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.

Adam & Paul, 2004

Often for a movie to work it needs to work on a number of levels dealing with the characters, the environment and the story itself. Adam & Paul is one of those movies. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, 2014). The screenplay is by Mark O’Halloran ( Garage, 2007) who also plays the part of Adam alongside the late Tom Murphy (Man about Dog, 2009) who played Paul. Broadly speaking Adam & Paul is a comedy following two drop-out drug-addicts. On another level it is about following our two eponymous heroes on their journey through typical days in the lives of our two friends.

The two are life-long friends, whose decline in life is mirrored in each. Adam, is the slightly smarter of the two with Paul often looking to him for a form of leadership. The film follows the two as the wake in field on a mattress only to find that Adam is glued to the mattress. Having resolved this difficulty , they proceed to stock up on their drug supply only to have a run-in that requires their immediate exit. This more or less sets the scene for the day as they meander through Dublin, escaping dogs, meeting old friends, who it turns out are not happy with A&P as they missed the Month’s Mind of a friend earlier that morning. The guys are made to know just how unwelcome they are. In the course of the meeting one of the girls let’s slip that there will be a reception in the memory of their old friend, to which they are not invited. A lack of invitation will not stop them from attending.

Through-out the day Paul has a series of mishaps, from injuring his leg with a moped, to hurting his arm in an attempted smash and grab. The day is punctuated with misadventures and attempts to steal the funds they need for their drugs. As the day progresses, they head over to the apartment of an old friend, one they have been told to stay away from . When they arrive the door is open but thetre is nobody at home. Showing that there is really no honesty between thieves, the guys are ready to steal from her when they hear a baby crying, this stops them and when their friend returns.

This takes us up to about half way through the film and so far so good in relation to our two friends. Carefully written we have had the luxury of being observers, but they carefully shot scene of them mugging a young man with down-syndrome shows us that their actions are not as amusing and “harmless2 as first thought. They later meet-up with Crank who is not pleased that the story is around that he owes them money. He gets them to keep lookout as he and another get up to no good in a local garage, Adam & Paul, needless to say mess this up and do not notice the police arriving, Crank & Co. are arrested.

Without giving a blow by blow account of their travails, the two, having found a dumped TV decided to try and sell it. With the help of another guys, they go to a housing project to sell it to a particular person, the sale falls through and as they are leaving they pass the apartment of one of their dealers which is being raided by vigilantes. Moving past the two hangout in the common area outside the project. As they do the attacking vigilantes destroy the drug-dealer’s home throwing his belongings , including his drugs out onto the ground below where the two guys are cooling their heels. As they are two bags of the dealer’s drugs land near them. Christmas!

Adam & Paul leave to enjoy their new found luck. We next see them early morning on the beach as Paul wakes up only to discover his friend dead, having over-dosed. Paul takes his drugs and leaves.

What might be seen at first glance as a comedy of errors relating to a day in the life of two feckless idiots, might also be seen as a carefully scripted work showing that these two are not as harmless as they seem, death, injury, mistrust and pain follow them. By the end of the movie our view of the two is changed completely and far less forgiving than what it was at first.

I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with Mark O’Halloran, he’s a person serious about his craft and it shows.


Written and directed by John Michael Mc Donagh, this is the second of a loosely based trilogy. The subject matter is not connected, rather locations associated with McDonagh’s background. The first installment was “The Guard” (2011). Described as a black comedy, it might be better described Dark thriller with a touch of dark humour thrown in.

Although described as “dark” this is a very entertaining movie, which from the start drags in the viewer and keeps us alongside to the very end. Brendan Gleeson’s character is that of Father James, the local parish priest in a small rural parish in Sligo. Boarding the coast, there are some fantastic backdrops (having spent two years living in the area, I can say the scenery is every bit as photographed for the film. Fr. James we learn came to the Priesthood later in life, after his wife died. As with any normal person, he has his daemons, he is open about his hard drinking ways in the past, now he controls his life and habits. As “normal” as he is, the villagers, his parish, are what can best be described as an “odd bunch”.

