Yesterday a Charming Delight



Directed by Danny Boyle

Universal Pictures, 116 minutes, PG-13





I have friends who can't stand fantasy films. If that’s you but you’ve never seen Yesterday, set aside your bias and give it a try. It is a fantasy film, but one directed by the talented Danny Boyle who gave us such films as Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting. If you’ve seen either film, you know that Boyle has a soft spot for underdogs.


Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) decidedly falls into that category. He is a British-Indian folk musician in Suffolk who writes pleasant songs. No one notices him except starry-eyed Ellie Appleton (Lily James), his manager by night and a math teacher by day. Jack is relegated to gigs in cafes with hissing coffee machines and festival side tents attended by a handful of people who wandered in and children playing amidst hay bales. Ellie is secretly in love with Jack, but their relationship is more that of brother and sister.


Jack knows he's never going to make it, but the unexpected happens. As he is riding his bike home from his announced last concert, the lights go out for 12 seconds and he is hit by a bus. It leaves him with a smashed guitar, two missing teeth, and quite a few abrasions and bruises. Although he didn’t know it at the time, the 12-second blackout was worldwide. When Jack gets out of the hospital, friends throw a party for him and Ellie surprises him with a new guitar. He is badgered to perform a song and he reluctantly sings “Yesterday.” Everyone is gobsmacked that he wrote such a fantastic song. He thinks they are joking, but they have never heard of The Beatles, nor has anyone else. All Beatles records are missing from his collection and music stores. There are a lot of other things of which no one has heard, an amusing detail I will let you discover for yourselves.


What would you do if your favorite musical act disappeared, and you remembered the lyrics to their songs? Before Jack can say, “I believe in yesterday,” his friend Gavin (Alexander Arnold) has distributed a demo of Jack channeling Beatles songs as if he wrote them. Jack becomes an overnight sensation. Even more improbably, Ed Sheeran shows up at his door and asks him to open his tour that begins in Moscow. Although most of the audience is too young to remember communism, they go wild when Jack sings “Back in the USSR.” He and his stoner roadie Rocky (Joel Fry) are swept up in a popular culture maelstrom. Los Angeles promoter Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon) pursues Jack like a shark that has spotted a seal. Ed and Jack become buddies who challenge each other to a songwriting contest; Jack wins with “The Long and Winding Road!” Soon, Jack is headlining at venues like Wembley in London and Principality in LA, as Debra vigorously and cynically packages Jack as an idol. (Revel in the hysterical putdown of marketers.)


But what of Jack’s old friends in Suffolk? What of Ellie? Jack lives in constant fear that his ruse will be exposed. Actually, two people do remember The Beatles, one of whom is played by the actress Sarah Lancashire (TV imports “Coronation Street” and “Last Tango in Halifax.”) Their reaction is surprising, as is the result of a tip Jack is given. The fame rocket continues to burn, complete with a rooftop concert analogous to The Beatles’ swan song. In a wry twist (that’s also poignant), Jack’s show is atop a closed hotel in the fading English resort town Gorleston-on-Sea.


Jack is awash in madness similar to the height of Beatlemania. He’s not even sure who he is anymore, a sentiment shared by his old friends, especially Ellie who is ready to move on. Once again, the question arises: What would you do? Embrace fame and fortune or be true to yourself?


“Yesterday” is a truly delightful film. It is indeed a fairy tale, though it was billed as a romantic comedy. It raises questions like those above, but is also a back door slam at the lure of commodified culture and how easily manufactured fads degenerate into mass hysteria. When you listen closely you realize that Jack is a mediocre singer, but director Boyle and Patel excel at casting illusions. Great credit goes to Ed Sheeran, the true musical talent, who is admirably self-effacing. Lily James is cuddly cute in a good way. Best of all, the movie leaves you humming tunes written by four of the greatest songwriters in Western history.


Rob Weir


Stella Maris: A Sad Farewell



By Cormac McCarthy

Alfred A. Knopf, 198 pages



 I’m doing something I have never done before: dictate a stream of consciousness review.* I'm not a fan of stream of consciousness. It’s often idiosyncratic rambling attempting to hide that fact via nice turns of phrases. For instance, if your idea of reading is a good yarn, James Joyce is practically unreadable. That’s also the case of Cormac McCarthy's last novel Stella Maris. (McCarthy died on June 13, 2023.) I hoped for a masterpiece. As the saying goes, it just ain't so.


