Sing Street (2016)

Sing Street is the latest film from John Carney, director/writer of Once and Begin Again. This is the other musical which was nominated for a Golden Globe this year. Once again focusing on music but this time in the 80s in Ireland. We have a story of a boy who starts a band to impress a girl. Spoilers to follow.

The film begins at a family meeting where we meet Lawlor’s who are on hard time so they take their youngest son Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and place him in a free state-school, Synge Street CBS, run by the Christian Brothers. Conor’s older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor) rubs this in, joking about pedophilia, but also laments about the state of the family which is in a rocky state. On Conor’s first day at school he runs into trouble with the school principal, Brother Baxter, who reprimands him for not wearing black shoes as indicated in the school dress code, Conor also run into the school bully. This leads Conor to met a budding entrepreneur Darren (Ben Carolan), who has also been bullied and Conor and Darren become friends. The next morning or so meeting up before school Conor ask Darren who the girl across the street is, Darren doesn’t so Conor goes over and talks with her, she’s an aspiring model named Raphina (Lucy Boyton) Conor asks her if she wants to be in a music video for his band, she agrees.

The only problem is that there is no band. Conor and Darren go about assembling a band from the school.  They start with Eamon (Mark McKenna) a multi-instrumentalist, who has all these instruments around, and round out the group with the black guy in school, and two other guys who sort of are just there to fill out the band. As they get together they begin as a cover band but after Conor brings a recording of the band for Brendan to listen to, and Brendan isn’t a huge fan as they are just a cover band and cover bands are a dime a dozen. This inspires Conor to begin writing his own music and with Eamon’s help they are pretty good at it as well. After the first song is written they film a video and Raphina shows up. With each new song the band’s style evolves while Conor and Raphina get close at the same time Conor’s home life implodes. However, the closer they get Raphina seems all to motivated to leave for London to become a famous model and one day she leaves. Conor is heart broken and can’t write or play music but Brendan inspires him to write so someone can get out of this place. Will Conor write or ever see Raphina again.

If you have a brother this is a wonderful movie to watch, even if you don’t have one or you are one it tells a timeless story of love and family. Fans of the music of the 1980s should give it a look as well as those who have enjoyed other John Carney’s movies I hope that you take the time to watch the film.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Rogue One marks the beginning of the deep probing of everything Star Wars to decide what essentially makes good movies and television shows. This film although not connected to the main series Episodes I-IX, it is pretty closely connected, expanding on things that we know are going to happen and elaborate a bit more on some lore.  Disney and Lucasfilm will be doing this over the next at least 4 years with a saga film (VIII) coming in 17, a Han Solo movie in 18, followed by IX in 19 and another new spinoff film in 2020 (Obi Wan, Ahsoka, Boba Fett, Yoda?) Spoilers to follow.

We all know where the story is going most is not all these characters will be dead by the end of this film and they are going to be getting the Death Star plans. As the end of the film has us on Tantive VI escaping just barely from Darth Vader. It ends like 10 minutes before A New Hope begins so it adds some urgency to the beginning of A New Hope.  The film begins fifteen years before the Battle of Yavin (BBY) this is how the Timeline of Star Wars works. We met the Erso family Galen, Lyra and Jyn as Krennic comes to being Galen back to work on the Death Star. Galen and Lyra tell Jyn to go off and hie and wait.  Lyra is killed and Galen agrees to come with Krennic. Jyn is rescued by Saw Gerrera ( a character from the animated Clone Wars series). Time shifts fifteen years Jyn (Felicity Jones) is broken out of an Imperial Prison camp by the Rebels, because there has been a message brought by a defecting pilot from her father to Saw Gerrera. Cassian Andor and his droid K-2SO go along to “help” Jyn, as they need her to talk with Saw Gerrera to get the pilot. On the moon Jedha, thought to be the location of first Jedi Temple due to the abundance of Kyber Crystals which are used in lightsabers and also in the Death Star, Jyn and Cassian meet up with guardians of the Wills Monks of the Church of the Force. They get brought to Saw and Jyn sees the hologram message where we learn that Galen has put in a hidden weakness into the Death Star and the plans are in the Imperial archives at Scarif.  This is a cool battle as it takes place on the beach.

There are a bunch of cool things in the movie from some Classic characters showing up,Jimmy Smits show up as Bail Organa, Chopper and The Ghost from Rebels are both in the film. Gizmodo/Io9 complied a whole list of these you might have missed it connections. If you like Star Wars this is something you will enjoy. It will tide you over until next year’s installment of the Saga film.

