Tag Archives: Music

DVD Review: Sing Street

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Sing Street is about a band in Dublin led by Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, left) , a boy with musical dreams.

2016 was seen as a weak year for comedies, unless they were animated. Possibly the most overlooked gem of 2016 was the Irish musical comedy Sing Street. I passed it up when it first came out, but I finally saw it recently. I’m glad I did.

We see Conor Lawlor strumming his guitar in his bedroom. Conor is a 15 year-old boy living in a shabby suburb of Dublin in 1985. Right now, Ireland is going through difficult times. It’s economy has been hit hard and many young people are fleeing to the UK, most notably London, for a future. His family is also going through difficulties as his father is struggling in his architecture practice and is struggling in his marriage and drinks excessively. Because of that, Conor is taken out of his high-class Catholic school and put into an all-boys free state school in Synge Street. A move older brother Brendan objects to, knowing how terrible the priests are there.

Things don’t go well for Conor on the first day. Being the new kid, he gets bullied. On top of it, he has the principal Br. Baxter giving him a hard time because he’s wearing brown shoes instead of black shoes in the dress code. Conor does end up with a bully name Barry but he makes a new friend in Darren who has big-time entrepreneur dreams. Conor also meets a 16 year-old girl named Raphina living at the orphanage nearby the school. He learns that Raphina is a budding model who’s headed to London. Conor impresses Raphina saying he’s in a band.

Now it’s up for Conor to create the band with the help of Darren. Darren is quick to act as Conor is introduced to Eamon: an awkward looking teen with a passion for music and can play many an instrument. Conor is able to meet a local black teen who is mostly shunned away from the others and two other awkward but musically-inclined students from his school. They start out pretty flat together and create a demo tape of popular 80’s songs. Conor gives it to Brandon but he’s unimpressed. He instructs Brandon not to be a cover band but do their own original stuff. That helps Conor to meet with Eamon to compose a song about his infatuation with Raphina: The Riddle Of The Model. The boys try on various costumes for filming a video and Raphina even volunteers to be their makeup artist and ingenue.

The song and video impress Brendan, feeling they’re off to a good start. However Conor’s rocker image of dyed hair and makeup gets on the nerves of Br. Baxter who insists in turning all boys into men at the school. Baxter even grabs Conor and washes the makeup off his face in a bathroom sink with hot water. But Conor and the band are undaunted. They continue making music and Raphina even advises that Conor be known as Cosmo. Conor develops the self-confidence to stand up to school bully Barry. The romance between Raphina and Conor heat up too, despite Raphina claiming an older man is her boyfriend. Conor even talks of sailing to London with Raphina.

However things soon take a turn for the worse. Conor’s parents are on the verge of separating with the mother moving in to her new lover’s place. Plus Raphina doesn’t show up when Sing Street are shooting a Back To The Future style video for their song Drive It Like You Stole It. Raphina later revealed she was set to leave for London, but her boyfriend abandoned her. A disheartened Conor breaks up with her. The breakup affects Conor in writing new songs for the band.

However it’s Brendan who encourages him to get back with Raphina and get back into playing. It’s through Brendan’s own personal feelings of past failures that drive him to give Conor the advise. Sing Street have a chance to perform a gig at school. Conor even offers Barry a chance to become a roadie for the band to escape his abusive household. The band performs their gig to the delight of the school and a condescending Br. Baxter looking on in disappointment, but they saved the best for last. The film ends not as one would expect but one that would leave the audience happy and hopeful.

I won’t deny this is a common story you’d expect to see in a film. I’m sure the story of a person growing up in a trash-bin of a city starting a band has been done before. The thing with this story is that for a common story like this to work again, the characters have to connect with the audience. They have to make the audience want them to succeed. The film succeeds in making the audience want Conor, or should I say ‘Cosmo,’ and Sing Street to succeed. The film succeeds in making the audience want Conor win Raphina’s love. The film succeeds in making the audience want the bullying of Barry to Conor to end and for Conor to get even with Br. Baxter. The connection of Conor with the audience is one of the biggest elements of magic in this story.

