YESTERDAY / SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Filmgoers are fortunate as the summer of 2019 heads into the last weekend of June, the Fourth of July holiday and the post-holiday following weekend, as two fun, funny, poignant and entertaining movies head into the theaters—the excellent, rollicking, sweet-natured, positive and wholly uplifting “Yesterday,” fantasy romantic comedy about a man who wakes up in a world in which only he knows about the Beatles and the band’s songs, and “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” in which still-awkward, still-reserved teenager Peter Parker deals with his increasing affection for classmate MJ as well as some supernatural beings that threaten the world in a Marvel film that somehow manages to be humorous, suspenseful and still relevant despite this being the eighth Spider-Man movie during the past seventeen years.
“Yesterday” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” are recommended, both films should be seen up on the big screen in a movie theater, and “Yesterday” is especially recommended—for everyone. Along with “Tolkien” and “Rocketman,” “Yesterday” is one of the best films of the first half of 2019, and it’s coincidence, and interesting, to note that three of the best films of the year so far are about real-life British people—the fantasy writer J. R. R. Tolkien, musician Elton John, and, of course, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. What could be better than spending a few hours in a movie theater celebrating the life, music, ideals and messages of the Beatles? In terms of moviegoing in the middle of 2019, not much, even with other good films still resonating in the theaters.
Starring Himesh Patel, Lily James, Joel Fry, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon
Written by Richard Curtis
Story by Jack Barth and Richard Curtis
Directed by Danny Boyle
Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Bernie Bellew, Matthew James Wilkinson, Richard Curtis, Danny Boyle
Cinematography by Christopher Ross
Edited by Jon Harris
Musical score by Daniel Pemberton
Original songs by Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr—as The Beatles
What if you woke up one day and you were the only person on Earth who knew about the Beatles and their songs?
That’s the one-line brilliant, fun and whimsical premise of the wonderfully lovable, upbeat, optimistic and positive fantasy romantic comedy from writers Richard Curtis and Jack Barth and director Danny Boyle, and Curtis, Barth and Boyle, supported by an equally-wonderful cast and crew, have crafted a beautiful, joyous film about finding yourself, being true to yourself, redemption, honesty, truth, the pure joy and wonder of the music and ideals of the Beatles—and, as is fitting for a film inspired by the Beatles—love. The movie, without preaching, successfully makes one important point in a light-hearted but still smart manner: all you need is love. And all of this is held together by an over-arching sense of humor that keeps the proceedings always light and fun—which is also fitting for a film inspired by the Beatles. Actually, everything about “Yesterday” is fitting in regards to the Beatles, as the movie, while it is about several important, linking themes, messages and morals, as noted, and most importantly about love, also succeeds as being one big love letter, homage and tribute to Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr and their respective genius as the Beatles. All of this adds up to just a wonderful, fun, positive time at the movies.
In “Yesterday,” Jack Malik, a lovable, likeable struggling, small-town musician, singer, guitarist and songwriter in Clacton-on-Sea, England, wakes up one day in his life after a mysterious solar flare weather phenomenon completely wipes out all of the power on Earth—here comes the sun!–and Jack discovers, to his continuing shock, wonder and amazement that he is only person on the planet who knows anything about the Beatles and their music. Imagine that, living in a world where there’s no Beatles music! Malik’s continued state of confusion in such an upside-down world is always handled with an appropriate level of light-hearted and likeable humor by actor Himesh Patel, who carries this movie without any weight and delivers a wonderfully loveable performance.
Although the ensuring consequences of being the only person on Earth who knows the Beatles songs is somewhat easy to predict—musician Malik starts performing the Beatles songs in public, he’s discovered by fellow musician Ed Sheeran (that’s not a spoiler, as it’s a purely natural part of the story and plot), Malik becomes famous for “his” songs, he’s suddenly the most sought-after musician—and entertainer—on the planet, he deals with a wave—a tsunami, really—of sudden fame, glory and wealth and attention, he’s offered an album deal of the century and many millions, and the songs suddenly become as popular as they originally were—and then Malik realizes that he has a difficult situation on his hands, as everyone thinks these brilliant songs are Malik’s, and Malik must eventually deal with living up to the truth and admitting that these wonderful songs are not his. However, there is that over-arching aspect of the film, story and plot that holds everything together, keeps everything grounded and provides the real essence of the movie, and that is simply love. Malik has been in love since childhood with his best friend Ellie Appleton—equally wonderfully portrayed by the sweet, likeable, lovable—and beautiful—Lily James, and, through his rise in fame and attention, Malik must also deal with his increasingly complicated and threatened relationship with Ellie. Although “Yesterday” is a fun and funny fantasy, writers Richard Curtis and Jack Barth (Barth is credited with the story and Curtis with the screenplay, but whomever is credited with the story in a film should also be noted as one of the writers) are smart, insightful, perceptive and intelligent enough to include an important, over-arching element to the story to hold everything together, and in this film, that foundation and glue that holds the movie together is the love story between Jack and Ellie—and it is sweet, good natured and uplifting to watch not only these characters come to terms with their love for each other, but it’s also uplifting to watch the young actors Patesh and James develop a very real chemistry on screen and obviously enjoy their special place and time in this special film.
