Monday, July 21, 2014

Review of Begin Again

One thing regular readers of my blog would probably notice is that I do a monthly review of a book, movie or game I had played, seen or read. However what most people probably don’t know is that I only do reviews of stuff I liked.

The reason is simple. Reviews takes time to write and I much rather write about stuff I like than stuff I don’t. This month I had seen 3 movies; Transformer: Age of Extinction, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Begin Again. Of the 3, I am now writing a review of Being Again.

That should tell you what I think of the film. In simple terms, I thought Transformer: Age of Extinction was crap, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was good but not great, and Begin Again was the best of the lot.

Written and directed by John Carney, Begin Again stars Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, James Corden and Adam Levine (in his acting debut). Now when you read that line-up and hear that this is a musical, it is understandable that you will have doubts about the movie. However you need to get rid of them and see this movie because it is really great!

The movie starts when a disgraced record-label executive, Dan (Mark Ruffalo), stumble upon singer-songwriter Gretta (Keira Knightley) performing in a small New York bar and is immediately captivated by her raw talent. From this chance encounter, the duo embarked on a friendship that turns into a promising collaboration between the two lost talents.

Using flashbacks, we discover the backstory of the duo. Gretta and her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) were songwriting partners who came to New York when he land a deal with a major label after scoring a hit song on a movie. The trappings of fame proved too much for Dave however and he soon strayed. Gretta left their apartment and took up residence with a close friend who literally forced her to go to a bar with an open-mike night.

Dan is a down-and-out music executive who had lost his way due to a failed marriage and excessive drinking. Things have become so bad that his business partner Saul (Mos Def) fired him from Distressed Records, an independent label the duo had co-founded. After a heated argument with his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) over their teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), Dan then goes on a drinking binge which ultimately brings him into the bar that night.

After a night of reflection, Gretta agree to make the album but they got rejected from Saul. Dan and Gretta then decided to produce the album on their own. Recruiting a team of talented (and very bored) musicians, they recorded the album live during the summer at various public locations around New York City and formed a friendship that bonded them both personally and professionally.

Like I said earlier, Begin Again is a great film. Not only that, it is remarkably refreshing! Writer and director John Carney made a joyous movie about songwriters and the way their lives and their work influence each other. It is a movie about love, family, and relationships, but (and this is important) this is no rom-com. Knightley and Ruffalo make for one of the most unusual engaging couples of the year yet the movie made sure their relationship is strictly friendship.

I find that great! In almost every other film out there, the two leads would get together in the end but director Carney firmly says, "NO". He just refused to pamper to the public and that gave the movie the perfect ending.

Another thing that helped was the performance of the actors. Ruffalo was, as per usual, a delightful to watch. He was charming, roguish, and scruffy, all at the same time. Knightley however was just outstanding.

Quite frankly I never thought the queen of the corset got this in her but she got the vibe of an indie artist down pat. A lot has been made about her doing her own singing in this film, but I thought her acting was what's outstanding. Her singing was just so-so in my view but her acting performance was great. The scene where she sang out her rage and anger on Dave's voicemail was superb. She made me believe she was this character and with all the period dramas I had seen her in, that's not easy.

Also, the two leads were ably supported by their co-stars. Mos Def was especially good in the role of Dan's business partner Saul. In just a few brief scenes, he managed to convey a full range of emotions, from his reluctant firing of Dan to his attempted wheeling dealing of Gretta. Adam Levine (of Maroon 5 and The Voice) was also very good. Dave is a good man who did not manage to handle the fame that came his way, made a stupid mistake and regretted it. Levine played him beautiful.

The only sore spot I can see in this film was a mistake made in editing. After getting the musicians together, the band got to practicing and we saw two new musicians; the drummer and the bass-player. However after that, we got a scene where Dan and Gretta met with a former discovery of Dan, Troublegum, asking for his help. Troublegum agreed to provide two artists for the band but the thing is, the drummer and the bass-player (who we see in the background behind Troublegum) were the two artists we seen practicing with the band earlier. That is a bad mistake.

However, beside that I just can't say anything bad about this film. It's great. Watch it!

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