Ghost Writer

Yesterday

by George Wolf

Hey, baby boomers (yes, my hand is up), thanks for still buying CDs!

Now please enjoy the latest installment in your Musical Movie Memories Tour, Yesterday.

We’ve already jammed to Queen and Elton, Bruce is set for August, so how about remembering how much we love the Fab Four by envisioning a world where they never existed?

It’s a conceit so instantly charming director Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire) passed on the project, thinking it had already been done. He was convinced otherwise and jumped on board, bringing the script from Richard Curtis (Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually) to life with a breezy, unabashed fandom.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, easy to root for) is a struggling musician in Suffolk who’s ready to give up on the dream. His longtime friend and manager Ellie (Lily James) protests, but Jack rides his bicycle off into the English night unsure of his future.

Fate intervenes with a brief worldwide blackout, which brings an accident, a hospital stay, and Jack waking up in a world without his two front teeth.

Or the Beatles.

That second one is pretty advantageous for Jack’s career, though the film is at its most likable early on, when Jack is trying to remember lyrics, getting nowhere on Google and chastising anyone who doesn’t instantly realize how life-changing “his” new songs are.

Of course, his protests only resonate because we’re still in the old world with him. It’s a credit to the simple genius of this premise that Yesterday can tell without showing and still pull us in. And surprise, it’s also a wonderfully organic way to strip down these songs we’ve heard for decades and remind us how truly great they are.

Jack’s star rises with a move to L.A, getting tutelage from Ed Sheehan (nicely self-deprecating as himself) and an apologetically shameless record label rep (perfectly slimy Kate McKinnon). It’s in America where Yesterday starts to drag a bit, wanting from the absence of spunky James and will-they-or-won’t-they rom that balances this com.

How that turns out, you can probably guess.

As for the musical fantasy, credit Curtis and Boyle for avoiding the easy cop out. Buy in and you’ll be rewarded with an entertaining take on life choices that’s fun to sing along with, occasionally slight but often downright fab.

Choose Nostalgia

T2 Trainspotting

by Christie Robb

Choose life. Choose a movie. Choose a sequel, a prequel, a reboot, a franchise. Choose a revival. Choose familiarity. Choose nostalgia.

Watching the sequel to Trainspotting was like watching the new Gilmore Girls—only with more violence and heroin.

Is it social media that makes us feel we need to keep endlessly up to date on everyone? Is living in a chaotic world leading to an increased desire for tidy endings? Is it just the same kind of curiosity that makes folks RSVP to class reunions? Who needs reasons when you’ve got Trainspotting?

T2 takes place 20 years after Mark Renton steals £16,000 of communal drug sale profits from his friends and splits, vowing to live the life of a grown up. He experiences a minor coronary episode on a treadmill, which serves as the catalyst for a midlife crisis. And this crisis doesn’t take him on the path to buy a convertible, or to a hair plug consultation, or make him vow to consume a daily probiotic. Because the plot demands it, Mark is drawn back home to Edinburgh-to a bunch of people who feel that, to some degree or another, he ruined their lives.

In the original movie, Simon “Sickboy” Williamson states his theory of life, “Well, at one point you’ve got it. Then you lose it.” T2 isn’t bad. But it’s not great either. It’s lost some of the magic that the first movie had. But then it’s probably supposed to have.

It’s a movie about middle age, about looking back at who you were in your twenties and assessing what you’ve done or haven’t. Set against the backdrop of a gentrifying Edinburgh, we are presented with a familiar plot. Scenes from the first movie are rehashed. Renton delivers a new “Choose Life” monologue to a bored 20-year-old, which largely pans internet culture, shrilly condemning the choices of a stereotypical member of the younger generation in the same way he condemned the spirit-crushing lifestyle of clichéd older folks 20 years before.

Sometimes key scenes from the old movie are even played as flashbacks or projected on top of an existing new scene. The music too, is recycled. As if the characters stopped listening to anything new at 25.

Sure, it’s delightful to see all the cast members together again (Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner and Johnny Lee Miller) under the helm of original Trainspotting director Danny Boyle (who went on to win the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire). But the enjoyment is not unlike seeing a fading star in concert, or asking for a tour of your childhood home, or meeting up with an old flame for a drink.

It’s nice for a bit, but maybe not quite as good as in the old days.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 





Day 9: 28 Days Later

28 Days Later (2002)

Prior to 28 Days Later, the zombie genre seemed finally dead and gone. But director Danny Boyle single-handedly resurrected the genre with two new(ish) ideas: 1) they aren’t dead, 2) therefore, they can move really quickly.

You know you’re in trouble from the genius opening sequence: vulnerability, tension, bewilderment, rage, and blood – it launches a frantic and terrifying not-zombie film.

Like zombie god George Romero, though, Boyle’s real worry is not the infected, it’s the living.

Activists break into a research lab and free the wrong effing monkeys.

28 days later, bike messenger Jim wakes up naked on an operating table.

What follows is the eerie image of an abandoned, desolate London as Jim wanders hither and yon hollering for anybody. In the church, we get our first glimpse of what Jim is now up against, and dude, run!

