed by the team behind the Oscar-nominated Little Miss Sunshine and it stars two former nominees, Emma Stone and Steve Carell.

The Beguiled might be wishful thinking on my part but, at this point, wishful thinking is all I have to go on for most of these predictions.  The Beguiled is a remake of a Clint Eastwood film and it’s directed by one of my favorite directors, Sofia Coppola!  Much like Battle of the Sexes, its misogynist-gets-what’s-coming-to-him storyline might make it the perfect film for the first year of the Trump presidency.

Blade Runner 2047 is one of the most eagerly anticipated films of 2017 and it’s directed by Denis Villeneuve, who is hot off of Arrival.  The Oscar success of Mad Max: Fury Road proved that a sequel can be a contender.

Every year, at least one contender emerges out of Sundance and this year, it could very well be Crown Heights.  It tells a fact-based story, about a man trying to win his best friend’s release from prison after the latter is wrongly convicted.  That all sounds very Oscar baity.

Speaking of Oscar bait, Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.  If that doesn’t sound like Oscar bait, I don’t know what does.

Downsizing is Alexander Payne’s latest film.  It’s about a man (Matt Damon), who shrinks himself.  It may not sound like typical Oscar bait but Payne is definitely a favorite of the Academy’s.

Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s big epic for 2017.  Will it be another huge success or will it just be bombastic?  We’ll see.  The Academy has a weakness for World War II films and it could be argued that the very successful yet never nominated Nolan is overdue for some Academy recognition.  (It is true that Inception received a nomination for best picture but Nolan himself was snubbed.)

T2: Trainspotting is probably coming out too early in the year to be a legitimate contender but who knows?  The trailer was great.  Danny Boyle is directing it.  And, much as with Blade Runner 2047, Mad Max: Fury Road proved that a well-made and intelligent sequel can find favor with the Academy.

War Machine is described as being a satire about the war in Afghanistan.  Could it be another Big Short?  With Obama out of office, the Academy might be more open to political satire than they’ve been in the past.

Best Director

Danny Boyle for T2: Trainspotting

Sofia Coppola for The Beguiled

Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Alexander Payne for Downsizing

Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2047

Again, there’s a lot of random guessing here.  Personally, I’d love to see Sofia Coppola receive a second nomination for best director.  Payne and Boyle are always possibilities and, if Villeneuve’s work on Arrival is ignored this year, nominating him for Blade Runner would be a good way to make up for it.  As for Nolan, he’s going to get nominated some day.   Why not for Dunkirk?

Best Actor

Tom Cruise in American Made

Sam Elliott in The Hero

Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman

Logan Lerman in Sidney Hall

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

In American Made, Tom Cruise plays a real-life drug runner.  It sounds like one of those change-of-pace roles that often results in an Oscar nomination.  Gary Oldman has never won an Oscar and has only been nominated once.  The Academy might want to rectify that situation by nominating him for playing Winston Churchill.  And finally, Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum in a big budget musical that’s scheduled to open on Christmas Day?  It sounds like either a total disaster or the formula for Oscar gold!

Logan Lerman is one of those actors who appears to be destined to eventually be nominated for an Oscar and, in Sidney Hall, he ages over thirty years.  Finally, Sam Elliott is a beloved veteran who has never been nominated.  If The Hero is a hit at Sundance, it’s easy to imagine the Oscar campaign that will follow.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain in The Zookeeper’s Wife

Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul

Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled

Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes

Naomi Watts in The Book of Henry

As of this writing, Meryl Streep does not have a movie scheduled to be released in 2017, which means that another actress will get the sport usually reserved for her.  But who?  Jessica Chastain could be nominated because she’s Jessica Chastain and the Academy loves her.  Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria for a second time in Victoria and Abdul.  The Academy loves movies about British royalty and Dench has already been nominated once for bringing Victoria to life.  Naomi Watts plays a loving but possibly crazy mother in The Book of Henry, which again sounds like a very Oscar baity role.  If Emma Stone doesn’t win for La La Land, the Academy could make it up to her by nominating her for Battle of the Sexes.

As for Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled — well, let’s call that wishful thinking.  My hope is that Sofia Coppola will do great things with The Beguiled and she will get another great performance out of Nicole Kidman.  We’ll see if I’m right.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Carlyle in T2: Trainspotting

Johnny Depp in Murder on The Orient Experss

James Franco in The Masterpiece

Bill Skarsgard in It

Kevin Spacey in Billionaire Boys Club

Admittedly, the guesses here are fairly random but there is a logic behind each nominee.  Robert Carlyle was great in Trainspotting so he might be just as great in T2.  In Billionaire Boys Club, Kevin Spacey plays a sleazy con artist and that sounds like the type of role with which he could do wonders.  If It is to be a success, Bill Skarsgard is going to have to be a terrifying Pennywise.  If Heath Ledger could win for playing the Joker, surely Skarsgard could be nominated for playing Pennywise.

