YESTERDAY (2019) – Musical Fantasy About Loss of Beatles’ Music Goes Down Wrong Long and Winding Road

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yesterday 2019

YESTERDAY (2019), the new musical fantasy by Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning director of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008), asks the question, what would life be like if the Beatles and their music never existed?

The answer it comes up isn’t very satisfying.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician who in spite of his enthusiastic manager and promoter Ellie Appleton (Lily James) just can’t seem to catch a break. As fate would have it, on the night he decides to call it quits, to hang up his guitar and return to teaching, a strange incident occurs: the entire world goes dark for a period of twelve seconds, as all electrical power disappears, and at this very instant, Jack is on his bicycle and in the dark gets hit by a bus.

He survives the accident, and shortly thereafter makes the unbelievable discovery that no one knows anything about the Beatles, and when he looks the iconic band up online, he cannot find any information about them at all. Jack sees this as his big break. As a huge Beatles fan, he knows most of their songs, and so he sets out to sing these songs and reintroduce them to the world. Since these are some of the best songs ever written, Jack becomes a global phenomenon.

While this is supposed to be a playful fun fantasy, I couldn’t get past the fact that Jack’s first impulse is to steal the Beatles’ songs and pass them off as his own. This plot point rubbed me the wrong way, and it’s something I never really got over throughout the film, largely because the movie doesn’t really do a good job handling it.

I mean, we get the impression throughout that this is bothering Jack, but he doesn’t come out and say it. He tries to tell Ellie, but he doesn’t. And when he becomes a songwriting superstar, he embraces his fame. Eventually, Jack comes to a point where he knows he has to stop doing this, but it takes the entire movie for him to make this realization.

The film leaves many questions unanswered. For instance, what the heck happened in the first place? Why did the planet lose power for those few seconds? The film never attempts to answer this question. Also, the Beatles aren’t the only thing now forgotten. Jack makes other discoveries along the way. Things like Coca Cola and cigarettes— they never existed either. The film offers no explanation.

Also, the Beatles’ songs scream of collaboration. There was just something completely unbelievable about one man, Jack, writing all these different types of songs.

And, as we find out later in the movie in a key scene, the fab four themselves existed, but they simply didn’t become the Beatles. I have a hard time swallowing the notion that artists especially writers— in this case, songwriters— wouldn’t have the urge to create and write, even in an alternate universe. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but I would want to know exactly how it was that these folks didn’t become the Beatles. That’s not discussed at all.

Richard Curtis wrote the screenplay, and it’s one that unfortunately doesn’t spend any time really delving into the fun parts of this story. That’s not to say the film isn’t fun. Everything is light and amiable, and of course you have Beatles’ songs peppered throughout, but this story could have been so much more. I wanted to know more about what life would be like if the Beatles never existed. The answer this story gives is that the one guy who remembers them steals their songs! Not my idea of creativity.

Curtis has written tons of screenplays and teleplays, from the TV series BLACK ADDER and MR. BEAN, to movies like FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994) and WAR HORSE (2011).

Himesh Patel is likable enough in the lead role as Jack, but it’s not like he knocked my socks off, a la Taron Egerton as Elton John in ROCKETMAN (2019). Likewise, while it was fun to see the Beatles songs performed in front of massive live audiences, the concert sequences paled in comparison to the electrifying scenes in ROCKETMAN.

Lily James is fine as Ellie, although strangely the two leads did not share a lot of chemistry. They’re supposed to be in love without really knowing it, in that neither one ever acts on their feelings, but other than  their friends speaking to this, I never got the impression based on their performances that they were all that into each other. I like James and enjoyed her performances in DARKEST HOUR (2017) and BABY DRIVER (2017) more.

Joel Fry delivers one of the better performances in the movie in a supporting role as Rocky, Jack’s loser friend who becomes his road manager. It’s an honest performance, as Rocky is full of flaws but means well, and he’s one of the more realistic and believable characters in the movie.

I also enjoyed Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar as Jack’s self-absorbed but well-meaning parents. The sequence where he tries to perform “Let It Be” for them, and they just can’t sit still long enough for Jack to get through even the first few notes is both one of the funniest and most frustrating scenes in the film. And yet they are not monster parents. Later in the film, they remind Jack that they were the first people to hear him perform “Let It Be,” something they said they never forgot.

Comedienne Kate McKinnon is effective as Debra Hammer, Jack’s agent and promoter once he becomes famous. It’s a biting cutthroat performance, and McKinnon handles it naturally.

YESTERDAY is supposed to be a light and fun musical fantasy, and that’s certainly the way it plays out. I have no problem with the feel of the film or the music, two things I enjoyed, but the plot point of a singer/songwriter taking the Beatles songs as his own rubbed me the wrong way and never allowed me to truly love this movie.

Simply put, there are better ways to restore lost art to the world than by stealing it.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (2018) -Good-Natured Sequel Starts Slow, Finishes Strong

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Guilty pleasure alert!

I really liked MAMA MIA! (2008) when it came out ten years ago.

I mean, it had a fun cast, led by Meryl Streep, and it included hammy performances by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard— sure, Brosnan couldn’t sing, but I just looked the other way—and it was also the first film in which I saw Amanda Seyfried, and I became an instant fan. Plus, there were all the ABBA songs, which I have always enjoyed. The film was a pleasant surprise.

