[Early Review] Yesterday (2019)

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Ed Sheeran

Screenplay: Richard Curtis

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language.

 

Yesterday is kind of a strange movie. Ever since I first heard bits and pieces about its story and style, I found myself to be a bit confused. I wasn’t really sure what a film like this could say about anything, and I didn’t really see where a character-driven journey could go that actually made the film’s existence worth it. Really, the only pure driving force that kept me interested was Danny Boyle (127 Hours, T2 Trainspotting) as director. As my screening grew closer, though, I found my curiosity building and my excitement rising, though I couldn’t really tell you why. Upon seeing the film, I still think it’s rather strange, but I cannot fault it for finding a very human and moving story through the eyes of a struggling artist, and it’s a film definitely worth trying.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, The Fox, TV’s EastEnders) is a struggling musician trying to find an audience. He knows there’s something special in his music. His manager and close friend, Ellie (Lily James, Cinderella, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), knows it too, but for some reason, he just cannot find the fame he’s been looking for. He’s decided to give up on his dream, but that night, a major power outage occurs across the entire Earth and he is accidentally hit by a bus that doesn’t see him in the dark streets. When Jack wakes up, he discovers that he is in an alternate history where The Beatles never existed. He remembers them perfectly, but no one else does. Now, everyone has fallen in love with Jack’s songs, but they aren’t really his, and he finds that the fame he’s been seeking doesn’t mean much if you aren’t happy with yourself. Jack is in a situation where he must decide if a career of fortunes surrounding a lie is worth losing the woman he loves in the process.

The central relationship between Himesh Patel’s Jack and Lily James’s Ellie is so great and pure. She’s been his biggest supporter for fifteen years, loving him from afar and showing it with her belief and dedication and he fails to see what she needs from him. Sometimes, those relationships between friends really strain because both parties aren’t getting what they need from each other, and Ellie has ended up in a friend/manager column of his life instead of a love column. Now, I fail to see how any person wouldn’t fall in love with Lily James instantly, but for the purposes of this review, I will say that Jack’s eyes are set on the eventual fame and career he wants, and it makes for a moving struggle between two people who obviously love each other but just cannot get their paths to come together in the right way to make it work.

Now, there’s some logic issues to the film that I was hoping wouldn’t keep coming to mind, but Jack wakes up in a version of the world where The Beatles never existed as a band. As the story progresses, we see that their non-existence has an effect on more than just their music’s absence, so the question arises as to how Ed Sheeran (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Pop Star) became a musician if his primary influence never existed. Would he have pursued music? The Beatles aren’t the only band that doesn’t exist. Oasis never became a band and sang Wonderwall. There are writers that didn’t exist. There are products that were never invented. It never really explains what the central break in these timelines is or how it affected certain things but not others. Would Coldplay have existed? The film reminded me of Us or Avengers: Endgame where, if you let the logic gaps or questions bother you then you’ll miss out on the journey itself, so it’s best not to think about it. But the question did come up for me.

In that same vein, there are questions raised about the nature of a song like Back in the USSR, which Jack claims to have written the day of a concert in Russia. Ed Sheeran points out that it hasn’t been called the USSR since before Jack was born, and it’s a funny scene because it does point out the potential for problems in making music at a different time than was intended, or if you didn’t live the life of the person who wrote it. It comes up again with Hey Jude later on. I really liked when Jack’s narrative was tested; I just wanted more of it. For example, later in the film, Jack sings I Saw Her Standing There, which starts with the lyric “She was just seventeen…” and when I heard him sing it, I thought to myself that a song like that probably wouldn’t exist in this timeframe without some controversy. It’s something I wish Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually, About Time) would have delved into more.

Then there’s Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, TV’s Saturday Night Live), who in the film essentially plays Kate McKinnon. She’s a very capable actress but sometimes she is used to excess, and the film struggles to find a use for her near the end, causing her to turn into a quite an annoyance by the end. I get what she’s trying to do, but the narrative doesn’t need it.