The film opens in confession, here we learn that one of his parishioners was abuse as a child by a priest. In the parishioner’s quest for vengeance, he has decided to kill a priest, not just any priest, but a good priest, someone people will notice. He is told he has just over a week to live, they even make an appointment for the following Sunday on the beach. We are not clear if he actually knows who his killer is. Following a discussion with his less than helpful Bishop (David McSavage), the Bishop feels that the confession was not valid, as absolution was not present and so he should report the issue.

Instead Fr. James uses the week to put his house in order and try find a way to stop what is going to happen. In to the mix comes his adult daughter (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Homes, 2009), recovering from a suicide attempt. We see through her that his relationship with her has been strained over time and in deed still shows some stress marks but they know they have something to work out and so do. They treat each other as adults.

Over the coming days, we see Fr. James deal with his parishioners, the wife beaten by her lover, the lover who has no remorse and even the cuckolded husband, who is quite happy for his wife to have an affair, as it takes the pressure off him and basically they can get on with life. As part of his ministering to his flock he visits an old American writer who is living in a remote area accessible only by boat. While bringing the old writer his messages, he makes a request for a gun (Walter PPK). After some banter Fr. James says he will try and see what he can do. In the course of the next day he pays a visit to the local Police Inspector, to borrow a gun. The inspector is at home, with a male prostitute. Fr. James is not fazed by this or the prostitute’s behaviour. The prostitute is played by Owen Sharpe, I mention this because of his recent role in “’71” playing the young IRA killer, a completely different role, both done well.

As the week goes on, he has to deal with his curate, Fr. Leary (David Wilmot, Vikings 2013) who is not exactly the caring type, more concerned with image rather than substance. Fr. James is rather blunt in his opinion of him as a priest. Indeed one of the defining characteristics of Fr. James is his bluntness. When we see him with the financier on the edge of arrest (Dylan Moran, Black Books, 2000) who is trying to put things right (in his own way). Fr. Leary fawns to Moran’s character, while Fr. James just basically sees through the acts and gets down to business naming a figure and looking for the check.

As the week goes on, we start to see things taking a chilling turn, with his local church being burnt down and even his pet dog killed, we are not told who is responsible for these acts. We see the tensions mount to breaking point, while we also see moments of clam and belief, no more so that the French couple of holiday who were involved in a car crash, the husband is killed, while the wife escapes unhurt, we see in her a person of Faith and in so doing also see his Faith, it is real to him.

He has no airs and graces, when one of the village odd-balls, Milo Herlihy (Killian Scott, Love/Hate 2010-2014) sees Fr. James in church to ask for his advice regarding women; the conversation turns surreal. He basically has urges, possibly to violence , to control these urges he has decided to join the army, which he is convinced is full of psychopaths anyway and so should be a natural home for himself, Fr. James attempts to bring him back to reality by suggesting he read certain magazines, only to have milo say he has already tried them. What we see is a man casting no judgements and genuinely trying to help. His chats with the atheist (and cynical ) doctor, (Aidan Gillen, Love/Hate 2010-2013) also give us an insight to his view on life and his outlook on things in general, while at the same time not forcing a believe or rationalisation on the other person.

In dealing with his parishioners and even his daughter (and by extension himself) we do see a “good Priest”. Fr. James’s character is no Saint, he has his flaws and weaknesses like any person. He is essentially a person who is trying to help is parishioners without overstepping. However the various scenarios thrown up by the locals work at both levels, firstly allowing for a local and immediate (personal response) but also causing us to see the reaction of a kind and compassionate man, even if one who does not suffer fools to gladly.

Among all of the local community there is one who stands out, the altar boy, Mícheál (Mícheál Óg Lane, the Guard, 2011) he stands out for one reason, essentially he has reprised his role in The Guard, as a comic foil for Gleeson. This time it is a little more subtle but equally as good.

This movie shifts to a climax which can only end one of two ways, Fr. James alive or dead. A good man alive or dead. What we saw was a week in the life of a small parish, all seemingly tranquil and calm while below the surface there is violence, loneliness, suffering and pain and only one man has an idea as to what extent the people of the village are suffering in their various ways, just as he is dealing with his own daemons.

