The Boss Inspiring Lives Across the Pond

The effects of music on our lives is hard to put into words but Sarfraz Manzoor, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Thatcher-era England, did just that. He can tell you exactly what kind of impact one musician — Bruce Sprinsteen — had on his once wayward life.

Do you love films inspired by true stories? Do you fancy a sweet teen romance with great production values and an inspirational plot? Blinded by the Light, is set in a small British town in 1987. Rebellious teens are shown sporting crazy hairstyles and listening to New Wave music. One young Pakistani teen is struggling with his identity under a strict Muslim father in a neighborhood vandalized by white nationalists.

Enter The Boss. When a high school friend gives our young hero two tapes of Bruce Springsteen music for his Walkman, the lyrics become the anthem that changes his life. Viveik Kalra stars as Javed; lip-syncing lyrics and shifting between rage and the joy of young love — smiling from ear to ear. He’s been writing poetry to express himself but is navigating two worlds. How to honor his father, face up to the racist bullies and pursue his dream of being a writer? Inspired by Springsteen’s lyrics about working class heroes, he begins to understand that the class warfare and racial intolerance are something worth fighting for. Gurinder Chadha, who also directed Bend it like Beckham, is a great fit for this material.

Based on the book, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll; by Sarfraz Manzoor, the film uses Springsteen’s lyrics in a wonderful way. They become alive when the words are superimposed on the neighborhood buildings as Javed listens to them. The lyrics even swirl about his head as he absorbs them. By showcasing the lyrics this way, the meaning of the words and how they resonate for this conflicted young man are made real for the audience as well.

Many scenes are set inside Javed’s room as he writes away his frustrations or tries to style himself in The Boss’s image. Keeping the focus of the film on his home life and his interactions with his family gives this film an intimate feel — you are brought into the family dynamic. There’s a fun scene where the boys sneak a Bruce Springsteen record unto the turntable at the high school music station and that soundtrack follows the friends as they travel through town. As they travel past striking Union workers, a dance crew in the town square and their fellow students, everyone starts to dance to the music. This is a sweet teen film that tells the hero’s journey in a unique way. Blinded by the Light celebrates family and hard work and though it’s set in 1987 England, it’s sadly relevant for today’s America with our class division and intolerance.

Viveik Kalra, Nell Williams and Aaron Phagura appear in Blinded by the Light by Gurinder Chadha, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nick Wall.

Drinks with Films Rating: 3 cups of Marsala Chai (out of 5)

One of my favorite films from 2016 is a messier version of this film — set in Ireland and also featuring a protagonist inspired by music and bullied by white nationalists — Sing Street was nominated for a Golden Globe but not seen by many people. If Blinded by the Light makes you smile but you’re more of an 80’s New Wave music fan…check out Sing Street. Not as much smiling, lower production values and more eye make-up — but also a lot of heart.

And Now For Something Completely…similar to the previous remake…

Did we need a remake of Aladdin?

I get it. You have little ones at home. Summer Camp is out. You’ve made so many trips to the ice cream place that you’re hoping you don’t have to put on a swimsuit again till next year. There are many families that will look forward to going to see the NEW Aladdin; a family film that can be enjoyed together. This might replace the worn out DVD at home and give someone in the family ideas for a Halloween costume. Dad and Mom might appreciate that the casting is more ethnically-appropriate and the animation is lovely. Everyone can enjoy the songs that are now so well-known. Directed by Guy Ritchie, I expected a more updated version of this tale from 1001 Arabian Nights. The story sticks pretty close to the 1992 version featuring Robin William’s Genie. Will Smith is a good replacement, there’s a Bollywood number and beautiful sets and Aladdin is a good end of summer film to enjoy.

If however, you’re itchin’ for Fall Films and something that’s a little more challenging or unique than this summer’s spat of sequels, superhero films and remakes…there’s hope for you. Director and Writer, Lulu Wang has already been winning accolades for her touching, personal film. The Farewell was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the film won Audience Favorite. This delightful film, based on a true story, presents a Chinese family hiding the truth about the grandmother’s diagnosis. One of the most popular Indie Films of the summer and I’ll review it next week.

There are lots of great films released this summer that fit the bill as entertaining but also breaking the mold of the typical summer fare.  For a twist on the high school party film, see the female-centric comedy, Booksmart. The young stars are self-assured in their nerdiness and it’s a great portrait of true friendship even if it’s for mature teens with fumbling teen sex and crass language. If you’re an action film lover, I’d suggest Stuber, the fight scenes are funny, the actors, Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista have great chemistry and though the plot is ludicrous the concept of an Uber driver fighting crime is original.

