FlixChatter Review – UNCUT GEMS (2019)

Having seen the brothers Josh and Ben Safdie‘s 2017 crime thriller Good Time, I was more than excited to see their next feature film, Uncut Gems, starring Adam Sandler, with Martin Scorsese serving as an executive producer. Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, who is a gambling addict and narcissist in New York City’s Diamond District. The idea for the film was inspired by Safdie brothers’ own father and his time working in the same Manhattan Diamond District and the script was co-written by the brothers and their friend Ronald Bronstein. Ratner, a Jewish jewelry shop owner and profiteer, is already over his head taking out loans to feed his gambling habits and constantly dealing with loan sharks who chasing after him.

The film starts with Ethiopian miners finding a fantastic gem, an uncut opal that has numerous sparking and shining properties. This uncut gem finds its way to Howard Ratner, just as he is opening his shop for NBA superstar Kevin Garnett, who is in the middle of a title run with the Boston Celtics. Garnett and his posse come in to shop for some unique jewelry pieces and Ratner offers them various different things such as diamond watches and a diamond-covered animal creature with creepily moving eyes. Garnett doesn’t seem interested and is ready to leave, so while Howard’s assistant Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) distracts Garnett with some small talk, Ratner and his assistant/girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox) open up a freshly delivered package containing the shiny uncut opal.

Not having the ability to contain himself, Ratner shows Garnett the opal and Garnett instantly wants to buy it. Refusing to sell it, Ratner makes a deal with Garnett to let him hold onto it for good luck at his game that night, putting up his Celtics championship diamond ring as collateral. While being pursued by his own brother-in-law loan shark Arno (Eric Bogosian) and his goons, Ratner immediately runs off to a pawn shop to pawn Garnett’s ring in exchange for some quick cash he can gamble with. More specifically, Ratner plans to bet it all on Garnet having a personal best night at the basketball game he is playing in that night, scoring a personal best and helping the Celtics win the game.

In his personal life, Howard is dealing with his estranged wife, Dinah (Idina Menzel), who intends to divorce him after Passover (but doesn’t want to confront him in front of their kids) and his assistant/girlfriend/mistress Julia. Howard gets jealous when he finds Julia at a concert with The Weekend (plays himself) making out in the bathroom. Howard kicks Julia out of the apartment he is renting for her, without his wife’s knowledge. Things get worse for Howard when Demany tells him that even though Garnett won his game the previous night and Howard made some money, Garnett now wants to keep the opal for a considerable time longer. This is a problem for Howard as he intends to sell the opal at a high-end auction that is mere days away.

Howard gets jumped at his daughter’s school play by Arno and his bodyguards Phil (Keith Williams Richards) and Nico (Tommy Kominik), who strip Howard naked and lock him in the trunk of his own car, forcing him to call Dinah to unlock it for him. Prior to locking Howard in the car trunk, Arno tells Howard that he placed a stop on the bet that Howard had made on Garnett’s game, as the bet was made with money owed to him. Garnett contacts Howard prior to the auction and offers him $175,000 to purchase the opal but Howard refuses, thinking that it would make more money at the auction. Howard convinces his father-in-law Gooey (Judd Hirsch) to bid against Garnett at the auction, but Garnett senses something is off and bows out before the opal reaching Howard’s minimum price of $200,000, forcing Gooey to purchase it with Howards own money. Arno, Phil and Nico confront Howard in front of the auction and end up punching him in the nose as Howard falls into the nearby fountain in front of the building.

Kevin Garnett, still wanting the opal, reaches out to Howard to try one more time to purchase the opal for $175,000, and this time Howard agrees. But instead of paying back Arno, Phil and Nico the money he owes them, Howard tells his recently reconciled with assistant/girlfriend Julia to take the money and place a bet on Garnett’s basketball game at a nearby casino. Howard locks Arno, Phil and Nico in his jewelry shop’s security area between doors and watches Garnett’s basketball game from inside his shop.

SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) Howard wins big (over one million dollars) and when he releases Arno, Phil and Nico from in-between the doors to his jewelry shop, Phil shoots Howard in the head at point-blank range, also shoots and kills Arno, and Phil and Nico rob Howard’s shop. The camera zooms inside Howard’s bullet hole.

Adam Sandler gave a tour-de-force performance. Not only does he deliver on of his best dramatic performances ever, Sandler also delivers a one of a kind equally impressive comedic performance that makes his audience squirm and laugh nervously in their seats, not knowing when a punch would be thrown his away making the situation time times more uncomfortable. Additionally, Kevin Garnett is realistic and believable, playing the NBA Basketball Champion, looking for a lucky gem that would help him win his next championship. The interaction between Sandler and Garnet is at times scripted but often improvised. Sander finds a way to make the crazy compulsive gambler and jewelry salesman character relatable and somewhat compassionate but also someone Garnett could go toe-to-toe with and still be fearful of him.

The other supporting cast Eric Bogosian, Lakeith Stanfield and Idina Menzel all pull their weight in their respective scenes, but it is newcomer Julia Fox who stands out as Howard’s assistant and on-and-off again girlfriend. Fox, who is making her first feature film appearance in Uncut Gems, is a standout in the film, making a perfect partner for Howard and Julia’s toxic and yet very, very hyper-romantic relationship (at least according to co-director, co-writer Josh Safdie). I can see both Sandler and Fox being recognized for the originality as well as their codependency in making their onscreen relationship work.

Uncut Gems is one of best films I’ve seen this year, in what has been an overall fantastic year for cinema and original storytelling. This Safdie Brothers crime thriller is definitely in my top-ten list and I can see it winning multiple awards in the next month or two (Sandler is already getting heavy Oscar buzz).

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen UNCUT GEMS? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – JUMANJI: The Next Level (2019)

When I first reviewed Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle back in 2017, I said that director Jake Kasdan closed the door to the idea of there being another sequel. Yet, here we are; two years and millions of dollars later, Welcome to the Jungle became a critical and commercial success and was just begging for another sequel. So Kasdan, along with his co-writers Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg, decided to capitalize of the success they saw from Welcome to the Jungle, with great actors and a compelling story, to make Jumanji: The Next Level. As you can probably guess, the sequel offers many of the same characters from the first movie; the four main characters are back: Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) and Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner).

Also returning are their avatars; Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a very rugged and muscular explorer who is also an archaeologist, Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), a short in height zoologist, Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a commando, martial artist, and dance fighter and Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), cartographer, cryptographer, archaeologist and paleontologist. In Welcome to the Jungle, the game Jumanji let the humans choose who they their avatars to be and see what happens to them when they get to be someone else inside a video game. This isn’t necessarily the case this time around…more on that later. This time around, the movie opens with the friends returning home from college on winter break. We are introduced to Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) who’s staying with family due to his deteriorating health. Also we meet Eddie’s long-lost friend and business partner Milo (Danny Glover).

One night when Spencer goes missing, Martha (Turner), Bethany and Fridge (Blaine) discover that he’s actually gone back inside Jumanji. They decide to go back inside the game and seemingly one by one, they are transported inside. But what they don’t realize is that they’ve accidentally brought Eddie and Milo with them inside the game. This is where it takes a while to realize which avatar belongs to which real human. It turns out that this time Fridge ends up in Jack Black’s avatar, Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon. Also, Eddie and Milo find themselves in the form of the strapping Dr. Bravestone (Johnson) and the tiny zoologist Finbar (Hart), respectively. While Bethany is not taken inside the game, Martha is back as Ruby Roundhouse (with extra humor from Gillan). At first, they start inside a jungle terrain, much like the first sequel. But soon thereafter, they are transported into a desert wilderness where they are being chased by a pack of ostriches.

