Posts Tagged ‘Film reviews’


Posted: October 15, 2019 in Film reviews

Directed by Todd Phillips. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro and Frances Conroy.


Gotham City in the 1980s is a destitute place. There is large scale unemployment and a garbagemen strike sees trash piling up everywhere. Crime is rife. Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is an aspiring comedian who makes a living as a party clown. His outfit often marks him out as a target for thugs, as does a condition that cause him to involuntarily laugh at inappropriate moments. He lives with his mother Penny (Conroy) and is attracted to his neighbour Sophie (Zazie Beetz.) Arthur has mental health issues and relies on social services for medication.

Constantly harassed, and with funding taken away from the support he relies on, Arthur becomes more and more disconnected from society. His stand-up routine flops, and when he’s mocked by his idol, talk show host Murray Franklin (De Niro) he becomes increasingly estranged from reality.

How much degradation can one man take before he breaks, and what does it take to turn a mild-mannered man into Batman’s arch nemesis, the clown prince of crime himself. Joker?


So here we are. Joker arrives, riding waves of adoration and controversy. A film that at once is lauded for a sensitive portrayal of mental health, yet derided as reinforcing stereotypes about people with mental health problems being a danger. A film supposedly a beacon for incels, to the point where some theatres in America took precautions lest someone try to emulate the mass shooter who targeted a Dark Knight showing.

To be honest much of the chatter has magnified certain elements of the film, but whilst dark, extremely dark, at times, this isn’t a film that’s anywhere near as hollow and nasty as something like Rambo. Joker has something to say, and even though you might not like what that is, you can’t deny its importance.

Beyond anything else however, Joker is an exceptionally fine piece of filmmaking, and you have to admire the chutzpah of making an R rated Joker film that riffs on Martin Scorsese films. I’ve read several interviews with Todd Phillips, and he rarely comes across well, but you have to give the guy kudos for a fantastic exercise in direction. Gotham is a dark, twisted and yet utterly grounded city, and whilst personally I’d always lean towards a slightly more gothic Gotham (somewhere between the Burton movies and the Gotham tv series) you can’t fault that the city is a character in itself. Ostensibly it’s New York in the 70s and 80s with the serial numbers filed off, but it feels real, a visceral nightmare of a city, the perfect breeding ground for a chaotic villain like Joker.


However good the script is, however good the direction is, the true reason for its success is Phoenix who is simply mesmerising. Arthur’s fear, anger and frustration are etched into the actor’s features, he makes us empathise with a man we might not always like, and the transition from meek and mild, to bloodthirsty confidence is utterly convincing. Phoenix lost a lot of weight for the part, leaving Arthur Fleck sinewy, almost skeletal, which is perfect for the character. I’m still surprised, and slightly disturbed, that Phoenix clearly took some inspiration from Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, and often Arthur dances naked, admiring his form in the mirror, clearly trying to understand his own nature. It’s not a connection I would have thought of, but it works perfectly here, and manages to make Phoenix’s Joker very different from all the other screen incarnations we’ve seen. This isn’t a broad take ala Romero or Nicholson, and it isn’t the slithering, reptilian Joker of Ledger either. And thank goodness it isn’t the preposterously over done gangster Joker that Jared Leto foisted on us.


Is he the best incarnation of the Joker? That’s up for debate, but he’s the perfect Joker for this film. And I think it needs to be stressed, it isn’t that Joker is a phenomenal comic book movie. First and foremost, it’s a phenomenal movie in its own right, and I hope both the film and its star get Oscar nods.

The cast is sparse, but American Horror story’s Conroy is superb as Arthur’s mum, and their relationship is uncomfortable without ever crossing the line into icky, and De Niro is in good form as a smarmy talk show host, reinforcing those Scorsese links if you hadn’t already noticed.


There are a few elements I’m not completely sold on. I don’t like turning Thomas Wayne into a blustering blowhard, and whilst Arthur is never really portrayed as a hero, at times he veers a little too close to antihero, which the Joker really shouldn’t be. These are minor quibbles though, in what is a fantastic piece of cinema with something to say about mental health, inequality, austerity and society in general.

