January 31, 2017

Sing Street

John Carney, 2016
I have to confess that Sing Street was one of those movies that I watched the trailer for the first time and felt a little annoyed. It was clearly the headspace that I was in at the time. Because the movie surfaced one night through a brief Netflix browsing session with my wife who was looking for something with some heart and not blood. Sing Street would prove to be one of the better 2016 films to watch with my wife.

One of the redeeming qualities about Sing Street is the fact that when the group of high school strangers assemble, their first attempts of making music don't actually suck much. In fact even their first tune that they make is actually pretty catchy. By doing this it eliminates a lot of technical build up like in School of Rock where students literally have to learn from the ground up in terms of form. A device used is to sort of skip over the rudimentary obstacles is to plug in character Eamon (Mark McKenna) who not only is a multi-instrumentalist but he is even able to provide practice space because his father is in a cover band. School of Rock is a fitting movie to bring into this conversation because there are obvious parallels. Young school kids making music together, all bringing their own life experiences and using music as a form of expression. But the differences between the two are stark. Admittedly a lot of it is cultural. With Sing Street being an Irish production, the story is set in the rigid and strict confines of the UK educational system in the 1980's. The landscape is gloomy. There is an obvious sense of authoritarian rule. Bullying is rampant. School of Rock was more about a wild teacher finding a way to connect with a classroom. Sing Street is more about a young man dealing with all of the normal angst-ridden things that teenagers have to deal with and finding a way to deal with it. While a lot of what lead character Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) are common teenage problems, they are all illustrated in a way that makes it compelling on screen.

Perhaps the only negative that exists with Sing Street is the fact that its filled with the conventional teenage movie tropes. Frustration toward your parents. Not having a lot of friends. Not liking your teachers. The crush on the unattainable girl. Escape through music. But Carney finds a way to put blend these elements on screen that make it feel fresh and charming. This is likely to do with it with being an Irish production and having fresh faces on screen. It speaks well for international film, telling stories that might not be completely unique but telling the story in a place that doesn't get as much attention as it probably should. Its obvious that Sing Street would be a much different movie if it were set in New York City with American actors. But it wasn't. Instead it's a sweet little Irish film that will have "Drive it like you stole it" in your head for a few days after viewing.

January 30, 2017

Narcos (Season 1 & 2)

Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato, Doug Miro, 2015-2016
When I think about really detailed gritty crime dramas, I think of Jean-Francois Richet's Mesrine: Killer Instinct films. Split into two films, it's a biopic of "Public Enemy 1" Jacques Mesrine. Mesrine was a French gangster responsible for several bank robberies and kidnappings in France and Canada. He managed to elude the law and even escaped from prison. Jacques Mesrine and Pablo Escobar have a lot in common. They are both solitary figures both considered to be highly dangerous & sought after to their respective countries. They were both incredibly elusive and constantly in hiding. They both managed to escape from prison. They were both considered to be "Robin Hood" figures to the common people.

But Wagner Moura's Pablo Escobar will have more of a lasting impact on the cinematic landscape than Cassel's Mesrine. This is probably because through a television series, he's really able to cultivate the Pablo character and let it build rather than try to let it build through 4-6 hours of two movies. But the similarties between the two don't stop at the leading performances. They both have an elaborate backdrop. Mesrine in urban France. Narcos in urban Colombia. Through fly over shots of Colombia, tracking shots through the streets, it creates an detail rich world that pulls you in. As dangerous as the city may be there is still something that draws you back to it.

As each episode continues in Narcos, the stakes continue to elevate as does Escobar's wealth and influence. As his empire grows, his moral concessions do as well. Almost like Breaking Bad, he's a figure in slow deteriortion. Someone that has concrete morals at the beginning turns into a comprimised villain with blurred vision. Escobar is undoubtedly an interesting figure. Someone who has unimaginable wealth and power. Yet there is a hunger for more. More of what? Well, that's what the series is all about. Legacy, respect, family. These are all important things to Pablo. In a sense the money is just secondary. It really becomes a disposable thing. We are constantly seeing stacks and stacks of money thrown around like napkins through the series. Buried underground, thrown in bags, throwns in boxes. There's so much of it they don't even know what to do with it all.

I gave Mesrine 5 stars back when I reviewed the two films. I feel the same for Narcos. It's hard to find any noticeable flaws with this series. It's just so well filmed, so well acted, so well put together. Everything from the production design to the intricate sound design - it's all top notch. It's all just top notch. Call me a sucker for gritty crime dramas, I deserve it. Cutting my teeth with Scorcese's great body of work has set a certain standard. Narcos meets and exceeds these standards.

Season 2 manages to keep raising the stakes, the only difference being that we finally get to see some pieces of Escobar's empire finally breaking down. But the mystique around him builds. There are times that, even if you are aware of the historical facts, it feels like he's never going to be caught. One of the constant thoughts I have while watching Narcos is what if Pablo had never run for that political office early on? By doing that he put the spotlight on him, a spotlight that never went away. It seems possible that if continued to lurk in the shadows of Colombian society rather than trying to become such a mainstream figure that he could have gone on growing his empire and wouldn't have to spend his life on the run.