Dwayne Johnson is hilariously on point with DeVito’s somewhat signature northern New Jersey accent and Kevin Hart also is pretty funny with Glover’s elderly, more serious and statesmanlike accent. The avatars soon learn that they must snatch the jewel called “the Falcon’s Heart” from a ruthless warlord named Jurgen The Brutal (Game of Throne’s Rory McCann), who’s responsible for the deaths of Dr. Bravestone’s parents. Also returning in The Next Level are Nick Jonas as Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough: the real world Alex (Colin Hanks)’s avatar who is a young aircraft pilot we know from the first sequel and Cyclone, a black Pegasus (horse) who is actually SPOILER alert (highlight to read): Bethany’s avatar. The players have to free the Falcon’s Heart jewel to escape the game once and for all, but they must do so in only three given lives (as in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) or forever be lost inside the game.

In The Next Level, director Jake Kasdan doubles down on the audience not knowing which real player is playing which avatar and finds a way (through some magical waters) to be able to switch the avatars (and characters’ voices) midway through the movie. This gives each actor the ability to show off their abilities to embody the different characters; the overly confident jock, a jittery nerd, a prissy cheerleader, and a cantankerous elderly persona. It is not right away that is revealed where Spenser is this whole time. SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) In Jumanji: The Next Level, Spencer is in the avatar of Ming Fleetfoot, who specializes in burglary, pickpocketing, and lock-picking. This avatar is masterfully played by Awkwafina.

In my opinion, it isn’t Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart or Jack Black that are the standouts of Jumanji: The Next Level, – it is Awkwafina! Kasdan even finds a way for Awkwafina to take on Danny DeVito’s signature accent – and she does so brilliantly. There are many impressive video game-esque CGI scenes, including floating bridges, aggressive and menacing mandrills, and an absolutely amazing ostrich herd vs dune buggy race (it’s worth every penny!)

But if there aren’t the impromptu moments between Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Awkwafina, then Jumanji: The Next Level won’t have the same commercial and critical success that the first sequel saw. Luckily for us, these moments are absolutely there with this movie and they are an absolute treat. What Kasdan and his team do next with Jumanji is anyone’s guess, but he does leave the door open for yet another sequel. So don’t rush out the door before you’ve seen the very last ostrich exit stage left!

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen JUMANJI: The Next Level? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Addams Family (2019)

When most adults hear the name The Addams Family, they’ll likely think back to the 1991 Barry Sonnenfeld live action movie, starring Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia and Christina Ricci. The film was based on the The Addams Family cartoon created by cartoonist Charles Addams and the 1964 TV series produced by David Levy. While The Addams Family existed as a cartoon, TV series and live action movie, there was never the existence of an animated feature movie, until 2019 when the directors of Sausage Party, Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan teamed up with screenwriters Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler to make the computer animated feature, with the thought of making the heavy source subject of death and darkness much more kid-friendly with likable characters and a snappy tune.

The story is similar but also it deviates from the live action version. Gomez Addams (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia Addams (Charlize Theron) are on the hunt for a suitable mansion after tying the know before being chanced out of town by an angry mob of villagers, when they stumble upon Lurch (Conrad Vernon), a former inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. He leads them to the abandoned mansion/asylum in (of all places) New Jersey and becomes the Addams Family’s butler. There they raise two kids — Wednesday Addams (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Pugsley Addams (Stanger ThingsFinn Wolfhard) – and live at the mansion on a hill for years in comfort and peace, in isolation from the outside world. Thirteen years later, the Addams kids are now teenagers and have to start acting like adults. Gomez starts to prepare Pugsley for his upcoming Mazurka, a rite of passage every Addams family member takes, and they invite the whole extended family for the special celebration.

Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Morticia (Charlize Theron)

Wednesday finds a red balloon (insert murderous clown joke here, which they do) and confetti that make their way to mansion and begins to wonder what’s in the outside world. Speaking of, in a town that has formed down in the valley, and a TV show host and interior decorator Margaux Needler (Allison Janney) has discovered the less than pleasing Addams family mansion on a hill, and is hell bent on making it over and getting rid of its inhabitants. She spies on her neighbors though hidden cameras and an online app, which can easily be manipulated for maximum gossip and rumors to run wild in the town. Margaux’s daughter Parker Needler (Elsie Fisher) befriends Wednesday and they borrow styling tips from each other, with Wednesday adding some flashes of pink to her wardrobe and Parker going completely Goth.

Grandma (Bette Midler) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard)

The story finishes all too familiarly, with the townspeople and the extended Addams family coming together after Margaux tries to make them hate each other. There are good morals to be learned for those 13-and-under in the crowd, such as accepting others for who they are and saying that differences are what make us unique. There is a cute moment when Cousin It (rapper Snoop Dogg) rolls to the mansion with Snoop’s 2004 single Drop It Like Its Hot blaring loudly (well, at least the “G version” of the song) and we first hear Cousin It’s voice, which sounds like nothing but garbled words. Another song in the movie called My Family (Migos, Snoop Dogg, Karol G, and producer Rock Mafia) incorporates the famous The Addams Family tune and finger snaps, and talks about how “if you mess with me, you’re messing with my family.” The tune also features Spanish lyrics from Columbian singer Karol G, making this a multicultural tune, well in line with the massage of the animated movie.

While this version of The Addams Family is nothing new and different for adults, this animated version is a terrific introduction for younger audiences (esp. those under 13) into the horror-themed genre. It should prepare them for the much scarier and darker versions of the franchise they might watch in the next few years.  Both adults and kids can enjoy the soundtrack, the wonderful voices of Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac and Allison Janney. You’ll probably snap your fingers once or twice out the theater as you hum The Addams Family tune that gets stuck in your head — like a great earworm that it is.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen The Addams Family? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: LUCY IN THE SKY (2019)

You may have heard about a newsworthy story back in 2007, when an a NASA astronaut drove from Houston, Texas to Orlando, Florida (roughly 900 miles) in record time to (and allegedly wearing an adult diaper the whole way) in order to confront and kidnap a fellow female NASA astronaut who was involved in a sexual relationship with a fellow male NASA astronaut, whom the first NASA astronaut was also having an affair with. To put it bluntly, NASA was entangled in an “Astronaut Love Triangle,” which put a dark stain on the seemingly perfect life of NASA astronauts and also led NASA to create its first astronaut Code of Conduct. And more importantly for this review, it led to co-writer and director Noah Hawley to come up with the screenplay for Lucy In The Sky, which is also marks the directorial debut for Hawley and is loosely based and inspired by the “Astronaut Love Triangle” from 2007.

Lucy In The Sky stars Natalie Portman as Lucy Cola, a NASA astronaut who has just returned from a space mission aboard one of NASA’s now-retired space shuttles. During the opening credits, we see her outside the space shuttle, starring deeply into the atmosphere and onto the lights of the world’s cities that shine brightly from outer space. As she returns home, her husband Drew Cola (Dan Stevens) tells her that her teenaged niece Blue Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson) was dropped off at their house to be cared for due to her absent parents. Being childless, Lucy and Drew, both employed by NASA, are used to his as they often have to look after her. Drew is a frail soul, and can’t open jars without his wife Lucy’s help. The family is also devout Christians, giving thanks to Jesus before starting their meals. Portman delivers lines in a thick southern accent, the way a lifelong Texan would, and sports a haircut resembling professional ice skater Dorothy Hamill. Lucy has spent her entire life to be the best in school, not having an Ivy League education, and overcoming other challenges, including the type of household she was brought up in (more on that later).

