A Puddle of Liver Movie Review: ‘Yesterday’

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CREDIT: Jonathan Prine/Universal

Yesterday raises a lot of questions, most of which has no interest in answering. First off:

-Why does the global blackout erase the Beatles from existence, and why is Jack Malik (Hamish Patel) apparently the only one who remembers them?

I am perfectly fine that this goes unaddressed, because the “why” is less important than the “where do we go from here?” Which brings me to:

-Shouldn’t the Beatles’ absence make the world profoundly different?

To which Yesterday answers by implication: no, not that much. There is one band that was heavily influenced by the Fab Four that is also now no more, but the rest of music history appears to be intact. The blackout has also removed some other things from existence, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the main premise. Those reveals are played for (decent) laughs, but they also raise their own existential questions (which remain unaddressed). But back to how the Beatles changed the world. Their cultural influence was so wide-reaching that it is just silly not to examine what an alternative history would have been like without them. Moving on…

-If the Beatles never came to be, does that mean the band members don’t exist either?

It is heavily implied that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are still somewhere, and Jack is in constant fear that he might somehow meet them and thus have to answer for passing off their music as his own. As for the two deceased lads … they are not entirely ignored either. Of course, this all raises the subquestion (which is barely touched upon): if they weren’t making the music that defined a decade, then what were they up to? But getting back to Jack’s fear:

-How much of the Beatles’ success was due not just to the songwriting, but to the people who performed it?

The lyrics of “Yesterday” and “Let It Be” are beautiful no matter who’s singing them, but Jack obviously doesn’t have the personal connection to them that the lads from Liverpool did, a fact that is introduced as quite a hitch … and then promptly ignored thereafter.

All these quandaries are given short shrift because ultimately Yesterday is really about the love story between Jack and his manager/childhood friend Ellie (Lily James). And it turns out that the main conflict is about Jack choosing between becoming a global superstar or getting things started with Ellie. I don’t understand why he can’t have both. I do understand his guilt over pretending he wrote the greatest songs ever written. But he and Ellie have such hilariously few non-obstacles to ending up together.

So look, I’ve been harping on Yesterday‘s shortcomings but I don’t really hate it. It’s got oodles of Beatles music, of course, but also I like having this conversation of drilling down on these questions. I just wish the movie itself had contributed more to the conversation.

I give Yesterday 2.5 Hands for Jude to Hold.

This Is a Movie Review: T2 Trainspotting

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This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2017.

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova

Director: Danny Boyle

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Pointy Things – Both Body Parts and Devices You Stick Into Your Body

Release Date: March 17, 2017 (Limited)

1996’s Trainspotting features one of the most iconic opening shots in film history, as Ewan McGregor’s feet fall from the sky and then pound the Edinburgh pavement to the inimitable strains of “Lust for Life.” The kickoff to 20-years-later sequel T2 Trainspotting directly calls back to its predecessor, but in a sly way that ensures this is no empty exercise in nostalgia. And really, how could it have ever been that? Getting back together with your junkie criminal mates is not exactly the stuff of teary-eyed reunions. T2 falls short of reaching the landmark status of the original (a nearly impossible task), but its themes (“choose life,” choose whatever the hell you could possibly choose) and hallucinogenic style remain intact.

It has been several years since I saw Trainspotting, and over the course of T2, it becomes abundantly clear how many plot specifics I have forgotten. Luckily this is the type of sequel that fills you in on everything, with enough dreamy flair to prevent any flashbacks feeling like spoon-feeding. Renton (McGregor) has been living in the Netherlands with his Dutch wife; he still runs, but for exercise, not to escape the law. Spud (Ewen Bremner) got clean for a little while, but is now on the brink of suicide. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), in between “running” a family pub, is pulling a sleazy blackmail extortion scheme with the help of his young Bulgarian “girlfriend” Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Franco (Robert Carlyle) is serving a 25-year jail sentence and scheming to get out. And Diane (Kelly Macdonald) is now a lawyer, dropping in for a cameo consultation.

Nobody is thrilled over Renton’s return, considering he stole everyone else’s shares of the drug deal at the end of the first film. But they mostly reconcile enough to commit to Sick Boy’s plan to open a “spa” (i.e., brothel). Franco, fulfilling the wild card role, is off on his own teaching his son how to sell stolen goods; he is much less forgiving when his and Renton’s paths cross.

Whether or not they succeed (or what success even is in this situation) is beside the point. T2 is about taking stock of one’s life, and how unsettling such midlife reflections are with a druggie past (and present). Director Danny Boyle throws out all his tricks to make this chapter simultaneously unsettling, beautiful, and hypnotic. Camera angles are slightly askew, slow motion and freeze frames disrupt the rhythm, and even Snapchat filters are used to great effect. Adding to the surrealism (for non-Scottish audiences) is the impenetrability of the thick accents. There is a bit of fun with subtitles during one Franco scene, but otherwise we are left to our own devices to figure out what the hell everyone is saying. For the most part, I do not even bother with such translation; I would advise you to do the same.

In one unforgettably riveting scene, McGregor resurrects the classic “Choose Life” monologue for a new generation. The rejection (but also pseudo-acceptance) of capitalism inherent in these speeches is what fuels this series. There is plenty left in the tank to continually define the Trainspotting thesis. In just five minutes, McGregor demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt why he would ever want to revisit such an iconic role.

T2 Trainspotting is Recommended If You Like: Sequels That Seem Unnecessary But Turn Out to be Quite Fulfilling

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Needles Shared Between Friends