What if you were the only human who knew The Beatles ever existed? That’s the high-concept premise of Yesterday from director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and famed writer Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill). We follow Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), and to say he is a struggling musician is an understatement. His best friend and manager Ellie (Lily James) is a constant source of encouragement and unrequited affection. He’s ready to quit when suddenly a world blackout results in him getting hit by a bus. He wakes up in a hospital badly bruised and apparently the world has never heard of The Beatles songs. Jack uses his unique knowledge and launches his musical career by passing on their material as his own. Suddenly he’s a superstar with a craven new manager (Kate McKinnon) and opening for Ed Sheeran. As he catapults to a new level of fame, he starts reconsidering his feelings for Ellie and fame in general.
Yesterday is a fantasy fitting of The Twilight Zone but cheerful and whimsical that it could fit well into the pantheon of Curtis’ other famous romantic comedies. It’s a relatable wishful scenario where you have the inside track to take advantage of pre-established works and zooming ahead to fame and fortune. It’s like a direct passage to the goal of creative acclaim. The movie is generally fun as it works on dramatic irony for laughs, as Jack introduces person after person to the songwriting of the Beatles. It’s a fun magic trick that doesn’t lose its charm. Even the musical score adopts several familiar melodies from The Beatles and Boyle highlights certain landmarks and their connections to the history of the tunes. I enjoyed Jack trying to remember the lyrics for “Eleanor Rigby” and coming up with various alternatives. There’s an amusing running joke about what else is missing from this parallel universe, including Coca-Cola and Harry Potter (there’s a great joke missed having Jack try and spectacularly fail to write Harry Potter). It’s a regular source of silliness and Boyle visually trains the film to automatically do a Google search for the missing item and what is found instead. There’s no rhyme or reason for what is missing; I doubt Curtis is trying to speculate that without Coke we wouldn’t have the Beatles and so on. The movie has an easy charm and affection that makes even its looser moments more agreeable. I was hoping for more moments of subversion, like when Jack is trying to play “Let It Be” for his parents for the first time and they keep absentmindedly interrupting. What if certain Beatles songs didn’t break through as popular today as they did in the 1960s? Does “I Want to Hold Your Hand” seem to quaint for modern listeners? There aren’t many surprises in store with Curtis’ script, which uses the fantasy gimmick as a vehicle to tell a pretty ordinary love story.
The problem with the gimmick is that there really is no downside for Jack. He zooms to international stardom. There is a small idea that he feels like a fraud by getting famous from the creativity of others but this is barely toyed with. Here’s one instance that could have better highlighted that inner turmoil: while on tour with Ed Sheeran, the musician challenges Jack to an impromptu songwriting contest, to go off to their respective corners and in ten minutes come up with a brand-new song. As presented, Jack comes back and plays “The Long and Winding Road” and everyone is spellbound. He wins. The scene could have played out with Jack trying his own material on the piano, either a tune we saw him working on before his accident or something truly original from the moment, and he could watch the crowd looking indifferent. His panic would flash in and he would cave, resorting to a Beatles song to win them over again. That moment could have showcased his internal dilemma of feeling like a fraud but his need to impress and win easy adulation. There is real downside for his passing off the Beatles songs as his own (spoilers to follow for the paragraph). At the very end, on the world’s stage, he announces the truth and that he didn’t write one of his hit songs, instead giving credit to John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Except even after this declaration, he doesn’t suffer any consequences. He maintains his fame, fortune, happiness, and gets the girl. Surely the media would seek out these cited songwriters and they would not know what he was talking about at all. Then what? Apparently nothing, as the world must have just accepted Jack as possibly being mentally ill.