After returning from the out-of-this-world mission to space, Lucy returns to daily life at NASA, running laps, doing carpool and continuing to train for her next mission. The movie’s director shows us this less-than-exciting life style by cutting the aspect ratio of the on-screen frame to a “square-ish” 4:3 from the original and glorious 2.35:1 widescreen space scenes show just minutes prior. This leads Lucy to find alternate way to fill the void of leading an exciting astronaut lifestyle so she beings to have an extramarital affair with fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm), who has also had a profound experience in space and is also looking to rebound on his single lifestyle and use his newly acquired title as space astronaut to satisfy his love life. The problem is that Mark is not only involved with the married Lucy but also with another younger and more attractive single astronaut Erin Eccles (amazing actress Zazie Beetz, who is fresh off her minor and insignificant role in Joker).

While not being involved in an extramarital affair with her fellow astronaut, Lucy Cola also has to take care of her grandmother Nana Holbrook (Ellen Burstyn, who literally steals the show right under Portman and Hamm), an ailing old woman who smokes, swears a bunch and packs a pistol in her purse to boot. A typical opinionated Texas granny, Burstyn isn’t afraid to tackle this role head on, providing some much needed comedic relief while the movie screens are dragging on. “I’m back” says Lucy to her Nana. “Oh, did you go somewhere?” asks Nana, seeming unimpressed with her astronaut granddaughter’s most recent trip to space. “Up and down,” replies Lucy as she remembers her trip into outer space aboard the space shuttle. There is also somewhat of a running theme that includes a butterfly being born out of a cocoon. After her nana passes away, things are set into motion that leads Lucy to take Blue Iris on a trip across the country to intercept the astronaut pair of Goodwin and Eccles. In the end, its Lucy’s niece that saves the day and has the brightest future, having learned from her aunt that she can do something different than her deadbeat parents did – change the course of her own life.

Natalie Portman is spectacular in the title role of Lucy Cola, but she also dragged down by a slow-paced and lackluster screenplay. Even the likes of Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz and Ellen Burstyn can’t save this film from its own factual inaccuracies and over-the-top climax. While the story of an astronaut gone crazy or full of lust can seem appealing at first, the sensationalism portrayed in the film does not make it more exciting or climactic. In fact, it does the opposite – making it seem that the director just decided to tell the story as close to what may or may have not happed as possible, without exploring why Lucy snapped the way she did. Was it a desire to get back into space and retaliating at those who were trying to prevent it, or was it that she just that her desire to be the best at everything suddenly overcame her rationale and her ability to made correct decisions? Regardless of the answer, we are left to wonder what the real human experience of Lucy Cola might have been. Even the close-up scenes of Natalie Portman in space can’t make up for the overall lackluster of the film.


Have you seen Lucy In The Sky? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: JUDY (2019)

If you have not seen Judy Garland play Dorothy Gale in in the 1939 classic movie The Wizard of Oz than please stop reading this review now and go watch it! For everyone else, you know just how much fame and glory Judy Garland got for being the lead in the movie. But many don’t know about Garland’s last and most painful chapter in her life, just months before her death at age 47. The 2019 film Judy, directed by Rupert Goold and adapted for the big screen by screenwriter Tom Edge, is based on the Tony-nominated West End and Broadway play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter. The film stars Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland and takes up back to the year 1969, when the famous singer and actress arrived in London for a five-week run of sell-out concerts while struggling to come to terms with depression, alcoholism and substance abuse.

The film starts with a young Judy Garland (Darci Shaw) on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939 when she was only a teenager. She is told my MGM head Louis B. Mayer that the only thing that makes her special is her voice. He controls what she eats, when she sleeps, and practically all aspects of her life while filming The Wizard of Oz. Flash forward to 1969, Judy and her two kids Lorna and Joey are set to perform for a crowd in Los Angeles for a mere $150. After being kicked out of one hotel, Judy has no choice but to leave her children with their father Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) while she goes off to London to perform at the Talk of the Town nightclub. Shortly before she leaves, she meets Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) at a Hollywood party and he promises to come see her in London one day.

