Friday, December 08, 2017

Movie Review - Indignation

Indignation (2016)
Starring Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Danny Burstein, and Linda Emond
Directed by James Schamus

In the fall of 1951, Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) embarks on a new adventure, traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to Winesburg College in Ohio.  The Christian ideology promoted by the school is a big change for the Jewish youngster, but he heartily starts right in on his studies.  Soon, however, Marcus becomes distracted by the lovely and sexually promiscuous Olivia (Sarah Gadon) who he soon discovers may be a bit more than he can handle.  Then again, Marcus is very headstrong in his own way, butting heads with the college's Dead Caudwell (Tracy Letts) as the young man tries to find his way in the tumultuous era of the Korean War.

Thus is the story of Indignation, a very straightforward, yet well-acted and simplistically compelling film directed and written by James Schamus who has crafted a film that, with a few exceptions, feels like it could've been made in the decade in which it is set.  The old school aesthetic of the film is matched by its lack of showiness behind the lens.  That's not a bad thing, either.  Keeping Indignation fully focused on its story is a positive, drawing the audience in to the blossoming life of Marcus.  Nice performances from Logan Lerman and Tracy Letts (who together have a rather fascinating, long verbal tete-a-tete that proves to be a centerpiece of the film) help anchor Indignation as a film that deserves to be seen.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Friday, November 17, 2017

Theater Review - From the Author Of

From the Author Of
Written by Chisa Hutchinson
Directed by Jade King Carroll
Where:  Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Sunday, November 12, 2017, 2pm
Photo by the REP

The University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players have had three prior plays written specifically for them and frankly none of them have really resonated with me.  This is a big reason why my expectations were quite low upon hearing of a newly-written play taking one of six slots of the REP's 2017-18 season.  Color me surprised, then, to find playwright Chisa Hutchinson's From the Author Of an amusing ninety-five minute diversion that takes full advantage of the REP's ensemble, showcasing them to great effect.

Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction writer Meredith Renner (REP member Elizabeth Heflin) has just completed her latest book for which she spent six months living on the streets as a homeless person to try and best understand the plight of the underprivileged in America.  Meredith's tome has been met with harsh skepticism by the leading New York Times book review critic causing many to wonder if Meredith was simply aiming for a giant publicity stunt rather than a genuine attempt at helping to end the homelessness epidemic.  Attempting to better her name, Meredith's team -- including her agent Dax (REP's Hassan El-Amin), personal assistant Samara (Celestine Rae), and newly hired PR guy Angelo (REP's Michael Gotch) -- formulate a plan for Meredith to invite a homeless person to live in her swanky New York City loft.  After much bellyaching, Meredith obliges and invites the brash, sexually charged Linda (REP's Kathleen Pirkl Tague) into her residence and sees her put-together, "normal" life turned upside down.

Part of the excitement of a repertory company is watching the same ensemble play a variety of roles, seeing the similarities and differences they bring to various performances.  Chisa Hutchinson studied what the REP's members do best and then created a funny cast of characters for them to embrace.  Elizabeth Heflin fully embodies the egotistical, sometimes highfalutin Meredith -- a woman who might seem cold or unappealing in lesser hands, but becomes relatable thanks to Heflin.  Similarly, Kathleen Pirkl Tague always manages to make kooky, crazy characters that should be over-the-top seem oddly believable and that's the case here with the caricature that is Linda whose first appearance a little over a third of the way though jolts the production with some much needed vigor.

The play itself plays a bit like a sitcom, filled with short scenes that sometimes end on a kicker of a comedic note.  Many of the characters border on the stereotypical, but Hutchinson and director Jade King Carroll reel in the actors just enough that no one ever feels too one-note.  The set -- a luxurious, monotone NYC loft created by Brittany Vasta -- is surrounded by a rotating outer circle that adds dimension (as well as a neat technical aspect I'm not sure we've seen utilized by the REP yet).  These little things add dimension to what could've been a rote night at the theater and elevate it to a little something more.

