Talking Movies

March 16, 2016

Sing Street

Writer/director John Carney builds on his American debut Begin Again’s success with another funny can-do tale of musical swashbuckling, this time set in 1980s Dublin.

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Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a rich kid whose cosy private school adolescence comes to a crashing halt when parents Robert (Aidan Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) announce an austerity drive. A fish hopelessly out of water at Synge Street CBS he is viciously bullied, but after being befriended by entrepreneurial fixer Darren (Ben Carolan) he meets aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) and ascends the pecking order at school after forming a band to impress her. Older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) provides sardonic mentoring while multi-instrumentalist Eamon (Mark McKenna) provides the musical foundations over which Conor, soon renamed Cosmo, lays lyrics about Raphina. Cosmo increasingly clashes with school Principal Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley) as the band ‘Sing Street’ become increasingly disruptive in their appearance and attitude. But will Conor’s increasingly ambitious efforts be enough to stop Raphina emigrating to London?

“But is there a difference between liking a thing and thinking it good?” – Brideshead Revisited

Bridey’s question is extremely pertinent for Carney’s movie. The original music is great, especially the band’s first song ‘The Riddle of the Model’. Carney’s script is very funny, and Reynor is on terrific form as the stoner older brother. But this feels like a backward step from Begin Again on a number of fronts. Reynor’s character is almost a mash-up of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Zooey Deschanel’s roles in Almost Famous, and, though Sing Street captures elements of the period perfectly; school exercise books, constant smoking; there is also an air of total fantasy (doubly odd in a film which so obviously wants praise for its grittiness) which has Brendan as its focal point. He’s almost a time-traveller from 2015 landed in 1985 in the social critique he lays on his parents’ marriage and the Christian Brothers’ ethos. His dismissal of Genesis makes a nonsense of his affection for Duran Duran, and then you realise his taste is temporally inconsistent. Brendan ought to be agonising over whether Bowie, Springsteen and The Clash have sold out on their latest albums, and avidly listening to The Smiths and REM, not watching Top of the Pops. And then there’s U2… Never mentioned, never listened to, in 1985 Dublin.

Raphina never convinces as a real person, she is merely an object of desire, and the film has so little interest in Conor and Brendan’s sister; especially her reaction to their parents’ separation; that you wonder why she’s there at all. But while the female characters fare poorly, compared to Conor and Brendan, they’re not alone. Ngig (Percy Chamburuka) is also sidelined, and Larry (Conor Hamilton) and Garry (Karl Rice) are interchangeable comic relief. Sing Street’s set-up recalls The Inbetweeners but pretty boy Cosmo, living in a three storey house, is not likeable. He humiliates the school bully; fully aware said bully is a victim of abuse; and aggravatingly ‘rebels’ against Brother Baxter; who has to contend with regular students’ violent behaviour without Cosmo’s New Romantics nonsense; with Carney stacking the deck by creating an uncomfortable unfounded expectation of molestation.

Sing Street is an entertaining film made with much confidence, but that doesn’t excuse its many puzzling artistic choices and the most ridiculous ‘upbeat’ ending since The Way Back.

3.5/5

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March 30, 2014

Phantom RIP

It’s been a strange experience listening to ‘105.2 FM’ for the past two weeks. It’s the strange afterlife of Phantom, before TX FM starts tomorrow…

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“They’ve closed the chapel at Brideshead … the priest came in … and took out the altar stone … then he burned the wads of wool with the holy oil on them and threw the ash outside; he emptied the holy-water stoop and blew out the lamp in the sanctuary, and left the tabernacle open and empty, as though from now on it was always to be Good Friday … I stayed there till he was gone, and then, suddenly, there wasn’t any chapel there any more, just an oddly decorated room. I can’t tell you what it felt like.” – Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

There is, you see, an appropriate Brideshead quote for almost any occasion. It was a very odd feeling listening to the last hours of Phantom on Sunday the 16th of March, before this strange automated playlist ghost of a station took over, calling itself ‘105.2 FM’ not ‘Phantom 105.2’, and playing more Smiths and Pumpkins and Jeff Buckley in the daytime than we’ve been accustomed to. Having talked about the latest disastrous move by management as being ‘Phantom’s death rattle’ for years, it was unexpectedly moving to hear the actual death rattle as favourite DJs like Richie Ryan and Jack Hyland disappeared one by one. You see I’ve complained about it like nobody’s business over the last few years. I moaned about Michelle Doherty being moved off Finest Worksongs, I griped about John Caddell moving from Key Cuts to Finest Worksongs, I tiraded whenever they changed anything about Cinerama (and especially when they cancelled it), I mocked the decision to hire Vogue off of Fade Street as a DJ, I was outraged by the firing of founder Simon Maher, and, well, Joe & Keith, well, ’nuff said surely. But I was complaining because I was still listening – to the end.

