Sing Street

Posted on April 21, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including strong language and some bullying behavior, a suggestive image, drug material and teen smoking
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: A lot of smoking by adults and teens, some drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Bully, some fights, reference to sexual abuse
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 22, 2016
Date Released to DVD: July 26, 2016 ASIN: B01E698HZA

When you’re a teenager, suddenly, nothing you thought you knew seems certain anymore. Your parents do not understand you. Your siblings don’t understand you. Your teachers don’t understand you. You don’t understand yourself — everything outside and inside of you seems to be changing all the time.

Copyright 2016 The Weinstein Company
Copyright 2016 The Weinstein Company

Only one thing understands you: the music. For most of us, that means rock music. Somehow, those songs reach us when nothing else can. Improbably, they understand us, they accept us, and they believe in us and in unlimited possibilities for ourselves and the world we can hardly begin to imagine. That’s why the music of your teen years feels visceral in a way no other music can. No matter how much you love music you discover later in life, it is never a part of you like the music that helps you discover yourself.

“Sing Street” is the rare movie that not only recognizes and portrays this experience; it goes farther than that. It is as close to re-creating the experience as it is possible for a movie to be. Watching this movie is not like remembering what it is like to be 14 and have your soul restored through rock and roll. It is like being there, but having it all work out the way better than you could have wished.

Writer/director/lyricist John Carney, who showed a gift for movies about music and musicians with Once and Begin Again, says that this movie is inspired by his own teen years, but about what he wished had happened instead of what did. Like the main character, Conor (enormously appealing newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), Carney grew up in 1980’s Ireland, in love with the music of the era, and the soundtrack features a sensational selection from The Cure, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, A-Ha, Spandau Ballet, and The Jam, and dead-on instant classics from Carney and composer Gary Clark. Carney knows that when your feelings get too big for the song, you have to dance. When they get bigger than that, you have to make a music video. And when you desperately want to reach someone who is irresistible but apparently unobtainable, you just have to start a band.

It’s about more than music; it’s about how to respond to the toughest challenges life throws you, adolescence being just one of them. Music in this film performs the same function that the depiction of emotions did for a younger child in Pixar’s “Inside Out.” As Riley did in that film, Conor comes to understand how sadness and happiness need each other. And, after all, there’s no better place to combine them than a rock song.

As the movie opens, Conor is writing song lyrics based on the bitter fight his parents are having on the other side of the wall. They are having financial problems, which means Conor will have to transfer to a less expensive school. And they have run out of patience with one another and are close to splitting up. His new school is much rougher than his old one, both the teachers and the students. Across the street, though, there is a girl. She’s a year older than he is, which in teenage and gender years means that she is infinitely more sophisticated. Her name is Raphina (Lucy Boynton). When she says she is a model, he impulsively invites her to be in his music video (he has just seen Duran Duran’s seminal music video for “Rio”). When she says she might, he realizes that now he has to start a band.

With guidance from his older brother (a terrific Jack Reynor), who gives him albums to listen to and tells him to seize the moment, Conor puts together a band. The combination of the gritty reality of recession-era Dublin and the purity of the kids’ passion for what they are doing is just the right setting for the kinds of emotion that only rock and roll can express.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language and a racist term, smoking by adults and teenagers, drug use, some bullies and violence, and some sexual references including sexual abuse.

Family discussion: Why did Conor say he was a futurist? How did he respond to being bullied?

If you like this, try: “Once,” “School of Rock,” “The Commitments,” “Billy Elliot,” “Pirate Radio,” “We are the Best,” and the music of the 80’s

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DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Musical School Stories about Teens

Everybody Wants Some!!

Posted on March 31, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, drug use and some nudity
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 1, 2016

Copyright Annapurna Films 2016
Copyright Annapurna Films 2016
“Everybody Wants Some!!,” the “spiritual sequel” to Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, is so much fun that it is easy to overlook how sweet it is and how smart it is. Those who are hoping for the same combination of slightly smug nostalgia, outrageous partying, smart, self-aware characters including at least one who is older than the others but prefers to hang out with teenagers, almost no grown-ups, and a superbly curated soundtrack will find all of that. Like “Dazed and Confused,” the title comes from a rock song with some smokin’ guitar licks, this one, two exclamation points and all, by Van Halen. But this film is subtler, more ambitious, heir not just to “Dazed and Confused” but also to Linklater’s impressionistic, existentialist film “Waking Life,” and even to his “Before” trilogy as well.

As in the earlier film, the time period is compressed. “Dazed and Confused” took place on the last day of high school. “Everybody Wants Some!!” takes place on the weekend before classes start at an unnamed Texas college. It opens with freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) driving to school in a convertible, blasting — of course — “My Sharona.” Welcome to 1980.