And there is one element I particularly love (feel free to skip this as it’s slightly spoilery) and that is the set of steps that features heavily. For much of the film we see Arthur doggedly trudging up hill, a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders struggling with society’s expectations. Later on, when he’s become Joker, he gleefully dances down those very steps, a literal descent into madness, but he’s confident now, breezy even, because he’s finally happy with who he is. That was the moment I realised just how good this film was.


I can see how it won’t be for everyone, and if your idea of the Joker is Caesar Romero prepare for one hell of a shock, but this is top notch filmmaking on every level, with a standout performance from perhaps one of the finest actors currently working in Hollywood.

Man, if you’d told me two of my favourite films this year would have come out of DC I really wouldn’t have believed you! (the other being Shazam!)

Highly recommended.



Ad Astra

Posted: October 11, 2019 in Film reviews

Directed by James Gray. Starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones.


In the near future the solar system is hit by a succession of power surges that threaten to wipe out humanity. After almost being killed by one such surge, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) is informed by space command that the surges may have originated from Neptune, where a mission known as the Lima Project disappeared 16 years before. The commander of the Lima project was Roy’s father H. Clifford McBride (Jones).

Roy is tasked with going to Mars to send a signal to Neptune, in the hopes that his father is still alive. His journey begins on the Moon, where he comes under attack from brigands on the lunar surface, and as he travellers on to Mars he will encounter other dangers.

Is his father still alive though, and if he is can Roy reach him in time to stop the Lima Project destroying all life in the solar system?

When the trailers came out for Ad Astra I got excited, a cerebral science fiction film that promised action as well, throw in fantastic cinematography and Brad Pitt and surely it was going to be a cracker.

What’s amazing about Ad Astra is how all those things combine to make a film that’s so inert, committing the cardinal sin of being boring, to the point that even the action scenes are dull. The fact they make little narrative sense just adds annoyance to the tedium.


On the face of it this is Apocalypse Now in space, only instead of heading upriver to find colonel Kurtz, Roy is heading to the outermost reaches of the solar system to find his father who may or may not have gone insane. The trouble is that with any kind of quest or road movie, it’s a fine line between a journey that feels organic and one that feels like a series of lines drawn between random spots on the map, and too often it feels like the plot of driving the characters rather than the characters driving the plot.

It doesn’t help that many of the set pieces don’t make any sense. The moon buggy gun battle for example. Why does Pitt even have to take a moon buggy anyway rather than taking a shuttle to the other side of the moon? Don’t even get me started on how come the Moon seems to have Earth normal gravity. I can accept some artistic license once we reach Mars given its gravity is almost 40% of Earth, on the Moon gravity is just a little over 15%.

Once he heads into space we then have a random distress call that diverts his ship to a space station where we get another set piece, again it’s random and seems to serve no purposes other than to, presumably, pep up a script it was felt wasn’t exciting enough. Each set piece has the feel of something inserted because it was felt something had to happen, like those books that swear they can teach you to write a script (remember your inciting incident needs to happen on page 25 or you fail!)

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As the insular Roy, Pitt is very good, or at least he would be if writer/director Gray allowed him to be. Pitt’s performance is spot on, but clearly Gray didn’t have faith in his star, because why else would almost every scene of Pitt clearly struggling with his inner demons be accompanied by a voiceover where Roy explains what’s going through his head. The comparisons with First Man are startling, that too featured a closed off, insular astronaut, but whereas Damien Chazelle let Gosling’s acting do the talking, Gray feels the need to tell rather than show.

When he shows up Jones is good, he just doesn’t get nearly enough to do, and the ending is something of a damp squib, still he fares better than Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler and Ruth Negga who are all completely wasted in wafer thin roles.

The most annoying thing is that there’s the kernel of a great idea here about the existential horror of being alone in the universe, it’s just handled so poorly. I wonder if one day we might get a Blade Runner style redux; strip out the voice over, lose fifteen or twenty minutes and there might be an interesting film here, but as it stands for me this failed on pretty much every level (though it looks good). My advice, watch First Man instead.