I have spent hours sitting at my desk writing to the sound of Phantom blaring out of a farcically aged clock radio for many years. And I mean many years. I first discovered it as a pirate around this time of year in the months of frantic revision leading up to the Leaving Cert, and their later jingle ‘we’re the reason you own a radio’ rang quite true. I discovered Garbage and The Jam purely from listening to Phantom as a pirate. And when it was on legal hiatus the only shows worth listening to on official radio tended to be those presented by Phantom alumni (Jenny Huston, Dan Hegarty), because, well, what else was there to listen to out there? Especially in the desert of daytime radio… Phantom is the reason I listen to Metric and Death Cab for Cutie. It’s what finally made me appreciate LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire after years of resistance. TX FM’s playlist tomorrow may be similar but the gutting of Phantom removes my abiding affection and loyalty and makes tuning in a questionable decision. John Caddell said Phantom had made mistakes as a commercial station. Sure, but I thought of another quote:

“McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for.

Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?” – Hunter S Thompson, Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72

Phantom RIP.

September 1, 2011

The Art of Getting By

The Art of Getting By is an unfortunately titled movie as it does feel like the writer/director, having assembled a pastiche of other works, just figured it’d do…

This film opens as it means to continue, a bad cover by The Shins of the Postal Service’s 2003 song ‘Silhouettes’ almost positions the film as an equally inept cover of 2003 film Igby Goes Down. George (Freddie Highmore) shirks his homework and floats friendless thru his elite NYC high school until he begins a cutesy non-romance with Sally (Emma Roberts), threatened by George’s own remarkable idiocy and the understandable insistence of the principal (Dirty Sexy Money’s Blair Underwood) that he do his homework or get out. It’s as turgid as that synopsis sounds… This isn’t as interesting in its depiction of privileged New York teenagers with the best fake IDs in the business as a single episode of Gossip Girl. Neither is it as intelligent or touching as Adventureland in capturing a non-romance between a confident girl and an awkward boy having an over-educated existential crisis in a suddenly financially insecure world.

It’s never clear why Sally likes George. Sure, George rescues Sally from a smoking violation, but after that he’s embarrassingly solipsistic and pretentious. His intimations of mortality are sub-Smiths lyrics, and his constantly worn overcoat a painful affectation. George explains that you must cut school rarely to keep the experience special, and do something culturally rewarding like take in (the rubbish) Zazie Dans le Metro in a Louis Malle season at a wonderful little boho cinema. He (of course) ploughs through literature but refuses to do his homework, and (of course) sketches constantly but won’t paint because (sigh) he has nothing to express. When put to it, will he draw her? When she has to make a grand gesture, will she forsake thousands of dollars by not catching her plane to Europe? On this day two years ago I praised (500) Days of Summer for obliterating those infuriating rom-com tropes, but this film once again asks those questions.

Sasha Spielberg has a staggeringly irrelevant but constantly name-checked role, but then nearly everyone is irrelevant bar George and Sally (including an oddly uncredited Alicia Silverstone as George’s English teacher), even if Underwood is Fassbendering. Despite numerous aggravating montages with an indie-schmindie score akin to Death Cab for Cutie tuning their instruments this film’s 83 minutes feels more like a painfully over-extended 123 minutes. I previously eviscerated Freddie Highmore’s 2007 movie August Rush, and this is every bit as wretched. Igby Goes Down was powered by Kieran Culkin’s sublime turn as the titular sardonic teenager, but even if Highmore equalled Culkin’s charisma he’d be sunk by not having that wonderfully literate script.

Roberts does her best to save this train-wreck but this is Igby Goes Down thrown in a blender with a dire rom-com. Avoid…

1/5

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