Paddington (2014)

Paddington is the movie about the famous bear from the Paddingtion Bear books. Now I remember the cartoon from the 80s and the books, but when this film came out I wasn’t sure it was going to be good especially with Colin Firth, originally cast as Paddington,  being dropped so late in the production. Spoilers to follow.

The film begins with a newsreel about an expedition to darkest Peru, where the explorer meets a unique clan of bears, the explorer befriends the bears and teaches them all about London and Marmalade. As the explorer leaves for London he promises that there will always been a warm home for them in London. Years later in Peru we meet Paddington living with his Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo, it’s marmalade day and they are busy throughout the day but that evening an earthquake comes and destroys their home. Aunt Lucy goes to live in the home for retired and sends her nephew to London, after they can’t find Uncle Pastuzo. Paddington stows away on a ship with a lot of marmalade and when he gets to London goes and waits in a train station, like children during WWII did. Here is where the Brown family meet him and they name the little bear Paddington, after the station where they found him. Paddington wants to find the explorer who came to Peru and the Brown family helps him. We all basically know where the story is going, Paddington will eventually end up with the Brown family but it sure is a fun journey to get there.

Around the world this film has been met with praise. Sure, it’s a gentle parable about xenophobia, but it doesn’t hit you over the head with it over and over again. If you have kids coming over for the Holidays this is something to watch, it’s great for the whole family as well.

 

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

In Captain America: Civil War the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I have seen we are treated with something that should have been called Avenger 2.5. It deals with the consequences of the events in Age of Ultron.  Spoilers to follow.

The film begins in 1991 with Bucky killing Iron Man’s parents and stealing some Super solider serum for Hydra. Then we return a year after the events in the last Avengers movie the Avengers are confronted by the World saying that there needs to be some sort of agency behind the organization, as when the Avengers show up there is going to be a big mess to clean up. As after their latest mission they accidentally blow up a building and kill several civilians.  This is the Sokovia Accords, where  a UN panel will over see and control the team. This idea causes friction between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark as Tony is all for the oversight and Steve wants the independence. At the signing of the Accords Bucky or so we are lead to believe sets off a bomb and all hell break loose. Captain America and Falcon go off and with the help of Agent 13 (Sharon Carter) locate Bucky Barnes, the Winter Solider, since they want to help Bucky. Cap and Falcon get some help from Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye and Ant-man. Stark on the other side want Bucky in custody, so he get the UN approval to set up his own group with War Machine, Vision, T’Challa (The Black Panther), Spiderman and Black Widow although she doesn’t really care who wins and help Cap and Bucky get away at the airport. So they go after the bad guys what’s his name, Baron Zemo, who wore a Bucky mask when he planted the bomb. He also found a video tape of Bucky killing Tony’s parents which Tony watches. Tony, Steve and Bucky get into a big fight. This film really does nothing as several people have pointed out it is basically Batman V Superman all over again it’s a weak story with an even weaker reason behind the fight.

It’s been 13 film so if you’ve been watching you are stuck currently as there doesn’t seem to be any end until at least the Untitled Avengers movie in 2019 or 20. If this story was told over several films it would have had a better impact overall there was just not enough time for Tony and Steve disagreement to really matter. So it seems like the Secret Avengers are a thing with Cap and his crew perhaps now living on the Raft,  while Tony and the Avengers with UN oversight will be the Avengers. Since it seems like everyone who has ever been in one of these MCU films will be back fro the Avengers 3 and 4. If you haven’t watched any of the Marvel movies good for you,  but don’t start now as you have a lot to catch up on before really understanding what’s going on. I mean I’ve seen them all and am still a bit confused as to why things happened.

Jedi Junior High (2014)

Jedi Junior High has got to be the coolest movie I’ve seen this month. Jedi Junior High is a documentary about the production of a musicalized version of The Empire Strikes Back with kids in California. Back in 2009 at the Arts & Learning Center in Costa Mesa they came up with an audacious idea make a musical version of Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back. This is a clever thing as it is something that would attract boy and girls. The documentary talks about the importance of children exploring the world of theater and how it can turn awkward kid a bit less awkward. As far as the musical aspects they took already written Showtunes and changes the lyrics to make it more “Star Wars-y”. sort of like how The Simpsons had “Luck be a Lady” turn into “Luke be a Jedi tonight”. Now the sad part is that we don’t get to see the whole show which would have been awesome. If you are a fan of Star Wars and musical theater this is a must watch. A clever thing is at the end we go back to some of the kids featured in the movie and hear about how they have changed in the four years since doing the show.

