‘Yesterday’: Re-learning The Beatles

By Tom Von Malder | Sep 28, 2019
Photo by: Universal Studios Home Entertainment Himish Patel, left, and musician Ed Sheeran star in "Yesterday."

Owls Head — Yesterday (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 116 min.). Jack Malik has a conundrum. As a struggling musician going nowhere, he suddenly finds out that he is the only one who remembers The Beatles and their songs, which he starts performing. However, if he chooses worldwide fame, he will not be true to himself and he may lose the girl he has loved all his life.

The film’s concept is simple, but brilliant: Some unknown event causes a blackout during which everyone’s memories of The Beatles are wiped out, along with Oasis (“Naturally,” says Jack), Coca-Cola, cigarettes and Harry Potter, but Jack has been knocked unconscious during the event and thus his memories are spared. He then starts playing The Beatles’ songs, passing them off as his own. The joy of the film, other than characters one really roots for, is that it captures the wonder of when the viewer actually first encountered these songs, each a pop gem.

The screenplay was written by Richard Curtis (TV’s four “Blackadder” series and “The Vicar of Dibley,” films “Love Actually,” “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”), based on a story by Jack Barth (TV’s “The Fabulous Picture Show).” Jack’s early career and rise to fame is loosely based on singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, Curtis says in the extras, and it turns out that Sheeran has a large role in the film, playing himself, someone who sees Jack’s potential. The director was Danny Boyle, who brought home an Oscar for directing “Slumdog Millionaire” 10 years ago.

This was the first feature film for star Himish Patel (TV’s “EastEnders”), who does his own singing and guitar and piano playing in the film – usually in front of the camera and not on a prerecorded track. His best friend and early manager is Ellie Appleton, played by Lily James (“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” “Baby Driver”). Ellie obviously is crushing on Jack, but it takes him a while to realize his love for Ellie. When Jack is given a guitar for his birthday and he starts playing The Beatles’ “Yesterday,” he thinks his friends are joking when they do not recognize the song. Since Jack can sing and play, and mostly knows The Beatles’ lyrics, he realizes performing and recording the songs can lead to stardom.

Along for the ride are sort-of friend Rocky (Joel Fry of TV’s “Plebs”), who takes over as Jack’s pretty-bad roadie, as Sheeran has asked Jack to open for him on his world tour. (Sheeran, like Jack from Suffolk, became a fan of Jack’s when he heard his recordings on local TV and the Internet.) Kate McKinnon (“Ghostbusters,” “The Spy Who Dumped Me”) plays the comically evil Debra Hammer, who takes over as Jack manager. She is wicked funny as she sets out to make both Jack and herself rich. James Corden has a cameo, as Jack appears on his talk show. Alexander Arnold (TV’s “Skins”) plays Gavin, the first to record Jack’s new songs and soon a rival for Ellie’s affections.Hamme

There are lots of fun bits galore (marketing wants him to change “Hey Jude” to “Hey Dude,” and dislikes all The Beatles’ album names) and a lot of warmth, as this basically is a romantic story set to Beatles music, and Boyle’s choices are uniformly heartwarming.

Extras include an alternate ending (3:10) that shows less of Jack’s future; detail-filled audio commentary by Boyle and Curtis; 12 deleted scenes (23:29), several are good, such as Jack refuses to turn “She Loves You” into a commercial, Jack initially making no impression on the Russian stage and Jack having to write a song on the spot on Corden’s show and he chooses “Something”; a discussion between Curtis and Sheeran (3:22); Patel recording “Yesterday,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Let It Be” at Abbey Road Studios (9:50); an alternate opening (4:47); how Patel rehearsed for two months to get down the songs (5:35); a look at Sheeran’s role in the film (3:09); a look at McKinnon’s role in the film (3:17); a look at Boyle and Curtis (3:25); and a look at Jack and Ellie as soulmates (4:47). Grade: film 4 stars; extras 3.25 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Shaft (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 111 min.). This reboot of “Shaft” ups the humor – and that is a good thing -- but the character of John Shaft, now played by Samuel L. Jackson, remains a take-no-prisoners bad*ss, humorously emphasized by his always striding across a street regardless of oncoming traffic. It also is an action comedy that spans three generations, while centering on Shaft trying to reconnect with JJ, the son he has not seen since 1989, as he helps JJ investigate the murder of his best friend.

