Sing Street

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Release: Friday, April 15, 2016 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: John Carney

Directed by: John Carney

John Carney returns to the emerald-green shores of his native Ireland for his latest quasi-musical/romantic comedy Sing Street, his third such feature after 2007’s Once and 2014’s Begin Again. Though it possesses many of the traits that made his higher-profile, New York-set dramedy an inspired blend of genre-blurring cinema and original sound, Sing Street is a woefully misguided venture that suggests people who form bands are really just in it for the notoriety and not the craft.

The film may be set in 1980s Dublin but the whole enterprise reeks of that part in Van Wilder where Ryan Reynolds professes his loneliness to some passing stranger — a college sophomore with a cute face — through the majesty of Air Supply’s ‘All Out of Love.’ Far from being the only flick to feature a boy trying to win over the girl by strumming a few chords on a Gibson acoustic, even in the context of that particular lampoon the level of cheesiness was shameless. But at least it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. In Sing Street it is. This is a matter of love-and-death, a 14-year-old boy’s whole-hearted attempt to half-ass a band just enough to impress The Cool Chick fulfilling not only plot but thematic components.

Irish musician and singer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo makes his acting debut as Conor, the youngest of three in the Lalor clan, spearheaded by patriarch Robert (a criminally underused Aidan Gillen) and wife Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) who all throughout are falling out of love. With his family also plagued by financial hardship Conor finds himself transferring into Synge Street CBS, an inner-city public school where he is met on a daily basis with ridicule and hostility, most notably from bullying archetype Barry (Ian Kenny) and school principal Dr. Baxter (Don Wycherley), a disciplinarian plucked straight out of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall.’

When Conor spots the mysterious Raphina (Lucy Boynton) standing on her stoop just across the street from his school, he’s instantly smitten — so much so that he tells her that since she’s aspiring to become a model in London she should appear in a music video he and “his band” are about to shoot. What he doesn’t tell her is that he is yet to form a band. So he sets about recruiting fellow classmates who might have some musical talent. It’s not so much recruitment as it is serendipity. A drummer, a keyboardist/pianist and a bassist all fall right into his lap. Oh, and there’s also Eamon (Mark McKenna, a 19-year-old who simply “has that look”), whose multi-instrumental abilities instantly liberate the band from sonic stodginess.

Carney strings together a few fun musical sequences where we see the band starting to find their groove. They dub themselves ‘Sing Street’ in an ironic gesture to the miserable school they attend. What begins in a back alley as a cringe-inducing exercise in amateur cover-band antics soon develops into a more unified, distinctive and fashionable quintet playing original songs. Such change is encouraged by Conor’s older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor), a college drop-out who knows a thing or two about how this whole life thing works. Because music. Because records. Reynor is a wonderful presence, fully supportive of his brother’s decision to pursue music as a way to melt Raphina’s heart. Who knows, maybe Conor will end up finding success and breaking out of the depressing hole that is Dublin circa 1985.

Once more viewers will leave the theater with much of the soundtrack stuck in their head. And the way Carney infuses the work of real-life, established bands into the mix — Duran Duran, The Cure, The Clash, Genesis and others are called upon here — remains a strong draw. All the same, the very premise Sing Street runs with smacks of pretension. At its core Carney’s latest rings totally insincere. The music is good — often great — but the story is . . . well, it’s something else. Something kind of the opposite of good.

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Recommendation: Sing Street is bound to appeal to fans of John Carney’s previous outings as it stylistically shares a lot in common with Begin Again (this reviewer has yet to track down Once but I’d venture a guess that it’s more of the same) but the story is just god-awful. Unless you enjoy watching serendipitous little confections that make you roll your eyes so much they end up flipping backwards into your skull I gotta say give Sing Street the ole swerve. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “When you don’t know someone, they’re more interesting. They can be anything you want them to be. But when you know them, there’s limits to them.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Night People

Night People movie poster

Release: Friday, November 13, 2015 (Ireland)

[YouTube]

Written by: Gerard Lough

Directed by: Gerard Lough


This review is my sixth contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings and my first of this month’s selections. I’d like to give my thanks to James for offering this one to me. 


Beautiful, haunting imagery and a few interesting ideas don’t quite coalesce to form a compelling whole in Night People, the feature film debut of Irish director Gerard Lough.

Premiering at the HorrorThon Film Festival at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin a few short weeks ago, this hybrid of science fiction and fantasy often finds strength in its darker themes revolving around deviants existing on the fringe of society as well as within its intriguing narrative structure, yet it’s often responsible for stranding viewers in the same awkward situation in which its central characters find themselves: twiddling their thumbs while killing time, hoping that something interesting will happen at any moment.

