Begin Again will delight music enthusiasts, and satisfy the regular moviegoer

At its simplest, Begin Again – directed by John Carney and starring Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley – is a celebration of music.

But as the film shows, even something simple can be beautiful, like an acoustic ballad. And although held back mildly by a middle act which leaves a tad more to be desired, Begin Again takes that message to heart with believable performances and heartfelt and heartbreaking tunes which do a good job telling the story on their own.

Ruffalo plays Dan, an out-of-his-prime music executive who is searching for authenticity in a New York music scene that is being fueled more and more by money. It becomes quickly apparent, as these stories usually go, that he hasn’t put as much effort into his family as he should, but rather is focusing on his job too much to no avail.

Enter heartbroken songwriter Gretta, played by Keira Knightley, who doesn’t aspire of stardom. Her sole desires were to help spark hubby Dave Kohl’s career in the music biz…until he began showing signs that the his new lifestyle isn’t up to par with her.

Dan hears Gretta play at a chance encounter that is much like a different kind of love at first sight, and the two embark on creating a wholly unique album together.

Dan and Gretta share their musical interests in the always pretty locales of New York City.

Dan and Gretta share their musical interests in the always pretty locales of New York City.

Don’t be mistaken, this is a story reminiscent of many we’ve seen before, but the way Carney focuses on the music and songs – more specifically, the stories behind the songs – is where he gets off. Begin Again teaches a lot about music and the many things it is. It is a remedy and a poison. It is all encompassing and intimate. It is diverse and it is unifying. And the best, most relatable songs are the ones with emotional backstories.

Diehard music geeks, especially of the acoustic indie variety, will have an absolute ball with Begin Again. Where the average person will see a large portion of the film, in which the album is being made, as repetitive and middling, musicians will be able to relate to the intimacy of the process of producing music, and how it affects those involved. Begin Again is astutely aware of its priorities; to show how music can be cheerful even when it’s sad. Some moviegoers will understand that better than others, and that’s okay.

Ruffalo (Now You See Me, The Avengers) is superb in his role. Always engaged, lively and believable, his joy at finding real music is easy to see, as is the pain when talking about his past. Ruffalo also shows to have some great timing with comedic deliveries, and doesn’t have to be saying a word to show he is one of the more underrated actors in Hollywood today. Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean, Atonement) also puts in a memorable performance as a young Nora Jones-type singing of lost love and various other melancholy themes. Who knew she could sing?!

Maroon 5 frontman Levine brings his musical chops to Begin Again as rising star Dave Kohl.

Maroon 5 front man Levine brings his musical chops to Begin Again as rising star Dave Kohl.

In the supporting cast, Adam Levine, who knows a little something about the music industry, makes his big screen debut as a rockstar who has his priorities jumbled. He’s right in his natural habitat as Dave Kohl, at least when he’s singing. In the more human parts that require him to actually act, he’s relatively stiff as cardboard, never really one who we particularly want to be together with Gretta. Cee Lo Green and Mos Def have appearances in the movie that are much more memorable than Levine’s extended cameo.

Where Begin Again succeeds is exemplified by its third act and ultimate ending. It isn’t overly done as some movies these days choose to go; Carney knows that too much of a good thing doesn’t always work. The ending doesn’t succumb to predictability, and it’s humble and intimate. It’s simple, and it works to great effect.

 

In a Nutshell

Led by strong lead performances of both the acting and musical variety, Begin Again explores the essence and strength of music to elevate itself above the regular clichés.

8.0 / 10 or Worth your time and money in a Summer of loud blockbusters, and you even get a couple new tunes to check out!

 

Begin Again is rated R for language 

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine

Directed by: John Carney

2014

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The Purge: Anarchy exceeds the original in every way, fully realizing what it can be

Is two films enough to constitute The Purge as a franchise? Because if so, they might have set a record for fastest reboot in the history of cinema.