Since so much of the film hinges on the romance between Jack and Ellie, it makes the obstacles keeping them apart feel foolishly arbitrary and annoying. It feels like there should be no stopping these two crazy kids from getting together but the movie manufactures questionable reasons. Firstly, Ellie is practically throwing herself at her friend in every scene for the first half, obviously hinting at her desire to be seen as something more than a friend and manager. At one point she even point-blank asks him why he doesn’t seem to view her as a romantic option (it’s not like Jack is being mobbed by other women), and the man doesn’t even articulate a reason. He just stares dumbfounded at her, as if he too is realizing a plausible reason hasn’t been conveyed. He doesn’t say, “I never knew,” because of course he knows, and he doesn’t say, “I didn’t want it to ruin our friendship,” or anything else along those lines. There isn’t even a protest. Then when he is famous, he starts thinking about becoming romantically involved, and Ellie says she doesn’t know if she can manage his new lifestyle. He’ll be in L.A. and she’ll be in her English small town, and he must choose one life over the other. This is a false choice. He’s rich and famous. He can live wherever the hell he wants, including a small English town with her. This is even glimpsed during the end credit epilogue, meaning it was completely an available option. The reasons both of these characters reject one another are just unreasonable. Lily James is playing a charming woman and should not have this much trouble having a man want to be with her.
Because of this forced and arbitrary conflict, keeping the lovers apart until finally letting them at each other, Yesterday is ultimately capped with its enjoyment level. It’s pretty much a gimmick that is meant to serve a more traditional rom-com, which Curtis knows how to do easily. Why then has he seemed to put so little effort in why these two should be kept apart? The yearning you need to feel in every rom-com feels one-sided and then switches over, making the chase feel like running in place for the sake of stretching out this conflict. It doesn’t make sense. There were realistic obstacles available with this premise, from Jack’s ego taking over thanks to everyone projecting the Beatles acclaim onto him, and he could just have become a shallower person that Ellie stops seeing as a desirable mate. That’s the easiest thing and Yesterday doesn’t even do that. Other women aren’t ever an option too. When Jack hits the big time, he isn’t fending off groupies and other industry sorts that want a piece of him. At no point does Ellie have any competition for his heart or any other part of him. They’re good together too, cute, and seem obvious that they should be together, so this foolish keep-away game feels grating.
Here’s a closing question: if the Beatles songs were released in a contemporary market, would they be the era-defying hits that they were? I’m somewhat doubtful. For an experiment, show Yesterday (or even 2007’s Across the Universe) to teenagers generally unaware about the Beatles catalogue. Do they instantly take notice? Do they ravishingly consume the songs and seek more? I’m sure some will; just because music is old doesn’t mean it can’t connect with a new, appreciative audience. However, would these songs be global hits instantly launching the songwriter to stardom? The Beatles are an indelible part of our culture and have influenced generations of artists. It’s hard to overstate their artistic influence but partly because of the time and place of that influence. Would Beethoven be as influential if he had gone unknown by history until the twenty-first century? Anyway, Yesterday is a cute but rather slight movie that reminds you about the power of music and the annoyance of contrivances withholding a happy ending until the final say-so.
Nate’s Grade: B-
Dizzying with its dialogue, Steve Jobs tells the story of its titular man through three Apple product launches, 1985’s Macintosh computer, 1988’s Apple rival and failure, Next, and 1998’s iMac, the beginning of the re-emergence of Apple into ubiquity. It’s really an Aaron Sorkin movie above all else, which means we get absurdly intelligent characters walking and talking at rapid-fire with brilliant one-liners and snappy dialogue that bristles with musicality to it, the kind that your ears perk up for. It’s a feast for the ears; however, Steve Jobs is really an emotionally cold stage play on film. Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) is the director but the staginess of the conceit is too much for the visually nimble filmmaker to overcome. There are a few small visual flourishes as inserts but the star is Sorkin’s verbose screenplay. We get a glimpse into the prickly, egotistical, bullying, visionary, and curious man that was Steve Jobs. His continual denial of being the father to his daughter is a source of great contrarian insight. The structure of the script lends itself to repetition and artificiality. All these characters keep turning up and having these important conversations at these moments? After a while it feels like the characters are talking in circles and waiting for catharsis, and the concluding ten minutes is a detour into unearned sentiment. The movie and its major themes just do not come together with the clarity or force that the filmmakers believe. Michael Fassbender is superb as Jobs and there isn’t a bad performance in the bunch. It’s an engaging movie in the moment but I don’t feel like I know Jobs any better than before. In attempting to tell the life of one influential man, Sorkin has made the movie about himself, but The Social Network this is not.
