Joy of discovery in ‘Blinded by the Light’

By Tom Von Malder | Nov 25, 2019
Photo by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Viveik Kalra plays Javed, a British-Pakistani teen who finds purpose in life, and joy, through Bruce Springsteen's music.

Owls Head — Blinded by the Light (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 117 min.). Based on the real-life story of author Sarfraz Manzoor, the uplifting film tells the story of 16-year-old British-Pakistani youth Javed (a wonderful performance by Viveik Kalra), whose life seems to have stalled out, in part due to the strictness of his father (Kulvinder Ghir as Malik). The year is 1987 and Javed’s lifelong friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) has started to drift away, with his band more into apparently new wave music than the politically-themed song lyrics and poems that Javed writes. Then, one day an accidental encounter leads Javed to the music of Bruce Springsteen and Javed’s world expands instantly in his mind as he connects deeply with Springsteen’s working-class roots and lyrics.

Javed starts to flourish in Ms. Clay’s (Hayley Atwell, who plays Peggy Carter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) writing class, finds a new friend in Roops (Aaron Phagura) who lent him two Springsteen album cassettes, finds a possible love interest in classmate Eliza (Nell Williams) and struggles to find some independence from his family.

The background is that it is Margaret Thatcher’s England – a time of high unemployment. During the film, Javed’s father gets laid off and is unable to find another job. There also is the bigotry and violence of the National Front, a white supremacy group.

In the scenes when Javed is first becoming absorbed by Springsteen’s music, director/co-writer/producer Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”) brings words and lines from Springsteen’s lyrics onto the screen and, of course, there is Springsteen’s uplifting music as well. The film, and Kalra’s performance, perfectly capture the moments of discovery. Later moments of pure joy – and there are many, as well as low emotional points, mostly within his family – include Javed’s starting to sing “Thunder Road” to Eliza at the market and it turns into a production number and when he illegally plays “Born To Run” at school and that leads Javed, Eliza and Roops running through the streets of Luton.

Luton is the real place where Manzoor grew up, as chronicled in his memoir, “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock n’ Roll,” on which the film is based. Manzoor co-wrote the script with Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges (“Bend It Like Beckham”). Extras include a look at turning the memoir into the movie – Chadha pushed the conflict with the parents and created the girlfriend – with Chadha having never heard Springsteen’s music before making the film (6:10); Manzoor, who has seen Springsteen in concert 150 times, talking about the music as confrontation, not escapism, and how it took him five years to write the script (6:55); and two deleted and two extended scenes (total 9:48, including a nice poem). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The Kitchen (Warner Bros, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 102 min.). Primarily set in late 1970s Hell’s Kitchen, a period which the film captures very well, the film tells the story of three women who decide to take over the protection business from the Irish mob after their husbands are incarcerated for a robbery gone wrong. The women, who now need money, realize the mob is not only not following through on some collections, but they are not helping their “clients” at all.

The film, directed and written by Andrea Berloff (directorial debut; writer of “World Trade Center,” “Straight Outta Compton”) and based on the DC comic limited series by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle, stars three strong actresses in Melissa McCarthy as Kathy Brennan, mother of two; Tiffany Haddish as Ruby O’Carroll, who is in a mixed marriage with a mother-in-law (Margo Martindale) who hates her; and Elisabeth Moss as Claire Walsh, saddled with an abusive husband. Those husbands, respectively are Jim (Brian d’Arcy James as the nicest of the three), Kevin (James Badge Dale) and Rob (Jeremy Bob). As the women move to replace their husbands in the business, they also start improving the community and even make a pact with the Italian mob in Brooklyn.

The most resistance comes from Tiffany’s brother-in-law, Little Jackie Quinn (Myk Watford); however, tough, probably psycho Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson) comes back into town to help them, as he always had a thing for Claire. One chilling scene has Gabriel teaching Claire how to cut up and dispose of a body. Berloff repeatedly reminds us that the three women are “better” than their husbands and others in the mob.

Both Haddish and McCarthy generally are cast in comic roles, but here, both do very well with more dramatic parts.

Extras include a making-of featurette (9 min.); a look at filming in four of the five boroughs of New York City (5:22); and one deleted scene (1:25; it confused me). Grade: film: 2.5 stars; extras 1.5 stars

Good Boys (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 89 min.). Producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the writers of “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express,” helped bring about this comedy from producer/co-writer Lee Eisenberg and director/co-writer Gen Stupnitsky (TV’s “The Office”), whose sole purpose, on the surface, seems to be to milk laughs from three sixth-graders swearing as much as possible and unknowingly playing with sex toys. What saves the film is their sweet-natured innocence and the performances of Jacob Tremblay as Max, Brady Noon as Trevor and Keith L. Williams as Lucas.

Max really likes Brixlee, but he has never gotten up the nerve to speak to her. When Max gets invited to a party at which there will be both kissing and Brixlee, he and his two buds, whom he has wrangled invitations for, panic as they do not know how to kiss. After going to a website that skips the preliminary step of kissing, Thor comes up with the idea of using Max’s dad’s drone to spy on the girl next door (Molly Gordon as Hannah), her friend (Midori Francis as Lily) and boyfriend (Josh Caras as Benji). Of course, Max’s dad (Will Forte) has expressively forbidden Max to touch the drone, while he is away for an overnight work trip.

First the drone literally falls into the hands of the girls and then it gets destroyed, so the boys have to buy a replacement at the mall, which is four miles away and, it turns out, on the other side of an expressway. Trying to gain leverage, Thor has stolen one of the girls’ purses, which contains a drug (molly) that the girls wanted for their upcoming concert experience.

The film does provide some laughs, especially when the trio, who call themselves The Beanbag Boys, goes to Benji’s frat house to try and replace the drugs and it turns into a paintball war, as well as some physical comedy involving the drone and a CPR doll. As the boys grow up a bit forcefully, the last section, which takes place at the kissing party and beyond, leads to the idea that while they will remain friends, they also will go their different ways. Most of the coda is set to Thor’s performing the lead in a school version of the musical “Rock of Ages,” which is very good.

In addition to audio commentary by Stupnitsky and Eisenberg, there are 11 deleted or extended scenes (10:26) and numerous, very short extras. Among the latter are a 2-minute alternate ending that changes the girl Max ends up with, a look at the three young actors (3:12), shooting at Tremblay’s real school and other Vancouver locations (1:07), on the boys swearing, with Tremblay’s real father’s comment (2:41), taking the script to the edge of insane (2:07), the two “bad” girls (1:45) and the many guest star comedians, among them Stephen Merchant, Sam Richardson and Michaela Watkins (2:39). Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 2 stars

Now, Voyager (1942, Criterion Collection, Blu-ray or 2 DVDs, NR, 117 min.). Bette Davis is at her best in this “woman’s picture,” directed by Irving Rapper. It earned Davis her fifth Oscar nomination in a row (1938-1942), a feat only matched by Greer Garson (1941-1945). Gladys Cooper was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, as Mrs. Henry Vale, the controlling Boston Brahmin mother who drives Davis’ Charlotte Vale to a nervous breakdown. The film’s only Oscar went to Max Steiner for his score.

As the film starts, psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains of “Casablanca,” “The Invisible Man,” “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”) visits the Vale home to do an assessment of Charlotte. Charlotte, who is dressed plainly, wears glasses and her hair severe, and is indicated to be a bit heavy, agrees to attend Dr. Jaquith’s Cascade sanatorium in Vermont, where she stays for three months (a time jump in the film).

There is a flashback to her finding love on a cruise with Leslie (Charles Drake of TV’s “Wagon Train”), the ship’s wireless operator, when she was 20, but even though the two planned to marry, Mrs. Vale intervened and forbade it. Thus, it is a bit surprising that when we see Charlotte post-Cascade, she is on an ocean cruise in South America. During the cruise, she meets and falls in love with an unhappily-married man (Paul Henreid of “Casablanca” as Jerry Durrance). While their romance was consummated – due to movie code restrictions at the time, it was only hinted at – Durrance goes back to his family after five days.

When Charlotte returns home, her whole personality has changed, much to the dismay of her mother. While Charlotte is courted by Elliot Livinsgston (John Loder), Durrance remains in her heart. Towards the end, Charlotte becomes closer to Durrance in a very unusual way.

The film is presented in a new 4K digital transfer. Extras include a 1971 episode of “The Dick Cavett Show” with Davis; a 1980 interview with Henreid; new selected scene commentary on the film’s score by scholar Jeff Smith; a new interview with film critic Farran Smith Nehme on the making of the film; a new interview with costume historian Larry McQueen; and two radio adaptations from 1943 and 1946. The 36-page booklet contains an essay by scholar Patricia White and a 1937 reflection of acting by Davis. Criterion also has issued a Blu-ray of “All About Eve,” the 1950 film starring Davis, Anne Baxter and George Saunders, which won six Oscars and was nominated for eight more, including a nomination for Davis. This edition has not been seen. Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 3.5 stars

As a side note, Steiner was nominated for an Oscar for 13 straight years, 1939-1951. His score for “Now, Voyager, was the second of his three wins. His total nominations were 19. The Brigham Young University Film Music Archive has just issued a three-CD compilation of Steiner’s Western scores, called “Saddles, Sagebrush and Steiner. The music, composed and conducted by Steiner, is from the films “Virginia City,” “Santa Fe Trail,” “San Antonio,” “Dallas,” “Rocky Mountain,” The Charge at Feather River,” “The Lion and the Horse” and “Raton Pass.”

