Thursday 14 December 2017

Movie reviews: Sing Street - a durable blossom in Irish cinema's current purple patch

Cert: 12A. Now showing

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boynton in John Carney's 'Sing Street'.
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boynton in John Carney's 'Sing Street'.

Hilary A White

Between Once (2007) and Begin Again (2013), director John Carney has shown that when it comes to dramatising music's power in bringing an emotional vocabulary to our lives, he's the best in the business.

Sing Street, however, marks a considerable hike in the serotonin levels of the Dubliner's oeuvre and will become forever known as one of Irish cinema's resounding feel-good staples. Unashamedly 80s-nostalgic and positioning itself somewhere between The Commitments' salt-of-the-earth Dublin beat and a John Hughes teen romance, it leaves a joyous, soft-centred taste in the mouth.

Conor (newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) stands out like a sore thumb when his parents (Maria Doyle Kennedy and Aidan Gillen) move him to the inner-city Synge Street Christian Brothers school. Distraction arrives in the form of the lovely but cool Raphina (Lucy Boynton). To get her attention, he does what boys have always done to win a fair lady: he starts a band.

Up goes the notice board ad and soon a gas crew of young misfit musicians (all unknown actors) is assembled. At home, meanwhile, Conor is schooled in the musical canon by stoner brother Brendan (Jack Reynor, on fire). Fashion senses and musical styles evolve in tandem as the soundtrack to Conor's life (Duran Duran, Hall and Oates, The Cure) harmonises with his changing romantic fortunes. A glorious and irresistible teenage dreamscape opens up before our eyes.

It'd be nothing if Carney didn't slow the rhythm and let the pulse of young love, and indeed brotherly love, shine through. Between this and the soundtrack - penned by Carney and Gary Clark - expect to be charmed to tears between the bellylaughs.

A classic, and yet another durable blossom in Irish cinema's current purple patch. 5 Stars


Club. Now showing

There are plenty, if limited, laughs in the concept of a bored, wealthy woman obsessed with the notion of becoming an opera singer and oblivious to the fact that she is essentially tone deaf. This is the scenario Xavier Giannoli presents in this story set in 1921, just outside Paris. Marguerite (Catherine Frot) is middle aged and childless, enormously wealthy and clearly deluded. A member of an opera club, the members regularly come to her home to avail of her hospitality and laugh at her recitals. Her husband (André Marcon) is mortified by her but refuses to tell her the truth. He is having an affair, and the wealth is his wife's not his own. When a journalist (Sylvain Dieuaide) writes a glowing review of one of her recitals and makes a project of Marguerite, she is given the confidence to put on a full-scale public show. Her complicated butler Madelbos (Denis M'Punga) ensures the co-operation of fading opera star Pezzini (Michel Fau) and preparations begin.

Giannoli, who directs, and co-writes with Marcia Romano, takes the obvious humour in her delusion and everyone else's greed and finds, along with excellent performances all round, layers of human complication. Everyone wants something, everyone needs to be something. It's especially good on how and why we motivate and excuse ourselves. The film looks beautiful. Although it is a little too long, the emotional richness is skilfully delivered and it will stay with you for a long time after the final credits. 4 Stars

Aine O'Connor


Cert: 16. Now showing

Anyone suspicious about a world order that keeps vast chunks of society in need will be intrigued by Ben Wheatley's version of JG Ballard's novel (the screenplay is by Amy Jump). Although the novel was written in 1975, just before the beginning of Thatcherism in Britain, it remains pertinent, and there is far more to enjoy in this stylish film than its socio-economic message.

It begins with Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), the newest resident of the skyscraper, a mini society designed and presided over by the mysterious Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), the architect who designed the building as "a crucible for change". The audience learns the system under which the mini society works at the same time Laing does. His good looks, creepy charm and medical knowledge have got him in with residents from all levels of the building, especially the women, among them Charlotte (Sienna Miller), Ann (Keeley Hawes) and Helen (Elizabeth Moss). And all the while events unfold to reveal trouble in this new world, a class system that breeds tribalism.

The film looks great thanks to Mark Tildesley, sounds great thanks to Clint Mansell, and Hiddleston and Irons are especially good. It's sharp, funny and quite wild, although what happens to the dog will upset more sensibilities than the sex scenes. It loses shape a little in the middle, but regains it for the finale. And although a couple of performances are overcooked, all in all this is an engaging and stunning watch. 4 Stars

Aine O'Connor


Cert: PG. Now showing

One minute, the lion is eating the zebra on BBC. The next, they're jiving to hip-hop in some animation blockbuster. Zootropolis, a bright and mostly brilliant stand-aloner from Disney, won't teach food-chain dynamics to kids but it will show them and (vitally) their parents a good time.

Mammals are in charge in this primary-coloured world where wolf and lamb have evolved and live peacefully without Darwinian constraint. Plucky bunny Judy (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) wants to escape her meek rural life and join the police. She holds her own with its fuming buffalo chief (Idris Elba) but is placed on traffic duty. There, she discovers a lead in a string of carnivore kidnappings with help from scam-artist fox Nick (Jason Bateman), pictured below left. Writer Jared Bush and co-directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore are unrelenting with the sharp-as-a-tack humour, which in places - the glacial reg-office sloths - is wickedly inspired. Every shred of wit is gleaned from the cast, all of whom are rendered uncannily expressive and respond slickly to any pop culture references (The Godfather, Breaking Bad) flung at them. 4 Stars

Hilary A White

10 Cloverfield Lane

Cert: 15A. Now showing 

Dan Trachtenberg's 2011 sci-fi short Portal: No Escape hummed with a charged mystique that saw a woman wake up in a strange cell and have to figure her way out of it. A similar spirit is at work in 10 Cloverfield Lane, his feature debut, albeit with a wider arsenal of resources to hand.

There's a boldness to this mystery-thriller that makes it very hard to write about without spoilers.

There are bluffs and double bluffs, and just when you think you're getting a handle on it, the script by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Whiplash whizz Damien Chazelle does a handbreak turn.

Brooding, finely observed dramatic tension vies with pantomime, and yet it feels like part of a grander plan.

A Hitchcockian intro sees a woman packing hastily and fleeing her apartment into an uncertain night.

This tale's Janet Leigh is Michelle (played by a marvellous Mary Elizabeth Winstead). After her vehicle crashes, she awakes in an underground bunker chained to a pipe but receiving medical treatment. She's released by Howard (an imposing John Goodman) into his comfy, well-stocked refuge that he shares with fellow lodger Emmett (John Gallagher Jr).

She is told by Howard that they cannot leave as Earth is under siege and it is too dangerous. Michelle's not so sure.

Produced by JJ Abrams and piggybacking on his overrated 2008 actioner Cloverfield, Trachtenberg's outing is taut, slippery and tremendous value for money. Winstead is all doe-eyed grit right up to and beyond the film's final detonations. 4 Stars

Hilary A White

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