John Carney

The Film Playlist: Sing Street

Last week was the first time in a few months that I added a new film to The Film Playlist. Last week was also the first time in a while that I looked at what movies were playing in theaters. There were no films out that interested me for months. With the start of the summer season approaching though, I figured plenty of new films will be out in theaters so I checked to see if anything new and interesting was out yet. What caught my eye was the film Sing Street. I saw the trailer for it as a preview at some point in the fall or winter and I totally forgot about it. I also knew it would make a perfect addition to The Film Playlist. I saw it Tuesday. It was excellent. Much better than Begin Again. Why is the film I wrote about last week even relevant? Let me explain.

Sing Street is the creation of writer and director John Carney. Yes, the same John Carney who also wrote and directed Begin Again. His film Once is another of his claims to fame. All three films involve music. If each film on the playlist was like a song and like a song had an artist who performed it or in this case produced/wrote/directed it, John Carney would be the artist listed for two films on the list so far. I haven’t seen Once, but I probably should. Then John Carney would be on the playlist three times.

Sing Street is the latest of John Carney’s music films. It premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and was released in theaters in the U.S. on April 15th. It stars newcomers, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Ben Carolan, and Mark McKenna, fresh faces, Jack Reynor and Lucy Boynton, and TV vets, Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy. This film is partially based on Carney’s life as a student at Synge Street, a Christian Brothers school, in Dublin, Ireland. The film is set during the 80’s and has plenty of references to 80’s rock bands such as Duran Duran, The Cure, Genesis, Hall & Oates, and more. It’s a coming of age film that tells the story of Conor “Cosmo” Lalor (Walsh-Peelo), a teenage boy who gets transferred to the Synge Street School after his family (Gillen as his Dad and Doyle Kennedy as his Mom) can no longer afford to send him to private school. The atmosphere at Conor’s new school is much more rough than normal between his classmates, school bullies, and the head Brother of the school. He befriends a boy named Darren (Carolan) who helps to show him the ropes. Shortly after this occurs, Conor decides to start a band that makes music videos to impress a girl named Raphina (Boynton) who lives near the school and watches the boys as they travel to class each day. Conor and Darren recruit a few of their other classmates to join the band in which Conor is the lead singer and Darren is the band manager. With the guidance of Conor’s older brother, Brendan (Reynor), Conor and his bandmate, Eamon (McKenna), write a song impressive enough to garner the attention of Raphina who agrees to star in a music video for the song. From then on, their band, Sing Street (a pun off of Synge Street), and Conor’s interest in music takes off. The band becomes more than just a way to win a girl. It becomes a way out of Ireland and in the midst of it all, Conor experiences more personal growth than he could have ever imagined.

The music in the film is 80’s pop rock style. The original songs in the movie take inspiration from songs by the 80’s bands featured in the film. The songs in the film were actually written and composed by Carney and Gary Clark. After hearing the first few original songs in the film, I could tell they sounded a lot like Carney’s style. He also wrote and composed songs for Begin Again. Although the music genres in each film are different, the style in Sing Street is very Carney-esque and has a slightly similar sound to the songs in Begin Again. It’s almost like a band coming out with another album. The songs are different and stylistically, a band may progress, but it still has their signature sound.

I really liked this movie. I liked the story (maybe because I’m a bit biased towards a good coming of age tale). I liked that many actors in this movie aren’t well known and that the movie was a first for a large portion of the cast. I liked the original music. In fact, I really liked/like the song “Drive It Like You Stole It”. I liked so much about this film. I liked it much more thanĀ Begin Again and I liked it overall. Since it was released back in April (probably only limited release then), I’m sure it won’t be in theaters much longer. Luckily I checked the movie showings and times last week and was able to catch it while it was still in theaters near me. I recommend it to any music fan, but especially if you were a child of the 80’s and loved 80’s rock or even if you still love 80’s rock. It’s a great throwback music film, but also a great music film in general.

Here are some of my favorite original songs from the movie:

  1. Drive It Like You Stole It
  2. The Riddle of the Model
  3. Brown Shoes
  4. A Beautiful Sea
  5. Girls
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The Film Playlist: Begin Again

Around the time that I decided to start “The Film Playlist” blog series, I just returned from a last minute trip to my cousin’s house in Maryland. While on the trip, we decided to watch a movie on demand one night. The movie we selected was a decent film that had a plot surrounding music and the music industry. The week after I returned I decided to begin this blog series after seeing Kate Hudson on a talk show and being reminded of her greatest role ever in Almost Famous. This movie also played a role in the decision to start the series too since I had seen it so recently when recalling a number of movies about music. The film was called Begin Again.

Begin Again premiered at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival before being released in theaters in the summer of 2014. The film stars Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, James Corden, and Hailee Steinfeld and was written and directed by John Carney. It tells the story of singer/songwriter, Gretta James (Knightley), who recently broke up with her rising-star boyfriend Dave Kohl (Levine), and struggling A&R rep/producer/record label executive, Dan Mulligan (Ruffalo) when they decide to record and produce an album together on the streets of New York. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for the song “Lost Stars”.

The film begins in the middle of the story when Dan hears Gretta performing at a club one night. Then the movie alternates between showing the back stories of each character and present day at the club. The audience learns about Dan’s industry life, ex-wife and daughter Violet (Steinfeld), and his struggles to not find new talent in years. You also find out about Gretta’s romance with Dave and how that comes tumbling down as Dave makes his way on the path to stardom. I’ll admit I was getting frustrated at one point during the first half of the movie wondering if they’d ever make it out of that club performance scene. Finally the story moves along though. Once Gretta agrees to make an album with Dan, the magic happens. At first they decide to try to produce the album with Dan’s former record label, but they get turned away. As a result, Gretta agrees to self-produce and record the album with Dan in one of the coolest ways. Along with the help of Gretta’s friend Steve (Corden) and the band they recruit, they record the album in various locations throughout New York City using the atmosphere and city sounds as parts of the recordings. During one of the recording scenes, they even get a group of city kids to sing on the track they’re making. The recording scenes are worth all the frustration relating to never making it out of the club in the beginning of the movie for sure.

As is true with most, if not all films, the story lines for the main characters, Gretta and Dan, as well as the overall album recording story line get resolved by the end of the film. However, I feel like each resolution isn’t super predictable. They’re not twisted or stretched by any means, but they’re also not as cliche as you would expect making what I believe to be a more realistic ending.

As far as music goes in the film, the entire soundtrack is original. The songs are very much a soft type of pop/rock. The styles remind me of Ingrid Michaelson’s music and many of Dave’s songs, of course, remind me of Maroon 5. The entirely original soundtrack is impressive though and made the list of several music charts throughout the world including peaks at the number 1 spot on Billboard’s U.S. Top Soundtracks and the Korean International Albums chart.

If this blog series were an actual playlist, I would probably place this movie somewhere in the middle. It’s not that heart pounding, upbeat first song(s) (films) that really gets you into the playlist, nor is it that last song that takes you out on a strong note making you realize what a great mix of songs (films) you just listened to. It fits in the middle. It’s not a terrible film by any means, but I don’t rank it along with the likes of Almost Famous. Like I said, it’s worth it to see all the recording scenes throughout the streets and rooftops of New York City.

Here’s a few songs from the movie that I recommend you listen to first though:

  1. Lost Stars (the Keira Knightley version)
  2. Like A Fool
  3. Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home (Rooftop Mix)