Directed by Danny Boyle who won the Academy Award for Best Director for 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, Yesterday is a very clever and endearing romantic comedy that is remarkable for its extremely creative story in which the protagonist is the only person in the world who has heard of The Beatles after a freak accident. We first meet Jack Malik, played by the talented British actor Himesh Patel best known for his role on the BBC television show EastEnders, struggling to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a successful singer-songwriter but is always encouraged by his childhood friend and manager Ellie, played by Lily James best known for her role on Downton Abbey. While riding a bicycle in his small seaside English town one night, he is involved in a freak accident after a mysterious worldwide power outage and soon discovers after playing a Beatles song to his friends that no one in the world has ever heard of The Beatles, it is as if they never existed. He decides to record as many of The Beatles songs that he can remember and pass them off as his own works, which eventually makes him a major musical star after he catches the attention of singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, played by himself. Over the course of the movie, Jack embarks on a whirlwind and quite entertaining journey to worldwide fame, all set to the greatest hits of The Beatles sung in a different way by the actor himself. However, his recording and tour schedule strictly dictated by his new Los Angeles recording agent Debra, played by Kate McKinnon, pushes him away from his beloved friend and secret love Ellie. Besides the wonderfully nostalgic soundtrack, the film has several moments of humor, including the overall premise of the plot and additional parts of our daily lives that also magically disappeared, as well as the buffoonery yet sweet nature of his roadie and sometimes assistant Rocky, played by the very funny British actor Joel Fry. After his experiences with the glamorous lifestyle of the famous, Jack gradually comes back down to earth, and the film becomes more of a romance after he realizes that he missed out on his chance for true love with Ellie and dedicates the rest of the movie to trying to win her back. Overall, I found it to be a light-hearted and joyful cinematic experience that has truly one of the more innovative and unique storylines and is perfectly set to everyone’s favorite Beatles songs.
Directed by Jake Scott who is the son of acclaimed British filmmaker Ridley Scott, American Woman is a powerful drama following the troubled life of a young mother who loses her daughter and is marked by terrific acting performances and an emotionally intriguing script. The movie takes place over the course of 11 years, beginning in 2003 when we first meet the protagonist Debra, played by Golden Globe nominee Sienna Miller in one of her best performances, raising her teenage daughter Bridget and her grandson Jesse. One night after meeting with Jesse’s distant father Tyler, Bridget mysteriously disappears in their rural industrial town in Pennsylvania, and Debra is devastated and accuses Tyler of being somehow involved. Throughout the story, she is somewhat comforted by her close sister Katherine, played by Emmy nominee Christina Hendricks, who lives across the street with her kind husband Terry, played by comedian Will Sasso. The film continues several years later after Bridget’s disappearance is officially unsolved and the increasingly despondent Debra is in a abusive relationship while also supporting Jesse as he gets older. Later, another few years go by and Katherine encourages Debra to go out with Terry’s coworker Chris, played by Emmy winner Aaron Paul, who eventually becomes a part of the family and takes on the role of a father figure for Jesse who still does not know what happened to his mother. A very dramatic and often tragic story, the filmmaker does an excellent job of trying to understand the grief that a parent goes through when their child is missing, as well as the trials and tribulations of being a working-class single mother living in an economically-depressed town. Overall, I thought that Sienna Miller was brilliantly able to bring such a dynamic and desperate woman to life and, in turn, made the movie one of the more heartbreaking yet must-watch dramas of the year.
