BLINDED BY THE LIGHT: A Cheesy Ode To The Universality Of Art

The cultural conversation around representation is vital, and it’s improving not only the lives of people, it’s giving us better stories and better creators. It’s a net positive. But I think there’s an aspect of this discussion we’re not having all that often, and Blinded by the Light really gets to the root of it – the faces we see onscreen may be specific, but their stories are universal.

Blinded by the Light is a nice movie. It’s nice in a way that Bruce Springsteen’s songs are not; where The Boss sings songs of rough edged losers seeking redemption while exploding the limits of a stifling society, the lead of Blinded by the Light is all soft edges and polite rebellion. It’s the kind of movie to which you can safely take your parents, the kind of movie where the racists who give the film’s Pakistani trouble family are (except for one scene, which might be one of the film’s best scenes) easily identifiable by their white supremacist drag. You can tut-tut at the Nazis while not getting caught up in questions about the larger structure in which this is taking place. Bruce is deeply concerned about the larger structure. Blinded by the Light is not. 

But for all its harmlessness – and this is such a harmless movie that I considered making this review simply the review given to Earth in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Blinded by the Light manages to engage in some really interesting thematic stuff, and it has a gooey heart that is, in the end, irresistable. Plus it’s packed wall-to-wall with Springsteen songs, some of them played in their entirety. 

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GLOW Season 3: Identity As Kayfabe

What even is the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling anymore? This question hangs over the third season of GLOW, after the TV show within the TV show got canceled but the crew moved to Vegas to do their wrestling schtick live on stage. In wrestling there’s a term, “kayfabe,” which refers to the way scripted elements are presented as real, and the levels of identity and truth implicit in that hangs over the whole season.

Each of the characters struggles in some way with questions about who they are, what defines them and what it means for them to be true to themselves. As a result we end up with a dissatisfied, questing season that maybe lacks the punchy fun of the first two seasons but more than makes up for it with deep character explorations, honest confrontations of social issues and… still some punchy fun.

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On Patreon: ROSEMARY’S BABY

Every week at the Cinema Sangha Patreon I recommend something to subscribers at the $5 and above level. Sometimes it’s a book, sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s a movie. Every time I try to write in depth about the thing and what it means. This week I’m recommending the classic film Rosemary’s Baby. This is an excerpt; to read the entire review, become a Patron at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha.

Mia Farrow might give the best horror movie performance ever in Rosemary’s Baby. I’m hedging my bets a little here because I’ve learned that any declarative statement is nothing but a dare for a series of “what about” responses, but if Farrow’s performance isn’t the best, it’s certainly top three. It’s monumental, it’s profound, it’s harrowing, but maybe most of all it’s got a metatextual texture that I find absolutely compelling. 

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On Patreon: HAIL SATAN? Review

Every week at the Cinema Sangha Patreon I recommend something to subscribers at the $5 and above level. Sometimes it’s a book, sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s a movie. Every time I try to write in depth about the thing and what it means. This week I’m recommending the documentary Hail Satan?, despite having some criticisms. This is an excerpt; to read the entire review, become a Patron at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha.

Hail Satan?’s cutesy question mark isn’t really that cutesy; the documentary about the Satanic Temple, which has become famous as a major player in church-state battles, tries to demystify the whole Satanism thing. This isn’t devil worship in the traditional sense… or is it?

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SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME Saves The MCU

This review contains full spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home as well as Avengers Endgame.

We have to get a couple of things out of the way here. First: Tom Holland is the definitive Peter Parker; if the character gets retired from the movies in favor of Miles Morales after this particular run, that will be a good thing, as the idea of someone trying to compete with what Holland has accomplished in his five (!) outings at Peter is impossible to imagine. Second: Spider-Man: Far From Home is a miracle beginning to end, tasked with being the epilogue to Avengers: Endgame as well as a satisfying Spidey movie, and it pulls both off with absolute finesse.

I’ll be honest with you: Captain Marvel and Endgame had me kind of bummed about the MCU. CM was just not that good (is it okay to say that now?), and it became the first Marvel movie I didn’t see twice in theaters (yes, I saw Thor: The Dark World twice in theaters, like a crazy person). But it wasn’t the last! I still haven’t seen Endgame a second time, despite the rerelease. It’s not that Endgame is bad, it’s just that it’s not really a movie; maybe when I can watch Infinity War and Endgame back to back I’ll feel like I’m getting a full experience, but Endgame is mostly a series of callbacks in search of a narrative, and it’s full of Marvel superheroes behaving in ways I fundamentally dislike.

It seemed that perhaps, at 45, I had finally aged out of these spandex punch-ups. Maybe I had finally ascended to real adulthood, where my three jobs and my bills were more important than the minutiae of decades worth of comic book lore. Had I become a real adult?

