Danny Boyle

Yesterday

20/06/19

Welcome to Richard Curtis Land – a magical place where famous film stars can fall in love with meek bookshop owners; where smitten young men can write their declarations of love for recently married women on a series of cue cards; and where, in this latest iteration, the Beatles never existed. Yes, that’s right. Imagine if you will, a world where the names John, Paul, George and Ringo mean absolutely zilch.

Aspiring singer/songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is scratching a precarious existence playing a series of dead-end bookings by night, and working at a cash and carry by day. His gigs are arranged for him by his ‘manager,’ Ellie Appleton (Lily James), who works days as a secondary school teacher and who quite clearly fancies the pants off Jack, something he appears to be entirely oblivious to. But, after his last disappointing show, Jack is about ready to give up his dreams and ‘go back to teaching…’

He is blissfully unaware that his career is about to take an unexpected leap in an upward direction. Riding home on his bike one evening, he is struck by a bus, at the same moment a sudden loss of electricity hits the entire world for a full twelve seconds. Once recovered from his accident, Jack discovers that there have been some baffling changes to the world he knows – and when he sings Paul McCartney’s Yesterday to a bunch of friends, they react very strangely. ‘When did you write that?’ asks Ellie, incredulously.

A bit of surfing on the internet reveals the incredible truth. In this new alternate reality, the Beatles have never existed – and yet Jack knows most of their songs! So he starts to perform and record them, passing them off as his own work and – perhaps not surprisingly – after a few false starts, his career shoots upwards into the stratosphere. But we know, don’t we, that there’s always a price to pay for such deceit? And what true happiness can ever be achieved through an act of plagiarism?

Yesterday is a typical Curtis vehicle, amiable, and eminently watchable – but the film is directed by Danny Boyle, who displays none of the distinctive, visual flourishes I’ve come to expect from him, leaving me with the conviction that this could have been directed by just about anybody. While the earlier stretches are surely the funniest (there’s some nice interplay between Jack and his parents, played by Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar), later developments, where Jack falls under the influence of heartless record executive, Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon), are not quite as assured.

And… there’s something that this film has in common with Curtis’s earlier effort, About Time: the story’s internal logic doesn’t always add up. Occasionally, I find myself thinking ‘Really?’ as some new revelation comes lurching out of the woodwork. Am I supposed to believe, for instance, that Jack manages to walk around for months without ever noticing that cigarettes no longer exist?

Still, this isn’t meant to be high art. Curtis is a talented storyteller, and for the most part this affable mix of comedy and music is perfectly entertaining. And, naturally, it has a soundtrack to die for. A shame then that it doesn’t give Danny Boyle more of a chance to show off his skills.

That would have been something to make a song and dance about.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Trainspotting

14/11/17

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s hard to believe that it’s twenty four years since Irvine Welsh’s collection of short stories first recounted the adventures of Leith junkies, Renton, Begbie, Spud and Sick Boy – and twenty years since the iconic film version took the world by storm.

Tackling such a classic brings inevitable problems. The first half of this Citizens Theatre production has an air of over-familiarity about it, perhaps amplified by the fact that the characters and sets are styled very much like the movie. At times, it feels almost like we’re watching Danny Boyle’s Greatest Hits. All the best-known scenes from the film are present and correct – the hopeless work interview, the dead baby, the suppositories in the toilet (this scene evens receives a round of applause, which is weird, when you think about it – what are we actually applauding?).

None of this is the fault of the cast who deliver uniformly excellent performances – Lorn MacDonald is a superb Renton, Martin McCormick a brilliantly foul-mouthed Begbie… it’s just that I found myself longing for a few surprises.

Lucky for me then, that the second half actually supplies them, hewing much closer to Welsh’s original vision, managing to offer some scenes I’ve never seen before and some interesting variations on the ones I know by heart. Angus Miller takes on the dual roles of Sick Boy and the doomed, Tommy, while Gavin John Wright actually seems to be channeling Ewan Bremner as the hapless Spud. But perhaps its Chloe-Ann Taylor who has the most difficult job here, switching effortlessly from Alison, to Dianne and even, during the infamous ‘going cold turkey’ scenes, Renton’s Ma.

It’s not usually done to give a special mention to the set design (take a bow Max Jones) but the final scenes play out in an ingeniously designed London hotel room, which somehow glides slowly onstage like a kind of hallucination, creating a ‘wow’ moment all by itself.

