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Posts Tagged ‘Lily James’

Himash Patel

“YESTERDAY” My rating: B-

116 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

As gimmicks go, “Yesterday” has a killer.

A struggling Brit musician gets creamed in a roadway accident and wakes up to a world where no one has ever heard of the Beatles. He starts performing all those great songs (like the rest of us, he’s committed them to memory) and is hailed as a pop music genius. Only problem is the guilt he feels for getting rich and famous off the talents of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who apparently never existed.

The big question here is whether “Yesterday” has anything to offer beyond its clever premise and its collection of gobsmackingly great Beatles tunes.

Kinda.

As written by Richard Curtis (“Love Actually,” “Pirate Radio”) and directed by Danny Boyle (possibly the most diversified filmmaker working today), “Yesterday” is an affable romantic comedy/fantasy with a nice star turn by  Himash Patel (a British TV actor making his big-screen debut). Patel not only embodies an in-over-his-head innocent but has the pipes to deliver in the musical sequences.

We meet our hero, warehouse worker Jack Malik (Patel), on the verge of giving up his dream of ever becoming a successful musician. He has a manager — actually, it’s his childhood friend Ellie (Lily James) — but the only gigs coming his way are kiddie parties and open mic nights at various seedy pubs. He does get to play in a regional tent at a big rock festival, but most of his audience consists of a handful of friends who come to all his shows.

No sooner has he told Ellie that he’s packing it in than the lights go out all over the world for about 12 seconds.  That’s enough time for the bicycle-riding Jack to collide with a bus.

In the accident’s aftermath, though, weird things happen.  He drops references to the Beatles (one of the film’s cleverer aspects is that it shows how many phrases from the Fab Four’s lyrics have become common parlance…sort of like quotes from Shakespeare) and is bewildered when nobody seems to know what he’s talking about.

When he plays “Yesterday” for some pals they are blown away and want to know why he’s been hiding such a great tune.

A trip to Google confirms Jack’s worst fears.  A search for “The Beatles” turns up only entomological websites. (One of the film’s running gags is that over time Jack discovers that other aspects of his old reality have vanished.  For instance, there is no Coca-Cola, only Pepsi, and nobody has ever heard of cigarettes; one assumes that public health has improved immeasurably.)

The film’s strongest moments come early on as Jack discovers his situation and finds himself being propelled into worldwide notoriety. He tours with Ed Sheeran (playing himself quite effectively) and even “debuts” “Back in the U.S.S.R.” at a Moscow concert.

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Lily James, Tessa Thompson

“LITTLE WOODS” My rating: B-

105 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Little Woods,” writer/director Nia DaCosta’s feature debut, unfolds in the barren wastes of North Dakota, where the dull landscape feels like a reflection of its inhabitant’s desperate lives.

Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is living in the house where her mother recently died. On probation after being caught crossing the Canadian border with a backpack full of oxy, she now scratches out a living selling coffee and sandwiches to oil drilling crews.  She also takes in laundry.

Her empathetic probation officer (Lance Reddick) is encouraging (“You’re so close…please stay out of trouble”) but Ollie finds herself being pulled back into the drug trade.

The problem is her adopted sister Deb (Lillie James), a former exotic dancer who lives in an RV with her son Johnny (Charlie Ray Reid).  Deb excels at making dumb choices.

Johnny’s dad, Ian (James Badge Dale), is a well-meaning loser who lives in a sparse motel room.  He can’t support his wife and son; even worse, he’s gotten Deb pregnant again.

Now the bank has come calling to repossess their late mother’s house. Ollie has a week to come up with a $3,000 payment and the only way to do that is to dig up the cache of drugs she buried in the woods and start selling.

The downbeat tale, enhanced immeasurably by Thompson’s thoughtful/heartfelt performance, finds Ollie sucked into yet another mission into Canada planned by her former drug-running boss (Joe Stevens).  She’s to pick up a load of drugs from a Canuck pharmacy and walk them through the woods back to the U.S.

