Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sing Street

      Writer/director John Carney ("Once" and "Begin Again") scores another hit with this joyous coming of age story set in Ireland in 1985.  The comedy/drama is filled with great music from the period as well as terrific original songs that play a major part in the story.

       15 Year old Connor (Ferdia  Walsh-Peelo), to impress Raphina ( Lucy Boynton), decides to start a band from scratch so she can be in their videos. Connor's older brother, Brendan ( Jack Reynor) teaches him about music and he recruits a bunch of misfits from his school to form "Sing Street". There are predictable ups and downs and some moments of melodrama but the overall mood of the film is very uplifting.

         Mr. Walsh-Peelo is charming as Connor and his singing improves as the film goes on. The rest of his band all have their quirky attributes and are fun to watch as their confidence grows with each new song. Ms Boynton is a young actress to watch and there is true chemistry between her and Mr. Walsh-Peelo.

         Mr. Carney knows his formula well and stays true to his vision. The original songs are terrific and he enlists some well known talent to help out on the soundtrack, including Adam Levine and Glenn Hansard. If you are looking for a feel good film, take a walk on "Sing Street."

Sunday, April 10, 2016


      Even a fine acting turn by Jake Gyllenhaal cant save this metaphorical mess of a film. Mr. Gyllenhaal plays Davis, living comfortably numb as an investment banker working for his father-in-law, played by Chris Cooper. When his wife dies in a car accident (no spoiler, it happens minutes into the film and is the catalyst for the plot), Davis is forced to face his cold existence, find his emotional center and learn to live again. This is serious stuff.

        Davis begins to take everyday things apart. He starts small but eventually, rather than just take them apart, he actively begins to demolish things in his life. Only by breaking everything down, does he think he can start to put things back together...we get it...literally and often. 

        Finding an unusual outlet for his buried feelings, Davis expresses his thoughts in letters to  a vending machine company when his candy gets stuck in a machine at the hospital. Naomi Watts plays Karen, the customer service rep at the company that is moved enough by his letters that she reaches out to him. Karen is, of course, living her own numb existence with a brutish boyfriend and her troubled 15 year old son, Chris.

        Karen, Davis and Chris begin an odd friendship. There are some interesting twists, especially in the third act but they can't disguise the plot holes or the irrational path the film takes to reach it's conclusion. Plot threads dangle and some strain credibility. The film tries so hard to express itself, it collapses under it's own weight just like it's protagonist.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Clan

      This new foreign crime drama is based on the true story of the Puccio family who kidnapped and murdered people in Argentina in the 1980's. The patriarch, Arquimedes  finds himself unemployed and turns to a life of crime. He enlists the aid of his wife and sons, keeping his two daughters oblivious to the new family business.

       The film starts slowly and is a bit confusing and erratic at first but it does settle down to riveting story anchored by an unforgettable performance by Guillermo Francella. Mr. Francella is ice cold as he goes about the business of kidnapping and murder while playing the loving husband and father. His eldest son, Alejandro, played by Peter Lanzani, is torn between his love and dedication for his father and family and a chance to start a new life with his girlfriend, Monica. 

         The film has a great score and terrific soundtrack that fuels the action. The relationship between father and son is powerful and engaging. Without knowing the outcome, the drama will hold your attention until the very end. The film is in Spanish with subtitles but you don't need to understand the language to feel the emotional suspense of a family torn apart by violence of their own design.

Miles Ahead

      Actor Don Cheadle stars and also co-writes as well as directs this unique interpretation of the life of music's  legendary, Miles Davis. As an actor, Mr. Cheadle is terrific as Davis but as a director and writer, he unfortunately misses the note.

       The film starts with Mr. Davis's life in the 70's but also includes earlier flashbacks to the 60's. By jumping around so much, it never gives a full portrait of the artist and completely avoids his early career. This is far from a standard "bio-pic". The writing is erratic with Mr. Davis acting more like a gangster than a musician. His coke fueled paranoia leads to car chases and shoot outs which may or may not have really happened. It seems Mr. Cheadle and his co-writers have made a deliberate attempt to create a cinematic version of improvisational jazz using bits and pieces of Mr. Davis's life.

        Ewan McGregor co-stars as a writer who gets close to Davis when he tells him he is writing an article for Rolling Stone. At first dismissed, Mr. McGregor wins favor after he manages to score cocaine for Davis. They spend the rest of the film together like some bad buddy comedy. The film also co-stars Emayatzy Corinealdi as Frances Taylor, Mr. Davis's first wife and Michael Stuhlbarg as a seedy record producer.

         Mr. Cheadle does give a wonderful performance, completely inhabiting the role. Unfortunately as written, the role never really defines the man or the artist. What can be really appreciated though is the soundtrack. It's a terrific compilation of music made famous by Mr. Davis and other Jazz greats.