Schultz reviews: “Blinded by the Light," "47 Meters Down: Uncaged," "Good Boys" and "Where'd You Go, Bernadette"
“Blinded by the Light” Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, 117 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released Aug. 16:
Bruce Springsteen has been a part of the musical landscape for nearly 50 years now.
The rare musical entertainer who’s never experienced a significant decline in popularity, Springsteen’s concert appearances are invariably sellouts even at premium prices, and his most devoted followers are known to camp out for days at concert venues for an opportunity to buy the best seats. Some followers have attended literally hundreds of his live shows.
Nicknamed “The Boss” early in his career — a tag the entertainer is said to dislike — Springsteen released his first record album in 1973 and the enduring rock anthem “Born to Run” in 1975. He became a worldwide sensation with his historic 156-concert “Born in the USA” tour in 1984 and 1985, an icon during 9/11, and a living legend during his 236-date Broadway residency in 2018. The new jukebox musical “Blinded by the Light” now seeks to add another unofficial title to Bruce Springsteen’s legacy — Messiah.
Set in the British industrial town of Luton in 1987 during the reign of conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, “Blinded by the Light” is the story of Javed, a sensitive and artistically-inclined teenager of British-Pakistani ancestry. Repressed by his orthodox Muslim parents, persecuted at school because of his heritage, and derided by even his friends for his sophomoric attempts at poetry, Javed aspires to a career as a writer, but is discouraged at every turn. His primary career ambitions — to flee conservative Luton, earn a lot of money and kiss a girl.
Obtaining admission at a local university where he intends to pursue writing courses despite his family’s belief that he’s studying economics, Javed initially feels as isolated as before. Then another student introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen . . . and the boy is instantly transformed. And with Bruce Springsteen as a muse and The Boss’ music as his inspiration, Javed’s life blossoms into a world of wonder and continuing artistic validation.
Inspired by the journalist Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll,” “Blinded by the Light” ostensibly seeks to establish for Bruce Springsteen the same end the recent “Yesterday” accomplished for The Beatles: To explain for non-followers the enduring popularity of the artists’ music and place it into the context of contemporary culture.
But while “Yesterday” became a sweetly nostalgic love letter to The Beatles and their era, “Blinded by the Light” despite its intentions over-reaches its grasp — the picture vividly depicts Springsteen’s popularity among his legions of fans, but it’s far more successful in explaining fandom itself. In many ways, more than Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday” the new “Blinded by the Light” resembles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” Robert Zemeckis’ frenetic 1978 precursor to “Back to the Future” which depicted the impact among fans on the day The Beatles first arrived in America.
Appropriately, Javed’s awakening to the music of Bruce Springsteen occurs during a windstorm — the transition is as swift as Dorothy’s being whisked from sepia-tone Kansas to a world of magical color in “The Wizard of Oz.” Told by his schoolmate that Springsteen is “the boss of us all . . . the direct line to all that’s true in this (lousy) world,” Javed places the tape into his Walkman and is changed forever: Springsteen’s words soar magically around the boy’s head, literally appearing before him on the sides of walls and bridges.
Set significantly to the strains of Springsteen’s “The Promised Land,” the moment is framed like an epiphany, a Born Again experience, and the change in Javed is similar to a conversion from non-belief to faith — his salvation and Springsteen-fueled zealotry compels Javed to Share the Good News and inspire more disciples.
In a way, the scene illustrates the power of music itself, and could’ve been inspired by Beethoven, The Beach Boys, or Beyonce. But with Bruce, the music’s just the sizzle — the meat of his art has always been the poetry, the words. It’s a powerful moment in the picture, as infectious as 1964’s “A Hard Day’s Night.” By the movie’s end, you almost expect Javed to be saying his prayers to Springsteen.
“Blinded by the Light” is propelled by a spirited performance by movie newcomer Viveik Kalra as Javed. Kalra’s richly expressive face allows the audience to read his emotions even during the picture’s quiet passages — he’s as animated as any Disney character you can name, and ultimately is as necessary to the picture’s success as Bruce Springsteen himself. Kalra’s supported by performances by Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra as Javed’s parents, Nell Williams as his girlfriend, and Hayley Atwell as a sympathetic teacher. Comic Rob Brydon appears in a small role as a friend’s Bruce-enthusiast dad.
Adapted from Manzoor’s memoir by Paul Mayeda Berges, director Gurinder Chadha and the author himself, and directed by Chadha (she’s the filmmaker behind the acclaimed sports-oriented romantic comedy “Bend It Like Beckham”), ”Blinded by the Light” is receiving outstanding reviews from the critics, including an approval rating of 91% from Rotten Tomatoes and 71% from Metacritic. Exit audiences polled by CinemaScore assign the picture an average grade of A-minus.
