Saturday, 20 July 2019

Movie Review: Notes On A Scandal (2006)

A drama about loneliness and lust, Notes On A Scandal is a compact and explosive examination of two women suffering through different forms of desperation.

In London, Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) is nearing retirement as a history teacher at a tough school. Lonely and never married, she confines her deepest thoughts to her diary. At the start of the school year Barbara spots new art teacher Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) struggling to deal with raucous student behaviour, and befriends her. Sheba is married to the much older Richard (Bill Nighy) and returning to work after taking 10 years off to care for her son Ben, who has Down's Syndrome.

Just as their friendship is solidifying, Barbara discovers Sheba having an affair with 15 year old student Steven Connolly (Andrew Simpson). Sheba admits all the details of the passionate affair to Barbara and pleads with her to delay telling the administration until after Christmas. But Barbara has other plans, and assures Sheba her secret is safe as long as Sheba breaks off the relationship with Steven.

The serious issue of loneliness among the elderly is rarely tackled on film, and Notes On A Scandal rectifies the omission with relish. Barbara is a fascinating character to place at the middle of any story, and Judi Dench brilliantly captures the complexity of a lonely but proud woman drowning in dwindling expectations, her mind justifying the creeping dark shadow of manipulative and stalking behavior.

Zoë Heller's book is adapted into an efficient 91 minute screenplay by Patrick Marber, and director Richard Eyre makes potent use of every scene. Driver by Philip Glass' soundtrack and without any dawdling the film breathes deeply from a school environment beset by a teachers' mood of prevalent resignation and hormonally-driven students who would rather be anywhere else. Any hint of an optimistic narrative about an inspirational teacher helping even one student rise above is stomped into the grey concrete, and Notes On A Scandal sets off to uncover the thriving weeds of selfish immorality growing between the cracks.

If Barbara is the silent hunter hiding behind the proper stiff mannerisms of an unloved but respected veteran, Sheba is the wispy newcomer escaping a stressful home environment overrun with childcare responsibilities. She was a 20 year old ingenue student when she wrecked Richard's first marriage, and now she is incurably attracted to her own affair with a toyboy. Sheba's indiscretion renders her hopelessly vulnerable and exposed to Barbara, and the two women are soon locked in an impossible embrace of dependence.

Blanchett remarkably matches Dench's performance with her own rendition of a woman slowly cut adrift from rational behaviour, Blanchett convincingly occupying Sheba's fragile head space as she risks family and career.

The third act does veer towards a couple of overclocked meltdowns, but overall Notes On A Scandal maintains focus on the insidious damage caused by the yawning gap between hope and reality. Barbara and Sheba may be a generation apart, but they are on the same emotional collision course.

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Friday, 19 July 2019

Movie Review: White Hunter Black Heart (1990)

An adventure about living life to the fullest, White Hunter Black Heart follows a flamboyant character as he doggedly chases a defining prize.

Respected film director John Wilson (Clint Eastwood) is an anti-authoritarian free spirit, marching to the beat of his own drummer and unconcerned with studio requirements. John convinces writer Pete Verrill (Jeff Fahey) to travel with him to Africa to film a movie for producer Paul Landers (George Dzundza). Despite the financial risks and complicated logistics, John insists the entire film be shot on location, further raising the anxiety level of the studio and financiers.

But John's real objective is to embark on a safari to hunt a large tusked elephant. Once in Africa he ignores the film preparation activities and instead instigates hell-raising brawls and connects with local guides who could lead him to the trail of elephant herds. Pete grows increasingly frustrated with John's obsession and disagrees on principle with hunting elephants. As the clock ticks down to the scheduled start of filming, the cast and crew arrive in Africa to find a distracted and dismissive director.

Co-written by Peter Viertel, adapting his book of the same title, White Hunter Black Heart lands in an unfortunate narrative limbo. Viertel was a co-writer of The African Queen, and although this story is billed as fictional it is clearly inspired by events leading up to the filming of John Huston's classic. The obvious yet unspoken parallels with famous real people and actual events are disconcerting.

Eastwood directs and acts in the starring role as John Wilson, delivering a mixed impression of Huston. Worrywart Paul Landers is modeled on producer Sam Spiegel, while Marisa Berenson and Richard Vanstone have small roles as Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart (here called Kay Gibson and Phil Duncan), and are essentially made up as lookalikes.Viertel becomes Pete Verrill, the mostly passive observer of Wilson's overindulgent eccentricities.

