Yesterday (2019)

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It goes without saying that The Beatles are music legends known the world over, but what would life be like without the Fab Four in it? ‘Yesterday’ is the answer to that question and with director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis behind it, could we expect a sweet treat or is it meh, actually?

Suffolk lad Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) struggles to pick up any attention playing his own songs in pubs and on the streets, the only real interest he’s always had is from maths teacher and manager Ellie Appleton (Lily James). After a cycle accident, he wakes up to discover that no-one knows who The Beatles are; leading him to recapture the British Invasion magic and pass their songs off as his own.

Whether you’re a fan of Paul, John, George and Ringo or not, the Liverpool band have a great number of songs that get you humming along and in that sense this film is a wonder. The vocals of Patel as he strums along to Yesterday or Here Comes the Sun are soothing and help create a feel-good atmosphere to the story but whenever the film steps off the Abbey Road crossing and away from the music then you really cannot Help! but see the many flaws in the story.

Richard Curtis’ script is predictable to the nth degree and not even a few funny flashes of what ifs, to the likes of other well known brands disappearing, can save the familiar territory of a film that has a simple premise, and an even simpler love story attached. The whole sequence that sees Jack crash and emerge into a Beatle-less world is laughably silly and throws up questions that shouldn’t be asked because it’s a fluff film but you cannot help but ask anyway. For example, having him sing a Beatles track at the flashback school scene would at least show he’s a fan of them, because up until the point of his hospital awakening, The Beatles aren’t ever mentioned as an influence for Jack and yet he knows every single lyric to a whole rostra of their hits.

On top of the more mainstream look at The Beatles and exceptionally obvious storytelling comes a cringe cameo-cum-main part from Ed Sheeran, in the same dragged out way that Elton John had in ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’. Whoever helped effects in post production seem like they had a blast discovering a free trial of title FX as we see graphics spin and whoosh on screen for every single location. Worse than any of these gripes though, is the lazily drawn character of Ellie which has Lily James desperately trying to inject charm into. The romance side of the plot is bland, expected and more of a staggering issue than a beach-side meet-up with a face from the past; if you could Imagine that.

There are traces of fun along the way but the tone is so light that it blows away in the wind, and not even Danny Boyle, James or the pleasing sounds of Patel can pull it back down to Earth. ‘Yesterday’ is a film that should have been left be, it’s easy-going but nothing to Twist and Shout about.

5/10

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Missing Link (2019)

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It has been 3 years since the engagingly rich and complex world of ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’. Laika are back again and this time they’re setting their hands on constructing the search for legendary creatures.

Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is a self-centred explorer and investigator of mythical monsters; in his hopes of joining an exclusive club, he sets out to find a Bigfoot. After finding this beast surprisingly fast, Frost comes to realise what a gentle and awkward giant Link (Zach Galifianakis) is. Together they trek the planet in the hopes that Link can find home with more of his kind.

Laika, as a studio, are a dream machine of stop-motion animation and this globe trotting adventure truly proves what a master of the arts they are. It’s their most light-hearted and comically toned outing yet and it is also true that a fair few of the aspects in ‘Missing Link’ are catered to children but it is a colourful and beautiful story to watch.

The hustle and bustle of London town to the wilds of America and India to the snow capped Himalayan mountains; this film provides many points on a whistle stop guide of the world. Each new setting is breathtaking and an astonishing feat of craftsmanship, that as a fan of stop-motion you cannot help but internally applaud. It isn’t just the backgrounds, the close up textures of fur or rosy red skin or the angular sharpness of Frost’s face show what fun Laika have in making distinguishing features for their movies.

This narrative tries incorporating humour into the film more than the depth or darkness found in the likes of ‘Coraline’ or ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’, in a way it feels akin to the breezy style of Aardman Animation. The chuckles in this mostly come from the characteristics of the hairy Sasquatch and it is very kiddy but it has some mildly amusing graces.