The film, the second with Jackson as Shaft (see also 2000 “Shaft”) and fifth overall in the franchise, opens with the 1989 Harlem shooting incident that led Maya (Regina Hall of “Girls Trip,” two “Scary Movies”) to leave Shaft, taking their infant son with her. In a nod to the original 1971 film, this section utilizes split screens. We then see a run through of the next two decades-plus, mostly through the various inappropriate Christmas gifts Shaft sends his son, JJ.

In the present, JJ (Jessie T. Usher of Amazon’s “The Boys”) is a rookie data analyst for the FBI, having not chosen to be a field agent because of his dislike of guns. His best friend Karim Hassan (Avan Jogia), former military and former junkie, is killed after a brief night out with JJ and nurse Sasha Arias (Alexandra Shipp of “Love: Simon,” “X-Men: Apocalypse,” “X-Men Dark Phoenix,” see below), the friend JJ is sweet on. Karim’s death is made to look like an overdose, but the quantity of drugs in his system was enough to kill 10 men.

JJ begins his own investigation, which leads him to drug dealer Manny (Ian Casselberry of “Get Out,” “Peppermint”), but instead of information, JJ gets roughed up, so he turns to his father for help. The two Shafts could not be more different; in fact, Shaft says Maya raised JJ to be the perfect “white kid.” Nonetheless, the two start working together, with humor-filled generation gap and Shaft-like violence. In the third act, viewers are treated to John Shaft Sr., played by Richard Roundtree, the John Shaft of the original trilogy, as John’s father and JJ’s grandfather. Bits of Isaac Hayes’ tremendous original soundtrack are heard as cues in the film.

Extras include an excellent look at the Shaft Legacy, with an interview with Roundtree and clips from the original trilogy. The piece (44 min.) discusses the trilogy’s cultural impact and how it influenced other filmmakers. There also is a making-of for this film, which is called a “fish-out-of-water buddy movie,” which was shot in Atlanta, except for one week in Harlem (10:36). There are five deleted scenes (2:54) and a gag reel (4:53). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars

Shaft’s Big Score! (1972, Warner Archive Blu-ray, R, 105 min.). Back in May, Warner Archive issued Blu-ray editions of the second and third films in the original Shaft trilogy, with this second directed by Gordon Parks, who also helmed the original film, and both starred Richard Roundtree as John Shaft. This time, the budget was four times that of the original film and the plot moved more into James Bond-like spy territory.

In the film, Cal Asby (Robert Kya-Hill), a funeral home director and respected member of the Harlem community, is killed one night at work in a fiery explosion. However, he had stashed a shopping bag's worth of cash inside a casket. At his funeral, Shaft exchanges words with Harlem mob boss Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn), whose presence does not sit well with Shaft. Shaft suspects Jonas has been making deals with Asby's former partner Kelly (Wally Taylor), which is confirmed when Kelly takes over the business and Shaft's apartment gets trashed. The film builds and builds to a bit-overblown ending, which includes Shaft having to deal with a sniper in a helicopter. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars

Shaft in Africa (1973, Warner Archive Blu-ray, R, 112 min.). While star Richard Roundtree came back, there was a new director in John Guillermin and the second Shaft sequel moves to an international story. Here, John Shaft has been reluctantly recruited by diplomat Emir Ramila (Cy Grant), whose son was killed overseas while investigating a slave ring headed by Vincent Amafi (Frank Finlay). Shaft’s romantic interest is in Emir's daughter Aleme (Vonetta McGee). Shaft is dropped in Addis Ababa with only basic supplies, but he has a few unlikely friends, an ineffective bodyguard and assassins gunning for him. Again, there are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars

A Score to Settle (RLJE, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 103 min.). Sometimes it seems like Nicolas Cage, who also served as an executive producer here, makes two dozen movies a year, and with the large amount, the quality is often not good. Despite some obvious flaws, I would move this film slightly into the good column, as Cage plays Frankie Carver, a former mob enforcer who tries to connect to his son after serving 19 years in prison for a murder committed by his boss.