From the Author Of isn't a perfect piece -- the resolution feels a bit too pat and, in turn, a bit unsatisfactory; some of the jokes particularly at the beginning as we were getting to know the individualized voices of the characters fall a bit flat; any deeper morality the play is trying to convey didn't land at all for me -- but it's an enjoyable night at the theater.  With a little bit of sexualized raunch and some great performances particularly from Elizabeth Heflin and Kathleen Pirkl Tague, From the Author Of is by far the best original play performed thus far by the REP.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Movie Review - Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky (2016)
Starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi, Aisha Takow, and Alan Rickman
Directed by Gavin Hood
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

In this day and age, the concept of war has shifted from the wide-scale, massive WWII-era attacks against an enemy's large army to a more intimate form of battle where individual terrorists may be targeted in a one-on-one-type tête-a-tête.  This smaller scale level of attack is being even further amplified by the usage of drones -- an eye in the sky that permits us to see things in a more secretive manner.  This new wartime assistant is the subject of director Gavin Hood's Eye in the Sky, a movie that despite being ninety percent talkative exposition somehow manages to create a surprising amount of tension.

British Army colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) has received the news that a British woman-turned-Islamic terrorist along with her husband are meeting several high ranking leaders of a terrorist group at a safehouse in Kenya.  Desperate to catch the traitor, Katherine and the British Army team up with the Americans to utilize drones in order to confirm the woman's presence so they can try and take her out.  However, morality comes into play when it's discovered that bombing the Kenyan safehouse would also harm innocent civilians including a young girl (Aisha Takow) who is selling bread outside the home.

The uniqueness of Eye in the Sky comes from the morality play that's depicted in the film.  Can we kill innocent civilians in order to take out known terrorists?  This conundrum plays out for almost the entirety of Eye in the Sky and the talkative pros and cons yield a surprisingly tense experience.  All of the characters -- Mirren as the Army colonel, Alan Rickman as a British Defense Ministry higher-up, Aaron Paul as a conflicted American soldier having difficulty coming to grips with the notion of possibly killing an innocent child, Barkhad Abdi as an undercover British operative who is onsite in Kenya -- never interact with one another onscreen at the same time.  They're all in different locations across the world and thus are only interacting via phone or video chat and yet, with much kudos to director Gavin Hood, their interactions feel believable and shockingly tense.

I must admit that I didn't expect a whole lot from Eye in the Sky, but I found that it more than delivered on creating an exciting environment, showing us an insider look at an aspect of modern-day warfare with which the public may be unfamiliar.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Monday, October 30, 2017

Movie Review - Fireworks Wednesday

Fireworks Wednesday (Chaharshanabe Suri) (2016/2006)
Starring Hedye Tehrani, Taraneh Alidoosti, Hamid Faroknezhad, and Pantea Bahram
Directed by Asghar Farhadi

I've praised writer-director Asghar Farhadi's ability to craft taut, intimate "thrillers" -- films that take seemingly everyday aspects of life and make them mini-mysteries.  With the Academy Award-winning director's films becoming more popular, one of his first flicks, Fireworks Wednesday, finally made its way over to the United States last year and it shows that even early in his career Farhadi was adept at his craft.

Maid and soon-to-be bride Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti) accepts a one-day job at the apartment of a married couple who is preparing to travel to Dubai for a trip.  Upon her arrival, however, Rouhi discovers something is amiss with Mozhdeh and Morteza Samiei (Hedye Tehrani and Hamid Faroknezhad) with Mr. Samiei acting secretive and Mrs. Samiei nervously suspicious.  As the day progresses -- Fireworks Wednesday, a holiday in Iran where this tale takes place -- Mozhdeh reveals to Rouhi that she believes that her husband is cheating on her with their next door neighbor, Simin (Pantea Bahram), a hairdresser who works out of her home.  As the camera shifts focus from Rouhi to Mozhdeh to Morteza to Simin, little bits of truth are revealed allowing this realistic mini-mystery to unfold onscreen at a pace some may find slow, but this reviewer finds intriguing.

Even more than a decade ago, Farhadi (who co-wrote this film) was acutely attuned to the type of films that were going to be his bread and butter -- small scale films driven by a seemingly simple plot where motivations of characters are gradually revealed to the audience in a way that creates tension and excitement from even the most everyday, normal aspects of life.  Add in the sense of intensity oftentimes felt in the oppressed Iranian culture (where many of Farhadi's films take place) and you've got a unique brand of mystery that the director and writer has mastered.  Fireworks Wednesday isn't his best work, but it's darn good.  The cast is stellar, although oddly no one really stands out in this true ensemble piece.  It grows a tiny bit tiresome at points -- Farhadi's films admittedly do have a tendency to do this -- but the payoff is worth the time.