The vocals from all involved, including the likes of Stephen Fry, Zoe Saldana and Emma Thompson are all spirited, bouncy and they lift this film with an extra boost of energetic delight. So, even if the film may not be memorable enough to last out until the end of the year, it’s light and fun enough to stick on in the future and gather round for an afternoon flick.

Sadly, Laika are in a financial sticky spot as of late, with their recent films not performing so well at the box office. Even if ‘Missing Link’ has tried to be more approachable and family friendly it hasn’t helped them which is a shame because it’s a charming jaunty movie. It’s too little and too late to say but please go watch Laika films and support them before we end up in a cinematic marketplace where the art of stop-motion has no place.

7.5/10

Wild Rose (2019)

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The lead in this musical drama has the words ‘three chords and the truth’ tattooed on her arm. Here are three words and nothing but the truth about ‘Wild Rose’; authentic meaningful satisfaction. And another word because I cannot contain myself – outstanding.

Freed from jail after 12 months, Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) returns to her mam and 2 children but the home sweet home life has never really suited her. She’s a boozer, a force that can’t be tamed and country music swells in her bloodstream. Rose-Lynn only wants to make a name for herself in Nashville but juggling a cleaning job and having a family brings up what really matters.

‘Wild Rose’ contains this inescapable family aspect and director Tom Harper ensures that the carefree Glaswegian antics never overshadow the true feeling of the story. Perhaps his work on shows like ‘This is England 86’ have helped him craft that narrowing in on struggling family units and it pays off wonderfully in this feature.

Rose-Lynn’s home life is engrossing in its richness and it serves as an ideal series of notes in her narrative songbook. By the time we reach the final showstopping moment, with the camera lingering on those closest to the aspirational singer, you’d have to possess no empathy to not be moved to tears by the destructive, yet beautiful smacks of power, heart and delight shown on screen.

In this movie, Glasgow itself becomes a character. It embodies life, entrapment, hope, pain and growth which Rose-Lynn mirrors in fine measure, this helps really make you understand her roots, so by the time she touches down in the shiny world of Nashville you cannot help but know this glittery city, overrun with similar dreamers may not be the oasis she yearned for after all.

Along the way, there are a few parts which sniff of almost whacking in obstacles every other scene, just to keep raising the stakes and adding weight to Rose-Lynn’s personal tug of war but the sheer majesty of her vocals instantly makes you forgive these minor broken strings, on an otherwise finely tuned film.

Jessie Buckley pours her absolute all into this role and therefore her character crackles with life and pure soul. She is wonderful at capturing a feisty energy and emoting Rose-Lynn’s struggles with heart-wrenching power. It’s not just running amok in Scotland and beyond that make her fun to watch, up on stage or on a webcam, Buckley is a firecracker with a voice which gives you goosebumps and can also soothe you with a twang of joy. Julie Walters is a marvellous treasure; her connection to Rose-Lynn and her children are magnificent and you utterly invest into every scene she appears in.

Music can be such a megaton of power and through the truth and storytelling qualities of the country scene, ‘Wild Rose’ is one of those musical gems with something to say and it’s leading lady is a rising star to be reckoned with.

8/10

 

Pet Sematary (2019)

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Stephen King’s ‘It’ was a box office smash and with Chapter 2 around the corner, his back catalogue is being mined for further cinematic attraction. This time we enter the land of the living dead, for a second go-around with ‘Pet Sematary’; an original came out in 1989. Thirty years between the two and this one has you calling out for it to be lowered in an unmarked grave.

Louis (Jason Clarke) and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) have moved from Boston to a small town in Maine in the hope of slowing down a bit and having more time with their son and daughter. However, their new property means they own a huge amount of land, some of which is used as a local cemetery for pets and a place behind this could spell reanimated trouble for the family.

Jeff Buhler’s screenplay leaves you with so many why questions; not because the film is cleverly subjective, posing you thoughts about what can be taken away from it personally, but because the script is far from tightly written and chucks up numerous fur-balls of dumb oversights. A large portion of Buhler’s adaptation makes no sense and/or provide whopping plot holes to dive into.