It is felt Gleeson might get an Oscar nomination for this role, he deserves it



Okay, as soon as I saw reference to this movie at the Galway Film Fleadh, I was hooked. This movie has been described as a B-movie comedy. “B-movie” does not mean bad, just that it does not have studio millions behind it. This is a comedy and as you probably know by now, I like my comedy to be properly constructed, following ancient rules, this movie does that, indeed following rules and convention is something director Jon Wright (Tormented, 2009) and newcomer to feature length work, writer Kevin Lehane do throughout the movie.

I’m going to get the obvious connections out of the way; Tremors (Ron Underwood, 1990); this is very much in the same style but probably more funny.  It is probably more in line with Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007) with the community feel to the ongoing story. I mentioned rules earlier and Wright seems to follow very closely some Irish rules of thumb when it comes to comedy. 1) an outside in the village, usually a slightly eccentric Englishman or German such as the character of the General (Sam Harris) in John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952) or Major Yates himself (Peter Bowles) in The Irish RM (1983). The Irish RM brings us to the second necessary character – the town drunk who also happens to be quite smart and more than capable of coming out well from any situation, we see this with the Character of Slipper, played by Niall Tobin is the series. Such a  character might be described (using the Hiberno-English vernacular) as a “cute whore” which is a cunning but good natured person.  Another movie which comes to mind is The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) given the sense of isolation.

Being so formulaic can often destroy a movie as the team concentrate on the formulae and not the heart and soul of the movie, here however they capture the comic essence needed, indeed the casting was perfect as soon as you saw the actors in a number of cases you knew what you were in for.

Headed by Richard Coyle (Going Postal 2010) playing Garda Ciarán O’Shea with Ruth Bradley (Love/Hate, 2011) playing the Garda sent in to support O’Shea while the sergeant is on vacation. The pair seem totally mismatched and polar opposites. As strange things begin to happen such as whales washing up on shore, they meet up with the English marine biologist working on the island, Dr. Adam Smith (Russell Tovey, Being Human, 2008) who brilliantly plays the reserved and very proper scientist trying to do things the right way. SO here is the village outside needed by the “rules”. The team deserve credit for knowing just how far to take a character such as Smith, stopping short of cliché.  Pretty soon people start to go missing and alien  creatures start to appear.

One is captured by the town drunk/small time fisherman and general smart-arse (again using the H-E vernacular) played brilliantly by Lalor Roddy (Game of Thrones, 2011). An experienced stage and screen actor he know exactly what was needed. I could continue with the rest of the support cast , but sufficient to say they were all first class. I should also give a mention to the excellent CGI, evidence of the work that can be done on a budget.

The plot, in short is; alien creatures crash in to the sea just off the island and quickly make their way ashore. Strange things start to happen and people begin disappearing. Eventually one of the octopus like alien creatures is captured and killed (possibly). This bring more trouble in the shape of the alien’s (far, far larger female partner). Ultimately our heroes and the rest of the village have to make a stand in the village pub (probably another rule there) for reasons most enjoyably left to the movie to explain. Here they battle to save the community, the island and of course all mankind. The battle tactics make the movie.

I’ve avoid reference to The Guard (John-Michael McDonagh, 2011) so far, so it is about time I did the inevitable. I enjoyed The Guard, I really enjoyed Grabbers. Wright has placed the McDonagh brothers on notice. In short this movie is Father Ted (Channel 4, 1995-98) meets Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) and as good as either of them.

A lesser effort would have been wholly predicable, this was not. This is The Birds (Hitchcock, 1963) as a full comedy.

Rating 9/10, I look forward to more work from this team.

Shake Hands With The Devil (1959)

This 1959 Irish War of Independence era movie can, with a certain amount of justification, be described as a forgotten classic. Directed by Michael Anderson (Dam Busters 1955) it touches on a time and a subject matter many film makers until Neil Jordan (Michael Collins, 1996) stayed away from.  I came to this film via my father who is a great fan of it and as a result we’ve been looking for a copy for a number of years. Now released on DVD I had to buy a copy and see what all the talk was about. I’m glad I did.  The leading and supporting casts are a who’s who of Irish and British acting talent of the time and subsequently.  As I mentioned the subject matter was one many stayed away from or used as a support to a more personal story (Ryan’s Daughter David Lean, 1970, which was more of a romance than war film).

