Film Review: YESTERDAY (UK 2019) ***

Yesterday Poster
Trailer

A struggling musician realizes he’s the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles after waking up in an alternate timeline where they never existed.

Director:

Danny Boyle

Writers:

Jack Barth (story by), Richard Curtis (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

News had it that Danny Boyle was so impressed with Richard Curtis’s script of the idea of a singer rising to fame performing the songs of The Beatles, these songs wiped out of the minds of everybody in the world except for him that he agreed to direct the film without a second thought.  Boyle has obviously not seen many French films like the one in which all the minds were similarly erased on the memory of the songs of French singer Johnny Halliday.  Coincidence maybe? Or plagiarized premise, it will be difficult to prove.  Still YESTERDAY has enough differences in the story to stand on its own.  And it is directed by well-respected Danny Boyle who made 28 DAYS LATER and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and his best film, TRAINSPOTTING.

Jack Malik (newcomer Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter from Clacton-on-Sea, England whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading.  He has the unfailing devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James) and his band. Then, after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up with his guitar broken.  When his friends buy him a new one as a recovery preset, he sings to them the Beatles hit “Yesterday” only to find out that nobody else on Earth besides himself remember The Beatles.

With the assistance of his steel-hearted American agent, Debra, Jack rises to global fame by performing songs by the band. However, as his star rises, he risks losing Ellie — the one person who always believed in him.  The romance between him and Ellie makes the other part of the story.  Jack starts feeling guilty.  But director Boyle shows Jack’s guilt is fear of being caught rather than of theft of the Beatles’s songs, though he finally confesses at the end, something that goes against the trend of his behaviour.

I am not a fan of Boyle’s feel-good movies like this one or SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.  I prefer Boyle’s darker works.  As such, YESTERDAY’s best moments are those with Jack’s agent the over enthusiastic Debra, brilliantly played by Kate McKinnon.  She paints a darker side of the recording industry lampooning it occasionally.

The film is given a tremendous boost by the inclusion of singer Ed Sheeran, playing himself.  Shreeran discovers Jack and gets him to open for him on his Russian tour.  Sheeran has quite the large supporting role in the film so Sheeran fans should make it a point to catch the singer doing his sly acting bit.

One of the pleasures of watching YESTERDAY is to admire once again the genius of The Beatles as song after song of their hits are played.  Paul McCartney has a cameo in the film as does a fictitious John Lennon (with a look alike actor playing him).

But despite Boyle’s enthusiasm that shows throughout the film, the film is highly predictable, particularly the romance and the ending.  The humour with his family is also familiar fare.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HY0GBmOxyYY

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Film Review: THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY (UK 2018) ***

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Poster
Trailer

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a movie starring Lily James, Glen Powell, and Matthew Goode. A writer forms an unexpected bond with the residents of Guernsey Island in the aftermath of World War II, when she decides to write a book about their experiences during the war.

Director:

Mike Newell

Writers:

Kevin Hood (screenplay by), Thomas Bezucha (screenplay) |3 more credits »

The film’s trailer and film’s beginning establish the origin of the name of a book club in the Island of Guernsey.  It all began in 1941 during the World War II when a group of four English people, two men and two women, are walking at night-time in German occupied Guernsey.  They are stopped by Germans for breaching curfew.  When asked for their reason, one of the women notices a book in the pocket of one of the Germans and says that they were at a book group. Collectively they improvise the book group’s name: the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and avoid arrest when one of the men throws up on the soldiers’ boots.

This film is the second film (the other being BEAST set on Jersey Island) to open this month that has a setting on a United Kingdom associated island in the sea between Britain and France.  It is beneficial to know a bit that Guernsey like Jersey Island in order to better appreciate the film.  Guernsey is is not part of the United Kingdom though the populace share a lot in common with the British including the currency of pound sterling  The island is self governing though protected by Britain’s Military.   The island’s landscape is stunning, especially the beaches and rocky cliffs, much like Wales, west of Britain.   The film is shot in England and at Ealing Studios and not on Guernsey though the film would definitely aid the Guernsey Tourism Board in efforts to promote visits to the island.

The film has a strong female slant, understandably being based on the 2008 novel of the same name by two female writers Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, with a female protagonist at the heart of the story.  All the males have secondary importance in the story, serving the purpose of the females.  One could suitably classify this WWII historical drama as a chick flick.

The story, set in 1946 on Guernsey Island, concerns an author Juliet Ashton (Lily James) invited to the island to address the local book club.  She learns of the story of  Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Finlay) who has a daughter with a German soldier during the German Occupation of the island.  The message of the film is show how books can affect human lives.

Lily James (Kate Winslet was originally slotted) delivers a sufficiently fine performance while her co-star Dutch Game of Thrones actor, Michiel Huisman was chosen for her main love interest likely for his resemblance to Alan Bates who has a similar scruffy look in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD.  Matthew Goode has another gay role as Juliet’s publisher while British TV actress Penelope Wilton steals the show as Amelia Maugery.

One would naturally expect a whimsical female fantasy from the FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL director director Mike Newell.  The film succeeds with regards to this respect.  Commercial filmgoers would be more likely entertained by this film than the serious film critic who would be quick to shrug at the beleaguered dialogue and identify the plentiful clichés.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTDNGv61-Dk

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Film Review: DARKEST HOUR (UK 2017) ***1/2

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Darkest Hour Poster
Trailer

During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler, or fight on against incredible odds.