I realize the usage of my wording in that last sentence may be slightly deceiving.  "Payoff" may insinuate some overly DRAMATIC denouement, but Farhadi's "reveals" are never jaw-dropping or mind-blowing.  Their naturalness is always fitting of the story in which they are a part...which is always one of the reasons Farhadi works for me as a director.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Movie Review - 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)
Starring James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, and a bunch of other people who just blend together
Directed by Michael Bay
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

If I'm being honest with myself, I forgot I watched this movie.  It's not that 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is's just that it's generic.  The true story of how a group of soldiers and American government workers attempted to fend off terrorist attacks on an American diplomatic compound in Libya, 13 Hours has all the classic tropes of a war movie and its by-the-book structure becomes laughable at times.

Director Michael Bay deftly walks the line in terms of the controversy surrounding this event, and although he doesn't flat out blame the Obama administration for the deaths that occurred as the situation unfolded, he does infer that the US government was largely to blame for not getting the chaos resolved quicker.  Rarely does any type of criticism of the Left make it to the big screen so at least that's a bit of a breath of fresh air.  Unfortunately, everything else about the film feels stale.

The action sequences are well filmed and exciting, but the character development and quieter moments prove to be lacking.  Beyond James Badge Dale and John Krasinski, every other member of the cast just blends together into this melange of similar-looking soldiers or government workers and attempts at trying to give any of them a backstory -- this one has a kid at home, this one has a kid on the way -- feel cheap and manipulative.  You could certainly do worse than 13 Hours, but I can't tell you that you should rush to see it either.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Movie Review - Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange (2016)
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benjamin Bratt, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton
Directed by Scott Derrickson
***This film is currently streaming via Netflix***

While Doctor Strange is likely the most unique Marvel movie when it comes to the glossy, mind-spinning visuals on display, something about this film didn't quite click for me.  It gave me a Matrix vibe and that's a cinematic series I could never really get behind.  Benedict Cumberbatch makes an incredibly engaging title character, but the time-twisting nature of the piece is a concept that never really appeals to this reviewer and Doctor Strange doesn't change that opinion.

The film's set-up during the first third is where Doctor Strange is most successful which admittedly is a bit surprising because oftentimes it's the "origin story" aspect of superhero movies that feels drawn out and tired.  Here, however, Cumberbatch's dry sense of humor works wonders in creating a winning opening act.  Cumberbatch is the title character, Stephen Strange, an accomplished neurosurgeon whose arrogance is seemingly accepted because of his insane talent in the operating room.  On his way to a fancy shindig, Strange accidentally drives his car off the edge of a cliff.  After intense surgery and rehabilitation, Strange seems to be getting back on the right track except that his hands have suffered immense nerve damage making it nearly impossible for him to perform surgeries.  Strange soon hears of a unique healing experience in Asia which he assumes is medical drelated, but discovers that it's much more spiritually-based, run by a mystic known as The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who tells Strange that all the power he needs is in his mind.

Had Doctor Strange decided to not add a big baddie (Mads Mikkelsen) hellbent on taking over the powers of the Ancient One, this film may have been more successful.  Of course, Marvel movies aren't character studies so that was never going to happen, but it's a shame because Doctor Strange stumbles when it adheres too close to the typical superhero tropes.  I didn't care at all about the villain (who is given perhaps some of the least amount of character development for a Marvel villain yet) nor did I find the scenery-warping, time-bending action sequences exciting.  Sure, the action set pieces were visually intriguing -- Doctor Strange really is unique in the way it's styled -- but they lacked the requisite punch necessary to deliver tension for me.  I will admit I was eagerly looking forward to this one because of the fact that it seemed to be a different type of entry into the Marvel canon, and while it is unique, it doesn't quite work.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Movie Review - Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (2016)
Starring Joe Alwyn, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Garrett Hedlund, Makenzie Leigh, Vin Diesel, and Steve Martin
Directed by Ang Lee

Prior to its release last year, there were some high Oscar hopes lobbied about for director Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, but its failure at the box office didn't help it gain any traction during the awards season.  Sometimes deserving movies just slip under the radar of both the public and the cinematic voting blocs...and sometimes movies that people thought were going to be deserving turn out to be epic flops.  The latter is the case here with Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk proving to be one of the worst 2016 movies I've seen yet.

