Thursday, July 17, 2014

BEGIN AGAIN -- my review

Here’s another movie I really liked that hopefully your town has room for even with TRANSFORMERS 4 playing on every other screen. BEGIN AGAIN was written by John Carney who also gave us ONCE.

ONCE was a charming little movie that spawned an Oscar-winning song and Broadway musical. It was an indie darling. BEGIN AGAIN is his follow-up, also about the music scene, and also charming. But unlike every critic I’ve read, I liked it better than ONCE.

I know I’m in the minority of one, but I got so sick of that song in ONCE I could plotz.

BEGIN AGAIN is set in New York and is one of those idyllic “Manhattan is a cool place if you’re young, artistic, in love, and conveniently there are no blizzards, garbage strikes, heat waves, or Lena Dunham characters” movies. So it’s Times Square on warm summer evenings, cafes late at night, nightclubs, views from the Empire State Building, boat rides in the East River, '60s music, clean subway cars, and of course – Central Park. It’s street musicians, ice cream cones, funky apartments, Sinatra, big breaks, dreams coming true, and rain-slicked streets but never any rain.
But I love all that shit. If I lived in Dublin I would feel that way about ONCE... although I still would be tired of that incessant “Falling Slowly."

BEGIN AGAIN'S narrative is very straight-forward and the film is designed to make you feel good the way a well-produced pop song does. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.

Are there shocking plot twists? Does it say something new about the human condition? Will it shake some sense into Putin? No. But there are also no diarrhea jokes, angst-ridden super-heroes, or Adam Sandler. If you’re looking for a sweet warm-hearted movie with a few laughs, a couple of heartstring tugs, and music right out of THE VOICE, then BEGIN AGAIN might be for you.

It stars Keira Knightley who is so adorable you’re willing to believe she can actually sing, and Mark Ruffalo as his usual laidback nice guy self who squints more than any other actor in history.

The big surprise was how good Adam Levine was. He has a very natural quality. Yes, he was playing a rock star asshole, but I think he has range. He could play a tech mogul asshole or a Wall Street asshole. Seriously, he can act. I actually liked his acting better than his singing, but again that’s me. And all through the movie I was holding my breath that he wouldn’t sing “Falling Slowly.”
Then there was Catherine Keener – who’s become the Eve Arden of sarcastic middle-aged contemporary indie spirit women, CeeLo Green (yo, he’s funny), and my favorite cameo in the film – Rob Morrow as the record company CEO. He channeled every CAA agent, providing just the perfect blend of realism and character assassination.

You can’t review a music movie without acknowledging the person responsible for the music so kudos to Gregg Alexander. He did an especially nice job of writing to Keira Knightley’s range, which is three notes.

The movie was a little long but that may be because there were like seventeen vanity logos before the damn thing even started. Everyone in the cast included uncredited “cheering girl”, Erika Wester must’ve had a production company.  The title of the movie should be BEGIN ALREADY. 

In fairness, I know this movie has gotten mixed reviews. This will not be the sleeper hit that ONCE was. If I’m Harvey Fierstein I’m not furiously writing the libretto for the BEGIN AGAIN musical just yet. But for a smart, fun, summer diversion I can’t think of many other films to see. And in this marketplace, that’s a ringing endorsement.

24 comments:

Scooter Schechtman said...

Your review has me conflicted. I usually refuse to patronize movies that don't have diarreah jokes, but I love Catherine Keener saying "fuck" If it's harder than a PG-13 I'm in.
(What's with the Photo Sphere captcha? I saw it on another site last night?)

BigTed said...

I'm with you 100% on "Falling Slowly" from "Once." I loved it when I first saw the movie. Then the two leads started to make lots of TV appearances, and they never sang anything else. And then it came up on the radio, and on the Grammy awards, and was massacred by every couple harmonizing on YouTube. And then the Broadway musical opened, and the cycle started all over again. I would probably enjoy hearing it again 10 years from now, if I can just avoid it till then...

Richard J. Marcej said...

You forgot to mention the best thing about "Begin Again" (which I just saw two days ago, by the way). The ending. It doesn't go where EVERY big budget, over produced Hollywood romantic comedy would go. And for that, I was very grateful. (though I should add, when I saw the 10:45 showing of "Begin Again" Tuesday night at my local 24 screen theater, I was the only one there.)

Gerry said...

My wife and I did not care for "Once" but I was also fortunately unaware there was a hit song from it. I have a feeling it probably made a very enjoyable Broadway musical but was never tempted. A movie that may be slightly better than "Once" isn't much of an endorsement!

Charlie O'Brien said...