Downton Abbey

Posted: October 4, 2019 in Film reviews

Directed by Michael Engler. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton and many, many others!


Its 1927 and the Earl and Countess of Grantham, Robert and Cora Crawley (Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) receive word from Buckingham Palace that the King and Queen plan to come to Downton Abbey to stay during a royal tour. Whilst the news is greeted with excitement both above and below stairs, it soon becomes apparent that even though the royals are only staying one night, their visit will cause headaches for all concerned, especially when it becomes clear that the royal household’s own servants will be expecting to supplant Downton Abbey’s redoubtable staff for the duration of the stay. Throw in a potential assassination, a thief, several romantic trysts and some other assorted domestic kerfuffles, and it promises to be a very busy time for all concerned!


So, I was never a fan of Downton when it was on TV, but I have watched the odd episode here and there, and read a few articles so I didn’t go into this blind, still I likely wasn’t as up to speed as fans will have been. Thankfully my lack of expert knowledge didn’t dent my enjoyment in the slightest because, a few minor issues aside, I found this to be a very engaging, very good film.


The first thing to say is that a huge part of its success must be laid at the feet of Julian Fellowes. His script is a master class in squeezing dozens of characters and plotlines into a relatively short film, and not only that, but providing enough of a character sketch to allow newcomers to understand who’s who and what’s going on, without alienating existing viewers. It’s also a script that takes many clearly beloved characters and gives each his or her moment to shine. That some get more to sink their teeth into than others is probably unavoidable, what’s clear is that no one’s excluded.


There are some missteps, a potential assassination plot winds up little more than a damp squib for instance, but on the whole,  each interweaving tale has a beginning middle and end. You could argue it doesn’t do anything really radical, except it does, and one plot involving a gay character in the 1920s is thoughtfully handled, feels very honest and isn’t the kind of hackneyed thing we might once have got. Other than that you can argue it’s a trifle predictable, but predictable isn’t always a bad thing, especially not when its done this well. I was never bored, and the script manages to be funny, sad, sweet and uplifting without ever really crossing the line into saccharine. In particular Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton are a joy to watch (as I believe they are in the show) and their snarky banter is almost worth the price of admission alone.

It’s hard to single out specific cast members, because everyone feels very at home in the characters, but aside from Smith and Wilton, Allen Leech makes for an amiable romantic lead as Tom, and Kevin Doyle gets one of the funniest moments as a starstruck footman—and the film is laugh out loud funny at times—while Robert James-Collier gets the meatiest, and in some ways sweetest, story as Barrow.


The direction is good, and the cinematography suitably luxurious. At times, especially in the first act, the director seems a little too in love with the house, and eventually all the drone shots become a trifle wearing. On occasion it feels a little televisual, but these moments are few and far between, and as enjoyable as it is there’s something a little odd about two groups of servants bickering as posh folk luxuriate above but this never spoiled my pleasure, and again this lead to some highly amusing scenes, and credit to David Haig as the official page of the back staircase (or whatever he was).

To begin with I was wary but by the end I was enjoying myself so much that I’m now seriously thinking about binge watching the show now, and if there’s a sequel, well sign me up!


I’d like to nail my colours to the mast, team Edith all the way, Mary can go take a running jump 😉

Rambo: Last Blood

Posted: September 30, 2019 in Film reviews

Directed by Adrian Grunberg. Starring Sylvester Stallone.


Years have passed since John Rambo (Stallone) last saw combat in Burma. He now lives on a horse ranch in Arizona with an old friend Maria (Adriana Barraza) and her daughter Gabriela (Yvette Monreal). When Gabriela says she wants to visit Mexico to see her estranged father, both Maria and Rambo strongly counsel against it, but without telling them Gabriela crosses the border where she’s betrayed by an old friend and kidnapped by a group of cartel sex traffickers.

When he realises where she’s gone, Rambo crosses the border to find her, setting off a chain of violence that will see him take up arms once more, perhaps for the last time.