Andrei Rublev (1966)

Andrei Rublev is an autobiographical film from Andrei Tarkovsky, it tells the story of the famous 15th century Russian icon painter. I watched this movie because it is often on the list of top ten movie of all time and even the Vatican has it on their list of great films to celebrate the centennial of film back in 1995. Tarkovsky main goal was to make a realistic portrayal of medieval Russia as well as making Andrei a world-historic figure and places Christianity as an axiom of Russia’s historical identity. This is surprising to see from Communist Russia. Spoiler to follow.

Andrei Rublev tells a story loosely based on the life of the famed monk. The film is a collection of eight vignettes with a prologue and epilogue which seem unconnected to the narrative of the film. The film begins with a hot air balloon flight for some reason. The story actually begins after we see the first title card The Jester where we meet three monks Andrei, Daniil, and Kirill who are traveling looking for work as artists. It starts to rain and they take shelter. We learn that Kirill is jealous of the talent that Andrei has since Kirill isn’t that talented as an artist compared to Andrei. The film is an interesting look at Russia, the middle ages are a time period that we don’t see many movies that aren’t about knights. Here we have the Tartar conflict being depicted. The film is in black and white and doesn’t show any art until the epilogue which is in color. This make a nice reflection on the whole concept of art and what it is. The whole film we hear characters talk about it but it isn’t until the end where we see it.

If you are interested in checking out a good art film this is for you. Sure it’s in Russian and is pretty long but we are offered a unique spiritual experience by watching this film and we learn a bit about Andrei Rublev and 15th century Russia. It is a different film, and wasn’t what I expected it to be.

The God of Cookery (1996)

Alton Brown has called The God of Cookery one of his favorite films about food and is even featured in his food on film festival November 12 and 13 in NYC. This is how I first heard about the film and when I discovered that it was on Netflix I forget about getting ticket and traveling to New York and just watched it.  The God of Cookery is a kung fu comedy food movie made in Hong Kong by Stephen Chow, who would go on to make Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.  Spoilers to follow.

The film beings with “The God of Cookery” Stephen Chow, a washed up celebrity chef, in the gutter ordering assorted noodles from a food stall. When he gets the dish he dissects the meal noticing all the faults in it. This leads to a flashback when he was “The God of Cookery” where we learn he was a corrupt celebrity chef who knows nothing about cooking but he runs a successful business empire. However at the opening of his 50th restaurant Chow is exposed as a fraud by his business partner and understudy Bull Tong.  After this Bull takes the title of God of Cookery. We return to the gutters where Chow is dissecting the noodle dish and food cart owner, Turkey. However after getting beaten by thugs for pan handling Turkey takes pity on Chow and gives him a bowl of barbecue pork on rice with an egg.  Chow likes the dish. The calm is soon interrupted as another street vendor comes to “discuss”(have a gang fight) which vendor can make which dish. Chow convinces them to combine the two dishes into one making Pissing Beef Balls. These become a hit.  This has Bull and the business partner antsy and after running into Chow one day as Chow has the chance to become the God of Cookery again at the next contest in a month. Chow plans to go to culinary school and Bull plans to kill Chow.

This leads Chow to a Shaolin monastery where it turns out that Bull as trained as well. As The God of Cookery contest is about to begin Chow shows up at the last minute. The contest is sort of a parody of Iron Chef, the hit cooking show from Japan in the 90s. Chow and Bull are deemed to be the only true competitors at the contest by the judge. As they both begin making the same dish it become interesting as to who will win, however Bull and the business partner have a bomb hidden in one of Chow’s pots and they blow it up ruining his first attempt so with like three minutes left Chow make the bowl of barbecue pork on rice with an egg. As the judge eats the food she adores the dish prepared by Chow however she is being blackmailed by Bull so that he can retain the title of “God of Cookery”. At this ruling Chow says that there is no one God of Cookery as whoever cooks with heart is a God of Cookery. The heavens open up and judgment is dolled out.

It’s a fun story as when you think of Kung fu and cooking you don’t think comedy but here it is and it works real well. If you’ve like other films by Stephen Chow or are a fan of food you might like this one as well.

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

The Little Shop of Horrors is the B-movie that the musical Little Shop of Horrors is based. It is one of the first films Jack Nicholson was ever in as he was in several of Roger Corman’s other B-movie. According to Turner Classic Movies this film was made in the week between Christmas and New Year’s in 1959 and was filmed on the set of another movie, just redressed. Spoilers to follow.