Renée Zellweger & Finn Wittrock

When she arrives in London, she is introduced to her new assistant, a proper but charismatic Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley) and to concert show-runner Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon) who is eager to show her off to the sold-out English crowds. Judy is less than thrilled to perform, still taking a steady diet of a pills, the same ones Louis B. Mayer had forced her to take to reduce her appetite and to help her sleep. She performs her first concert with a charming bandleader Burt (Royce Pierreson) and is greeted after the show by two fans who happen to be a middle aged gay couple. They end up going their apartment when all of the restaurants in London happen to be closed after midnight, leading one of them to make a royal mess of scrambled eggs, ones that even Judy could not fix but ends up eating anyway.

Finn Wittrock as Mickey Deans

On day, after a concert Mickey Deans surprises her in London and their instant emotional attraction to each other is evident. He promises her the world, and most importantly that she could come back to the United States with money and be with her children. They are married in London and Rosalyn and Burt gift them an insanely amusing yet dangerous display of indoor fireworks and firecrackers. We soon realize that Mickey’s promises are pretty worthless and the anxiety causes Judy to show up drunk at one her performances, as she is unable to perform and is booed off stage. Delfont is not pleased and chooses English singer and guitar player Lonnie Donegan (John Dagleish) to replace her as headliner. Devastated, Judy feels even stronger the pain of being away from her children. Sidney Luft comes to London to try to work out a custody agreement but that leads to nowhere.

Having been replaced as headliner of her own concerts, Judy begs of Donegan one last song before she departs the state, and she ends up being loved by the crowd, singing multiple songs including an absolutely breath-stopping performance of “Over the Rainbow” with the help of the crowd. I am not sure if it was Renée Zellweger’s version of the song, or the absolute sorrow that Judy Garland herself must have been feeling during that performance, but it is absolutely the moment of the movie and will probably be used in clips for her eventual run to garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.  Zellweger herself carries the movie quite well, even when there are slower and less important moments, but she is also aided tremendously by the brilliant supporting cast of Jessie Buckley and Finn Wittrock.

It’s hard not to be very emotional by the end of the movie, with Zellweger wearing her heart and emotions on her sleeve, and her desire to go out with the best possible performance she is able to garner. Judy Garland’s status as cultural and film star can’t be overshadowed by the final dark days of her career, but at least we can learn to be compassionate and continue to love and admire her as much as we do today. She is a true legend and this film cements that legacy. This film also may cement the legacy of Renée Zellweger, as she also deserves much the same redemption as Judy Garland deserved by the end of the movie.


Have you seen JUDY? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Blinded By The Light (2019)

When American rock star Bruce Springsteen wrote the lyrics to his song Blinded by the Light, as a part of his 1973 debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., Springsteen probably didn’t think that his lyrics would be inspiration for a British teenager of Pakistani descent, growing up as an immigrant in 1987 Britain controlled by Margaret Thatcher’ ruling Conservative Party. Yet, this is precisely what happens to Javed (Viveik Kalra) as he is growing up in Luton, England, amidst the racial and economic turmoil of the later 198o’s Britain. Javed has a very traditional family, with his strict, blue collar father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), his stay-at-home-but-working mother Noor (Meera Ganatra), and his two older sisters Shazia and Yasmeen (Nikita Mehta and Tara Divina).

Directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) and co-written by Sarfraz Manzoor, who’s critically acclaimed personal memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll details Javed’s struggles of writing poetry as a means to escape the intolerance of his hometown and the inflexibility of his traditional father. But Javed feels too ashamed to share his poetry with anyone, including his amiable teacher Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), until his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduces him to the music of The Boss – the one and only Bruce Springsteen! The lyrics have a profound effect on Javed, as he consistently quotes Bruce’s lyrics, with his other friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) who is not quite as impressed with Springsteen’s music as Javed. He doesn’t only find solitude and release from the stresses of daily life listening to The Boss, but also the confidence to fight for the things he previously didn’t believe were worth fighting for. Example: Javed has a fight with his activist girlfriend Eliza (Nell Williams) but learning to control his own emotions so he doesn’t let it be a justification to become selfish, Javed wins back Eliza, who’s always been in his corner.