It’s sometimes hard to recall that First Blood was a damning anti-war film, a movie about how America chose to forget its Vietnam veterans. Of course, every Rambo film since has been very different. In the second film Rambo gets to refight Vietnam, and win this time, while in the third he teams up with the, er, Taliban to fight evil Russkies in Afghanistan. Then after a gap of 20 years Rambo returned to save some missionaries held captive by Burmese soldiers.

First film aside the franchise has always glorified violence and leaned towards jingoism, but this has, for the most part, been tempered by a certain level of comic book violence. Last Blood pitches the franchise well over the edge, a cheap and nasty exploitation flick trading in caricatures and lowest common denominator film making. I genuinely felt like I needed a shower after watching it.


This is a film for people who thought Taken wasn’t quite grim enough when it comes to depicting the sexual exploitation of woman, a film that treats the abuse of a female character as nothing more than a plot device to get it’s titular hero mad enough to dispense some righteous anger. A film, presumably, aimed at people who vote Trump, with its depiction of Mexicans as, for the most part, vile rapists and murderers, and shows disdain for the border by having Rambo drive over it with ease. I can definitely imagine Donald getting his rocks off watching this and I’m surprised Rambo didn’t don a red baseball cap.

The violence is brutal, with a scene involving a man’s collar bone that’s especially wince inducing, and at times it isn’t an easy watch. The final act, where Rambo lures the cartel to their doom, is vaguely enjoyable, but even here the film feels flat. There’s never any sense of danger. Rambo sets some neat boobytraps and his enemies oblige him by stumbling blindly into them, before he gets final revenge against the head honcho. It reminds me somewhat of that scene in Spectre where Bond escapes Blofeld’s lair by shooting a series of henchmen who obligingly step into his sights so he can kill them one by one. It’s as if we’re watching someone play Rambo the computer game, only on easy.

Film Review - Rambo: Last Blood

The direction of workmanlike, and there’s little or no characterisation at work here. Some vague nods to Rambo’s PTSD are quickly swept aside, and it doesn’t even have the courage of its convictions right at the end. It’s a shame given we know Stallone can do better.

The end credits are perhaps the best bit, because they showcase all the other (better) Rambo films.

Nasty, obvious trash. Avoid.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Posted: August 24, 2019 in Film reviews

Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie.


The year is 1969 and Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is a former TV cowboy struggling to navigate an ever-changing Hollywood. Having failed to transition from TV to film, and with his show, Bounty Law, cancelled, he’s reduced to a succession of villain of the week parts in shows like The Man from UNCLE, FBI and The Green Hornet. A producer (Al Pacino) offers him a new opportunity, but it involves making spaghetti westerns in Italy and Rick feels like his career is going down the toilet.

His best friend is Cliff Booth (Pitt), another man whose career is on the slide. He’s Rick’s stuntman, but thanks to allegations against him nobody wants to use him, so he earns a living as Rick’s chuffer come handy man.

Living next door to Rick is director Roman Polanski, and his wife, Sharon Tate (Robbie). As the three characters make their way around Hollywood of the late sixties, an era of free love and hippies, little to they realise a dark cloud is heading their way, in the form of the soon to be notorious Manson family.


“Hail Hydra.”

And so Tarantino’s ninth film arrives (or is it his tenth?) with the usual buzz around his genius and the usual controversies that always surface when Quentin makes a film. Some of the terms you’ll; hear bandied about in reviews of this film are as follows: glorious, stunning, Oscar worthy, self-indulgent, overlong, baggy, violent, tone deaf and so on and so on.

Luckily, I’ll filter all those other reviews into one, because it’s all those things and more. A baggy indulgence at times but still probably the most I’ve enjoyed a Tarantino film since Kill Bill volume 1. That I have certain issues with it, and find certain elements problematic, doesn’t detract from the fact that its made by a man at the top of his game, it’s just a man at the top of his game who should maybe consider making more use of the editing scissors.

What’s undeniable is that both DiCaprio and Pitt are brilliant. Tarantino allows them both to deploy their movie star good looks, but also their big screen presence. As Booth, Pitt is a laconic, laid back cowboy of a guy, albeit one who’s zen like sheen covers simmering rage beneath. Pitt has effortless cool, and looks annoyingly good for a guy in his mid-fifties!


