Tag Archives: Entertainment One

Blinded by the Light (2019, Gurinder Chadha)

What’s not clear about Blinded by the Light is how much of the film’s success is because of lead Viveik Kalra or because about ninety straight minutes of soundtrack consists of The Best of Bruce Springsteen. The film, based on an actual British Pakistani Springsteen stan, is about teenager Kalra discovering Springsteen at just the right time in his life—it’s 1987, Thatcher’s England has no jobs and overt skinheads (it’s also funny how this film, set in the 80s and in the UK, feels very 2019 for the US), Kalra’s got a controlling dad (Kulvinder Ghir, in the film’s most troubled part), he’s starting at a new school, his best friend (Dean-Charles Chapman) has got a Pet Shop Boys knock-off band and accompanying style. Kalra’s feeling caged and, after a chance encounter with the only other East Asian guy at his new high school—Aaron Phagura, who’s appealing enough but literally has no personality beyond a smile. Phagura loans Kalra a couple Springsteen tapes; it takes him a few days and a few significantly severe new problems in his life to listen.

Once he does, Light becomes an attempt at visualizing how a person connects with a song. It’s obvious stuff—emphasized lyric excerpts on the screen with some Adobe animation on the text itself—but director Chadha goes all in on it. Get over whether to not it’s creative enough and focus on whether or not it’s functional enough. Because the film tries to avoid ever actually talking about politics. It shows the politics. It shows Ghir gets attacked by Neo-Nazis; they’re matching and blocking the way to Kalra’s cousin’s wedding. But it doesn’t get close to the characters as they experience it. There’s a detached narrative distance, which gets stylized to some degree with the music, but the film never explicitly ties the events surrounding Kalra to the accompanying Springsteen songs. It seems like there’s an intentional clue from Chadha on how to watch the film at one point—Kalra is in an East Asian dance club and puts on Springsteen and watches how the sixteen year-old working class Pakistani girls really are just the sixteen year-old working class American girls in the song. And so on. It’s a great moment, though Chadha doesn’t know how to amplify it. Though Light’s even keel, tone-wise, is one of its most consistent successes. Other than Kalra. And the accompanying Springsteen songs doing their job because they’re Springsteen songs.

The film’s got a lot of inconsistent successes. Something works here for a while, stops working for a while, starts working again. Or something working goes away then comes back, still working. The plot is better than the script, which is most exemplified with dad Ghir. Ghir’s got the film’s biggest personal journey—Kalra’s Bruce Springsteen obsession is indicative of far more serious problems—and Light is way too comfortable letting Ghir be a caricature. When it’s time for Ghir to get a moment to act and not react to someone else, the film cuts away. By the time Ghir starts putting his foot down about Kalra’s very un-Pakistani attitudes, it’s too late for the scene to carry much weight. The film actively encourages everyone involved to give up on Ghir because even as he’s a Springsteen song character too… the way the film grafts it with the working class Pakistani father in the eighties story doesn’t give Ghir much agency. It’s a really effective performance from Ghir, but it’s not a good part.

To be fair, there aren’t a lot of good supporting parts. There are lots of good supporting performances, but the parts are all rushed; if you’re a supporting cast member, you don’t get a complete story arc. You’re lucky if you get even a brief subplot—like Kalra’s sister, Nikita Mehta, clubbing and having a boyfriend—or Kalra’s eventual love interest, Nell Williams, and her struggle against her conservative parents. Williams is a great eighties movie character—the costuming in Light are fantastic, ditto the production design. By Annie Hardings and Nick Ellis, respectively. Director Chadha is definitely able to realize a comprehensive vision here, it’s just a very safe one. The film doesn’t go hard on the musical stuff; there are some musical numbers, which are good, but they go away pretty soon in the second half, replaced by montages, which are different. It also doesn’t go hard on the political stuff. Outside the fight with the Neo-Nazis, Kalra and Ghir are always keeping a stiff upper lip and turning the other cheek as far as the racism goes. And Light never gets into the characters’ heads for their reactions to it.

So the good supporting performances—Mehta, Chapman, mom Meera Ganatra (who gets the film’s worst part, but kind of because it should be from her perspective instead), Williams; Phagura’s fine. He’s got nothing to do but he’s likable. The only iffy performance is Tara Divina as Kalra’s cousin who comes to live with them recently before the movie it seems like… maybe? There’s something murky in the ground situation but she’s a brat and Divina’s too thin about it. Great cameos from Rob Brydon, Hayley Atwell, David Hayman.

Blinded by the Light hits its target but isn’t aiming high enough; it’s just too middle of the road, leveraging Kalra and Springsteen instead of informing them.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gurinder Chadha; screenplay by Sarfraz Manzoor, Chadha, and Paul Mayeda Berges, based on a book by Sarfraz Manzoor and inspired by music by Bruce Springsteen; director of photography, Ben Smithard; edited by Justin Krish; music by A.R. Rahman; production designer, Nick Ellis; produced by Jane Barclay, Chadha, and Jamal Daniel; released by Entertainment One.

Starring Viveik Kalra (Javed), Kulvinder Ghir (Malik), Dean-Charles Chapman (Matt), Nell Williams (Eliza), Meera Ganatra (Noor), Aaron Phagura (Roops), Nikita Mehta (Shazia), Tara Divina (Yasmeen), David Hayman (Mr. Evans), Hayley Atwell (Ms. Clay), and Rob Brydon (Matt’s father).


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Enemy (2013, Denis Villeneuve)

Enemy opens with an incredibly cruel and unpleasant scene. It's almost like a dare to the viewer to keep going. The film only runs ninety minutes and the first thirty or so minutes is summary. Sort of. Director Villeneuve and screenwriter Javier Gullón spend this first third encouraging the viewer to guess where Enemy is going. As it turns out, that invitation is the film's only red herring–amid the litany of implied ones.

