Archives for January 2017

Fences (2016) – from the Great White Way to the Silver Screen

Many years ago, I had the great pleasure of seeing Denzel Washington and Viola Davis perform the August Wilson play Fences on Broadway. Fast forward a few years later, imagine my surprise (?) when news came out that they would be reprising their roles for the big screen. Of course, the cynical side of me immediately went to this being the ideal awards-bait. This status was further assured when the release date was announced. Would I allow this cynicism to deter me from seeing what is sure to be a cinematic display of tour-de-force acting (which it was, by the way)? Well, obviously I am writing about it, so I did not let this transient thought dissuade me one bit.

With a screenplay from the late playwright August Wilson and directed by star Washington, Fences is part six of Wilson’s ten-part saga (“The Pittsburgh Cycle”), which chronicles the African-American experience during each decade of the 20th century.

Set in the late 1950’s, Fences tells the story of Troy Maxson (Washington), a Pittsburgh sanitation employee married to Rose (Davis), devoted wife and mother to their teenage child Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy is a former Negro League baseball player who showed a great deal of promise until his life takes an ill-fated turn. It is this life-altering event which forever changes Troy and leaves him with a great deal of “bitterness,” a bitterness which becomes more apparent as our story progresses.

But I am getting a little ahead of myself here. By all accounts, given the time and circumstances under which they live, the Maxsons have a rather ordinary and stable home life, which includes visits from Troy’s recently departed (from their shared home) disabled brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson, reprising his stage role) and Troy’s eldest son Lyons (Russel Hornsby, reprising his stage role) from a previous marriage. Another member of the extended Maxson clan is Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson, reprising his stage role), Troy’s coworker and best friend.

As earlier mentioned, eventually the combined impact of Troy’s feelings about the course of his life and a myriad of forces from the outside world collide and manifest themselves, impacting the internal life of the family; I will leave it to you to see how fences come into play.

Beyond the literal and/or figurative meaning of “fences,” we have a dynamic family drama which unfolds beyond our eyes. Maybe because of my nearly seven-year separation from seeing the stage production, I was able to simply watch and enjoy without playing that mental game of “checking off the plot points.” Not doing this allowed more than a handful of scenes to really pack a punch and emotionally resonate with me.

One thing that always makes or breaks a movie adaptation of a stage play for me is the way in which the environment that surrounds the central action is presented on screen. In other words, how much the “visual world” of the story is represented on film. At its worst, it can go either the direction of being too isolated (maintaining the “single set” feeling stage plays are generally confined to) or go way too big – this usually feels like the film production is all too aware of matters of scale and therefore attempts to remedy this by expanding the movie to what they perceive will make it better suited for the cinema. Fences strikes this balance quite well. In fact, such a personal, intimate family drama lends itself to this visual storytelling.

One final point I had made note to point out as I reviewed Fences was the physicality of Mr. Washington. This is more a credit to how well he has aged over the years than anything else in my opinion, but I do remember thinking to myself as I watched the stage show, that he looked a little young in the role. So fast forward to the film adaptation, and I have to say that just the look of him really seemed to suit the character of a world-weary Troy Maxson much better.

As I reflect on these words, I really did not anticipate that this post was going to heavily rely on me comparing my stage and screen experiences, but I guess that was inevitable, especially as I enjoyed each in its particular medium. Not sure when (and if) this play will ever return to the Great White Way, but in case it doesn’t I highly recommend you take the opportunity to catch it at your local movie theater.

Sing Street (2016)

Maybe somewhere buried in this blog (or maybe not), I have talked about my unwavering love of music from the 1980s. Hands down and without a doubt it is a favorite period of mine. Just talking about the sounds of the era automatically fill me up with a sense of nostalgia.

I guess some of my friends know me and my penchant for this period well enough because it is a mate of mine who recommended I watch the film I will be discussing (Sing Street). And boy, I am very glad I took her up on her recommendation 🙂

Sing Street, which made its premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, is written and directed by John Carney (Once, Begin Again). Set in 1985 Dublin, this musical/drama/comedy tells the story of teenaged Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), whose life is turned upside down when he is told by his parents (Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) that due to money problems, he will have to leave his tuition fee-paying school and enroll in a local state (free) school, Synge Street CBS (Carney was a former pupil here).

Almost immediately, he finds himself on the wrong side of things with the school bully (Ian Kenny) as well as with the hard-nosed school principal, Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley).

At the same time, Conor makes an immediate connection with a beautiful yet mysterious young woman, Raphina (Lucy Boynton); he attempts to win her over by asking if she would like to feature in his band’s music video. Only problem? He doesn’t actually have a band – well not yet anyway. Conor uses this moment to set in motion the formation of a band (named “Sing Street” of the title), comprised of a few of his classmates. At the start, they primarily cover 1980’s pop songs. Then at the recommendation of his ne’er do well older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), himself a self-proclaimed music aficionado, Conor decides to take up the task of producing original music with fellow bandmate and instrumentalist extraordinaire Eamon (Mark McKenna).

I think I will stop here in terms of providing you all with a plot synopsis 🙂 What follows is an inspiring story which has its fair share of laughter, drama, and joy. Sing Street has a heart and musical soul that will remain with you well after the credits roll.

And speaking of music – major props to the composer Gary Clark for the work he did on this film. His original music wonderfully captured the tones and the sounds of the era as they accompanied the songwriting efforts of John Carney, Ken and Carl Papenfus (of the Northern-Irish band Relish), Graham Henderson and Zamo Riffman (Source: Wikipedia).

In addition to this original music, Sing Street also features songs from established acts including The Cure, A-ha, Duran Duran, The Clash, Hall & Oates, Spandau Ballet, and The Jam. And in case you are wondering, YES – many of the songs did make it onto the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.

As I mentioned in my previous post recapping 2016, Sing Street was one of the highlights of my moviegoing year.

If you love music from the 1980s and are intrigued by “small” stories that are “big” with emotional resonance, then I cannot recommend Sing Street highly enough.

Have any of you seen this film? What did you think of it? Hit me up in the Comments section below.