Sing Street has such rich humanity and appealing humor that I applaud writer/director John Carney's nerve. He embraces the "Hey, let's form a band" conventions which he then enlivens with three-dimensional characters and restrained but astute social commentary. It's 1985 Dublin when 14-year-old Connor "Cosmo" Lawler learns that his parents' money crunch means he'll attend a new school.

The priest who runs this nearby Catholic school physically and abusively enforces his rigid ideas of acceptable behavior, and he's just one of Cosmo's tormentors. But Cosmo has a backbone and an imagination, and in short order he approaches THE coolest girl around, Raphina. Cosmo then must recruit other outsiders for the heretofore nonexistent band he's bragged about, promising Raphina a music video as the way to her heart.

The band eventually called Sing Street, becomes enamored of 1980s music videos, as was Carney. As the clueless friends search for their musical and costume style, they imitate, to our delight, the groups they listen to from Duran Duran to The Cure, Depeche Mode to Joe Jackson, with some license as to chronology. They also write a couple good songs of their own as they ricochet from one look and affectation to another.

Best known here for Once and Begin Again, director Carney demonstrates his cinematic expertise. He uses slow motion of the boys walking, never lingers on one musical signature too long, and adds details and dialogue that endears and amuses. For example, one band member loves rabbits and keeps several around. And Carney writes about serious issues extremely well, suggesting much more than he shows.

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Cosmo, Lucy Boynton as Raphina, and Jack Reynor as Brendan deliver thoroughly professional, impressive performances, as do all the band members. Walsh-Peelo is, off screen, a trained opera singer, who convincingly seems to strain for musical expression here. Director Carney clearly deserves credit for so casually capturing scenes that pulse with joy, especially those with college drop out, older brother Brendan.

With its buoyant storytelling, witty exchanges, and charming young characters, Sing Street is an immensely enjoyable film. At a Landmark Theatre.


Whenever director Andrew Rossi's cameras focus on dresses, the screen lights up like a sky cracked by fire. Whenever his cameras focus on the planners in what seem to be interminable meetings, the screen lulls back to sleep. However, what it takes to put on the Costume Institute Gala informs if it doesn't dazzle.

The documentary, The First Monday in May, details the fund-raiser. The result is a good-enough doc if not an exemplary one. There are times when it's hard to credit fashion when there are people starving in this world -- and certainly the fashions are not what women are wearing to the Chevy plant -- but there is a guilty pleasure in seeing the magnificent gowns and gee-gaws that erupt from the minds of the creative for the backs of the rich.

The Gala is informally known as the Met Ball, for it raises money for the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A lot of money, a lot of needed money. The marriage of fashion and celebrity means money.

The documentary begins with a view of Jessica Chastain promenading before a phalanx of photographers, followed by glamor-girl after glamor-puss. Each wears an outfit geared to the theme of the 2014 gala: "China: Through the Looking Glass." The bare-ankled curator, Andrew Bolton, leads the discussion of goals in conjunction with decisive Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue and mistress-mind behind the gala. She is likened by juxtaposition to the dragon-lady portrayed by Anna May Wong.

Rossi, who also directed Page One: Inside The New York Times, starts First Monday in May in December and carries his cameras through the gala, which gives the rest of us plebeians a chance to mingle with the fashionistas through time and place.

 

Writer/director Tom Tykwer earned my admiration in 1998 with Run Lola Run, and I'm delighted he's now directed Tom Hanks in A Hologram for the King. The plot is simple; the ideas provocative; the acting, cinematography and sound spectacular. First to the story, adapted by Tykwer from Dave Eggers' 2012 novel.

Hanks plays Alan Clay, embroiled in a contentious divorce, en route to Saudi Arabia when we meet. To save his dignity, his job, and his daughter's college plans, Alan must sell the Saudi King on new teleconference technology that inserts holograms into meeting spaces, making virtual interaction feel quite real. Numerous problems emerge: Alan keeps oversleeping and missing his shuttle to the King's Metropolis of Economy and Trade, necessitating an offbeat, comical alternative driver. And then there's the fact that neither the King's assistant nor the King seem to find their appointments the least bit important. Like Waiting for Godot, in other words, they just don't bother to show up while Alan's team struggles in a tent without air-conditioning.

