Yesterday: A Film Review

Warning: Spoilers inside.

I went to see Yesterday with my parents while they were visiting, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have gone. Not because I didn’t want to watch it – on the contrary, it looked quite interesting in the trailer – but there’s just so much stuff to watch at any given moment, I needed the nudge of seeing it with visitors to convince me to go. I never really thought of it before, but it’s interesting how my mind now categorises what are must-sees on the big screen and the experience of a movie theatre, or what would be best left to when it’s available on stream or Blu-Ray. However, there’s been numerous instances recently when I re-watch movies that I thought were amazing in the cinema, or watch movies at home that everyone has raved about, when I’ve wondered if a lot of the appreciation for a movie at the cinema is actually just the experience of being the ‘ones to see it first’ and not much else. Like being a proud nerd in 1977 lining up to see Star Wars before the rest of the crowd caught on, except now, all these type of movies are hyper-mainstream, and have been planned and plotted by corporations a decade in advance to enhance the fandom of them.

Either way, I digress.

With all the endless Disney remakes and female casted remakes, tokenistic casting, etc, it sadly  feels like there’s not a lot of original content. Which is why I think I’m more likely to have a softer spot for movies that I appreciate for being original in concept, even if they’re less apt at pulling it off in the best way, or living up to their own potential.

Having said this, there’s been a trend toward a more Asian minority-led mainstream films and TV shows around. There’s The Big Sick, which I’m yet to see, Fresh off the Boat, Master of None (which I’ve watched several times over – it’s wonderful), Always Be My Maybe (another yet to see) and of course, Crazy Rich Asians. A few of these have Indian leading men in particular, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a lot. There was a lot of talk a few years ago about Idris Elba being cast as the next James Bond, and how controversial it was. All I could think of was; the debate focused on a dichotomy between white and black – well, how about any other race? Why is it still so controversial, when the conversation completely ignores that there’s even any other options besides Western European features, and African features? And why is it always just a franchise or a remake? Why not just put it on hold for a while and make something entirely new? Why is everyone grabbing for a part that’s been done to death, when there’s no such thing as scarcity when you have literally millions of writers and ideas in the world?

Okay, that was a rant, but anyway. The deciding factor for me to watch Yesterday was the fact that the lead character was played by Himesh Patel, aka Nitin from Damned (which I spoke about in a previous post), a series I really loved. I’d like to watch it again, actually. Patel’s character, like the others in the show, was nuanced and complicated, and most of all; realistic.


In Yesterday, Patel brought a certain empathy to the screen aside from the script. His scowling face and brooding dark brow expressed the immense pain his character was feeling, being torn between the things he’s always wanted, and what he thinks is the ‘right’ thing to do. His live rendition of ‘Help’, culminating in him screaming a plea for someone to help him (get out of the situation he finds himself in) was heart wrenching. The shock and confusion in a lot of scenes was conveyed perfectly by his body language, and it was something I personally connected to, as I felt like I would have reacted/dealt with the situation in a similar way.

However, the script itself at times was clumsy, awkward, and in the case of Ed Sheeran, plain creepy. It wasn’t for lack of acting talent or experience, as the cast featured names such as Sanjeev Bhaskar (of one of the first mainstream Asian-casted shows I knew, The Kumars at No. 42), Lily James (Downton Abbey, Cinderella, Mamma Mia) and Joel Fry (Game of Thrones). But it felt like they were being constrained by a script that wouldn’t let them express the necessary emotion, or at times forced it, contrary to the nature of a scene. So much of the story hinges on the inner struggle between what people want and what is right, that a more loosely scripted performance carried by the talent of the actors involved would have taken what became, essentially, a rom-com, to something much greater.

