Yesterday

Posted on June 27, 2019 at 5:30 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and tipsiness
Violence/ Scariness: Bicycle accident, some graphic injuries
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 28, 2019
Date Released to DVD: September 23, 2019

Copyright 2019 Universal Pictures
Yesterday” would have made a cute seven-minute sketch on “Saturday Night Live” (or, as this movie would say, “Thursday Night Live”) but it does not work as a movie. I wish I could say they ran out of ideas in the last third, but it’s worse than that. They had ideas; they just ran out of good ones. There’s a curious disconnect in watching the film between the weakness of the storyline, including a major jump the shark swerve near the end, and the imperishable music of the Beatles. Every time we hear “In My Life” or a rocking “Help!” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” we say, “That sure is a great song” and forget for a moment that the movie is not very good. Richard Curtis admitted as much in an interview on Morning Joe: “When I type and run out of ideas I just put in ‘The Long and Winding Road.'”

Jack (Himesh Patel) has been trying to make it as a musician for ten years in his small home town on the English coast. His best friend Ellie (Lily James) believes in him and acts as his manager when she isn’t teaching high school math. But he is not making much progress. He is ready to give up when a mysterious worldwide blackout shuts down all power for twelve seconds and he is hit by a bus as he is bicycling home. During that twelve seconds, somehow the world is rebooted in a slightly different form. The Beatles never existed. Some other random cultural touchstones are missing as well, including Coke. Jack, just out of the hospital and still missing two front teeth, thanks his friends for the gift of a new guitar by playing “Yesterday.” Which they have never heard before and think he wrote. And of course they love it, though one of them says it’s not up to the level of Coldplay’s “Fix You.”

Jack starts playing Beatles songs and people like them. Ed Sheeran, charmingly playing a version of himself, invites him to tour as his opening act. In Moscow, Jack plays “Back in the USSR,” which is a huge success with the crowd, even though most of them were not born when their country was the USSR. Ed Sheeran challenges Jack to a songwriting competition, and has to admit defeat. “You’re Mozart and I’m Salieri,” he says.

An agent named Debra (Kate McKinnon in a sizzling performance) arrives to offer Jack “the poison chalice” of fame and money. Jack, who has waited so long for success as a musician and performer, says yes.

This is very much a lesser work from Richard Curtis, the man who wrote “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Pirate Radio,” and “Love Actually.” There are lovely moments — the first recording session, the fun of the astonishment when people are stunned by songs we all know so well they are a part of us, the fantasy of being adored by worldwide audiences, the hilariousness of playing one of the greatest songs of all time for your parents and their not having a clue. And it is intriguing to see a person of color appropriate white musicians’ work for a change. But the friend zone/romance storyline and a bad swerve at the end show that even the world’s greatest songs cannot prop up a script that outstays its welcome. The songs are all sublime, but these new versions do not add anything special.

George Martin, who worked more closely with the Beatles than anyone else, said that their charm was as important to their early success as their music. That early success gave them a chance to develop and grow and take huge risks and reflect on their experiences, all of which became a part of their endlessly innovative and ground-breaking work.

To have even some of their greatest hits all thrown into what is supposed to be one performer’s series of songs, unrelated to what is going on in the lives of the songwriter or in the world, and, to adapt the title of an ex-Beatle song, imagine there’s no Beatles, gives the music an unearned power, relying on our love for the songs and what they mean in our lives, whether we first heard them in kindergarten, at spin class, or as they first came out. That makes this story empty at its Apple Corps.

Parents should know that this movie includes sexual references and situations and some strong and crude language.

Family discussion: Why did Deborah call what she was offering the poison chalice? What did Jack learn from his meeting with John?

If you like this, try: “Begin Again” and “Across the Universe” and the Beatles movies

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Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Posted on July 19, 2018 at 5:40 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 20, 2018
Date Released to DVD: October 22, 2018

Copyright 2018 Universal
Pretty music, pretty scenery, pretty people – here they go again, my my, and how can we resist them? Lesser songs, better singers, higher platform shoes, more romance, a horse, a goat, a boat, a romantic last-minute wedding interruption, returning cast members and a whole new group to play younger versions of the older characters.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” finds the young woman with three fathers (Amanda Seyfried as Sophie) about to realize her mother’s dream of a luxury hotel on the idyllic island of Kalokairi (the Greek island of Skopelos in the original, in this one the Croatian island of Vis, which gave the production tax breaks).

It is bittersweet because her mother (Meryl Streep as Donna) has died. She and her step- and one of three possible biological fathers (Pierce Brosnan), conveniently an architect, miss her dearly. “It will get better,” she reassures him. “Yes, just not quite yet,” he answers. Working on the grand opening party makes her feel closer to her mother. But she also misses Sky (Dominic Cooper), who is getting training in hotel management and has been offered a dream job half a world away. She also wishes her other two fathers could be there for the opening, straight-laced British lawyer Harry (Colin Firth), who is negotiating a big merger in Japan, and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), who is getting an award for being Sweden’s greatest person because this movie does not really care enough about minor details to Google an actual award or invent a plausible one. And why should it? This is a movie that asks us to believe Cher is Meryl Streep’s mother. And that someone could have a daughter in 1980 who would still be in her early 20’s.