As a film White Hunter Black Heart is theatrically staged and mostly concerned with examining the psyche of a man willing to test his own limits and happy to poke society's tolerance of his insubordination. Undoubtedly talented and passionate, Wilson's artistic abilities as a movie creator are fueled by his maverick tendencies. He thrives on violating the sensibilities of everyone around him, hoping for reactions to cultivate his creativity.

But Wilson's obsession with hunting an elephant as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with a primordial definition of masculinity takes the film only so far. Many barely defined secondary and tertiary characters clutter his adventure, and all can be categorized as enablers, targets or irrelevant. Eastwood the director builds to a few deliberate highlights, including Wilson sparring with an anti-semitic socialite and a racist hotel manager. The incidents are just too obvious as attempts to soften Wilson's character in the face of his determination to fell an elephant and irritate his colleagues.

The filming locations in Zimbabwe add an organic beauty, but Viertel's dialogue errs towards an awkward combination of artificial and florid, always in search of the killer quip or witty retort but never quite landing.

John Wilson may believe his wild beast hunt carries a greater purpose than any mere contemporary human can understand. But White Hunter Black Heart is a just a middling pursuit of the mythical edge, the stripped consequences grounded in down-to-earth reality.

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Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Movie Review: The Flight Of The Phoenix (1965)

A survival adventure, The Flight Of The Phoenix explores tense dynamics among a group of men stranded in the unforgiving desert.

In North Africa, jaded veteran pilot Frank Towns (James Stewart) and his hard drinking navigator Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough) are in command of a cargo flight to Benghazi, flying an aging twin-engine Fairchild C-82 Packet airplane. A disparate group of men from various backgrounds are hitching a ride, including British military men Captain Harris (Peter Finch) and Sergeant Watson (Ronald Fraser); French Doctor Renaud (Christian Marquand); German scientist Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Krüger); and several oil field workers including the dimwitted Cobb (Ernest Borgnine).

During the flight Towns encounters a severe sandstorm, first knocking the plane off course then stalling both engines and forcing a hard landing in the desert. The men have plenty of dried dates for food but only enough water for about 10 to 15 days. With no signs of a forthcoming rescue Harris and one other survivor embark on a perilous march through the desert, while Heinrich reveals he is an airplane designer and develops an audacious plan to build a flying plane out of the wreckage.

An adaptation of the 1964 Elleston Trevor novel written for the screen by Lukas Heller and directed by Robert Aldrich, The Flight Of The Phoenix is an epic story of stress, hope and interpersonal dependencies under desperate circumstances. In the classic tradition of survival stories, the film is most interested in exploring emergent conduct and mental pressure when strangers with contrasting perspectives are trapped together for a prolonged period.

Themes of discipline, leadership and the transference of behavioral expectations from routine to emergency contexts permeate through the film. Heller's script delves into the complexities of authority under stress through the hierarchical relationship between Captain Harris and Sergeant Watson. Here codes of discipline and obedience built for war buckle under the strain of bleak prospects unrelated to hostile action. Suddenly deception and cowardice are in play, all in the name of eking out a survival advantage.

More fundamental to the group's prospects is the tension between Captain Towns and Heinrich Dorfmann. The normative leadership of the only man who can fly a plane is challenged once his aircraft is a crumpled wreck in the desert. Heinrich's well-calculated idea to build a new plane may sound insane, but it's the only available plan, and only he can lead it. Towns has already managed to steer his career in a downward spiral towards flying for a fifth-rate cargo operation in the desert with a drunk as his navigator, and yielding authority to a German nerd is not something he can readily accept. The essential role of the moderator, fulfilled by the now forcibly sober Moran, is accentuated.

The performances from James Stewart, Richard Attenborough and particularly Hardy Krüger are sturdy and appropriately layered, helping the film overcome its mammoth 142 minutes of running time. Some episodes serve to unnecessarily prolong the action while thinning the herd, but Aldrich overall keeps his focus on the characters. The resultant drama is engrossing despite most events being confined to a single location in and right around the plane's wreckage.

All men eventually wilt but a few also rise to the challenge. The Flight Of The Phoenix salutes the human ability to adapt and survive against overwhelming adversity.

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Sunday, 14 July 2019

Movie Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

A sequel to the classic 1987 financial drama, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a competent continuation of the story without ever rising to the same heights.