I don’t know what the deal with Ed Sheeran was; whether it was the role, the script, or just casting him in particular, but I found his screentime rather puzzling and uncomfortable. He had a much more significant role than just a cameo appearance, and was weaved in as quite an important character, as a person who acts as a vehicle for Jack to gain widespread acceptance. The issue was that I couldn’t tell whether we as the audience were supposed to think he knew something was off, or he was jealous or didn’t like Jack, but none of those things would have made sense. Are the writers seriously claiming Ed Sheeran as the modern-day equivalent of the Beatles? (wow), or perhaps Sheeran’s genius can only be toppled by Lennon/McCartney? And even so, the only way an Indian man (equipped with all the unheard Beatles genius in his brain) can gain acceptance is via a leg-up from Ed Sheeran, who trawls the internet scouting for unheard talent? If this is his character in the movie, fine, but why make it specifically him, in particular? My only conclusion is that perhaps it is best that Sheeran is better heard rather than seen, and any attempts to write him into scripts should probably stop at him making cameos on Game of Thrones.

It’s perhaps too late to make a film about the Beatles being the greatest band in the world still, and the anticipated shock that the audience of today should feel had they never existed. And to bring it into the ‘now’ by featuring someone like Ed Sheeran, and trying to pretend he’s on the same scale feels like a hasty rewrite, grabbing at a contemporary pop artist for relevance. B pointed out that it initially felt like it was a fresh interesting film, but in reality, it was another Bend It Like Beckham, and that was released 17 years ago! 

However, in spite of a few clunks and what felt like misdirection for the sake of it, I did enjoy this film. Perhaps I’ve been watching too many movies where you’re supposed to continually guess at what’s really going on from subtle gestures or tone. It’s worth watching, particularly with your parents, for some light entertainment. It was a nice, feel-good movie with a nice premise, just underdeveloped.

Okay, so some final thoughts/questions to get off my chest:

Why was Jack’s only choice to give up fame and fade into obscurity as a teacher with Ellie? She was his manager for 10 years, and then when he actually starts to make it, she decides she doesn’t want to do it anymore and guilt-trips him into deciding between fame & fortune or love? I must say, in a world where we are championing stronger ethnic or gender-diverse roles and casting, I’m most disappointed when poor writing extinguishes a well set-up character for no particular reason. Another nonsensical character is Ellie’s recording studio boyfriend (although I have a soft spot for the actor from Skins), who, at the end, explicitly says he does not mind playing second fiddle when Jack and Ellie decide to finally get together?

Let’s make an unfair comparison; in Master of None, Dev is a first-generation minority actor who wants to make it on his own merits, rather than playing into Hollywood stereotypes, and in the end, does. By the second season, his move to Italy indicates his successes have enabled him to live a lifestyle that can facilitate his creative nature. As a viewer, you appreciate this transition, both on-screen, and in real life, where you feel happy that a talented creative person can succeed, regardless of their ethnicity. In this movie, Jack as a struggling artist, is in the same initial position. By some universal quirk, he is able to attain fame on the realisation that no one remembers the Beatles, but feels guilty about it and repents to tell the truth. How come there’s no redemption or payoff? No interest in hearing his original music, although it seems they respect him after his ‘coming clean’ climax, and everyone seemed to like his personal voice and sound. If he had rewritten all the Beatles’ work but had no talent, or a voice that people didn’t like to listen to, he wouldn’t have made it very far anyway. The fact that he does fade into obscurity, as I mentioned above, doesn’t really make sense. He gave away the music rights, but in a world where they’ve never heard of the Beatles, I’m sure the world was much better off still listening to him (albeit not for profit). I guess they did the ‘success isn’t necessarily what others think it looks like’ angle, but it feels quite frustrating that it’s all or nothing. On that note, I thought it was a nice twist that they revealed John Lennon rather than Paul McCartney, who it seemed they were building towards. 

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them, or your feedback in general! 