Director:

Joe Wright

 

Director Joe Wright returns to his period World War II roots of ATONEMENT with a theatrical historical drama set during the first year in office of Sir Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) as Prime Minister of Britain. The United Kingdom was then on the brink of invasion by Adolf  Hitler’s Germany.  Wright covered in ATONEMENT the evacuation of troops form Dunkirk, France and in this film covers the same event but from another angle – the difficult planning and fight that championed it.  It is in many ways a more difficult endeavour as witnessed in this film, appropriately entitled DARKEST HOUR.

The film opens with the forced resignation of then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) less than a year into the war due to his incompetence.  Churchill is selected as his only viable replacement despite his controversial career (the most important being the loss thousands of men of men at the Gallipoli War).  With British resources dwindling, France having already fallen, and the U.S. not helping much at the time, a contingent led by Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane) pushes hard for peace talks with Hitler. 

There is much to enjoy in this feel-good, rouse up ones emotions war drama.  Wright provides Churchill a grand theatrical entrance as he is shown first in bed lighting his signature cigar.  The film even ends with his most famous speech in the House of Commons (We will fight in the streets, in the hills etc.)  Between them, Churchill is shown as a man, supported by his wife, who finally gets the courage to fight for his convictions.  His stately residence, the Parliament house, the cabinet rooms all form the mighty props in the grand venture.  The cinematography by Bruno Delbonneland with camerawork is superb, mainly of the interior rather than exterior.

Oldman’s performance of Churchill is magnificent.  Oldman, looking like Churchill, aided by Kazuhiro Tsuji’s great prosthetics and make-up, goes right into character rather than just impersonating the man.  This is an Oscar worthy performance.  Other performances are excellent all around with Kristin Scott Thomas making an impression with her little written role of Mrs. Churchill.

The chief complaint of the film is the manipulative segment of Churchill’s ride on the London Underground, where he speaks candidly to a number of tube riders on their view of entering the war.  He speaks to a too good to be true assortment of characters – a child, a black, a housewife, the working-class who all are able to voice their opinions (including the child and the black who can quote Shakespeare) too eloquently with the scene ending with Churchill crying into his handkerchief.

DARKEST HOUR is the second film this year with Churchill as the main character, the first one being Jonathan Teplitzky’s CHURCHILL starring Brian Cox.  Both films show two different sides Churchill took on the War – the first with Churchill against the Normandy Allied Invasion.  Both are worthy war dramas, both worth a look with DARKEST HOUR being the bigger more splashy production. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pNOCzV5jG0

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Film Review: BABY DRIVER (USA 2017) *** 1/2

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baby driver.jpgAfter being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

Director: Edgar Wright
Writer: Edgar Wright
Stars: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James

Review by Gilbert Seah
 
The most ambitious and most expensive of the Edgar Wright movies (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ) , BABY DRIVER sees the Brit director working in a big budget Hollywood movie for the first time. The film is a car chase comedy crime caper with romance tied in for good measure.

The title derives from the name of the getaway car driver – Baby. A young and talented getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the personal beat of his preferred soundtrack, to be the best in the world of crime, as music heightens his focus and reflexes to extreme levels. A car accident as a child killed both his parents, and left him with permanent tinnitus, which he blocks out using music. He is preferred as a getaway driver by Doc (Kevin Spacey), a mastermind organizer of bank robberies and other high-earning heists.

Baby’s love interest is Debora (Lily James). Baby’s foster father is black and wheel chair ridden. These two people in Baby’s life are targets when Baby refuses in any way to comply with Doc or his crime partners. His main crime partners are Buddy (Jon Hamm), his girlfriend, Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Bats (Jamie Foxx). Baby has no problem performing the heists unless a killing is involved.

The car chases have to be good in a film about a getaway car driver. The audience is shown a sample of these in the opening scene. There are a total of three main car chases and these are expertly edited by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss. One of the most important components of a car chase on screen is its continuity. This is what made Peter Yates’ BULLITT (with Steve McQueen) and William Friedkin’s THE FRENCH CONNECTION two films best remembered for their car chases. Thankfully, Wright’s film falls into this category, him relying less on computer graphics than the real thing.

Ansel Elgort, young and looking fresh for this movie is good as the dancing driver. Kevin Spacey delivers a straight-face performance reminiscent of his Oscar winning performance in AMERICAN BEAUTY. Of the cast. Joe Hamm is also memorable, being cast against type as a hardened criminal ready to kill for revenge.

As Baby relies on listening to is preferred songs on his iPod, the film also requires a good soundtrack of equivalent songs that should drive the audience. Surprisingly, Wright only offers the audience samples. The audiences is for example, told of Baby’s song by Queen when driving for the final heist, but they never get to listen to the full song. Similarly for the segments when Baby is dancing to music, the music is silent and baby is shown with his dance moves to no music. It can be argued as a case of less leading the audience to wanting more.

I am not a true Edgar Wright fan. Though I have enjoyed his films, I think SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ, are over-rated and I did not like THE WORLD’S END that had sloppy writing with inaccuracy in details. This makes BABY DRIVER Wright’s best movie.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2z857RSfhk

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