Tag: danny boyle


Yesterday (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

For an amusing and original premise in which our main character wakes up in a world where The Beatles did not exist, it is most disappointing that there is barely convincing drama behind “Yesterday,” based on the screenplay by Richard Curtis and directed by Danny Boyle. At first glance, the picture is energetic, the actors appear to be having fun with their roles, more than half the jokes land, and the interpretation of classic rock songs and ballads retains the spirit of the originals. But look a little closer and recognize it is a challenge to care for any of the characters—even though (or especially because) we already know its ultimate destination.

The first half is stronger because it is willing to play with an original idea. A singer-songwriter who has failed to garner popularity and financial success in the past decade, Jack (Himesh Patel) has decided to give up on his dream of making a career out of making music. A strange phenomenon occurs during the night of his decision: a worldwide power outage lasting twelve seconds has erased everyone’s memory as well as physical and digital evidence that The Beatles ever existed. Having gotten hit by a bus during the blackout, it appears that Jack is the only person who remembers the legendary band. Desperate to become successful, he tries to remember The Beatles’ songs from memory and pass them off as his own.

This section of the film is very funny because Jack himself is in total disbelief of the impossible thing that had happened. In a way, he expects to get caught at any time because a world without The Beatles feels strange, emptier. Patel portrays Jack as a hardworking musician without a mean bone in his body—appropriate for a feel-good film about someone who gets the opportunity of a lifetime through sheer luck. Patel exhibits good timing when it comes to delivering punchlines, particularly when face-to-face with another who prefers a modern song from a modern band or artist over a classic song by The Fab Four. It is meant to be silly yet at the same time it works as commentary regarding the change of music, and music preferences of the masses, over the course of fifty years. Needless to say, there are plenty of jokes that rely on the viewer knowing particular Beatles songs, perhaps even a bit of background about them.

Far less effective is the love story that rots in the center of it all. Jack and Ellie (Lily James) have been friends since childhood. It is so apparent that they love one another from the moment we meet them… and yet there is no chemistry between them because the screenplay relies on recycling the same old tropes about one not coming to terms with his or her feelings until a significant or life-altering event is knocking on the doorstep. The romance is desperate for fresh ideas—and we wait for it because Patel and James seem game—but they never come. Notice during the second half that nearly every time the two are in a room together, one is required to deliver a would-be tear-jerker speech. I was not moved by a single one. They bored me.

I found myself more interested in Jack’s savage agent named Debra who is played by Kate McKinnon. McKinnon portrays the Debra with a sarcastic and slithery quality, so brazen when it comes telling his client that all he is a product (when she is not insulting his highly ordinary appearance) and she plans to make a lot of money off his success. Debra may be a walking exaggeration, but the character fits the film because the premise, too, is a hyperbole. The final forty-five minutes to an hour ought to have been rewritten with far more ambition and originality. Instead, what results is a film with a curious premise but one that fails to be memorable.


Trance (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

The heist, needless to say, does not go as planned. During the chaos amidst toxic fumes and people rushing to the egress, Simon (James McAvoy) was supposed to peacefully hand a multimillion pound painting to Franck (Vincent Cassel). Instead, Simon attacks Franck which leads to the former being struck on the head with a gun. Meanwhile, the latter thinks he has gotten away with the painting, but when he actually opens the container in his hideout, it is empty. Simon, now considered a hero by the media for attempting to stop the thief, is not better off. Because of the hard blow to the head, he cannot seem to remember where he hid the painting.

“Trance,” written by Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, is surprisingly successful given that it has a myriad twists and turns where some of the answers remain vague for the most part. It could have been just another gimmicky heist picture where not one character can be trusted, but underneath it all is a passion for storytelling. Red herrings are aplenty but the material actually welcomes us to want to get to know the deceitful people on screen.

It runs from its cage at breakneck pace without being incomprehensible. It is a challenge to figure out how the pieces of the puzzle fit together but they are all there so we do not feel cheated. In particular, I enjoyed trying to figure out which courses of action the characters may regret later. It is an engaging thriller because it sticks with the template that when something is going right a little too much or if getting something seems too easy, you get an uneasy feeling that it will all fall apart in a matter of seconds. Even though we expect them, the pitfalls hold excitement.

