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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Yesterday

“Anna” and “Shaft” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The premise of “Yesterday” raises an interesting question. Is the music of The Beatles timeless because they are cherished classics from 50-plus years ago, or are they intrinsically classic to the point where it doesn’t matter when they’re released, i.e. songs like “Yesterday,” “Let It Be, ”Eleanor Rigby,” etc. are destined to always be classics?

The answer director Danny Boyle’s (“Slumdog Millionaire”) movie “Yesterday” provides is that the songs are intrinsically classic. That’s because the screenplay by Richard Curtis, about a struggling musician named Jack (Himesh Patel) who is hit by a bus on the evening of an unexplained worldwide blackout and wakes up to an alternate reality where The Beatles never existed, is essentially a love note to the Fab Four.

This is all well and good, but you have to come to terms with the notion that the music of The Beatles would be as popular in today’s music scene as it was 50 years ago if no one had heard the songs before. In today’s banal pop music culture, with almost every hit song written in 4:4 time with a 1-4-5 chord progression as the standard that seemingly no one is brave enough to deviate from, it’s hard to swallow. Add to this the modern day computer help of autotune and click tracks, and pretty much all of the humanity is stripped from today’s pop music. The Beatles, with their willingness to experiment and soulful, human playing, would be too far to the extreme. Or, as Beatles drummer Ringo Starr so perfectly put it in an interview on being asked to use a click track while making “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love” in the mid-90s: “I am the fookin’ click.”

I can best describe “Yesterday” as a reverse “Mandela Effect” movie. For those who aren’t familiar with this term, it is derived from the mass of people who swear they remember South African leader Nelson Mandela passing away in the early 1990s, and were surprised to see his funeral again when he actually did die in 2013. Some say this is due to people remembering things wrong en masse. Others say it has to do with dimensional shifts and alternate realities, possibly being caused by CERN—but this is a rabbit hole I will avoid in this review. The Mandela Effect covers all types of things, places, and events, but for some movie examples, if you think the famous line in “The Empire Strikes Back” is “Luke, I am your father,” if you think the girl that Jaws (Richard Kiel) smiles at in the 1979 James Bond movie “Moonraker” had braces, and if you think that comedian-actor Sinbad was in a mid-1990s movie called “Shazaam,” then you are remembering wrong—or you’re in an alternate reality. You decide.

The difference in “Yesterday” is that the film’s gimmick is a mass of people do not know or have never heard of The Beatles. So, when Jack starts playing their songs, everyone thinks he’s a musical genius. It’s a great idea for a movie, and it’s fun to watch Jack explore the logistics of remembering and recording the songs he knows and loves so well. I also found it refreshing to genuinely not know where the story is headed. As it moves closer to the end I could see things coming, but when Jack first wakes up after the accident and makes his discovery I had no idea how the story would unfold, and it was gratifying to have the rare experience of discovering a journey along with the main character. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Anna

The high concept pitch for writer-director Luc Besson’s “Anna” is that it’s “Next Top Model” meets “Atomic Blonde.”  A year is never explicitly stated, but it’s clear that “Anna” takes place during the Cold War between the USA and the USSR. Anna (Sasha Luss) is recruited by KGB agent Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) to be a spy/assassin. She does very well and is sent out on various missions under the direction of KGB administrator Olga (Helen Mirren).

Besson’s screenplay has enough twists and turns to keep the story engaging. We see an event and think we understand it. Then Besson pulls the proverbial rug out from under us by showing the same thing but with more detail added to it. It’s a smart and engaging screenplay that has a few cool reveals up its sleeve. But the coolness ends there.

If only the performances were directed a bit better. Anna is supposed to be torn between two lovers, the aforementioned Alex and American CIA Agent Lenny Miller (Cillian Murphy). The problem is there is no chemistry between the men and Luss, and especially none with Murphy. Their scenes together are entirely unconvincing and feel like they’re there because the plot calls for them and not because it’s how these characters would actually feel about each other.

Equally unconvincing are the fight scenes. There are two major, protracted fight scenes that would make John Wick blush, full of so much casual violence that it quickly grows tedious. Worse, in several instances, you can see the stunt performers clearly holding back to let Anna win. This movie would have been better served to get the choreography tightened up. Though it probably would have made little difference since the fight scenes also insult my intelligence. In one scene Anna fights enemies with guns. Fine. Then, for absolutely no reason, they don’t have guns and just charge at her only to be taken down. Inexplicably, they magically get guns again and shoot at her as she’s getting away. It’s absurd and idiotic, and an overbearing mess to watch. Stream it.

Shaft

Three family members, three movies named “Shaft.” Richard Roundtree had his movie with the 1971 classic, Samuel L. Jackson had his with the 2000 reboot, and now Jessie T. Usher has his movie in 2019. The only difference is that instead of playing John Shaft, like Roundtree and Jackson, Usher plays JJ Shaft, a soft, weak millennial who is a far cry from his hard-boiled father (the Jackson Shaft) and grandfather (the Roundtree Shaft). A lot of fun is had in exploring the generation gap, and the movie’s best scenes revolve around Jackson’s Shaft teaching his pusillanimous son the old school ways to help him survive on the street. In all, this sequel to the reboot with the same name delivers the humor and the action the way it should—like a bad mutha--. Rent it.

More New Releases: “Child’s Play,” remake of the 1988 horror classic, about a mother who gives her son a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature, starring Aubrey Plaza, Brian Tyree Henry, and Gabriel Bateman; and “Score to Settle,” about an ex- ex-enforcer for a local crime syndicate who has vowed to enact retribution on his mob bosses after 22 years of wrongful imprisonment, starring Nicolas Cage and Benjamin Bratt.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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