If the central relationship and moral quandary of the film didn’t work, Yesterday would be a bit of a mess. Thankfully, those two elements make for an extremely satisfying film, one that created conflict even among the people watching the film with me. It isn’t exactly going to leave you in a place you expect, but the film overall is surprisingly enjoyable and a good example of uniquely interesting ideas, even if they aren’t fully fleshed out. This is one I’ll be recommending for some time.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 1 – This is the End (2013)

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Director: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson

Screenplay: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

107 mins. Rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence.

 

Here we are yet again. Another year has gone by and we arrive at my favorite month: October. I love celebrating my favorite genre with you all and I’m so excited to continue the tradition. This year, I thought we’d start off a with a lighter fare and take a look at the horror-comedy This is the End.

L-r, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen in Columbia Pictures' "This Is The End," also starring Jonah Hill.

In this film from directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (The Interview), each actor portrays a fictionalized version of himself, so know that going in.

Seth Rogen is very excited to see his best friend, Jay Baruchel (TV’s Man Seeking Woman, Million Dollar Baby), who has just flown in for the weekend. As the two trade stories, get high, and play video games, Seth suggests a party over at James Franco’s (TV’s 11.22.63, 127 Hours) house. There they meet up with Seth’s other acting partners Jonah Hill (21 Jump Street, How to Train Your Dragon 2), Danny McBride (Your Highness, Aloha), Craig Robinson (Pineapple Express, Hot Tub Time Machine 2), and Michael Cera (TV’s Childrens Hospital, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). As they party away inside, outside a cataclysmic event begins as the world ends all around them and they are forced to survive in the house as demons and death surround them, attempting to kill them all.

What a strange setup for a film, and surprisingly enough, it works better than most comedies that dip their toes into the supernatural. The film playfully uses elements and staples of a film like this such as possession, cannibalism, sin, forgiveness, insanity, paranoia, and death so carelessly (in a good way) that I can see why this offensively hilarious look at the end of days doesn’t garner as much love as other films from this cast.

I love that the cast here is able to poke fun at themselves, either playing against type (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera) or playing exaggerations of themselves (Danny McBride and James Franco). The most important part is that they respect the conceit and the material and embrace it for the comedy.

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Directors Rogen and Goldberg take some big risks in the film and it pays off gloriously. It isn’t a slight on the these kinds of movies but an homage to them and a critique of fame in today’s society. And it’s really freaking funny. The cameos alone make this film a worthy comedic gem, but the way the movie is structured give it something wholly unique: a style like no other. See this movie before the apocalypse actually happens.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s The Interview, click here.

[Alright Alright Alright Movies] Pineapple Express (2008)

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Director: David Gordon Green

Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Danny McBride

Screenplay: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

111 mins. Rated R for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence.

 

I thought we’d have some fun today with the movie selection and inject a little stoner movie into the mix with 2008’s Pineapple Express.

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Dale Denton (Seth Rogen, This is the End, Sausage Party) is a process server with one favorite past time. He loves getting high. But when he witnesses a murder committed by drug lord Ted Jones (TV’s Veep, Office Space) and drops a roach at the scene of the crime, Dale surmises that Ted Jones can link him and his dealer Saul (James Franco, TV’s 11.22.63, 127 Hours) to the weed, known as Pineapple Express. Now, with Jones and crooked cop Carol (Rosie Perez, The Road to El Dorado, Pitch Perfect 2) hot on their trail, the two stoners must outrun danger and find out who can be trusted and how to escape death.

I have to say, I absolutely love this movie. I love the stoner straight man persona that Seth Rogen perfectly embodies here. I love the loose tonal combination of action and comedy that Pineapple Express functions with. James Franco is an excellent Saul and is joined by the untrustworthy dickweed named Red (Danny McBride, Your Highness, Rock the Kasbah) who is the middleman between Saul and Ted. The movie is hilariously written by Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg.

There are a number of great sequences in the film, from the cold open of the film exposing the government tests conducted on marijuana to the action-packed finale. I personally enjoyed the car chases and the fight at Red’s house, but you can’t fault the film for its strange surreal look at living on the lam and the forced friendships that we create out of sheer need for survival. It is a terrific package deal for a film.