Viveik Kalra does a wonderful job making you believe that Javed is hearing Bruce Springsteen’s music for the first time, and you feel immediately drawn to his character. He then masterfully articulates just how it is affecting him and his trajectory in life. His tearfully delivered speech towards the end of the film, with his parents watching with tears of their own, is one of highest points of emotion for Javed, his family and the viewing audience alike. He embodies a person who is very easy to root for, despite his faults, sometimes minor, other times much larger (i.e. running away from home and disrespecting his father).

Blinded by the Light is also very true to the way people in 1987 Britain were living under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. There were very few jobs to be had and some naturally born Brits were less than welcoming to other minorities who had immigrated to Britain, especially those who were of Muslim faith and came from Pakistan. Javed’s father loses his job at a car factory in Luton, and this mother is left to do double to in home work, just to support the family. There is also tension between Javed and his father when he tells Javed that he must get a job (and stop listening to the music of Bruce Springsteen, whom he believes to be Jewish (probably because of the last name).

Overall, Blinded by the Light takes the music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen to a whole new country and it’s embraced by the next generation of young people who can resonate with it. Especially for Javed and Roops, who pops Javed’s “Bruce cherry”, they feel empowered by the music and lyrics enough to confront a group of white nationalist teenagers at a restaurant by quoting one of Springsteen’s words (in this case it was lyrics from the song Badlands). The culmination of Javed’s efforts come to be when he delivers that speech (referenced earlier) to his classmates and his family. He tells them; “My hope is to build a bridge to my ambitions but not a wall between me and my family.” We also get the pleasure of seeing Javed and Roops take a trip to America – specifically to Asbury Park, Long Branch and other part of New Jersey. The pleasure seen in their eyes is clear and the joy the experience during this trip makes everything that they’ve fought to overcome worth it in the end.


Have you seen Blinded by the Light? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a new family adventure live action film, based on the popular Nickelodeon animated television series Dora the Explorer. If you are like me (and you don’t watch Nickelodeon on a regular basis—OR AT ALL!!), you may have heard of Dora the Explorer from Saturday Night Live’s TV Funhouse animated skit spoof, where they switch Dora’s name with the name “Maraka”, and do pretty much what Dora does on Nickelodeon but with the SNL twist.

Hola. Hello. I’m Maraka. Soy Maraka,” says Maraka, standing next to an animated kitten. “Do you know who this is?” ask Maraka to the audience. “That’s right, I’m Mittens. Soy Mittens,” says the animated kitten. “Mittens is a cat. Mittens es un gato,” continues Maraka. And then Maraka throws you a curve ball: “Do you like Penguins?” Both Maraka and Mittens wait for five or six seconds, blinking here and there, while they wait for your answer. “Me too! Mittens and I are on our way to Penguin Island. Can you break a fifty?” asks Maraka, showing you a fifty dollar bill. Then they’re off on a hot balloon ride towards Penguin Island, breaking out a song—in English AND Spanish. And this is all you need to know to understand what makes Dora the Explorer so unique and strange animation at the same time.

Similarly to the Saturday Night Live version of Dora the Explorer, the movie Dora and the Lost City of Gold introduces you right away to a young version of Dora (Madelyn Miranda) and her cousin Diego (Malachi Barton) who are living somewhere in the jungle, each with their parents. Dora has an animated monkey, Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo), who is her sidekick in jungle exploration. Of course, he understands her and speaks to her. One day, Diego’s parents decide to move to the city (somehow that ends up being Los Angeles). That leaves Dora to stay with her parents, going on adventures exploring the jungle. A few years later, an older, teenaged Dora (Isabela Moner) is told by her mother Elena (Eva Longoria) and father Cole (Michael Peña) that they have found an Incan treasure that they had been on the hunt for years, but she couldn’t come with them to find the treasure. Instead, she would be sent to live with her aunt, uncle and also-teenaged cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) in the city.

