No Surrender in Luton: Blinded By The Light movie review - by Brian “Clash” Griffin

I just came home from an advanced screening of the new movie “Blinded by the Light” and I am overcome & reeling.  If you seen the trailer (you can watch it below) you know the story is about a 16-year old Pakistani Muslim named Javed Kahn whose life is changed by the music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. The actual movie covers that premise and so much more. It is a feat of incredible storytelling and its impact will stay with you long after you leave the theater.  

The film (directed by Gurinder Chadha and inspired by the memoir Greetings From Bury Park by journalist Sarfraz Manzoor) is set in the dead end town of Luton, England in 1987. Our protagonist, “Sad” Javed is living with his family, who immigrated to England from Pakistan years before.  He writes, chronicling his daily activities in diaries and writing poetry that no one will see. He feels trapped by his very traditional family, having to give all the money he earns at work to his father.  He doesn’t have a girlfriend. Javed seems lost and alone, but he has dreams of being a writer and wanting to do SOMETHING with his life.

Javed starts attending a new school, where he literally bumps into a person who introduces him to “The Boss of us all.”  That “Boss” is, of course, the music of Bruce Springsteen. The scene, where Javed pops his “Bruce cherry” is both revelatory and striking in vision and scope.  It perfectly captures the instant where Javed feels, for the first time in his life, that someone truly understands him and all he has endured. The image of Bruce’s lyrics surrounding and encompassing Javed as he listens to them is wondrous, depicting the power Springsteen’s music has to pull someone out of the utter depths of despair and give them hope to carry on.  I personally have relived this scene countless times throughout my life, with music ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Joe Strummer to Phil Ochs.

From that moment on, Javed becomes inspired.  He covers his room with posters of Bruce. He shares his poetry with his writing instructor, who believes he has great potential.  He now has the courage to ask a girl on a date and he finally starts to stand up against his father’s strict rules. He also makes a stand against the blatant racism that he, his family, and friends experience from the local National Front Neo-Nazis.  The undercurrent of racism is present throughout the movie’s run-time, ready to erupt at a moment’s notice, sadly mirroring the current situation we find ourselves in.

The film takes the viewer on a wild ride of emotions. Though billed as a “quirky comedy,” it does not shy away from real world issues (such as the above-mentioned Neo-Nazis, family pressures, loneliness & more), but these moments are intertwined with scenes of humor and pure joy. The scene where Javed, with his best friend and fellow Bruce fanatic Roops take over the school’s radio station, barring the door and blasting “Born to Run” is a pure act of Rock-n-Roll rebellion.  The film soars with amazing sequences where the cast breaks into song and dance, transforming into a Bollywood-like musical. It is a lot to take in.

I could go on and on, but a written review doesn’t do this movie justice.  At its pure heart, “Blinded by the Light” is a story about salvation.  Personal salvation through music. It is to be SEEN and HEARD!

And you will not find a film with a better soundtrack! 

Blinded by the Light Movie Trailer

Five Things That Went Wrong in Season 8 of Game of Thrones - by Wal Ozello

With the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones airing last Sunday, I hope it’s not too late for Pencilstorm to jump on Game of Thrones bandwagon. Colin finally sprung for an HBO GO subscription (read: I stole my sister’s login) and I’ve been binging through all the episodes for eight days to finally catch up. Just like probably ever other fan, I’ve loved the first seven seasons, but Season 8 has been disappointing. Kind of reminds me of Guns N Roses’ Spaghetti Incident - you wait forever for it to come out and there’s really nothing there.

[SPOILER ALERT] For those of you that don’t want any spoilers, don’t read on. I’ve inserted this angry picture of Daenerys to show how upset I am about this season and to put a gap between the opening paragraph and the spoilers.

Angry Daenerys from Season 7

Angry Daenerys from Season 7

So here we go - five things that went wrong in Season 8 of Game of Thrones.