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I can completely understand this not being everyone else’s cup of tea, but Pineapple Express deserves a chance as it made some solid money but doesn’t really garner the kind of praise it earned. Spend this 4/20 by enjoying a fantastic stoner comedy that continues to make me giggle almost eight years after its initial release.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of David Gordon Green’s Your Highness, click here.

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Your Highness (2011)

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Director: David Gordon Green

Cast: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel

Screenplay: Danny McBride, Ben Best

102 mins. Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity, violence and some drug use.

 

Some movies are divisive, with praise and derision in equal measure. Your Highness isn’t even one of those. But I’m still going to watch it for you.

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Your Highness is the story of two brothers and a quest to end all others. One of them, Fabious (James Franco, TV’s 11.22.63, 127 Hours) is a rugged and valiant prince on his way to rescue his beloved Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, TV’s New Girl, Elf) from a frightening and perverse warlock. The other brother is Thadeous (Danny McBride, This is the End, Sausage Party), a fat loathsome slob of a prince only interested in getting laid, a task not so easy for the failure of a son. The two set out to complete Thadeous’ first quest and gain his father’s respect. Along the way, they meet Isabel (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Jane Got a Gun), who also has reasons to defeat the wicked warlock.

The premise is rather simple and rather stupid. According to director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Our Brand is Crisis), the concept came from a game between him and McBride about coming up with hilarious titles and then making up a movie premise about them. Apparently, this was the best one. McBride then proceeded to write a draft, and then most of that was thrown out in favor of improv. How this movie even got made is a shock, and how it managed to bring on multiple Oscar nominees also confounds.

McBride cannot carry a movie, funny as he is. Franco (who did sword training and flew back and forth between set and his classes across the country) and Portman (who only signed on to get Black Swan financed) do capably enough to keep this flimsy story going.

All this is important as it creates a movie that doesn’t really want an audience. That being said…

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I laughed my ass off at a lot of this movie, and I have to applaud them for trying to craft a unique mixture of fantasy and raunchy comedy. Still not a great movie, but it isn’t the worst viewing experience I’ve ever had.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Interview (2014)

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Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen

Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco

Screenplay: Dan Sterling

112 mins. Rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence.

 

Last year, a film was made, one that almost never saw the light of day thanks to terrorism. In the course of a few days, buzz around The Interview skyrocketed after a threats were made to Sony concerning its release. Theaters around the country pulled the film and refused to show it. It was a sad day to be an artist in America. It didn’t matter what kind of art was pulled, the fact that we were afraid to express ourselves showed more weakness than I could have imagined.

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But then, Sony came to the rescue. They released the film on online platforms. You can’t bomb online platforms (well, the danger was still there). Youtube released it. Netflix released it. Then, stores put it on shelves and we proved to the evils of the world that we are not going to stand for it (cue the inspirational battle hymn). Well, anyway, that happened, and it helped cement The Interview in the annals of American film history, but there was still one unanswered question: was the film any good?

In The Interview, the new comedy from directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen (This is the End), we follow Rogen as Aaron Rapaport, producer for the talk show Skylark Tonight, featuring his friend Dave Skylark (James Franco, 127 Hours, True Story). The show is a fledgling one, more of a witch hunt show searching for shock and awe rather than inspirational or interesting television. That is, until they get an interview with Kim Jong-Un after finding that the dictator is a fan of the show. The two are then enlisted by the US government to assassinate the world leader during the interview and save countless lives (that’s right, it does bleed controversy).

The performances by the two leads are goofy and a little stupid, the cinematography looks cheap and a little stupid, and the pacing is way off. It’s a little stupid. With all that, the film does have its charms, but I do struggle to remember a moment where I laughed out loud. There were a few “that’s funny” moments but no guffaws. I wanted some damn guffaws.

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All in all, does The Interview deserve to be remembered the way it will be? Probably not. I found it to be a goofy somewhat comedic romp with little true substance outside its controversy.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Oscar Madness] Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

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Director: Rupert Wyatt

Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

105 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out of nowhere. Seriously. Who would have thought that his franchise was coming back in such a big way. After a fizzled-out franchise of films and television series, a failed remake from director Tim Burton, and a decade of silence, Rise of the Planet of the Apes just sort of showed up, and I’m thankful it did.

