Category Archives: 10/10

Sing Street

singstreetWhat Jesse said:

You need to watch Sing Street. Just saw it and it is awesome. Homage to the mid-80s. Was made last year and it’s set in Ireland. Dublin. Awesome scene where main character’s (15 year old kid) older [brother] is educating him and their father on the power of the “music video” and the world-changing awesomeness of Duran Duran.

Mike’s verdict:

That grammar-free stream of consciousness mess is all Jesse saw fit to give me. No hint at a plot. No indication of thematic direction. Not even a genre! So it was with a tremendous amount of faith in Jesse’s judgement that I sat down to watch Sing Street.  And minutes in the film it became clear why Jesse had avoided telling me about the story: it’s just another boy-comes-of-age film.

You know the story; you’ve seen it many times: an adolescent boy struggles with a tough but caring home life, a bully at his new school, and an abusive authority figure, all while trying to make sense of a girl – and of course he finds himself in the process.

<sigh> This movie has been done to death.

But nevermind all that; you should watch Sing Street anyway because it is fantastic.  I don’t know where or when Jesse watched this film, but I do know exactly at which points he cheered, laughed, shook his head in dismay, and cringed – because there are moments that are universal to every teen boy.  Details may differ, situations are exaggerated, and the results are unlikely, but the feelings are spot-on.

This film is hopeful all the way through, in a sense that many of this genre fail to be. It doesn’t need overwhelming hardship to make its point. The protagonist struggles meaningfully but realistically, and over comes his life in ways that most boys can only do in day-dreams. Yet as the credits roll, the viewer is left with the sense that while the hero has managed to win in the first chapter of his life, there is still very real potential for disaster to come in the next. Struggle is balance with success, tipping only slightly under the weight of the unknown future.

The story is helped along well by reliable acting – perhaps not surprisingly all the school-age boys are very believable as school-age boys. Even the cleverer bits of dialog seem natural. It’s also supplemented by light symbolism that subtly adds dept: “You can’t put rabbits on the bed and not expect them to shit on your bed.” is surely an apt metaphor for life.

The backdrop to all this is a soundtrack that aggressively makes itself a part of the narrative when its needed, or slips subtly into ambiance when its not. There is a deliberate contrast between songs used in their original 80s glory, followed by quiet piano arrangements that feel timeless. It’s easy to forget that this is a contemporary film.  That is, at least until you realize that it understands the 80s music revolution far better than anyone in the 80s ever could have.

Sing Street is a thoughtful and original take on a very over-done genre. But most importantly, its enjoyable – it uses only the cliches that it needs to lay the foundation, and then layers a tapestry of commercial and original music that revives the 80s perfectly. Jesse absolutely got this one right.


p.s. It’s definitely worth sitting through the short credits to hear the last bit of music.



What Jesse said:

Crazy movie about a guy who falls in love with his computer’s operating system. Joaquin Phoenix does a great job as an introvert going through the painful/depressing process of separating from his wife while trying to deal with the “feelings” he is developing for the latest technology available: an artificially intelligent OS very competently played (voiced) by [CENSORED].

Mike’s verdict:

Jesse got lazy with his overview of this one – probably because Brad Pitt isn’t in it – but I happen to know he liked Her a lot more than the above suggests. He definitely thought the artificial intelligence was portrayed more than just ‘competently’, and he went on a lengthy tangent about how Phoenix’s acting may or may not be affected by the untimely death of his brother.

In any case, Jesse and I agree that this film was fantastic. Whoever wrote the IMDB blurb did the film a real disservice because it sounds like Her is either a ridiculous comedy that should be staring Ben Stiller, or a geeky sci-fi flick about computers. It’s not either of those.

Her is primarily about people: how we define who and what is a person, and how we understand our connections to others. I expected that the human-computer interactions would be awkward or cheesy, but in fact they are all very natural. Spike Jonze chose to have the artificial intelligence act ‘normally’, so you can’t tell the difference between a conversation with a computer and a conversation with a live person using a  telephone. Perhaps I’ve just grown accustomed to our ever-connected environment, but to me most of the movie felt like Phoenix’s character was just in a long-distance relationship. The futuristic technology is so familiar that it never seemed like much of a stretch from what we have today; the electronic interaction never seemed out of place.

Of course there are major differences in how ‘meat’ people and virtual people see the world and that is explored brilliantly. Jesse thinks this is a story about how individual expectations based on initial impulses can turn terribly wrong when they’re allowed to develop in the imperfect, often irrational, mind. He sees the film from the ‘meat’ point of view, essentially limiting the computer to a fancy imitation of a person. He thinks Phoenix’s character tricked himself into believing a computer could be a person and then learned from his experiences. Looking at it that way, our ‘meat’ protagonist is not just the focus but the only concern.