More Main Characters Should Have Died Earlier
If there’s anything Game of Thrones teaches us it is not to fall in love with any character because even the main characters die. Ned Stark - dead. Ygritte - dead. Robb Stark - dead. Queen Margaery - dead. Important and beloved characters die just about every other episode. Why not in Season 8? We had to wait for Episode 5 for major deaths. Even so, John Snow, Sansa, Arya, Daenerys and Tyrion live! The writers should have shocked us and killed off one of them in Episode 1. But instead, we get some minor lord at the Last Hearth and Jorah, Missandei and Lyanna during The Battle of Winterfell. On top of it all, Jamie and Cersei die by rocks falling on them? In each other’s arms? We’ve been waiting eight long seasons for her to die and stones kill her? There were lots of weapons around including swords, daggers and a dragon. Her father even died by crossbow on the shitter! Stop trying to make me happy with a romantic ending and just slaughter people like the good ole’ days.

Who The Hell Was The Night King?
They set up the Night King as this ultimate bad-ass and there’s not even a sword fight with him. Why don’t we get to see a battle? I love the fact that Arya kills him, but wouldn’t some hand-to-hand combat have been great to see with all the cool moves Arya can do? Also, I still don’t get this guy’s motivation. What’s he even doing in the show other than being a guy that everybody fears? Give me something to care about and a reason to be glad he’s dead. And don’t give us weird spiral markings and signs without ever explaining what they are. There are so many empty holes in this storyline that never really ever paid off.

And About That Coffee Cup
Sloppy writing, sloppy production. I’ve done a few independent films during my days and while they’re no where near the masterpiece Seasons 1 through 7 are, we had some rules on the set. Everyone knew that you didn’t bring craft services onto the set. That meant no bagels, no pizza, no soda and NO COFFEE CUPS. You do not carry your drinks onto the set and place them on a table in front of you when you’re about to film - especially a period piece. There’s also a person who’s supposed to be looking at the frame before you shoot to make sure everything is in place. Finally, an editor that’s putting the shots together is supposed to be looking for anything out of place. It’s embarrassing that it aired.

The writing has been sloppy as well. In The Last of The Starks, Tormund is praising Jon for riding a dragon. He points out how special he is for riding a dragon as if no one ever does it. You know who rode a dragon? TORMUND.

Buy The Director of Photography A Light Meter
Seriously, who let The Long Night air as dark as it was? I get the artistic choice to make it dark and difficult for the viewer to see what was going on - make them feel like they were there and increase the anxiety. Here’s the thing - I really didn’t see ANYTHING! I had to rewatch the episode with my brightness turned up. I’m not going to beat this dead horse because it’s been talked about over and over again on the Internet, but understand there are multiple people in the decision process that let this pass. This wasn’t just one person - it was the DP, the Director, the Producers, the Film Processors, the Engineers at HBO and the executives at HBO. Couldn’t somebody say, “I can’t see a damn thing. We need to fix this.”

The Whole Season Seems Rushed
I think the biggest issue is there’s only six episodes this season and they are trying to rush to the finish line. When I first heard there’d be only a few episodes, I was relieved to hear they were longer and almost movie-length. After the first episode ended I was in shock because I expected two hours, not 54 minutes. Not giving this season the time to breathe didn’t let the story-line unfold properly. Instead, as the characters met each other again for the first time in six seasons, the dialogue and action happened too quickly for me to engage with whatever was going on. The Euron-Cersci relationship seems forced, the Tyrion-Lord Varys overthrow Daenerys thing seems rushed, frankly the Daenerys goes crazy is rushed and what’s up with Jamie quickly bailing on Brienne of Tarth? The character development and motivation is so poor in this season! We go eight seasons with Arya wanting revenge on Cersei and she bails because The Hound told her to go home? This is the woman that defeats the Night King, do you think some dragons and crumbling city is going to stop her from her life long quest? No - it’s obvious the writers need her for the next episode to do something. Hats off to Emilia Clarke and Maise Williams. What an amazing performance of trying to convince us that their character’s actions were motivated when the script really wasn’t there. Seriously - they are phenomenal performers.

Still A Great Series
With all that said, it’s still a great series and will go down as one of the best. Few television shows have ended their run with successful closes. Some great shows ended badly: just look at Lost, The Sopranos, Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother, and The Office. I just wished that Game of Thrones could have been different and more like Avengers: Endgame - where all the loose ends were tied up and the story unfolded like magic.