Looking for an unusual and lyrical take on San Francisco’s gentrification? A great cast was assembled to tell this tale of two men trying to find home and family. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is artfully-shot and directed. Local childhood friends, Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails wrote this paean to SF and to male friendship. It’s a quiet film with an insider’s look at some thorny issues and I’m betting that it’ll win some awards. The NY Times published a “The Best Movies of 2019 So Far” list as have many other publications. Look for lists that don’t consist of blockbusters and Disney films and you’ll find many great films you may have missed. Many of these films are now available to stream and there are some new films and series for Fall Season on television now.

I’m looking forward to the Telluride Film Festival over the Labor Day Weekend. I often see some of my new favorite films of the year…that likely won’t be released till NEXT year. Oh Hollywood…

Inspired Cinema in 2018: Innovative, Universal and showcasing flawed human beings as Heroes!

72 film tickets which doesn’t include films screened for festivals, shorts watched on my computer or any of the 15 films watched on Netflix, rented from Redbox or DVDS!

This was a wonderful year for movies. No matter how you consumed them: via Netflix, at your local cineplex or at a starry Festival premiere, there was a broad array of offerings. A few of the sequels were as good, if not BETTER than the original films (Paddington 2, Incredibles 2, Bumblebee), our comic book films celebrated diversity and empowerment (Wonder Woman, Black Panther) and it was a banner year for documentaries (RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Free Solo).

My favorite movies this year were two beautiful black and white films that transported me to another time and place with amazing cinematography and rich storytelling. Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski‘s tragic love story tracked lovers thru a decade of Polish folk music to jazz in Paris. It was in the small moments when a stillness seemed to freeze frame the characters so we could study their emotions. The lush cinematography and the amazing, luminous performances of Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot really drew me in. The film had a documentary feel and was almost as moving as my favorite films from 2013, Ida, by the same director.

 Roma, Alfonso Cuaron’s personal film about life in an upper middle-class Mexican family home is also shot in black and white (by Cuaron). Told thru the eyes of the caring family helper (both maid and nanny), Roma reveals how the personal and the political impact and influence everyone’s lives. The casualness of how a normal day can be shattered by violence, transformed by a brush with death or unite a family to battle a brush fire; while the family tries to maintain security and stability. We may not suffer as much trauma but it’s a universal struggle to protect those we love that everyone can understand.

There were some astounding films this year. I was so moved by A Beautiful Boy (Steve Carell and Timothy Chalamet), and Ben is Back also explored the drug crisis with searing performances (Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts). Welcome to Marwen and Annilahation were visually stunning as was the sweet Paddington 2. Into the Spiderverse was a zany Pop Culture Spiderman that we didn’t know we needed.

There were some great explorations of race and gender this year in film. My favorite was Blindspotting. I had to see Black Panther and Wonder Woman twice! And cheered for RBG AND On the Basis of Sex. One of my favorite moments at the movies this year was Edna Mode in The Incredibles 2 transforming into Aunt Edna and hustling the exhausted Dad (Bob, trying to be a Super Dad) back home. I felt that this year, the movies gave us some heroes that were flawed and all the more likable for it. Our society is changing. How we perceive ourselves and others is changing. Our films should too.

There may well have been other films I would’ve ranked in my Top 10 if I’d made one, but I know I missed seeing some great films this year: Madeline’s Madeline, Happy as Lazzaro, Private Life, The Rider, Support the Girls, Let The Sunshine In, Capernaum, Never Look Away, Burning, and Shoplifters.  A few I’ll be able to see on Netflix or Hulu, and a few that may still screen at an arthouse cinema somewhere.

Follow me on Instagram for snapshots of films as I see them.

See you at the movies my friends!

Boy, Oh Boy, which film about a young man in crisis should you see?

As we head into Awards Season, there’s one sure bet. At least one film about a young man facing a crisis will be garnering nominations…and possibly all three. Beautiful BoyBoy Erased, and Ben is Back not only love the letter “B” — they all explore families struggling with addiction or homosexuality as they try to find a way to love their son while his actions threaten to destroy their family life. All three films showcase heart-felt performances by two talented young actors.
Lucas Hedges (Academy Award nominee for Manchester by the Sea) in both Boy Erased, as a Christian teen in conversion therapy and Ben is Back, as a drug addict determined to spend Christmas with family.
Timothée Chalamet (Golden Globe nominee) in Beautiful Boy is the affluent teen who spirals out of control with a meth addiction.

Having seen The Miseducation of Cameron Post, starring the talented
Chloë Grace Moretz, it‘s hard not to compare Lucas Hedge’s performance to hers and find it less-assured. Boy Erased is also about conversion therapy but it’s also a moving look at the relationship between this traumatized young man and his parents. Nicole Kidman gives another nuanced performance as a woman who loves her husband (Russell Crowe) and their religious life, but knows her son is hurting and damaged by the church dogma and this awful practice of forcing him to be someone he’s not.