For me that is only part of what this film is trying to say. I don’t think we are supposed to make a distinction between the ‘meat’ people and the virtual people – they’re all people, and there are actually two equal leading roles. The key is that the two main characters have different desires, view points and intentions based on their environment and abilities. Exactly like the world we live in today.

Overall, Her is a great film. The writing (there are some super awkward moments!), the music, the cinematography, the acting; everything is spot on.


One last note: I censored Jesse’s bit about the actor who voices the computer. She does an incredible job given the difficulty of expressing the character without body language, but you’re better off not knowing who the voice belongs to if you don’t already know. By the time I got around to starting the movie I had forgotten who the actor was. The voice was so familiar though that I couldn’t help but look it up halfway, and I immediately regretted it. Once you know who it is, you’ll only be able to picture her and it changes the movie.


zardozcoverWhat Jesse said:

Time for another weird movie I saw long ago. I know why I started watching it (it looked like a promising sci-fi romp), but I don’t know why I kept watching through to the end. The whole movie feels like an acid trip. Anyway, if you figure out what this flick is trying to say, please let me know…

I give you: “ZARDOZ“!!!! (I would say “enjoy” but I’m not sure it would be appropriate…)

Mike’s verdict:

By the time he participated in Zardoz, Sean Connery had already completed most of his run as James Bond – meaning he could have done anything he wanted.  My first impression was that he chose the role of Zed because he was looking for a working vacation – there were very few lines to memorize and 90% of the cast members are attractive young women who have trouble keeping their tiny tops in place. But sometimes first impressions can be misleading, and I think that Connery actually saw something much more in this film.

Zardoz isn’t just a sci-fi romp. The distant future setting is really just a means for exploring other themes.  At it’s base, Zardoz is a thought experiment. It’s an exploration of the human condition through the nature of mortality and a critical examination of how organized religion informs our understanding of that condition – and, since it’s the 1970s all of this is seen through a veil of post-hippie ideals. Love and sexuality, equality and superiority, immortality and humanity, knowledge and instinct, are each deliberately portrayed in caricature. The intention is to illuminate these concepts along a continuum rather than treat them as strict dichotomies.

And I think it works. The film is a bizarre trip, for sure, but its goal is to present the audience with questions rather than answers.

As I noted, Connery has few lines in this film. But if you pay attention you’ll see that much of what he does say is unconsciously thought-provoking. “I see nothing inside, except my own complexity.”


This is the End

What Jesse said:

Hey, I have a movie you need to see. Actually, let’s go see it in the theatre. I’ve already seen it once with other people and didn’t bother to invite you. But I want to see it again and don’t want to go alone. What? It’s not in theatres anymore? Okay, well how about this then: we’ll wait until it’s available for home viewing, you can get it for me, and then we’ll watch it at my place. Oh, and every time I see you for the next month I’m going to ask if you have it yet, so don’t take your time.

Mike’s verdict:

This is the End is hilarious from beginning to end. Especially the end. What could be better than a bunch of celebrities, playing funnier versions of themselves coming to terms with the apocalypse while partying at James Franco‘s house? James Franco is a surprisingly good actor, but I’d never really thought of him as funny. He’s definitely funny now. Awesome cast, loads of cameos, fantastic writing. 10/10

The Quiet Earth

What Jesse said:

The Quiet Earth was one of the first movies that Jesse recommended to me and it’s been so many years since that I don’t remember what sort of ridiculous arguments he used. They must have sounded good enough at time.

Mike’s verdict:

Fantastic. 10/10

The Quiet Earth is one of those movies that manages to put you on a wave riding from subtle to in-your-face and back again without making you sea-sick. At it’s base, the film is heavy science fiction that requires a major suspension of disbelief – and that will likely turn off a lot of viewers. But the story isn’t about the science – it’s about the people and how they come to terms with their predicament. Jesse got this one right.

ps. This movie is based on a book of the same title by New Zealand author Craig Harrison.  Being a big fan of the movie, I looked everywhere for a copy of the book. At the time, there had only been two editions of the novel released – the original hardcover and a subsequent paperback. They had been out of print for so long that hardcover versions were being listed at more than $1000US, but I managed to find a great deal on a very well-read paperback copy for $150 from a New Zealand used book dealer. Do not spend $150 on this book. It’s terrible.  However, as of this writing it appears that Amazon has a listing for a new edition of The Quiet Earth set to be released in May 2014. At the new edition price, it’s worth reading if you like the movie – but definitely start with the movie first.