As for James Franco in The Masterpiece … yes, it’s more wishful thinking on my part.  Franco will be playing Tommy Wiseau, the director of the notorious The Room.  Wiseau is, needless to say, an eccentric figure.  Not only do I think James Franco could give an award-worthy performance in the role but I also just like the idea of someone getting an Oscar for playing Tommy Wiseau.

Finally, we have Johnny Depp in Murder on The Orient Express.  Why not?  It seems like someone from that film’s huge cast is destined to be nominated so why not Johnny Depp?

 

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Aniston in The Yellow Birds

Danai Guirra in All Eyez On Me

Kelly MacDonald in T2: Trainspotting

Kristin Scott Thomas in Darkest Hour

Tilda Swinton in War Machine

These guesses are even more random than my guesses for supporting actor.  Jennifer Aniston and Danai Guirra will both be playing mothers who lose their sons.  A lot of people were surprised when Aniston was not nominated for Cake so here’s a chance for the Academy to make it up to her.  As for Kristin Scott Thomas, she’ll be playing Winston Churchill’s wife and the Academy loves historical wives (i.e., Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech and Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything).

As for the last two predictions, Tilda Swinton is listed because she’s Tilda Swinton.  Kelly MacDonald is listed for the same reason that I put Robert Carlyle down for supporting actor.  She was just so good in the first film.

So, there you go!  Those are my too early Oscar predictions for January!  Will they prove to be accurate?  Probably not.

But we’ll see how things change over the next couple of months.  At the very least, you’ll be able to look back at this post and laugh at me for thinking that … oh, let’s say Battle of the Sexes … would ever be nominated for an Academy Award.

As for me, I’ll be revising my predictions in February.  At least by that point, maybe the Sundance Film Festival will have provided some guidance…

Tommy_Wiseau_in_The_Room

Horror Review: 28 Weeks Later (dir. by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo)


Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s 28 Days Later was done in such a way that a sequel was almost bound to fail. Their film was a horror film through and through, but it was really also an exercise in experimental filmmaking. Any film that was to follow it up will have to contend with the cool factor of not just a twist on the zombie theme (even though they’re not really zombies) but the choice in music and look of the film. All I can say is that 28 Weeks Later doesn’t disappoint and even surpasses the original film in certain aspects.

Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo does a great job of trying to stick to the premise begun by Boyle and Garland in 28 Days Later while adding his own signature to the sequel. The film begins with a scene which encapsulates what someone who never saw the original film needs to know about what to expect with this follow-up. We’re introduced to Don (played by a gaunt and haunted Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Catherine McCormack) trying to survive with several others at their English countryside cottage just outside London during the first couple weeks of the Rage-virus outbreak. This prologue shows just how tenuous any form of safe haven could be once sentimentality overrides the primal instinct for self-preservation. Don was given a choice of choosing sentimentality to try and save someone he cares about and maybe die in the process or follow the basic need for self-preservation in time of extreme danger and distress. Don picks the latter and we’re shown how horrible his choice was but at the same time how plausible a decision it was when put into context. If we were put in a similar situation could we honestly say that we wouldn’t had made the same choice which Don took. The scene with Don running across the open field with dozens upon dozens of Rage-infected people chasing after him was quite chilling.

The film goes through an introductory credit sequence explaining the timeline since Don’s escape from the cottage. We’re told that the British Isle was quickly quarantined once authorities saw how futile it was to try and save it from the ravages of Rage in the first couple weeks. Following-up on the final scenes in the original film, we now know that those infected by Rage would soon die out due to starvation and that 28 weeks after the first sign of outbreak the world outside of the British Isles have decided that it was now time to clean out the last vestiges of Rage-infected victims who haven’t starved to death and begin reconstruction and repopulation of the country. The U.S.-led NATO force in charge of this monumental project would led by U.S. Army general Stone (The Wire‘s excellent Idris Elba) and have cordoned off a safe sanctuary in London’s Isle of Dogs where British citizens who escaped the initial outbreak or were outside the country when it all began would be housed in while London was slowly sanitized.