Danny Boyle is one of cinema’s visionary directors, and he’s made visceral, fascinating, sometimes terrifying films his entire career – Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Millions, 127 Hours – but 28 Days Later is his one true horror film. And it is inspired.

He uses a lot of ideas Romero introduced, pulling loads of images from The Crazies and Day of the Dead, in particular (as well as Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder). But he revolutionized the genre – sparking the rebirth of zombie movies – with just a handful of terrifying tweaks.

The vision, the writing, and the performances all help him transcend genre trappings without abandoning the genre. Both Brendan Gleeson and Cillian Murphy are impeccable actors, and Naomie Harris is a truly convincing badass. Their performances, and the cinematic moments of real joy, make their ordeal that much more powerful.

Sure, it’s tough to believe that among the ten or so people still alive in England, two are as stunningly attractive as Murphy and Harris. You know what, though? Boyle otherwise paints a terrifyingly realistic vision of an apocalypse we could really bring on ourselves.

Listen weekly to MaddWolf’s horror podcast FRIGHT CLUB. Do it!





Fright Club: Best British Horror

We are thrilled to have Senior British Correspondent Craig Hunter of SCREENRELISH join us to look at some of our favorite British horror movies. From classics of Hammer to some of today’s most disturbing films, we count down the five best.

5. Dracula (Horror of Dracula) (1958)

In 1958, Hammer Films began its long and fabulous love affair with the cloaked one, introducing the irrefutably awesome Christopher Lee as the Count.

Their tale varies a bit from Stoker’s, but the main players are mostly accounted for. Peter Cushing steps in early and often as Van Helsing, bringing his inimitable brand of prissy kick-ass, but its Lee who carries the film.

Six foot 5 and sporting that elegant yet sinister baritone, Lee cuts by far the most intimidating figure of the lot as Dracula. Director Terence Fisher uses that to the film’s advantage by developing a far more vicious, brutal vampire than what we’d seen previously.

Still the film is about seduction, though, which gives Lee’s brute force an unseemly thrill. Unlike so many victims in other vampire tales, it’s not just that Melissa Stribling’s Mina is helpless to stop Dracula’s penetration. She’s in league. She wants it.

Ribald stuff for 1958!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTyBClMmoyQ

4. Kill List (2011)

Never has the line “Thank you” had a weirder effect than in the genre bending adventure Kill List.

Hitman Jay (a volcanic Neil Maskell) is wary to take another job after the botched Kiev assignment, but his bank account is empty and his wife Shel (an also eruptive MyAnna Buring) has become vocally impatient about carrying the financial load. But this new gig proves to be seriously weird.

Without ever losing that gritty, indie sensibility, Ben Wheatley’s fascinating film begins a slide in Act 2 from crime drama toward macabre thriller. You spend the balance of the film’s brisk 95 minutes actively puzzling out clues, ambiguities and oddities.

As Kill List drifts toward its particular flavor of horror, Wheatley pulls deftly from some of the most memorable films of a similar taste. For those looking for blood and guts and bullets, Kill List will only partially satisfy and may bewilder by the end. But audiences seeking a finely crafted, unusual horror film may find themselves saying thank you.

3. Eden Lake (2009)

The always outstanding Michael Fassbender takes his girl Jenny (Kelly Reilly) to his childhood stomping grounds – a flooded quarry and soon-to-be centerpiece for a grand housing development. He intends to propose, but he’s routinely disrupted, eventually in quite a bloody manner, by a roving band of teenaged thugs.

James Watkins’s screenplay keeps you nervous and guessing with some clever maneuvers and horrific turns.

The acting, particularly from the youngsters, is outstanding. Fassbender’s bravado strikes an honest note, and Reilly’s Jenny is capable, smart and compassionate. More than anything, though, the film owes its unsettling ability to stay with you to an unnerving performance from the up and coming Jack O’Connell.

It’s an upwardly mobile urbanite nightmare, well made and crafted to stay with you.

2. The Descent (2005)

A caving expedition turns ugly for a group of friends, who will quickly realize that being trapped inside the earth is not the worst thing that could happen.

This spelunking adventure comes with a familiar cast of characters: arrogant authority figure, maverick, emotionally scarred question mark, bickering siblings, and a sad-sack tag along. And yet, somehow, the interaction among them feels surprisingly authentic, and not just because each is cast as a woman.

Writer/director Neil Marshall makes excellent use of the story’s structure. Between that and the way film and sound editing are employed, Marshall squeezes every available ounce of anxiety from the audience. Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.

1. 28 Days Later (2002)

Activists break into a research lab and free the wrong fucking monkeys.

28 days later, bike messenger Jim wakes up naked on an operating table.

You know you’re in trouble from the genius opening sequence: vulnerability, tension, bewilderment, rage and blood – it marks a frantic and terrifying not-really-a-zombie film. (They were not dead, you see. Just super pissed off.)

Danny Boyle is one of cinema’s visionary directors, and he’s made visceral, fascinating, sometimes terrifying films his entire career – Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Millions, 127 Hours – but 28 Days Later is certainly his one true horror film. And it is inspired.

