Archive for June, 2019

A World Without The Beatles

Yesterday

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Joel Fry, Ellise Chappell, Ed Sheeran, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Kate McKinnon, James Corden 

Thanks to a preview screening organized by United International Pictures at Suncoast Cinecentre, Durban, I was fortunate enough to see Oscar winning director Danny Boyle’s latest film Yesterday with a screenplay by Love Actually writer Richard Curtis.

Imagine a world without The Beatles Songs? Or a world without Coca-Cola and Cigarettes? Or Even Harry Potter?

This is the premise of screenwriter Richard Curtis’s latest romantic musical comedy Yesterday directed by Oscar winning director of Slumdog Millionaire Danny Boyle and starring Himesh Patel as Jack Malik a struggling musician and Lily James (The Darkest Hour, Cinderella) as his long suffering manager Ellie Appleton set mainly in Suffolk, England.

After an inexplicable worldwide blackout, Jack gets hit by a bus and wakes up missing two teeth and in a sort of alternative reality whereby he soon realizes that this world does not know any of The Beatles songs including Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, Hey Jude, All You Need is Love and Back in the U.S.S. R.

As Jack played with a sort of goofy naivety by East Enders star Himesh Patel starts initially playing a Beatles song to his parents Sheila and Jed played by Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar (London Boulevard, The Kumars at No. 42), he is astonished that they have never heard of the most influential and greatest pop band in the world, The Beatles. Then Jack has to remind himself that he is living in an alternative universe which distracts him from the real love of his life Ellie who has constantly supported him throughout his struggling music career. 

Lily James is brilliant as Suffolk maths teacher Ellie and she lifts the film from being a completely contrived musical fantasy into a semi-believable cinematic offering which allows director Danny Boyle to use all his artistic embellishments to make Yesterday more invigorating than what it really is.

Yesterday is a 21st century slightly contrived musical tribute to The Beatles set in the Instagram age of political correctness and diversity where even the likes of singer Ed Sheeran cannot lift the humour in this film with the exception of one funny scene when Sheeran visits Jack late at night at his family home and encounters his irritating yet lovable dad Jed, wonderfully played with comic timing by Sanjeev Bhaskar.

Ultimately, Yesterday is about a lingering love affair between Ellie and Jack as he is seduced by the fame and fortune associated with lucrative streaming contracts in California in the form of a vampish American music manager Debra Hammer played by Kate McKinnon.

Despite the musical tribute to the Beatles and the quirky plot, Yesterday didn’t quite resolve itself as a satisfying film even with some comic moments. Yesterday gets a film rating of 7 out of 10. Recommended viewing for those that enjoy a light romantic musical comedy.

The Disciplined Dancer

The White Crow

Director: Ralph Fiennes

Cast: Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes, Louis Hofmann, Adele Exarchopoulos, Raphael Personnaz, Chulpan Khamatova, Zach Avery

Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient, Schindler’s List) directs this elegant ballet biopic of acclaimed Russian male dancer Rudolph Nureyev who defected to France in 1961.

Oleg Ivenko plays the volatile but supremely talented ballet dancer Nureyev who dreams only of dancing in the West. This opportunity arises when the Kirov ballet company does a tour to Paris in London in 1961. While in Paris, Nureyev desperately tries to escape the surveillance of the repressive soviet regime who jealously watch the Kirov’s Ballet’s every move.

The Leningrad Ballet company comes out of a bleak soviet society under the rule of Krushev to the glamour of Paris in the early 1960’s where a handful of Soviet ballet dancers led by the audacious Nureyev socializes with French ballerina’s and intellectuals led by Clara Saint, wonderfully played by Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Colour).

With a screenplay by Oscar nominated screenwriter David Hare (The Hours, The Reader) based upon Julie Kavanaugh’s book Rudolf Nureyev: A Life, The White Crow is mostly subtitled with dialogue in Russian and French and is strictly for ballet fans.

The White Crow could have been edited slightly and while the transformation plot is elegantly told, the acting by the mostly Russian and French cast is extremely good and the tension in the film is heightened during the dramatic defection that Rudolf Nureyev does at a Paris airport filmed in extreme close up with Fiennes behind the camera taking control of the diplomatic action brilliantly.

There are some exquisite ballet sequences in The White Crow but what I loved about this film was its depiction of the transformation of Rudolf Nureyev from a shy Soviet peasant boy into one of the most audacious and beautifully talented male ballet dancers of the 20th century, a role that Oleg Ivenko pulls off beautifully highlighting his artistic volatility, his discipline as a dancer and his unyielding ambition, in which he had to sacrifice his country and family to achieve international stardom, something Nureyev was determined to achieve.

The White Crow subtly hints at Nureyev’s homosexuality but in an effortlessly way especially his love affair with East German dancer Teja Kremke played with stark beauty by German actor Louis Hofmann (Red Sparrow). French rising star Raphael Personnaz (Anna Karenina) also stars as one of the French male ballet dancers Pierre Lacotte who plays a crucial role in Nureyev’s defection to the West.