Nate’s Grade: B
Danny Boyle is a director that can make anything watchable. The man made an entire movie about a dude trapped under a rock and it was spellbinding. With that in mind, he does his very best to turn the trippy, Inception-like crime thriller Trance into a workable, watchable experience for the audience. The main issue is that the movie is so busy that once it slows down you realize there really isn’t anything going on. James McAvoy plays an art auctioneer who stashed a valuable painting during a heist. He undergoes hypnotherapy by Rosario Dawson so the crooks can determine where the loot resides. The premise allows for plenty of fake-outs, and you’ll be conditioned to doubt just about everything you see on screen. The film does a nice job of applying that doubt to the characters as well; the good guys may not be so good and the bad guys may not be so bad. With Boyle’s hyperkinetic visuals and some fast-paced editing, Trance is serviceable in the moment, but when the characters literally spell out everything you realize how shallow the movie is as well as these characters. The lone truly memorable moment is a scene where Dawson jets off to a bathroom, we hear an electronic buzzing, and she comes out fully nude, presenting herself as a shaven offering. The fact that this relates to an actual plot point is practically incidental. The movie isn’t as smart or as fun or as entertaining as it thinks it is, and I wish Boyle had taken advantage of dream/mind mechanics and gone crazier with his visuals. Still, if you’ve got a couple hours, some low expectations, and a desire to see Rosario Dawson completely naked, it’s worth at least one watch.
Nate’s Grade: B-
So would you give your right arm for a good movie? 127 Hours is the true-life tale of a man trapped between a rock and a hard place. Hiking in dusty canyons, James Franco gets his arm pinned under a rock. And that’s about it from the plot standpoint. That’s because everything is leading up to the grisly inevitability that he will be forced to cut his own arm off for survival. And director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) does not let you off the hook. You will see every gruesome second of a man hacking away his own arm, slicing nerve-by-nerve, crushing bones, etc. It’s not the uplifting experience that Boyle and the producers mistakenly believe. The film’s true success is that it still manages to be entertaining and exciting, despite having a central character unable to move more than inches. It’s fascinating to watch Franco use the tools at his disposal to survive for five days before, well, you know. Boyle does a terrific job of making an intimate almost claustrophobic plot feel much more open. Nobody probably could have done this movie better than Boyle, taking his kinetic trademark style and allowing us to enter the mind of Franco’s fallen hiker. 127 Hours isn’t so much an inspirational tale as it is a morbid curiosity that entertains in spurts. But all the visual tricks in the world can’t get people to want to pay to see a man cut off his own arm.
Nate’s Grade: B
If there is one independent movie that seems to be picking up momentum this awards season, it’s Slumdog Millionaire. The film seems destined to break out into the mainstream, especially in a time where audiences could use a happy story given the ongoing news of economic downturns. Slumdog Millionaire is a highly spirited rags-to-riches tale that marries Hollywood and Bollywood into one fantastic product.
Jamal (Dev Patel) is an 18-year-old kid who grew up impoverished in India’s favellas. He’s also on the verge of winning 20 million rupees on the Indian version of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Game show. The TV host reminds Jamal that lawyers and doctors have never gotten as far as he, a lowly “slumdog” from such humble origins. As each question emerges we discover more about Jamal’s life, from escaping a riot, touring India as a stowaway on a train, conning American tourists at the Taj Mahal, to his assistant work at a call center. Throughout Jamal’s life are two constants: Salim (Madhur Mittal) and Latika (Frieda Pinto). Salim is Jamal’s scheming older brother who has a loose sense of morals. He finds a life of crime as a suitable escape from poverty. Latika is a young orphan girl that Jamal befriended as a child. He declared that she was the “third Musketeer” in their group and has always sworn to love her. This is complicated because Salim’s crime boss wants Latika for a prize, and Salim keeps his younger brother away from Latika. Ultimately, as an entire nation watches with baited breath, Jamal explains that he is appearing on TV because he knew that Latika, his love, would be watching somewhere.