Wal Ozello is a science fiction techno-thriller novelist and the author of Assignment 1989 ,  Revolution 1990, and Sacrifice 2086. He's the lead singer of the former Columbus rock band Armada. His film work includes directing Dad Can’t Help You Now by Colin Gawel.

Motley Crue "The Dirt" Review - by Kevin Montavon

Motley Crue "The Dirt”

As I type this, I am viewing the Netflix biopic on Mötley Crüe, The Dirt for the FIFTH time. As they say, only God can judge me. I will fully admit that even by my sometimes obsessive standards, that's excessive. Even more so because as recently as last Friday, when I hit play on the Netflix app on my phone to watch it for the first time, I was convinced that this movie was going to SUCK. Like, I thought it was going to be really really bad. How bad you ask? Well, have you ever seen the made-for-VH1 biopic Hysteria? The one about Def Leppard? The one with Anthony Michael Hall as Mutt Lange? Yeah, THAT bad. So to say my expectations were set low is an understatement. The Dirt crushed those expectations and left them in the dust.

First, some backstory: my history with Mötley Crüe starts at the age of thirteen. I was a Catholic school kid with an ear for music that set my religion teachers' Spidy-senses a'tingling – Ozzy, Kiss, AC/DC, Van Halen – but The Crüe was something new..something even more “risky.” I had read about the band in Hit Parader magazine for several months, maybe a year or more, and their bass player Nikki Sixx seemed like an interesting character. I hadn't heard any of their actual music however, because I grew up in a place where the latest Heavy Metal records weren't so easy to come by. Usually, it involved a 20-minute car ride to the “big city” of Portsmouth, Ohio, and a trip to the one record store there, which was called The Record Shop. But then one day I walked into our local Rink's department store, went to the music section, and saw a BLACK album, with an even BLACKER pentagram emblazed on the front, with a small red Mötley Crüe logo above it, and the words “Shout At The Devil” below.

I can't remember what album I went there to buy that day, but I only had money for one purchase, and I left with the Crüe. I took it home and played it, and the music blew me away as much as the album cover did. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that my first hearing of The Beatles song "Helter Skelter" was through the cover version on this album. Over the next few months Mötley Crüe leaped to the top of my favorite bands list, along with the other bands I've mentioned already. They took the Van Halen “LA vibe” and combined it with forbidden Satanic imagery and a seemingly obsessive need to fulfill every rock band cliché in the book. They were everything I wanted to be when I grew up! That's right. My biggest dream as a teenager was to jump on a bus when I turned eighteen, and head to Hollywood to start a band – a dream that was pretty much envisioned in the video for Guns 'N' Roses' “Welcome To The Jungle” years later. But Mötley Crüe had already done all that, and I worshiped them for it.

I rode the Crüe train hard throughout High School, but by the time college rolled around, I was starting to dig into more “serious” music like Thrash Metal and Alternative Rock. I finally gave up on them musically after the Girls, Girls, Girls album, in no small part due to bands like the opening act for my first Crüe concert, Anthrax. That show, at the legendary Buckeye Lake Music Center (so legendary that it was once called Legend Valley) was one of my first experiences being part of a festival size audience. The Crüe, Whitesnake, and Anthrax packed 50,000 people onto that hillside, and every single one of them rocked their asses off throughout the day. It was the greatest thing I had ever been a part of. I had recently cut my hair for a job, and I made a vow that day to grow it back out again, this time for real and not in the mullet style I had worn before the cut.

I saw the GGG tour an additional time (no Anthrax this time), and I would see the band a few more times over the years, including their “Carnival Of Sins” tour, and their Farewell Tour (note: as of this writing they are one of the only bands to stay retired after a Farewell Tour), but I really was barely even a casual fan anymore. I may have paid attention to their press, and that's it. Due to a string of bad decisions made by various band members, it became almost as much fun to bag on them as it was to have once been a hardcore fan. For better or worse, they had a long-term appeal, where it was fun to love them, and it was fun to hate them. But in the end, no one can really take away the massive success the band achieved through years of hard work and by just sticking around. They carved their spot on Rock Mountain, and they did it their way.