Stella Maris is not a person, rather the name of a mental institution in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Its lack of action is set in 1972, but I don't believe that Black River Falls ever had a mental institution. I've been there and it's a blow away town with not much to recommend it other than being a small county seat. Stella Morris was designed to be a prequel to McCarthy's The Passenger, which was bloody enigmatic in its own right. I was hoping that the prequel would clear up some of its more arcane parts, but it doesn't.


If you ask me what Stella Maris is about, I'd have to say not much of anything. The Passenger follows the travails of Bobby Western who has enormous difficulty finding his way in the world. We find out that he was the son of a famous scientist who helped develop the atomic bomb. Bobby is also troubled by the absence of his younger sister, so much so that we wonder if the two were lovers. Incest, of course, is taboo, but that would have been more interesting than what’s not revealed in Stella Maris.


Stella Maris is about Alicia Western, Bobby’s sister. She is a patient in Stella Maris, and we easily conclude that she’s seriously mentally ill, although she’s genius- level intelligent. Other than Bobby, the only identifiable love of her life is mathematics. She might have been world famous if only she were not batshit crazy. The entire book is a dialogue between Alicia and Doctor Cohen, a psychiatrist. What do they talk about? Well, that's a pretty good question and not one easy to pin down. If you have ever seen movies like My Dinner with Andre or Diner, you might remember that the conversations went in every direction except straight. It's one thing to watch that on a movie screen where we can pick up subtle expressions on the characters’ faces or see them smirk, laugh, or act confused; it's quite another to read dialogue that’s sometimes linear but mostly isn’t.


That's not to say that the dialogue is stupid. It’s erudite but goes off onto so many tangents that we lose any implied threads. You would really have to love mathematics to enjoy this book and I’m not talking just numbers. You would need great familiarity with the history of mathematics and detailed knowledge of its theorists to immerse yourself in this work. I do not know what McCarthy intended in his discourse and it is way more of a discourse than a novel. It really reads as if McCarthy was grandstanding. I certainly believe mathematicians and scientists should have their day on the pages of fiction, but I can't help but wonder who the intended audience was for Stella Maris. It's as if McCarthy wanted to be remembered for his intellect, but he didn’t need to prove to me that he was intelligent. We read him mainly for his probes of the human psyche, including its dark side.


Alicia is certainly plagued by a dark psyche. She yearns for death and Cohen correctly infers she is suicidal. Do we really want to read nearly 200 pages of what is essentially a two-person play masquerading as popular fiction? What topics do the two discuss besides mathematics? If by discussion we mean a two-way street, almost none because Alicia toys with Cohen like a cat with a mouse. He is infinitely patient, and she is resolutely buttoned down. Every topic, from love and music to electromagnetic shock treatment and medication finds Alicia dismissive if not condescending. In the end, we or left with high falutin’ banter that weaves like a punch-drunk boxer. It is not the way I wanted Cormac McCarthy to exit the world of publishing.


Rob Weir


* Full disclosure: I corrected punctuation. If this seems too smooth for dictation it’s because I often compose in my head.


Can the Yankees Be Fixed?

Tell it like it is!

 The New York Yankees haven't won a World Series since 2009. The All-Star game is upon us and the Yankees are so far behind Tampa Bay they’d need a telescope to locate them. New York might be good enough to stumble upon a wild card, but as I have insisted for several years, the Yankees are a poorly constructed team unlikely to win a World Series. Management has said that the Yankees don’t rebuild, they reload. Sorry, but can’t spend their way out of a mess that they spent their way into. They need to rebuild and here are a few starters.


1.    Hire a Manager not a Cheerleader.


Aaron Boone was once an October hero. Does that qualify him to manage? He had several 100-win seasons when he had stacked lineups. Now he has a lousy roster that he makes worse. He has already exhausted the bullpen, and he loyally puts guys in the lineup who shouldn’t even be on the roster. We never hear of him chewing out guys who make boneheaded mistakes and he remains loyal to hitting coach Dillon Lawson whose theory of batting is to swing for the fences on every pitch. He is also supportive of pitching coach Matt Blake who is more impressed by mph than where the pitches are located. Blake has ruined Domingo German who was never flashy but won games. (He recently threw a perfect game and promptly got bombed in his next outing.)


2.    Past Laurels Wilt


General manager Brian Cashman bears responsibility for the roster. Yes, he built teams that won the World Series but that last happened in 2009. The game has changed, and he hasn’t. The payroll is too high for too little sizzle, and he has made bad decisions such not getting a left fielder, holding on to Gleyber Torres to the point where he has minimal trade value, and to Estevan Florial and Deivi Garcia until they have none whatsoever. He is not the person to rebuild the roster.