As the expected varied elements of the music industry—good and bad, but mostly bad, often very bad–start their respective pounces, attacks and sieges on Jack and “his” songs, Jack is pulled in various competing directions and his lifelong love affair with Ellie unfortunately gets mixed up in the music industry attack plan. Curtis and Barth manage to focus, in the story and the plot, on figuring out a way for Jack and Ellie to work it out—hopefully, the audience thinks, they can work it out—and thus that concurrent storyline provides some tension and suspense amid the humor and fantasy. Curtis and Barth are smart enough story-crafters to realize that do need something just a little more than that basic one-line idea, and they are smart to craft a love story around Jack’s sudden dilemma. Love is all you need, and all you need is love, the Beatles said, and, in the end, as noted, that’s what “Yesterday” ends up being about: love. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Joel Fry provides some continuing comic relief as Jack’s longtime friend and roadie, Rocky, and even though Fry succeeds as a comic relief—accompanying Jack on his journey to fame—he also provides another important story element—the importance of true friendship. As Jack is pulled in those various directions by the music industry, Fry is always there to provide support, comfort, guidance and advice, and Rocky’s character, while somewhat goofy, is also there to constantly remind Jack about the importance of the real world, too—true love, true friends, family and being true to oneself. While Fry’s Rocky may generate laughs, again, the cleverness of Curtis’ and Barth’s story does show that people like Rocky—friends and acquaintances—can be a comforting, reliable reminder of reality in a person’s life, and can work to keep entertainers grounded as they face increasing fame and fortune.
Kate McKinnon is equally hilarious as a wholly slimy, snaky, sneaky—and money-grubbing, money-chasing and money-obsessed—music industry agent, manager, representative and wrangler who pounces on Jack, along with an army of equally slimy, snaky—and, in the end, clueless—music biz honchos who do see the brilliance of all of the Beatles’ songs that Jack performs, but they also see, primarily, dollar signs. McKinnon is hilarious as the symbol of all that is wrong—and all that has always been wrong—in the music industry: greed, greed, greed, falseness, too much of a focus on the bottom line, fakeness, plastic marketing, dumb creative decisions, too much meddling by suits, and all of the other inherent negative aspects of the entertainment industry. Jack, Ellie and Rocky are smart enough to see through all of this, of course, but, as anyone would be, they are initially somewhat seduced by the powers of fame and fortune—to a degree. Curtis and Barth are also smart enough to pit the grounded, down-to-earth, lovable nature of Jack, Ellie and Rocky up against the slime and fakeness of McKinnon’s character and her unpleasant army of meanie marketing drones and clones, all of whom also see only marketing opportunities and dollar signs.
So amid the love story, humor, fantasy and over-arching story, there’s also a few lessons and messages included in “Yesterday” about the absolute craziness of the more negative downside of the entertainment industry, and a warning, which is always needed, about the very real dangers that lurk in the entertainment industry once entertainers get a taste of that fame and fortune. The dangers exist, they are very real—and the respective entertainer, in any field, must eventually find themselves, battle these industry cretins, vultures, snakes, dogs and suits, be real as to who the entertainer really is and what they really want to represent, and win in the end. The battle may involve more than a few hard days’ nights, but when the entertainer realizes the movement is on their shoulder, they shouldn’t carry the world on their shoulders, and it’s only a fool who plays it cool, well, hopefully that entertainer—in the case of “Yesterday,” Jack Malik—can work it out in the end, find themselves, realize just who they really are, and just let it be.
Overseeing everything is director Danny Boyle, who, along with Curtis and Barth, Hamesh, James and Fry, and an equally-talented supporting cast and a creative crew, pulls everything together—including the aforementioned messages, themes and morals—but keeps the proceedings light and light-hearted, remembering to drive home some important points, but in a continuing breezy, whimsical, funny and entertaining manner. Boyle presents a fantasy, a comedy, a romance, and, again, an important lesson about finding oneself amid the craziness of a sometimes-dangerous and threatening world. Boyle is a talented director, of course, and his talent comes through again with his wonderful handling of this fantasy romantic comedy.