When the band released their best-selling “autobiography” (probably as much fiction as fact) called The Dirt over a decade ago, the chatter began immediately about the eventual movie adaptation. Through the years various directors, producers, and actors have been attached to the project. It became somewhat of a lasting meme that the movie would never get made, and if it did, it wouldn't be any good. Fast forward to 2019. The movie did get made. And what a treat it turned out to be.

The film adaptation turns out to be a somewhat generic, but sort of timeless rock & roll story of four misfits who somehow find each other and end up creating something huge, sometimes in spite of themselves. Throw in a healthy dose of 1980's movie tropes like “The Party Film,” “The Buddy Flick,” and yes, even “The After School Special,” and you end up with a movie that captured the period in a fun time-capsule sort of way, paying homage to many of the pop-culture elements that made that decade so much fun to begin with. The casting is outstanding, especially Machine Gun Kelly's performance as Tommy Lee. I don't know if Mick Mars in real life is anything like the way that Iwan Rheon (of HBO's Game Of Thrones fame) portrays him, but if he is, then he's my new favorite rock star (cranky old men unite!).

And the actor playing Vince Neil reminded me so much of a local singer that I used to go see on a regular basis that it was somewhat distracting. But even in that, what was entertaining to me is that I witnessed club shows involving said local singer that strongly resembled the band's early club show in the movie. Just another element that triggered memories of my own musical experiences in the 80's. I think more than anything, that is what I loved about the movie. It really does “take me back.” All this is not to say that the movie is just a big Feelgood film...ahem. It's plenty serious at times, even if it falls into the aforementioned After School Special territory. And it's most definitely NOT safe for kids. Especially if you as a parent haven't had “the talk” with them. The sex, drugs, and rock & roll quotient is off the charts in this movie.

There are valid criticisms that I have seen leveled at the movie. The timeline is off (cue Bohemian Rhapsody comparisons), there's a ton of the story left out, some characters are missing or are caricatures of their real-life selves, the drug use and promiscuous sex is glorified and played for laughs at times. But how else do you tell the story of this band? With a Netflix series? Interesting premise, but in the end I think that may have been too much of a gamble for the network. Based on the attention that the movie has received, I think the producers are vindicated in their choice to make it a standard two-hour film. And regardless, none of the criticisms have spoiled my enjoyment of the movie. In fact, I think in the long run this movie is going to be seen as a stroke of genius. No, I'm not saying it is Citizen Kane, but it's the right movie for the right band. You want to know what my biggest issue is? It's that the inevitable Van Halen biopic, which I have been waiting for my whole life, is going to look tame - or worse - like a knock-off of The Dirt. I will go even further and say that any band with an “LA Story” to tell is going to have their biopic measured against this one.

I guess in the end I'm still a Homer for The Crüe.

Google: Kevin Montavon Pencilstorm - for cool results.

Queen is Drawing a Fine Line Between Tribute and Exploitation - by Colin Gawel

Brian May & Roger Taylor Should Let Freddie Mercury Rest in Peace.

I finally made it out to see the movie Bohemian Rhapsody. In fact, I saw it the night before the Oscar awards were chosen. I had been resistant to seeing the movie because as most Queen fans and certainly all of my music snob friends know, the film is basically BS. I’m not going to go through the whole thing, but if you need one example, Freddie Mercury had not been diagnosed with AIDS before the band’s legendary Live Aid performance. If you are rock n roll fan like myself, that is a troublesome bit to work around.

Still, I went into the theater beer in hand, ready to enjoy the dish Hollywood was serving. I told myself “Lighten up, this is just like a big, glorified VH1 movie. You love those.”  And you know what? I loved it. I mean, I literally turned to my wife during the opening scene when Freddie was getting ready to go onstage at Wembley and said, “This is awesome, I already love this.” Obviously, Rami what’s-his-name killed it in the lead role, which really helped too.