The three leads—McAvoy, Cassel, and Rosario Dawson as a psychologist who has been hired to induce hypnosis on Simon in order to help him remember the location of the painting—look appealing on camera and share good chemistry. They play their respective characters with a level of mystique and sex appeal which makes them dangerous. And because we are made to understand that they each have an endgame, one relying on smarts over violence (or vice-versa) over others, we are curious who will come out on top. Who should is an entirely different question.

Some may be repelled with the director’s techniques. He has the tendency to put too much on screen that it ends up distracting at times. For example, there are scenes running together—one involves the reality of the hypnotherapy and the other takes a look into Simon’s fantasy—which are coupled with music that demands attention as well as a gamut of colors where certain shots look like they ought to be framed and put in an exhibit. While the director is no stranger to playing with kaleidoscopic media, sometimes simplicity is the best approach. There is merit to claims that the picture can be overwhelming at times.

Directed by Danny Boyle, “Trance” requires complete attention to be understood. Even so, that still may not be enough to see how all the pieces fit together. There is great energy emanating from and within the twisty events and so entertainment value remains consistent.

T2: Trainspotting

T2: Trainspotting (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Those expecting a duplicate of the original modern crime-comedy classic “Trainspotting” are likely to be disappointed with Danny Boyle’s follow-up. While it retains some of the energy of the original, in many ways this installment is more mature, more thoughtful, less concerned about delivering swagger and attitude than it is in telling a story about familiar characters having the opportunity to reconcile with their common past.

I argue that the picture’s main weakness is its willingness to give into fan service. While parallel scenes and flashbacks are quite neat and at times able to draw a smile on my face during the first third, I grew tired of this technique during the latter half, especially when the tone shifts toward a more serious note and there is a genuine dramatic gravity in the center. These winks distract rather than enhance the experience—kind of like having a security blanket when the owner is no longer a child.

All four characters are equally fascinating when apart and when they finally cross paths. To me, despite this film and its predecessor’s generous images when it comes to drug use, its stance is without a doubt anti-drugs. Here, it shows how drugs has ruined the lives (and continues to ruin the lives) of those who have developed a habit. Each character falls on a different spot within the spectrum and the material makes a subtle case about personal responsibility’s role in how each person’s life has ended up the way it did.

The plot involving a man having to return to his hometown and triggering a sequence of events is surely familiar. However, the four former friends are interesting because each has his own demon to battle. Renton (Ewan McGregor) must face his friends after betraying them in the worst way possible. Although twenty years has passed, that feeling of shame doesn’t simply go away. Spud (Ewen Bremner) attempts to lead a drug-free life by channeling one addiction onto an healthier alternative. Admittedly, I wished for him to succeed but somewhere in the back of my mind I was convinced he would relapse.

Meanwhile, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is cooking up a plan to take revenge on Renton, his former best friend. Can a person whose bark is more powerful than his bite actually pull off such a scheme or will his soft spot get in the way of his purpose? And then there is Begbie the sociopath (Robert Carlyle) who has found a way to escape from jail. Having learned that Renton is in town, he plots to kill or seriously injure—at the very least. It is quite amazing that years have failed to erode the cast’s chemistry. Sure, there are more wrinkles on their bodies and faces, their postures are more worn, they move a little slower, but tension builds up the moment one looks at another a certain way and starts to dig up the past.

The strength of “T2: Trainspotting” lies in its ability to adapt to the age of its subjects. Because we have learned about them from a certain angle during their youth, the material remains fresh since we get to know them from a different perspective this time around. Credit to writer John Hodge for striving to deliver something of value and not simply rehashing what has worked before.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

One of the most beautiful elements in “Steve Jobs,” based on the screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle, is how the relationship between the Apple Inc. co-founder and his daughter is portrayed. Sure, there are numerous technical jargon involving products, how businesses work, and machines but when it matters the most, the picture, in its rawest form, is painfully human.

It is most refreshing that the father-daughter relationship, which starts off devastatingly sad, is allowed to change over time but there are no apologies, superfluous tears, hugging, or even an arm around someone’s shoulders. In the final shot we are only shown a decreasing distance between them. The filmmakers lead with the assumption that the viewers are intelligent.

Such an assumption can be found in many instances. For example, the material dares to drop us in the middle of the action in 1984 prior to the unveiling of the Apple Macintosh. No explanation is offered as to how we got there, who came up with what idea, and the sort of hardships required to make the final product. This way, we are immediately drenched in the core of the human drama and everything else, although still important to our further understanding of what is going on, are supporting details.