If you love ballet and would like to learn more about the early life of Rudolf Nureyev then this film is highly recommended. The White Crow gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10 will appeal to a niche audience. An elegant biopic without any of the usual Hollywood flashiness.

The Flamboyant Pianist

Rocketman

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, Charlie Rowe, Tate Donovan, Steve Mackintosh, Tom Bennett

Eddie the Eagle director Dexter Fletcher reunites with his star Taron Egerton in the Elton John Musical fantasy drama Rocketman with Egerton taking on the daunting task of playing a still living musical icon, Sir Elton John.

Rocketman chronicles the early life and rise to stardom of Elton John, his abandonment issues that he had with his father, his overpowering sense of worthlessness that he felt at the hands of his dominating mother, wonderfully played against type by Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help, Jurassic World).

All these issues, coupled with his unique piano playing abilities proved that he is a talented musician destined for superstardom. However that stardom which Elton John achieved came at a price, as he has terrible addiction issues with drugs and alcohol which director Dexter Fletcher chooses to emphasize.

Essentially Rocketman focuses on addiction and interweaves Elton John’s personal journey with that of musical fantasy a different approach to director Brian Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody which stuck to a chronological account of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury and his interactions with his band. Bohemian Rhapsody is a far superior film than Rocketman especially saved by an Oscar winning performance by Rami Malek.

Rocketman has some good performance and Taron Egerton does a good job of portraying a living musical legend Elton John a flamboyant showman, a glamorous pianist with a penchant for outrageous outfits who is not only struggling with his addiction issues but with his homosexuality in the form of his toxic love affair with former manager John Reid played by Richard Madden (Cinderella). It is really Billy Elliott star Jamie Bell’s sympathetic performance as Elton John’s best friend and song writer Bernie Taupin who supports Elton through thick and thin, which gives the film some insightful emotional depth.

Notable cameo’s include Vanity Fair star Charlie Rowe as Ray Williams and Tate Donovan as Californian music organizer Doug Weston. Rocketman features flamboyant costumes, foot tapping music and a great performance by Taron Egerton and will definitely appeal to audiences that enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody.

Rocketman is a musical drama that focuses more on the perils of excess and the struggles with addiction than on Elton John’s fantastic musical abilities and is not a biopic but an imaginative musical fantasy which gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10.

Invasive Species

Godzilla II: King of the Monsters

Director: Michael Dougherty

Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Ziyi Zhang (The Grandmaster, The House of Flying Daggers, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) , C. C. H. Pounder (Baghdad Cafe), Anthony Ramos, O’Shea Jackson Jr

Director Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla II: King of the Monsters should be viewed within the same context as Legendary pictures predecessor films Gareth Edwards’s 2014 film Godzilla and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts Kong: Skull Island

Returning to the cast are scientists Dr Ishiro Serizawa and Dr Vivienne Graham played by Oscar nominee’s Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water).

Amidst the re-emergence of Godzilla and the global threat of his fellow titans, a selection of invasive species called Mothra, Rodan and the three headed dragon Ghidorah, there is the familial conflict of the Russell family. There is the father Mark played by Kyle Chandler (Argo, Super 8, First Man) and estranged wife Dr Emma Russell played by Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) and their beloved daughter Madison played by Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown.

As Dr Russell and Madison are captured by the ruthless Jonah Alan played by Charles Dance (White Mischief), Mark Russell with the help of crypto-zoological agency Monarch scientists to unleash Godzilla who is released to fight Ghidorah from the plains of Mexico to the fiery urban landscape of contemporary Boston, Massachusetts.

If viewers are Monster movie fans, then Godzilla II: King of the Monsters is sure to satisfy them with amazing production design and dazzling visual effects as the primordial clash of the titans begins.

Also in the cast are Thomas Middleditch (The Wolf of Wall Street, Kong: Skull Island) as Sam Coleman, Oscar nominee David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) as Admiral William Stenz who is hell bent on launching nuclear firepower at the Titans to save the earth from being ravaged by monsters.

Other supporting cast members include C.C.H. Pounder from Avatar, Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born), Bradley Whitford (The Post) and Chinese superstar Ziyi Zhang from such classic films as The Grandmaster, The House of Flying Daggers and Ang Lee’s Oscar winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

As far as plot goes, Godzilla II: King of the Monsters is basically a family drama about the Russell’s as parents fight each other for custody of Madison superbly played by Millie Bobby Brown framed within a larger war between enormous monsters including the trustworthy Godzilla as he battles Mothra, Rodan and the three-headed dragon Ghidorah who likes to devastate cities like the Dragons in the HBO series Game of Thrones.

Godzilla II: King of the Monsters gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is extremely enjoyable for those that love monster movies as this cinematic piece is jam packed with crazy beasts ravaging the earth, which serves as an allegorical tale of the unprecedented effects of climate change on this planet.

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