When I shared my thumbs-up review later that night on social media, my opinion was met with a resounding thumbs-down. I couldn’t really argue with the critics, I just enjoyed the movie. It’s funny, I never considered myself a huge Queen fan (relative to the other Queen fans I know), but I suppose - compared to the rest of the general public - I’m relatively hardcore. As a kid taking the bus down High Street every weekend to blow my paper route money on used records, I bought almost every Queen album. Hell, I even bought the soundtrack to Flash Gordon the day it came out and saw the movie opening weekend too. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, consider yourself less of a Queen fan than myself. Still, I never saw them live so I’ve spent countless hours watching YouTube footage and the famous Live Aid show itself probably.….35 times? And I even went to that Queen play. It was pretty good. (editor’s note: Huh? WHAT Queen play? I’m simultaneously fascinated AND appalled. And check out the rest of our music page here)

Another random Queen fact: My favorite song is Dragon Attack.

So you get the gist: I like Queen and damn the torpedoes, I like the movie Bohemian Rhapsody too.

However…. the next night when the Oscar’s opened the show with Queen performing and Adam Lambert playing the role of Freddie, something about it made me queasy. It was one thing for the band to go out and play with (gulp) Paul Rodgers and now this latest line-up when they were kinda, sorta under the radar, but in light the of the movie’s success it felt really tacky. I felt gross watching. I felt bad for Freddie. This was his band. And now they are going on another huge tour, without him. From the tour press release:

“This is a great opportunity,” May said. “Our last tour featured our most ambitious production ever, and got us our best notices ever.”

Really, Brian? “Our best notices ever.” So you guys are better without Freddie Mercury? I mean Lambert does a fine job, but what’s next? In the future will Adam Levine be fronting the Stones on their final tour in honor of Mick? The line Queen is drawing between tribute and exploitation is getting increasingly blurry.

The surviving members taking yet another victory lap after this huge theatrical success feels disrespectful to Freddie. And to the legacy of the band. Of course it smacks of a money grab, but even worse, a glory grab. Right now Queen is the most popular they have ever been. It’s time for them to stand down and let people remember them as the band fronted by Freddie Mercury. Not by Adam Lambert or Paul Rodgers or Rami Malik or anybody else. They twisted Freddie’s life to make this movie. He brought them fame & fortune and everything that goes with it.. And this is how you thank him? Brian May and Roger Taylor should stand on their history and let Freddie Mercury rest in peace: remembered as the amazing lead singer of the rock band Queen. - Colin G.

Colin Gawel wrote this at Colin’s Coffee. He also plays in the band Watershed and The League Bowlers. Below is one of his favorite Queen clips and one example of how future generations should remember the band.

Bonus video!!! They don’t really show this side of the band in the movie, but I would guess that metal fans were the majority of Queen fans right up until around Live Aid. Then the pop fans sorta took over. Still, all true headbangers respect the band. Dig the clip below for a taste why.

"Mock and Roll" / One Year Later - by Pete Vogel

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Stewart, a local filmmaker who debuted his feature film – “Mock and Roll” – at the Gateway Theater in Columbus last November.  This was his debut film and he was showing it to local audiences for the first time. The film was shot primarily in Columbus, so having a hometown debut was both a blessing and a curse, with all the highs and lows that accompany a homecoming of this nature.  Mark’s journey was a little off the beaten path—he left his day job in HR (after working 34 years) to pursue his passion of music and movies, so there was a lot at stake for his Gateway debut as he began his sixth decade.

“Mock and Roll” was a dream come to fruition, a perfect blend of music, satire and storytelling.  It follows a local band (Liberty Mean) that parody another local band (The Black Owls) in their attempt to gain fame and fortune as a cover band.  It’s a mash-up of “The Office,” “This is Spinal Tap” and “Fargo” all rolled into one, with the storyline focused around a cadre of hapless millennials.

In the spirit of “The Odyssey,” Liberty Mean is set to embark on a sojourn to Austin TX to attend the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Festival, even though they weren’t booked for the event, nor had any idea what to do once they arrived.  They decided to raise funds for the trip by setting up a crowd-funding page, but their contributions were paltry at best—on par with their paying gigs. This didn’t stop them from their quest, however, and they ended up engaging in questionable scientific experiments to raise funds for the trip…..Tomfoolery ensues.

