Sing Street (2016)


I’ve been thinking about how to open this one, would l describe the film as a “coming of age” movie or one about a boy forming a band to impress a girl. It is those but not specifically, and to simply describe the film as one or the other of them would be to do it an injustice.  John Carney (Once, 2007) gives us a movie about identity, who we are, who we think we are and who we dream of being. It is 1985 and our young  hero Conor is going through some changes, though not ones of his liking or making.  Coming from a middle class background, the family is in financial trouble, due to work drying up for the parents and sacrifices have to be made. One of those sacrifices is Conor’s schooling as he is taken from a private school and dropped in Sing Street Christian Brothers School (a public school).sing

Here we have the middle class boy, with his middle class background suddenly in the working class school, without even the correct colour shoes. This brings him into contact with Br. Baxter (Don Waverly (Ondine, 2009) The Christian Brother with a not very Christian attitude. Another who is not who he seems. Br. Baxter becomes Conor’s nemesis, as they struggle over shoe colours, hair dye and make-up. To its credit, Carney manages to avoid dropping the movie into the quagmire of sexual scandal, though hints at it, the Christian Brothers were not going to escape completely from the sins of their past.

Against all of these struggles in life Conor, practically on his first day in school, noticed a girl, Raphine (Lucy Boynton, Ballet Shoes, 2007) sitting nearby on her doorstep, he immediately falls for her. And as with many lads of his age, he immediately begins to woe her. She’s out of his league, so in an attempt to impress he first repeats some musical trivia his older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor, Glassland, 2014) shared only the night before and then announces he has a band and would she like to be involved. Indeed Brendan, with his own issues, still manages to ensure Conor has all the brotherly advice needed to get through life and get the girl of his dreams.

What follows is a quest by Conor to quickly find a group of guys he can call a band.  He actually manages to do this without any major issue. Indeed the band aspect of the film is straight forward and of no major issue. As part of his band, Conor  tells her, they are going to make a video, if she , the model she claims to be (almost…)would like to be in it. She reluctantly agrees to give the video some weight by appearing in it. What follows is a group of young boys trying to pull together a mid-80s new wave music video, with all the situational gags possible. Mark McKenna, Ben Carolan and Percy Chamburuka, all deserve mention as his fellow band members.

And so through the usual trial the boys manage to get it together enough to film the video, which is pure new-waveish, 1980’s punk-rock. All of this initial band success is against a personal background that sees the family split up as their parents are separating and the children are being dispatched to a new apartment with their farther (Aiden Gillen, Calvary 2014), While his mother ( Maria Doyle-Kennedy (Jupiter Ascending, 2014) moves in with her new boyfriend no one is happy about that arrangement. Away from his music, he turns to his older brother for advice on everything from relationships, music to life in general.  We go on to learn how his would-be model girlfriend is a lot more fragile than made out to be.

In school the band decides to play in a school event coming up, this provides the scene for their first public performance and also a chance to make a statement of rebellion against Br. Baxter and the school.  Another of those people who is not who or what they seem is the school bully, Barry, played by Ian Kenny who is from a hard home and a life of domestic violence, however when it comes to being the tough-guy in school, young Barry is good at scaring people, but not very good at seeing threats through and Conor notices this, ultimately asking Barry to be their roadie, something he happily agrees to, he has a purpose.

As this quest for identity and discovery develops it does so against the social backdrop of 80s Ireland and emigration.  Conor slowly realises his only hope for happiness is to leave his home, Dublin and Ireland and head to  London (with nothing). Supporting Raphine through her own struggles, they embark together for London with the help of his Brother, using his late-grandfather’s boat…

8/10 sit back and enjoy the trip in to the past.

In To The Woods

What a pleasant surprise! I usually cannot stand musicals, with the exception of “The Producers” and strangely enough both of either production (Mel Brooks 1967 or Susan Stroman, 2005). Usually it is a mediocre story further ruined by senseless prattling and dancing about while attempting to give voice to song that should be instantly forgotten. So you can imagine the kind of thoughts going through my head as I sat down to watch this movie; they were the types of thought normally reserved for the dentist’s chair.

