YESTERDAY (2019)

June 12, 2019

2019 Oak Cliff Film Festival

 Greetings again from the darkness. A world without music from The Beatles? It’s hard to “imagine”. It’s not as simple as never having their classics played on the radio, as the number of musicians influenced by their work is roughly the size of the list of every musician who has ever written or sang a song over the past 60 years. Of course, that’s a bit too much to tackle in a movie, so director Danny Boyle (Oscar winner for SLUMBDOG MILLIONAIRE) simplifies things by serving up a 12 second global power outage.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, “EastEnders”) is the epitome of a struggling musician. He plays kids’ parties and pubs where the only applause is from his small group of friends who enjoy busting his chops over his “summer” song. His lifelong friend Ellie (Lily James, BABY DRIVER, MAMMA MIA!, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES) is also his manager and roadie … his only true supporter. There is an unrequited attraction between the two, and since the script comes from Richard Curtis (LOVE ACTUALLY), we know where this is headed.

When the global power outage hits, Jack is on his bicycle and a collision with a bus puts him in the hospital. During recovery, he stumbles on to the fact that he is the only person who remembers music from John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Quickly capitalizing on the opportunity, Jack frantically tries to recall the lyrics to the songs, and in short time is replacing his playlist post-it notes with the familiar (to us) song titles, and blowing people away with “his” formidable songwriting and incredible music.

Fortune shines on Jack and his new songs, and soon Ed Sheeran (playing himself) is helping Jack’s career, while at the same time being humbled by these songs. It’s at this point where Kate McKinnon joins in as the money-grubbing talent agent who recognizes a gold mine when she hears it. Additional comedy is provided by Joel Fry as Rocky, Jack’s new roadie; and a trip to Liverpool follows, as does a world tour and album recording session.

Danny Boyle is known best for his likeable, easy to digest films that are typically crowd-pleasers, but leave me wanting more depth and substance. This one fits right in. It’s funny (“Hey Dude”, Abbey Road is just a road) and has amazing music (of course). However, where Lily James plays her role perfectly, Himesh Patel – despite a fine singing voice – simply lacks the charisma and screen presence to carry the film. We rarely feel his inner turmoil in living this whopper of a lie, and the film never really clicks as a Rom-Com. In fact, the only thing we should be loving here is the Beatles music. The film plays a bit like Rod Serling decided to take “The Twilight Zone” into comedy. The real impact would be lost, but it would still likely draw a crowd.

watch the trailer:

 


T2 TRAINSPOTTING (2017)

March 23, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. Sequels are big business in Hollywood these days. In fact, it’s not unusual for sequels to be announced even before the premiere of the first! At the other end of the spectrum we have cult films which carry the added pressure of not disappointing (or worse) their rabid fan base. Such is the case with Trainspotting from 1996. So the big question is … can the much anticipated follow up generate the frenetic pace and enjoyable discomfort of the first?

Director Danny Boyle (and his Oscar from Slumdog Millionaire) is back at the helm, and re-joining him is writer John Hodge who is once again working with the main characters from Irvine Welsh’s source novels. Of course what has the fans excited is the reunion of Ewan McGregor as Mark Renton, Ewen Bremner as Spud, Jonny Lee Miller as Sick Boy Simon, and Robert Carlyle as Begbie. Despite high expectations and fear of disappointment, it’s difficult to imagine the fans not having a blast with this second go round. Sure, the boys are a bit older – but to say they are much wiser, would be stretching things farther than these off-kilter blokes already do.

For reasons never really made clear, Mark returns to face the fellows he left high and dry some twenty years ago. Perhaps it’s guilt and he accepts that he deserves a good ass-kicking, or perhaps he simply realized he didn’t belong anywhere else. Simon has an attractive new partner named Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), who seems to be the one generating whatever income the couple has. Spud is still struggling mightily with his addiction, while Begbie is planning a quite painful escape from prison.

