Movie reviews by
1 ½ (out of 4)
In spite of noted classics and separate brushes with Oscar limelight lending him the status of household name, Danny Boyle is not a director you could accurately call an all-time great. But considering this is the man who initially brought us the lively licentiousness of Shallow Grave and the scintillating sickliness of Trainspotting, you’d hope his summer fairy tale flick in the form of a musical tribute to the Beatles wouldn’t share the same mediocre sheen of the rest of this season's releases.
I thought after Trance earlier this decade Boyle could never make a more frustrating film but never mind I guess. Unless he’s dipping into genre fare like space (Sunshine), zombies (28 Days Later) or an Aaron Sorkin-penned biopic (Steve Jobs) the dependency on Dutch angles and contrasted colors ironically highlights just how little substance Boyle's really bringing to the table and serves only to energize my anger. The premise of Yesterday (of a world where only one dude remembers the Fab Four) is already wildly dumb on arrival but the film averts every potentially fascinating direction for the story and the internal sense adds up to ass the more you ponder it. Would a song like "I Saw Her Standing There" really resonate with the contemporary pop music climate without a trap beat?
Some hazily creative choices are situated as insistent jokes, making for real narrative non-starters. In Yesterday not only the Beatles but other societal #1's (Coca Cola, Harry Potter, cigarettes I guess?) have also been erased from existence – but this is treated as a pointless curiosity unfit of investigation. Actual ingenuity is downplayed for more Ed Sheehan, pathetically spoonfed themes or the worst representation of an aged John Lennon conceivable – sorry no, the guy who scream-sang "I'm lonely, wanna die" on "Yer Blues" would not be dishing out love advice at random. Richard Curtis' maddening screenplay teases the odd and nightmarish by introducing a few strangers also not effected by this mass memory wipe. Instead of capitalizing on a neat aspect of paranoia that would have given our protagonist his deserved comeuppance, the film instead takes one last turn for the saccharine.
A movie so generally innocent shouldn't inspire such violent reactions but that's just how stupid Yesterday gets. The crucial romance is tepid, most performances are forced and even Kate McKinnon for all her charisma can't liven things up in the background. Himesh Patel is a grating lead to watch take advantage of this musical blackout and Lily James' doe-eyed loveliness is wasted on sugary mush. The dynamics of the banal love story are bafflingly backwards – yeah I'm sure Cinderella herself would be the one doing the yearning.
Even in a world where proper summer escapism had been erased, Yesterday would still dissatisfy. If I were as religiously attached to the Beatles as some, I'd be devastated by such an insensitive, unstudied and prosaic so-called "celebration" of the band. I can't believe I'm typing this out, but you're better off revering the most popular music act in history through 2007's Across the Universe.
3 ½ (out of 4)
I’ll be damned Disney – I came into the latest latent Pixar sequel with enough upfront cynicism to ready myself for Cars 4. Why oh why go out of your way to spoil a good thing? It goes without saying the Toy Story trilogy is the flagship of the Pixar brand – each installment has an abundance of emotional complexity and unencumbered creative freedom, as well as the potential for joy and pathos in devastating spells. Number four’s strongest distinction is the renewed inventiveness in addition to a consistently impassioned approach to more mature themes. It's hard to keep Disney's money-milking schemes out of your head (especially in the year of three remakes of their own animated classics, three Marvel movies, Frozen II and a Star Wars episode), but unbelievably Toy Story 4 is a product of prudence and intelligence rather than brand recognition and capitalist underpinnings.
It’s crazy to write out but this is some of Pixar’s finest stuff this decade, a few forgivable moments notwithstanding. The sympathetic villain in a voice(box)less Gabby Gabby doll improves on past antagonists while the major anthropomorphic trinkets are redrawn with enough new wrinkles to justify the very idea of this film's existence. Some inspired new character creations like Keanu Reeves' Duke Caboom mean some old favorites have to take the backseat, which would be disappointing if it weren't an even trade. Ultimately after having nightmares in anticipation of this sequel's mediocrity, I have to humbly admit the results of the previously predicted corporate devilry behind Toy Story 4 are as optimistic as one can imagine. The plot is appropriately minuscule for a film functioning as a touching epilogue to a great series. Just from the opening scene (a flashback of Woody and Bo Peep's parting that could work as its own short film), you know right up front this is not some obvious cash-in.
Toy Story 4 even has the upper hand on 3, thought to be its own impressive series capper. I grant you the final act of the 2010 Story is masterly but the progressed quality of animation, elevated moderation in the storytelling and the revisionist examination of Woody’s character makes Toy Story 4 the sequel we didn’t know we needed desperately and deserved unknowingly. Similar to Incredibles 2 (a strong and reasonable revisitation to original properties unlike Monsters University or Finding Dory) there is little compromise of independent imagination for the sake of popular demand.
1 ½ (out of 4)
20th Century Fox’s former piece of the Marvel pie is going out with a wheeze rather than one last hurrah. After Apocalypse popped a blood vessel grasping for epic scope, Dark Phoenix, the fourth installment in the rebooted X-Men series, inverts the abnormality of X-cinema to its cheesiest and most frugal form. The final mutation of the now extinct franchise places its chips on Sophie Turner's latent Game of Thrones popularity and a twice-tried storyline stuck on the overpowered character Jean Grey. I thought Famke Janssen was always lacking personality, especially in X-Men: The Last Stand, but this immaterial redo (directed by the same spotty writer Simon Kinberg no less) is on its own level of eh.
As far as the 12-film, 19-year Fox franchise is concerned, there really is nothing new under the sun – same old themes, character traits, reflective politics, generic platitudes and clumsy confrontations. The story of Dark Phoenix is not unlike Captain Marvel in many ways (premise and villains largely) but the dialogue itself lands with a crash and thud from start to finish, as if a spec script made it through all of shooting. Even the extraordinary displays of mutant combat barely live up to the usual freakish fun until its admittedly exciting – and entirely reshot – finale.
Michael Fassbender's Magneto sustains his one beautiful note but he and Baby Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, the best of the new X-generation) are underused despite being the current company's best in show. Baby Cyclops sucks (or maybe Tye Sheridan does) while Evan Peters' Quiksilver gets classically nerfed early on. James McAvoy hardly does justice to the role of Professor X anymore and J Law literally can’t die soon enough (whoops spoilers, like anyone cares).
Beyond Disney buyouts, this was already the bastard child of the X-Men series. An initial trilogy, a prequel trilogy and three successively improved Wolverine films (not to mention two separately successful Deadpool films) led to this: a hamstrung borderline-parody of a superhero film full of phoned-in acting, TV editing, lackluster visual effects and more than a few stretches of unintentional humor. Phoenix deserves to be left right in the ashes, never to be reborn except under strict direction of Master Mouse.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Rise of Skywalker
A Hidden Life
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice