As far as movie musicals go, ‘Blinded By the Light’ skew more ‘Mamma Mia’ than ‘My Fair Lady,’ which means the songs (in this case, from Bruce Springsteen’s catalog) are screwed in to fit the story, and doesn’t really propel the story forward. But I knew that going in, so I wasn’t expecting much. This is the second film this year about British Pakistani guys set to songs by rock and roll artist, so maybe that’s why, for me, this film felt familiar. This film is based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir, and tells his story of discovering Springsteen’s music, amidst cultural conflicts and the chaos of late 80s British politics. In the beginning, it felt a little uninteresting for me, until the film got its groove, and I adjusted how I looked at the film. For me, the film worked better when I looked at it through a lens of a super fan. I could relate better to that, because I have been and still am one. With that said, I thought Viveik Kalra was wonderful as Javed, and essayed the heart of the story convincingly. And it was surely a treat to hear these Springsteen songs int his context.
‘Parasite’ won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year so that is enough to make me pay attention to it. I know there are a lot of people who swear by current Korean cinema, but I can’t say I have been exposed to it that much. The film’s director, Bong Joon-hoo has a cult following among cinephiles, but I have not seen any of his earlier movies.
‘Parasite’ defies genre – it’s a comedy kinda, a thriller, kind of, a drama sure, but I also think it has horror elements. The film definitely packs a lot in it, and the story has enough twists and turns to turn one’s head. I have to say that I thought the first half was great social commentary about Korean culture, and halfway through it changes course and the storytelling begins. This is one of those films that will keep you on the edge of your seat, though I thought the ‘climax’ was a bit on the excessive side. But it is a film that will definitely catch your attention, and I even bet people will say that it is unforgettable. It’s not my kind of movie, genre wise, if I have to be honest, and I admire it more than I like it. I can’t see myself wanting to see it again, but then I feel the same way about Schindler’s List. I bet it wins the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
Ever since the ‘Before Sunrise’ series, I have followed Richard Linklater’s work, and to mixed results. There are films of his I love, but there are some that make me baffled (‘Last Flag Flying’ anyone?) His latest film, ‘Where’d you go, Bernadette’ falls somewhat in the middle, but I liked it more than probably a lot more people.
And I think that’s because of Cate Blanchette. Her character, Bernadette, is complex to say the least. She is eccentric, and quirky, but she is also fully-formed and you can sense that Blanchette knew this character very well, and is unapologetic about her and her flaws. In a sense, she celebrated them. And a great actress puts the character front and center in the performance. In this case, the character is front and center of the film. And that is the best best quality, and its biggest flaw. Bernadette is not easy to live with – she hates people who are not her family, but most times, you cannot blame her – her superficial neighborhood is a pain in the arse to keep up with. The plot will lead you to her disappearance – but we really see that Bernadette is running away from a version of herself. The story was always going to be a tough sell – I have not read it but I hear Maria Semple’s book is told from emails and text messages – but Linklater proves to be mostly successful in fleshing out the Bernadette character. I wish the people around her were drawn better – Billy Crudup is a snooze here – but Bernadette is enough for me to enjoy the film.
I know that ‘After The Wedding’ is an American adaptation of Susanne Bier’s film, and some people do ask – is there a need to Americanize these films? But I racked my brain and realized I have never seen the original, so in this particular case, and for purely selfish reasons, I welcome this. And anything with Juliane Moore and Michele Williams will catch my attention. And to start, they are both great here – when they are in a scene together, just the two of their characters in front of each other already creates so much tension – you really do feel you are in a showcase of two of the greatest actresses working today.
But what is it with Julianne Moore – her last film was also a remake (Gloria) and she even has almost an exact same scene her of her character singing along to a pop song while driving. But no mistake, though her Theresa here is a force, a woman who is driven to see thing as she plans, even as she rearranges people’s paths. Williams comes off the better here with her subdued passive performance, her Isabel is uprooted from an orphanage in India to the wild streets of New York City, only to be confronted by her past. I must say that I really appreciated the twists and turns here, as manipulated as they may have been. I got into these characters and their situations, and I ate up everything they were serving. I liked this movie a lot, and I enjoyed it, especially the performances. I don’t know if I would have liked it more or less if I had seen the original, but what this is really is just fine.
I have this thing with Netflix movies. Are they theatrical-type ones just being shown on the platform?? Or are they really just television movies on Netflix? Cuaron’s ‘Roma’ certainly fits the former, but I think a lot of what’s there could just be classified on the latter. ‘Otherhood’ is a perfect example – it has an A-list cast of Academy Award winners, but the tone and feel of the film felt very sitcom-y, and that’s unsurprising because the Director (Cindy Chupack) does mostly television.
But I enjoyed it enough, for what it is. It complemented my beer and hot wings on a lonely Saturday night – and the three leads – Patricia Arquette, Felicity Huffman, and Angela Bassett – looked like they were having the time of their life, so I can just let them be. I heard that this was supposed to come out around Mother’s Day but was pushed back because of Huffman’s legal troubles. I’ll even cop out to being a little teary eyed because it made me think about my own mom, but then again that may be the result of the beer and hot wings.
Julius Onah’s ‘Luce’ was adapted from a play by J.C. Lee, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The material is a powerful piece – one that makes you examine each of these characters closely – people are complex, you see, and people can be both be devil and angel. The film centers around Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr) who is a star student (Debate team, football hero, honors) who isn’t quite who he appears to be. Or does he? Complications abound whenhe submits an assignment to his teacher (Octavia Spencer) praising Frantz Fanon, who advocates using violence as necessary retribution. She has his locker searched and finds illegal fireworks there.
The setting is set up, and I have to admit it was a little on the manipulative side. And the conflicts are settled a little too simplistic – we see complexities in some characters, but honestly, not all. However, we get four fantastic performances here, and each one gives their character so much depth that everything just works. Harrison is a star in the making, and Spencer is magnificent as always (this could give her more nominations by the end of the year) but I was also quite pleased with both Naomi Watts and Tim Roth who play Luce’s adopted parents. In the end, their performances gave me more satisfaction than the piece that laid the groundwork.
Louis Garrell’s ‘A Faithful Man’ (L’homme Fidele) is a French rom-com farce, and it’s very French. It’s set in Paris, and it’s funny in a weird way. The film starts with Marianne (Laetitia Casta) telling her lover Abel (Garrell) that she is pregnant, by another man’s baby, and that other man is their close friend Paul. I personally think this is horrid, but Garrell treats the matter with a light touch, and we see Abel go off his merry way. Then years later, we find out Paul has died, and Abel and Marianne resume their relationship. First of all, I would probably still be bitter and have my guard up but I guess the French are a little more flippant about these things, and we are now supposed to root for them to be together. But then, the child, Joseph, is one of those precocious childs who tells Abel that he thinks Marianne poisoned his father. So we have now a bit of murder mystery in the plot. That sounds like a lot of plot for a 75 minute film, but it’s all compact. I haven’t even mentioned Eve, Paul’s younger sister, who has been infatuated with Abel since she was a young kid – and honestly, all this zaniness kind of works. I found myself chuckling and smiling, and swooning over Garrell with his tousled hair and puppy dog eyes. As far as rom-coms go, this is sweet and skews more old-fashioned, but there’s a modern element to it. To me, it felt like I was in Paris eavesdropping on these gorgeous people’s lives, and sure – Paris in Summer? Delightful.