Blinded by the Light

Posted on August 15, 2019 at 5:35 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material and language including some ethnic slurs
Profanity: Some strong language including racist terms
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, racist attacks
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 16, 2019
Date Released to DVD: November 18, 2019

Copyright 2019 Warner Brothers
If we’re lucky, some time in August, as the big blockbusters of July taper off, we get a heartwarming little indie film to brighten the end of the summer. This year we are very lucky. The film is “Blinded by the Light,” set in Thatcher-era England, where the teenage son of Pakistani immigrants heard a song that seemed to explain the world to him. More than that, it explained him to himself. The song was by someone who was not British, Pakistani, or a teenager, but to Sarfraz Manzoor, New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen understood him better than anyone he knew.

Around the same time, Gurinder Chadha, the daughter of Indian immigrants in England, was also listening to Springsteen. Manzoor became a journalist whose memoir about his love for Springsteen (Greetings from Bury Park) then inspired Chadha, the director of films like “Bend It Like Beckham,” to make it into a movie.

The character based on Manzoor is Javed (newcomer Viveik Kalra), who dreams of being a writer. He writes poems that he does not share with anyone, even his sympathetic teacher (Hayley Atwell). The world around him seems bleak, unforgiving, and uncaring. An anti-immigration white supremacist group called the National Front is organizing protests and Javed and his family are subjected to harassment and racist graffiti. Javed’s father is strict, holding on to traditions as he is anxious about a lack of control when he is unable to support the family. His son’s sensitivity and inclination to assimilate into English culture makes him even more anxious. Javed’s mother is sympathetic but she has to work around the clock as a seamstress to earn money and does not want to put more pressure on her husband by challenging him. Javed has one friend who shares his love of music, but his freedom and ease only sharpens Javed’s sense of himself as isolated and ineffectual.

At school he meets a Sikh classmate named Roops (Aaron Phagura) who gives him a Springsteen CD. Chadha’s endearingly cinematic depiction of Javed’s reaction to the songs — the words as much as the music — beautifully conveys the jubilant, visceral reaction to truly connecting with another person, whether it is Gene Kelly splashing in puddles to celebrate falling in love or just knowing that somewhere in the world there is someone who has seen into your deepest secret heart and understands and accepts you. For Javed, who cannot fit into his father’s notion of who he should be but is not exactly sure who he will be instead, Bruce shows him the transformational power of putting feelings into words and music. A voice that means the world to him brings him closer to trusting his own voice.

As in “Bend it Like Beckham,” Chadha’s gift for kinetic storytelling reflects the turbulent emotion of the young protagonists. There are so many lovely details and moments — Rob Brydon (of “The Trip” movies) as the Springsteen-loving father of Javed’s friend, Javed’s discovery that his sister has found her own way to be herself, and of course a sweet romance, complete with a musical number that Gene Kelly himself would appreciate. Most important, the movie shows us that the feelings and the issues Bruce was singing about in the 70’s that spoke to Manzoor in the 80’s are still powerfully speaking to us today. Just as Springsteen let Manzoor know that his feelings were real and valid and understood and could be expressed, so Manzoor and Chadha tell us that with this lovely film.

Parents should know that this film includes racist language and attacks, some strong language, family tensions, mild sexual references, and kissing.

Family discussion: What was it about Springsteen’s music that made it so meaningful to Javed? How did listening to the music give him courage? What music is meaningful to you?

If you like this, try: “Bend it like Beckham” from the same director, and the music and autobiography of Bruce Springsteen

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The Trip to Spain

Posted on August 24, 2017 at 5:08 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 18, 2017
Copyright 2017 IFC

In the third “Trip” movie, with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon again traveling through gorgeous countryside, eating exquisitely prepared meals, and trying to top each other’s impressions, Coogan does something we have not seen before.  He laughs.  The series plays deftly with what is real (the actors’ names, the general outline of their careers, their improvised banter) and what is fiction (their heightened characteristics and tension between them, their family members, romantic interests, and professional colleagues played by actors and the created relationships and developments, the fact that they do not acknowledge they are being filmed).  Coogan’s character, that is, the version of himself he plays in the films, is at the same time insecure and superior, and therefore he usually responds to Brydon’s comments and performances by either insulting them or topping them.  But in one scene here, he can’t help himself; he just laughs, more than once, and we see a very different, more relaxed, genuine, and appreciative, perhaps more “real” Coogan.

