Movie Reviews: Beatles film 'Yesterday' weaves fantasy with a down-to-Earth moral
Published Friday, June 28, 2019 6:45AM EDT Last Updated Friday, June 28, 2019 6:56AM EDT
YESTERDAY: 4 STARS
Near the beginning of "Yesterday" Jack (Himesh Patel), a struggling musician with the habit of working Beatles lyrics into everyday conversation, says, "I think I hear something special in my songs but no one else does." He's about to give up his aspirations of musical stardom when a strange twist in the time and space continuum sets him on the path to success and self- discovery. Director Danny Boyle's new musical fantasy weaves a fantastical story with a very down-to-Earth moral.
Set in Clacton-On-Sea, England, the story is set into motion after Jack's manager Ellie (Lily James), a school teacher, childhood friend and his biggest fan, books him a disastrous music festival gig. His spirit broken, he says, "This is the end of our long and winding road," before hopping on his bike for the ride home.
As he pedals along the planet is thrown into an unexplained twelve second worldwide power outage. In the darkness he's hit by a bus and left on the road with his guitar, now in pieces, by his side.
When his friends give him a new guitar he thanks them with a tune. "A great guitar requires a great song," he says strumming the Beatles' classic "Yesterday" to their rapt attention. "That song is exquisite. How come I never heard it before?" asks Ellie. Turns out Jack woke up to a world where no one has heard of the band or know any of their songs. Google John, Paul, George and Ringo and Pope John Paul II comes up. Search for The Beatles and it asks, "Do you mean beetles?"
Soon, with the Beatles' back catalogue in his back pocket, the success he's always wanted comes his way but at a steep price.
"Yesterday" is an underdog, jukebox musical without an ounce of cynicism. Written by Richard Curtis, it succeeds because of its good-natured earnestness. The story may be a bit wonky, frothy and obvious but Boyle bases the tale on many of the same themes that make the Beatles timeless: love and relationships, self-awareness and most of all the shared joy of the love of music. It may sound corny, and it is, but the primal, underlying messages are unassailable. One character offers Jack advice on how to be happy, "Tell the girl you love that you love her. Tell the truth." It's not Shakespeare but neither was "she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah," and those words still resonate throughout pop culture.
In this case less is more. Boyle dials back some of the flamboyant style of his others films to focus on the characters. Patel and James are winning, charismatic and heartfelt, while Kate McKinnon provides a funny and somewhat outrageous take on a Los Angeles music manager who offers Jack a drink from the "poisoned chalice of money and fame." In a summer where Keanu Reeves has already played a heightened version of himself to great success in "Always Be My Maybe," comes a magnified Ed Sheeran. He plays a mentor of sorts to Jack and even suggests he change the name of "Hey Jude" to "Hey Dude."
"Yesterday" asks and answers simple life questions. As a study in what makes people happy — money and success or a simple life filled with love and joy — it embraces the hokey nature of the story to convey real tuneful truths.
ANNABELLE COMES HOME: 3 ½ STARS
Toys rule at the box office these days. "Toy Story 4" and "Child's Play" made big bank last weekend. This week marks the return of Annabelle, the $1 billion devil dolly. The wickedest toy since Chucky, she's the creepy, glassy-eyed star of "The Conjuring" prequels.
On screen, Annabelle, an old-fashioned doll possessed by evil spirits, has raised all manner of havoc. Before she was captured by "self-described "demonologists, ghost hunters and kooks" Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) she terrorized orphans and haunted children. "The doll," says Lorraine, "is a beacon for other spirits."
To keep the world safe from the demonic doll the Warrens stored her in a glass box at their Occult Museum (a basement that looks like a prop warehouse run by Bella Lugosi) in Connecticut. There she is controlled by chapel glass from an old church blessed by a priest to prevent her from causing any more trouble. But what happens if the spell wears off?
In "Annabelle Comes Home" a babysitter's (Madison Iseman) snooping friend (Katie Sarife) upsets the spiritual balance of the museum, allowing the artifacts to do what they're meant to do, cause trouble. Now everyone in the house, including the Warrens' ten-year-old daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), is a target of evil. "Annabelle. She's doing all this," says Judy. "She wants a soul today."
As with all other "Conjuring" universe movies "Annabelle Come Home" takes its sweet time building an atmosphere of dread to leave you queasy and uneasy. For much of the running time the weirdest thing that happens is an invisible, ghostly hand breaking a glass of milk and starting the stereo. There are jump scares but they don't deliver much of a payoff. Nothing is singularly shocking, it's more the cumulative effect of evil versus innocence that disturbs. Director Gary Dauberman knows that the long game, the gradual reveal of evil, complete with the old-school now-you-see-them-now-you-don't-theatrics, is creepier than overt scares.
"Annabelle Comes Home" works because it creates a mini universe with its own set of rules and God help you if you break them. Best of all it's an old-fashioned film that doesn't rely on gore to sell the thrills. Instead there's lots of laboured breathing, wide eyed disbelief, low-fi drive-in thrills and characters you want to survive.
ISABELLE: 2 ½ STARS
Becoming a new parent is scary, filled with unknowns. Will the baby be healthy and happy? What kind of parent will I be? A new film called "Isabelle," starring Amanda Crew and Adam Brody, imagines the unimaginable: the unknowable psychological torment that follows a miscarriage.
Larissa (Crew) and Matt (Brody) are a happy young couple. Expecting a baby, they move to a new house to start their new life as parents. Next door is a stately old home, occupied by the schoolmarm-ish Ann Pelway (Sheila McCarthy) and eerie daughter Isabelle (Zoë Belkin), who is usually only seen peering through a second storey window. After an encounter with Ann on the street Larissa is rushed to the hospital. Though clinically dead for a minute, Larissa survives. Sadly, the child does not. Once at home Larissa is plagued by guilt and depression. She hears her dead child crying in the other room and is tormented by Isabelle's seemingly unbreaking gaze.
After a brief set up director Rob Heydon sets a brisk pace for the brisk 80-minute movie, diving right into the psychological terror. Much of the horror is subtle but effective as we learn about why Ann and Isabelle seem so otherworldly and follow Larissa on her terrifying journey. Midway through, however, "Isabelle" becomes cluttered with plot devices; there's a hospital priest (Dayo Ade), demonic possession, a spiritual healer (Michael Miranda), Devil worship and more. More is sometimes less, and in this case the film feels rushed, over-stuffed with every trope out of the Supernatural Drama Handbook.
"Isabelle" does have its pleasures. McCarthy is a standout as Ann, a pious woman tormented by the past, and Brody and Crew who humanize the horror of the aftermath of a tragedy.