Two thieves enter an abandoned old house during the night with the intent of destroying it as part of an insurance scam. They find themselves with time to spare as they anticipate the next phase in the plan and reluctantly trade stories with one another. It is these passages of time that provide the bulk of Night People‘s runtime and lend it some sense of excitement.

The first story nested within Lough’s loose frame narrative, relayed to us by older thief Mike (Michael Parle), is the briefer and inferior segment, and deals with two friends, Robert (Aidan O’Sullivan) and Adam (Eoin Leahy), who discover a possible alien artifact that may or may not act as a portal to another dimension. They try to use the device to their advantage, assuming fame and fortune awaits them, but instead clash ideologically over how to harness its power and ultimately sacrifice friendship because of it.

The second half delivers more strongly on the promise of living up to its title. It immerses viewers into a seedy world that exists after the sun has set, introducing Claire Blennerhassett’s loner Faustina as a young entrepreneur who facilitates clandestine meet-ups for her wealthy and fetishistic clientele. She’s eager to move beyond this shady dating business and tries to do so by taking on a new client (Sarah Louise Carney) who seems different from the rest. Her needs are certainly fruit of another tree. The tasks introduce Faustina to a new set of personal challenges that call into question her sense of decency and morality.

Visually, there is a lot to admire in the film. Lough capitalizes on tenebrosity, restricting the shoot to predominantly nighttime settings that favor rustic locales and low light to conjure an eerie and often otherworldly vibe, a technique that occasionally comes across amateurish but every so often sparks the desired effect. Clearly a mood piece, what with a soundtrack that pulsates and buzzes with electronic beats that occasionally interrupt a little too much, Night People won’t be applauded for its acting nor editing — there are several jarring incongruences particularly regarding the latter — but there’s no denying this is a film of ideas.

Claire Blennerhassett in 'Night People'

Recommendation: This should attract a fairly sizable cult audience with its eerie, noir-esque vibes and its visual mystique. Clearly there is some work to be done in many aspects but Night People shows a director with ambition and talent. Keep an eye out for Gerard Lough. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 108 mins.

Quoted: “Wickedness isn’t gender-specific.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.flickeringmyth.com; http://www.imdb.com

Calvary

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Release: Friday, August 1, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Behold, The Passion of the Brendan Gleeson.

In John Michael McDonagh’s second collaboration with the lovable Dubliner, we get to watch a good Catholic priest endure a brutal psychological and emotional beating for virtually no reason whatsoever. To the tune of Mel Gibson’s graphic portrayal of the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus of Nazereth, McDonagh takes a wholesome lead and breaks his spirit slowly and painfully.

It’s disheartening to watch because this is Brendan Gleeson and despite how good he is as Father James, there’s simply nothing funny about his character, his circumstances or the things he says, will say, or be forced to say or do. Any amusement brought about by Gleeson’s jovial rotundness remains frustratingly out of reach, sealed off by walls of misery and suffering. And if all of this is indeed meant to amuse (it’s billed as comedy/drama), we’ve stumbled upon the Guinness of black comedies here, folks — this is some dark, heavy stuff.

A mysterious parishioner makes a threat against Father James’ life one sunny afternoon, and tells him — a soul obscured by the privacy of the confession booth — that he has seven days to get his affairs in order. Asked why, the voice tries to reason thus: if you kill a corrupt leader the world fails to notice. Everyone ultimately views the act as justified on the level that that individual deserved what was coming. When harm befalls someone free of blame, the shock of the injustice would surely, ideally ignite the spark of rage within the community at large.

At the risk of sounding redundant, I’ll reemphasize the cynicism displayed by McDonagh’s filming sensibilities. Specific to this considerably bleak affair, he’s a strong advocate of the notion that misery loves company. His cameras force us to trudge through a town filled to the brim with unsavory characters whose collective depravity stems from a combination of miserable luck and self-made misery. The gang’s all here: perverts, angry drunks, doctors who are also atheists. The daughter of a priest becomes suicidal after the father’s failure to establish strong ties with family after the death of the mother. Yawn. The trigger for her own personal calvary is woeful and quite honestly annoying.

Enter Chris O’Dowd, and — I’m hesitant to admit this in fear of interrupting this free flowing vitriol  — at least he contributes to the picture its most complex character. As the town butcher, he doesn’t seem to mind who is sleeping with his wife. It’s only a piece of meat after all. There’s a lonely millionaire who favors luxury over happiness (this character is nothing more than a stereotype); a wife-beater; a washed-up American writer (M. Emmet Walsh) hanging on for dear life, in a pretty literal sense; and then we have the lead actor’s own son, Domnhall in an admittedly effective and borderline cameo appearance as a completely depraved, emotionless prisoner, guilty of some crime you’re probably better off not knowing about.

stoic foolish Father James (seriously man, just get out of town) makes the rounds to all of these wounded souls and more, all while the knowledge of his possible impending death hangs over his head. One shouldn’t call it a dereliction of duties if one’s life has been personally threatened in church. You’d be forgiven for taking a sabbatical in the face of an apparent act of terrorism — technically speaking, the threat is being made against this church as well as the priest. I suppose then, there’s the ultimate conflict of not having a story to film. That’s a pretty thin veil though, considering all that this intimate window into life in Northern Ireland happens to capture.