There are many plot twists and turns, so I’ll leave it at that.  If you like music, DIY, dreamers, cameo appearances, satire, mockumentaries and homegrown art, you’ll love “Mock and Roll.”  It’s got something for everyone.

The film has been featured in many festivals since last fall, including the Orlando Film Festival, Oklahoma’s Eyecatcher International Film Festival, Austin’s Revolution Film Festival and Cincy’s Inside the Loop Film Festival.  They received several nominations (Best Comedy, Best Director, Best Editor, etc.) and received awards for Best Feature and Best Original Score. It also took home awards from Cleveland’s Indie Gathering Film Festival. Stewart and company have enjoyed an entire year of basking in the spotlight.  

More good news: “Mock and Roll” is currently available on Amazon for the low price of $9.99.  It’s a perfect stocking stuffer for the holidays. You don’t have to be a member to purchase; you can simply follow the link here:

Congratulations to Mark and his team that brought us “Mock and Roll.” It was a wild ride.  We definitely look forward to the next project! - Pete V.


No Respect for Penny Marshall - by Wal Ozello

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Penny Marshall died earlier this week from complications with Diabetes. Like many my age, I grew up with reruns of Laverne and Shirley on my local UHF channel. While my parents were watching the news and game shows, I was laughing away at the bumbling, ever funny, Laverne played by Penny Marshall. It was a great lesson in comedy.

She was probably one of the greatest comediennes of her time but never won the big prize. She was nominated for three Golden Globes but never a winner, losing to Carol Burnett in 1978 and Linda Lavin in 1979 and 1980. (If you don’t know who that is, don’t feel bad. I had to Google her name, too.)

While her comedic performances are at the level of Jerry Lewis, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, her directing talents were even better. She had this knack for weaving real comedy into heartfelt stories. Ones that can make you laugh one second and touch your heart the next. Few people had that talent and Penny Marshall was a genius at it. It shines through in one of the best baseball movies ever, A League of Their Own.

A League of Their Own had only two Golden Globe nominations: Geena Davis for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical and Madonna for Best Original Song - Motion Picture. Here’s some perspective: Honeymoon in Vegas was nominated for a Golden Globe Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical and A League of Their Own wasn’t. Pathetic. And as for the Academy Awards? No nominations.

Big was another amazing film directed by Penny Marshall. Also starring Tom Hanks, Marshall does a wonderful job of getting the best out of Tom by placing him in perfect situations for him to shine. I’m sure after years of being in front of the camera, she knew how to give her actors exactly what they needed. What works the best about this piano clip is the timing. It’s perfect.

Big got two Academy Award Nominations that year. Tom Hanks for Best Actor and Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. At least the Golden Globe gave it a Best Picture nomination but it lost to Working Girl. But again, no love for Penny Marshall. (Side note: Big was the first movie directed by a woman to gross $100 million at the U.S. Box office. That was 1988.)

Ms. Marshall is able to open a door and give us a tour to the inside of the human soul. Her movies are not huge and dramatic. Instead they are calm but moving. You don’t know where they suck you in, but at some point they make you feel better about improving the lives of others. Here’s a clip from her movie Awakenings. If you haven’t seen this movie, rent or download it. It’s a masterpiece.

This got the most nominations seeing it’s the most dramatic of her movies. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (given to the producers), Robert DeNiro for Best Actor and Steven Zallian for Best Screenplay. Robin Williams got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. No love for Penny Marshall.

She hired some amazing talent: Tom Hanks, Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro and got them to create masterful performances. Made movies that are historic and loved by millions. Made the world laugh as an actress. But never received a Golden Globe or an Oscar. How immensely sad.

But they’ll be no crying today. Instead, let’s celebrate Penny Marshall and thanks her for giving us a glimpse of humanity covered in laughs and comedy.

Wal Ozello is a science fiction techno-thriller novelist and the author of Assignment 1989 ,  Revolution 1990, and Sacrifice 2086. He's the lead singer of the former Columbus rock band Armada. His film work includes directing Dad Can’t Help You Now by Colin Gawel.