In 2001 Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is released from prison after serving eight years for fraudulent financial activities. By 2008 he is living a quiet life, promoting his book and predicting an economic disaster to come. Ambitious securities trader Jacob Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is in love with Gordon's daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan), who is not on speaking terms with her father. Jacob works for Keller Zabel Investments, a firm being shaken by the early rumblings of the subprime mortgage crisis.

Rival Bretton James (Josh Brolin) of the firm Churchill Schwartz senses weakness and ends the career of Jacob's boss and mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella). Bretton and Gordon share a chequered history, creating an opportunity for Gordon and Jacob to team up against a common foe. In return for Gordon supplying Jacob with information about Bretton's unethical trading conduct, Jacob tries to arrange a reconciliation between Gordon and Winnie. But with the entire financial market system on the verge of collapse, personal agendas may be sideswiped by bigger events.

With the 2008 Great Recession providing a seemingly ideal backdrop, director Oliver Stone returns to the world of greed, backstabbing and unimaginable wealth among the movers and shakers at the epicentre of capitalism. Money Never Sleeps is glitzy and visually hyperkinetic, featuring rushed plot developments, the occasional dizzy torrent of characters and names, and an abundance of split screens superimposed with rapidly changing numbers, charts, and artistic silhouettes.

But for all the moving and shaking, the reality of the financial crisis is more astounding than any fictional story conjured up by co-writers Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff. Here the script goes searching for memorable moments to rival the Greed is Good speech from the first film, but instead settles for a routine tale of revenge, comebacks, father-daughter tension and an unconvincing romance. Freshness and originality are sorely lacking, and even the ending reaches for sappy when a more biting resolution was available.

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko is by far the best thing on display, and the film suffers mightily when he is off-screen. Neither Josh Brolin as the designated new villain nor Shia LaBeouf as the feisty newcomer have the charisma or sparkle to engage, and they are ill served by predictable and bland dialogue exchanges.

The romance between Jacob and Winnie is the weakest part of the film, as they spend most of the time arguing. Carey Mulligan cannot overcome her character's repeated internal inconsistencies, starting with why a woman with left-leaning politics and disgusted by her father's profession would fall for a slick Wall Street guy.

The cast is deep in underutilized talent, including Eli Wallach in his last feature film as a Wall Street veteran and Susan Sarandon as Jacob's mother, overextended on real estate speculation. Charlie Sheen makes a one-scene appearance as Bud Fox, and Sylvia Miles has an equally brief role as a realtor. The soundtrack is an audacious but ultimate incongruous and unsuitable selection of songs written and performed by David Byrne and Brian Eno.

Money Never Sleeps offers a nod to emerging technologies and the fledgling field of alternative energy sources, and a few strong and tense scenes are staged at the Federal Reserve as the most powerful bankers in the country grapple with the meltdown of their entire industry. But while the subject matter is always reasonably engrossing due to the inherent corruption, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps uses gilded packaging to cover up distinctly familiar fundamentals.

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Saturday, 13 July 2019

Movie Review: The King And I (1956)

A musical drama and romance, The King And I enjoys a larger-than-life Yul Brynner performance and a couple of good musical numbers, but otherwise sags under the weight of a turgid production.

It's the 1860s, and British teacher Anna Leonowens (Deborah Kerr) and her young son arrive in Siam. Anna has accepted the position of educator to the children of King Mongkut (Yul Brynner), but she is disappointed to learn from Prime Minister Kralahome (Martin Benson) that the King has reneged on a promise to provide her with a house outside the castle.

Anna finds the King a stern but intriguing man, the arrogant father of numerous children but keenly interested in expanding his knowledge of science and international politics. She establishes a good rapport with her students and also meets Tuptim (Rita Moreno), the Burmese slave wife of the King who is still secretly in love with her beau Lun Tha (Carlos Rivas). Anna gradually establishes herself as a capable advisor to the King, but their relationship remains complex.

Based on the 1951 Broadway musical which in turn was an adaptation of the 1944 book Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, The King And I features the music of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II and Yul Brynner's career defining performance. Recreating the role he made his own on the stage, Brynner dominates the screen with a restless, authoritative hands-on-hips display of power.

While Kerr (with her singing dubbed by Marni Nixon) adequately grounds Anna in predictable British mannerisms, most of the rest of the film does not live up to Brynner's energy level. Getting To Know You and Shall We Dance? are superlative set-pieces, but the rest of the musical numbers are eminently forgettable. And for a film drawn out to 133 minutes, the supporting characters are close to nonexistent. Anna's son Louis appears at the start and end and otherwise disappears entirely, while Prime Minister Kralahome is equally underutilized. The lingering romance between Tuptim and Lun Tha is reduced to the simplest of fallow sketches.

