Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Begin Again

Directed by: John Carney

Produced by: Anthony Bregman
Tobin Armbrust
Judd Apatow

Screenplay by: John Carney

Starring: Keira Knightley
Mark Ruffalo
Adam Levine
Hailee Steinfeld
James Corden
CeeLo Green
Mos Def
Catherine Keener

Music by: Gregg Alexander

Cinematography by: Yaron Orbach

Editing by: Andrew Marcus

Studio(s): Exclusive Media
Likely Story

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

Release date(s): September 7, 2013 (TIFF, Premiere)
July 11, 2014 (United States and United Kingdom)

Running time: 104 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: N/A

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $14, 124, 922

Well, it seems that thus far I have managed to keep up with at least one of the three movies that I said I would see in the coming week: on Friday I went to my local The Strand to see Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie, a review for which will follow this one. Apart from that, I haven't been up to a whole lot, and frankly that's okay considering the glut of work I had before my week off. It's been nice to actually spend a weekend at home for the first time since the start of the summer. I watched Looper there and I have to say it was a shame I didn't see it when it came, because it was an absolutely cracking genre flick right up my alley. Anywho, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is Begin Again, which was formerly known under the title Can A Song Save Your Life? The film is directed by John Carney, who is best known for helming 2007's spellbinding Once, a true example if ever there was one of an independent film and frankly one of the finest films in it's decade of release. Not to try and suggest too much of a similarity between Begin Again and his previous film, Carney's latest is a spiritual successor of sorts, at least where topic matter and thematic content is concerned: Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) is a troubled man, recently fired from his long-time job as an executive at a record label he helped found, and while on the lash at a bar, becomes entranced with the talents of Gretta (Keira Knightley) a young independent songwriter at an open-mic night. Dan, despite his being fired, offers to sign her to his label, but she refuses to compromise her artistry, and instead the two hatch a plan, in cooperation with various musical contacts that both have, to produce and record their own album in various different locations throughout New York City. Comprende? Good!

Starting with the good regarding Begin Again, compliments are in due order for the film's two leads. Over the years, Keira Knightley has grown on me as an actor, and once again she proves herself a formidable talent and screen presence. Her performance here as Gretta is another part on the weave of her CV, showcasing a complex character capable of moments of both true strength and honest vulnerability. In what could have been a hugely idealistic part, Knightley never overdoes anything and plays it just right. The same can be said for Mark Ruffalo's Dan, who could have been the humorous klutz the marketing and trailers make him out to be, but with Ruffalo's ability to tap into the humanity of his characters, Dan too is revealed to be someone suffering from real emotional fragility. Ruffalo does a solid balancing act between playing that fine line between comedy and drama. Also, for a movie with music at the centre of it all, you'd like to think that the songs written for the picture were good, and thankfully they are indeed. There's a variety of songwriters involved here (including Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley, Nick Southwood, Rick Nowels, Glen Hansard, director John Carney, and CeeLo Green and Adam Levine, both of whom have acting parts in the film), however, despite the numerous different artists, crucially it does feel as though it is part of one unified voice. From a performance standpoint, both Adam Levine and Keira Knightley do some fine work with these songs. With respect to Levine though, this is his bread and butter, while Knightley could have easily went the long-tried and tested route of miming with overdubs in a singing voice, but she's made it completely her own and succeeded in this regard. Also, though I won't be getting too much into this, it's a nice looking movie, but works at it's best when shot a la verite on the streets on location throughout different parts of New York City. Where Begin Again is at it's best is when gets down to the crux with these characters at the forefront. As a writer and director, that too is what John Carney does best. Carney just seems to bring with him this empathetic understanding of human emotions, particularly those associated with melancholic romanticism, such as heartache, trauma, turmoil and determined courage in the face of great trial(s). This, combined with his ear for believable dialogue, are what makes Begin Again, a film that on the surface could be dismissed as mush, an endearing charmer, even if it ain't perfect...

(I have to use "ain't perfect" instead of "ain't chopped liver" these days. Being a veggie now it sounds inappropriate to talk about meat that way!) ...which segues me in a way into what I find wrong with the movie. I like this movie a good bit, but it has to be done. The first thing I'd like to make reference to is the fact that the film does make use of these long sequences chopping back and forth between the film's timeline, and as such the first half of the film is largely non-linear. Now, I have no problem with non-linear, but the film reverts in the second half back to linear format and you can't help but thinking "what was the point there?" Also, there's an ensemble feel to the lineup of characters in the movie, and yet though Carney has an ear for dialogue and understanding of people, some of the characters don't strike me as particularly engaging or sympathetic. In particular, Adam Levine's character, who admittedly is a bit of a douche, is meant to be some kind of metaphor for the perils of fame and how damaging it can be on people's relationships. I never bought into that arc as something particularly plausible, not that it can't happen, but you don't see people just transform overnight like that. The same can be said for other characters, such as James Corden's Steve, who only gets over because Corden actually manages to make him slightly endearing, but in fact he's a relatively two-dimensional critter at heart.

As I said, I did have those issues with the film involving plot inconsistencies and some of the characters, which meant (I hate to keep flagging this up) I didn't connect to it in the same way as Once, but Begin Again is still as a whole a very good movie. We've got two fine lead performance from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, the songs and performances of them are terrific, it's a well-shot movie, especially when it's done a la verite on the streets of New York City. Finally, even with it's problems, Begin Again displays director John Carney's ear for dialogue and an empathetic understanding for human emotions. Begin Again could have been mush, but I found it an endearing and rather enjoyable film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Hot (this week has been roasting heat-wise!)

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