It’s DiCaprio who gets the meatier role however, having to play both Rick Dalton, and the characters he plays (including some lovely flashbacks and extras scenes.) On screen he’s a lovable nice, guy, rugged hero or slimy villain, but off-screen Rick Dalton is a mess and DiCaprio is brilliant. Dalton’s twitchy (note the stammer that comes out on occasion), paranoid, depressed, angry and too often drunk. It’s a great performance, and in fact both men bring not only their A game, but their A* game.

As Sharon Tate, Robbie gets third billing, but that should not be taken to indicate she has anywhere near the screen time or agency that Dalton and Booth have. For the most part she just bimbles around Hollywood, going to see her own movie, buying books for Roman Polanski and, well, killing time between parties. There are two ways to look at the portrayal of Tate in this film, and as with certain other elements which side you come down on may impact on your enjoyment. Tarantino’s argument is that he’s humanising someone history perceives only as a victim, instead he shows her enjoying her life, doing mundane things, and this, in itself, is an act of revenge against the Manson killers. The alternate view is that Tate is merely a cipher, a beautiful ideal rather than a living, breathing person. I think the truth falls somewhere in between, but any life in the character is down to Robbie who does wonders with very little.


Sadly female characters get short changed throughout the film, they’re either pretty but slightly vacuous, they’d downright villainous (hard to quibble about this given most of the Manson family were women) or caricatures; I mean this is a film that features not one, but two shrewish, nagging wives straight out of central casting. The only female character allowed to show a hint of something different is Julia Butters as a precocious child actor, but even she exists only to flatter Dalton’s ego.

Worth noting that the only non-white character is Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee, and he isn’t portrayed well, Tarantino shows him as an arrogant braggard.

I’ve always felt that Tarantino is a better writer than director, which isn’t to say he isn’t a very good director, and several times during the film he displays his skill for all to see, in particular the scene where Pitt visits the Spahn ranch and meets the Manson family. It’s a masterclass in tension.


Don’t go in there, Brad!

At other times there are scenes that clearly could have been cut, or at least trimmed, so accusations of indulgency are well founded. This is Tarantino’s love letter to sixties TV and film, and it strikes me he decided to have as much fun as possible with the premise and to hell with the cost, as such you could never describe this as a meticulously put together film. At times it’s a meandering mess, and yet conversely that’s where half the fun comes from, because it is fun to watch Dalton and Booth go about their daily business, and Tarantino’s evocation of 60s’ LA is wonderfully done, we could have maybe done with a trifle less of it.

For a Tarantino film there’s a surprising lack of violence… until the final act where Quentin makes up for it in spades. I have no problem with violence in films, but I do think Tarantino goes too far here, especially given that the violence meted out to male characters is filmed in a very different way to the violence meted out against women, one is obliquely shot, the other visceral and filmed in all its gory glory.

Throw into the mix a character we’re supposed to root for who might have killed his wife, and it seems a little tin eared for a film made by a man who (like many others, lets be fair here) turned a blind eye to Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds.

The final act also features a change in tone, the humour broader, the violence cartoonish, and it does feel a little like a different film, but then this isn’t unusual for Tarantino. Kudos does have to be given for the most part, as to his handling of the historical unpleasantries. When it was first mooted that he was making a film about Tate and the Mansons I think a lot of people were worried, but it’s probably more respectful than most films that’ve touched on the subject.

A hugely enjoyable film featuring some great performances, but one that frustrates because it could have been so much better with some judicious editing and more consideration around how certain things would come across. Or maybe I’m reading too much into what’s basically just a wish fulfilment fairy-tale? You decide.

Irrespective of my issues, this is still top tier Tarantino for me and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.



Posted: July 20, 2019 in Film reviews, horror

Directed by Ari Aster. Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Wilhelm Blomgren and Will Poulter.


After tragedy strikes her family, college student Dani (Pugh) is traumatised and becomes ever more reliant on her boyfriend Christian (Reynor). Unbeknownst to Dani, Christian has been considering ending their relationship for a year, egged on by his friends Josh (Harper) and Mark (Poulter) who see Dani as too needy. Given her current emotional state Christian doesn’t think he can finish things just yet.