The King And I features a bewildering play-within-a-play, an artistically staged eastern version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, converted by Tuptim into a condemnation of the King's attachment to wife enslavement. The sequence is both enchanting and distracting, a misfit in the overall narrative arc but nevertheless captivating in its simplistic beauty.

Director Walter Lang confines the action to a few studio-created sets representing various mammoth rooms within the King's castle. Captured in CinemaScope, the set design is impressive and colourful, but the film never threatens to escape its stage origins. Meanwhile the core story suffers from a tired west-is-best mentality, and is further hindered by a hideous make-up job to unconvincingly transform white and Hispanic cast members into Asians.

The King And I enshrines Brynner's forceful screen persona, but is an otherwise confounding royal encounter.

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Friday, 12 July 2019

Movie Review: Private Benjamin (1980)

A comedy and romance about life's twists and turns and resultant decision points, Private Benjamin combines army humour with a worthwhile story about finally growing up.

In Philadelphia, 26 year old Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn) is a spoiled princess from a rich family, about to get married for the second time. But new husband Yale (Albert Brooks) expires during intercourse on their wedding night, sending Judy into a depression. She is lured into volunteering for the army by a recruiter (Harry Dean Stanton) selling her a vision of private waterfront rooms and yachts.

Instead, Judy finds herself in Biloxi, Mississippi, undergoing six weeks of basic training under the command of Captain Doreen Lewis (Eileen Brennan) and Drill Sergeant Ross (Hal Williams). She wants to quit and her parents (Sam Wanamaker and Barbara Barrie) arrive to take her home. But Judy experiences a last minute change of heart and decides to tough it out, changing her life's trajectory and leading to a romance with suave French doctor Henri Tremont (Armand Assante).

Close to her stardom peak, Goldie Hawn co-produces, stars in and energizes a warm hearted comedy. Private Benjamin is an old-fashioned star vehicle, and Hawn owns every scene of her movie. From flighty and overindulged rich girl looking for a professional husband and an easy life to a hardened army graduate standing up for herself, Judy Benjamin's journey combines laughs with knowing commentary about redefining trajectories.

The comedy stems from the conflict in expectations between a self-proclaimed professional shopper and life in an army barracks, and director Howard Zieff places Judy in plenty of awkward situations to ram home her new reality. Cleaning toilets, endurance training and physical tussles with other volunteers create rich terrain for humour and evolution, while raising Judy's awareness that there may be more to life than choosing the perfect interior decorating fabric colour.

The film's third act is more serious and involves Judy's post-graduation posting in Europe, and the subsequent relationship with Henri. The departure from the earlier broad laughs and the abandonment of Judy's hard-earned gal-pals is a narrative risk. But co-writers Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer, and Harvey Miller know what they are doing, because as the 1980s kick-off, women's empowerment extends beyond admittance to previously male-only domains and towards putting new found skills to practical use. Judy's journey is only satisfying when she starts navigating her life with a new sense of maturity and independence.

Eileen Brennan provides solid support as a tough but vulnerable Captain Lewis, who evolves from trainer to nemesis. Armand Assante is all smarmy charm as the latest seemingly safe catch luring Judy into old habits.

Private Benjamin joins the army to escape a personal tragedy and chase a fantasy, but discovers a bold new reality instead.

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Movie Review: My Favorite Year (1982)

A nostalgia-driven comedy about the insanity of early live television shows, My Favorite Year combines laughs with joyfully expansive characters.

It's 1954 in New York City. Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) has landed a job as a junior writer and errand boy for the weekly live television show Comedy Cavalcade, starring Stan "King" Kaiser (Joseph Bologna). While Benjy is busy trying to ignite a romance with office girl K.C. Downing (Jessica Harper), he is tasked with ensuring that ex-movie star Alan Swann (Peter O'Toole), once a popular hero of swashbuckling spectacles but now a notorious drunk, remains sober and functional enough to fulfil his guest star appearance.

In the days leading up to the show King is threatened by mobster Karl Rojeck (Cameron Mitchell), who is unhappy being one of the King's regular satirical targets. Meanwhile Benjy tries to keep Swann under control, and their misadventures include a wild sojourn to a nightclub, a highrise rooftop escapade, and dinner with Benjy's family in Brooklyn. The two men get to know each other and find they have more in common than expected.