3.     Buy New Toys, not Used Ones


I don’t fault Cashman for signing Giancarlo Stanton who was 29 when the Yankees got him. I do put it on Cashman for acquiring washed up players such as Josh Donaldson, Jay Bruce, J. A. Happ, Corey Kluber, Andrew Heaney, and the never-immortal Aaron Hicks. Some of those players were once decent, but all were in decline when Cashman got them. New York needs a new leader who build or acquire new toys.


4.    Do Your Homework!


I like Anthony Rizzo, but is there anyone in MLB who doesn’t know he has a bad back? Did the Yankees even discuss whether Joey Gallo would hit above .200? Who was the genius who decided to trade for Frankie Montas, who actually flunked his physical? Cashman has also signed others such as James Paxton and Carlos Rodon who have spent more time on the injured list than on the mound. He gave a contract to Tommy Kahnle who was recovering from surgery and let two better relievers walk away.


5.    Not All Injuries are Bad Luck


Of all of management’s blather, the most tiresome is that the Yankees have had bad luck with injuries. They blame their current woes on losing Aaron Judge. He’s a huge loss, but last I looked, a MLB roster has 26 members, not one. Don’t all of the injuries suggest that New York needs to have better minor league development and trainers? Lock the weight room and break out the yoga mats; flexibility is a prerequisite for staying healthy during an 8-month season


6.    Subtraction by Division.


The current roster is loaded with players who shouldn’t be there. This includes Anthony Volpe, a potential star if they don’t ruin his confidence first. (He seems to be adjusting, but don't wait if he slumps!) At least Volpe is a serious player, which is more than I can say for retreads such as Donaldson, Greg Allen, Jake Bowers, Willy Calhoun, or Franchy Cordero.


There are others who need to be moved so that younger players can take their places. Stanton tops the list. He was once good but now can’t buy a base hit and is making an enormous amount of money. The Dodgers are a possible trade partner because they need more power and Stanton can swat homers. Take what you can get and dump his contract.


In March, some analysts who haven’t been paying attention predicted that Clarke Schmidt would make the All-star team. Nope! If a pitcher hasn’t developed by 27, he’s not likely to, so package him and say goodbye.


Jose Trevino had a very nice year in 2022, but that was probably his career year. They have Ben Rortveldt in the minor leagues whom they traded to get, so I would move Trevino before he reverts to normal. I’m sad to see the decline of D. J. LeMahieu, but he would be a nice fit on a true contender. I would also be tempted to trade Harrison Bader, a fine player, but can opt out of his contract after the World Series. Why on earth would he not do that, given the state of the Yankees?


7.    Reward Performance, not Projections


Face it, analytics have failed the Yankees miserably. It’s time to listen to real baseball people like scouts. It took analysts three years to admit what field scouts told them: Gary Sanchez can’t catch. Projections are like IQ scores, of no practical use unless results follow potential. Sanchez was a disaster and they had to trade the reliable Gio Urshella just to get rid of Sanchez. The analytics people didn’t like Urshella and they were foolishly wrong. They’re not very fond of Billy McKinney either, but he is their leading hitter.


Numbers geeks encourage the Yankees to sign players as tall as Judge without considering he could be one of a kind. Thus far, minor league results on copycat hitters have been underwhelming. I am not a fan of MLB innovations such as ghost runners or the pitch clock, but that’s the way the game is played today. It is also how New York should draft and develop players. They need speed, considerably more contact hitters, and those who put up high on-base percentages. The current Yankees only score when they hit homers and that doesn’t cut it anymore.


8.    Skills Wanted Here


The Yankees have poor baseball IQ. They commit too many errors, outfielders miss cut off men with idiotic hero heaves, the hit-and-run is rare as a dodo, and no one knows how to bunt. If the 10th inning begins with a ghost runner on 2nd, shouldn’t you bunt him to 3rd so he can score against a drawn-in infield or fly ball? Choke up when you need to make contact. No excuses for striking out when a runner is in scoring position. None.


9.    Rebuild


The Yankees must understand that a high payroll is no guarantee of success in the postseason. Rebuild the farm system, scout better, and develop young talent. Face it; owner Hal Steinbrenner isn’t going to throw more money after bad. Why should he? He will make a profit whether or not the Yankees stink. Rebuild. At the very least the Yankees will have a more entertaining team.