Ben is Back features another mom/son relationship. Julia Roberts is receiving lots of critical acclaim for her performance as a woman determined to save her son even as she realizes she’s let a demon back into her home. Lucas Hedges is convincing as the young man who knows the truth about his addiction.

When a movie is set in an area you’re familiar with, like Marin County was for me in Beautiful Boy, I think it tends to draw you in even deeper into the story. The juxtaposition of gorgeous settings with depraved behavior made it even more unsettling. For me, the interactions between Steve Carell’s devasted dad and Timothee Chalamet’s helpless lying boy left me weeping and wanting to read both books based on this real struggle: Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines.

If you’re only going to see one film of the three, my recommendation would be Beautiful Boy. Heart-breaking but hopeful, and the performances are Award-Worthy. This film is beautiful, mesmerizing and reveals the difficult truth that letting go when all you want to do is hold on, is sometimes the only way to save the one you love.

Denver Film Fest Winners 2018

41ST DENVER FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES ALL AWARD RECIPIENTS

DFF41 honors Green Book, The Weight of Water, Shoplifters, Wrestle, and so much more…

November 12, 2018 (DENVER) – The Denver Film Festival (DFF) has announced the recipients of its annual People’s Choice Awards and Festival Juried Awards in multiple categories.

People’s Choice Awards
After conclusion of the Festival on Sunday, November 11, the following films were recognized as the People’s Choice Award winners for the 41st Denver Film Festival by a tally of ballots.

Narrative Feature:
GREEN BOOK
Director: Peter Farrelly

Documentary Feature:
THE WEIGHT OF WATER
Director: Michael Brown

Short Subject Film:
EARTHRISE
Director: Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee

Music Video:
MIDAS – CAROLINE
Director: Michael Middelkoop

True Grit Award
The following Colorado-made feature film was selected as the winner of the True Grit Award by a jury of members of the Denver Film Academy, which is comprised of dues-paying alumni board members.

THE LAST HONEY HUNTER
Director: Ben Knight

The jury statement reads:
“This year the true grit award goes to Ben Knight for the short subject The Last Honey Hunter which is beautifully filmed in the mountains of Nepal and vividly embraces the harmony of villagers and their unique natural setting. This story of agricultural interdependence reminds us that feudal systems can exist as the smallest geographies and cultures and that faith in oneself can overcome rational fear. It is beautifully told and very moving. We hope everyone has a chance to see this fine film.”

Special mention:
THE RESCUE LIST
Directors: Alyssa Fedele, Zachary Fink

“This year in addition to the True Grit award the Academy has decided to give a special achievement award to Alyssa Fedele and Zachery Fink for The Rescue List, which is an engrossing documentary centering on child slavery in the Lake Volta region of Ghana. The film chronicles the work of a group of social workers whose purpose is to return these boys to their families. It is more than well worth seeing.”

Krzysztof Kieślowski Award for Best Narrative Feature Film
The following narrative feature film was selected as the winner of the Krzysztof Kieślowski Award by a jury of international film industry members.

SHOPLIFTERS
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

The jury statement reads:
“The surprising structure of the screenplay, combined with an outstanding ensemble cast, created an authentic portrait of hidden poverty in Western society. The meticulous production design and superb direction drew us into this controversial family; the lack of sentimentality layered with social, political, and moral questions demonstrated a nuanced approach to the meaning of parenthood and the unpredictable dynamics of love.”

Special mention:
ASH IS PUREST WHITE
Director: Jia Zhangke

“Additionally, the jury would like to award a special mention to Jia Zhangke’s Ash is the Purest White for its compelling transformation of human relationships and social identities in modern China.”

Krzysztof Kieślowski Award Jury: Angela Catalano, Antonio Falduto, Laura D. Smith

Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary Feature Film
The following documentary feature film was selected as the winner of the Maysles Brothers Award by a jury of national film industry members.

WRESTLE
Directors: Lauren Belfer, Suzannah Herbert

The jury statement reads:
“A film as deceptively simple as its title, Wrestle chronicles the lives of four male high school students in Huntsville, Alabama for whom athletic success via the school wrestling team means the nearly unfathomable opportunity to go to college and beyond. Through its nuanced editing, heart-stopping wrestling cinematography, and intimacy with its subjects, this film transcends any perceived boundaries of its subject matter or competition-film structure. Wrestlepresents a deep portrait of what it means to be young, black and poor in America today that never reduces its complex protagonists to victims or heroes.”

Maysles Brothers Award Jury: Zaman Farihah, David Fenster, Greg Rhem

American Independent Award
The following narrative feature film was selected as the winner of the American Independent Award by a jury of national film industry members.

