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New films: Sing Street and Green Room

Two films open this week that each feature stories about coming of age in a band. That said, they couldn’t be more different.

In “Sing Street” writer/director John Carney has followed up on his films “Begin Again” and the fantastic “Once” with another musically inspired story, this time about a boy growing up in Ireland in the 80’s who starts a band to impress a girl. At least some of this is autobiographical, as in an incident in which he is admonished after changing schools for wearing brown shoes rather than black – a distinction that seemed remarkably petty to him at the time and to his on screen surrogate Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo).

Cosmo has changed schools reluctantly as a result of his parents’ financial problems and his new Catholic school seems at first as though it might be a lighter version of “Lord of the Flies.” But most of the bullying looks worse than it really is and his life changes when he sees a pretty girl and offers her a part in his upcoming music video – the problem being that there’s no video, no band, and no song.

“Sing Street” works wonderfully well by capturing a period and recreating musical themes of the times. The songs written for the soundtrack are fresh and catchy and have lyrics that are artfully drawn from the experiences and dialog we witness as we watch Cosmo navigate life. Much of this is guided by his college dropout music collecting older brother and by his new best friend who seems to be equally knowledgeable about music and rabbits.

There have been several films over the years that seem to capture the moment when a young person enters into a new creative venture, coincident with a young actor in their first leading role having a parallel experience – and there’s often something very special about that combination, as though the shared experience between character and actor can be seen. “Sing Street” is reminiscent of films like “Billy Elliot” and “Almost Famous” in that regard, with the brilliant Walsh-Peelo acting for the first time, having previously been a more classical singer. In a recent NPR interview, he explained that he had to be introduced not just to the music of the 1980’s but to pop music in general, in preparation for this role.

And the soundtrack here is wonderful. I can’t think of a single film that has caused me to play the songs since seeing it as much as this has, with “Drive it Like You Stole It” as perhaps the ultimate earworm. It’s a film that makes you wonder how many original songs from a single movie could get nominated for awards.

If “Once” is any comparison, “Sing Street” may end up on stage as well as screen and I would heartily recommend it to fans of both film and stage musicals – it’s one of my favorites of the year so far.

In the very different “Green Room,” Anton Yelchin plays a member of a band that’s barely making it on a shoestring budget tour, traveling and living in their van and stealing gas to get from gig to gig. One failed arrangement leaves them desperate enough to take another with no idea of what it entails and, without spoiling too much in advance, they find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and everything goes South in a hurry.

“Green Room” is a violent, low budget film that isn’t going to leave you humming any songs on the way home, but for the genre of film it represents, it’s also very well done. There’s a tension and constant sense of foreboding, after a slightly leisurely beginning, and the situations the band members find themselves in are of the sort that make you watch and ponder what you might do in anything remotely resembling a similar circumstance.

This isn’t a film for the squeamish or the faint of heart, and it’s possible that many fans may not see Patrick Stewart in quite the same way again, but it’s a neat film for fans of independent thrillers and might also appeal to horror fans in a slasher rather than supernatural context.

In Sacramento, “Sing Street” is playing exclusively at the Tower Theatre and “Green Room” is equally exclusively at Century Greenback.


About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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