Once she arrives in Los Angeles, Dora finds Diego less-than enthusiastic about her arrival, seemingly being a normal American teenager who is embarrassed by his cousin’s exuberance. The next day, they are sent to high school in the city, and Dora being herself sets off the school metal detectors with all kinds of tools and weapons used in jungle, found inside her school backpack. In class, Dora seems to be one of the smartest students, being home-schooled by her parents, but has competition from another girl named Sammy (Madeleine Madden). Dora is mostly ignored by her cousin Diego throughout the day; while in the lunchroom (she does complement all the lunch ladies and lunch gentlemen, of course) she befriends another geeky student named Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and develops a crush on him. Later, at a school dance Dora embarrass Diego yet again, which frustrates him to no end and alienates him from his group of friends.

The next day, while on a school trip the Museum of Natural History, the students are told to make groups of four and go on a scavenger hunt. All students form groups…all but Diego, Sammy, Randy and Dora. Left with no choice, they form the last group and are led to the basement by a museum docent who overhears their conversation about the scavenger hunt. They get tricked and are locked inside a large crate, then knocked out by sleeping gas. Once they wake up, they find that they have been flown on an airplane to the jungle. They get unexpected help from a guy named Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) who tells them that he is a friend of Dora’s parents and is here to help them. While being chased by the treasure-hunting mercenaries, the teenagers and Alejandro escape into the jungle to try to find Dora’s missing parents. The treasure-hunting mercenaries are hot on their trail, and are aided by the sly animated character Swiper the Fox (voiced by Benicio del Toro).

Soon enough, the teenagers and Alejandro find Dora’s parents, but it turns out that Alejandro isn’t the savior he claims to be but is ***SPOILER*** (highlight to read)working with treasure-hunting mercenaries to find the long lost Incan treasure for himself.  This doesn’t come as a shocker, because if you have been following the story all along, you would realize that Dora’s parents have been safe all along and were just out of communication range while in the jungle. Luckily, the teenagers and Dora’s parents escape from the treasure-hunting mercenaries, and find the long lost Incan city of gold. This is where the movie turns more into Indiana Jones than it does Dora The Explorer . There are booby traps, gold idols and even Inca Princess Kawillaka (Q’orianka Kilcher) makes an appearance. Since this is a family-friendly movie, you can probably assume that all’s well that ends well… and you’d be correct!

The problem with Dora and the Lost City of Gold is that while it may work for a lovable animated child, like Dora, to be engaged in her kid adventures of life, it doesn’t work quite as well with real life teenage Dora, who is trying to be Indiana Jones more than she is Nancy Drew, putting her family and friends in real danger. It’s also bizarre that Dora is accompanied by a cartoony monkey and is being chased by a cartoon masked fox that runs on its hind two legs. Actress Isabela Moner does her best to portray the upbeat, sleuth-y main character, but the lines given to her by co-writer Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin feel like the belong more like on Nick Jr. than on the big screen. The jokes are very kid-friendly and will make most adults roll their eyes, as they try to land a punchline. What the movie has going for it is that it features a large Latin cast, speaks Spanish and doesn’t try to hide its cultural heritage. Also the actor that stands out the most is Eugenio Derbez, a Mexican actor and comedian that has found his way into some big Hollywood productions recently, including How to Be a Latin Lover and Geostorm.

Overall, Dora and the Lost City of Gold will appeal to those most nostalgic for the animated series, and to those kids who’ve outgrown the cartoons but have not yet moved on to the full-fledged superhero movies. This crowd of moviegoers (and their parents) will carry the film, and I could easily see it turning into a live action franchise for Nickelodeon. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough for adults to enjoy here, and the educational quotient of the movie leaves much to be desired.


  Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen Dora and the Lost City of Gold? Well, what did you think?