I'm tempted to go see it now. I saw Kiera's piece on CBS Sunday Morning and fell even more in love with her. A very real seeming person for such a star. Did I say I love Kiera, even though she has crooked teeth? She admitted she was really singing but not playing the guitar in the film. She learned to "hold her fingers on the fretboard in the appropriate position and just about the right time." And of course, I have my copy of "Love Actually" near the top of the DVD pile. Nice review Ken - now what about Putin?

Roger Owen Green said...

Off topic: PARADE's best TV theme song, down to Gilligan’s Island v. Cheers.

The final round of voting is open and will close Thursday night at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Bugdun said...

An Eve Arden reference...awesome! My mother hated the recurring Eve Arden sarcastic, smart-ass character. It was a running joke in our family.

H Johnson said...

Great review. I hadn't heard anything about it so thanks. Nice shout out to Gregg Alexander too. He's the guy from New Radicals that basically disappeared after putting out one of the all time great albums. I try to find anything he's involved in. And if Kiera Knightly is half as bewitching as she was in Love Actually, the ticket will have been worth it. Aloha

Cap'n Bob said...

I've found Knightley to be a one-note actress, but nice to look at.

My captcha says Photo Sphere, too, and I've had it before.

Mike said...

Anyone else think Mark Ruffalo has morphed into Tony Danza?

Dixon Steele said...

I loved FALLING SLOWLY and it was just as magical on stage (twice!) during the stage musical version.

Yes, 8 years ago, it might have been overplayed, but that doesn't make it any less lovely. Seriously, is there any popular song that isn't?

Lorimartian said...

I loved "Once" because it was unpredictable. It didn't dissolve into a melodramatic cliche wherein the principals' affection for each other leads to an affair. There was a maturity in the storytelling that was refreshing. It sounds like I would enjoy "Begin Again" for the same reasons. As for the song "Falling Slowly," it really is a beautiful piece and I, for one, haven't tired of it.

Sharon said...

I thought ONCE was pleasant enough, but I loved BEGIN AGAIN. I've often been disappointed by indie films, but not this time. Totally charming, great songs and fun! I almost didn't go because I often find Mark Ruffalo irritating, but he was great here, as was everyone else. It'll be interesting to see if Adam Levine has the patience to build a film career through some nice supporting characters, if that's the direction he wants to go ultimately. I wholeheartedly recommend this movie.

BBT said...

So what'd ya think about FARGO?

Kate said...

I'm trying to picture Tony Danza in The Normal Heart, or Ruffalo tap dancing as Bruce Banner. I fail on both counts.

Pat Reeder said...

I saw this a few weeks ago at a preview screening that the Grammy people invited my wife to. I thought it was okay, and I liked the music. I actually thought Keira Knightley was surprisingly good as a singer and Adam Levine was fine as an actor, although as you said, he was playing a narcissistic rock star a-hole, so it might not have been much of an acting stretch.

My problem was with the ending. I don't know how to describe it without spoiling the plot, so I won't go into detail. I'll just say that what Keira's character did, which was supposed to make us admire her free-spirited lack of concern for commercialism, was actually very selfish, thoughtless and a big knife in the back to all the starving musicians who had helped her. That final jarring, false note soured the whole movie for me retroactively.

Johnny Walker said...

But for a smart, fun, summer diversion I can’t think of many other films to see. And in this marketplace, that’s a ringing endorsement.

I hear CHEF is supposed to be good?

Chris said...

Friday question: Were you aware of this? :)

http://www.mash4077tv.com/2013/04/01/aftermash-coming-to-blu-ray/

Johnny Walker said...

An old April Fool's Day joke...?

Anonymous said...

Top Two Squinters of All Time

1) Peter Falk (and he did it with one eye)
2) Clint Eastwood
3) Mark Ruffalo

VP81955 said...

For squinting, Myrna Loy wins the female division, hands down.

http://trueclassics.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/thin-man-myrna-loy.jpg

chuckcd said...

"...sweet warm-hearted movie with a few laughs, a couple of heartstring tugs, and music right out of THE VOICE"
Kind of sounds like Zach Braff's new film "Wish I Was Here".

With a few more laughs and more indie music.

Katherine @ Grass Stains said...

I loved the film and thought the acting and the music were equally terrific. Re: the comment by Pat Reeder that said, in part, "I'll just say that what Keira's character did, which was supposed to make us admire her free-spirited lack of concern for commercialism, was actually very selfish, thoughtless and a big knife in the back to all the starving musicians who had helped her," I respectfully disagree. I thought it was very true to her character, who said from the beginning that she wasn't particularly interested in making an album and wasn't at all interested profit or the commercialization of music, so I wasn't too bothered by that. Also, they were really up-front with the musicians who played on the album about what it was about. So I think there would have been a much louder outcry if she had done the opposite and totally lost sight of who she was. That's just my opinion, of course. :-)

Thomas Watson said...

The movie was actually good, way better than I'd expected from the trailer, at least.