Nineteen year-old soldier Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) has just returned home from Iraq to great fanfare after a video of him attempting to save his superior from Iraqi warriors goes viral.  Celebrated as a hero, Lynn and his troop are being treated like celebrities including being placed front and center in the Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys halftime show.  With Cowboys owner Norm Oglesby (Steve Martin) attempting to broker a deal to make their lives into a movie, Lynn and his mates are faced with attempting to enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame knowing full well that when Black Friday rolls around they have to ship out for another assignment.

The potential for an in-depth look at PTSD is ever present around the edges of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, but the screenplay by Jean-Christophe Castelli and direction by Ang Lee can't find a balance as it attempts to depict the drama of the horrors of war and the semi-comedic satire of our celebrity-driven American culture.  This uneven dichotomy is frankly a failure and leads to one of the most stilted acting ensembles I've seen in ages (including a horrendous performances by Steve Martin).  The film builds itself on being über-realistic, but many of its scenes and most of its dialog never feel real.  Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is just a huge dud.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Movie Review - My Life as a Zucchini

My Life as a Zucchini (Ma vie de courgette) (2016)
Directed by Claude Barras
***This film is currently streaming via Netflix***

I'm a sucker for stop-motion animation and while My Life as a Zucchini may at first glance seem a slightly rudimentary entry into the genre, its colorful yet simplistic visual aesthetic helps to amplify and emphasize the heartfelt story on display that is pretty darn deep for an animated film.  Sure, there have been animated movies that are squarely aimed at adults and obviously there are animated films that simply try to win over kids, but finding that balance between the two is always a difficult task (elevated often in the past decade or two by Pixar).  My Life as a Zucchini finds that balance, and while I wouldn't recommend it for anyone under the age of twelve, it shows that the genre can tell heartfelt stories that appeal across all demographics.

Courgette (voiced by Gaspard Schlatter) is a nine year-old boy who spends most of the time in the attic of his house trying to avoid his alcoholic mother who has been despondent and nasty ever since her husband left her.  A tragic accident ends her life and Courgette is sent to live at an orphanage where he meets a unique group of kids who all have faced similar hardships in life.  Courgette's friendships with this group and his burgeoning parent/child-style relationship with police officer Raymond (Michel Vuillermoz) form the basis of the plot, of which, admittedly, there isn't much of so to speak.

That lack of plot does make My Life as a Zucchini drag a bit in spots -- and considering its minimal 65-minute runtime that's a bit of a surprise -- but director/co-writer Claude Barras' film still works because it doesn't shy away from the realistic, though oftentimes sad story it's telling.  The quirky animation design matches the quirkiness of the characters onscreen, providing a visually engaging film the entire time.  My Life as a Zucchini isn't a perfect animated film, but it's an admirable entry into the genre that proves to be definitely worth seeing.

Note:  This film was viewed in its original French language release.  An American-dubbed version is apparently available as well.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Monday, October 16, 2017

Movie Review - Silence

Silence (2016)
Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Yosuke Kubozuka, Issey Ogata, Tadanobu Asano, Shinya Tsukamoto, Yoshi Oida, and Liam Neeson
Directed by Martin Scorsese

I had heard of the epic boringness of Martin Scorsese's Silence and admittedly was hesitant to watch the nearly 165-minute flick, but the story of two Jesuit priests heading to Japan in the mid-1600s to attempt to spread Christianity was surprisingly gripping and beautifully shot and acted.  Could it have been trimmed a little bit more in order to move things along a tiny bit faster?  Definitely.  However, the film is a refreshingly original look at an aspect of life -- religion -- that is rarely explored in cinema by directors as well known and qualified as Scorsese.

The premise of Silence is very simple -- perhaps too simple for a film of its length -- as we follow two young priests Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) on their journey to Japan as they search for Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who has apparently apostatized (renounced his faith) after horrible torture at the hands of Japanese authorities desperate to eradicate Christianity from their country.  Forced to stay hidden in their search for fear of being caught by the Japanese and the man known as "the Inquisitor" (Issey Ogata) who leads the hunt against Christians, Rodrigues and Garupe secretly administer to the underground Christian community while trying to determine the location of Ferreira.