While Sophie is planning “the most incredible party of all time,” the primary focus of the film is on filling in the dot, dot, dots of Donna’s origin story, from her college graduation in 1979 (the math does not really add up here, either), her friendship (and performances) with Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn as the deliciously acerbic younger version of the character played by Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Alexa Davies as the younger version of the tender-hearted character played by Julie Walter), and her encounters with Bill, Harry, and Sam (younger versions played by Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner, and Jeremy Irvine).

Lily James (“Baby Driver,” “Cinderella”) plays the young Donna, wearing gold platform boots under her graduation gown as she strides to the podium to give the graduation speech, then tosses off the gown to reveal a wild mash-up of a costume that could only be found in an ABBA performance or perhaps on display at the Bad Taste Museum in the Hall of What Were They Thinking. Her friends join her on stage for a jubilant performance of “I Kissed a Teacher,” and then bid her farewell as she embarks on her adventure. In France, she meets a shy Englishman. It is Harry. In one of the movie’s highlights, they sing and dance to a rousing “Waterloo” in a restaurant. She next meets Bill, who gives her a ride on his boat

And then she meets Sam, who wins her heart and then breaks it. By then she is pregnant, and by then she knows that this island is where she wants to make her home.

There is more skill in the crystalline harmonies, rock star poses, screen saver vistas, and segues between time and space than in the storyline, which is both too sad and too silly. Pierce Brosnan still can’t sing. The script often sounds like it was badly translated from the original Swedish. But it’s a cool treat on a hot summer evening, and let’s face it — you couldn’t escape if you wanted to.

NOTE: Wynn is the latest in five generations of one of the most luminary of show business families, including actors Ed Wynn (“Mary Poppins”) and Kennan Wynn (“Dr. Strangelove”) and writer Tracy Kennan Wynn (“The Longest Yard”). And of course, be sure to stay through the end credits for a final musical number!

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and non-explicit situations, questions of paternity, some sexual humor, childbirth scene, some mild language, and some alcohol.

Family discussion: How do you bolster your friends and family? What makes your soul shine? How do you make a complicated problem simple?

If you like this, try: the first “Mamma Mia” and “Walking on Sunshine” and read Susan Wloszczyna’s interview with Judy Craymer, who came up with the idea of turning ABBA’s songs into a play.

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DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Musical Romance Series/Sequel

Cinderella

Posted on March 12, 2015 at 5:58 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy violence, tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: March 13, 2015
Date Released to DVD: September 14, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B00UI5CTE2
Copyright Disney 2015
Copyright Disney 2015

Here’s what’s magical — a fairy tale told in 2015 that is true to the spirit of the classic story by Charles Perrault but is still fresh and real despite the dozens of re-imaginings and the seismic shifts in culture in more than a century since it was first published.

Director Sir Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz have done just that, and the result is enchanting. Recent post-modern versions like Drew Barrymore’s “Ever After” and Anne Hathaway’s “Ella Enchanted,” deftly took on the question of why Cinderella stayed in a home that had become abusive and added a bit of “Shrek”-style post-modern air quotes. But as its title suggests, this version of “Cinderella” is fundamentally traditional, neither po- nor mo-, and entirely comfortable as a fairy tale.

They get a lot of help from the design team including triple-Oscar winners Sandy Powell on costumes and Dante Ferretti on the sets and overall look of the film. This is Disney at its Disney-rific best, a magical setting so arrestingly imaginative and comprehensively envisioned that it is easy to imagine that it is a peek into a gloriously gorgeous world that really exists, if we could just find out way to it. And Ella herself is a winning heroine, kind and wise.

For a fairy tale, though, the actual magic is pretty limited. In the early scenes, magic would be superfluous, as Ella lives a real-life happier and more filled with love than any wish could grant. Her doting parents (Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin) make her feel cherished and understood. Her natural sweetness is enchantment enough, and the world around her seems safe and understandable.

But her mother becomes ill, and has just time to give Ella one piece of advice before she is gone: kindness and courage will bring her anything she needs. It is her natural generosity and her wish to obey her mother as well as her longing for family that lead her to stay with her wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), and simpering, mean girl stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger), after her father’s death.

We get a brief glimpse of what is behind Lady Tremaine’s misery and why she takes it out on Ella, but this is no revisionist “Maleficent.” Lady Tremaine may be more angry and desperate than evil but she is all villain here as she insults and humiliates Ella and forces her to wait on her spoiled, arrogant stepsisters.

When her kindness is met with cruelty, Ella does not know what to do. And then, just when she is utterly devastated at being left behind on the night of the prince’s ball, her mother’s dress torn to shreds. Her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham-Carter) appears just in time to transform the servant girl into a radiant princess. The special effects for the transformation are dazzling, especially the pumpkin coach and the lizards and mice who become her human attendants. No more magic is needed after that. She’s on the way to happily ever after.

Be sure to arrive on time as before the film there is a seven-minute mini-sequel to “Frozen,” complete with new song, and it is pure joy. I won’t spoil it; I’ll just say that when Elsa gets a cold, she has very funny frozen sneezes.

Parents should know that this film includes sad parental deaths and an abusive stepmother.

Family discussion: Why did Ella allow her stepmother to treat her so badly? Why didn’t Ella’s fairy godmother come back to help her again? How can you show courage and kindness?

If you like this, try: other versions of the story including Disney’s animated “Cinderella,” “Ella Enchanted,” and “Ever After”

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