Tag Archives: Hayley Atwell

Tramps Like Us

Blinded by the Light

by George Wolf

Warning: this article contains some serious pro-Boss bias. Like, copious amounts.

Because a Springsteen fanatic like myself reviewing Blinded by the Light is somewhere close to your racist Facebook friend from high school reviewing Fox News. Expecting a thumbs down is like, oh, I don’t know….

Trying to start a fire without a spark?

Cool, we understand each other.

But beyond the singer or the songs, the real joyous triumph of the film is how it unabashedly adores not just this one particular artist, but the entire concept of inspiration.

Based on the memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, the film rewinds to the late 80s when Javed (Viviek Kalra in an irresistible feature debut), a British teen of Pakistani descent, is trying to navigate high school amid the austere gloom of Thatcher conservatism and the ominous rise of far-right bigotry.

Drowning in a sea of synth pop, Javed’s life changes when his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) gives him some Springsteen cassettes.

As both a veteran of that awakening and a witness for others, I can tell you director/co-writer Gurinder Chadha nails it with a perfectly rockin’ bullseye. Bruce’s lyrics dance across the screen and around Javed’s head, his fist pumping and his face beaming with a newfound sense of purpose.

Though his father (a terrific Kulvinder Ghir) bemoans the influence of “that Jewish singer” (“He’s not Jewish – and that’s racist!”), Javed, bolstered by encouragement from a sincere teacher (Hayley Atwell) and a new girlfriend (Nell Williams), takes the first steps toward a future of his own – as a writer.

Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham) manages a wonderful tonal balance, juggling humor (watch for that hilarious Rob Brydon cameo), coming of age pathos, blaring 80s hits, a mighty timely social conscience and even extended dance sequences.

Cynicism doesn’t stand a chance. Chadha keeps the heart on Manzoor’s sleeve beating loud, proud and unmistakable, knowing this borders on cornball and not giving a toss.

For Springsteen (who has been notoriously shy about licensing his songs) to give this project his complete blessing lends an immense layer of gravitas for longtime fans. Until that next Bruce concert, we are a choir eager for the preaching.

But replace Bruce with Aretha, Kurt Cobain, Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift and the exuberant joy of Blinded by the Light still works.

Inspiration, wherever you find it, is worth celebrating. Embrace it, and it might even lead to your….glory days.

One, two, three, four!

Sweeter Than Hunny

Christopher Robin

by George Wolf

Pooh! Who doesn’t love him?

Winnie T. Pooh and the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood have endured for decades, and now the second Pooh film is less than twelve months brings all the furry friends to live-action life.

Last year’s Goodbye, Christopher Robin was a bittersweet and uneven origin story, focusing on the inspirations for A.A. Milne’s Pooh tales.

Christopher Robin drops both the goodbye and the bitter in becoming a grown-up fantasyland with an easily digestible, greeting card-ready sentimentality.

Mr. Robin (Ewan McGregor, charming as always) has put the Hundred Acre Wood long behind him, with a wife (Hayley Atwell), a young daughter (Bronte Carmichael – great name!) and a working-class job as an efficiency expert at a London luggage company.

He’s lost sight of the joy in life, and when a crisis at work means Christopher will miss another weekend family getaway, fate intervenes with a much-needed Pooh crew reunion.

The CGI effects that bring the animals to life are wonderful, the voice work  (including Brad Garrett, Toby Jones, Sophie Okonedo, Dr. Who‘s Peter Capaldi and voice acting veteran Jim Cummings) is spot on, the humor warm and the message fuzzy.

What’s missing is depth. There’s no real attempt to find any, and that’s a bit surprising with the filmmaking talent involved.

The director is Marc Forster, and the writing team includes Tom McCarthy and Alex Ross Perry. Between them, those three have some serious depth on their resumes, including Spotlight, Up, Listen Up Phillip, Queen of Earth, Monster’s Ball, Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner and more.

The result is similar to David Lowery’s live-action take on Pete’s Dragon two years ago, where a filmmaker skilled at nuance within serious themes took on a children’s classic and struggled with when to stop simplifying.

Christopher Robin is sweeter than the “hunny” jars Pooh dives into, but nearly as empty as he leaves them. In trying to showcase the need for simple wonders, the film settles awkwardly between a child’s fable and wistful remembrances from grandparents.

There’s plenty to like, but little to love.