A look back at the early days of writing and producing popular live television comedy shows, My Favorite Year feeds off the buzz and energy of writers, actors and producers tasked with pulling together a weekly event in which anything can go wrong in front of millions of viewers. Director Richard Benjamin finds a good rhythm alternating comedy and character depth, My Favorite Year enjoying moments of farce interspersed with more quiet scenes of pathos, reflection and some romance.

The film draws on the real-life personal experience of Mel Brooks, here an uncredited executive producer. The script (by Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo) is inspired by Brooks' days writing with Woody Allen for the Sid Caesar variety program and Alan Swann is based by Errol Flynn, once a guest star on Caesar's show.

My Favorite Year plays on the theme of screen fantasy colliding with the reality of the men who create it. The larger than life imagery lifts but also consumes, and Swann's surrender to mythology comes at the expense of true fulfilment. While Peter O'Toole is in top form bringing Alan Swann to life as happily addicted to alcohol and women, some of the drunken antics are tiresome. Better are the moments where Swann displays surprising humanity and perception, demonstrating to Benjy a startling level of self awareness.

To a lesser extent King Kaiser is dealing with the same issues but at a more immediate level, his current mass popularity antagonizing the real target of his stinging sketches. The line between actor and role blurs, King standing up to mobster Rojeck as if he has an entourage of muscle rather than actors supporting him.

The romance elements are choppy and essentially disappear from the second half of the film. But the comedy highlights are many, including a dinner event with Benjy's parents that draws in all the occupants of a Brooklyn apartment building, followed by an attempted party gate-crash stunt involving misuse of a firehose. Director Benjamin finds a suitable finale that brings together the past and present while meshing the actors and their roles in a fitting tribute. As it turns out, once actors create their legend, there is no turning back.

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Sunday, 7 July 2019

Movie Review: Loving (2016)

A historical biography, Loving is the story of the romance that resulted in a legal challenge on laws banning mixed-race marriage in Southern states.

It's the late 1950s in rural Virginia. In a small but diverse Caroline County community, bricklayer and car mechanic Richard Loving, (Joel Edgerton), who is white, is very much in love with Mildred (Ruth Negga), a local black woman. After she announces her pregnancy they get married in Washington DC and start planning to build a house. It does not take long for local sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas) and his men to burst in at midnight and arrest Richard and Mildred for violating Virginia's law banning interracial marriage.

Judge Bazile (David Jensen) suspends their one year prison sentence on condition they leave the state for 25 years. They relocate to Washington DC, where the family grows to three kids. But the lure of home is strong and with the civil rights movement gaining momentum, Mildred writes to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, seeking his intervention. The case is referred to the American Civil Liberties Union, and lawyer Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) is appointed to investigate appeal options.

A story of a humble and simple couple who became the catalysts for historic change, Loving is as low key and understated as its reluctant protagonists. Director Jeff Nichols also wrote the script, and he adopts a suitably detached observer tone, avoiding any hint of speeches, moralizing or even condemnation. Nichols also resists the temptation to enter the courtroom for any longer than needed. Once their case makes it to Supreme Court Richard and Mildred decide to stay away, and Nichols respects their decision and avoids turning Loving into a courtroom drama.

The story only gains strengths from it rejection of grandstanding and labels of heroism or villainy. Richard is a lumbering man of few words, his brooding exterior hiding a sensitive soul deeply dedicated to Mildred. In a memorably minimalist performance Joel Edgerton often occupies the screen with awkward silence and uncomfortable shuffling.

Ruth Negga compensates with a soft smile, a home-grown glint in her eye and a more patient stance. Mildred is devoted to her roots, her community and her new husband and growing family. Always a misfit in urban Washington DC, it is Mildred who takes the initiative to write to Kennedy, and then agitates Richard into accepting meetings with the ACLU. She is also marginally more comfortable with the media and engages with the press to shine a light on their case. Michael Shannon has a one-scene appearance as a Life magazine photographer.

Loving finds tender beauty in the elegance of rural life, Richard and Mildred the products of a tight-knit community that has largely embraced diversity and moved past labels based on skin colour. As is often the case, seminal change traces back to the most humble of origins.

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Saturday, 6 July 2019

Movie Review: Yesterday (2019)

A music-inspired romantic comedy with a fantasy premise, Yesterday combines the songs of The Beatles with an appealing and lighthearted story about the lure of fame.