It’s not just the connection of Conor with the audience. It’s the connection with Raphina too. You get a sense Raphina is the right one for Conor, despite being confused about her love to her older boyfriend. However you get a sense that Conor will win her love. Raphina believes in the band and believes in Conor. You can see it in her eyes. Also Raphina shares Conor’s dreams of leaving for London. Seeing how unpromising Ireland looked with its economic drabness back then and the people seeing the priests as ‘rapists’ leaves you sensing life would be better for the both over in London.

It’s also the connection with Brendan with the audience too. Brendan is the first character in the film outside of Conor that’s easy to like because Brendan believes in Conor’s talents. Brendan’s also the type of brother that would be honest about how Conor is doing. Even after he disses what Sing Street does at first, he will give Conor words of encouragement. He will give Conor music albums to give him a sense about what makes rock and roll. It’s Brendan’s embrace of music in both its past influences and future directions that become a huge boost for Conor. However it’s also Brendan’s past failures that we get a better understanding. We see why Brendan pushes Conor in that scene after the parents’ separation and he throws a violent fit over his past failures. Because Brendan views himself as a failure who doesn’t have a chance, so he wants Conor to chase his dreams and be the one that has what it takes to go to London. It’s easy to feel for Brendan. It’s also easy for a viewer to see their own feelings of failure and regret in Brendan too.

With this being a film about a rock and roll band, the music has to be as important as the story itself. Brendan’s embrace for music is a big quality of the film, but it has to rub off on Conor as he’s the one with the gift of music. The film gets focused on the themes of music like themes of love, themes of heartache, themes of frustration, themes of emptiness and themes of hope. We learn about the ‘happy-sad’ feeling that we all get, but may  not know it. The ‘happy-sad’ element is definitely influential in music. Now once all the themes and elements of music are put together, the film has to have catchy songs. The film succeeds in doing so with songs like Riddle Of The Model, Drive It Like You Stole It and Brown Shoes. Brown Shoes made the perfect end-number for the school show. Even music from other musicians like Duran Duran, The Cure, The Jam, and many others add to the theme of music in the film. The film is as much about music as it is about love and dreams.

Writer/director John Carney succeeds in delivering an enjoyable film to the big screen. Music has been a common theme in past films of his like Once and Begin Again. He succeeds here again in delivering a film that’s enjoyable and keeping you engaged in the story. The film featured a very good debut performance for Ferdia Walsh-Peelo who was 16 years old when this film debuted at Sundance 2016. Ferdia is actually a singer who has performed professionally as a child in Ireland for years. This is his first acting role and he does an excellent job. Lucy Boynton also did a very good job in playing Raphina. The best thing is she made Raphina appear older than she really was. Jack Reynor was also very good as Brendan. He made Brendan into a likeable character, but also made you feel for him too.

Sing Street is a musical comedy that delivers excellently. It delivers a story and characters that connect with the audience very well. It also delivers entertaining music, which is what a film about a rock and roll band should do.

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No Real Controversies In Music Nowadays. Just Excuses.

I’ll admit these controversies happened months ago.  Nevertheless I feel it’s still worth pointing out since  both topics still stimulate excitement amongst the young and both songs are still in the US Top 40.

You may have remembered that over the past four or so months there was a load of controversy over two happenings in the music business. One was Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” in terms of its lyrics. Another was the performance of Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards. Both were good at causing controversy in its time. But both wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow say twenty or even ten years ago.

 THICKE AND THIN

Robin Thicke in the unrated video fir 'Blurred Lines.' Both the song and video raised eyebrows in 2013.

Robin Thicke in the video for ‘Blurred Lines’ featuring a model in a flesh-colored suit. Both the song and video raised eyebrows in 2013.

First up is some controversy actually caused by music. This was courtesy of Robin Thicke and his song ‘Blurred Lines.’ which featured rappers Pharrell and T.I. The biggest controversy came from the video. There were two videos shot: one with the three models topless (which were actually flesh-colored G-strings) and the other with them covered. The topless version was first banned from Youtube but then restored albeit flagged as inappropriate for minors. There were even lewd messages like: “Robin Thicke has a big dick.” in the unrated version. My own problem with the video was seeing all those annoying hashtags.

Robin later commented on the controversy of the video: “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.'”  Once again, the sexist-or-satire debate came up. I’m sure all three wives, especially Paula Patton, would have their own things to say about it.