A footnote to the film observes that author Manzoor eventually attended over 150 Bruce Springsteen concerts. While Springsteen himself was not artistically involved with the production of “Blinded by the Light,” the soundtrack contains around a dozen of his classic recordings, a sure sign of his tacit approval of the project. The score includes the previously-unreleased “I’ll Stand By You,” written and performed by Springsteen for the movie “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” but never used. Springsteen also attended the picture’s Asbury Park, New Jersey premiere.
Playing in 2,307 theaters across the United States and Canada, “Blinded by the Light” is rated PG-13 for thematic material and language, including some ethnic slurs.
“47 Meters Down: Uncaged” Distributed by Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 89 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released Aug. 16:
In the new horror thriller “47 Meters Down: Uncaged,” two mismatched sisters living in Mexico, one shy and awkward and the other popular and outgoing, are looking forward to spending some quality time with their undersea archaeologist dad. But when he needs to stand them up to attend a meeting with some investors, as a make-up gift he sends the girls instead on a sightseeing excursion aboard a glass-bottomed vessel featuring underwater vistas.
Bored silly, the girls go AWOL with two school-friends to indulge in some surreptitious diving in a remote and secluded location . . . on the other side of the same ancient undersea Mayan city dad’s been exploring. Unhappily, while exploring the mysterious labyrinth of underwater chambers the girls become the prey of a mutant and particularly savage species of great white sharks.
Ostensibly a sequel to director Johannes Roberts’ “47 Meters Down,” which became a surprise hit in the summer of 2017, the new “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” has virtually nothing to do with its predecessor except the title, the water and the sharks. Instead, the returning Roberts delivers a by-the-numbers, connect-the-dots thriller that’s long on jump scares but short on logic. Even the movie’s poster is recycled from 1975’s “Jaws.”
When seeing a director’s name among the screenwriting credits of an action-adventure, an alert viewer knows that the movie is probably going to be less about dramatic structure than about images the filmmaker feels he can sell to the audience. This is certainly true in “Uncaged,” particularly during an extended sequence in which the girls encounter a sort of underwater tornado. While it’s never explained whether the whirlpool is a storm, a giant drain or an undersea black hole, the scene taxes the audience’s “oh, come on” limits even in a picture featuring sightless zombie sharks roaming sets which look recycled from 1965’s “War Gods of the Deep.”
When the hapless survivors finally make their way out of the underwater horror chamber and into the welcoming sunlight, they’re — surprise! — within easy swimming distance of the sightseeing vessel they’re supposed to be on in the first place . . . which as even more sharks appear ultimately gives their schoolmates more entertainment than they wanted. Unfortunately, by that point in the picture you might agree with them.
Featuring Sophie Nelisse and Corinne Fox as the sisters, an avuncular John Corbett as their dad, and Brianne Tju and Sistine Stallone — Sylvester’s daughter — as their friends, “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” certainly has its moments. It’s especially tough on claustrophobics, for example. But whether or not the picture is enjoyable depends on the viewer’s taste for preposterous situations and an absence of logic. The movie police might revoke your undersea movie diving permit if you take this one too seriously.
“47 Meters Down: Uncaged” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense peril, bloody images and brief strong language.
“Good Boys” Distributed by Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes, Rated R, Released Aug. 16:
In the new comedy “Good Boys,” a trio of sixth-grade schoolboys on the cusp of maturity embark on a seven-mile odyssey through the wilderness of suburbia to the shopping mall in order to replace an expensive drone, the property of one of the boys’ father, broken in an act of irresponsibility. The boys need to accomplish their task before the dad returns from a business trip . . . and also in time to attend a party that evening in which Spin-the-Bottle will be among the activities.
Directed by Gene Stupnitsky from a script by Lee Eisenberg and Stupnitsky himself, both frequent contributors to the popular television comedy “The Office,” ”Good Boys” becomes a disjointed, scattershot comedy somewhat reminiscent of both 1986’s “Stand by Me” and 1994’s “Milk Money.” The picture mines for laughs a difficult and awkward stage of personal development, with so-so results. Jokes fly at the audience at a rapid rate, but only a middling number are genuinely funny.
Mixed metaphors, non sequiturs and R-rated language coming out of the mouths of children are the essence of the movie’s audience appeal, but in the end the movie’s charm — and it’s an elusive one — is in the kids’ earnestness: Much of the time, the trio of youngsters don’t seem to know what they’re saying, or speaking one thought while aiming for another. It’s realistic to a point, and it leads to a wonderfully bittersweet denouement, but tasteless is tasteless, no matter the age. Those kids are cute, though.
Featuring the sad-eyed Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams as the three friends, Will Forte as Tremblay’s knowing father, Molly Gordon as a sympathetic older classmate, Millie Brixlee as Tremblay’s crush, and brief appearances by Lil Rel Howery and Retta as Williams’ understanding parents, “Good Boys” is receiving encouraging reviews, including an approval rating of 80% from Rotten Tomatoes and 60% from Metacritic. Exit audiences polled by CinemaScore award the picture only an average grade of B-plus.
