Pending the inevitable collapse of global society and destruction of all recorded music as a result of oil wars and climate disaster, people will always love The Beatles. On the metaphorical Titanic that is this planet, the orchestra will play “Let It Be” as we sink. The end of the world as we know it is truly the only viable threat to the band’s legacy. But boy, does Yesterday give doomsday a run for its money.
A threateningly saccharine ransom letter of a movie, Yesterday takes the Fab Four hostage and asks us to imagine a world in which they never existed, except in the mind of one struggling musician. This premise is as silly and navel-gazing as a dorm room thought experiment, but silliness and experimentation alone never stopped anyone from making a good movie. In the hands of Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis, however, these elements have combined in their very worst forms, yielding a final product that is both odd and formulaic, sickly sweet and mean-spirited, drenched in pop culture yet utterly tasteless. By completely separating the music of The Beatles from the charisma, energy, and politics of the band itself, Yesterday fails to replicate even a hint of the magic that makes them so beloved.
Pixar’s sequelitis phase comes to an end with Toy Story 4, possibly the most worrisome sequel of all. Not only do you have the pressure of following up Toy Story 3, the most respected bookend to a nearly-perfect animated trilogy, but it is the newest sequel in a chain of “generally enjoyed but lacking long term impact” sequels from a studio that is lauded for its originality. It also marks the feature-length debut of director Josh Cooley. Greenlighting this film was like opening Pandora’s box, for once you create another addition to this story, the reputation and concept of creative integrity of the brand hangs in the film’s response. It’s a scary, extremely tall order to fill. Luckily, while Toy Story 4 will never quite shake off the label of “the sequel we never asked for,” it still manages to charm, delight, but most importantly, find a way to take its concept to infinity and beyond. And in this summer movie slump, I’ll gladly accept it as a knockout.
Toy Story 4 kicks off with a cold open: the formerly off-screen separation of Woody (Tom Hanks) and Bo-Peep (Annie Potts) right before moving onto where we left off at the last film—Bonnie and the toys playing throughout the years until her student orientation at kindergarten. Woody, feeling not as relevant with his new owner as he did with Andy, decides to keep a watch on Bonnie on her first day. She creates Forky, a spork with googly eyes and a young mind haunted with existential terror, and Woody is determined to keep him safe through Bonnie’s summer road-trip. When a stop is made in a small town with a carnival and an old antique store, some old friends and flames come back to offer a new perspective of the past, of toy responsibilities, and when to move on. The Toy Story franchise has never been a stranger to themes of identity, but this is a deeper and even bigger step in interrogating what greater purpose toys (and/or, we) have in life.
We’re all familiar with the white savior narrative, especially in stories about colonialism. These stories usually center on a white man traveling to a strange land to somehow save its natives. In the case of The Mute, its Christian knights who wish to save the pagans from their god-less religion. While it is a film with a rather predictable and common story, and frankly not much new to say about colonialism or forced religious conversion, The Mute utilizes gorgeous cinematography and set pieces to make it stand out in a crowd.
“You need to stop being such a pussy,” a prominent male TV writer tells Mindy Kaling’s hand-wringing newbie Molly Patel at a crucial moment in Late Night. “That was incredibly offensive,” Molly replies. “Well, it was also true,” he says.
This exchange got a big laugh from my preview audience, and although I didn’t find myself laughing along, I could see how every piece of the joke was carefully chosen to work: it points to the casual misogyny of the traditional writers’ room, prods at the easy-to-offend attitude of Molly and women like her, and settles on the idea that at the end of the day, they’re both probably a little bit “right.” Also, that “pussy” is a funny word.
Late Night is peppered with moments like this, moments where Molly tries to speak her mind, take up space, and go against the grain, but her male colleagues still get to land the punchline. They’re funny, and she’s pushy—probably because she was an amateur when hired, set up to fail. While I’d like to think this is entirely commentary on the existing dynamic in many writers’ rooms today (and certainly, this is the foremost “point” the movie tries to make—women don’t usually get a platform to be funny), I can’t shake the feeling that these jokes were written to please an audience that’s entirely comfortable with the status quo.
Workplace backstabbing gets scarily literal in Patrick Brice’s comedy-horror Corporate Animals, an entertaining, if shallow, mediation on the world of corporate bullshit.
In a last minute attempt to rescue her rapidly crumbling edible cutlery business (Incredible Edibles, all insinuations clearly intended), super-controlling CEO Lucy (Demi Moore) drags her colleagues off on a team-building spelunking exercise. Among the ragtag group of reluctant teammates are Lucy’s “mentee” Jess (Jessica Williams), and the secret genius behind the project, Freddie (Karan Soni), a pair of rivals-turned-friends who quickly realise that their boss has not been entirely truthful with them.
In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s communist party, overthrew the Cambodian government and took over the country, bringing with them four years of genocide. They forced Cambodians into work camps, massacred minority populations, and preached the benefits of communism to justify their violence. Denis Do’s animated film, Funan, tells the story of a family trying to survive and stay together in the face of this fascist regime. Its beautiful animation style and honest, yet non-exploitative, portrayals of violence create a film with raw emotional power.
The old Greeks had some of the most striking and illustrative ways of explaining the world. In their cosmos, titans, gods and men were constantly engaging in a great struggle that bore one tragedy after the next. These myths were boosted by the genius of great writers such as Homer, Hesiod and Apollonios, who captured the brutal and absorbing tales vividly on paper and thus enabled them to be preserved. It’s pretty common that Greek mythology is used as point of reference in art, which makes sense, given that it shaped Western art in more than just a few ways. It additionally poses some sort of archaic, self contained and detailed otherworld, grappling with human conflicts in a fascinating manner, even though obviously outdated.
So it isn’t completely innovative that Austrian director and screenwriter Wolfgang Fischer intentionally uses the implications of his sophomore feature’s title, Styx —the stream and deity which separates the land of the living and the land of the dead in the realm of Greek mythology —to create a subtextual tension that illustrates the film’s stakes. The film follows the journey of Rike, a middle-aged Austrian woman and doctor, who sets out on a lone journey to an island in the middle of the Atlantic and eventually encounters an overloaded and critically damaged refugee ship, whose appearance puts an end to her carefree adventure.