Then there were the lyrics of the song. One lyric–“I know you want it”– hinted to many of date rape, especially at many universities in the UK. The first shout came from the University Of Edinburgh and at least twelve other UK universities followed in the ban. Thicke would later defend the song, declaring the song was about his wife (actress Paula Patton), and that after 20 years together, he indeed knew she wanted it from him. Once again, the fact that the three of them were married came up in the debate.

This proved to be the most controversial song of the decade and the first in years to stir up debate. The song has hit #1 in eighteen countries including Canada, Germany, France and even the UK. In the United States, it spent twelve weeks at #1 on the Hot 100 and became the first song of the decade to do so. The song currently sits at #31 on the Hot 100.

Oh, the song has also sparked a lawsuit from Thicke after the surviving relatives accused the writers of copying the ‘sound’ and ‘feel’ of ‘Got To Give It Up.’ I find it funny because I thought it was trying to capture the ‘sound’ of ‘Stuck In The Middle With You.’

MILEY GONE VILEY

Miley Cyrus really took full advantage of the good-girl-gone-bad gimmick this year by first twerking with Robin Thicke at the VMAs...

Miley Cyrus really took full advantage of the good-girl-gone-bad gimmick this year by first twerking with Robin Thicke at the MTV VMAs…

Miley Cyrus has been a star in entertainment since 2006 when her Disney channel show Hannah Montana won over young girls nationwide and made Miley a star. The success of the show also helped start her music career. However it was later years when she tried getting records released as Miley Cyrus that she tried to disassociate herself from her former Hannah Montana label.

It wasn’t until this very year that she finally did away with her former Hannah Montana label. But in a way that made tons of news. Not surprisingly it was at the MTV Video Music Awards of this year. Surprisingly, it was along Robin Thicke with his performance of ‘Blurred Lines.’ But before Robin, Miley performed her song ‘We Can’t Stop’ in a teddy bear attire. Then once Robin performed ‘Blurred Lines,’ Miley stripped down to a skin-colored latex two-piece outfit, touched Thicke’s crotch with her foam finger and then twerked against his crotch. Twerking was already the sexually-charged dance fad of 2013 that was already getting a lot of talk but it’s there where it got it’s peak.

...and then by swinging naked on a wrecking ball in the video of 'Wrecking Ball.' It all paid off in giving her best record sales ever.

…and then by swinging naked on a wrecking ball in the video of ‘Wrecking Ball.’ It all paid off in giving her best record sales ever.

The reactions were angry and they came from all sides: viewers and musical guests. Many felt her actions were distasteful. The incident set a Twitter record as the ‘most Tweeted’ event in history with 360,000 tweets in a single minute. News and social media sites published articles to do about parental concern. The incident was even considered responsible for Australian actor Liam Hemsworth to break off his engagement to Miley. Even Gloria Steinem was questioned about it, asked if that incident is setting the women’s movement back. Miley responded to the flack: “They’re overthinking it. You’re thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it.” My feelings were as I saw it: either sleaze-for-chart-topping’s-sake or cashing in on the good-girl-gone-bad image. Her response did little to quell the controversy. Cyrus even received a letter from Sinead O’Connor warning her about the music industry and what it could do to her. To which, Cyrus gave a bratty response where she even brought up O’Connor’s psychotherapy.

Whatever the situation, it did nothing to quell Cyrus’ record sales. “We Can’t Stop” hit #2 and her album Bangerz debuted at #1. Further Cyrus controversy came with the release of her second single ‘Wrecking Ball.’ The video consisted of images of her swinging naked on a wrecking ball and licking a sledge-hammer. Sure it was your typical sleaze-for-sales-sake–I dare anyone with half a brain in their head to describe how those images are ‘artistic qualities’– but it paid off as it became Miley’s first ever #1 hit in the US. Just when you thought sleaze-for-sales-sake eemed to be fading, we’re reminded that the good-girl-gone-bad image is still a hot chart-topper. For those that care, ‘Wrecking Ball’ is now at #20 on the Hot 100 with the follow up song ‘Adore You’ climbing up the charts and sitting at #30 right now.

