Danny Boyle

Yesterday

First Hit: Thoroughly enjoyable film and story, especially if you like “The Beatles” music.

In my sophomore and junior years of high school, Jim Golden and I sat in his or my bedroom playing Beatles songs over and over again. Jim was one year younger than me and much better on guitar and singing. However, I knew how to harmonize, and together, we sang the shit out of those songs.

In my junior year (1967), Jim and I joined a band and one week after the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album came out, the group sang three songs from this album in the second of our band’s total of three public performances. My contribution was singing lead on “A Day in the Life,” and I’ll never forget it. The proof is that today, I can still play and sing this song.

In this film, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) wanted to play his music in front of people. His manager Ellie Appleton (Lily James), met him and fell in love with him at age 17 when he performed Oasis’ Wonderwall song during a high school performance. From that time, she worked tirelessly to get him gigs in local bars and establishments near their small English town of Lowestoft. When he’s not performing his songs at these joints, he’s working in a food warehouse.

When he plays, most people in the audience talk or just go about their business, and no one really listens except Ellie and a small group of friends that request their favorite Jack Malik songs.

One day Ellie brings him good news and bad news. The good news is that she got him a gig at a big-time music festival. However, the bad news is that it’s in a remote music tent. When we see Jack perform in the tent, his most attentive audience appears to be four children, Ellie, and a couple of other friends. It’s at this moment he decides to give up on his music career.

While riding his bike on the way home, there is a worldwide blackout, and during the outage, he gets hit by a bus. Waking up in a hospital with two missing front teeth, Ellie is there by his side. Getting out of the hospital, she gives him a new guitar because the old one got run over by the bus. While testing out the guitar, he sings, The Beatles “Yesterday.”

The three friends sitting with him ask him when did he write that song? And he says, he “didn’t, The Beatles did,” and they say who? This is a hilarious scene, especially when they bring up Coldplay. But the fantastic thing about this scene is that the audience, at least I did, hears this song as if it were really a new song. The focus is on the words, and they reflect Jack’s current situation, just as they reflect the circumstances in our own lives.

This then becomes the setup of the film. Did The Beatles exist? Did they ever exist? Jack goes home and searches the internet for The Beatles and finds nothing, except beetles.

Thinking that no one knows The Beatles songs, he begins to recall them and begins to write them down. When he performs them, the audiences love the songs and believe that these songs are Jack’s songs. Through the greatness of the songs, he becomes the new world singing and songwriting sensation.

He records the songs and with the help of Ed Sheeran and a new obnoxious agent who is appropriately named, Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon). She gets him all caught up in the demands of the music business, including how he looks. The scenes of the marketing team coming up with album titles and imaging are hilarious.

Meanwhile, Ellie tries to tell Jack that she’s more than someone who used to manage him, she’s in love with him and has so since she was seventeen. She asks him to make a choice.

This story is about making choices about the love of a person or a career. It is about honesty through the songwriting. It is about fame, money, and the downsides of all of it. However, for me, it was mostly about the songs I grew up playing with Jim Golden. I loved singing The Beatles songs then, and I loved lip-syncing the songs while watching the film. “I Saw Her Standing There” (She Was Just Seventeen) had extra meaning because of Ellie. The background music as Jack was hit was the music crescendo from “A Day in the Life.” Watching Jack work on remembering the words to “Eleanor Rigby” along with the remembering of the other songs shared in this film was exquisite.

The film had so many out-loud funny bits. Including that “Coke,” Oasis (the band), and cigarettes didn’t exist, were both entertaining and amusing each time they came up. I thought the pacing and sequencing of the scenes were divine, and when Jack drives out to a lonely beach house and meets an artist who tells him what is important in life, I wept silently.

Patel was fantastic in this role. I felt him in his character through my own experience as a young boy in a band wanting to sing songs. James was beyond wonderful. I loved her attempts to share her feelings with Jack, but it’s her looks when she just watching him that made her perfect. Joel Fry as Rocky, Jack’s old friend, and roadie after he gets discovered was hilarious. McKinnon slightly overacted her role at times, but overall was good. Sheeran as himself did an excellent job of acting in a role he would know. Richard Curtis wrote a fantastic screenplay from a story co-authored with Jack Barth. Danny Boyle did a superb job of creating a thoroughly enjoyable version and filled my heart with memories and joy.

Overall: This is a feel-good film.

T2 Trainspotting

First Hit:  A wonderful 20-year follow-up film to Trainspotting.

Director Danny Boyle did what many people don’t know how to do, and that is create a follow-up film that works on many levels.

The characters are back and still attempting to find their way through life. Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is back in Scotland after being in Amsterdam. He’s coming on the pretense that he has a happy life in Amsterdam and he’s back to settle up with his buddies after making off with £20,000 that the crew had stolen at the end of the previous film.

Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremner) is still struggling with heroin, is now divorced and loses connection with his son Fergus. Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Johnny Lee Miller) is now regularly doing cocaine and supports himself by having his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) sexually pose with rich people so that he can compromise them and blackmails them. He also runs a rundown bar that he inherited.

Lastly there is Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle) who has been in prison nearly the whole time. I loved that his accent was so strong that Boyle used captions allowing the audience to understand his rants. Near the beginning of the film, he breaks out of prison, returns home to find his son is in school for “Hotel Management”. Franco is an angry mean sort of man who wants to fight everyone and he especially wants revenge on Renton for stealing the money.

The film dives back to when they were kids together along with when they were all doing heroin together. The film uses these flashbacks along with very interesting imagery to tell the story. The one scene with Mark and Simon doing heroin in Daniel’s living room was surrealistically realistic. The friendship between the men, except Franco’s anger towards Mark, was touching.