Written and directed by the Irish filmmaker John Butler, Papi Chulo is an entertaining comedy drama about an unlikely friendship between a white weatherman and a Hispanic day labor and attempts to provide a glimpse into the intersection between two different cultures. The story revolves around a depressed local TV station weatherman in Los Angeles named Sean, played by the handsome Golden Globe winner Matt Bomer, who is forced to go on leave after an on-air meltdown. Not knowing what to do with his spare time and still recovering from becoming a newly single gay man, he is determined to repaint his patio after moving a large tree and eventually resorts to hiring a Hispanic day labor waiting for work outside of the nearby hardware store. Over the course of the movie, Sean tries desperately to become friends with Ernesto, played by Alejandro Patiño, despite the language and cultural barriers between the very different men. Ernesto is befuddled by Sean’s desire to do activities with Ernesto that very much resemble things to do on a date. There are a few scenes that are ridiculous in their appearance that make for funny moments, including both of the men rowing on a lake, going for a hike, and going to parties together. Towards the end of the film, we learn that Sean is in somewhat more of a mental breakdown that first realized because of a recent tragedy, and his bond with Ernesto is primarily the result of him being scared to be alone. Overall, I found it to be a movie that has the best intentions of telling a heartwarming story of unexpected friendship that occasionally borders into cringe-worthy moments reminiscent of the criticized 2018 movie Green Book, but, for the most part, it is a endearing film exploring the comedy and drama of everyday life.
Directed by Dexter Fletcher who was the director who finished the 2018 Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman is a truly extraordinary cinematic experience that perfectly encapsulates the fantastical career of Elton John by presenting the movie as a musical fantasy that definitely breaks the mold of the traditional biopic. Punctuated by well-choreographed dance sequences set to Elton John’s music, the film is a series of rapid-fire flashbacks told from the personal perspective of Elton John, played by the terrific Taron Egerton best known for his role in The Kingsmen action comedy movie franchise, while he is receiving treatment at a rehab facility. The story retraces his early life living in a dysfunctional family led by his dismissive mother Sheila, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, but his musical talents are encouraged by his kind-hearted grandmother who supports his decision at such a young age to enroll in the prestigious Royal Academy of Music. Eventually, he decides to change his name to Elton John and take on a flamboyant stage persona, which coincides with his meteoric rise to global musical fame. His amazing ability to place music to lyrics is greatly enhanced when he begins a writing partnership with a songwriter named Bernie Taupin, played by Jamie Bell. As is the case with a majority of musical geniuses, he quickly spirals out of control with the heavy influence of alcohol, drugs, and sex and also under the unhealthy pressure of his music manager and one-time lover John Reid, played by Richard Madden. The filmmaker makes the brilliant decision to convey the excesses and low points of Elton John’s personal life through the use of his own music with lyrics that somehow perfectly fit within the context of each and every scene. Overall, I found it to be a fabulously entertaining cinematic journey that takes a refreshing twist on the traditional musical biopic by incorporating Elton John’s unique personality and sound; it is undoubtedly one of the most creative films of the year and runs laps around last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
The fourth installment in the beloved computer animated Pixar Toy Story series that began with the original released in 1995, Toy Story 4 is a clever and bittersweet follow-up to the widely popular Toy Story franchise and lives up to the other movies that brings back nostalgia for the original characters while also presenting new and fun characters. The movie follows the group of Andy’s toys as they have been the toys for the kindergarten-aged Bonnie for several years, and they face a new challenger for Bonnie’s affection as she heads off to kindergarten. Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks, is still the leader of the toys but has recently been left out as Bonnie decides to play with other toys, including Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Tim Allen. One day at kindergarten orientation, Bonnie makes her own toy made from a spork and other craft supplies and names him Forky, voiced by Tony Hale. Woody encourages Forky who insists he is only trash to stay with Bonnie as her new favorite toy that can help guide her through kindergarten like Woody did for Andy years ago. Struggling to keep Forky with Bonnie, the family goes on a road trip with the toys and a cute and humor-filled adventure begins as Woody encounters new and quite scary toys in a small town antique shop. Always saddened by the loss of the shepherdess Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts, Woody discovers a possible clue to finding his love Bo again. However, Woody along with the other toys, including his best friend Buzz Lightyear, face obstacles to returning to Bonnie and finding Bo Peep with the appearance of a devious old doll named Gabby Gabby, voiced by Christina Hendricks, and her creepy ventriloquist dummies. My favorite part of the movie is the appearance of the character Duke Caboom, voiced by the perfectly cast Keanu Reeves, who is a Canadian daredevil toy and is a laughably depressed toy because he cannot do as advertised. filmmakers and animators do a brilliant job of realistically recreating an antique shop and carnival to replace Andy’s and Bonnie’s bedrooms as the more expansive settings for the characters’ unique adventures. Overall, I found it to be a charming film that was somehow able to continue the magic and witticism of the original released almost 25 years ago and appeals to both adults and children as a result of its remarkable ability to entertain while also teaching lessons about growing up and loss.