MUCH ADO ABOUT LITTLE

As you can tell, the controversies have sparked a lot of news and a lot of talk. There’s just one problem. They both pale in comparison to musical controversies of the past. I know because I’ve seen decades of musical controversies come and go. In fact I even saw VH-1’s countdown of the 100 Most Shocking Moments In Rock ‘N Roll. Here’s a refresher of the Top 10 most shocking for those who forgot:

  1.  John Lennon Assassinated (1980)
  2. Michael Jackson Accused Of Child Molestation (1993)
  3. Altamont Concert Ends In Tragedy (1969)
  4. Kurt Cobain Commits Suicide (1994)
  5. Marvin Gaye Jr. Shot To Death By Father (1984)
  6. The Who’s Cincinnati Concert Marred By A Tragic Stampede (1979)
  7. Milli Vanilli: Girl You Know It’s Fake (1990)
  8. Woodstock 1999: Where There’s Smoke…There’s And End To Peace ‘N Love
  9. Sinead O’Connor Disses The Pope On SNL (1992)
  10. The Beatles: Bigger Than Jesus Boast (1966)

I don’t have the energy to list #11 to #100 but you would be able to see how legendary a lot of those shocking moments are. Even though the list was compiled back in 2001, you can be sure there are few controversies since that could be worthy of a spot on the list, should it be revamped. My best bets for replacements would be Metallica vs. Napster (2000-2002), Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl Exposure (2004), Lil Kim Big Liar (2004), Britney’s Divorce Outbursts (2007) and Phil Spector Guilty Of Murder. Outside of that, little else. Don’t forget the list came right after the 90’s when shocking moments were left, right and centre. We all remember how infamous acts from rappers like Snoop Dogg’s alleged gang-style murder participation that launched his stardom in 1993. Or Death Row manager Suge Knight’s menacing, even gang-style, methods of doing business. Or even the murders of Tupac Skakur and The Notorious B.I.G. that turned them from star rappers into rap legends. So it’s obvious that Miley’s incidents are not necessarily anything that will take shock to new levels nor are they anything too new. They’re just simply the shock of the moment that simply gets a lot of press. Nothing new or revolutionary. Just the stuff stealing the show and the headlines.

‘Blurred Lines’ isn’t much in terms of shock material as it happens. It’s not as controversial as say the lyrics on Enimem records back from 1999 to 2002: lyrics that causes censorship discussions and lawsuits from those people that felt slandered. Must I say they were lyrics that fueled Eminem’s superstardom and made him a hero to the young back then and a legend to his time.

Neither is ‘Blurred Lines’ as controversial as say the lyrics of rap group 2 Live Crew in their 1989 album ‘As Nasty As They Wanna Be.’ Those lyrics were nasty enough to be taken to a court in Broward County and judged obscene. The 2 Live Crew fought the obscene conviction and won. The court cases rewrote the book on record censorship and paved the way for more explicit and irresponsible lyrics from gangsta rap records to be released and sell like hotcakes for many years. If you want to dig deeper into lyrics controversy, ‘Blurred Lines’ doesn’t even contain the same shock elements as many disco records like the simulated orgasms heard in Donna Summer’s ‘Love To Love You Baby’ or Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel Mighty Real.’ Nor does ‘Blurred Lines’ cause the same controversy as say the ‘Filthy Fifteen’: fifteen explicit songs labeled ‘filthy’ by the Tipper Gore-led ASPCA back in 1985 and would pave the way for warning stickers on records. It doesn’t even have the same shock value as say the psychedelic songs of the late-60’s, early 70’s that reference drugs and illicit sex. And those songs came just as the counterculture was starting to happen and the older generation were frustrated of what to make of it. Just to put it plainly if you released ‘Blurred Lines’ as little as say ten years ago or even during the disco days of the 70’s, you’d have young people labeling the song as boring because of its lack of shock value and its video not full enough of scantily clad women. Just like Miley’s twerking, ‘Blurred Lines’ was a case of a controversy pale in comparison to music controversies past but was able to own the spotlight at the right time.

It’s no secret that controversy has made many a music career. Miley’s and Robin’s controversies were pretty tame compared to music controversies of the past. Nevertheless they were the right controversies at the right time to steal the show and make their records top the charts. As for me, all it does is make me glad to be old.