The movie is set up completely different from the musical as in the film’s narrator is a police officer who worked on the missing person case. The other big difference in Seymour’s mother. In the film she is a hypochondriac and is missing from the stage musical.  The film begins in Gravis Mushnick’s flower shop with a bumbling Seymour and simple Audrey who work there. We meet three regulars the neighborhood funeral home owner? Mrs. Shiva who buys flowers daily, a guy who comes in and eats flowers for lunch daily and they get a call from the sadistic dentist who orders some flowers. Seymour messes up this order and Mushnick fires him but Seymour convinces Mushnick that if he can attract new customers by bringing in a new plant that Seymour has crossbred a butterwort and Venus flytrap, which Seymour calls Audrey Junior. We know where it goes from here Seymour accidentally gives it some blood and it perks up. Later on it starts talking and asking for more eventually this become people that Seymour feeds the plant with. The police come into the shop looking for any help in locating these missing people. Seymour is going to be honored by the Society of Silent Flower Observers of Southern California  when the plant finally blooms one evening and the faces of the missing people are in the buds and to everyone’s horror it was Seymour who runs out of the store and tries to escape the police. He eventually loses them and comes back to the shop where Seymour jumps in into the plant with a knife to kill it. That’s how the film ends. It is a different than the musical where everyone dies.

All in all it was an enjoyable film sure it won’t win any award being great but it was fun to watch especially at this time of the year when things turn toward the creepy and spooky. If you are a fan a Jack Nicholson this is something that needs to be seen at least once. TCM might play it again this month or you might have to wait till next year when the air it again.

The Mirror (1975)

Zerkalo or The Mirror is a Russian Art-House film from the mind of Andrei Tarkovsky. It is a highly regarded film and the only reason I decide to watch it was that it was on the Sight & Sound poll in 2012. It you want to watch it right away it’s on YouTube and can be found pretty easily. Spoilers might follow, perhaps.

Now this film is a bit confusing as it is a nonlinear story told by a dying man sort of reminiscing about his life. There are three specific time periods in the film the man as a child prewar (1935), an adolescent during the war (40s) and post war when he is about 40 sometime in the 60s or 70s. These era are distinct and the film also switches between color, sepia and black and white throughout, perhaps like memories. It borrows heavily from Tarkovsky’s own childhood. I find the film to be a reflection on life as a whole, sure we have the Russian elements but there is the universal commentary on life itself. The title give us the most about the film it is a reflection of life so after you watch it multiple times will get something more out of it. Perhaps this is way so many people have liked this film for so long.   Perhaps Ingmar Bergman put it the best when he said “Tarkovsky for me is the greatest (director), the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” Life is a dream and is a reflection of society as a whole. We are the mirrors for each other as we all put on our best selves for others this sound like something that Paul Dunbar says in his poem We wear the mask.

If you haven’t watched anything by Tarkovsky perhaps this isn’t the best film to begin with. I have heard Andrei Rublev and Solaris are also great films by Andrei Tarkovsky and might be better places to start as those film have plots and are coherent. However, I would highly recommend going out of your comfort zone and watching a Russian film.

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

The Hidden Fortress is one of the Kurosawa films that inspired George Lucas to make Star Wars. It’s a wonderful film that tells the story from the point of view of two peasants. These two peasants, Tahei and Matashichi (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara), are just trying to make a better life for themselves, but continue to get in their own way. The film begin with them lamenting that they went to fight with the Yamana clan but arriving late so they are though of as survivors of the Akizuki clan, who lost and are told to bury the dead, after this they split up and are both captured. They then are brought to an Akizuki Castle with a bunch of other prisoners where they are going to dig until they find the hidden Akizuki treasure. After a prison uprising Tahei and Matashichi go in the opposite direction to try to get away from the army. While gathering firewood they stumble across some Akizuki gold and find a fellow traveler (Toshiro Mifune) who has also fond some gold he is in a Hidden Fortress as well as a mute girl (Misa Uehara). However this fellow traveler is more than he seems as he is General Makabe Rokurōta who is under the task to transport the Princess Yuki Akizuki and the gold to reestablish the Akizuki Throne. There are twists and turns in the story as well and has a nice bit of humor. At the core it is a story about the compassion of humans and greed. If those things interest you check it out.

Hidden Fortress is what inspired Lucas to have Star Wars be told from the droids (C-3PO and R2-D2, and perhaps BB-8) point of view. I haven’t watch The Force Awakens enough times to make a good judgement on this idea. Hidden Fortress has the magnificent Toshiro Mifune and it is one of Akira Kurosawa’s films so those are enough reasons to see the movie. It’s a classic film and there really isn’t much to knock it for, sure you’ve got to do a bit of reading but that’s about it.