The reunions happen separately and slowly throughout the film, and each carries its own awkwardness. These guys are all similar to the guys we know, yet nobody’s quite the same. It’s not until near the end when all four share a scene. However, getting to that point involves everything we could hope for: flashbacks, quirky camera angles, flash-cut edits, familiar music blasting, and exaggerated sound effects … in other words, all of the style from the original (only with a higher budget).

Also making return appearances are Kelly McDonald as Diane (only one scene), novelist Irvine Welsh (this time buying stolen goods from Begbie), and the always great Shirley Henderson as Gail, whose single line of dialogue is pitch perfect. It’s nice that Ewen Bremner gets such an interesting and unexpected path in this sequel, and we can’t help but smile at director Boyle’s tributes to David Bowie, Stanley Kubrick, and of course, his original Trainspotting. You may ask why and in what form, but it’s clear all four main characters have decided to “choose life”. The next cult favorite up for sequel treatment is 1982’s Blade Runner, which likely faces an even more challenging journey to satisfy fans from 35 years ago.

watch the trailer:

 

 


STEVE JOBS (2015)

November 5, 2015

steve jobs Greetings again from the darkness. Does it take the smartest guy in the room to write about the smartest guy in the room? Probably not, but as Aaron Sorkin shows in writing about Steve Jobs, it can’t hurt. It’s an impressive filmmaking team that, in addition to Sorkin, includes director Danny Boyle, and a cast of Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Seth Rogen, John Ortiz and Perla Haney-Jardine … that’s a lot of talent, prestige, and award-winners.

The film is based on the terrific authorized biography written by Walter Isaacson (which I recommend). Rather than tackle the entirety of the book or Jobs’ life, a theatrical approach is taken with three distinct acts covering 16 years centered on product roll-outs: Macintosh, 1984; NeXT, 1988; and iMac, 1998. You might notice that two of those products are considered major flops, but the focus is on the persona of Jobs, not the performance of the products. Director Boyle makes his presence felt by filming appropriately in each of the segments: 16mm for 1984, 35mm for 1988, and digital for 1998. He also brings a sweeping beauty to the visuals … whether it’s Jobs storming through a hallway, or the maze of activity backstage at each roll-out.

In today’s world, it’s humorous to witness the cult-like atmosphere that develops around Apple products, and it’s equally comical to see the small-minded types who refuse to credit Jobs or Apple for catapulting consumer technology ahead by decades, and for achieving levels of financial success never before reached. Although it’s difficult to separate Jobs from Apple, Sorkin and Boyle are very clear in their focus on the man. In fact, the movie could be viewed as a kind of dysfunctional family – both genetic family and work family.

Rogen plays Steve Wozniak and Stuhlbarg plays Andy Hertzfeld, both part of the original Apple team with Jobs. There are some pointed exchanges between these three characters, with the most eye-raising being when Woz asks Jobs, “What do you do?” It’s the best display of what makes Jobs different than others, and his answer is one of the most disheartening compliments ever heard. There are multiple extended sequences with Jobs and his quasi-father figure John Sculley (Jeff Daniels). These two rip through Sorkin dialogue the way Michael Jordan once sliced through defenses. Most cruel are the exchanges between Jobs and Chrisann Brennan (Ms. Waterston) – the mother of his daughter Lisa (though he refused to acknowledge being her father).

For those familiar with the role of Joanna Hoffman in Jobs’ career, you will be duly impressed with the performance of Kate Winslet … playing the only one who could consistently stand up to the relentless pressure and lofty expectations.