Calvary is a visually gorgeous film, one laced with scenic vistas and rich greens and blacks (beautifully emphasized in the above movie poster). It is also far too well-acted to completely dismiss. Despite the annoyance of Reilly’s character, this is not her fault and she handles a nuanced and fragile individual convincingly. She also happens to be one of the least offensive characters on display, a relative compliment. Little needs to be said about Gleeson, who happens to extend his streak of compelling protagonists with this peculiar nonpareil.

At the end of the day, despite deep convictions and some fine performances, the final product cannot be described as an enjoyable or even worthwhile experiment. You may as well add that to the list of things it shares with Mel Gibson’s relentless bloodletting farce.

calvary-ocean-rocks

2-5Recommendation: I really can’t say that I recommend seeing Calvary unless you possess a masochistic streak in you. It’s next-to-no fun for most of the duration as the characters, while on some level identifiable, are not ones you’d ever want to share a room with, much less intimate confessions. Kudos goes to Gleeson and O’Dowd, however, for a pair of stellar performances that go beyond acting. I at times felt these people really were this far gone. That doesn’t exactly make me feel any better about the fact that sometimes the world is just evil; that there are priests out there touching kids. A fact this film all but rails against like a child in a grocery store unable to buy his candy bar.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “I think there’s too much talk about sins and and not enough about virtues.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Dark Side of the Lens

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Release: Summer 2010

[Vimeo]

Let’s take a different approach and review a short film. This week I got forwarded a link to this masterfully filmed surfing docudrama off the coast of Ireland. TO SEE FULL FILM, CLICK THE LINK IN THE ‘RECOMMENDATION’ SECTION!!

“I never want to take this for granted. So I try to keep my motivations simple, real, positive. If I only scrape out a living, at least it’s a living worth scraping. If there’s no future in it, at least it’s a present worth remembering.”

This six-minute film is more motivating than I can even describe. With lines like that, it’s pretty clear I guess. But beyond its praise and affirmation amongst the many critics and ratings boards, popular opinion has to be that Dark Side of the Lens is a stunning masterpiece that will lift your spirit higher and — as one of my friends said, and with which I would most definitely agree — get you as motivated to wash dishes as this guy is to surf heavy, cold waves.

And yes, my kitchen is now spotless. Not really, but that’s a good game plan for tomorrow. That, and a few more viewings of this short film. Considering its brevity, this monologue takes you miles away from your couch, your desk or wherever you may be perched, attached to each word of the film and sweeps you into waters colder than ice.

We are swimming in northern waters, after all.

When you take the serenity of the Irish coast — what, with the violence of foaming crests battling it out with razor-sharp rock beaches and cliff lines cut with arches that look like doorways to Heaven — and balance it with that of the maturely written script, you’re in the process of polishing off a rather rare gem.

Directed and written by Mickey Smith, Dark Side of the Lens is afforded a way around the trap that unfortunately many a short film fall into (due mostly to dismissive,  outrageous claims critical or otherwise): being dubbed apotheosis; overly showy and glorifying the subject to some unnecessary degree. In some ways, like poetry is often cast aside with some level of indignation because the majority of readers can’t interpret metaphor, the short-film format invites its own stigmas, as it is technically a contrivance of full-length features. Here’s one, though, that works well with its time restriction. Extremely well.

Let Dark Side be as provocative or ambiguous as you want it to be for you; take the journey as you see it. Smith lives on the edge, for sure. But its not what he’s doing that really matters, but how he’s doing it and how he got to do it in the beginning.

“I wanna see wave-riding documented the way I see it in my head, and the way I feel it in the sea. It’s a strange set of skills to begin to acquire. It’s only achievable through time spent riding waves.”

Dark Side 3

4-5Recommendation: Please see it. Even if you do not surf, or don’t even like it. You’ll lose yourself in this…..  Dark Side of the Lens on Vimeo.

Running Time: 6 mins. 15 secs.

Top Awards: 

Best Cinematography (Rhode Island Int’l Film Festival ’11);
Best Short Film (Waimea Ocean Film Festival);
Best International Short (Canadian Surf Film Festival);
Digital Short of the Year (Surfer Poll);
Grand Prize (Chamonix Film Festival ’11)

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.thisisnotaplace.wordpress.com