Opening in 3,204 theaters across the United States and Canada, the movie was expected by distributor Universal Pictures to earn up to $15 million during its opening weekend, but instead brought in some $21 million, soaring to the top of the Box Office Mojo Top Ten over such heavyweights as “Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw” and Disney’s “The Lion King.”
Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill were among the producers of “Good Boys.” Actor Jacob Tremblay at age 13 is already a show business veteran, the star of 2015’s Academy Award-winning “Room” and the 2007 drama “Wonder.” Stephen Merchant, the British writer, actor and director of the recent biographical picture “Fighting With My Family,” appears in a small role.
“Good Boys” is rated R for crude sexual content, drug and alcohol-related material and language concerns throughout.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” Distributed by United Artists Releasing, 109 Minutes, Rated PG-13. Released Aug. 16:
Filmmaker Richard Linklater, long noted for his realistic and incisive examinations of suburban culture in films such as “Dazed and Confused” in 1993, 2003’s “School of Rock,” and his “Before Sunrise” trilogy from 1995 to 2013, turns his attention to the suppression of the creative spirit in his new film “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.”
Based on writer Maria Semple’s 2012 novel of the same name, in “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” the title character is a cynical, neurotic and increasingly reclusive housewife and mother living in Seattle, Washington. By all appearances, Bernadette Fox is living an ideal life, married to a genial, supportive and affluent designer of computer programs, with whom she’s raising their bright, attractive and popular teenage daughter.
But as it happens, Bernadette has a secret: Once a leading figure in the world of architecture, Bernadette effectively disappeared from her profession years before when her brilliant, progressive, award-winning architectural masterpiece was purchased quietly and razed to make room for a parking area for a multi-gazillionaire tycoon’s neighboring business headquarters.
Reminded by her daughter of a long-ago promise that she and her husband would grant the child any one wish if she’d achieve a scholastic goal, Bernadette begins to hedge, expecting her daughter to request a pony. But she’s surprised when the daughter instead wishes for a family vacation to Antarctica, a place which has caught her interest through her studies.
Now Bernadette has a real problem: Increasingly plagued by social anxiety, Bernadette is also waging a progressively-aggressive war of attrition with the family’s socially ambitious neighbor, the pretentious Audrey. When their game of one-upmanship turns alarmingly destructive and Bernadette is subjected by her family to a mental health intervention, she eludes a looming psychiatric evaluation by taking her daughter’s request to heart and disappearing to Antarctica. And she finds in the most stark and forbidding of locations the ultimate inspiration for a return to architectural design.
Adapted from Semple’s novel by Holly Gent, Vincent Palmo Jr. and Linklater himself, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” seems to be disappointing large numbers of filmmaker Linklater’s loyal and devoted fans, who complain about the picture’s scattershot narrative, inconsistent style and occasional slapstick humor. But although the director spends so much time making Bernadette quirky that he neglects to make her either sympathetic or even likable, the picture itself is likely Linklater’s warmest and most accessible and satisfying effort in years.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” benefits greatly from a virtuoso performance by two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett in the title role. The British Blanchett inhabits the most American of roles, making a difficult character both persuasive and understandable. As the audience sees the reawakening of Bernadette’s artistic impulses, even the picture’s most awkward and arduous passages seem to have been worthwhile.
Supporting Blanchett is the solid, underused Billy Crudup as Bernadette’s genial and supportive husband, who realizes too late that, in fostering Bernadette’s retirement from architecture, he’s been unwittingly suppressing her true artistic impulses. A leading light of the American stage with only occasional cinematic performances, Crudup contributes to Linklater’s picture one of his warmest film performances to date.
Kristen Wiig as their neighbor Audrey contributes another oversized characterization seemingly retooled from one of her Saturday Night Live sketches. Wiig’s appeal only occasionally transitions successfully from television to the big screen, notably in Paul Feig’s hit 2011 romantic comedy “Bridesmaids.” It’s only toward the end of her performance here, when Audrey against her better judgement helps Bernadette escape to the wilderness, does Wiig relax enough to become believable, sympathetic and warmly appealing.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is receiving discouraging reviews from the critics, including an approval rating of just 43% from Rotten Tomatoes and 51% from Metacritic. Rotten Tomatoes notes that Linklater’s picture “offers dispiriting proof that a talented director, bestselling source material, and terrific cast can add up to far less than the sum of their parts.” Exit audiences polled by CinemaScore assign the picture an average grade of B.
Playing in 2,404 theaters across the United States and Canada, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is rated PG-13 for some strong language and drug references. It’s worth a look.