Scorsese (who directed and co-wrote Silence) has crafted an elegantly gritty period piece, fully realizing the mid-1600s Japanese environment.  Darkened secluded grottos and secret underground basements create a claustrophobic atmosphere that envelops the characters and the audience.  The horror of intense torture isn't sugarcoated making for some intense sequences that add to the seriousness of the journey of Rodrigues and Garupe and make their resolute steadfastness to Christian theology all the more admirable.  [At least it's admirable if you yourself believe in their cause...for others, the mileage may vary.]  While this isn't necessarily an actor-driven piece with any particular stand-outs, Scorsese's ensemble of American and Japanese actors is a very good one, keying in on the pain suffered by the Christians forced to hide their beliefs as well as the driven desire by the non-Christian Japanese to eradicate the religion from their island.

Silence does have a few too many moments of nothingness...a few too many moments of silence perhaps.  While I understand the purposes of these sequences in that they mirror the sequestered nature of the Christians living in Japan, this is still a movie and the momentum of the story is often stunted because of the slower pace.  However, Silence is a film that, in time, I'd like to give another look because these less-pulsing moments may perhaps be more integral to the story than I thought during my initial viewing.  Despite this qualm, Silence is an oftentimes riveting look at an aspect of Christianity that was unknown to me, filmed in a reverent and capable manner.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Movie Review - Rules Don't Apply

Rules Don't Apply (2016)
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Warren Beatty, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, and a slew of other people in cameo-length roles
Directed by Warren Beatty
***This film is currently available via HBO Now/GO***

Howard Hughes was a bit of an eccentric loon who, thanks to his significant entrepreneurial endeavors, was able to have his hands in a multitude of business ventures ranging from creating aircraft to producing motion pictures.  Rules Don't Apply focuses on the latter aspect as an aging Hughes (played by Warren Beatty who also wrote and directed the film) shifts his romantic focus to a young aspiring actress from Virginia named Marla (Lily Collins) who recently moved to Hollywood at the request of Hughes.  Upon her arrival, Marla begins to fall for her driver Frank (Alden Ehrenreich), a Howard Hughes employee, who himself is engaged to be married but also finds himself enraptured by Marla.  This romantic love triangle starts the film off in an engagingly old school 1960s-esque cinematic fashion, but the film quickly starts to fall apart after it introduces its key players.

Filled with a multitude of well-known actors in cameo-style roles, Rules Don't Apply is well-acted by Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich, but their "will they or won't they" romantic story isn't enough of a story to sustain the film's long nearly 150-minute runtime.  Writer/director Warren Beatty seems to recognize this hence the introduction of his Howard Hughes character about thirty minutes into the film, but he fails at making Hughes' storylines captivating.  When Hughes comes into the picture, Rules Don't Apply can't seem to tell who its central character is - Hughes or Marla or Frank - and this leads to oddly edited sequences that create one the most boringly manic all-over-the-place films I've seen in a long time.  A passion project for Beatty who spent a long time getting it to the screen post-production, Rules Don't Apply has some great production values and does feel fittingly 1960s in tone and style, but it ultimately fails in the story and directing department.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

Monday, October 09, 2017

Movie Review - Green Room

Green Room (2016)
Starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Mark Webber, Eric Edelstein, Macon Blair, Kai Lennox, and Patrick Stewart
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

Through a friend of a friend, a punk rock band gets a gig at a slummy Neo-Nazi bar in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Northwest.  Following the show, Pat (Anton Yelchin) returns to the green room to get a phone left behind only to discover a stabbed dead body on the floor.  Privy to this murder, the leaders of the Neo-Nazi group refuse to let Pat and his bandmates (Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner) leave and the quartet is forced to figure out a way to try and save themselves before they end up with the same murdered fate.

Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier has crafted an incredibly tense and utterly frightening film in Green Room, a fantastic follow-up and improvement upon his successful prior film Blue Ruin.  In his two films I've seen thus far, Saulnier is admirably successful in creating a gritty atmosphere and then adding some less-than-kind characters to the mix.  Fully realized and feeling quite lived in, Green Room pulls the viewer into the claustrophobic atmosphere from which we beg to escape much like the trapped bandmates.