Now, ten years later, comes the sequel, MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (2018).

MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN takes place five years after the events of the first movie. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has refurbished her mom’s fabulous home on the Greek island of Skopelos and is planning an opulent open house shindig worthy of Jay Gatsby. However, she’s troubled because things aren’t quite right with her hubbie Sky (Dominic Cooper) as he’s been offered a job in New York City and would rather be there than in Greece with her. Plus, of her “three dads” only Sam (Pierce Brosnan) is present, as both Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) have obligations elsewhere.

And Sophie is feeling the pressure because this party is in honor of her mother Donna (Meryl Streep) who passed away a year earlier. Alas, Meryl Streep fans, you won’t see much of Streep here since her character is deceased, but since this is a happy musical, she does get to appear in one scene.

Interspersed with this present day story is a second story told via flashback, Donna’s background story. We follow a young Donna (Lily James) and witness how she first meets Sam, Harry, and Bill, as well as how she finds herself in Greece. The film jumps back and forth seamlessly between both stories.

And that’s pretty much the plot of this one.

As far as stories go, the two told in MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN are rather weak. I found both tales rather flat and nowhere near as engrossing as the fun plot told in the first film, where Sophie invited her three possible dads to her wedding in the hope of learning which one was her real dad. That story worked. The ones here put me to sleep.

Of course, you don’t see MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN for its story. You see it for its song and dance numbers, and for its light upbeat style and humor, and on these fronts, the film doesn’t disappoint. The musical numbers are decent, though not as good as the ones in the first film, and the script provides frequent chuckles.

The best part about MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN is that it gets better as it goes along and finishes strong, which goes a long way towards helping you forget about its slow opening. And the reason it gets better is during the film’s third act, the heavy hitters arrive, folks like Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard, and their presence adds quite a bit. Even Cher shows up as Sophie’s grandmother, looking tremendous for someone in her 70s. And Cher even gets two musical numbers in this one!

And the film saves the best for last. The final number during the movie’s end credits is one of the liveliest of the film.

Lily James has the daunting task of playing a young Donna, a role previously played by Meryl Streep. Plus, she’s asked to carry half the movie since she has a lot of screen time. James is actually quite good here, which comes as no surprise since she has also delivered strong performances in films like BABY DRIVER (2017) and DARKEST HOUR (2017). She also starred as Lady Rose MacClare on TVs DOWNTON ABBEY (2012-2015).

I also thought Alexa Davies as young Rosie and Jessica Keenan Wynn as young Tanya were both exceptionally good. Wynn is the granddaughter of the late Keenan Wynn.

The males didn’t fare as well.  While Hugh Skinner as young Harry, Josh Dylan as young Bill, and Jeremy Irvine as young Sam, were all okay, none of them were all that memorable.

And none of them make you forget the original actors in the roles.

Both Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard once again have field days in their roles as Harry and Bill, and once they enter the movie for its third act, the fun picks up. Pierce Brosnan gets more serious scenes this time around, as he shares some tender moments with his daughter Sophie, and I’m happy to say, he seems to have improved upon his singing!

Julie Walters and Christine Baranski also reprise their roles from the first movie as Rosie and Tanya respectively, and they’re hilarious once again. I wish they had been in the movie more.

Likewise, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper reprise their roles as well, as Sophie and Sky, but they really don’t make much of an impact.  Cooper isn’t in this one much (probably busy with the TV show PREACHER), and Seyfried, as much as I like her, gets stuck with some of the worst lines in the movie.

Much of the dialogue in this one is pretty bad. Director Ol Parker also wrote the screenplay, and while the dialogue in the flashback sequences is okay, some of the stuff in the here and now is flat out dreadful. And most of these clinkers go to Amanda Seyfried, as well as to Andy Garcia.

Yup, veteran actor Andy Garcia is in this one as well. Sadly, his lines are so bad he doesn’t even sound like a real person. I like Garcia a lot, and I’m glad to see him in movies again. He enjoyed a bigger and better role in the recent comedy BOOK CLUB (2018), where he played Diane Keaton’s love interest. Here, he plays a character named Fernando, and if you’re familiar with ABBA songs, you know where that’s going.

Also, a quick shout out to Maria Vacratsis who steals every scene she’s in as an elderly Greek woman named Sofia.

And if you look fast you’ll see Jonathan Goldsmith show up quickly as Fernando’s brother. While Goldsmith’s acting career dates back to the 1960s, he’s most famous nowadays for his long running stint as “the most interesting man in the world” on Dos Equis beer commercials from 2006-2016.

I can’t say that I liked MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN all that much. I definitely enjoyed its third act and was glad it built towards a strong conclusion, but taken as a whole, its story just never really grabbed me.

Not that it matters in the long run. I saw it in a packed theater on a week night, a theater filled primarily with women of all ages. I think I saw one other man in the theater, and I’m not complaining, mind you. There’s nothing wrong with being surrounded by women of all ages. It was actually pretty nice.

MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN certainly played like a sequel, in that it’s not as fresh or as lively as the original. But as long as there’s not a MAMA MIA! HERE WE GO ONE MORE TIME! it’s all harmless good fun.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

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 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.