When Dani learns that the three men are due to attend a midsummer festival in Sweden at the invitation of another student— Pelle (Blomgren) who originates from the remote community— she is annoyed and in trying to placate her Christian invites her along, not expecting her to accept the invitation.

She does accept and the four of them, plus Pelle, venture to the remote commune where they are welcomed as honoured guests and partake of hallucinogens. The locals seem a bit odd, but they’re very friendly.

As the festival continues however, things start to shift, and this might not be the relaxing academic experience any of them expected!


And so after last year’s Hereditary comes Aster’s sophomore effort, on one level a very different film to his first, yet in some respects very similar and whether you like it or not will probably depend on your willingness to go with it, and your patience for arthouse.

The first thing to say is that whilst this is a horror movie, it’s a very different kind of film to Hereditary, a film which did at times disturb and, quite frankly, shit me up. Midsommar isn’t remotely as scary, and oddly given its subject matter, it isn’t remotely as disturbing.

With Hereditary a certain fatalistic inevitability hung over the film. Characters had no escape. The same is true of Midommar to a certain extent, and yet it never quite unsettles as much as it should. In part this is down to the cinematography, everything is so bright and colourful that it’s hard to feel threatened (which I appreciate is kinda the point), but it’s also in part down to the script and the pacing.

If I was asked to identify the biggest flaw with the film, I’d say the length. There’s really nothing gained from the near two and a half hour running time (and rumours suggest there may be a 3 hour director’s cut in the works!) and after I came out it wasn’t long before I exclaimed on Twitter that this was a film that takes 147 minutes to tell the same story The Wicker Man told better in less than 90.

Which isn’t to suggest it drags, I checked my watch a few times but overall despite its slow pace it’s rarely boring. In part this is down to Aster’s inventive direction and Pawel Pogorzelski’s glorious cinematography. This is a film that looks gorgeous, especially during some of the trippier scenes, with flowers breathing and hands and feet being overtaken by nature itself.


Chidi had a sneaking suspicion this might not be the Good Place

It just feels indulgent, as if Aster’s success with Hereditary has given him carte blanche to make the film he wants to make, and bugger the consequences. He isn’t alone in this, most successful directors suddenly lose the ability to edit once they have complete creative control.

The other problem is that for the most part it doesn’t surprise.

There’s a scene midway through that’s a master class in suspense, but in part this is down to the fact that you can see what’s coming, it just takes an agonizing age to get there. But this is probably the most affecting part of the film. Similarly, whilst for one character the film doesn’t end how you might imagine, on the whole you could probably guess roughly what’s going to happen to everyone else.

It’s also one of those films where you find yourself screaming at the characters. A couple do decide to leave after the shocking event in the middle of the film, but most don’t, and whilst I accept they’re anthropology students, it beggars belief than more of them don’t decide to get out of Dodge, and as their numbers dwindle the lack of threat perception just gets sillier.

The script is genuinely, and intentionally funny in places, which again undercuts the overarching menace, and much like Us from earlier in the year at times I couldn’t help feeling this worked better as a comedy than a horror, but a certain scene involving Will Poulter and a tree is bloody hilarious.


Aside from the look of the film, its other positive is in the performances. Pugh is astonishing. Creating a character wracked with grief, and clearly suffering PTSD (and there’s a slight suggestion of wider mental health issues). Her screams of anguish are genuinely heart-breaking, and in this Midsommar does mirror Hereditary in that both films revolve around a central woman who’s suffered a traumatic loss and is consumed by anguish. Toni Collette should have been up for awards and was overlooked, I fear Pugh will suffer a similar fate, which is a shame.

As Christian Reynor does a good job of making him a dick, and he increasingly becomes more dickish as the film goes alone, though as much as several characters are inherently unlikeable, none of them deserves their fate, and another slight quibble for me would be the way, at times, it almost feels like Aster believes the community members are nominally the good guys in all of this.