McGregor was wonderful in his reprised role, thoughtful enough for the audience to like, and twisted enough to keep audiences interested and engaged as to what might happen next. Miller was appropriately intense, violent, and high strung. Each time he was one the screen, one wondered if he would blow-up and explode. Bremner was amazing as a very lost man but slowing finding his voice by writing stories. Carlyle was amazingly intense. He was like a firecracker each time he was on the screen and I kept wondering how long he could live his life like this. Nedyalkova was really wonderful by balancing her need to make enough money to go back home to take care of her child with how to get the most from both Williamson and Renton. John Hodge wrote and excellent screenplay filled with turns and truths about the characters. Boyle is on the top of his game with this film.

Overall:  This film is not everyone’s cup of tea but it is an excellent second film about these characters and very well done.

Steve Jobs

First Hit:  I liked the intensity brought forth in this film of Steve Jobs as played by Michael Fassbender and developed by writer Aaron Sorkin.

I’ve seen a number of Steve Jobs films and have read Walter Isaacson’s book and numerous articles about Steve and what works for me about this one, as a biographical drama, is that it takes 3 product launches and builds the Jobs’ persona and struggles around and through these launches. And although these launches probably didn’t have all the interactions shown this this film, it gives the audience a view of the man.

The often rumored Jobs' intensity and single mindedness is well represented in these 3 product launches: The issues and his responses around the demo’s not working, his distaste for Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) the mother of his daughter, his lack of acknowledgment, support and love for his daughter Lisa (Makenzie Moss – 5, Ripley Sobo – 9, and Perla Haney-Jardine – 19), the struggle with the Apple Board of Directors, his admiration and anger towards John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), the friendship and differences between himself and Steve Wozniak’s (Seth Rogen) view of their relationship and computers, and how much he depended on his Marketing Executive Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet).

Sorkin’s script is crisp and brings out many of Steve’s strengths and challenges while Danny Boyle’s direction puts all this on the screen in an interesting, dynamic way.

Fassbender is strong and intense in delivering the Jobs identity. Rogan is very good as Woz and the scene in the final product launch was excellent. Moss, Sobo, and Haney-Jardine, especially, were excellent as Lisa in their different ages. Daniels was outstanding as Sculley. Winslet was amazing as Hoffman and kept the whole film centered. Sorkin wrote an marvelous script and kept it focused. Boyle clearly did an excellent job of directing the characters through the script and scenes.

Overall:  I was fully engaged in this film and all the ups and downs experienced by each character.

127 Hours

First Hit: For a film which mostly takes place in a few square feet it was very well done.

This is an amazingly difficult story to think about let alone watch. Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) is an avid climber, dirt bike rider and chance taker who enjoys his own company.

He rarely did things with people nor did tell anybody where he was going and what he was going to do. He also was an avid picture and video taker. On one of his journeys into southern Utah, he starts down into a crevasse and falls when a boulder gives away.

The boulder then lodges itself between his right forearm and the crevasse wall. Trapped he works on moving the boulder to free his forearm. Realizing that this isn’t going to happen we take the journey with Aron from the possibility of dying in the crevasse or finding a way to survive and to be free.

The process of finding a way to survive took 127 hours. During this time he rationed his water, was inventive at attempting to find ways to move the entrapping boulder, and suffered from visions of family and friends. We spend about an hour in this small space and this is where the director Danny Boyle worked some interesting magic.

I never felt as trapped as Aron did. This was an amazing feat of cinematography. To be able to experience what Aron was going through, think about my own choices between life and death, and to bring in the beauty and tragedy of the scene to crystal clear focus was very well done.

There were times towards the end of the film I had to divert my eyes. Listening to a bone break and the severing of nerves left me cringing behind by closed eyes.

Franco was beyond excellent. He created a very real event out of a very real and almost unbelievable story. Boyle did an outstanding job of giving you the full flavor and feel of this loner who, through a vision, discovered he needed to live. Not many directors could have made this film this well.

Overall: This was a difficult film to watch and an amazing story of survival. It isn’t for everyone and isn’t ordinary film fare.

Slumdog Millionaire

First Hit: A very original, wonderfully acted, beautifully filmed movie which created spontaneous audience applause.

At the very beginning of the film there is a question posed and four possible answers are given. At the end of the film you are given the answer. 

I cannot remember when I enjoyed a new and fresh approach to a film as much as I did this one. The overall story is about Jamal a young man (mostly played by Dev Patel) who is one question away from winning 20,000,000 Rupees on an Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Everyone questions his ability know the answers to the program’s questions because he is from the slum, the lowest class.

The boy is orphaned at about age five and has lived on the streets and in trash dumps throughout India his whole life. At the time he gets on the television program his job is serving Chai Tea to telephone marketing representatives in a boiler room.

How the young man knows the answers to the questions is explored through the story of his life. He learned through his experiences.

Although the film uses flashbacks as a way to learn about this young man’s life, I think it is was effective and kept me interested. At times it is a bit jarring to go from being in a police station to the television studio to a flashback storyline, but in the end it was a wonderful experience. Each of the main characters is played by three actors and each of them deserves credit for making this story come alive. Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan were co-directors and they got a lot out of the story and the actors, especially the young ones. I was very impressed of the shots of Mumbai and other Indian towns. Having been there they captured the sights of the slums and life of kids living in garbage dumps. It made it real.

Overall: I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I thought it was a fresh way to present a wonderful story. Also make sure you stay through the first part of the credits so that you can watch a Bollywood style dance number.