Some Awesome TV Shows You Might Have Missed

I am perpetually on the hunt for new, different, exciting and interesting things. Some of those things are food, like Clonakilty Black Pudding (seriously, just try it. It tastes like Christmas!). Some of those things are music, and some are movies and TV shows. Not just that, but I love critiquing and discussing my obscure interests, and yet … Because they’re obscure, there’s not a lot of people to discuss with! But this is the internet, so it’s the perfect place to reach out to people about random obsessions. So without further ado, let’s start with some TV shows I’ve been really impressed by, and I’ll try to avoid any spoilers!

Jordskott

It’s a little difficult to describe Jordskott. I came across it because I was looking for a new Nordic Noir series, after being sucked in by Trapped. It’s like a cop thriller mixed with fantasy … Although that makes it sound like Grimm or Bright or something. It’s not the same. It’s darker and more uncomfortable, although it’s not gory or too violent, but there’s an … undercurrent. It feels like it really taps into ancient beliefs and knowledge, while in the very modern world. All helped along by incredible shots of Sweden’s forests, also similar to some of the nature shots in Trapped. All I can say is, you’ll get sucked in before you realise and wish there was already a third season. You can watch it on SBSOnDemand in Australia.

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Damned

A little different from the last show, Damned is kind of like if The Office was more bleak, with less cringe. It’s a bittersweet representation of the life of social workers in England, similar to another of Jo Brand’s shows, Getting On, about nurses in a hospital wing. It’s sneaky because you don’t realise you’re suddenly addicted to the subtle dark (?) humour, and riveting character interactions. I found it by accident and gave it a go one sick day, and can’t believe it doesn’t have more recognition or acclaim, especially given some of the faces involved. If you like The Office, Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant, or Simon Pegg/Nick Frost, definitely give it a go. You can find it on Stan in Australia. This little blurb really doesn’t describe it or introduce it very well, but it’s just a completely underrated show. I also don’t want to build it up too much, because that would be its downfall. It’s a quiet winner.

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The Terror

I’m not quite sure if this is all that obscure, but no one I know has been talking about it. Weird, really, because I had heard about it first from an Irish pub band in Dingle (Lady Franklin’s Lament) and then through those little ‘Did you Know?’ memes that circulate every now and then, summarising the subject of this show. Not to mention the fact that after 168 years, the shipwrecks were found in 2016. Anyway, this show blurs what we know with a bit of creative licence, a la Lost (don’t worry, it’s not what you think) and Ravenous, in telling the story of what happened to the sailors of the HMS’ Terror and Erebus in 1848. Two ships trapped in the Arctic ice for two years, running out of supplies, and … well, you’ll see. This show is like a never-ending nightmare. It’s always terrifying, at times difficult to watch, and disturbing, but you can’t look away. It’s a true feeling of horror throughout, although I can’t put my finger on why. Quiet horror? Combined with some famous faces, it’s a period drama for people who don’t like period dramas, and apparently another season is being made soon. Check it out on Amazon Prime in Australia.

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Ripper Street

There’s not really that many options for Australian streaming, we always seem to miss out on what other countries (namely USA) get. So I started taking chances with random shows while doing my daily cycling, and chanced upon Ripper Street. It’s got several recognisable faces as main characters, not least of all Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice, and Bronn from Game of Thrones. It paints a really interesting and compelling picture of humanity in London at the end of the 1800s, after Jack the Ripper has gone quiet, and the police who lost his trail. It sounds strange, but mix Call the Midwife with Deadwood and you get a feel for Ripper Street. Catch it on Amazon Prime in Australia.

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Sami Blood | Sameblod

Alright, so this isn’t a show, it’s a movie. But I don’t really watch enough movies to warrant a whole blog post just for those, so here we are. With a cast who have actual Sami blood, this tells the story of a Sami (natives of Lap[p]land) girl in 1930s Sweden. I won’t spoil it, but this is at the height of eugenics and phrenology; things which are almost unheard of post-World War 2, with good reason. It’s a relatively simple story, but the way it’s told and shot is what makes it stand out. At times, you will hate the main character, others you will pity her, but in the end, you will understand her actions. There’s really not much else I can say, except that it really is worth a watch … If you’re in the mood for it. It can be quiet and slow moving, but it is impactful without being too heavy. Watch on Amazon Prime in Australia.