It’s like City of God and Forrest Gump had a baby that was raised by Oliver Twist. The film is given a dynamic energy thanks to director Danny Boyle’s exuberant camerawork and skillful style. Boyle is a director that knows how to make images jump and Slumdog feels like it is coursing with life. The feel-good fantasy nature of the rags-to-riches plot is offset by some pretty harrowing violence, and Boyle makes great pains to show the realities of living in squalor. At one point a very Fagin-esque local crime lord collects young orphans to be beggars and he has a foolproof scenario to make these kids sympathetic and thus big earners — he blinds them with hot liquid. Despite the fantastical elements, Slumdog is rated R for a reason and that’s because it does show the cruel reality of a life in the slums, granted it’s nowhere near as bleak and formidable as something like City of God. After all, the kid gets to win on a game show, though the movie does open with Jamal being tortured by the police. Boyle has a tremendously natural eye for crafting visuals that delight the senses; he can make his shot compositions feel interesting without ever truly calling attention to being flashy. The views of India are beautiful and fascinating. Plus, having a majority of the movie in a foreign dialect was appreciated (Boyle provides different color background for different character’s subtitles, a nice touch). There’s a magic feeling to the film that definitely takes hold of the audience, an uplift that channels smiles and gasps of joy. While I’ll still credit Millions as Boyle’s best film since Trainspotting, his work on Slumdog is deserving of praise. I don’t know if another director could have made a film with so many contradictory elements (feel-good flick with child prostitutes?) run so smoothly.
The movie is also given a brilliant story structure by screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty). The movie is built around a steady stream of flashbacks linked to the questions Jamal tackles on the game show. So the host will pose a question and then we’ll be treated to a 10-15-minute flashback to Jamal’s life to discover how he knows the answer. The approach is fresh and it reinforces the magical notion that Jamal’s life has all been leading up to this moment of glory. Beaufoy’s script smartly weaves many storylines together to give us an emerging sense of who Jamal truly is. He manages to write an uplifting and hopeful tale that stays clear from easy sentiment. Indeed, Slumdog is an accomplished feat of writing as well as direction. Working from the Indian novel Q&A, Beaufoy has written a modern-day fairy tale in the same fashion as the Brothers Grimm, which means he didn’t skimp on the unpleasantness and hardship. Yet Slumdog is able to find great human spirit amidst the squalor. I doubt I’ll see a climax more rousing and crowd-pleasing all year. Seriously, you’d have to have a pretty hard heart not to feel some excitement and jubilation in the closing moments.
This unlikely fantasy is aided by sharp performances by a collection of actors. Jamal is an unassuming yet plucky underdog, and Patel nicely handles these elements. He’s a stringy kid but he carries himself with charm and fortitude. As he grows confident he spars with the combative TV host, and it’s fun to watch. Pinto is a swell looking beauty with a great smile but I wish the story had given her more to do as an actress. The young actors who play Jamal, Salim, and Latika as young children actually give the best performances.
And now after all my effusive talk comes the time where I must voice my minor reservations. First off, the structure is ingenious but having Jamal interrogated by the police after the fact seems unnecessary, plus it also tips off the audience from the beginning that this kid has already won it all, which sucks some of the tension out of the game show format. I really think the movie would have been better served just playing out the game show in real time instead. Also, it’s a bit too convenient that every one of the quiz questions triggers a memory in a linear fashion. Jamal can tell his life’s story from beginning to end, but the movie would have been more challenging and interesting if the quiz questions forced Jamal to bounce around in his own memory. That way the script would provide more mysteries that could lead to even more satisfying answers. The Millionaire game show also goes on a commercial break and Jamal is astoundingly allowed to leave and go to the bathroom after he knows one of the high-money questions. In the age of wireless Internet, no game show would ever allow the contestant to leave its sight. Finally, the movie is presented like a Dickensian fable told in chunks, which means I found it hard to fully embrace the central romance that drives Jamal. I will readily follow the romantic notion of locating your true love, however, I will feel more involved in that search if the combined time Jamal and Latika spent together was longer then like a week. Seriously, they see each other every few years for a moment and then are broken apart, only to find each other again for a few moments to be broken apart. She’s more a symbol than a fully translated character, though this did not stop me from rooting for a happy ending.