Directed by first-time feature filmmaker Joe Talbot who won the award for Best Directing at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival for this film, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a breathtakingly beautiful cinematic elegy to a friendship and a city and is one of the best movies, if not the best movie, I have seen so far this year as a result of its magnificent cinematography and quietly rich storytelling. The film is a collaboration between the director Joe Talbot and the main actor Jimmie Fails who are long time friends from the city that inspired them, San Francisco. The rather simple story follows a young black man named Jimmie, played by Jimmie Fails as a version of himself, struggling to make a living in the increasingly expensive city of San Francisco and his obsession over his old family home located in the one-time black and Asian neighborhood of the Fillmore District. He lives with his best friend Mont, played by Jonathan Majors, at the small run-down house of Mont’s blind father, played by Danny Glover. Mont is a very quiet aspiring artist and playwright with a visibly unusual intellect trapped by his situation in life. The movie is very much a ballad and exploration of the ever-changing San Francisco with its current housing crisis and the rapid gentrification primarily affecting minority and lower-income communities. Jimmie often accompanied by Mont visits his deceased grandfather’s old Victorian house on a weekly basis to help maintain its condition despite upsetting the current residents. Eventually, the duo find the opportunity to live in the house as squatters after the previous owners suddenly vacate the house. The house is a metaphor for the old San Francisco and especially that neighborhood, which at one time was a welcoming place for African Americans several decades ago. The loss of the house by his family represents the change in the neighborhood and the city as a whole largely displacing minority populations in favor of predominantly Caucasian people who could afford the now exorbitant housing prices. What really makes the movie special is the filmmaker’s unique ability to combine mesmerizing cinematography, a moody score and soundtrack complete with a haunting rendition of the famous 1967 song San Francisco, and subtle yet memorable acting performances. With his skillful and seemingly effortless creative decisions, the novice filmmaker somehow crafts one of the most beautiful cinematic dedications to a city and the power of friendship, almost as if he is a veteran and award-winning director. Overall, I found it to be a truly magnificent masterpiece of filmmaking that is able to convey a rather basic premise and transform it into a tender and often heartbreaking story of humanity marked by such exquisite and meditative cinematography and music.
The fifth movie installment in the Shaft franchise first started with the original released in 1971 starring Richard Roundtree, Shaft is not the best movie you will see this summer, but it definitely was an entertaining film with a charismatic cast of characters and harkens back to the original blaxploitation version but with the twist of making it more of a comedy. The plot follows the son of John Shaft II, played by the suave foul-mouthed Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson who reprises his role from the 2000 spinoff, nicknamed JJ, played by Jessie T. Usher, who is a smart straight-laced MIT graduate now working as a data analyst for the FBI. After the mysterious death of his childhood friend, JJ along with his other childhood friend Sasha, played by the beautiful Alexandra Shipp, investigate what actually happened to their friend who was a war veteran and recovering drug addict. Eventually, JJ reluctantly realizes that his estranged father known for his borderline illegal yet extremely effective private investigator skills has to help them navigate the underworld of Harlem. He enlists his father’s help against the wishes of his mother Maya, played by Regina Hall, who left John for endangering JJ as a child. Just like the original Richard Roundtree character, Jackson’s character is very much a ladies man who cares very little for emotion and is often giving profanity-laced outbursts, all the while protecting his neighborhood from criminals. The film is more of an action comedy that does not take the extremely outdated and chauvinistic Shaft character too seriously and definitely does not condone his behavior that is considered controversial according to today’s standards. Towards the end of the movie as they get closer to a resolution and find the villain, JJ’s smooth-talking grandfather John Shaft, played by Richard Roundtree as the original character, makes an appearance to help out the younger Shafts. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable movie that does not try to elevate the original asource material but rather attempts to present a different type of Shaft movie, full of often vulgar humor and outrageous situations.