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The Bridge | Bronn | Broen

Okay, this one is pretty well known, especially in Nordic Noir circles, but I waited off to watch it for some reason, and now I don’t know why. Perhaps I read a poor description, which is why hopefully this one will do the opposite and convince you to watch. Once again, it’s a Scandi thriller, starting on the bridge between Sweden and Denmark. Swedish and Danish detectives have to work together to solve a murder, and … It sounds like just about every other odd couple buddy cop movie ever, right? It’s definitely not. Nothing is as it seems, and there will be some head scratching moments, but you’ll be racing to finish the season, and then jumping into the next as soon as you can. Both detectives, although brusque in their own ways at first, become endearing in very different manners, and their dynamic was some of my favourite parts of the show. I really can’t get any further into it without spoilers, but you can find it on Stan or SBSOnDemand in Australia.

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Midnight Sun | Midnattssol

A collaboration between French and Swedish police to solve an unusual international murder in the Arctic Circle during the Swedish summer, when the sun never sets. There’s a Sami theme here again, which led me to find Sami Blood in the first place. There’s a lot packed into this show, and the suspense lasts until almost the end – not that it ties everything up neatly in the last five minutes – that leads you to guess and second-guess everything. The scenery, the small deliberate movements, choices and character actions, and the story at the centre is what makes this riveting. There are some complex issues at hand, and even more complicated characters, which makes it (again) difficult to describe. Is this why these shows aren’t more mainstream? I feel like I’m saying this for every item in the list! Anyway, you can watch it on SBSOnDemand in Aus.

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Trapped | Ófærð

This is the OG for me, the one that got me into Nordic Noir. Set in Iceland just before the roads get cut off during winter, body parts wash up, and the tiny town’s police set out to uncover what’s going on. Featuring some incredible scenery that highlights the isolation of the place, and a conspiracy that connects some unexpected players, it’s a story that starts off a little slow, but by the end of the first episode you’re the one who’s trapped… in an endless binge of episodes that will have you as thoroughly converted as I am. Find it on SBSOnDemand in Australia.

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Blue Eyes | Blå Ögon

More political than a “simple” murder mystery, this one has several layers, not least of which are the racial tensions and rise of neo-fascism in Europe, and indeed the rest of the world, currently. It’s a story of several different characters who, knowingly or unwittingly, are connected to each other somehow, and the outcomes of a series of decisions that could have just as easily gone the opposite way. Frustrating, thrilling and an uneasy simmer, it’s also easy to see why these characters who can’t seem to do any good make the choices they do as the ones who pathologically do the right thing, even at the cost of their own happiness. Check it out on SBSOnDemand in Australia.

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Ronnie Chieng: International Student

Yes, let’s get out of the heavy, depressing or scary ones, and into some comedy! If you haven’t heard of Ronnie Chieng, look no further than Crazy Rich Asians, the Daily Show, or his own standup. Portraying the lives of international students in Melbourne, this show is understated brilliance. Look forward to the bubble tea episode. I’m not sure global audiences would completely understand the Australian references, but that doesn’t take away from it. If anything, it would be a great export of Australian humour and culture, rather than crabs like Neighbours or Home and Away. If you like Flight of the Conchords and Taika Waititi style humour, you should definitely give it a go on Netflix.

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Yu Ming is Ainm Dom | Yu Ming is My Name

Ok, so this one isn’t really a show, it’s a short film. But it’s so wholesome and adorable, and it’s very close to my heart, as someone of Irish descent who has lived in Asia, and now learning Irish myself. A Chinese guy stuck in a job he hates decides to learn Irish, and the rest is a spoiler. Side note: I tried to watch the only Irish language show Netflix has, An Klondike, or Dominion Creek, only to find that they’d dubbed over it in English! What in the hegg is that even about?! Especially when there are dozens of shows in different languages on Netflix. Oh my gosh, I could go on and on but I shan’t. Suffice to say it was very upsetting. Anyway, check out the short film below!