Slumdog Millionaire is a thrilling, funny, and triumphant story that courses with lively electricity, thanks to the deft direction of Danny Boyle. This movie is enormously entertaining while still baring a social conscious about the plight of those impoverished, though I hope people don’t get the mistaken idea that all that character-building impoverished life styles will lead to future fortunes like Jamal. The movie is hopeful and uplifting while also balancing tense violence and improbable circumstances. While I’m not on board with the critics calling this the best film of 2008, it has some minor flaws in approach to storytelling and character, Slumdog Millionaire has all the right markings to be a crowd-pleasing sensation. After all, it is destiny. And that’s my final answer.
Nate’s Grade: A-
Danny Boyle is one of the more interesting film directors out there today. He seems to dabble in every genre. He’s done paranoid thriller (Shallow Grave), substance abuse drama (Trainspotting), zombies (28 Days Later), and a genuine family film (Millions). Boyle has a bountiful imagination. Now he and his 28 Days Later partner, writer Alex Garland, are going where many have gone before in the film world – outer space. Just don’t confuse the film with the 1999’s Sunshine where Ralph Fiennes plays three generations of a Jewish family with rotten luck. Come to think of it, both Sunshine movies fall apart in the final act. Note to filmmakers: just stay away from this title. It will doom your ending.
Fifty years into the future, the sun is dying. Earth is under a solar winter as it undergoes less and less light. The crew of the Icarus II has a very important mission: restart the sun. Attached to their spacecraft is a giant bomb intended to create a new star inside an old one. They have a giant reflective shield to protect them from the direct heat of the sun. The ship has eight crew members, including the physicist responsible for the bomb (Cillian Murphy), a botanist (Michelle Yeoh) with a garden to provide recyclable oxygen reserves, and a hotheaded handyman (Chris Evans) that believes nothing could be more important than their mission. As they drift closer to the sun they pick up a distress call that belongs to the previous Icarus I spacecraft which vanished under mysterious circumstances seven years ago. The crew decides that two bombs are better than one and changes course to intercept the Icarus I. anyone who has ever seen a horror movie knows you don’t go poking into the spooky place when you don’t have to.
Boyle sure knows how to make things look pretty, or interesting, or pretty interesting, and this helps because Sunshine is rather shopworn with familiar sci-fi staples. The premise itself almost seems identical to a 1990 film called Solar Crisis, a movie I only remember marginally because of the female nudity my young eyes caught glimpse of (in those days we didn’t have any of yer fancy Internets). Besides this, the film borrows liberally from 2001, Solaris, Star Trek, Alien, Event Horizon, The Core, and the super crappy Supernova. Most every aspect of Sunshine can be traced back to a different science fiction film, but sci-fi is one of the few genres that don’t necessarily suffer from being derivative. A cookie-cutter sci-fi movie is forgivable as long as the filmmakers treat the audience with respect and attempt to be smart with their story. I don’t care that Sunshine reworks plot elements that have been worked since giant alien carrot people frightened necking teenagers in the 1950s, and that’s because the genre is built for being borrowed.
Sunshine is often beautiful to watch with awe-inspiring images of that great ball of fire, our sun, but even better is the fact that the film is pretty much the opposite of Armageddon – it’s smart. The movie discusses the realities of space travel, communication, oxygen levels, trajectories, sub-zero temperatures, sacrifice, and how to live so close to the sun where the human eye can only safely look at 3.1 percent of its light emissions for 10 seconds. It’s a bit slow but rather fascinating just to witness how day-to-day life functions for the crew and how the time, or lack of discernible time, plays with their psychology. This respectful intelligence helps when the crew debates altering their mission to inspect the mysterious space vessel. The audience knows that only bad things will happen but the crew argues with reasonably sound logic about the potential benefits.