In this third “trip,” the pair goes to Spain, where the literary overlay is Don Quixote (they even dress up as Quixote and Sancho Panza for a photo shoot), the impressions are as funny as ever (Mick Jagger, John Hurt, Roger Moore talking about the Moors), and the subject of aging comes up now and then. They assure each other that in their 50’s they are in the “sweet spot,” still attractive to women and if, too old to play Hamlet, still too young for Lear. Coogan, always wanting to appear erudite and successful, finds a way to mention the Oscar nominations for “Philomena” (he co-wrote and starred in it), and his new script, called “Missing.” And Brydon points out that “Philomena” was the story of a mother looking for her son and “Missing” is the story of a father looking for his daughter, so perhaps it might be time to go in another direction.  The two men go back and forth, jockeying with each other in a dozen different ways, as they obliquely and sometimes directly engage with the passage of time, between glimpses of flaming pans and delectable sauces being spread just so.

Coogan and Brydon are more comfortable and compatible in this version, and, as always, very, very funny.   If they get on each other’s nerves, for us in the audience they are excellent traveling companions.  The poignancy of their choices and disappointments adds some welcome depth and complexity.  There have been some complaints and controversy about the end of the film, which is jarring and out of place with the mood of the series.  I am not sure what it is intended to do, but I hope that there will be another trip to find out.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, alcohol, teen pregnancy, sexual references, and some implied peril.

Family discussion: Why do Rob and Steve enjoy impersonations so much?  Do you agree with Rob’s decision?  What should Steve have said to his son?

If you like this, try: the other “Trip” movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and of course “Philomina”

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The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Posted on April 21, 2016 at 5:11 pm

Copyright 2016 Universal
Copyright 2016 Universal
With a storyline as awkward and unfocused as its unwieldy title, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is like a mashup of “Frozen,” “Lord of the Rings,” and the Narnia movies, without any of the heart or imagination of any of them.

It’s both a prequel and a sequel to a movie no one was all that eager to see, with only 48 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes and one of those counted as positive didn’t muster much enthusiasm: “This Snow White may not be the fairest of them all, but sometimes, especially during the heat of summer, fair-to-middling does just fine.” This one is more middling than fair.

In the first film, the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) bewitched a king, killed him on their wedding night, and locked his daughter in a tower. Then, when she grew up to be Kristen Stewart and threatened to challenge Ravenna’s status as the fairest of them all, Ravenna ordered the Huntsman with no name to kill Snow White and bring back her heart so Ravenna could eat it and achieve permanent fairness.

In this film, we see Ravenna murder her husband, the king, over a game of chess, and we meet her sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who is in love and pregnant. Her sister is the one with the magical powers. Freya has none — or so she thinks. But when she is faced with the ultimate loss and betrayal, all of a sudden she discovers her power, or, should I say, she lets it go. Yes, she is the queen of cold and ice. So, she leaves and takes over her own queendom, where her primary occupation is stealing children, telling them that love is illegal, and turning them into fighting machines, with freezing things a close second. Two children grow up to be world-class fighters and to be Chris Hemsworth (this time he gets a name: Eric) and Jessica Chastain as Sara. They break the big rule, and Freya punishes them terribly. Eventually, Eric ends up trying to find the magic mirror, complicated because it was stolen by goblins and because it exerts an evil “Fellowship of the Ring”-style power over anyone who looks into it. He is accompanied by two dwarves, played by Nick Frost and “The Trip’s” Rob Brydon, when, as I pointed out before, little people characters should be played by little people actors. They come across two female dwarves. One is played by Sheridan Smith, who, with Colleen Atwood’s gorgeous costumes, provides the movie’s few bright moments.

The storyline makes even less sense than the first one, with (SPOILER ALERT) repeated reliance on that weakest of plot twists, the character you are supposed to think is dead who turns out to be still alive. Blunt and Theron are game but given little to do but strut and declaim. Chris Hemsworth manages to bring his character to life and there are some striking visuals, but that can’t make up for a dreary mess.

Parents should know that this film features extended fantasy peril and violence, characters injured and killed including an infant, monster, some disturbing images, sexual references and situation, some strong language and crude comments.

Family discussion: What happened when Eric looked in the mirror? Why were so many of the huntsmen loyal to Freya?

If you like this, try: “Stardust” and “Jack the Giant Slayer”

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