Overall, this is an assured production; and when I think about it, maybe those familiar scenes just need to be there – otherwise it’s like going to see your favourite band in concert and them neglecting to play any of their best-known songs. A game of two halves then, Boyle versus Welsh. Whichever half you prefer, this is well worth your time and money.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

T2: Trainspotting

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29/01/17

It’s twenty years after the events of Trainspotting and the only running feet in evidence belong to a stranger, pounding a treadmill in a busy gym. But as we quickly discover, mortality waits in the wings, ready to claim the lives of the unwary.

Following the death of his mother, Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to his home city to pay his respects and to look up his old cronies. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still a hopeless junkie and just about ready to end his own life when Renton comes (quite literally) to his rescue. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is running his auntie’s dilapidated pub and attempting to make a dishonest living by blackmailing a series of victims with the help of his Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (Angela Nedyalkova). Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is still languishing in prison, but with the help of another inmate and a well-aimed shiv, manages to effect an escape. Time has not mellowed him in the slightest and he is still intent on avenging himself on the man who double-crossed him all those years ago. It’s strangely satisfying to note that Carlyle still excels at playing the consummate psychopath and it’s all too easy to understand Renton’s terror of his old adversary.

With T2, director Danny Boyle has crafted a sequel that more than pays lip service to its iconic predecessor. In fact, in certain respects, it betters the original. As a study of the city of Edinburgh, for instance, it’s a massive step up – Trainspotting was largely filmed in and around Glasgow, but T2 takes advantage of many of its home city’s most screenworthy locations. The cinematography of Anthony Dodd Mantle looks absolutely stunning and, as you would hope, there’s an energetic and propulsive soundtrack, a mixture of new material and golden oldies.

John Hodge’s screenplay is particularly astute, taking time to pay homage to many of the original film’s most iconic scenes and in many cases, subverting them. Renton’s ‘choose life’ speech is given a contemporary reboot, (spoken in of all places, in the fourth floor brasserie at Harvey Nicks) while Spud takes on the mantle of novelist Irvine Welsh as he starts to write down the foursome’s youthful adventures as a kind of prototype novel. (Keen-eyed viewers will spot the real Welsh in a cameo, reprising the role of wheeler-dealer Mikey). Occasional flashbacks to the first film and to the childhoods of the four main characters lend a bitter-sweet air of melancholy to the proceedings.

Not everything is perfect. It would have been nice to see Kelly McDonald and Shirley Henderson given a little more to do here and I would have liked to hear more from Renton’s widowed father (James Cosmo), but I suppose you can’t have everything. These shortcomings aside, T2 ranks as one of the most satisfying sequels ever, largely because it has the intelligence to honour its origins without being allowed to turn into a pale imitation. The packed Sunday afternoon screening we attended paid eloquent testimony to the fact that Danny Boyle has a palpable, and well deserved hit on his hands.

T2 also features one of the most memorable final sequences of recent years as Renton, back in his childhood bedroom, finally rocks out to a new version of Lust For Life.

Don’t miss this one, it’s a keeper.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Steve Jobs

16/11/15

Steve Jobs is a strange sort of movie. Danny Boyle’s valiant attempt to capture the wayward genius of Apple’s head honcho is a film that really could only have been made after the man’s death. If he’d still been alive he’d have sued the makers for every penny they had. Not because it’s inaccurate, you understand, simply because that’s the kind of man he was.

Set mostly at the launch of three Apple products – the original Macintosh, the ill-fated Next cube and finally, the iMac, the set up is more like that of a theatrical production – and for all Boyle’s claims that this is a ‘standing-up’ movie rather than a ‘sitting-down’ one, it still comes across as predominantly talky. The script, by Aaron Sorkin, is a cut above most movie dialogue you’ll encounter, which certainly helps, but this frankly isn’t in the same league as The Social Network, with which the film will inevitably be compared.

Jobs (Michael Fassbender), quickly demonstrates the kind of behaviour that had him classed as a major pain in the backside by pretty much everyone who had the misfortune to work with him. He’s obsessed with tiny details, unwilling to take anyone else’s views into consideration and equally unwilling to take responsibility for his daughter, Lisa, who he claims might not actually be his child. His long-suffering assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) is lumbered with the unenviable task of keeping him on track and we see clashes with bearded workhorse Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan) and conversations with the closest thing that Jobs had to a father-figure, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) – unless of course you include his actual biological father, a restaurant owner who used to boast that Jobs ate in his establishment, without ever finding out he was actually waiting on his own son.

Boyle’s films are usually adrenalin-fuelled, razzle-dazzle affairs, so this slow burning, stage bound production will inevitably prove a disappointment to many. Certainly, early indications are that the movie is not exactly putting bums on seats – but it wins through in the end by virtue of Sorkin’s edgy script and a soaring conclusion, where everything finally falls into place.

4 stars

Philip Caveney