Although shot in 1959 it shows little of the experimental film making beginning at that time in France and elsewhere with the early New Wave work or even  the earlier Italian Neo-realism. Anderson deploys methods tried and tested in the 1930’s and 1940’s and the movie feels like a product of this period in places, although it also has that more relaxed and expansive feel of its generation. Ryan’s Daughter is only 11 years later and totally different in style. We can also contrast it with Odd Man Out (1947) by Carol Reed (The Third Man, 1949) with an almost Noir feel in places, certainly far more atmospheric and brooding as we watch James Mason the IRA officer on the run in Belfast following a failed robbery.  Shake Hands used shadow sparingly  and to best effect in the early ambush scene where Paddy Nolan (Ray McAnally, The Mission, Altamirano, 1986) and Kerry O’Shea (Don Murray, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Breck, 1972) are walking home at night.  In many ways one of the more modern scenes in the movie.

The Movie is based on the novel by Rearden Conner, which was adapted by Marian Spitzer (The Dolly Sisters 1945) together with Ivan Goff & Ben Roberts  (White Heat, 1949) .  We can see novel’s influence in the detail and characterisation such as Lady Fitzhugh (Sybil Thorndike, The Prince and The Showgirl, The Queen Dowager, 1957) being a member of The Movement.  This characterisation is perhaps most striking in James Cagney’s character, Sean Lenihan; by day a mild mannered surgeon lecturing to students in Trinity College and by night a respected rebel leader (Commandant). It is in his reaction to the presence of certain women that we see a darker side to his character which later merges with his view of the Treaty being signed, he is ultimately “fighting his own war” . By Contrast Kerry O’Shea does not want to be “in the Movement” and does not want to take life but is forced by circumstance to do both.

I’m tempted to run down the list of supporting actors, it was/is breath-taking. My father ranks this as one of his favourite films, I can see why.  You will have noticed I give very little of the plot away – it is young student gets caught up in rebel affairs after death of a friend, he is to be smuggled out of the country and while waiting for his ship with a squad of volunteers events take a number of turns which force all involved to make a series of life changing decisions.

Rating 8/10 It is of its time and dealing with what was then a delicate subject, but is well nuanced and well worth watching.

Stella Days

Back in 1979 a much younger Martin Sheehan, played a young army captain in a place where he did not belong , on a mission he did not particularly want to achieve. Years later he is again somewhere he did not want to be in Stella Days. In short this is not the fastest movie in the world, but it is not supposed to be. It is a very Irish film dealing with very Irish issues of the time. Knowing what we do now of the times then there is always a potentially dark side to this movie. but thanks to O’Sullivan this never happens  Despite the 1950’s Irishness of this movie the subject matter travels, the story is one which can be translated across times and locations. Sheehan plays an educated, cultured academic priest  who after being passed over for an appointment in Rome and subsequently letting his feelings be known is placed in a rural Irish Parish after years in Rome and the US.  After spending three years in Tipperary he is hoping his exile is over and he can  return to Rome, his dreams  are dashed when the local Bishop (Tom Hickey, The Riordans 1965, Breakfast  on Pluto 2005) tells him he is staying in the town and is charged with building a new church.

Not being the best fund raiser in the world he gets nowhere until the new teacher, fresh from the big city (Dublin) gives him the idea of a cinema. What follows is a very understated master class in the study of belonging, faith (in yourself, dreams and Him), loneliness and finding your place in life. The humour is calm, Stephen Rea plays his usual quiet dark self, here he plays the part of the local politician he is so conservative he makes the Bishop look radical. Along the way  we see Sheehan deal with his doubt, not so much in his faith, but his calling, we see Stephen Rea (V for Vendetta, 2005, Citizen X, 1995)  play the local politician, a man with no doubt but strong conservative conviction. This is not the fastest movie in the world, but it brings you along with it. The performances wheel you in Martin Sheehan is every bit as great as ever, whether it is a young captain, the President of the United States or the local parish priest.

This is a feel good story, told well. If you liked The Playboys (Gillies McKinnon, 1992) or Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988) then you will like this one. I had doubts about the direction at the start, but it turned out well, the script is tight and smart; the delivery is well timed and delivered with some nice laugh out loud moments Rating 8/10, perfect for  when you want to unwind and see a good story.