Category Archives: Film reviews

The sweetest film ever: “Blinded by the Light” by Gurinder Chadha

 

Tblinded by the light filmhis review contains the same health warning as the one I wrote, in full fan mode, of the book written by Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run: you’ll probably enjoy this film a lot more if you are a Springsteen fan. I’ll pass on the “who isn’t ?” question. You are or you’re not, very much a pregnant or not type of question. (You’re getting my theory on this anyway:  if you’ve attended a Springsteen gig, non-E-street band period included, and come away from it impressed/ecstatic/uplifted/awed/blown away, you join the legions of adoring fans. If you come away with a “meh” then you’re weird, it’s that simple). However, the film really does stand on its own, honest.

Meet Javed and his Pakistani family who live in Luton. The year is 1987, things are pretty tough for the family generally. And things are tough for Javed. At the start of the film (well, after the opening credits), he is sixteen and about to enter sixth form college, intent on pursuing his dream of becoming a writer. A student there introduces him to Bruce Springsteen by slipping him two cassettes : Born in the USA and Darkness on the Edge of Town (these are two of the many HUGE albums for the non-afficionados out there). I’ll stop right there plot-wise. I’m pretty sure the trailer gives more spoilers than these few words but you can go and see the film for the rest of this sweet story.

My other half and I went went to see Blinded by the Light at a cinema (yay, proper film watching, it only happens once in a  blue moon…) and our heartstrings were well and truly tugged. His, because he was exactly the same age as the protagonist in 1987 and lived a few miles away from Luton, mine, because that’s exactly how I (and every other teenager, surely) fell in love with  music. More specifically of course I fell heavily for Springsteen’s music and  famous lyrics (the intensity of the worship increased sharply after 1992, the year I first saw him and the “other” band in concert). The meaning of life in one amazing track ? Tick. The guy really gets it ? Tick. It’s amazing how this song really talks to little you personally? Tick.

A couple of times, hubby knew what was about to happen, because some of the events of that year left memories, and not only the best ones. There was plenty to be generally nostalgic about however, and for all you Brits who lived in the UK then and are still there now, please realise that nostalgia is magnified one-hundred fold when you’ve left the country many years ago.  Those teenage memories of the Thatcher years, the amazing new music, the racist incidents depicted in the film, the fun of being a teenager, at least sometimes, all served back to you in two hours, it’s all a bit … yeah. As for me, I moved to the UK in 1989 for a few years, before that I’d only been to England every year for a month and anyway it was Manchester I went to (the North in that three times repeated of the sign that said “London” one way, “The North” the other way, with “sucks” graffitied after “Luton” in the first shot…) so this was not “my” film quite as much as “his” film.

But actually yes it was, it was very much my film too. The big 80s hits at the start of the film, heavy on synths, are my music, OK, they’re everybody’s music who was 16 then. But as soon as the first Springsteen track came on, it really was my music, my film, OK it’s every fan’s track but you get my point. I know all the lyrics without them needing to be projected all over the set. I, like Jared, quoted lyrics to like-minded friends in lieu of conversation (amazing how long you can keep goin when you have a decently sized corpus of songs to draw on). I remember exactly the shock of Bobby Jean resonating with every fibre of my being on the very first listen (later versions are even better than the Born in the USA one by the way.) I was going to be somebody’s fondly remembered Bobby Jean, who would be having an amazing life after that guy she’d totally forgotten…(Come to think of it, it’s a good job the boyfriend of the time didn’t quiz me on my favourite track on that album.) I soaked up those amazing lyrics (the French are very scathing about the lack of lyricists in what they call Anglo-Saxon music but those in the know concede that Springsteen is an exception, so I could reassure my French friends that here was a true and worthy member of the auteur-compositeur-interprète tribe). I know that Bruce hasn’t got the answer to anything but I also know he’s fantastic about describing what needs an answer.

 

I loved practically everything about the film, the actors (and the fun of recognising familiar faces), the nice rhythm of the film, the composite picture of the hardships endured by families like Javed’s. I share my little gripe with a reviewer (who replaced Mark Kermode one day, look it up and if I’ve not managed to check his name out by the time you read this, sorry Mister): it’s true that the fantasy scenes were a teeny bit neither one thing or another. I think you had to either go full La La Land mode or film it “straight”. But hey, it’s a minor gripe. And I LOVED the details. I loved  Javed’s mate’s Dad, the Rod Stewart wannabee embarrassing his son, Javed’s love interest’s Dad, dressed and acting like John Cleese in Faulty Towers embarrassing his daughter. I loved the recurring car theme – the joke goes that if Springsteen didn’t drive, half his songs wouldn’t exist (which is a wild exaggeration but yes, the car does have a big part in the iconic Thunder Road ).