“Yesterday” is a fun, funny and entertaining movie, but the film also delivers those important messages, all wrapped together warmly and lovingly as an homage and tribute not just to the music of the Beatles, but, as mentioned, to the Beatles’ many, varied, insightful and important themes, messages, morals and ideals. When and if you do find yourself in times of trouble, and the night appears somewhat cloudy, well, in the summer of 2019, there is an answer, there is a light that shines from the local movie theater, whispering words of wisdom, and that light that shines for yesterday, today and tomorrow is the movie “Yesterday.”
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Favreau, Cobie Smulders, Martin Starr, J. B. Smoove, Marisa Tomei
Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers
Based on Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Directed by Jon Watts
Produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal
Cinematography by Matthew J. Lloyd
Edited by Dan Lebental and Leigh Folsom-Boyd
Music by Michael Giacchino
It’s equally wonderful to report that, through sheer talent, guts, determination, likeability of a likeable and talented cast, an array of amazing, breathtaking special effects, some beautiful European settings, locales, production design and art direction, and an actually clever and interested story that offers some intriguing twists and turns, and overall light sense of humor, Marvel’s latest super-hero and comic book fantasy science-fiction movie, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” actually succeeds, actually matches the success of its predecessor, 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and actually succeeds, despite being the eighth—that’s eighth—Spider-Man movie since 2002. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is fun, funny, entertaining, and, in the wake of the grandiosity and heaviness and over-reaching epic-ness that brought down “Avengers: Endgame” from earlier in 2019, is a fun return to more lighthearted, breezy and whimsical superhero/comic book fare at the movies.
“Spider-Man: Far From Home” does succeed, and it is a fun summertime movie, but a major aspect of the film’s success does need to be mentioned first and foremost, and that is the wholly likeable—lovable, really—young cast of actors that holds and binds and carries this movie together, and they succeeded in the same manner in the equally likeable, successful and fun “Homecoming” Spider-Man movie from two years ago. In both movies, these young actors are just simply so down-to-earth, approachable, positive, smart, creative, funny, cute and full of presence and charisma without any concurrent negativitiy, sarcasm, pessimism or attitude that brings down so many teen portrayals in movies, even in comedies, audiences just can’t help but like, or love, these actors—and their characters. Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Zendaya as Parker’s love interest and friend MJ, Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds, Tony Revolori as classmate Eugene Thompson, Angourie Rice as classmate Betty Brant, and Remy Hii as classmate Brad Davis are, despite all of the aforementioned filmic aspects and despite all of the competing, over-arching storylines and plot lines and action sequences, are, again, these movies’ foundation. These kids are presented as presentable, they’re consistently entertaining and watchable, they’re just plain funny, they’re real kids but good, positive real kids, they’re young and fresh-faced and cute, they’re full of energy and enthusiasm, they’re growing and questioning and challenging the ways of the world, but in good ways, and they’re just fun to spend some time with at the movies. It’s a continuing credit to the filmmakers—writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, director Jon Watts and main Marvel producers Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal—that they have centered and based these two new Spider-Man movies around simply a group of lovable, smart, talented, creative and cute kids.
Tom Holland is at the center of this talented group of actors, and he portrays Peter Parker as Peter Parker should be portrayed—as a real teenager. (Again, the same is noted for all of actors playing the high school kids in this ensemble.) Holland’s Parker is slightly awkward, slightly shy and introverted, somewhat confused about his continuing and increasing affection—and love, really—for the beautiful, smart and spunky MJ, or Michelle Jones, and continually conflicted about his duel existence as, as he notes, simply a teenage high school student from Queens and, well, a super-hero Avenger with super powers who is continually asked to leave his school studies and help save the world from death and destruction. Holland knows that all of this is the essence, the originality and the attractiveness of the character of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. There is no machoness, there is no dark brooding, there is no sarcasm or cynicism, there is no grandstanding. There is, at the heart of things, simply that somewhat awkward, growing, teenage high school student from Queens. And, despite all of the attendant, still-needed story about villains and evil and threats to the world and Tony Stark and Avengers and Thanos and Nick Fury and Stark Industries and ever-present doom-and-gloom inter-galactic and other-worldly threats to the very nature of everyone’s and Earth’s and the universe’s lasting existence in time and space and history—there is, in the end, at the core of things, some lovable teenagers from Queens.
The realistic portrayal of these kids is the core, foundation and center of these two recent Spider-Man movies, and that presence and element is a reminder from the filmmakers that despite superhero’s quests and missions and roles and directives to protect and save the world, the essence of what they’re fighting for is simply people, and their everyday lives—and loves. Various Avengers and other superheros may be flying around and across the universe, saving worlds from that doom and gloom, but they’re doing it for people like Peter Parker, MJ, Ned, Eugene, Betty and Brad; their teachers—hilariously played in “Far From Home” by actors Martin Starr and J. B. Smoove, who provide some great comic relief; their friends and mentors and coaches and neighbors and family members—like Peter’s Aunt May—beautifully played by the beautiful Marisa Tomei—and Tony Stark’s colleague Happy Hogan; and other, you know, real people.