Whether the producers of The Purge: Anarchy meant for the film to be a sequel or a redoing of their first film, one thing is for certain: this is what the first film was supposed to be. The Purge: Anarchy is more keenly aware of its concept, and it uses that knowledge to its advantage in being an effective, surprising entry that moves past the clichés of modern cinema.

The premise remains similar to the The Purge of yesteryear. It has come to that one night out of the year that is responsible for practically ushering in a new golden age of America devoid of crime, poverty, and unemployment. The New Founding Father have taken care to destroy traditional America by creating one night for you to have fun with your guns and knives and fires.

In the first film, that’s pretty much all you had to know before it went into full-on home invasion movie mode.

Not so the second time around.

Three groups of people come together to get out of the annual Purge alive: a mother, Eva, and her daughter who refuse to take part and hole up in their home; a couple whose relationship is on the rocks who get stranded outside at the most inconvenient time of the year; and the star of the film, a quiet, threatening stranger who is taking part in this year’s purging, for reasons we don’t yet know. But he does have a conscious. That much we do know as he, despite his best intentions, chooses to save the would-be victims who shouldn’t last five minutes on these streets.

From there on out, it’s a fight to survive the remaining hours of this hell of a night.

Director James DeMonaco, who also wrote the film, does a surprisingly excellent job at conveying the different ways the annual Purge is viewed. There are those who know it is their right to let free their aggression, and there are those, such as Eva and her daughter, who believe it doesn’t truly solve anything. It is the new government’s salvation, and a revolutionary’s nemesis.

As the night gets underway, there is an abundance of shots of the chaos and, forgive me, anarchy of the event which convey it’s macabre and no-one-is-safe tones. Buses aflame careening down streets. Victims being dropped from buildings in alleyways.  Hillbillies drive go-karts with flamethrowers and quiet ones stalk the streets with machetes. The poor hide for their lives in the walls of the city as small armies of soldiers in semis are out to kidnap the city folk for their employer to purge. Anti-government groups declaring the Purge as being corrupt make their message and their threats known on screens around downtown LA. The full-scale terror is put out on display, and it is a spectacle.

Just one of the many ways to get your freak on during Purge night.

Just one of the many ways to get your freak on during Purge night.

But those aren’t even the most terrifying moments of the film.

Just when you think The Purge: Anarchy is going to succumb to clichés of escaping madmen with weapons and no remorse, DeMonaco throws a curveball, or a few. Where The Purge: Anarchy exceeds the most is when things are seemingly normal, and our characters are safe. The parts of the movie where our group is with perfectly sane characters turn out to be exactly the opposite. We see that truly no one is safe from the temptations of purging, of “letting the beast out”, especially as we see our anti-hero as a man on a mission to get his revenge.

The film’s third act is undoubtedly its high point, as DeMonaco shows how the annual purging affects all classes of society, and our group is caught in a modern version of The Most Dangerous Game. At this point the movie fully realizes what is and what it can be, as bigger motives for purging are introduced. It’s bold, it’s effective, and it allows the film to breathe fresh air into a plot we thought at one point to be predictable. There are a number of twists and turns just in the film’s closing minutes which ultimately lead to a satisfying conclusion.

Frank Grillo puts in an excellent performance as a conscious which becomes more conflicted as the movie goes on.

Frank Grillo puts in an excellent performance as a conscious which becomes more conflicted as the movie goes on.

The Purge: Anarchy is less of a horror film and more of an action thriller, which, in all actuality, fits the concept better than the tones its predecessor tried to convey.

The jump-scares that characterize modern horror are few and far in between, but that’s okay because there is always tension lingering over the group as they make their way through the streets, keeping tabs on who is behind them, ahead of them, and above them. You never know when some maniac in a mask is going to jump out or a group on motorcycles make their way down the road to you. Although the movie’s twisted, every-day version of Rambo, played superbly by Frank Grillo (Collision, End of Watch) seeks his own redemption, you begin to see the doubt in his eyes as he helps the group further into the night. His is a fascinating character who has to grapple between what is right and what he wants.