Will Rodman (James Franco, 127 Hours, The Interview) is trying to cure Alzheimer’s. His father Charles (John Lithgow, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun, Interstellar) has the condition and it is accelerating. The current possible cure is ALZ-112, and Will is in the process of ape testing. When Bright Eyes, Will’s star test subject, tragically passes after complications with the substance, Will comes across a baby chimp in her cell, her recently born son who comes to be known as Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Arthur Christmas). Will takes Caesar home and trains him, as Caesar was born with ALZ-112 flowing through him, making him progress at an alarming rate. As Will’s life becomes more and more complicated through his illegal theft of the chimp, Caesar becomes more and more aware that this world is the world of humans, not apes, and he wants to change that.

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The plot of this movie nicely takes real-world problems and a franchise decades old and revives it for today’s world without tarnishing the story that came before (to be noted, this is a reboot and kind of a prequel to the original film and not the Tim Burton remake). It takes the problems that we are dealing with and forms it into a cohesive and interesting bit of science fiction.

Franco’s performance isn’t the strongest in the film, I didn’t really believe him to be smart enough to synthesize a cure for Alzheimer’s. Then again, he doesn’t. Altogether, it is his relationships in the film to Caesar and his father that build the warmth for these characters.

Andy Serkis is the winner of this film and deserved top billing for the film, as without him, the impact would not have been felt as much. His nuanced and subtly tragic work as Caesar is beautiful, and the digital effects work only furthers an already incredible performance. The way Caesar interacts with John Lithgow’s character provides us with a slightly warped but wholly touching American family.

The screenplay,  from Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (The Relic, Eye for an Eye), does a nice job of not creating villains, there are very few villains in this film and it allows you to understand many of the core characters internally and empathize with their choices.

Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, The Gambler) behind the camera also provides a lush environment of great camera work, and the flow of the film is very smooth.

I just needed to end on the CG work, which sought to work together with their motion capture performers to create characters as opposed to just creating stock but cool looking apes. It deserved its nomination to be sure.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a great way to jumpstart a franchise, and should serve as a course on how to reinvigorate a property rather than just churn out a remake. Bravo.

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Wild (2014)

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Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffman

Screenplay: Nick Hornby

115 min. Rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use and language.

 

Who’s ready to get Wild? Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, Inherent Vice) certainly is, as she portrays real life Cheryl Strayed, a woman about to take on the journey of a lifetime, and Witherspoon takes on the performance of a lifetime.

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Cheryl Strayed has had a rough time: drugs, alcohol, anonymous sex, cheating, lying, deceit. Now, after losing her husband (Thomas Sadoski, TV’s The Newsroom, Loser), Cheryl is ready to take on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), an 1,100 mile solo hike from one end of the US to the other. This is a staggering endeavor, and Cheryl takes us along for the ride as she documents the trek and gives us flashbacks to what brought her here.

This is a far different Reese Witherspoon than we have ever seen, and it might just be the best performance in her career. She plays a broken woman ready to stand back up and fight, and her tragic relationship with mother Bobbi (Laura Dern, Jurassic Park, When the Game Stands Tall), proves that both actresses here are at the top of their respective games. Everything in the film is seen through Cheryl’s perspective, and it causes a looseness to the tale that almost feels dreamlike in its portrayal of the trials on the trails.

The screenplay by Nick Hornby (An Education, Fever Pitch) gave me several avenues and relationships to delve into, but the film feels unfinished even though it finished. The ending is tied up so quick I almost wasn’t sure that I should get out of my chair. Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria) shows us a stunning vision of open America. The music, and sometimes lack thereof, gives us a more personal and intimate connection to Cheryl’s journey.

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Now, the film has a lot in common with films like Into the Wild and 127 Hours that I didn’t walk away as blown away as I had hoped, but Wild is still definitely worth a trip to your theater, as long as the theater is closer than a thousand miles.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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