I have no doubt that the authors work goes into way more depth and broaches the gritty context of our mortality with better attack, but in terms of the movie it winds up skirting around deep issues and tosses in jump scares and many, many predictable story beats. A hissing cat with matted fur and creepy kids are always going to be horrifying images but that does not mean you can constantly rely on that to pray you’re a solid horror film; you must contain a burrowing sense of something extra below the surface, which the film has to begin with, but swiftly loses.

A birthday scene outside their new abode is well executed and certainly grips you with shocking tension, even if it’s overladen with slow-motion. There are also some neat early discussions about death and the afterlife which shine like rare beacons in a film that is otherwise a faulty bulb in need of a burial.

It’s irritating because what it has to say and tries to say about grief are meaty talking points but this is never rounded out to become a compelling, and engaging movie about that subject matter. The fear of dying is replaced by misty woods, masked children and a tribal land that could easily fit into the bleak, dull world of ‘The Nun’. Instead of being a serious topic with scary aspects it becomes an increasingly laughable, mildly serviceable horror flick.

Some people may find the whole thing nightmarish and lap it up like a feline to milk but the majority of it for me and especially the final five to ten minutes were presented in an unintentionally hilarious manner. ‘Pet Sematary‘ is more like kitty litter than frightening catnip to lose yourself to.

5/10

The Sisters Brothers (2019)

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On horseback, from Oregon to San Francisco comes this dark-comedy Western which may not exactly spring out the saloon doors but has enough cinematic artistry to prevent it blowing like some yawn-some tumbleweed in the breeze.

Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) are the Sisters Brothers; a pair of assassins who are hired by a wealthy gent to track down and violently extract information from a man named Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed), who may have a formula to aid finding gold.

It has to be said first of all, that the cast on display in this film are a magnificent bunch. The four main characters are extremely talented and put on a satisfying show, to really lure you into this well-worn world of Western dramatics. It’s a shame then that the film has multiple points where it attempts conflict and humour but doesn’t quite succeed on either.

Co-writers Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, who worked together on ‘A Prophet’, manage to drop in some nice flourishes though. Be it Eli’s bedtime routine with a red shawl to the weakening state of his horse, it’s the character based details that triumph more than the whole. It’s a finely tuned exploration of connection and strife but the entire film does not quite echo that sentiment.

Glows of orange and yellows in the beautiful cinematography of a country landscape not only add wonder but it provides dusty intrigue to a tale about family. The film is strongest in the contemplative moments and self-reflection from the brothers. Eli and Charlie are a great representation of sibling life; they bicker, fight, laugh and ultimately they support each other. The gorgeous deserts, hills, streams and towns appear almost like painted backdrops for the pair to play in front of.

Even if the film doesn’t hold court from beginning to end, the final short scene is perhaps the most delightful and saves the long wait to get there. We witness a lovely, homely set-up which perfectly demonstrates the relationship of the Sisters Brothers. A use of a near un-edited tracking shot, flowing through this last sequence adds to the calm denouement.

Phoenix is energetic and feels like the Joker of the duo, he is blissfully happy to follow orders, drink and kill whereas Reilly does well in the more thoughtful role, Eli is a man of aspiration and love. Together, the actors provide splendid yin and yang.

Gold shimmers, guns crackle and horses gallop in a story which strides down a much beaten Western trail but thanks to a brotherly bond, the film however long in its journey, is an interesting one.

6.5/10

The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)

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‘Attack the Block’ writer and director Joe Cornish attacks Arthurian legend with great zeal in this fairly kiddy but lively fantasy flick.

After fleeing from some bullies, Alexander (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) stumbles upon the sword in the stone at a construction site. He pulls it free, unknowingly becoming the next hero after King Arthur, but the evil Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) who was imprisoned centuries ago is back and hopes to get the sword once and for all. It’s up to Alex, a few schoolmates and the wizardry of Merlin (Angus Imrie) to stop the world being doomed forever more.