As Frankie is about to be released from prison, we see his visit with the prison doctor, who says there is no cure for his disease, a rare disease does not enable Frankie to sleep much, if at all, and which could cause hallucinations and dementia. He refuses to take the proscribed medicine, most likely because his son, whom he has not seen in those 19 years, has battled addiction. With the little time he has left, Frankie has two goals: to reconnect with his son Joey (Noah Le Gros of TV’s “The Get Down”); and, as the title indicates, to get revenge on the four men responsible for his prison time. We see flashbacks – some bloody – of Frankie’s interaction with his old gang, including the fateful night. One member of the old gang is bar owner Q, played by Benjamin Bratt.

Cage, as Frankie, appears older than the character should be, but Cage turns in a measured, non-showy performance. He even plays piano and sings “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” in one scene (no real challenge to Judy Garland’s original version). When Frankie is released from prison, he comes upon his now-adult son walking towards him. It seems strange as Joey never visited his father in prison, but Joey says he had to sell his car. Already, we have had two broad hints about the film’s upcoming twist.

Frankie digs up the $450,000 he was given for taking the rap – it originally was supposed to be only a 6-year sentence – and checks Joey and himself into the luxury hotel, where he had spent a magical time with his deceased wife. While bonding with Joey during the day, including buying him new clothes and a Corvette convertible, Frankie exacts his revenge during his sleepless nights. Karoline Wydra plays prostitute Simone, with whom Frankie makes a connection.

Extras include a look at the story and characters (6:16); an on-set piece about the acting and director Shawn Ku (“Beautiful Boy”) (7:03; they filmed 110 scenes in three weeks); and “Sins of the Father” (3:30). Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 1.25 stars

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 114 min.). While the phoenix is a bird that rises from the ashes, by this film’s end, it appears the X-Men film franchise has reached its end. Most likely there will be a reboot or attention paid to other characters, now that the X-Men share a home with Marvel under the Walt Disney umbrella. Dark Phoenix is the super-empowered Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), who absorbs some traveling cosmic energy while the X-Men rescue astronauts from a failed Endeavor shuttle in 1992.

The cosmic energy is never fully explained, other than when alien Vuk (Jessica Chastain of “Molly’s Game”) says it is “the spark that gave life to the universe and the flame that destroyed my world.” Jean starts going off the rails when she learns that Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has lied to her for years about the car accident that made her an orphan.

This sets up a lot of boring interpersonal stuff and many a huge battle, as Jean takes on the X-Men and then Erik Lehnsherr’s (Michael Fassbender as Magneto) crew. For the extra-big finale, a group of aliens are thrown into the mix, but other than that they are bad guys, the aliens are not used for much by writer-director Simon Kinberg. The film does manage to kill off one of the X-Men and send another into retirement. The other X-men seeing some screen time are Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence0, Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp; see “Shaft” above). Barely registering on screen are Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Bonus features include audio commentary by Kinberg, who is a first-time director here but long associated with the franchise as writer, and co-producer Hutch Parker; five deleted scenes (8:22), including what appears to be an alternate ending, with optional commentary by Kinberg and Parker; an 80-minute, five-part making of feature, with lots of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews; and a humorous piece with Hoult, in character as Beast, explaining how to fly his jet (2:03). Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 3 stars

If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at knox.villagesoup.com/join.
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at knox.villagesoup.com/donate.
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.