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On Patreon: Recommendation: YEARS AND YEARS (TV Show)

Every week subscribers at the $5 and above level on my Patreon get a new recommendation. Sometimes it’s a movie, sometimes a book, sometimes a song, sometimes a self-help technique. Each week I not only recommend something, I write about it with some depth. This week I’m recommending the show Years and Years, now playing on HBO. This is a peek at the piece; to read the entire thing, which is much longer, become a $5 or above subscriber at Patreon!

Have you ever, in these past three years of the Trump administration, said to yourself “I wouldn’t believe this if it were in a movie/book/TV show!”? Russell T Davies has taken that up as a challenge with his limited series Years and Years, the scifi TV show so absolutely relevant and believable that it has given me a number of anxiety-related stomach aches in just three episodes.

The premise: we follow a British family over the course of 15 years, starting in 2019, as the world continues on its current path. Each episode fast-forwards through a year, replicating the breakneck sense of our current society hurtling out of control. And holy shit, does Davies think we’re going to dark places.

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I Don’t Believe In YESTERDAY

When Jack Malik wakes up from head trauma to discover nobody else remembers The Beatles he runs to his record collection to double check whether the band ever existed. Flipping through vinyl albums, he starts yanking out records in the “B” section. One of the albums that falls to the floor is a David Bowie LP.

This moment solidifies the sheer, shitty laziness of Yesterday when it comes to its central conceit. The idea that hundreds of people got together to make a movie that centers on the question of “what if the Beatles never existed” and yet they allowed a Bowie record – out of all the artists they could have referenced here – to be in the movie shows how little they care.

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TOY STORY 4 Renounces God, Gives Woody Closure

This contains spoilers for Toy Story 4.

That Toy Story 4 is a mess, narratively, is undeniable. It’s probably the worst of the franchise from a storytelling point of view, and the finality of its ending feels like a kindness – let these characters rest, or rather live forever in parks and toys but never again in a movie.

And yet there’s something impossibly charming about the film, and even though the story is a Frankenstein-ed together disaster of disparate setpieces and unserviced characters, there’s a lot of wisdom and beauty to be found within the film. As a critic I see Toy Story 4 as a big old wreck, albeit an often delightful one, but as somebody looking for something deeper in my entertainment I see Toy Story 4 as a wellspring of great ideas about healing, boundaries, change and acceptance. 

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ROCKETMAN Finds Ecstatic Truth In Movie Musical Falseness

The music biopic is dead, a rotten bloating corpse that stinks up the joint. Yes, the Queen movie made towards a billion dollars, but we all know that success is no measure of quality. The very form itself is rancid, unsalvageable. We all know this, and yet Rocketman has the audacity to be released into theaters, giving us an exhilarating jukebox musical-style take on the genre, and in doing so presenting a beautiful, raw and honest portrayal of pain and healing… even if it is largely full of shit. 

This is the fascinating dichotomy at the heart of Rocketman, one that mirrors a myriad of dichotomies in subject Elton John’s life. The movie is factually inaccurate, and yet it is undeniably true. John himself was surrounded by people and love, and yet was alone and unloved. He was shy and reserved, and yet he took to the stage in increasingly silly outfits. He sang someone else’s lyrics and yet his songs were incredibly personal and honest. 

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Now On Patreon: Love Beyond Death: STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK

This blog (and my ability to pay rent) is supported by my Patreon, where subscribers get exclusive content. This is an excerpt of a much (much much) longer article that is available on the Patreon to subscribers at the $10 and above level. To read the whole thing, support Cinema Sangha at Patreon.com/cinemasangha.

Everybody knows that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the best in the franchise. And everybody loves the fun and silly vibe of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. But Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, released 35 years ago this week, is stuck in this terrible underappreciated place, the movie that paved the way for the concept “the odd numbered ones are bad,” and is almost totally dismissed. But it shouldn’t be! Search for Spock is great, if flawed, and it works remarkably well as a reaction to the darkness that defines Khan

One part heist film, one part men-on-a-mission movie, one part sweeping epic romance, Search for Spock is the most intimate Star Trek movie ever made. The scale of these films kept reducing; Star Trek: The Motion Picture includes a 2001-riffing journey through psychedelic imagery, while Khan brings the story down to a beef between two old enemies centered around a planet-destroying superweapon. But Search for Spock goes even smaller, because there are only personal stakes here. In TMP V’ger threatened Earth, while in Khanthe Genesis Device was a threat to all life in the galaxy. But by the time we get to Spock, we learn the Genesis Device doesn’t really work. Yes, it’s a powerful destructive force, but in the world of Trek it’s not clear how important that is or isn’t (couldn’t the Klingons destroy a planet from orbit anyway if they wanted to?). No, what’s at stake in Spock is Spock himself, and he doesn’t hold some key to stopping a threat or the answer to a riddle that must be solved; he is being saved simply because he is Spock, and he is loved.

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