Stranded physically and emotionally, Alan is adrift and grasps for a lifeline. It comes though a medical emergency and the help, to his surprise, of a woman doctor, played well by Sarita Choudhury. Sprinkled here and there in nonlinear fashion, flashbacks and quick montages fill in details of Alan's life, as editor Alexander Berner keeps the pace brisk. In supporting roles, Dhaffer L'Abidine, Tom Skerritt, and Ben Whishaw perform well.

Shot primarily in Morocco and Egypt, the barren, sand landscape effectively expresses the emptiness of Alan's life, and the cyst on his back the toxic burden he carries. All the technical elements contribute, but the lion's share of the credit goes to Hanks who carries the film. To that end, cinematographer Frank Griebe repeatedly moves in on Alan's face, highlighting Hanks' reaction shots. They are the glue that holds together the diverse humorous and serious scenes as, stranger in a strange land, Alan observes unexpected occurrences that come out of left field. Hanks' thoroughly likable everyman and his engaging presence are what makes A Hologram for the King worth the trip. Check area listings.

The most requested photograph from the National Archives shows Tricky Dicky Nixon shaking hands with Elvis the Pelvis Presley in December 1970. That the two leaders of the Western World should have met is phenomenal; that Elvis & Nixon should be so funny is delightful -- especially to Americans of a certain age.

The headnotes to the film indicate that Nixon began recording in 1971, so this incident on December 21 has no transcript. The script writers -- Joey Sagal, his ex-wife Hanala Sagal, and the actor Cary Elwes -- imagined what took place that day. The three did a delicious job, letting humor bubble up out of the incident itself but also out of what the audience knows of the dramatic personae and the incidents to follow.

Liza Johnson opens her little film (it runs less than 90 minutes) with Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon. Spacey is magnetic in that opening moment, and he continues to electrify the film throughout. Peace symbols and rainbows tell the time. There're Elvis and Graceland, scarves and flared cuffs, and his entourage. And there're Nixon and the White House and his henchmen. Two of the funniest moments: protocols for visiting the President and the King are explained painstakingly, and the square-footage of the homes of each is compared in a phallomachic contest.

Michael Shannon comes mighty close, thank you very much to nailing the part of Elvis. Jerry Schilling and Johnny Knoxville play men in Elvis' entourage. Colin Hanks is wonderfully obsequious as Egil "Bud" Krogh, and Evan Peters slithers appropriately as Dwight Chapin -- both men headed for prison by the end of the decade. The part of Diane is taken by

Dylan Penn, daughter of Robin Wright, Kevin Spacey's co-star in House of Cards.

Elvis need for a secret agent's badge and Nixon's need to appeal to the youth come together in Elvis & Nixon, wrangling laughs and knowing nods.

 

Don Cheadle's name is all over Miles Ahead, his bio-paean to the great trumpeter, Miles Davis. The film plonks within a mare's nest of recent homages to bad men who played great music: Born To Be Blue about Chet Baker and I Saw the Light about Hank Williams.

Cheadle's work -- as director, co-writer, producer, fund-raiser, and lead actor -- endeavors mightily to tell something of the story of Davis. It's a film that Cheadle says, he thinks, Miles Davis would like to star in, a film that pictures him as "gangsta." Or as a mannequin, a style-setter. He's also somewhat of a silent star, given that he has been unmusical for five years.

Davis is certainly not a gentleman. He insists that his talented wife, Frances Taylor, give up her career for him and his. He is drugged more often than he is clean. In 1975, when the film is set, Davis has stopped producing but insists that he is entitled to be paid and his producers should just bet on the come. He is arrogant. As he says, "If you're going to tell a story, come with some attitude." He also says, "When you're creating your own stuff, even the sky isn't the limit." He insists that "jazz" be called "social music" though what that means, he does not explain.

Even with the device of Ewan McGregor as a reporter, the plot of Miles Ahead does not explain a lot. Certainly not about the creative process. When asked if he ever took piano lessons, all Davis declares is, "No, I woke up black and I could play."

The film's energy is electrified in the production values, in lights and camera shots: on Davis' busy man cave, through the bowels of his horn, a red light on the bell of his horn, Davis playing in silhouette.

Cheadle's energy rains from every pore whether alone or as he interacts with the reporter or with promoters and dealers and musicians. Still, Miles Ahead is more vertical vignette than horizontal panorama. Its texture is right but its music is slight.

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