The other characters are tough to root for, mostly through them being stock characters; predictable and annoying at times, not really growing through the course of the film. It’s tough to care for their stories when our anti-hero’s is an enticing mystery.

And, like all modern actioneers and thrillers, the logic of The Purge: Anarchy is laughable at times. Either some of the individuals in the film are really really really bad shots, or the characters are invincible and bullets fly right through them.

But that’s a minor complaint considering modern entries in the genre. It certainly doesn’t detract from the experience as a whole, as we see the annual Purge played out on a full scale.

That’s the spirit of the film, and what sets it apart. It isn’t afraid to fully realize its vision. Instead of the audience daring the movie to scare us, as most modern horror entries unfortunately succumb to, The Purge: Anarchy dares us to be frightened by the notion that this could happen, and we might become different people when the annual Purge comes around.

In a Nutshell

Held back slightly by a stock plot for most of the film, The Purge: Anarchy in its final act morphs into the film the first one should have been, and we are left leaving the theater all the more shaken because of it.

 

7.5/10 or Are we sure this isn’t a franchise reboot?

 

 

A story

It was March 30th. And March 30th for the past few years hadn’t been just any day, he knew that. March 30th was a date that recently was a rollercoaster of a day, as far as what it meant.

He wasn’t much one for details. He always liked to get to the point. In his mind, March 30th three years ago was…just March 30th. A normal day.

Until he met her. The same her he would come to realize was much more than just a her….and who made March 30th much more than a regular day.

He wasn’t much for details. Yet he couldn’t help but go back and remember the finest, most forgettable aspects of that day.

school day. A new girl. A glance. A conversation. A spark. “She’s like a supernova, something so magnificent and beautiful that you take for granted until you get to experience it in person…” That was how he would describe her to his friends later that day, that week, that year…He had experienced something he thought he never would. And it was magnificent to him. Her.

That was three years ago, his and her sophomore year at Pacific Bay High in San Diego. That was the first time March 30th represented something. Something magnificent.

He wiped a telling tear from his eye, remembering how things had been, wondering how they had gone so wrong.

The next year, March 30th would evolve to become a day of justification. It only took a year for him to realize that she was all he thought she was. She was more, actually. And he was just as much something to behold to her.

It was young love. It was frightening, yet consuming. All-encompassing.

“We must have been inevitable. There’s no other way to describe it,” she had said to him. It had been a year. It was a celebration. Both of them thought it was silly to celebrate a one-year anniversary of them beginning to date. Why not remember the most important day, the day we met? “Plus,” he remembered saying, “anniversaries are a grown-up concept. Something expendable for someone our age.” She agreed. So to them, the day was simply…March 30th. A date that meant nothing and everything at once. They both knew they would be among the last of their generation to grow up. And yet they still used words such as “inevitable” and “expendable”. That’s who they were. They wholly realized what they were and what they had, even though they unknowingly already started growing up. It was inevitable after all.

He returned to reality when he noticed the faint glow of his phone going off, the digital letters of her name materializing across the screen. At one point the sight made him catch his breath. It still did, but for all the wrong reasons.

The text was but an abbreviated, loveless version of what she would have sent one, two years ago. “Good morning, happy anniversary. I hope you have a great one…you can call me tonight if you’d like.”

He didn’t recognize the words, the way they were put together.

He wasn’t able to smile at her words. Not anymore.

The words came rushing back to him, the words, the exchange that had kept them afloat for so long.

Her smiling. Looking at him. Him looking into her, at her very essence, into the part only he could understand. Into the ever glowing, everlasting supernova. He had told her the thought of her would make him smile forever. “How long is forever?” she had asked playfully. He thought for a moment, pondering, trying to craft a response as perfect as she was. “Our forever is eternity. It is not only everlasting, but it keeps getting stronger. Our forever is until the last stars burn out. As long as I’m with you, forever is now.” Every time she would ask him how long their forever was, he kept emphasis on “our” and “I’m” and “you”. He was convinced that three words never worked more perfectly together. He was right. For a time.