Jake is about to move into the house set aside for the members of the school’s baseball team, nationally ranked and the heroes of the school. (Linklater played college baseball for two years at Sam Houston State University.) As soon as he arrives and introduces himself to his new teammates, the dynamic that plays out through the rest of the film is established. These guys are athletes, so they are very competitive as individuals but also very aware that in order to be successful as a team they have to be competitive in a way that helps the team. Linklater and his exceptional young cast, all of whom had to audition both for acting and for ability to play baseball, perfectly capture the endless jockeying for position combined with an instinctive teamwork based on constant assessment of one another. They use a made-up word I can’t quote here to describe the way their physical and verbal interaction combines one-upmanship and more benign getting-to-know-you high spirits, both instinctively team building.

Not much happens in the movie, at least on the surface. The guys hang out and talk. There’s a ping pong game, some locker room hijinks, ingestion of various mood-altering substances, and of course a lot of discussion about and pursuit of the ladies. This leads them to several different venues and it is a lot of fun to see them adapt (including changes of clothes) as they go from a disco to a “kicker” (country music) bar, to a punk performance and finally a costume party given by the drama students.

But this is not the usual college comedy, thankfully avoiding the usual humiliation and clunky life lessons. The incoming freshmen are (mostly) smart, self-aware, and curious. The women (mostly) are not significant enough to merit much in the way of personality or storyline, and the male characters may tend to objectify or exploit them but the movie does not. They are smart, capable, looking for a good time, and self-aware, and the one we spend time with (Zoey Deutch, in a lovely performance as a drama student named Beverly) has a walk-and-talk (and float) conversation with Jake that reminds us this is a film from the writer/director of “Before Sunrise.”

The entire cast is superb, especially Jenner (“The Glee Project”), Wyatt Russell (“22 Jump Street”) as a transferring senior with a taste for philosophy and weed, Glenn Powell (“Expendables 3”) as the smooth-talking Finnigan, and J. Quinton Johnson as Dale, who is willing to explain to the newcomers what is going on.

Not much seems to be happening as the characters go from one party to another, but it does in fact cover a surprising range of ideas with a great deal of insight. It is a “spiritual sequel” in literal terms, if not grappling with then at least pondering the meaning of existence and the existence of meaning. The utterly perfect final shot brings that home perfectly.

As the characters keep changing their clothes to fit in at each venue, they ask themselves whether they are pretending or adapting. Jake talks about how each of them had always been the best baseball player at home, only to come to college and share a team with an entire group of best players. The guys think about who they are and what their goals are (hey, it’s a college movie; you know what their goal is, but there’s more there, too).

It takes place over a few days but Linklater’s perspective on existence, meaning, and the passage of time is subtly interwoven between the bong hits and the hitting of various balls. As the young baseball players reckon with their future prospects (and dream up a possible scout for the pros who could be hiding anywhere), they and we know that, like the movie itself, their time playing baseball is brief, and that’s all the more reason to enjoy the show.

NOTE: Stay through the credits to see a delightful musical number created by the cast

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, extensive partying with drinking and drugs, sexual references and situations, and nudity.

Family discussion: Did the guys’ competition with each other help or hurt the team? What are the biggest differences between what went on here and what would happen today?

If you like this, try: “Dazed and Confused,” “Waking Life,” and “Before Sunset” from the same writer/director

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Exclusive Clip: Jedi Junior High

Posted on November 17, 2015 at 10:40 pm

A bunch of junior high kids decide to put on a “Star Wars” musical in this adorable documentary, Jedi Junior High.

It is available today on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo and VUDU, as well as On Demand with AT&T, Charter, Comcast, Cox, DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and Vubiquity.

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The Peanuts Movie

Posted on November 5, 2015 at 5:26 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some tense scenes of anxiety, hurt feelings, and shyness, some mild action scenes and peril (Snoopy’s flying ace battles)
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 6, 2015
Date Released to DVD: February 29, 2016 ASIN: B018WXLHVM

I admit that I approached this film with some of the same trepidation Charlie Brown approaches the football, knowing Lucy’s history of pulling it out of the way at the last second. I’m a fan of Charles Schultz’s original comic strip and fond of many of the animated specials and features that were careful to preserve the simplicity of his aesthetic. I was concerned that a more fully-animated version (in 3D!) would drown out the gentle storylines. But Schulz’s family has been careful to preserve his legacy. The script is co-written by his son and grandson and is timed to appear on the 65th anniversary of the strip and the 50th anniversary of the classic “Charlie Brown Christmas” special. And Blue Sky (which made the “Ice Age” and “Rio” movies) understands the material and its audiences — the older generations who are attached to the original version and today’s children, who are new to these characters.

