Blinded by the Light

In England in 1987, a teenager from a Pakistani family named Javed aspires to be a writer but feels learns to live his life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of American rock star Bruce Springsteen.

Blinded by the Light is an urgently needed breath of fresh air from all the big franchise films studios tend to release, so the fact that Warner Bros. picked this film out from Sundance to distribute in a wide release really means a lot. Without much exaggeration or many large Hollywood names, Blinded by the Light has a slightly familiar formula but remains a grounded, touching human story that’s inspiring in just about every way. If I had to describe it in some way, it feels like Yesterday meets Sing Street meets Bend it Like Beckham. It ‘s not only entertaining, funny, and uplifting, but also takes themes such as racial tensions and applies it to a creative and fascinating premise, elevated by a strong cast all around, that doesn’t include many known actors although I’m sure they all will be one day with the talent they deliver here — the one face some viewers may recognize is Captain America‘s Haley Atwell does have a memorable supporting role. But this movie isn’t about seeing the big stars, or the big visual effects, or Oscar worthy acting. This is a film you go to not just to enjoy but to also learn about the importance of passion, dreams, dedication and hard work, but also about family, love, and the bonds that make us who we are. While most these kinds of movies are about following your dreams even when everyone is doubting you or bringing you down, this movie emphasizes pursuing your passion but above that embracing your family and the ones closest to you even when it seems like they’re bringing you down. The great takeaway is that power of dreams, passion, and talent don’t mean the same without familial bonds and togetherness. The movie is also able to add some strong themes about the hardships especially faced by minorities, when the “American dream” seems even more out of reach for this poor immigrant family facing racism, which also connects to today’s time with Islamophobia being a prominent topic in the news. This adds a whole extra layer to the film and makes the themes about dreams and finding your voice even more meaningful. But don’t worry — there’s also lots of humor, musical numbers, and overall positive themes that allow us to have fun while also reflecting on the impact of pop culture on the individual the way Yesterday did. Although it’s currently not shining at the box office, I feel like this is the kind of film that will grow on people over the years and more people will come to watch and love it later on, even if the blockbuster-filled climate of modern cinema prevents audiences from choosing to see it on the big screen. But it’s universal themes will certainly reach out to audiences of all ages and backgrounds — whether or not you’re a fan of The Boss.

Blinded by the Light Movie Poster
Advertisements

The Lion King (2019)

Disney has been dominating the decade with Marvel, Star Wars, animation (both Pixar and their titular studio), but their series that has divided people the most is their live-action remakes of animated classics. So people were most excited but also nervous when it came to the photoreal-but-actually-still-animated remake of their defining animated feature from the 20th century, The Lion King. First off, on a visual standpoint, this movie is an achievement. It follows the same reign of The Jungle Book in recreating iconic characters and setting to look as real as possible, and it really delivers. All the animals and sets look like an actual picture, even though not a single frame was actually there. It’s amazing to see how far visuals have gone these days, and Disney has been headliner these last few years in consistently breaking the boundaries of what can be done with a computer, whether it’s the amazing action in Avengers and Star Wars films or breathtaking animation in films like Toy Story and Incredibles — but the feats of the CGI completely pay off here in making the illusion unnoticable and making it feel like a more immersive journey. The film is perfectly casted with Donald Glover shining and making something of his own out of Simba’s role here, and it helps that he’s experienced in both acting and singing. Also huge standouts are Timon and Pumbaa, who are scene-stealing and Seth Rogen’s voice espeically fit for Pumbaa. Also worth pointing out is John Oliver who is hysterical as Zazu. However, for some characters, like Scar for example, it’s sometimes hard not to make comparisons to superior versions, like Jeremy Irons who was perfect in the 1994 version. Perhaps neither he nor James Earl Jones needed recasting (the latter of which was thankfully able to return as Mufasa). Speaking of roles from the original, Rafiki’s role was unfortuantely reduced this time around so he feels like less of a mentor to Simba and barely even has dialogue.

The musical numbers are still very fun, espeically the classic “Hakuna Matata”, and the “Lion Sleeps Tonight” gag is extended and made even funnier. The shame is that they shortened the Scar’s menacing anthem “Be Prepared” to be much slower but as a result feels more like a whispered spoken word poem than a song. The Lion King is stuck in a loophole in terms of delivering for fans because people want a remake to somehow reinvent the story but at the same time poeple get angry as soon as something major is changed. Unfortuantely, some of the changes made in this remake are for the worse, and other than that, a lot of sequences in the film or a shot-for-shot copy-paste of what we’ve already seen. A lot of the dialogue is the same as well, and I just wish they had added some more story to what we already know because the fact that we recognize every scene and line so well will eventually make things boring. On the bright side, it manages to retain some of the soul that reminds us why we love the original so much (themes like confronting your past or lines from Mufasa about the truth of being a wise king). The problem is that once these characters are animated to look photorealistic, they can no longer exaggerate emotions like the original iterations do — Scar is no longer a charismatic Shakespearean character, and every character just looks like an animal talking. This movie has incredible visual technology that deserves plenty of praise for Jon Favreau, maybe next time he could have used it to make original content rather than remaking known stories, or just added a little more that we haven’t seen before to do something new with the story.