This is no standard biopic. It is the correct decision to focus only on three different product launches: the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Computer in 1988, and the iMac 1998. The material is episodic, working almost like a play, but it works. For example, because we do not see Jobs between, say, 1988 and 1998, we notice immediately the changes in him, not only when it comes to aging but also in how he interacts with people.

And yet these changes do not feel sudden or complete turnaround. In the very first scene, we observe that Jobs is highly demanding, unpleasant, certainly ambitious, and in need of control. One might he argue that he is a bully. Later in the picture, he remains to embody such qualities but to a slightly lesser degree, perhaps a thirty to thirty-five percent decrease in intensity for each characteristic.

Michael Fassbender does a tremendous job at communicating the subtleties of the character despite a consistently intense and technical script. I loved the way that throughout the years, Fassbender’s version of Jobs moves slower, quieter in his confidence (but still sort of up himself, in parts), but remains cunningly smart. Equally strong is Kate Winslet, who plays Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ marketing manager, because she is able to find a balance between strength and softness while standing up to Jobs. Although Jobs and Hoffman’s relationship is strictly professional, their chemistry crackles and pops.

Based on the biography by Walter Isaacson, “Steve Jobs” is a highly watchable portrait of Apple Inc.’s former co-founder, chairman, and CEO because the writing is sharp and specific. It is supported by excellent performers who have the talent and experience when it comes to translating what’s on paper and making them cinematic by using varying intonations in their voices and modifying body language depending how a scene’s mood changes. The film engages all of the viewer’s senses from beginning to end and it rarely gets better than that.

Shallow Grave

Shallow Grave (1994)
★★★ / ★★★★

Alex (Ewan McGregor), David (Christopher Eccleston), and Juliet (Kerry Fox) were looking for a new roommate. Each interview was like a cruel audition in which they mocked, teased, and insulted the person in front of them for whatever they deemed wasn’t worthy of their level of cool. It was established that the trio were far from likable people. Eventually, they decided to take on Hugo (Keith Allen) as their new roommate. On his first day, however, his flatmates found him dead in his bed and right underneath was a suitcase full of cash. Written by John Hodge, “Shallow Grave” was quite sly as it slithered from buddy comedy to paranoid thriller and back. It was fascinating because it magnified the common darkness found in so-called normal people and how that darkness evolved into something much more sinister when a whole lot of free money entered the equation. In one of the most involving sequences in the film, the three friends decided to get rid of the body. As to how, Alex suggested that they cut off Hugo’s hands and feet, pull out all of his teeth, and beat his face to a pulp until it was no longer recognizable. Only then they could bury the corpse in the forest for quick decomposition. His proposal, although morbid, had a certain level of comedy and wit behind it because we were shown several times that one of Alex’ hobbies involved spending ample time in front of the television. Perhaps he learned from watching too many crime movies. I liked that the important decisions that the characters made were loyal to how they were when they just relaxed in the couch. I was able to follow the story, even when it turned somewhat unbelievable, because I enjoyed connecting the seemingly unrelated pieces that had been laid out for us. After getting rid of the body, we saw how each roommate reacted to the terrible crime they’d committed. The most interesting reaction was David’s because I suspect it would be the most typical. Each day, he turned that much more paranoid, feeling that someone knew something about what he’d done and people were out to expose his secret. I feared his instability but felt sad for him at the same time because he traded his peace of mind for money–money that he couldn’t even find the courage to spend. It was deliciously ironic that he was an accountant. There were subplots involving a perceptive detective (Ken Stott) who sensed something didn’t feel right after he’d spoken to the roommates and two crooks looking for Hugo’s money. The latter was handled in an expediently hilarious and unexpected manner while the former was like watching a cube of butter slowly melting on a moderately hot stack of pancakes. Because the two strands offered an opposite atmosphere while still maintaining a level of tension that felt right to the story, it was easy to buy into the plot conveniences. However, I wish the script bothered to consider some questions that were quite obvious. Why didn’t the three flatmates simply hide the suitcase in one of their rooms after they found it and phoned the cops about the dead body afterwards? And, once they felt they were in the clear, why didn’t they divide the money into three? Personally, I would want my share as soon as possible. “Shallow Grave,” directed by Danny Boyle, commanded an air of seriousness when it came to guilt, greed, and morals but it wasn’t afraid to go for the humor even if it felt inappropriate. I even had a slight giggle when Hugo’s corpse was being cut with a hacksaw so strenuously by one of the trio.