So the kids and family and friends and colleagues and teachers and mentors are the center of “Far From Home,” and it’s hilarious to watch them trek all over Europe on a class trip while concurrent otherworldly threats threaten Earth once again—and providing Parker continued problems of balancing what he hoped would be just a simple European school trip with, well, helping to save the world once again. The kids and teachers are on that school trip, and while going from England to France to Prague and elsewhere, some bizarre and truly scary otherworldly monsters known as the Elementals—because they appear in the shapes of elements such as water, wind and fire—start showing up on Earth and threatening death and destruction. Thus, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, still in fine form) and his co-worker Maria Hill, from the secretive threat-fighting agency S.H.I.E.L.D show up to recruit Parker, pull him away from his vacation and ask him to help fight the Elementals.
And amid these situations, there are reminders, mainly from Fury and Hogan, that Parker is, somewhat, a successor to his former mentor, Tony Stark, and that Stark put a lot of trust, respect and hope into Parker’s present and future, hoping that someday Parker would rise up and be a full-time Avenger and threat-fighter with Stark Industries, S.H.I.E.L.D and the government. That’s an awful lot to place on the shoulders of that aforementioned teenage high school student from Queens, and that inner and outer set of conflicts, and Holland’s deft handling of these conflicts as Peter Parker, that adds some more intelligent depth to the story, proceedings and the movie.
As director Jon Watts told Entertainment Weekly about the portrayal of Parker in “Far From Home,” in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Parker was anticipating the responsibilities of an adult, but in “Far From Home,” he wants to hang onto his youth, according to Wikipedia. “This film is about the world telling him, ‘It’s time for you to step up and grow up, kid,’” Watts says, “and he’s saying, ‘But I still want to be a kid and go on vacation.’
There is the requisite death and destruction, action and adventure, fight scenes and beautifully-choreographed high-flying acrobatics of Spider-Man himself, and much of this is impressive, and, as always, kudos and credits must go out to the special effects crews for their amazing work in “Far From Home.” The special and visual effects are excellent throughout the movie, but two particular aspects must be noted. The Elementals themselves are big, scary—and quite impressive to behold up on the big screen. But even more impressive are several scenes of “Dr. Strange”-like illusion, smoke-and-mirrors, house-of-mirrors scenes and sequences in which Parker battles the villain in illusion-created alternate scenes where reality and fantasy are unsure, mixed, confused and intersected with amazing, creative and inventive results. These illusion scenes provide some needed inventive alternative special effects scenes to the usual fight and chase scenes. Kudos and credits must also go out to the production design, art direction, cinematography, location scouting and set design crews for beautiful shots and scenes of a series of exotic and interesting European locales. Another advantage and positive with “Far From Home” is its European setting—it’s great to see a movie set somewhere other than the United States, for a change. The movie must have cost a bundle to film many scenes overseas, but the results are all up on the screen, and it’s great to see and enjoy, and the money was worth it for the different series of sets and locales.
Jake Gyllenhaal appears in “Far From Home” as Quentin Beck, a new superhero who the kids dub Mysterio, and Gyllenhaal delivers a strong performance as Beck/Mysterio, who appears from another planet to help fight the Elementals.
Director Watts and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers have crafted a strong superhero fantasy science-fiction film with “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” and, as noted, all of the Marvel and superhero and fantasy and sci-fi elementals are there in the movie, but, much like “Yesterday,” there is indeed one essential life elemental that, through everything in the movie, carries the day, the story, the plot and even the movie: love. Because, despite everything that’s going on with saving the world, there is one main aspect that drives the real story at the heart of it all: Peter Parker’s love for MJ. And Watts, McKenna and Sommers, much like Boyle, Curtis and Barth with “Yesterday,” have remembered, too, that love makes the world go around, love is all you need, and all you need is love.
And it’s fitting to use those Beatles lyrics once again in regards to “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” because it’s important, every day, to note, remember and celebrate the power of love. Peter Parker loves MJ in “Far From Home,” and Jack Malik loves Ellie in “Yesterday,” and it’s appropriate, fitting, comforting, life-assuring and uplifting to realize that love is truly the driving force in both of these fun, funny, entertaining—and lovable—movies. Love is all you need—so remember to whisper these words of wisdom, let the light of these movies shine on you this summer, and sit back, enjoy—and let it be.