MOVIE BUFF-ET: Sing Street a familiar story told charmingly well

Courtesy The Weinstein Company

If you ever did something crazy to grab the attention of a girl, or found yourself oddly attracted to a boy for a reason that you just can’t quite explain or bonded with friends in forming a band, then Sing Street might be the right diversion from the waves of action movies that will keep sweeping through theaters throughout the summer.

Sing Street is a little movie with a big ol’ romantic heart whose charms are difficult to resist, especially for someone who came of age when John Hughes’ dramedies ruled 1980s cineplexes next to action films featuring the likes of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Norris.

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Sing Street is not as slick as Hughes’ teen oeuvre, but the grit serves Irish writer-director John Carney’s film well as he spins an off-told tale that’s made infectious by the performances of Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boyton as well as the music and dress from a period in the 1980s when when MTV ran music videos 24/7.

Walsh-Peelo, who bares a resemblance to a young Paul McCartney, plays Conor, a Dublin teenager who has to move from a posh private school to a free state-school, Synge Street CBS, when his father’s architecture practice falls on hard times.

As the new kid, Conor becomes a quick target of a bur-cut, ginger bully who terrorizes younger and smaller kids at the school by forcing them to dance in the restroom with their pants around their knees. If that’s no bad enough, the head of the school Brother Martin forces Conor to go to class barefooted for not complying with the school’s black-shoe-only dress code.

As tough as things become at school, thing are almost as bad for him at home as his parents’ marriage becomes more and more strained. Conor, his older, stoner brother Brenden (Jake Reynor) and sister Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) take refuge in music and videos of groups like Duran, Duran, Adam Ant and Hall and Oates.

Brendon is actually the connoisseur and more talented musician in the family, with Conor only taking a passing interest until his mouth gets ahead of him while trying to impress a gorgeous girl, Raphina (Boyton), whom he notices standing on the steps across the street from his school.

Before he knows it, Conor has not only told Raphina he’s a singer in a band, but also invited her to play a key role in a video the band’s shooting. With his reputation with Raphina on the line, Conor and his new pipsqueak buddy Darren (Ben Carolan) go about putting together a band.

Silly and fanciful? Absolutely, but it’s also great fun.

The band comes together around talented multi-instrumentalist Eamon (Mark McKenna). When the two begin to write songs together, Conor finds that he has a knack for lyrics, which Eamon deftly composes around. The band actually turns out to be very good, playing songs written for the film by Carney and song-writing partner Gary Clark.

Raphina comes away impressed by the boys when she shows up for the video shoot; however, even in a movie, it’s not the easy for Conor to woo the older girl of dreams. Like all attractive 16-year-old girls, Raphina has an older boyfriend, who’s promised to take her to London to help her begin a modeling career.

While the plot is so familiar, there is depth in the details as Carney gives us more insight into Conor’s family with moving scenes between Walsh-Peelo and Reynor as brothers. Both actors bear watching in the future. Walsh-Peelo has star potential. Boynton’s performance is subtle in a less detailed role, but the camera loves her whether she’s made up in ‘80s garb or dressed down with little to no makeup.

The climax of the film comes when Conor’s band Sing Street plays a dance at his school, featuring a song aimed at taking Brother Martin down a peg or two. But the question is will or won’t Raphina show for the performance?

Sing Street is ultimately a familiar story told charmingly well. It’s easily the best date-night movie currently in theaters.

Grade: A

Classic Corner

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

If you need an escape from the current state of the national political scene, why not take a trip back to a simpler time? How about to 1939, one of the greatest years for movies Hollywood ever experienced? Gone With the Wind almost swept the Oscars that year, but Frank Capra’s ode to the best intentions of our founding fathers, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, garnered 11 nominations and won Best Writing for an Original Story.

The film is one of Capra’s best movies and features one of Jimmy Stewart’s best performances. That’s saying a lot in both cases. Jean Arthur, Claude Rains and Edward Arnold also give standout performances among a cast filled with familiar faces to old-timey movie fans.

Stewart plays Jefferson Smith a wide-eyed local activist who runs a children’s newspaper. He is picked to be the stooge for a political machine when it needs replace a senator who died in office.

When Smith arrives in Washington, Stewart is naïve and overwhelmed by the monumental honor and task set before him, but he’s not weak or corrupt as his home-state political machine soon finds out as he mounts a filibuster to make sure his state finds out how corrupt its elected officials really are. One good man stands up to fight for what’s right despite the crushing power of his opposition.

Yes, it’s Capra corn, but it sure is tasty.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

If the names John Ford, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne mean anything to you, pilgrim, then you have a clue of just how strong of a movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is.

The 1962 film was the first pairing of Stewart and Wayne on screen. Both men were in their early 50s, but playing much younger characters in the key flashback portion of the film. The flashback details how Stewart’s character Ransom “Ranse” Stoddard became a local legend and eventually a U.S. senator based on a reputation earned in a shootout after Stoddard moved west to start a law practice.

After standing up to Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), Stoddard, a man who doesn’t believe in wearing a gun, becomes a target of the outlaw. Tom Doniphon (Wayne) takes up for Stoddard, but has little respect for the “pilgrim” who becomes a rival of his for the affections of Hallie (Vera Miles).

A grudging respect builds between Ranse and Tom as both fight for the advancement of the territory to statehood. Tom knows that the way of the gun that he and Valance live by must make way for the progress that Ranse, who established a school to teach children and adults how to read, embodies in his civilized ways. The two philosophies come to a head in streets with Valance and Ranse squaring off with pistols outside one of the local watering holes.

The supporting cast adds additional layers to the film with fine character turns by the likes of Willy Strode, Andy Devine, Edmond O’Brien, Lee Van Cleef, Strother Martin, Denver Pyle, and John Carradine.

The movie contains the quintessential line from O’Brien’s newspaperman, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

That line just about sums up the mythology of the Old West as propagated by American films of the golden era.