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.

“VARDA BY AGNÈS”

Nothing is trite if you look at it with empathy and love. — Agnès Varda, from her last film, Varda by Agnès

a darling illustration of Varda from a bag I was lucky enough to score from the film’s publicist
Tom Luddy, Rosalie Vatda, Martin Scorsese, Mathieu Demy, moderator Annette Insdorf

Agnès Varda, the Belgian-born French filmmaker died in March and the Telluride Film Festival dedicated this year’s festival to her and celebrated her life and work with special guests. Bringing in her friend Martin Scorsese and her two children, Rosalie Varda and Mathieu Demy and the founder of the festival, Tom Luddy to discuss her ground-breaking work and then screening Varda’s last film, Varda by Agnès. An instant film-studies classic, her film is a beautiful overview of her work and collaborations with actors and cinematographers. Varda is shown giving talks to students in both France and the US with clips of her work, then the film jumps to new footage of Varda speaking with her actors in the same locations where she filmed.

Martin Scorsese spoke about having Agnès Varda visit him on the set of The Irishman (Opening at the NY Film Festival where Varda’s film will also screen). She chided him on his politics and he soothed her with saying the film was about unions since she’s was all about the working man. It was touching to hear how he sought her approval and valued her opinion. Rosalie and Mathieu spoke about their unusual upbringing when famous directors and stars were guests at their home and they traveled to LA with their father, Jacque Demy and their mother. She was always busy making films. Indiewire has a lovely interview with Rosalie in Agnès Varda’s Daughter On Her Mother’s Death and the Future of Her Archive.

from the 46th Telluride Film Festival Program

I was so glad I got to be at the Tribute screening of this film because Tom Luddy spoke of his relationship with Varda from his years in San Francisco. He introduced her to Jean Varda, who turned out to be a relative of hers and she immediately decided to make a film about their reunion. Luddy is in the film as she recreated her introduction by him in the short Uncle Yanco…and it’s featured in Varda by Agnès. The short also screened at the festival with Black Panthers, another film that Tom Luddy assembled the crew for and encouraged Varda to make so she could document an important movement in US history. It was great to her about her filmmaking process and how her creative energies; her joie de vivre made her someone that no one wanted to say no to.

Agnès Varda was a true genius, working right till the end of her life and it’s so inspiring to see her work and celebrate her life. Faces Places (Visages Villages) brought her a resurgence of popularity and the film was nominated for an Oscar and won many International awards. I hope this film will also get the acclaim it deserves.

46th Telluride Film Festival — Racing thru Four Days of Films

A gathering of the luminaries at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival

Film Festivals have their own zeitgeist. Cannes has glamour, Sundance has snow and celebrities, and Telluride has a mountain top cathedral for film aficionados. Programmers fight to have films premiere at their festival and attracting celebrities is very important. Film guests sell tickets but also create a buzz at the event. Some festivals like the Mill Valley Film Festival and the Telluride Film Festival have less work to do to attract the big names — both events are in beautiful places and more importantly, attract fans that will allow filmmakers and stars to walk the streets sans bodyguards and publicists.

This year’s Telluride Film Festival was graced with the presence of such luminaries as Martin Scorsese, Adam Driver, Philip Kaufman, Bong Joon-ho, Edward Norton, and Renee Zellweger. Long-time Festival favorites, Werner Herzog and Ken Burns brought new works to the Festival and first-time festival attendees like Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory) professed their love for the magic of Telluride. Programming was strong. There weren’t as many thought-provoking or life-affirming features as in years past but there was certainly a breadth of subjects covered. From Imelda Marcos (The Kingmaker) to Oliver Sacks (Oliver Sacks: His Own Life) to sports (cycling, soccer, Australian football, race cars) and hot air balloons (The Aeronauts); from portrait painting (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) to art forgery (Lyrebird).

What was interesting was to hear how many film lovers either LOVED or HATED some of the films. Everyone was excited to see the Hollywood films: Ford v Ferrari, Judy, Marriage Story and Motherless Brooklyn but the more offbeat Uncut Gems? Even with the selling point of having Adam Sandler there for a lively Q & A, Uncut Gems warranted a lot of walk outs. Directors Josh and Bennie Safdie tapped Oneohtrix Point Never who also scored their 2017 film Good Time; both films feature a frenetic soundtrack. Sound and scores were an important part of the the film experience this year and Uncut Gems soundtrack was a cacophany that may have reflected the character’s state of mind — but it was difficult to endure.

There were 30 main film programs, three tributes, shorts programs, retrospectives and outdoor screenings. Guest Director Pico Iyer selected five International film highlighting women in film. With this year’s focus on sound, there was a tribute to Dolby Laboratories, two silent films and many films about musicians. Ken Burns unveiled his series on Country Music, documentaries included Billie (Billie Holiday), Amazing Grace (Aretha Franklin), Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, Tex Mex music (Chulas Fronteras) and The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash. Two themes were evident in the 2019 program — music, there were some unusual scores this year — and long screening times. Of the 30 main film programs, 20 were at or over 2 hours.

Waves, 2019 — A24

One of the longer films that was also divisive is Waves. I spoke to people who walked out, a few people who ranked it as a favorite, and others who felt it was trite and the soundtrack annoying. Trey Edward Shultz (It Comes at Night, Krisha) uses a few unusual filmmaking techniques to put the audience in the mindset of the characters. Not everyone was a fan of the spinning Go Pro shots in the car (used repeatedly) or the full-screen color waves to represent emotions. The soundtrack also acts like a character in the film. It’s a hard-driving mix of hip hop and rap by Trent Reznor‎ and ‎Atticus Ross and while the characters are listening and singing to music, the soundtrack is playing something different for us. It was jarring at first and like the color blocks on the screen, took some adjusting to.