The cast -- including the late Anton Yelchin as a band member and a terrifyingly calm Patrick Stewart as the Neo-Nazi leader -- gamely accepts the roles of either the terrorizers or the terrorized, helping to strengthen the intensity of the horrific situation unfolding on the screen.  Green Room isn't an easy sit -- it's quite violent and things don't always turn out well for the protagonists.  However, auteur Jeremy Saulnier has proven once again that he is quite adept and capable of making a film that puts uneasiness and intensity on the front burner.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Movie Review - Cell

Cell (2016)
John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Owen Teague, and Stacy Keach
Directed by Tod Williams

Since I'd read Stephen King's book, I figured I'd give the cinematic adaptation of Cell a try, but it's lack of theatrical release beyond a theater or two certainly didn't instill confidence in its quality...and a viewing of the film showed that the quality simply wasn't there.  The tale of a bizarre epidemic that turns anyone who uses a cell phone into zombie-like creatures could've been a telling take on our electronics-reliant culture, but this piece co-written by King himself isn't the least bit bitingly relevant nor horrifically scary.  In fact, the only thing horrific about it is the hugely incapable direction by Tod Williams who takes moments that could be frightening and ruins them with flourishes of weirdly unnecessary slow motion or inadequately timed jump scares.  Most of the cast is fine, but John Cusack as a father desperately searching for his son in the midst of the chaos couldn't be less emotionally invested it seems -- which is odd seeing as how he's a producer of this.  This one's just a waste of time.

The RyMickey Rating:  D

Monday, October 02, 2017

Movie Review - Sing Street

Sing Street (2016)
Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, and Mark McKenna
Directed by John Carney
***This film is currently streaming via Netflix***

John Carney crafted one of my favorite movies of all time in Once -- a film filled with hauntingly beautiful music and achingly nuanced performances from two leads who'd never acted in films before.  Carney's music-centric follow-up Begin Again was a bit of a disappointment, failing to capture the magic and heart of his Academy Award-winning 2007 film.  Admittedly, because of the lackluster Begin Again, I was a bit hesitant to watch Sing Street, wary that writer-director Carney was a one-trick pony.  Fortunately, I'm incredibly pleased to report that Carney hasn't lost his touch as Sing Street is full of boisterous charm, cleverly inspired 1980s-style tunes, and joyously innocent performances from a cast of young folks.

With his parents' marriage falling apart, high schooler Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is forced to leave his private school for a free all-boys state school run by the Catholic Church.  The quiet Conor finds it tough to fit in, being immediately bullied by a particularly nasty kid right off the bat.  One afternoon, though, he spots a lovely girl sitting on a stoop across from the school and he gets the nerve to go over to talk with her as a way of trying to impress the others in his class.  The girl -- Raphina (Lucy Boynton) -- is amused by Conor's charm, but she wants nothing to do with him until he mentions that he's in a band and needs a model to appear in a music video.  Despite normally wanting nothing to do with the boys at the school, Raphina is preparing to move to London to advance her career in modeling so she agrees to meet Conor and his band to take the gig in the music video.  The only problem -- Conor isn't in a band so the frantic search to find bandmates and create songs begins.

Set in 1985 Dublin, Sing Street is a charmingly pleasant coming-of-age film that just happens to have some great music added to the mix.  Writer Carney smartly doesn't try and make this film anything deeper than what it is -- two high school-aged kids in Conor and Raphina trying to figure out what to do with their lives.  The joyful exuberance that comes from Conor and his buddies' love of music pours out of every scene and leaves the viewer smiling from ear to ear.  The cast of unknowns -- to me, at least -- is winning and their wide-eyed innocence is believable.

Sing Street really is an ode to the 1980s showing its appreciation for both the music and cinema of that decade through lovingly crafted homages that feel natural as opposed to forced.  While quite different from the depressing (though fantastic) Once, John Carney is back on top of his game with Sing Street which deserved much more love from the public when it was released last summer.  (And how this film didn't get an Academy Award nomination for Best Song is beyond me.)

The RyMickey Rating: A-