Bob Marchall’s (Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, 2011) work here gives us a mash-up of Grimm fairy tales based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. While some interpretations of Grimm can be dark and serious, while other try to stay “realistic”, this version is both light & humorous while at the same time keeping a shadow of darkness. There is just the hint of the darker nature of the original Grimm works, while firmly also taking a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the stories

Having been given an introduction to jack struggles with a cow that will not milk and a mother that needs income, Little Red Riding Hood’s visit to her granny, the childless baker and his wife and even Cinderella (Anna Kendrick, Rapture Palooza, 2013)with an appearance from Rapunzil with of course the necessary Princes, Charming etc. We see our heroes going through their dark lives wishing for things to be better.

The film opens with Jack (Daniel Huttlestone, Les Misérables, 2012) ) being told by his mother (Tracey Ullman, The Corpse Bride, 2005) to sell their cow, who jack regards as his best friend, while at the same time Little Red Riding Hood(Lilla Crawford) is stocking up at the baker’s (James Corden, Gavin & Stacey, 2007+)) getting bread for her granny living in the woods. Life is not too good for the baker and his wife (Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow, 1014) either, they have no children despite their best efforts. While a little away Cinderella is having her usual step-sister/ball issues which need to be sorted. All of this is put in to context how they all have a wish for something better. And this being a fairy tale , the old witch (Meryl Streep, The Hours, 2006)has to turn up, she lives next door to the Baker and his wife.

Now it turns out that some years ago the witch put a curse on his father and the family in general – no further off-spring; something which goes a long way to explain the couple’s child-baring difficulties. However there is some hope. The spell can be reversed , but only on the blue moon in three days’ time.

Sounds easy enough, but there is a catch the spell needs some items like a blood red cloak, a milk-white cow and hair as golden as a corn husk, oh and a golden slipper. As you see a wish-list such as this can seriously impact on a number of fairy tales. The fact that jack has some giant troubles does not help either. Against this The baker and his wife (despite her heading home a number of times) trek in to the woods to find the items in question, with absolutely no idea how they might find them. Through a series of misadventures they eventually bring together what is needed, only of course to find out that things don’t work as well as they need, so a quick fix is needed.

Throughout the search we are introduced to the various fairy tales as part s of the story. Johnny Depp (Dark shadows, 2012) plays a smoothly menacing Wolf to Little Red Riding Hood, while Chris Pine (Star Trek, 2009) plays Cinderella’ s Prince to a lightly comic effect. As if one prince was not enough, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy, Brother’s Keeper, 2013) also has her prince (Billy Magnussen, The East, 2013).

James Corden is “stand-out” in the role, really adding to the part, while Meryl Streep’s witch is worth the price of admission just for her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an animated Streep in any role. You will note that I’m not mentioning much on the plot, well you can guess what happens Jack when he sells the cow and gets the beans from the baker, or Cinderella’s social challenges. We all know the stories, but what we don’t know so much about is the world these people live in and how.  Overall the casting works extremely well. Every effort has gone into giving us characters which match the years of imagination that have gone in to them, not least of all Jack’s mother through Tracey Ullman.   In a world of coincidences we see the great Frances de la Tour (The History Boys, 2006) playing the Giant, it was in the The History Boys that the world took note of Corden and his work.

This is the perfect movie for a grey winter’s day when you just want to pass an hour or two and enjoy it. The pace is continuous and reasonably quick. The story moves along at a nice pace and stays original all things considered.

Over the years there have been many dramatizations of Grimms’ work, some have worked while other have been painfully bad. This one certainly work. It reminds me of some of the Disney cartoons in places while as a movie it falls firmly alongside The Princes Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987). This is a good thing. Any movie whish stands up to comparison with TPB, can hold its head up high.

Go have some fun and watch this movie, or see the musical J and like all good fairy tales there is a message to it – be careful what you wish for , you might just get it, oh and fairy tales do come through and people can live happily ever after.