Its where Don has been sent and given a job as a manager helping with getting London back on its feet. We’re shown the arrival of Don’s two children who were safely abroad in Spain when the outbreak first hit England. Their reunion is heartfelt though bittersweet as Don must answer his children’s questions about what happened to their mother. Let’s just say that Don’s explanation doesn’t exactly match how the opening scenes played out. Tammy and Andy (played by Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton) take his answers at face value but still end up sneaking out of the protected Green Zone to get to their old cottage to pick-up some items of sentimental value. This was one of the few sequences of the film which seemed to stretch believability and made me realize that once again a horror film ended up with some characters doing dumb things that would lead to nothing but death and destruction. What the two kids find once they get to the cottage marks the beginning of re-infection and the extreme policies enacted by the military to contain the problem. But containment doesn’t hold and soon enough a Code Red order is given to all military personnel.

It’s once the Code Red was given that the film began to mirror the U.S. government policies and tactics in their War against Terror, especially in Iraq. While I do not prescribe to this notion, Frescadillo handled the situation well. I say I do not prescribe to the notion that the second-half of the movie was a direct condemnation of U.S. war against terror and occupation of Iraq, because it’s a theme in apocalyptic movies that’s been used before there was a war on terror. It’s in this second-half where 28 Weeks Later reminded me a lot of George A. Romero’s underappreciated horror film, The Crazies. Just like in that film, the military in 28 Weeks Later don’t seem to be heartless about their reaction to the new outbreak and break of containment. Instead their overreaction to the whole deteriorating situation looks to be born more out of desperation and an inability to comprehend the best and most humane way to combat the crisis. As it’s always mentioned in other forms of fiction, the military’s a blunt instrument and never a subtle one. The Rage infection and those infected seem to only be stopped when using the most blunt procedures and tactics, but such ways also have a tendency to cause much collateral damage to the very people they’ve been tasked to protect.

28 Weeks Later was much more epic in scope than 28 Days Later and it’s in that which it surpasses the original film. While the first film was more about the lives of two disparating groups of survivors and how both groups’ attempts to survive shows how quickly one could fall from civilized behavior while another continues to hold on to it, the sequel shows that in the end even people with the best of intentions would succumb to the basic instinct of survival using all and any means necessary. The established shots of London overhead and down on the ground empty and lifeless really brings the apocalyptic nature of the movie with the force of a sledgehammer. These scenes followed up with the firebombing of Canary Wharf really highlights just how much more grimmer and nihilistic in tone and scope Fresnadillo’s sequel over Boyle’s more hopeful one. It’s quite a surprise that its the actions of the youngest and most innocent (as children are usually protrayed in horror movies) which causes a new cycle of outbreak and ultimately the fall of the attempt to bring normalcy back to the British Isles.

I would say that — even though the movie doesn’t really involve zombies but zombie-like people — 28 Weeks Later actually resembles George A. Romero’s Living Dead films more than Boyle’s 28 Days Later. While Boyle’s film took some of its basic themes from Romero’s work, he still didn’t go far enough. Fresnadillo took the theme of humanity being more dangerous than the Rage-infected ones during the original film’s third act and expands on it with 28 Weeks Later. There’s a deep sense of pessimism and cutthroat survival instincts inherent in the film’s themes. The only form of humanity to be seen actually comes from the same Americans whose attempts of reconstruction ends up an exercise in total annihilation of the problem even if it includes the innocent being destroyed in the process.

As a sequel to 28 Days Later, Fresnadillo’s film shared some stylistic and thematic qualities with the original film, but ends up becoming a wholly independent work (one could watch this sequel without having seen the original and still understand what was going on). Where the original film only touches the surface of the Rage virus doomsday effect on the British Isles and its population, 28 Weeks Later ceases that basic notion and gives the viewer a first-hand look at its aftermath and, later on, how it looks when an outbreak occurs in an area packed with survivors. For a fan of Romero’s classic zombie epics I do prefer Fresnadillo’s work and the look of his film over the original one, but he does sacrifice some level of characterization to keep the film’s tone and frenetic pacing in the latter-half from being bogged down. The film ends on a really downbeat note even as survivors make it to safety. This film really becomes an exercise in nihilism more than what Danny Boyle and Alex Garland were willing to do with the original film.

In the end, 28 Weeks Later brings over enough of what made the first film a hit with audiences and even surpasses the original in certain aspects. The acting was actually very good despite some characters not being fleshed-out more thoroughly, but I find this understandable to keep the frantic pace of the film from start to finish from being slowed down. For fans of the first film I don’t think this sequel will be a disappointment. This film might not reach the same creative heights for some fans but it surely won’t ruin the experience of having seen the original. The film also introduces a new face to the genre world with the excellent work turned in by Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. The film even has a final brief sequence which leaves open the possibility of a third film and I don’t think fans of the first two would mind that at all.