Final Space

If you like Rick & Morty, Invader Zim, Coheed & Cambria or Futurama, you’ll love this. Fresh from Youtube comedian/director Olan Rogers, who’s had me in tears laughing for years, is a cartoon space odyssey about saving the universe. Made with Conan O’Brien, my particular favourite part is an angsty Footloose inspired dance sequence, although there are plenty more. It’s something I could watch over and over and can’t wait for the next season. You’ll find it on Netflix in Australia.

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The Almighty Johnsons

This one might be a bit of a tease. I first found it on Netflix a couple of years ago, but they’ve since taken it off and I can’t find it anywhere, except for a scratchy streamed version down a long spiral of links. Which; is it even worth watching then? The answer is YES, if you can get your hands on it. It may be low budget, but this comedy about reincarnated Norse Gods is hilarious, and not only that, the story is really interesting and keeps you guessing. I don’t even want to give anything away more than that, but New Zealand definitely has had some gems in the past few years, and this is one of them. Keisha Castle-Hughes from Game of Thrones/Whale Rider and Dean O’Gorman from the Hobbit are some of the more recognisable characters, but the rest of the cast is just as great. I wish I could tell you where to find it, but if you really want to watch it, I’m sure some of you are better internet treasure hunters than me.

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Forever

I have no idea how I stumbled on this, or why I decided to watch it, because I’m sometimes hesitant of actors from SNL and their comedic style, but I ended up being really surprised and impressed. Although it has an interesting premise, not a lot really happens in this show, and yet somehow, it’s super addictive. Starring Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen in the main roles, it’s co-created by Alan Yang of Master of None. Faced with the question of what happens when you die, the answer is even more ambiguous than the meaning of life, and I can’t wait to see a second season, if it’s on the cards. Catch it on Amazon Prime in Australia.

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Trollhunter | Trolljegeren

Another one which is not a show, but a mockumentary. Featuring typical dry Norwegian humour, it runs in much the same way as the Blair Witch Project, although it’s not really scary. It’s a little like those Discovery Channel ‘documentaries’ on mermaids or dragons, and looks at what would happen if there actually were trolls in Norway, with a forest ranger being followed by a student film crew. It’s not some amazing show like a lot of these others are, but it’s certainly worth a watch. You can find it on Stan in Australia.

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Norsemen | Vikingane

If you like Vikings, The Last Kingdom, The Office or Monty Python, you’ll probably appreciate this. It’s less epic, and more about the realities of life in Viking times, with an awkward comic spin, of course. Although it’s set and made in Norway, with an all Norwegian cast, it’s completely in English. You won’t find a Ragnar and Lagertha epic, or a King Eggbert, but there is a sociopathic Jarl, a slimy duo who care more about ‘the arts’ than defending their village, and a sweet love story set against all odds. There are two seasons so far on Netflix in Australia.

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American Gods

Based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, season two returns this March on Amazon Prime. Perhaps it’s not so obscure, but I only know a couple of people who are into it. It explores a hidden subculture of the world’s ancient gods in human form living in America, up against globalisation and the modern world, personified. Although it veers away from the novel quite quickly, I don’t think it takes away from the greatness of the story at all. They’ve just done it really, really well, and sometimes better and more cleverly than how I had imagined. I hope the high bar set continues to be reached, because several of the creators and Gillian Anderson have left before the upcoming season. I guess we’ll find out, but in the meantime, definitely give it a watch! You’ll be drawn in as ever by Ian McShane, and kept there by the rest of the star-filled cast. My particular favourite is a scene involving a deadly game of chess, juxtaposed against a sweet lullaby.

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Well, that’s all I have for you at the moment! Hope you enjoy and check out a few if they appeal to you, and let me know if you think there are some shows that I’d like, too!