127 Hours

127 Hours (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Based on the book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” by Aron Ralston that detailed his ordeal in the breathtakingly gorgeous canyons of Utah, “127 Hours” was intriguing to say the least. James Franco played Aron, a man in tune with nature, who loved to explore and to push himself physically and mentally. After helping out two women (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) navigate their way through the canyons, Aron slipped and a giant rock crushed his hand. Aron was stuck and it seemed as though no matter what he did, there was no way out of his predicament. I’ve always believed that great actors can give us a moment, even as short as a millisecond, and inspire us to write a thousand words about that specific moment in time. Franco achieved just that with the look of disbelief he had on his face after realizing that he was literally caught between a rock and a hard place. As grim as the situation was, there was a certain comedic effect to it that I find difficult to describe. Perhaps that’s a part of its brilliance. The movie was, without a doubt, challenging to sit through because it expected us to watch a man suffer for more than an hour, but Franco’s likability ultimately carried the film. Through his hallucinations, fantasies, and flashbacks, we had a chance to learn about Aron such as what and who was important to him. I wish there were more scenes with Treat Williams as Aron’s father and less Clémence Poésy as our protagonist’s ex-girlfriend. We learned that Aron was resourceful and smart. I was engaged because he tried the things I would have done if I was the one stuck in his predicament. For instance, creating a pulley to lift the rock to create a greater force instead of simply chipping through it. I had to laugh myself while watching the movie because I kept thinking, “Think Physics!” Furthermore, there were some potential solutions I didn’t think about and I was curious as to what extent it would work (considering I already knew what Aron had to do to extricate himself from the boulder). Director Danny Boyle made an excellent decision to give us little rewards before delivering the intense, flinch-worthy climax. For instance, the gasp-inducing burst of tension when Aron dropped his small knife. Was he physically capable of getting it back? Outside of Aron’s increasingly desperate struggle in the canyon, Boyle created an amalgamation of images and sounds to serve as a contrast to Aron’s experience. Even before Aron got stuck, there was already excitement in the air so I was pleasantly surprised. “127 Hours” could have been fat with clichés or, worse, turned into an unintentional horror movie. Instead, it remained focused in telling a story about the human spirit.


Trainspotting (1996)
★★★★ / ★★★★

I loved this film the first time I saw it when I was about seventeen because it taught me that it was okay to take so-called friends out of your life when all they did to you was slow you down as you strived to reach for your potential. With friends like that, who needs enemies? Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremmer and Kevin McKidd star as four friends (three of which were initially heroine junkies) as they fill their empty lives with drugs, sex and violence. They also hang out with a violent older man played by Robert Carlyle who detested drug addicts but, funny enough, kept drinking alcohol to the point where he constantly got in trouble with the law. One of the many things I loved about this film was, unlike the overrated “Requiem for a Dream,” it was not preachy in terms of overcoming addiction to hard drugs. Instead being obvious about its lessons, it simply showed us the circumstances of the characters’ lives and, more importantly, the choices they made that ultimately landed them in either bliss or misery, temporary as they may be. I also liked the fact that it managed to touch upon the issue of the importance of parenting and that parenting doesn’t end when the child turns eighteen. So as hardcore as the lifestyles that were featured in this picture, there undoubtedly was heart underneath it all and it was constantly at the forefront. Furthermore, I enjoyed the fact that the four characters were never really on the same stage of addiction: when one was clean, another one was not, while the other straddled the line between being a slave to the drug and being a master of his life. The film also commented on the dynamics of their friendships. Even though they spent a lot of time with each other because they were getting high, they did not talk about the important things to one another. Each of them felt scared and alone as if they were rats trapped in a maze–constantly living in survival mode and trial-and-error. As serious as the film’s core was, I thought the movie was very witty and very funny. Danny Boyle, the director, made sure that the memorable lines were not just cool in itself but also meaningful and infused with double meanings. Boyle also impressed me with certain shots because the images epitomized the definition of cool and careless disregard. “Trainspotting” will always be one of those films that will stay with me because I was able to extract a lot of meaning from it. For me, its core was not about how drugs are bad for you. It was about the deeper meanings of friendships and having a strong internal locus of control to lead your life the way you want to. Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, “Trainspotting” is an ambitious and imaginative film that is not afraid to tell the hard truths.