As a fan of The Good Place it’s great to see Harper getting film roles, and as Mark Poulter is great and gets many of the films laughs.

Sadly aside from Pelle most of the cultists are a tad interchangeable.

This is a film full of wonderful performances and its gorgeous to look at, yet it’s also overly pretentious and self-indulgent. As a study in grief it works, as a folk horror perhaps less well.


Posted: July 11, 2019 in Film reviews

Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Himesh Patel and Lily James.


Jack Malik (Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter who’s reached the end of his rope, with no one interested in hearing him play, except for his manager and friend Ellie (James) he’s decided to quit music and give up his dreams.

But then, during a worldwide blackout, he’s hit by a car. He’s badly injured but make a full recovery. There’s just one problem, he now seems to be the only person in the world who remembers the Beatles. With a whole lot of classic songs rattling around inside his head, and in a world without John, Paul, George and Ringo, Jack becomes an overnight success, but is fame all it’s cracked up to be?

Yesterday has a lot of problems, which doesn’t mean it’s terrible by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just incredibly lazy. A film that relies on a hackneyed plot that rarely scratches the surface of its high concept premise.

The plot collapses if you think about it for more than 5 seconds, and it undercuts its own point almost immediately. It wants us to believe the Beatles are important, that their music is special and makes the world a better place, yet the Beatles’less world is objectively no different to our own, even before you get to all the other things that no longer exist (mild spoiler; it’s not just the Beatles).

The whole point of a “what if” tale is that the world should be very different. What if Hitler died in World War 1? What if Penicillin was never invented? What if JFK survived Dallas? All of these things would make the world manifestly different, but we seem to be getting along just fine without the Fab Four, so what’s the point?


The original script was by Jack Barth and Mackenzie Crook and was called Cover Version, but when they dropped out Richard Curtis took over and rewrote it. The original sounds more interesting, because the protagonist doesn’t become a worldwide hit, he archives only moderate success. It was also Curtis’ decision to make it a romcom, which I have no problem with, and I like a lot of Curtis films, but if you’re going to use a high concept like the Beatles ceasing to exist as mere window dressing for a love story, you could at least come up with something more than the by the numbers “He doesn’t know she exists” story we get here.

Back to the plot anyway. There’s a writing axiom that suggests you can get the audience to buy one contrivance, one fantastical moment, per film, but Yesterday just keeps piling them on. First the Beatles vanish, then we’re expected to believe that this ordinary young man becomes an overnight sensation playing random Beatles’ songs, never mind that the Beatles success was in part down to their place in time, four young lads from Liverpool who exploded onto the scene in the early 60s, a time very different from now, and never mind that their style evolved from rock and roll to folk, country and eventually psychedelia, apparently their songs are so good that the world will lap them up out of order and played by a nervous young man from Suffolk rather than four likely lads from Liverpool.

That Yesterday is inoffensively enjoyable is down to other factors. An engaging cast for starters. Patel makes for a likable lead, and I suspect the former EastEnders star will go on to bigger and better things. Lily James is a great actress, but her movie choices are a tad erratic at times. She does her best here with a drippy character, but she deserves better.

Joel Fry as Jack’s roadie Rocky is a hoot, and Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal, are great as Jack’s parents.

Ed Sheeran as, er, Ed Sheeran, is nowhere near as annoying as you might expect him to be but his appearance is a trifle jarring (and the appearance of one particular character later on is a wince inducing misstep in my opinion).


Finally we get Kate McKinnon. She’s a great comic actor, but her money obsessed music producer is straight out of central casting.

As well as the cast, we have Boyle who directs with enough verve and style that I was never bored, and finally we have the Beatles themselves, or rather their music, and the film leans heavily on their catchy tunes, even if it never tries to dig into what makes them so wonderful, it’s content to just love you do.

And Curtis’ script does have its moments, in particular as Jack struggles to remember as many lyrics as he can.

Maybe I’ve just thought about it too much rather than buying into the premise, but as enjoyable as this fluff is, with a cast like that, a top draw director, and the music of the Beatles to draw on, this could have been so much more than a predictable there’s more to life than fame rom com.