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Catching Up on 2016: Josh Reviews Sing Street

May 1st, 2017
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In Dublin in 1985, Conor is a quiet boy whose getting-divorced parents have moved him into a free Catholic school.  In this rough new school, Conor is lonely and bullied.  When he meets a beautiful girl, Raphina, Conor tries to impress her by telling her that he’s in a band, and he asks her to appear in one of their music videos.  When she agrees, Conor must now actually form the band he claimed already existed!  What follows is a lovely coming-of-age story as Conor tries to figure out just who he is and what he wants to be, all the while struggling with a group of newfound musician friends to create music that is actually good.

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Writer/director John Carney, who wrote and directed the marvelous film Once (which was then made into a Broadway show) returns with another fantastically entertaining music-centered film.  La La Land has gotten all the attention this year, and I really enjoyed that film, but Sing Street is, I think, the superior musical film.

Like Once, Sing Street is an endearingly low-budget, low-frills affair, with nary a famous movie-star in sight.  The only well-known actor in the film is Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Game of Thrones), who has a small role as Conor’s father.  But this isn’t a story that needs big swooping crane shots or famous movie-stars.  In fact, it’s perhaps more-effective as a far smaller-scale undertaking; the film’s rough edges give it a ramshackle charm.

Mr. Carney has assembled a wonderful cast of mostly unknown young actors.  I love all of these kids!  (And it’s great to see a film about teenagers in which the kids actually look and act like teenagers!!)  Ferdia Walsh-Piro is great in the lead role as Conor, with a gentleness and an earnestness that shines through the screen.

Conor’s best mate in the film is Eamon ( Mark McKenna), a talented musician.  I love the way the film depicts Conor and Eamon’s collaborating to write songs.  In the early going, I thought the film’s story was heading towards a feud between these two budding musicians for control over the direction of the band, with Eamon’s perhaps feeling that Conor’s infatuation with Raphina was a distraction.  That would have been an expected route for the story to take — thank heaven Mr. Carney didn’t go in that direction.  I love that the film depicts such a strong, unbroken friendship between these two boys.

The romance between Conor and Raphina (Lucy Boynton) is sweet and nicely underplayed, without too many BIG DRAMATIC MOMENTS.

I was surprised by the degree to which the film focused on Conor’s relationship with his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor).  Brendan was a terrific character, … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2016 — Part Three!

My list of my Top Twenty Movies of 2016 continues!  Click here for numbers twenty through sixteen and click here for numbers fifteen through eleven.

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10. Sing Street Writer/director John Carney, who wrote and directed the marvelous film Once (which was then made into a Broadway show) returns with another fantastically entertaining music-centered film.  Set in Dublin in 1985, the film tells the story of a lonely boy, Conor, whose getting-divorced parents have moved him into a free Catholic school.  To impress a girl, Raphina, who he meets, Conor tells her that he’s in a band, and asks her to appear in one of their music videos.  When she agrees, Conor must now actually form the band he claimed already existed!  What follows is a lovely coming-of-age story as Conor tries to figure out just who he is and what he wants to be, all the while struggling with a group of newfound musician friends to create music that is actually good.  The romance is sweet, and I adored the film’s focus on the relationship between Conor and his older brother, Brendan.  La La Land has gotten all the attention this year, and I really enjoyed that film, but Sing Street is, I think, the superior musical film.  The music is great, and all of the kids are wonderful and instantly lovable.  It’s hard not to fall in love with these kids and this small-scale story about growing up and creating art.  I certainly did.

STAR TREK BEYOND

9. Star Trek Beyond This rebooted Star Trek movie series (begun by J.J. Abrams who directed the first two films) hasn’t ever quite gelled into feeling like true Star Trek for me, but damn if Star Trek Beyond doesn’t come close.  Star Trek Beyond is not a perfect movie, but it is nevertheless a very entertaining new Star Trek adventure that is fun and exciting, with a strong focus on character and a firm grip on Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future.  New Trek director Justin Lin, working from a script by Simon Pegg (who, of course, also plays Scotty in the film) and Doug Jung succeeded in crafting a terrific new Star Trek stand-alone adventure.  Set several years into the Enterprise’s five-year mission, Beyond was made to feel like a big-screen version of a classic Star Trek episode.  I love that approach, and there is a lot about Star Trek Beyond to enjoy.  It’s fun to get a brand-new story, set on a never-before-seen planet and with lots of never-before-seen aliens.  There’s a wonderful focus on the Enterprise crew, with every member of the ensemble getting fun stuff to do.  In particular, after two movies that emphasized the Kirk-Spock … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Josh Reviews Once (2006)

December 22nd, 2009
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I finally signed up for Netflix, and my first selection was quite a winner: the small Irish film Once.

This is an extraordinarily delightful film, exactly the kind of unique little movie with a voice all its own that I love to be surprised by.  I’d read about the film when it got some acclaim on the festival circuit a few years back, and I remembered the endearing Oscar acceptance speech by it’s two lead actors/musicians.  But I went into the film knowing almost nothing else about it, only to immediately find myself quite taken with the film as the story unfolded.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova play the leads, whose names are never given.  He’s a guitar player who plays his music on a street corner in Dublin when not working in his father’s vacuum cleaner repair shop.  His music is brilliant, but he seems stuck in a rut and having trouble getting over a relationship that apparently ended poorly.  She cleans houses and sells roses on the street, and lives in a small apartment with her mother and daughter.  She’s married, but apparently on poor terms with her husband who lives elsewhere.  It also turns out that she is an extraordinary musician herself, but she has little avenue for artistic expression.  She hears Glen Hansard’s character perform on the street one day, and the two strike up a friendship that turns into a musical collaboration.

I am an avowed hater of “chick flicks,” but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy films with deep emotion.  Quite the contrary: I absolutely love being swept away by the emotions of a film with heart.  I just can’t stand films that are filled with manipulative schmaltz, or paint-by-numbers plots that lead to simplistic happy endings.

I can imagine someone reading my above description of the plot and thinking that they know for sure how the story of this man and woman will unfold, but trust me, Once is anything but a typical romantic film.

The film consistently avoids taking the usual narrative path.  (With one tiny exception: The filmmakers did include a scene where a bored technician/producer dismisses their music but then comes around after hearing one song.  After seeing John Michael Higgins absolutely eviscerate that exact type of cliche scene in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, I can never again watch that familiar scenario unfold without a laugh.)  OK, but other than that I was extremely pleased to see the film avoid all the usual DRAMATIC with a capital “d” moments and predictable complications that one might expect to see in this type of film.

Which is not to say that the film is not extremely … [continued]