Sunshine is a thinking man’s sci-fi treat for its first two acts and then it completely devolves with a disappointing turn of events; it becomes a slasher film in space. There’s genuine awe and intrigue, along with some brainy scientific discussions and some considerable religious/philosophical pondering… and it all just stops dead for a madman chasing people with pointy things. Sigh. It’s an artistic free-fall that Sunshine never quite fully recovers from. Boyle makes the strange decision to keep his space slasher out of focus so the audience never gets a clear look; even stranger are camera shots where the killer will walk into frame and then transform his area to an unfocused blur like a blurry infection. It’s an artistic choice that doesn’t quite work (“The blurry man’s coming to get you, Barbara!”). The film then morphs into your standard race-against-time and then balloons with trippy computer effects and snazzy light filters. Sunshine was exceedingly more entertaining prior to picking up the unwanted visitor.
The cast does a fine job mulling their life-or-death options, but the two standouts are Murphy and Evans. Murphy and his piercing baby blues make for a strong lead. He provides soulful glimpses into his stock scientist role. Evans is the surprise of the film. Best known as the Human Torch in the dreadful Fantastic Four films, he exhibits a wider range of emotions from macho hardass to duty-bound soldier. This is a film heavy with noble sacrifices, and Evans is the reminder of all that is at stake.
Sunshine is visually pleasing and intellectually stimulating, especially for a sci-fi film built from the discarded pieces of other films. It’s a tense and exciting time, that is, until the movie just throws up its hands and transforms into a laughable slasher film. This movie did not have to go this tiresome route; there could have been an on-board mutiny when they discussed the idea of killing one of their own so they had enough oxygen to complete their mission, there could have been further psychological torments from within the crew, or even easier, the spaceship could just have undergone more malfunctions. Sunshine is a thoughtful, slightly meditative sci-fi thriller, but then it loses all of its better senses.
Nate’s Grade: B-
This movie feels like someone is projecting straight from the bountiful imagination of a child. It’s wildly whimsical and fantastical; it’s a fantasy film and a family film that never falters into treacle. Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) of all people has crafted a masterful living fantasy with great emotional heft. I was left very teary by the end and have remained so with repeat viewings. Millions has great visuals, great acting, and is a great movie.
Nate’s Grade: A
Zombies have generally seemed one of the little brothers of the horror genre. Certainly not as complicated or Freudian as Frankenstein or Jekyll and Hyde, and no where near as seductive as vampires and werewolves. Zombies are stumbling, bumbling cement-shoe wearing monsters. Theyre usually conduits for some kind of social message, like George Romeros classic Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. The scary part of zombies is the methodical eventuality they exhibit. They may be stupid, they may be slow, and they may be really stupid, but theyll keep coming. They’re dead and they got no where to be. And there’s the pull – that they will eventually get you. You’ll give in, something will happen, and they’ll seize upon that unfortunate misstep (I did an extensive paper on the symbolism of zombies in Romero’s films and the connections between religion and horror. I think I deleted it though, so this is the best analysis you’re gonna get). Now there’s director Danny Boyle’s indie horror flick, 28 Days Later, which gives the zombie genre a few good shocks to the system.
We open up with stark television clips of violence, genocide, and all around mayhem around the world. Its basically what the cable news stations are now, except in this case, the viewership of these broadcasts are monkeys. Yes, it seems that the British government is experimenting on the nature of rage by strapping monkeys onto slabs and forcing them, A Clockwork Orange style, to watch all kinds of icky video. Animal rights activists break into the facility and plan on freeing the primate prisoners. A lab assistant tries to deter the monkey theft. He says alarmingly that the animals are infected with rage (as are most drivers it seems), and that this infection is highly contagious. The animal rights activists scoff at his concern and open the cages to the primates. For their altruistic virtues the activists are instantly attacked, bitten, mauled (can one be mauled by monkeys? It just seems like bears and lions have a monopoly on this verb) and infected with this deadly rage disease. This is likely the worst PR set-back for the animal rights activists since PETA clubbed baby seals. Look it up.