He responded to her text, with the words he was obligated to say, the words she would expect. It was loveless. It made him wonder. And he thought back to the present pendant.

March 30th last year was a day of foreboding, when the dominating weight of the future hung over them and what they were, and inevitability was knocking at the door.

He thought that maybe if they let it in at that time, things would be different. It was their senior year. He would be getting ready to go to USC, while she was accepted halfway across the country to Boston College in her hometown. But they refused to think about that now.

A beach. A year ago. A lifetime ago. They both knew this might be their last March 30th together in person, but they didn’t have to acknowledge the fact that being apart would only make them stronger in spirit. They knew it would be so. As the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so would they remain strong. They thought they were in the driver’s seat of this great wonderful mystery called Life. But just in case the weight would fall on top of them while they were apart…he got her an item. A pendant. A cheap, mundane necklace of a square piece of plastic painted like a present. Red wrapping paper and a yellow bow. He knew the simplicity wouldn’t matter. It was the message he meant to send. “You’ve been a gift in my life, for the past two years. You’ve been a gift every day. Every moment with you is endearing.” It was cheesy. It was simpleton. And she understood exactly what he meant. She would look at it when she needed, and he would know when she did, and she would remember, and whatever struggles they might or might not endure would fade.

That was a year ago. “What’s happened,” he wondered aloud, to no one in particular. Where has the light of her supernova gone?

Every second of the past year, every moment she was gone, the weight was hanging over them so low that it blocked whatever light they had.

The first few months had been okay. They had written letters, or novels in the form of letters. They had phone calls that lasted throughout the night. They didn’t mind. They were strong.

But inevitability was stronger.

He didn’t know when he first realized the letters became few and far in between. He couldn’t remember when they had their first argument. He didn’t want to know. It hurt to remember.

He could not understand.

And the letters stopped. And the nightly calls became weekly texts. He spent nights staring at the sky, searching intently, as if their forever was lost among the stars. How would he get it back?

The fights became regular. The memories started to fade. He became afraid of her supernova. There was a certain intimacy in their arguments that always made him uncomfortable, as if they gave her the advantage.

After a time, whatever lone piece of thread holding the weight above them broke. And the thing he feared most came true. He realized the truth.

Neither of them was right. There had never been any growing up for them to do. That had happened a long time ago, before their first March 30th. There were no answers, because what they had been never existed. It was only an illusion of them thinking they had the great mystery of Life solved. Or did they ever think it even needed solving?

It didn’t matter anymore. They hadn’t talked for weeks. They hadn’t argued for weeks. Their forever was limbo, and it was halted by the inevitable, inevitability they had never known and never realized until it was too late.

He thinks she realized it too, at precisely the same time. And that was all the confirmation he needed. He cursed himself, wondered what he was thinking. They had practically spent every moment of two and a half years together; did he really think being on opposite sides of the country would be just the same?

Again he found himself wondering what might have been, if they had welcomed in that dark inevitability earlier.

He didn’t ponder too long. It wasn’t worth it. Not anymore.

Over the coming weeks he heard whisperings from mutual friends of mutual friends. “She’s seeing someone else,” his friends said, “she’s given up.” He didn’t bother to correct them.

A few weeks later she wrote her final letter, or the last one that he got. It said “this boy means nothing to me but he’s here and you are not.” But that wasn’t what provided their closure.

Enclose with the letter was the item they always fell back on – that was supposed to remind her and relieve him. Suddenly, the piece of plastic made to look like a present wasn’t their failsafe anymore. It wasn’t anything. It signaled the end, nothing more.
From that point on, as seamlessly as the seasons change, March 30th began to not seem so special. And their forever became an empty promise.