Reviews & More: Almost Up to Expectations

A still from "Blinded by the Light"

It may be the times we live in, but we seem to be awash in stories about the children of immigrants who choose a different road from their parents’ culture and the tension it causes (“Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Big Sick”). Or just children who are different enough from their birth family so as to feel like aliens (“Rocketman”). Now comes “Blinded by the Light,” about one more fish-out-of-water offspring in a family that emigrated from Pakistan to England in the 1980s. Based on a true story, and featuring a soundtrack by Bruce Springsteen—the object of worship by the film’s hero, Javed (a charming Viveik Kalra)—I wish I could say I enjoyed it as much as the previously mentioned films. But the many flaws outnumber its virtues. Yes, it has a fine multi-racial cast, but it’s too long by at least 20 minutes, and after a while even The Boss’s music becomes way too much of a good thing. Yes, it deals with racism and school bullying, but the story is predictable, the ending is treacly and too perfectly wrapped up. It’s like the writers (director Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges and Sarfraz Mansoor) opted to go for the easy heartstrings-tugging story-telling even though there was plenty of meat in the original story to avoid formulaic movie-making. I did enjoy the Bollywood touches, though—dancing and singing in the streets and, early on, when Springsteen’s lyrics were splashed on the screen as the music played, it was fun to finally understand some of what he was actually writing about all those years ago.

TV has some good stuff right now. “Years and Years” on HBO is brilliant, funny and very, very timely. It takes place in England next year and many years afterward and imagines a post-Trump world that becomes more and more like a police state as time goes on. The focus is on the fictional Lyons family—three grown siblings, their grandmother and their children, and the genius of the show is that they represent a cross-section of the middle class: a multiracial man and wife, a gay man and his lover, a fiercely committed on-camera reporter of the horrors of the third world, a weird teenage daughter, an aging nonagenarian. They’re all flawed and we care about them, which makes the gradual disintegration of democracy more personal to us. Emma Thompson (delicious as always) shows up as a would-be politician who is clueless about government but who appeals to the common man and goes far on that alone. The scripts (by the amazing Russell T. Davies—look him up) are crisp, witty and perceptive and the ensemble and individual acting are first-rate. Highly recommended.

I finally watched the first half of Season One of “Derry Girls” and I shall continue watching (season two just became available). Set in the 1990s during the Thatcher years in Northern Ireland, it focuses on four teenage girls, their passions, their disappointments and all the amazing trouble they get themselves into. It’s very funny and imaginative, the kind of half-hour sitcom that goes by too fast. 

“Woodstock” first showed up on PBS’ “American Experience” and it’s now available on Netflix. It’s nothing like you’ve seen before of that seminal August weekend in upstate New York 50 years ago this month, because it doesn’t focus on the music (although there is plenty of that) but rather all the machinations that went into dreaming it up, getting it financed, having the original site withdrawn by the local townspeople and having to move to an alternate site with only four weeks to get it done. I kept shaking my head at how they pulled it off… sort of. Sacrifice, love, lots of drugs, everyone pitching in to make it happen—a miracle of mankind at its best. The promotors lost their shirt but oh, what they created. Fascinating stuff.

“Mindhunter,” season two, just showed up on Netflix. I will report on it next time