The Lion King is a visual marvel and filled with nostaliga, but it’s greatest strength and weakness is that it’s almost exactly the same as the original. If the original Lion King was so perfect, why change anything? But why do we want to see the same movie over again? That’s the problem that this new remake finds itself in which is why despite being nice to look at, the script is beat for beat the same, which is why the only way this movie can really be appreciated is in 3D and on the biggest movie screen you can find. Does it offer much new? Not really, or even at all to be honest. But in terms of recommendation for the theaters I have to say go for the visuals and for the story which still stays strong, but the emotional expressions that came through the original versions of the characters (which didn’t need to feel photoreal and therefore could be exaggerated for animals) is exactly what will make the original Lion King forever superior.

Disney The Lion King 2019.jpg

Yesterday

Jack Malik is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, until a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, after which Jack wakes up to discover that nobody except him can remember The Beatles. Soon Jack makes a life-altering decision that sends him to fame as he starts taking credit for the band’s forgotten songs.

Yesterday is a movie with a fantastically original premise, compared to the same recycled formulas in a lot of genres. Though it does sometimes get stuck in mediocre rom-com tropes, like a cheesy romance in the second act that doesn’t know where it’s going until the very end, this movie takes advantage of its genius idea and makes for a fun, humorous, and interesting two hours. Himesh Patel is not only fun and charming but also sings really well and was well-cast — he hasn’t been in much before but may soon make a name for himself after his starring role here — and also entertaining are Lily James as his best friend, and Ed Sheeran as himself — the singer who helps Jack skyrocket to stardom. However, one character I found to be annoying was his manager played by Kate McKinnon, whose comedic turns I usually enjoy on Saturday Night Live, but here her character was simply irritating and unlikable. It’s no surprise the music is so enjoyable — they chose the best band to make this movie about, and as a huge Beatles fan myself, it’s great to hear them all through the film, and luckily they cast a great actor who can sing as well. There’s also plenty of humorous moments I didn’t expect and the jokes almost always land. Like I said, the second half does lose a little bit of steam but once you see where it all ends up, you get to take in some of the themes the movie is going for. There’s also another sweet theme about how the most iconic of pop culture is what touches people’s hearts and should be kept alive. As one character says, “A world without the Beatles is a world infinitely worse.” So I have to applaud director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curits for creating one of the most original films of the year that sometimes doesn’t avoid genre tropes but the fresh plotline makes for some truly great moments, and there’s also plenty of excellent musical moments as well. When everything that’s out has to do with killer toys, superheroes, and animated animals, why not try something new for a change and support this one-of-a-kind film I bet you won’t regret seeing in theaters.

Yesterday film.jpg

Rocketman

Rocketman is an epic musical fantasy about the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. Taron Egerton proves that he was perfectly cast as the titular role. His singing voice is so fitting and perfectly delivers on these classic Elton songs which are not only integrated into the film through his concert performances but also by musical and dance sequences where Elton’s lines connect to the situations in certain scenes. Egerton also delivers on showing how the leading character felt pride, love, anger, and rejection at certain points in his career. Also great is Jamie Bell as Elton’s best friend, and Bryce Dallas Howard who was an odd choice to play Elton’s mother but still does a solid job. Dexter Fletcher was the one and only person who should’ve directed this film and he brings so much style to the film that makes it easy to enjoy. The sets, cinematography, and editing add to an already interesting script with an artsy feel that heightens the audience’s connection to the protagonist and will make you want to sing and dance along to some of your favorite Elton John songs. What the film does so well is depicting both the highs and lows of Elton’s career and also spends a lot of time addressing and depicting his sexuality, so expect some strong sexual content as well. We see Elton display talent and receive fame, but we also see him deal with rejection from those closest to him, as well as suffering from addiction resulting from a downward emotional spiral. Yet by the end, Rocketman will feel like a rewarding time at the movies with great music, acting, and story that those who love his music will very much enjoy.

My only gripe about Rocketman is that despite its 2-hour runtime, I think a few aspects could have used a little more screentime, like how audiences were affected by his music or how those around him reacted to his addiction, which we could have seen a bit more of. Other than that, Rocketman is entertaining and emotional yet uplifting and very well-directed and acted.

Rocketman (film).png

Aladdin (2019)

A modern rendition of the beloved story of a thief who meets a beautiful young princess, finds a lamp and befriends a Genie, and must fight against the evil royal advisor Jafar.