The film concerns an unhappy college lecturer (Jake Gyllenhaal), who happens to find he has a doppelgänger in an actor. Gyllenhaal's discontent has already driven his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent) away; he fixates on this doppelgänger. The investigation is both Hitchcockian and not. Describing Villeneuve's style, which has as much to do with the sterile Toronto setting as it does anything else, is difficult and probably not particularly useful. It's exceptional filmmaking, but Enemy moves so fast, Villeneuve doesn't want the viewer to linger. Not because there are problems, but because lingering distracts from the film's purpose.

Once Gyllenhaal confronts the doppelgänger, the film's focus flips. Not to Gyllenhaal in the other role, but to Sarah Gadon as the doppelgänger's wife.

While Gyllenhaal is fantastic, Gadon is even better. The film never explains itself, but all of Gadon's thoughts and suspicions are discernible. Her expressiveness guides the viewer through the film.

The music from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, Nicolas Bolduc's photography, Matthew Hannam's editing, it's all great.

Villeneuve, Gyllenhaal, Gadon, Gullón–they make something very special here.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Denis Villeneuve; screenplay by Javier Gullón, based on a novel by José Saramago; director of photography, Nicolas Bolduc; edited by Matthew Hannam; music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans; production designer, Patrice Vermette; produced by M.A. Faura and Niv Fichman; released by Entertainment One.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Adam + Anthony), Mélanie Laurent (Mary), Sarah Gadon (Helen) and Isabella Rossellini (Mother).


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Honour (2014, Shan Khan)

It's been a while since I've seen something to remind me how much I hate a fractured narrative in film. There are the handful of good examples and then the multitude of terrible ones (usually aping one of the good ones). Honour is one of the bad ones. Writer and director Khan wraps the film into a ball, going with bombastic scenes to remind the viewer of their place in the timeline. Unfortunately, the bombast carries over to the rest of the film, which utterly lacks subtext.

Aiysha Hart plays a young Muslim woman with a hideous family. Her mother (Harvey Virdi) hates her for dishonoring the family and controls her also evil, dimwitted brother (Faraz Ayub). They conspire to kill her because she's carrying on with Nikesh Patel. Patel has been lying to Hart about his engagement status and his willingness to be with her. Khan opens the film with some Muslim women getting assaulted on a train–in public, so you know the rest of the world doesn't care–then proceeds to show all Muslim men (and half the women) are awful anyway. Except Shubham Saraf, as the reluctant, well-meaning brother.

But none of the family members have honest relationships so it all feels cheap and exploitative. If Khan had just given Hart a machete and done a proper revenge thriller, it'd have been at least diverting exploitation.

The crappy script and pedestrian direction don't help either.

Hart's appealing, but her character's so lame, it's hard to care.

Big fail.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Shan Khan; director of photography, David Higgs; edited by Beverley Mills; music by Theo Green; production designer, Andy Harris; produced by Nisha Parti and Jason Newmark; released by Entertainment One UK.

Starring Aiysha Hart (Mona), Paddy Considine (Bounty), Faraz Ayub (Kasim), Shubham Saraf (Adel), Harvey Virdi (Mother) and Nikesh Patel (Tanvir).


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Home (2013, Jono Oliver)

Home is never inspiring or sentimental. Writer-director Oliver lets sentimentality graze the film graze once–and it’s a film about sympathetic mental patients reintegrating so it’s amazing he was able to get away with a sidewalk picnic without sentimentality–but the realities of the characters quickly reign in any loose tender particles.

The film concerns Gbenga Akinnagbe and his last two week and a half weeks in a New York mental hospital. He’s trying to get an apartment so he can be discharged (hence the title). Even though Akinnagbe has a goal and a set time frame, Oliver takes Home a lot of different places. The script takes its time fully realizing Akinnagbe’s character; the subplots almost seem independent of the narrative’s time limit. They move on deeper layers.

The film’s supporting performances are all stellar. Oliver makes sure all of his cast takes the time to listen–or, at the right time, interrupt–but also to think. Exceptional supporting work from Victor Williams, Frank Harts, Danny Hoch and Judah Bellamy.

Of course, while Oliver’s direction is phenomenal (the composition is quietly stunning and precise) and the film has excellent photography from Sung Rae Cho–Ulysses Guidotti’s editing is singular–none of it would work without Akinnagbe. Home starts with a narrative disruption; Oliver takes a long time to establish the ground situation, which is disorienting. The film relies on Akinnagbe’s character to navigate, even after it reveals Akinnagbe isn’t necessarily the most reliable navigator.

Home’s a striking success.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jono Oliver; director of photography, Sung Rae Cho; edited by Ulysses Guidotti; music by Gingger Shankar; production designer, Eric Oliver; produced by Daniela Barbosa and Ged Dickersin; released by Entertainment One.

Starring Gbenga Akinnagbe (Jack Hall), Danny Hoch (Dundee), Joe Morton (Donald Hall), K.K. Moggie (Denise), Tawny Cypress (Laura), Victor Williams (Hamilton), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Samuel), Tonya Pinkins (Esmin), Elena Hurst (Melissa), Frank Harts (Smitty), Adrian Martinez (Hector), Eddie R. Brown III (Travis), Alexander Flores (Thomas), Nick Choksi (Max), Deborah Offner (Sondra), Theo Stockman (Charles), Marilyn Torres (Viveca), Venida Evans (Ginnie), Ananias Dixon (Leo), Judah Bellamy (John) and James McDaniel (Dr. Parker).


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