Flash to the titular 28 days later. Jim (Cillian Murphy) comes to in a hospital bed, and like previous films, Boyle finds an outlet to shoehorn in some full-frontal male nudity. Its almost like a directors trademark. Jims a bike messenger and has been in a coma for about, oh, lets just say for the sake of it, 28 days. Jim wanders through the vacant hospital calling out for anyone. He hits the streets of London to find them startlingly empty, like some Twilight Zone episode. City kiosks are papered with numerous pictures for missing relatives or good-bye letters. A scattered newspaper says London has been evacuated. Jim meets two other survivors, Mark (Noah Huntley) and Selena (Naomie Harris). They wax chunky exposition to tell us what we already know: the virus got out, spread rapidly, is transmitted through the blood. Selena does have more unsettling news about the nature of the disease. It turns out that once infected a person has about 10-20 seconds of rational thought left before they fully turn into the rabid, crazed not-dead zombies. Jim demands to see his parents and the two agree to lead him to his home in the morning.
The next morning the surviving trio trek through the empty streets and residential areas. Jim enters his home calling out for his parents. He immediately has to cover his nose with his shirt sleeve. He walks into his parents bedroom to find both curled up next to each other long dead. On the nightstand are a bottle of wine and a slew of pills. His mother holds a picture of Jim as a child. On the back Jim reads: “We left you sleeping. Now we’ll be with you again.” At the bottom it says, ”Don’t wake up.” Jim is devastated.
They find refuge in the apartment building of a Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). The two have been surviving since the outbreak. Frank is delighted to find other survivors. He shares a radio message he picked up. The message, though slightly garbled, is from a military base a ways away. They say they have discovered the answer for infection and will provide shelter for any survivors. The foursome pack up their belongings in Franks car and head for the military base with a new sense of hope.
The cinematography of 28 Days Later is wonderful. It’s the best I’ve ever seen digital video. The choice of shooting on that medium also amplifies the horror and creates a more immediate sense of danger. The musical score could have been written by one of those popular Brit-rock bands. It’s propulsive, effectively building, and wonderfully sonic.
Harris is the star of the film, whether the makers know this or not. Shes one tough cookie but also reflects great moments of vulnerability as she opens up to the group and starts kindling some feelings for Jim. Gleeson is one of the best character actors out there, as evidence by a great turn in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Acting is never the strongest suit for horror flicks but 28 Days Later has some nice exceptions to this norm.
28 Days Later has a resonating sense of truth to it, if that can be said about apocalyptic cinema. When one character regrettably becomes infected they order their fellows to stand back, but before succumbing they say, Just know that I love you. This felt so genuine to me. Like if a comet was hurtling to decimate the planet within seconds, and your loved ones were around you, would you not act the same way? How does one compress all their feelings and appreciation and love in closing seconds? Something tells me its something like what is displayed in 28 Days Later.
Boyle, as has been ingrained into me from the blurb-heavy ads, has indeed reinvented zombie horror. However, what you may not know is that zombie horror doesn’t exactly have many titles to it. I think I’ve already mentioned most of them. Boyles zombies aren’t dead, just infected human beings. They don’t move at that lumbering drag-your-feet speed of classic zombie lore, no these not-so-undead move with great velocity and ferocity, like rabid junkyard dogs. The new touches here and there provide some interesting dynamics to the genre.
Perhaps what is different than most zombie films is that the audience grows to like the characters and root for their survival. In most horror films the characters are either too stupid or sketchy that it allows the audience to wait in amusement for their eventual horrific deaths. Its simple: we want to see these people die because its titillating (Maybe I was wrong about all the zombie analysis I still had in my head).
Boyle does service a slight message in his zombie film when the group gets to the military base. Perhaps, he muses, our military and trusted leaders are no better than those rabidly wandering the streets. The idea of a thriller set against a biological pandemic also feels very timely and relevant. The film kind of drags in the middle during the stretch between London and the military base. And the end was a bit too much Die Hard for my taste, but is suitably climactic.
Boyle has crafted a creepy, smart, and engrossing piece of entertainment. I hope people dont confuse this film with that Sandra Bullock clunker, 28 Days. They may be spending the entire time wondering where shirtless Viggo is and when Bullock will start her endless pratfalls (You knew I was going to talk about that movie somewhere).
Nate’s Grade: B