She also brings along Deb and Johnny so that her sister can buy a forged medical card and get an abortion.

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Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill

“DARKEST HOUR”  My rating: B

A confession.

I’ve often found Gary Oldman  a shameless scenery chewer. Villainous roles were especially problematic; you could actually see Oldman twirling his mustache, metaphorically speaking.

2011’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” gave us a more settled, thoughtful Goldman, who portrayed John LeCarre’s good gray spookmaster George Smiley with an admirable degree of restraint.

Now, in  “Darkest Hour,” Goldman tackles the iconic role of Winston Churchill, and it’s a match made in heaven.  Sir Winston was, after all, no slouch at scenery chewing; yet Oldman’s performance here is subtle and balanced, a deft blend of  bombast and inner activity.

It’s a performance of such insight and power — abetted by David Malinowski’s spectacularly effective makeup design — that it immediately propels Goldman into the front ranks of this year’s Oscar contenders.

Joe Wright’s film centers on one month, May of 1940, when the long-out-of-favor Churchill was elected Prime Minister after the collapse of Neville Chamberlain’s ineffectual government.

The P.M. is faced with seemingly insurmountable problems. The Nazis have taken over much of Europe and are pounding the British army at Dunkirk. If those 300,000 or so soldiers are captured or killed, it will leave Great Britain defenseless.

Voices within his own party are urging Churchill to sue Hitler for peace. It’s the only way to escape a bloodbath and an armed invasion.

Churchill doubts that Der Fuhrer is in any mood to grant concessions. If only he can save the troops waiting on the French coast, galvanize public opinion, and overnight turn his country’s prevailing ethos from dovish to hawkish. (more…)

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Jai Courtney, Lily James

“THE EXCEPTION” My rating: B-  

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

At 88 years of age, Christopher Plummer just keeps getting better.

In “The Exception” he portrays an historic figure — Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany — and pretty much mops up the floor with actors half his age.

The premise of David Leveaux’s directing debut finds a young German officer — Capt. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) — assigned to the thankless task of heading the household guard for Wilhelm II (Plummer), who has lived in exile in the Netherlands since abdicating the German throne two decades earlier after losing World War I.

Though the Nazi hierarchy has little use for the old man, Wilhelm still is regarded by some members of the German public as a beloved figurehead.  It would be a p.r. black eye should he be lost to an assassin or kidnapped by the Allies and spirited off to England. Brandt’s presence is meant to prevent that.

For the young officer — who was wounded in the invasion of Poland — the assignment is a bit of an insult. Wilhelm and his wife, Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer), live as high as they can on the cash Hitler’s henchmen provide, all the while dreaming of restoring the monarchy and once again wearing the crown.  Brandt is expected to tolerate their pretensions without encouraging them.

There’s one bright spot in this assignment. The Kaiser has a new housemaid, Mieke (Lily James), who catches the Captain’s eye.  Before long they are having a grand old time despite Hermine’s rule against copulation among members of the staff.

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cinderella“CINDERELLA”  My rating: B

112 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Don’t go to Disney’s new live-action version of “Cinderella” expecting post-modern irony, a feminist perspective, or even psychological realism.

The makers of this movie take their fairy tales straight up and undiluted by any such intellectual folderol.

In last year’s “Maleficent” the Disney Studio reinterpreted its 1959 “Sleeping Beauty” from the evil fairy’s point of view.

But “Cinderella” director Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz have no use for such revisionism. The fairy tale is enough for them. They aim for the heart, not the head.

Darned if they don’t pull it off.

This isn’t precisely a remake of Disney’s acclaimed 1950 animated version, but fans of the original will see plenty of references, from the evil stepmother’s pampered cat Lucifer to the fat mouse Gus.

(Now if only they’d had Helena Bonham Carter’s Fairy Godmother sing “Bippity Boppity Boo”…well, can’t have everything.)

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