There are soft references to (future) iPods and iPads, and Jobs’ break-up with Apple is dramatized, but it’s the individual scenes of interaction with others that makes this entertaining and challenging to watch. There is nothing likable about Steve Jobs the man, but Fassbender’s fine performance does allow glimpses of humanity beneath the God-like aura Jobs presented. Was Jobs a genius? Was he an extreme social misfit?  Was he a cruel family man due to his botched adoption as a kid? Regardless of where you place him in the realm of technology development, it’s difficult to argue with Woz’s proclamation that one can be “decent AND gifted”. It’s not binary.

watch the trailer:

 


TRANCE (2013)

April 19, 2013

trance1 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Danny Boyle won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, and he also brought us the wicked Trainspotting and the extraordinary Millions. He is also the guy behind the presentation of the Olympic ceremony in London and the stage version of Frankenstein. Mr. Boyle is very talented and unafraid of risk. You will have to decide for yourself if this one pays off, as viewers seem to be falling on one side or the other.

James McAvoy stars as Simon, an employee at a fine art auction house, similar to Sotheby’s. Simon begins the film by narrating and demonstrating the security measures, and soon enough a real robbery is occurring … a rare and valuable Goya. In the process Simon gets whacked on the head by master thief Franck (Vincent Cassel). We soon enough trance2learn Simon was part of the inside job but, thanks to head trauma, can’t recall where he hid the painting. Franck is not happy about this and Franck is not really a nice man.

Next thing we know, Simon is visiting hypno-therapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) and trying to find his keys, which is really the painting. All the while this is happening, Franck and the crew are listening in and we viewers are being thumped with the techno-music (also known as Trance).  There are numerous “clues” and much mis-direction, so it helps to pay close attention. I would recommend paying special attention to the “Young Woman in the trance3Red Car”.  She is played by Tuppence Middleton, who is a real up-and-comer as an actress … she has quite a few upcoming films over the next 12-15 months.

This one is part heist film, part thriller, part atmospheric softcore sex, double-crossing, relationship flick. Normally a psychological thriller with Vincent Cassel directed by Danny Boyle would be a perfect time in a movie theatre for me. Unfortunately, in the twisty fun versus jumbled mess debate, I lean towards the messy side.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvTW1JecmZo


127 HOURS (2010)

November 24, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Spoilers are strictly avoided in my comments. I completely understand that not everyone rushes out to see new releases the way that I do. For this movie, there can be no spoilers. We are all painfully aware of the real life ordeal suffered by Aron Ralston in 2003. This taut film succeeds at bringing to life the visuals our minds can only imagine.

Danny Boyle is a terrific director who has three (now four) outstanding and diverse movies to his name (Slumdog Millionaire, Millions, Trainspotting). Here he re-teams with Slumdog writer Simon Beaufoy to bring us the screen version of Aron Ralston’s book “Between a Rock and Hard Place”. It’s the story of an adventurous young man who is forced to take drastic measures when his arm is pinned after a fall while rock climbing.

What the film really explores is Ralston’s personality and an individual’s will to live. Aron is a cocky, adventurous, fun-loving guy whose “oops” moment consisted of not telling anyone where he was headed. A cardinal sin of solo hiking. Five days later he stumbles back to life, minus one arm. Ralston faces one of those moments when he must decide just how important life is. His choice leads to life … through excruciating pain.

Boyle does an amazing job in capturing the moment and the inevitibility of the setting. In what could be a hopeless situation, Ralston clings to life. James Franco delivers an Oscar worthy performance as Ralston. His range here is remarkable. Watching his hallucinations, flashbacks and persistence makes this an extremely watchable and human film despite the topic.  An interesting note is that Ralston did have a video camera with him and had previously only shown the clips to his family and a few close friends.  He did allow Boyle and Franco to see the actual video, so what you see onscreen came directly from Ralston’s real emotions.

Support work is minimal but decent from Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Treat Williams, Kate Burton and Clemence Poesy. Franco and Boyle are the real stars as they capture Ralston’s spirit. As a viewer, this taps into our inner most fear. What if this were us? What if we were him? Could we do it? Would we do it?

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can’t believe I mention James Franco and “Oscar” in the same sentence OR you get a charge out of watching the strong will to survive take over.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you get queasy when you break a fingernail