Category Archives: High School

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.


After the Dark (a.k.a. The Philosophers)

What Jesse said:

Ah! That [something interesting Mike said] reminds me of a great movie I saw called After the Dark. It’s about a group of kids in a philosophy class who are assigned to consider an apocalyptic thought experiment. The world is ending and there’s only room in the bunker for half of them – who, and how, do they choose? At first I thought it was going to be just another tense apocalypse movie full of kids from a Gap commercial. It is exactly that, but it’s also much more. It’s totally a trick – you think you’re signing up to be entertained and then, bam! – you get schooled in philosophy!

Mike’s verdict:

I completely agree with Jesse on all counts for this one; it’s an apocalypse movie full of Gap commercial kids that teaches you some basic concepts of philosophy. And it’s totally entertaining.

At the beginning I was a bit hesitant because the class starts with a discussion of some very cliché philosophical thought problems. I was worried that I was going to have to sit through an entire class of Philosophy 101 students reading from the first 2 chapters of a text-book. Thankfully the exposition is only used to set the scene and the film very quickly moves on to far less obvious considerations.

The dialog is well written, the cast is surprising dynamic and the plot really works well. This film moves fast, and you move fast with it. It’s exciting – I really wanted to see how the kids worked through their predicaments, and I silently cheered when they chose to run the experiment one last time. Oh, and the initial setting in Borobudur, Indonesia is really cool. It would be an amazing place to watch the beginning of the end of the world.

After the Dark is a terrific film, right up to the end. Unfortunately, the ending itself was fumbled. Back-story was tacked-on as if to add one more twist into the plot, but it was needless and greatly took away from the strength of two main characters. There’s an obvious point where this film should have ended and you’ll know it the first time you see it.

Overall, I really liked After the Dark and I wish I could give it a perfect score – but the ending was forced and completely out of character with the rest of the film. Even so, 9.5/10.

The Spectacular Now

What Jesse said:

Got another one fer ya. It’s called “The Spectacular Now“.  [The wife] and I really enjoyed it. Great story, solid performances.  Go see it mofo.

Mike’s verdict:

The Spectacular Now has all the hallmarks of a stereotypical high school coming of age movie. The popular boy is dumped by the popular girl, only to find something better in the “plain” girl he never noticed before. There are parties and a prom. There is the teacher that really cares, the useless father, and the good intentioned but misguided mothers who just don’t understand. And, of course, there is graduation.

But unlike the typical high school coming of age movie, The Spectacular Now feels real. It doesn’t remind you of all the high school movies you’ve seen, it reminds you of high school.

Foremost, the casting is believable – Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley actually come across as real high school kids. They’re not made to look perfect from every angle. They don’t talk about their lives using the vocabulary of an English literature grad student. And the “plain” girl doesn’t take off her glasses to reveal a supermodel when the popular boy starts paying attention to her.  Instead, this is the entirely likely story of a young man and a young woman, both of whom are confronted by the reality of their lives and honestly try to make the best of them. Their choices are often short-sighted, but they never portray the over-the-top irrationality that most hollywood teen movies rely on.

There is a relentless intensity of nervous energy that falls somewhere between anxiety for what might happen to Aimee and the anticipation of Sutter’s next mistake – and it’s made all the more potent by the film’s realism.