There is no real reason as to why Disney’s new wave of live-action remakes is needed, other than for the studio to gather more money, but some have even shown potential and paid off like The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast. We’ve also recently gotten Dumbo and will soon have a CGI Lion King. However, Aladdin was the one I was most skeptical about because of how close to my heart the original was and how many times I’ve viewed it. There’s so many aspects that can’t be changed or replaced, especially not Robin Williams’ Genie. This live-action rendition finds some highs and lows but ultimately never justifies its existence, but then again, I wasn’t really expecting it to. Aladdin plays it mostly by the books but even when it tries to reinvent itself, it often fails. The musical numbers don’t have much energy into them with weary long takes that don’t feel engaging, and attempts to “modernize” some of the songs with the addition of a drum backdrop was not a good call. We didn’t ask it to beat the original, but we certainly didn’t ask for an autotuned Will Smith singing “Arabian Nights” or a credits version of “Friend Like Me” that includes DJ Khaled. I know, I don’t believe it either. The cast finds some faults to but also brings the film its greatest strengths. Mena Massoud feels like the perfect embodiment of how a live-action Aladdin should look and sound. Naomi Scott is fantastic as Jasmine, who not only has a powerful arc as she seeks to bring Agrabah the true leadership it deserves and speak out against those who silence her and say she is better “seen than heard”, but the actress also has a gorgeous look and singing voice that make her one of the best parts of the film. Will Smith is also one of the most entertaining parts as the Genie. Does he live up to the performance of the role by Robin Williams? No, nobody ever can and it’s too much to ask from someone to do so. However, Smith still captures the fun spirit the Genie has and embraces every moment he has on screen, even though the horrid CGI on his blue form takes some getting used to. My main problem with the cast is definitely Jafar. Growing up, Jafar was one of my favorite Disney villains because of his menacing and thundering presence and how intimidating he felt. Jafar’s execution in this remake is rather weak and annoying, with his monotonous delivery making him feel extremely generic and unlikable. Other great actors cast in the film are Nasim Pedrad, Navid Neghaban, and Billy Magnussen, but they all have to do weird voices throughout the whole film. Pedrad’s new character is a highlight but her unnecessary “elegant” accent slightly bothered me, Neghaban was a good choice for the Sultan by doesn’t have the hilarity and over-the-top personality the Sultan is known for having, and Magnussen had no reason to be in the film and his terrible German accent makes you dislike his new and unnecessary character — he was definitely better off doing other projects.

Aladdin’s real main selling point is nostalgia, as for all of these remakes. Kids will find themselves bopping their heads to tunes like “Friend Like Me” or being enamored by the beloved anthem “A Whole New World”, but when this classic animated adventure was converted to the live-action treatment, it feels like a lot of the wonder was lost. Aladdin and Jasmine’s chemistry, is still there, as well as the friendship between the Genie and the titular character, but what feels loss is the character’s iconic journey from a street thief who steals for himself but also just cares for the other poor people around him, to a selfless, courageous hero who will fight for his love and the kingdom. His arc just doesn’t feel as effective and the movie doesn’t leave us thinking about the films’ themes and emotions like the original did for me all those years. It’s not like all animated stories can perfectly stay effective in all mediums, but Aladdin does definitely suffer from being too close but also changing too much of the wrong things. However, one thing that does land is the humor. There are some fun humorous moments that I did not expect, especially a scene involving a dance. There’s definitely some pacing issues that this remake faces, though. Since the original is 90 minutes but this remake is 130, there feels like a lot of unnecessary filler added to the third act which just makes it tiring and it drags on and doesn’t find much of a point until the climax. The visual look isn’t very impressive either. The cinematography looks so bland, sometimes almost as if someone went to the desert and started shooting on their iPhone. But even the production design isn’t very convincing and it all clearly looks shot on a film set. The movie also fails to capture the vastness of Agrabah that was so intriguing in the first film. Here, everything feels a lot smaller and less striking to the eye, as well as poor CGI for the Genie as well as a few action sequences which aren’t enticing at all. There’s even a character in the final battle who looks like all the DC Extended Universe villains combined, and believe me, that’s not a good thing. Making Iago look like a real parrot takes away all the humorous and cartoonish feel that’s made him a classic role, same with Raja, who’s just a tiger rather than a trusty sidekick for Jasmine. Guy Ritchie’s new Aladdin doesn’t necessarily ruin the film that inspired it, but it certainly doesn’t honor the beauty of the glamour and the story that’s taken us all by awe like something like, say, the new Broadway musical adaptation.

Aladdin clearly didn’t need to be made, but kids will still enjoy a remake that’s, not really different from the original and in the end is just an inferior rendition of a magnificent gem that came before. Despite some entertaining moments but mostly frustrating changes and updates, there isn’t too much to take away except lovable songs you already know, and a strong, fresher arc for Jasmine as well as a standout delivery from Will Smith.

