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Sing Street

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Director: John Carney

Stars: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jack Reynor.

Released: 22nd April 2016 (UK)

Hearing that John Carney had a new film coming out, I was firstly excited, then a little apprehensive. I had adored Once, a sensitive and smart musical for our generation with the right amount of energy and heart to make you fall in love with both the music and the story.  Indeed, it had enough heart to transfer to the stage and I enjoyed the physical translation of Carney’s screenplay enormously.  But then I saw Begin Again, and while pleasant enough, it was also a little too saccharine for me, even in some standout scenes admist the hustle of New York City I had found Mark Ruffalo a little try hard in it (a feat in itself.)  But John Carney is dedicated to bringing his vision of a contemporary musical to life, and he has hit it on the third attempt.

Sing Street is so marvelously joyous, you’ll find it hard to not get up and dance in your seat.  A sublime partnering of original score and nostalgic eighties tunes, this is a magical musical not to be missed.

Moving away from the modern day setting of his previous work, Carney turns sentimental in his nostalgia, setting the action in a bleak 1985 Dublin where times were hard on families needing work and the younger generation had their sights set on London.  Our protagonist Conor (a wide-eyed newcomer on the indie film scene, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a sensitive outsider type kid, a victim of an unhappy and tense home life which sees the family needing to cut expenses by pulling Conor out of his posh Jesuit school and putting him in the state-run Christian Brothers school on Synge Street. His only comfort comes from religiously watching Top of the Pops with his music buff brother Brendan (an unmissable Jack Reynor.)

Within his first week of ducking the school bullies, getting penalised for wearing the wrong shoes, and learning that to survive at Synge Street he really needs to keep his head down, Conor spots the girl of his dreams,  Raphina (Lucy Boynton), sitting on the steps of her house opposite the school. An aspiring model, he thinks fast on his feet and asks her to be in his new music video.  Now he actually has to start a rock band and write some music.

Cue the most entertaining of scenes in which Conor appeals to his new classmates to be part of this enterprise to get the girl, insisting that he is passionate about creating a new sound.  Enlisting the help of a motley crew of amateur musicians, the star of which is painfully shy multi-instrumentalist Eamon who brings his songwriting skills to go with Conor’s lyrics; they also find the one black guy in school (Percy Chamburuka), who they are sure must play an instrument (he does, he plays keyboard); and the bass and drum players sign up after seeing a bulletin-board flyer. Sing Street has now formed.

The 80s kid inside of me was constantly entertained as the band tweaked their dramatic stylings to find the sound that would define them, and as in Carney’s other films, the songs rose to be more than a narrative device to play out this puppy-love, they were events in themselves.  Often hilarious (their first song ‘The Riddle of the Model’ had the audience twittering delightedly) and hearkening back to hit 80s tunes, the music is delivered with a stroke of genius.

We are also treated to some heavy duty costume changes throughout the film which thrilled even the most ensemble-y challenged.  As the musical direction of the band develops, so to does Conor’s tailoring of his look, each time with a new-found confidence lifted straight from the Top of the Pops world.  With the intensity that comes with falling in love and finding your true vocation, so does your ambition to be yourself, and Carney plays with this notion as Conor cuts an increasingly strong figure as he strolls across the school playground, worlds away from the brittle boy from the broken home.   And that’s very much the point of it.  As he moves, chameleon-like through his school yard, others are either astonished or frightened; such is the effect of individuality at a young age.

A must-see for fans of musical films, Sing Street is a pure treasure.  Without really diving deep into the kitchen-sink drama of Conor’s life, we are instead treated to the story of a boy in love with a girl not quite within reach, a tinge of melancholy to the romance of the piece.  Not to be taken seriously, as a relationship is at that age I guess, the film chooses to stay naive and shallow; it’s allowed because the music is so darn decent.  Each song rose to the occasion and people in the audience watching it with me actually started to tap their feet along to the catchy tunes as they became more invested. Indeed, as the credits rolled, we all stood up, grinning at each other.  We had just experienced a ‘movie moment.’  A feel-good story, the film was well executed with a nostalgic quality that still made us feel very present.

Movie Reviews

The Little Stranger ★★★★

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.

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Released: 21st September 2018

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill

Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.

Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.

From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.

The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.

The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain.  This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.

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Movie Reviews

Dogman ★★★

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Released: 19th October 2018

Directed By: Matteo Garrone

Starring: Marcello Fonte

Reviewed By: Rhys Handley

Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.

But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.

When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.

Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.

To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.

In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.

Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.

Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.

An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.

Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.

No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.

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Movie Reviews

Superfly ★★

Director X’s flashy remake of the Blaxploitation classic is a thunderingly dull experience

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Director: Director X
Stars:  Trevor Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Michael K. Williams
Released: 14th September 2018 (UK)

Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, BlackKklansman – it’s proving an impressive year for top-tier studio-driven black cinema. The perfect year, as it happens, to release a remake of seventies Blaxploitation classic Super Fly. Or, at least, it would be, if the determining creative mantra behind this update weren’t presumably anything more than to make an episode of Power with all the stylistic glimmer of a P. Diddy video.

Superfly (neatly bringing the title right up to autocorrect standard by repositioning itself as a single word) sees Grown-ish star Trevor Jackson take on the iconic role of the hustling dealer trying to earn his way out of the game – albeit in a newly millennial take that supplants the character’s own drug use for what appear to be Sherlock-level powers of information gathering on anyone he might need to manipulate, charm, or blindside. He also sports the most incredible head of hair this side of Josh Brolin.

Alex Tse’s screenplay sees no gain in revisiting any of the subversive terrain that made Super Fly the enduring classic it became, his ambitions outright stopping at the point his writing could passably sell a made-for-cable urban crime series (such as – to pick a name out of a hat – Power?). Beyond that it falls to director Director X (of the Toronto Xs) and star Jackson to bring the proverbial funk, and – though X really knows how to sell a music video with all the tonal swagger of John Singleton’s Shaft remake (though, noticeably, none of its darkness or consideration) – Jackson simply isn’t a strong enough presence to sell the supposed gravitas of his lead. It’s a weakness no amount of style or gunfire can distract from, and it sinks Superfly dead.

There’s a top-shelf supporting cast in there, with the likes of Jason Mitchell, Michael K. Williams, and Rick Ross turning up for their two cents and subsequently failing in tandem to elevate this dross to become anything close to worthy of standing in its own brand’s shadow. Expectedly enough, it sports a kickass hip-hop soundtrack – with rapper (and the film’s producer) Future offering up a bevy of atmospherically charging beats to ensure you’re at least bored to music, though there is something faintly amusing (outside of context) about hearing an entire cast prattle on about wanting to wipe out “the Snow Patrol”, like they’re working for the NME in 2005.

Twenty years from now, film historians will likely regard Superfly in the same manner as we currently regard Gus van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho or Stallone’s 2000 remake of Get Carter – that it’s a pointless creation that completely missed the cultural point of its own iconic original – and they’ll be right to do so. Provided they remember that Superfly even existed in the first place – which they, and you, would be decidedly better off not.

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