Taylor Russell plays the daughter in Waves

A tragedy told from two focal points, the acting is strong particularly from the two young actors Kelvin Harrison Jr. and especially Taylor Russell as the young woman who transforms from a background player who’s withdrawn, to the focus of the narrative. Waves is getting a lot of critical acclaim and though I felt it had some beautiful moments, a little judicial trimming would’ve gone a long way to transforming the film.

Working the festival as a Volunteer (love the Sheridan Opera House crew!), there were many films I didn’t get the opportunity to see. So I’m thankful for the After Festival screenings and happy that I had to opportunity to catch Parasite and The Two Popes. Thank you Telluride Film Festival. What a gem of a festival!

Summer Films with a Great British Actor

Summer time. BBQs, watermelon, family reunions and hot summer nights. The perfect time to escape to the movies! This is not a time for a Czech drama or a brooding intellectual film about politics. This is a time for fun, for explosions, for comedy.

For Emma Thompson?!

British actress, Dame Emma Thompson is a two-time Oscar Winner. Thompson Is the only person to have won Academy awards for both acting and writing. She won Best Actress for Howards End (1992), and Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility (1995).

In the past, Thompson was known for her work with Kenneth Branagh. In the 90’s, they were the “It Couple” for brilliant Shakespeare films and intellectual relationship dramas. As Sir Kenneth’s star rose, he stepped out on Thompson and their marriage, and their films together ended. Emma Thompson went on to write the adaption of Sense and Sensibilities and starred in it with Kate Winslet. She also stars in two of my favorite films, Stranger Than Fiction and Howard’s End.

Recently she’s starred in two Nanny McPhee films and has written the TV adaptation of Margaret Edson‘s acclaimed play Wit (2001). She also starred in the movie and was nominated for a Golden Globe. Her awards page on IMDB takes an entire page!

So how did this acclaimed actress noted in Wikipedia as “often portrays enigmatic and matronly characters with a sense of wit, frequently in period dramas and literary adaptations” wind up featured in both the films opening this weekend at the Nugget Theater in Telluride, Colorado…kicking off the summer movie season?

Her role in MIB International is a bit part but a crucial role. She’s the much-admired Agent O, leader of the Men in Black London Division. She’s portrayed as a smart leader in a smart suit and Tessa Thompson (no relation), is the new agent that tells her, she wants IN. They both allude to how The Men in Black needs an update–Men and Women in Black? Sadly this franchise seems to have run out of steam. There are some fun moments but the banter between our two leads, Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth was better in Thor Ragnarok.

Mindy Kaling wrote the starring role in Late Night specifically for Emma Thompson. We get to see two comedic actors/writers at the top of their game have fun in a summer dramedy. Mindy Kaling gets top billing but without the gravitas that Emma Thompson brings to the role, the comedy wouldn’t elicit the chuckles that it does. They make a great duo and film comes alive when they share the screen. Late Night could lose one of the subplots and been improved by a shorter run time. It’s witty and political and takes on sexism, ageism, nepotism and wraps it in a summer comedy package. That it stars two women, one of color and one of a “certain age” proves yet again…people will pay to see quality entertainment. We need more women starring (and writing and producing and directing) films!

Drinks with Films Rating:

2 Super Size Soft Drinks (out of 5), MIB International is bright and fast-paced and lacking any depth…but there are a few roles for women! Tessa Thompson and Rebecca Ferguson are nice additions. Emma Thompson’s wardrobe is brilliant.

3 glasses of fine wine (out of 5), Late Night runs a little long and tries to tackle one too many “isms”. The writing crackles and Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson give performances that seem like heightened versions of themselves. Real and nuanced.

Is it a Marvel? Women on the Big Screen

Yet another Blockbuster featuring a Woman in the Central Role and what a surprise–it’s making headlines! Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson had Opening Weekend Box Office of $455 Million worldwide. $153 million domestic is the second biggest solo superhero debut in history, behind Black Panther ($202 million). The real WIN in my book is that Rotten Tomatoes changed it’s review policy. Due to the advance bad reviews that punsters tried to post to the site BEFORE Captain Marvel was released, Rotten Tomatoes took a stand. It may seem logical to have prevented this in advance but the review-aggregating site was responding to public criticism that women-lead movies were being singled out for negative criticism (see
Ghostbusters).

Films with women in lead roles and/or directed by women have been few and far between but it feels like the tide is turning. Look at our current slate of films in theaters: Jordan Peele’s horror film Us features another remarkable performance by Lupita Nyong’o, Sebastián Lelio remade his own film, Gloria Bell, featuring the luminous
Julianne Moore, and if you’re lucky to be in a major film market, Diane, The Chaperone, Sunset or Ash is Purest White might be playing. Women are front and center; and not just White Young Starlets, there are a few older women and other nationalities sneaking thru the cracks in the Hollywood Wall created by #MeToo and #TimesUp.

drinkswithfilms —Captain Marvel Review

🍺🍺🍺1/2 beers out of 5 for @captainmarvelofficial
I really enjoyed the origin story and @brielarson performance. I liked the humor and the girl power. It could’ve used a little more fun and character development.