Aladdin (Official 2019 Film Poster).png

Mary Poppins Returns

ratings3

Decades after her original visit, the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael’s children through a difficult time in their lives.

Mary Poppins Returns maintains a similar formula for a new generation, but some of what it maintains from the first film works and doesn’t work for a modern film. First off, Emily Blunt is fantastic in the titular role. I wasn’t sure if any actress could maintain that same spirit and charm Julie Andrews brought to the character 50 years ago, but Blunt did it perfectly and follows large footsteps yet makes the role feel like her own. Lin-Manuel Miranda was also well-cast in a role clearly meant as an homage to that of Bert (played by Dick van Dyke, who actually cameos here in his other role from the original as the banker), and the two leads get plenty of time to show off their singing skills that we’ve already known of. Also entertaining in her minor role is Meryl Streep who cameos in a comedic and funny scene as Mary Poppins’ eccentric cousin. However, a lot of what this movie goes for just feels inferior to the first film, like traditionally animated scenes and unconvincing visual effects that don’t really fit for a 2018 movie when animation has advanced so far, even in the last couple years alone. It felt like something new and groundbreaking in the ’60s but here it does not feel realistic or refreshing. The musical numbers are also forgettable in comparison, and don’t have that sing-along quality that classics like “Chim Chim Cher-ee” or “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” have, which are probably the first things that come into your head when you think of Mary Poppins. However, I did love the musical number called “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” which was not only memorable but it also payed tribute to “Step in Time”, my favorite part from the original movie. There are also times when these songs go on for too long and forget to come back to the plot, but the musical score is definitely great and carries the film very s strongly. However, another gripe is that the child characters are at times annoying, like a character named Georgie who continuously makes frustratingly dim-witted decisions and messes everything up for the other kids. Though the climax is definitely entertaining and has some heartfelt conclusions to the character arcs and is a fun race against time, the first half especially feels painfully mediocre and feels very much like a kids/family movie, unlike other recent family films like How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse which have merit that adults can connect to just as much as kids. The movie at times relies heavily on nostalgia, which sometimes works but at other times doesn’t feel necessary. The original Mary Poppins stuck with us for so long because it used the ability of imagination and the impossible to help the characters find the beauty in life — this movie does the exact same thing, in the exact same way, so if you’ve seen the first one you won’t be as impressed. The best you’ll get out of many parts is that Disney really knows who to hire to design their costumes and sets. It’s really only in the last 30 minutes that the film really redeems itself and meets its goal. Kids will definitely enjoy the concepts and musical numbers, but there isn’t too many new things for adults to discover about Mary Poppins Returns that wasn’t already established by the terrific classic that is Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins Returns (2018 film poster).png

Bohemian Rhapsody

ratings4

Bohemian Rhapsody brings the story of legendary music group Queen and their center star Freddie Mercury to the big screen. I’ve been a hug fan of Queen and their music for a while, and they have been my favorite music group with their classics such as the titular song being among the best songs of all time. My love for the band explains why I was so excited to watch this film, and I was not let down. Bohemian Rhapsody lives on the promise of a great depiction of the behind-the-scenes of the making of some of your favorite Queen songs, as well as digging into its lead singer who still remains a legend to this day. Rami Malek hasn’t been in many major film roles before but was the perfect choice to play Freddie — he disappears into the role in every moment in an unbelievable transformation which required Malek’s full effort. It feels as if every movement he makes and every word or scene he’s in was perfected to feel like the real Mercury. Also great are Gwylim Lee and Ben Hardy as the other founding members of Queen — whose real life counterparts were musical consultants on the film. Knowing and loving the songs and group that the film is about, audiences will be sure to want to catch this one and be enthralled by how the band came to be or what inspired their greatest hits. Though some that don’t enjoy their music as much will be more keen to notice the formula that a lot of biopics use (“anyone can achieve their dreams” “character pursues their dreams/argues with those close to him/makes amends with them and redeems themselves”) — the film won’t offer much new plot-wise especially if you know more about the real story, but that’s alright. There’s also a few aspects that would have been more entertaining to see in extended sequences rather than being shortened to montages, but the movie already clocks in at 135 minutes anyway. The vivid cinematography and editing kindly boast uproarious musical concert sequences, which are also so enjoyable because of the fact that the songs you love so much are being played to you on the big screen and you can’t help but want to sing along.

You may read many different things from critics, but mark my words — any fan of Queen and Mercury will have a blast watching Bohemian Rhapsody on the big screen. Others may notice the familiar plot structure or formula but one thing is for sure — Rami Malek will get serious buzz for his portrayal of Mercury, and watching your favorite songs being created and performed on screen is nothing but a wonderful time on the big screen.

Bohemian Rhapsody poster.png