Yesterday (2019, Working Title Films and Universal Pictures)
Directed by Danny Boyle. Story by Jack Barth and Richard Curtis. Starring Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Robert Carlyle and Ed Sheeran
Yesterday is a light comedy co-written by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill) and directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire). It is based on an original screenplay by Jack Barth and Mackenzie Crook (of The Office fame), the premise of which is built around a struggling musician who after an accident is the only person who has any knowledge of the Beatles and their music. The audience is reintroduced to the Beatles’ music for the first time as a contemporary population discovers this new musical sensation. It is fun, a bit silly, and perhaps most of all a celebration of the Beatles music, and the delight they have given the world; and conversely what an impoverished world it would have been without the Beatles and their far-reaching influence on popular culture.
Jack (Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter, and his love-struck manager and childhood friend Ellie (James) supports him against the odds. One night Jack is hit by a bus during the few seconds in which a world-wide power outage occurs. And his guitar is ruined. After his recovery, his friends have bought him a new guitar, and ask to hear a song. He sings ‘Yesterday’ to them, and they are visibly impressed by this beautiful ballad. Jack soon discovers they – and almost everyone in the world – have never heard of the Beatles or a number of other popular acts that were directly influenced by them (e.g. Oasis). He sets about to write down the Beatles collection of songs as best as he can remember them, and starts recording them. In time, he comes to the notice of some big shot in the Industry, Ed Sheeran (who plays himself) and Ed’s business-minded American manager Debra Hammer (McKinnon). Jack becomes a pop-culture sensation, and slowly moves in circles further and further from his long supporting friend Ellie.
I enjoyed this film, but then I like the Beatles’ music, and any excuse to play Beatles songs is good by me; but that is kind of the point of the film. It suggests that the Beatles’ music, in general, is so ingrained into our popular culture, into our memories of places and events, that the world would simply not be the same place without it – and it would be something less without it. On the other hand, I kept thinking, ‘this is so Richard Curtis feel-good cliché material’. It still feels good, but it is so predictable. But then again…all we need is love.
I think the cast do a fine job, and it was a nice touch to have Ed Sheeran play himself in the movie. He actually does a decent job of it (I was convinced it was him), and takes a few digs in quiet acceptance. Patel does a good job in singing the songs, and does an especially impressive punk version of ‘Help’, ending with a haunting scream ‘Help Me!’ There’s one scene that seems to have split audiences. Robert Carlyle (the best actor in the film by far) plays an elderly and still alive John Lennon. Carlyle’s Lennon is great, but the scene doesn’t really fit. But maybe it does what it’s supposed to do – make you ponder in a dreamlike ‘what if’. My advice is don’t think too deeply about this film. It starts with a silly premise, so just go with it. None of it really makes sense. The sound and editing are good, the script is okay (sort of) but most of all it is a celebration of the Beatles’ music and of those who love it.
Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 3.5/5
Parasite (2019, CJ Entertainment)
Directed by Bong Joon-ho. Music by Jung Jae-il. Starring Choi Woo-sik, Ki-taek, Jang Hye-jin, Park So-dam, Cho Yeo-jeong, Lee Sun-kyun and Jeong-eun Lee.
Parasite (기생충 Gisaengchung) is a dark comedy from South Korea (with subtitles) about a family’s ‘plan’ to escape crushing poverty. It is written, directed and produced by Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiecer and Okja). The film has already won numerous accolades and awards including for best actor, best supporting actor, best director and best script at various international film festivals, as well as the prestigious Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, and Best Film at the 2019 Sydney Film Festival. You might ask, were these accolades deserved? Yes, absolutely. This is a remarkably well-made, witty and engaging film. It is as close to a pitch perfect film I have seen in the past two years (out of about 50 films).
The film opens with a narration by the young Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik) describing his family: father Ki-taek (Song Kang), mother Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) and sister Ki-jung (Park So-dam), in their ramshackle basement home down the back lane of overcrowded and dirty apartments. And they are always coming up with a plan to make a little money and enjoy a few benefits in life. In the early scenes they are sitting on the floor folding pizza boxes for a local pizza franchise, but soon a chance bit of luck allows Ki-woo to find employment as a private tutor to a wealthy couple’s teenage daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso). The family devise a ‘plan’ to then manipulate the wealthy couple (Mr Park [Lee Sun-kyun] and his naïve wife Yeon-kyo [Cho Yeo-jeong]), to engage the entire family as a driver, housemaid, art therapy teacher to their son Da-song (Jung Hyeon-jun), by scheming to replace existing staff. There are some far-fetched but lovable gems of comedy as the plan unfolds in their favour.
But it’s a plan that can’t last, when an equally cunning ex-housemaid, Moon-gwang (Jeong-eun Lee) returns unexpectedly to retrieve something she left behind, with a bizarrely dark and very funny twist. Ultimately it all comes undone, with some tragic consequences. The film ends, again with narration by Ki-woo, in a letter to his father expressing his hopes and dreams for the future. It is sombre and beautiful. Beautiful in its hopes and love for his family to be together again in better circumstances; sombre in that it is probably an unattainable dream. The film leaves us with an unmistakable social commentary on the haves and have-nots in class society.
There are some lovely turns of narrative, and some visually weird but hilarious scenes. I love one scene especially where the ex-housemaid Moon-gwang holds the Ki-taek family captive by pointing a mobile phone at them threatening to press the send button if they don’t cooperate, as the family back away with their hands up. Everything about this film is excellent. The score is exceptionally good and fits and enhances the mood of the film; cinematography is wonderful, set design good, the acting by the entire cast is exemplary, and the script is a sheer delight. I recommend this film to everyone. It is easy to engage with, and delightfully playful in parts.
Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 4.5/5