In England, Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is an unknown struggling singer songwriter close to giving up on the dream of a music career. His manager and agent Ellie (Lily James) has steadfastly supported him since grade school, but their relationship never progressed beyond friendship. A mysterious global power blackout lasts for 12 seconds, during which Jack is hit by a bus.

He wakes up in hospital, and upon recovering is stunned to realize he is the only person on earth who knows who The Beatles are. The Fab Four (along with a few other iconic items) appear to have never existed. Jack senses an opportunity to claim The Beatles' catalogue as his own work. He is soon discovered by Ed Sheeran (playing himself) and business manager Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon), and sets off on a wild ride towards superstardom, but at a cost to his relationship with Ellie.

Tapping into the eternal magic of The Beatles' music, Yesterday sets off to explore the conflict between fame and fulfilment. The film is elegantly paced and earnestly staged by director Danny Boyle, and benefits from agreeable performances from Patel and James, with a terrific assist from McKinnon.

Richard Curtis conjured up the script, and uses the global memory hiccup as a humorous launching off point to delve into eternal conflicts. Jack can achieve everything he ever wanted if he can just continue to lie to himself and turn away from Lily's adoration. Keeping one secret and losing one woman will allow him to become the world's biggest music star, and Yesterday playfully toys with Jack's internal agony as he gets to decide which version of the future he will seize.

The romance between Jack and Ellie underpins the story. The two are perfectly suited to each other but in their ten years as friends and business partners never found the courage to express their true feelings. Now with fate and fame intervening it may all be too late, but Curtis keeps the flame flickering, with both demonstrating vulnerability to provide the film with its human warmth.

Elsewhere McKinnon gets the best one-liners as the acerbic music manager fully in charge of the industry machinery and just as fully fixated on the bottom line, while Joel Fry as accidental roadie Rocky provides laidback comic support. Ed Sheeran lends plenty of star power and credibility as the already-there superstar paving the way for the next and greater talent to emerge.

With the clever cosmic twist deployed to tangle up would-be lovers in a global knot filled with delicious pitfalls and opportunities, Yesterday is suitably inspired by music that changed the world. 

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Movie Review: Sexy Beast (2000)

A crime thriller with comic touches, Sexy Beast rides a wave of profanity in a patchy story of multiple dueling gangsters.

In Spain, retired British criminal Gal (Ray Winstone) is living the easy life with his wife DeeDee (Amanda Redman) and their friends, fellow-Brit couple Aitch and Jacki. After surviving an errant boulder that tumbles into his swimming pool, the out of shape but happy Gal gets a visit from notorious thug Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), who is recruiting a bank vault heist team for a job in London on behalf of mobster Teddy Bass (Ian McShane).

Gal is not interested, but the combustible Don will not take no for an answer, and over two days escalates the pressure and hurls steely insults at Gal, DeeDee, Aitch and Jacki. In the meantime, the ice cold Teddy will have the final say about Gal's fate.

An irreverent peek into the lives of thugs, Sexy Beast collects a cross section of retired and active operatives and throws them into a different kind of conflict. The script by Louis Mellis and David Scinto uses the actual heist as a secondary objective, and focuses attention instead on the personalities of men at different stages in life influencing each other. Gal and Aitch have serenely settled down to a post-work world in sunny Spain, Don is very much still engrossed in plotting the next job, and Teddy is an aging but effective master plotter.

Don's irresistible force methods to pressure and shame Gal into coming out of retirement is the film's centrepiece. First time director Jonathan Glazer comes from the music video world and jacks up Don's level of intensity into the vivid absurd. With Don Kingsley not holding back, this recruiter is more a force of nature than a man. His persuasive communication methods consist of a never ending stream of insults, mercilessly probing his target's emotional weaknesses to achieve the desired outcome.

Don also serves as a catalyst, his re-emergence forcing secrets from Gal's past life into the open and exposing vulnerabilities that either hold ex-cons together or tear them apart.

With every second word of dialogue a profanity, Sexy Beast often slips into stylistic excess at the expense of plot coherence, and the third act starts to sketch in events with minimal explanation. Ian McShane's Teddy Bass is an intimidating presence, his piercing eyes capable of boring into any skull, but Gal is almost reduced to a side observer in his own story as the film rumbles erratically towards a conclusion.

The beasts are human and their sexy days well behind them, but they still make for colourful subjects.

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