This film hits strong with a central theme of knowing what you should stand for and this is well told and surrounding that message there’s enough to feast the eyes for children or young teens to enjoy. In terms of a satisfying film for adults, well maybe it doesn’t quite tick all the boxes but it should easily become a movie that children will fondly remember because there’s a glimmer of timelessness about it.

Cringe is a word that does come to mind though, some of the dialogue delivery is exactly that and it is a fairly childish film but on the plus side it is not ever trashy or tacky, it skirts the line but what is has going for it is plenty of spirit. Considering it involves dragons, undead horses and transfiguration in the realm of the modern world it never feels ridiculous which is clearly a good thing but it can be argued that it’s a little long and somewhat lame in places.

The action is wonderfully directed by Cornish though, he ensures it never takes over the stronghold values of heart, loyalty, wisdom and friendship. The finale and battle ground setting are a fun, captivating sequence to watch unfold, the entire youth spin on the story of Pendragon, Lady of the Lake and so on make for an interesting watch and Cornish incorporates politically relevant aspects to his film in the terms of this children needing to face conflict for now and the future in a time of division and no leadership.

Serkis is a good watch and his understanding of how to play the hopeful warrior yet conflicted son is top level. Dean Chaumoo who plays Alex’s friend is less than good, it happens with child actors but yes, it always feels like he’s reciting lines in a painful way. Patrick Stewart plays the older yet younger version of Merlin and is as reliably brilliant as always. Imrie who models the younger vision yet older timeline of the famous wizard brews up an enchanting blend of oddity and tutor-like wonder and he’s most certainly born to hand jive.

Not exactly escaping being a tad snooze-worthy but for the right audience it’s a magical update and feels like an escape from the real world; which is definitely needed right about now.

6/10

Escape Room (2019)

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Escape rooms as a concept are quite the mind-bending rage at the moment; the excitement of something different that both tests your brains and your friendships is a successful business model so surely this cinematic outing could gleefully mould the idea into a intelligent horror? Well not quite, however silly and fun it sometimes is.

Introverted student Zoey (Taylor Russell) is told to do something scary for once and along with five other people, she is sent a mysterious puzzle box which invites them all to take on a new, immersive escape room where the winner can gain $1 million. However things won’t be plain sailing as they realise the game has been tailored to kill them if they can’t get out.

From the outset this is a dumb flick, who would go to an escape room where the winner gets a cash prize? The whole point of them is that they are a team game so it already sounds like a dangerous scheme and generally speaking the story doesn’t get much smoother. The rules of this deadly game change at will which is a frustrating tact and as a games master myself; where I get to witness everyday folk do well, only to go and ruin their chances by making stupid choices as the stress of the 60 minutes whittles away, this film has many convenient points where characters just happen to work out stuff, even though all of them bar one have never played a room before and their panic levels are much higher than found in the place where I work. Obviously it’s a movie but don’t make their leaps to solving problems so sudden and uninspired.

It’s almost like ‘Escape Room’ views itself as smarter than it really is, it’s falls way short of the devilishly clever film it could have been. Mostly, this is a dumb narrative with a group of strangers missing any real pulls of tension which could help throw the audience into the game some more. The connection they have is more like some predictable, half-arsed writing decision and a lot of the film is a fun, yet stupid ride which isn’t majorly thrilling.

In terms of a series of distracting events, this is a great movie. There’s no doubt that the entertainment factor is there and though it is clearly a less than thought through screenplay feeling majorly like ‘Saw’ and ‘The Belko Experiment’, the actors get their teeth into the roles and convince us enough that the tests they’re facing are worthy of our time. The production design must also be praised as this Minos company has an epic scale and each nightmarish new room ups the threat, be it an upside down bar or a freezing cold landscape the look of this film is especially cool.

‘Escape Room’ never goes above and beyond the premise that was so ripe for the taking and it has a ridiculous conclusion but there are enough fairly neat puzzles and bursts of suspense to keep this from being a dud.

5.5/10