The brightly colored, rounded figures were easier to get used to than I feared. The iconic details — Charlie Brown’s yellow shirt with the brown zigzag (it turns out he has a whole closetful) and wisps of hair are familiarly iconic. It’s not a period piece but there is a timeless quality. Phones are corded landlines. We never see a laptop and no one ever checks Google or GPS. Indeed, one of the most important items in the story is a pencil. It has glitter and a feather decorating it, but it also has the teeth marks of its sometimes nervous owner, and that is something you won’t find on a smartphone.

The movie does not commit any serious blunders. There are pleasant moments and welcome echoes of the past, but it does not justify its existence by adding anything of value to the canon already available. The first and best of the television specials, A Charlie Brown Christmas, is less than half an hour long, but it has more wit, charm, poignancy, than this feature film, and it includes one of the most beautiful holiday songs ever written, the piercingly bittersweet Christmastime is Here. In almost two hours, this film has time for just a snippet, to make room for inferior contemporary pop songs. A joke about “merch” seems ill-advised given the strip’s history of selling its characters for everything from insurance to toothbrushes.

The film begins promisingly, with Schroder playing the studio’s theme music on his piano and an immersive soft, gentle snowfall. It’s the most joyous day of the year — a snow day — and we meet the characters as they wake up and choose the winter activities they most enjoy. Charlie Brown decides it is a good time for him to try the kite again, figuring that the “kite-eating tree” will be out of commission in winter. It does not go well. Once school is back in session, a new student arrives, a girl with red hair, and Charlie Brown is smitten — and terrified. How can he impress her?

The Schulzes are true to the spirit of the original. We squirm with Charlie Brown as he agonizes over his insecurity, especially when he is faced with a dilemma at the school talent show and when he is awarded an honor it turns out he did not deserve. The sections with Snoopy’s Red Baron fantasy are of less interest and appeal and the 3D effects and the talents of top-tier musical stars (Trombone Shorty playing the “waa waas” for the adult voices and Kristen Chenoweth as Snoopy’s daring aviatrix love interest) are underused. The best use of this film is as an introduction to the classic television specials — and the original comic strips that inspired them.

Parents should know that this film includes some tense scenes of anxiety, hurt feelings, and shyness, and some mild action scenes and peril (Snoopy’s flying ace battles).

Family discussion: Which character is most like your friends? Which would you most want to be like? Why don’t we hear the grown-up voices?

If you like this, try: The Peanuts comic strip collections and the television specials.

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The Breakfast Club — 30 Years Later

Posted on February 20, 2015 at 3:43 pm

Copyright Universal 1985
Copyright Universal 1985

“The Breakfast Club,” is one of the best of the John Hughes films about teenagers. No American filmmaker portrayed the lives of contemporary teenagers with as much affection, sensitivity, and understanding as Hughes, with Molly Ringwald the very best of his favorite group of actors. In The Breakfast Club, five high school kids spend a Saturday in detention. In the highly stratified world of high school, each of them is in a different group and no other circumstance would bring them together. There is the popular girl (Ringwald), the rebel (Judd Nelson), the jock (Emilio Estevez), the nerd (Anthony Michael Hall), and the loner (Ally Sheedy). Forced to spend time in the same room, they argue, insult each other, and then confide in each other more honestly than they could feel comfortable doing with the people they think of as part of their group of friends. It has become such a classic that it played a crucial part in the recent hit “Pitch Perfect.”  The cast of “Glee” paid tribute as well. And the movie is referred to in the opening moments of today’s new high school movie, “The DUFF.”

Molly Ringwald talked to Time Magazine about her thoughts three decades later.

There really hasn’t been anything to replace it. It’s kind of a classic because it all takes place in the one day, so there’s just one wardrobe. There were less chances for it to look incredibly dated. The theme is something that is still really relevant today, which is that no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, everyone kind of feels the same, which is that they don’t belong. And that’s a sort of powerful theme.

On the other hand, she notes, if the breakfast club met today, the kids would not talk to each other. They would be too busy texting.

E! has a list of “Breakfast Club” quotes that still ring true today.  And critic Christy Lemire revisited the film and found it held up pretty well, even though she now sees it as a critic and a mother, rather than a contemporary of the characters.

I’m happy to report that, three decades later, “The Breakfast Club” remains timeless. It still reflects the narcissistic torment of teen angst: the feeling that nobody understands what you’re going through (certainly not your parents) and that your troubles are all-encompassing and insurmountable. It’s still consistently funny and endlessly quotable. Hughes had an unparalleled knack for writing teenagers — hyper-verbal characters full of self-aware, sharp humor who were also capable of making themselves vulnerable and revealing their hearts. It’s paced beautifully and moves seamlessly in tone from light moments to heavier ones.

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