The vision, the writing, and the performances all help him transcend genre trappings without abandoning the genre. Both Brendan Gleeson and Cillian Murphy are impeccable actors, and Naomie Harris is a truly convincing badass. Their performances, and the cinematic moments of real joy, make their ordeal that much more powerful.

Listen to the whole conversation on the FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.





Halloween Countdown, Day 23

28 Days Later (2002)

Prior to 28 Days Later, the zombie genre seemed finally dead and gone. But director Danny Boyle single-handedly resurrected the genre with two new(ish) ideas: 1) they weren’t dead, 2) therefore, they could move really quickly.

You know you’re in trouble from the genius opening sequence: vulnerability, tension, bewilderment, rage and blood – it marks a frantic and terrifying not-zombie film.

Like zombie god George Romero, though, Boyle’s real worry is not the infected, it’s the living.

Activists break into a research lab and free the wrong fucking monkeys.

28 days later, bike messenger Jim wakes up naked on an operating table.

What follows is the eerie image of an abandoned, desolate London as Jim wanders hither and yon hollering for anybody. In the church, we get our first glimpse of what Jim is now up against, and dude, run!

Danny Boyle is one of cinema’s visionary directors, and he’s made visceral, fascinating, sometimes terrifying films his entire career – Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Millions, 127 Hours – but 28 Days Later is his one true horror film. And it is inspired.

He uses a lot of ideas Romero introduced, pulling loads of images from The Crazies and Day of the Dead, in particular (as well as Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder). But he revolutionized the genre – sparking the rebirth of zombie movies – with just a handful of terrifying tweaks.

The vision, the writing, and the performances all help him transcend genre trappings without abandoning the genre. Both Brendan Gleeson and Cillian Murphy are impeccable actors, and Naomie Harris is a truly convincing badass. Their performances, and the cinematic moments of real joy, make their ordeal that much more powerful.

Sure, it’s tough to believe that among the ten or so people still alive in England, two are as stunningly attractive as Murphy and Harris. You know what, though? Boyle otherwise paints a terrifyingly realistic vision of an apocalypse we could really bring on ourselves.





For Your Queue: Z-28-Hit-Play..Hut-Hut!

 

The zombie thriller directed by Marc Forster (who’d directed no thrillers, let alone zombies) that has almost nothing to do with Max Brooks’s fascinating novel World War Z? Surprisingly enough, yes. Yes please, even. Brad Pitt’s scarf-wearing hero traipses the mostly demolished globe in search of a cure in a movie that never lets up, consistently surprises, and delivers the goods. Check it out this week on DVD.

 

Maybe the zombie movie match-up is Danny Boyle’s not-really-zombie flick 28 Days Later. Sure, they’re not dead yet, but they are super pissed off and they want to eat you, so run! Just don’t run to that military outpost. Boyle’s empty London, brutal monsters, and epically creepy climax makes his foray into horror an especially joyous one. Two great ways to get prepped for the coming Halloween season.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eunaclr-WgU

Or, just watch Fight Club. You can’t go wrong there.





Help Me, I’ve Been Hyp-no-tized!

By George Wolf

 

The head-trippy space so eloquently invaded by Christopher Nolan in films such as Memento and Inception seems to have caught the fancy of Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire).  In Trance, Boyle gleefully plays with perception and reality as he unveils a mostly effective noir tale of the hunt for a stolen art masterpiece.

James McAvoy stars as Simon, an employee of an exclusive London auction house who opens the film by explaining his game plan for safeguarding art masterpieces during any heist attempts.  While Simon is narrating, we see a heist being organized, leading up to the moment when ringleader Franck (Vincent Cassel) and his thugs steal a prized work.

Simon owes Franck an old debt, but attempts to pay it off with the location of a lost painting are stalled by Simon’s claim of amnesia.  And so, the group understandably turns to…hypnosis.

Stay with me, because this is when things get freaky. Once Simon begins visiting hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), all lines begin to blur.

What is real, and what is a hypnotic suggestion? Who is plotting with whom, and is all that nudity and sex merely subconscious desire?

Boyle, in films such as Slumdog, 127 Hours, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Shallow Grave, has shown that his choices regarding pacing and visual style are often masterful.  With Trance, Boyle seems energized by his new genre playground – so much so that the questionable leaps taken by the script are swept aside with little regard.

The core story was first hatched by current “Dr. Who” writer Joe Ahearne in a TV movie from 2001. Frequent Boyle collaborator John Hodge has expanded the screenplay to keep your head swimming with possibilities, as heroes turn into villains, past becomes present, and then back again.

The solid cast is anchored by Dawson, who reaches beyond anything we’ve seen from her so far with a layered, emotional performance in a role that makes frequent demands. She answers them all, and becomes the film’s center of gravity when too many elements threaten to spin out of control.

Trance is engaging and entertaining, but I’m guessing Boyle was after a bit more. Instead of leaving with a feeling of wonder as you spend days trying to get your head around it, you’re more likely to view Trance as clever, forgettable fun.

Verdict-3-5-Stars