GHOSTBOX COWBOY
Director: John Maringouin

The jury statement reads:
“The jury has chosen a totally original, dark comedy that fuses documentary and fiction storytelling, taking on late stage capitalism through the chaotic exploits of a wannabe cowboy entrepreneur.”

Special Mentions:
LITTLE WOODS
Director: Nia DaCosta

“We are awarding a special jury mention to Nia DiCosta for outstanding achievement in first time directing. Her film Little Woods elicits remarkable performances from her two main actresses, and evokes a searing portrait of a North Dakotan oil boom town, alongside our broken healthcare system.”

TYREL
Actor: Jason Mitchell

“Additionally, we are awarding a special jury mention to Jason Mitchell. His performance in Tyrel is the driving force in this highly prescient film about the most uncomfortable of weekends in the Catskills.”

American Independent Award Jury: Kate Hurwitz, Michael Sladek, Matthew Soraci

Short Film Awards
The following short films were selected by a jury of national film industry members.

Liberty Global Domestic Student Filmmaker Award

DIOS NUNCA MUERE
Director: Barbara Cigarroa

The jury statement reads:
“Family, immigration, ownership, and duty are explored through the eyes of a single family living in the hills of Hudson, NY. With remarkable restraint and moving performances, this filmmaker highlights the human right of “home” and the basic necessities migrants are so often deprived of.”

Liberty Global International Student Filmmaker Award

TANGLES AND KNOTS
Director: Renée Marie Petropoulos

The jury statement reads:
“A film that lives up to its title with complicated situations and performances vividly brought to screen.”

Best Animated Short

BLOEISTRAAT 11
Director: Nienke Deutz

The jury statement reads:
“This raw and authentic portrait of adolescence, charmed us with its unique style. Blending multiple animation techniques, it captured the world in a really beautiful way.”

Special mention:
AIRPORT
Director: Michaela Müller

“And we’d like to give an honorable mention to Airport for its beautiful and technically challenging artistry.”

Best Documentary Short

SKIP DAY
Director: Charlie Lyne

The jury statement reads:
“What ostensibly begins as a fun day trip to the beach with friends reveals itself as a deep, dark, and powerful reckoning on race in America. For the pure distillation of modern life, its complications, and its joys.”

Shorts Jury: Jeffrey Bowers, Suz Loshin, John VonThaden

Project NEXT High School Student Awards

Best High School Short Subject Film

MOONAGE DAYDREAM
Director: Oliver Chamberlin
Denver East High School

Best High School Documentary Short Subject Film

THIS IS OUR COUNTRY TOO
Directors: Jack Cosgriff, Elena Katz
Denver School of the Arts / Denver East High School

Best High School Animated Short Subject Film

MARBLES
Director: Hallie Farmer
Rock Canyon High School

High School Short Subject Viewer’s Choice Award

DOUBLE TAKE
Director: Tanner McGarr
Denver School of the Arts

Awards previously given or announced:

Rare Pearl Award

ROMA
Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Reel Social Club Indie Voice Award

IN A RELATIONSHIP
Actor: Dree Hemingway

John Cassavetes Award

Jason Reitman

Career Achievement Award

Governor, John Hickenlooper

Stan Brakhage Vision Award

Barbara Hammer

###

“Story of a Girl”, Kyra Sedgwick, Director

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Kyra Sedgwick at her DFF Tribute with Festival Director, Britta Erickson

Once upon a time, Kyra Sedgwick was likely best known as Kevin Bacon’s wife. Now a beloved television star, producer and film star, Mrs Sedgewick has conquered directing with her assured first feature, Story of a Girl. Congratulations on your Career Achievement Award from the Denver Film Festival!

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It was wonderful to see the Lifetime movie on the big screen with both the author, Sarah Zane and one of the screenwriters and producers, Emily Bickford Lansbury there to discuss how the film adaptation changed from the novel. Kyra Sedgewick was generous with her praise of both women’s work. The audience was wowed by the film.

What happens when a sex tape goes viral and a 13-yr-old girl must suffer the consequences? Ryann Shane plays the young woman with a startling fierceness combined with a craving to belong and to be seen. Bravo to the filmmaking team for letting the character continue to make poor choices and then, own her own culpability.p13954592_p_v8_abIt was so enduring to hear how this film became such a family affair: Kyra asked her husband Kevin Bacon to take a pivotal role, her daughter Sosie Bacon plays the brother’s girlfriend and her son composed the production music. Kevin Bacon has a wonderful rapport with Ryann Shane, and though I didn’t believe that his character was gay, he brings a real warmth to the role. It’s fabulous that this film is having a festival run so that people can recommend it to their friends and stream with the whole family. It’s a great teaching tool about sexuality, social media and remaining true to yourself.

Available on: From $3.99. iTunes, Amazon Video and Vudu

 

Drinks with Films rating: 4 lite beers quaffed while working at the pizza place (out of 5)