 

And Gurinder, I really really hope that my favourite detail was deliberate. When Javed and the embarrassing Dad number 1 sing Thunder Road together, it’s the Dad who sings “You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright”, a lyric addressed to the Mary of the song, a lyric I’ve never quite forgiven Bruce for… Yeah, I know, nobody’s perfect. You have Javed sweetly picking up the singing a little later, looking soulfully at the girl he’s after, and for that I thank you.

 

 

Listening to an interview with Gurinder Chadha about this film was a delight too. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a director who sounded that normal and positive and kind of together.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

My first thought when I got up from my seat was : “I haven’t had so much fun at the cinema in ages”, my second was: “I enjoyed this film so much more than any of the eight Harry Potter ones” and my third: “Can’t wait for the sequels”.

fantastic-beastsThe written-for-charity Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, which as every potterhead knows, was written by Newt Scamander towards the end of his long career, Quidditch Through The Ages and later, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, were all welcome tasty extras to the stories that make up the Harry Potter canon, beloved by so many, me included. The idea of one of these extras being transposed to 1920s New York, thus featuring a young Newt Scamander’s adventures abroad, was instantly attractive to me: J. K. Rowling was going to be firmly in the driving seat, as she had written the screen play. I’ve bought it of course but not read it yet. It was clear to me that the film had to be seen first, as it was a new take on an existing work, not a straight adaptation of an existing one.

Put simply, I felt safe right from the opening scene. Safe in the sense that I knew that the story would stack up, that I was going to see a blend of familiar and new, that it would be visually stunning and wonderfully acted.

I’m not going to go into any plot detail at all, but will just highlight the virtuoso performance of Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol ,the actors playing respectively Kowalski and Queenie, all the others being merely excellent, the heartwarming coziness and intimacy captured in the domestic scenes, the perfectly portrayed magical sites and institutions, American/New York style, the constant small references only intelligible to “true” HP fans (“Your grandfather kept pigeons? Mine bred owls.”), the beautiful rendering of a post 1929 New York, this last being a very finely drawn setting for some pretty dark magic.

And I also want to make a point of mentioning the particularly lovely and poetic transparent umbrella created at the tip of a wand, which adds a beautifully delicate touch to the poignancy of one of the final scenes.

I realise that I haven’t mentioned the fantastic beasts yet; they are a marvel of CGI, some are gross, some are cute, most have comic potential. The niffler is the clear star, which is logical as it is clearly the magical equivalent to the muggles’ mole, and moles belong to the group of animals that are sympathetically portrayed and used heavily in adverts and other media, alongside hedgehogs, penguins and a few other species. The landscape we see the beasts in was my least favourite part of the film. This overtly fantastical environment is not to my taste; luckily the motley collection of creatures frequently escape into no-maj (muggle for us Brits) territory.

Newt Scamander deserves a few words here too. I had an argument with one of my daughters about that; sorry, but Eddie Redmayne’s Scamander is clearly more scientist – a field-based, beast-loving one, but a scientist nonetheless- than he is  Hagrid, even though he was expelled from Hogwarts and he clearly cares for the objects of his study very devotedly. He is appropriately awkward with people but very clear on facts, causes and effects. A more recognisably human approach than Newt’s to getting out of the beast-induced scrapes can be found in the wonderful stooge character, Jacob Kowalski.

 

Just one word, people: “enjoy”.

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Malavita, the film

I read the book before I created a book review blog (kind of book review blog, I stray into other areas, occasionally) but I saw the film recently, and this is what prompted the long-after-publication book review and now reasonably topical film review. Well, as I had loved the book so much, and as the critics (in France, at least) had not been very kind to it, I was curious to see what Luc Besson had made of Malavita. A fine job, is what I think. Liberties were taken with the story line, but surprisingly few and the acting was great (Robert de Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer in lead roles, so no surprises there).

Favourite scenes include the cineclub session and the barbecue. Favourite part has to be de Niro’s. As usual, the power of the visual image has taken over for me. I read Malavita again after watching the film, to see what the differences were, and of course in my mind’s eye, Manzani bears Robert de Niro’s appearance, his wife Michelle Pfeiffer’s and so on. But they did a sufficiently good for that to feel natural.
Malavita_film
I did jib a bit at the portrayal of violence in a black humour vein. Does it glamorize violence and is it therefore a Bad Thing? Probably, but then I didn’t jib at this potential problem in the book, so I guess I shouldn’t here. I prefer the book to the film, but I was entertained and really, that’s all I want when I go to the cinema.