Star Trek: Discovery: Season Two (CBS/Paramount, 4 Blu-ray or 4 DVDs, NR, 11 hours, 50 min.). This set contains all 14 episodes of the series that streams on CBS All Access. It continues the adventures of the starship Discovery, which has a new temporary commander in Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), as the USS Enterprise is undergoing repairs. The official timeline places this series 10 years before Capt. Kirk, but Spock is a character here, although he actually is being hunted as the season opens. Other than where is Spock and whether he really killed three people at a hospital to escape, the big mystery is seven bursts of red energy.

At least two of those energy bursts led to locations where rescue missions were needed. At both, a “Red Angel” is seen, the same figure Spock used to draw as a child. Discovery Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was a foster child, raised along with Spock by his parents, Amanda (Mia Kirshner) and Sarek (James Frain of TV’s “Elementary,” “Gotham”). The two foster siblings are now estranged. Other key figures this season are Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), still recovering from the loss of a loved one, but who has to control the spore drive, and officer-in-training Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman). Also continued from last season is the Klingon story centering around Chancellor L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) and Voq/Ash Tyler.

In episode four, two of the main cast members almost die and the ship is hit with a computer virus that knocks the universal translator out of whack.

The set comes with more than four hours of bonus features, including two episodes of “Short Treks” (30 min.) that are related to “Star Trek: Discovery.” Other extras look at recreating the iconic bridge of the USS Enterprise (10:33); following the Discovery crew through preparing, shooting and posting the season finale (43 min.); an exploration of the Red Angel (13:10); examining the locations and spaces used during the season (17:48); an examination of props with propmaster Mario Moreira (8:56); the fashion designs for the various species with designer Gersha Phillips (16 min.); design and implementation for the alien creatures, especially L’Rell (15:18); the work of the VFX team, headed by Jason Zimmerman (10:12); a summary of the season’s plot twists (55:46); cast and crew audio commentaries on episodes “Brother,” “New Eden,” “Through the Valley of Shadows” and “Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2”; deleted scenes for eight episodes; and a gag reel.

At times, the show’s science is a bit overwhelming, but overall this season is enjoyable. Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 4 stars

Queens of Mystery (Acorn TV, 3 DVDs, NR, 284 min.). This Acorn TV’s second original series, consisting of three two-part episodes. Olivia Vinall plays newly promoted Det. Sgt. Matilda “Mattie” Stone, who is assigned to her home town of Wildemarsh. Olivia has three aunts, who all write mystery series. Sarah Woodward plays motherly Aunt Beth, while Julie Graham is rebellious Aunt Cat who writes graphic novels and Siobhan Redmond is Aunt Jane, who runs their crime book store and writes about an android police detective.

Aunt Beth is one of four writers nominated for the Golden Pick-Axe for best crime fiction, presented annually by Lady Antiona Hiddledean (Selina Cadell) at Hiddledean Hall, the local castle. One of the four nominees is killed during the award ceremony and Aunt Beth becomes the leading suspect. Actually, the story sets up a whole bunch of suspects before the murder is actually committed. While the solution owes more than a bit to Agatha Christie, whose work is mentioned in the episode, the series is quite entertaining.

The first mystery also touches on an older mystery, the sudden disappearance of Mattie’s mother when she was 3 years old. It appears there is a clue at Hiddledean Hall, a clue that the Aunts want to keep hidden from Mattie. The episodes feature quite a bit of narration, performed by Juliet Stevenson (“Bend It Like Beckham”), who earned a 2019 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Narrator. The Hiddledean estate, by the way, is gorgeous – Lympne Castle in Folkestone on the sea is used for the filming. Kent serves as the locale for most of Wildemarsh. The story uses several flashbacks and sometime, humorously, scenes from the mystery books are brought to life.

The second mystery in this light-hearted series highlights Aunt Cat’s stint in a new wave girl band during the 1980s and her love affair with lead singer Nikki Holler (Chelsea Edge). The band, Volcanic Youth, has been invited to record a reunion album at an exclusive retreat. The third mystery focuses on a local theater, where an adaptation of one of Aunt Jane’s books is being mounted.

Mattie has been a love interest for Constable Foster, but she does not remember him. Instead, she feels instant attraction to coroner Daniel Lynch (Andrew Leung), but whose girlfriend insists they are engaged, even though he too feels an attraction with Mattie. Further complicating the unspoken passions is Inspector Thorne (Martin Trenaman) being in love with Aunt Jane.

Extras include a behind-the scenes look at the first mystery, with creator-writer Julian Unthank, director Ian Emes and covering the casting, locations, use of storyboards, use of flashbacks and the Wes Anderson visual influence (37:13); a look at Easter eggs in the series (10 min.); and a behind-the-scenes look at the other two episodes (12 min. each). Most interesting is when the costumer says the colors of clothing chosen for the four leading ladies represent the four main characters in “The Wizard of Oz.” Another layer explained is how the four leading ladies each represent a different detecting style, covering periods from the past, like Christie, to the future. Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars

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