Begin Again

Can a song save your life?

Can a song save your life?

(2013) Romance (Weinstein) Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, Cee Lo Green, Mos Def, James Corden, Marco Assante, Rob Morrow, Jennifer Li, Ian Brodsky, Shannon Maree Walsh, Mary Catherine Garrison, David Abeles, Jimmy Palumbo, Colin Love, Ron Voz, David Pendleton, Jasmine Hope Bloch, Sheena Colette. Directed by John Carney

Music has great restorative properties; studies have concluded that certain tones can stimulate the brain to produce endorphins. There are some therapists who use music to help those with depression and other emotional and mental challenges. Music can heal people, even people in the music business.

In a Greenwich Village bar on an open mike night, Steve (Corden), an ex-pat Brit is playing guitar and singing his song. He invites a friend onstage, but Greta (Knightley) isn’t very willing to go. In fact, she’s downright reluctant but with the patrons urging her on she finally goes up onstage. Thirty seconds into her song, they lose interest and resume their conversations and ordering drinks.

That is, except for one guy – Danny (Ruffalo), a middle aged former record executive who that afternoon had been fired from the record label he had started with his partner Saul (Def). Danny had been sinking into an alcoholic morass ever since his wife Miriam (Keener), a music journalist, had an affair with a colleague which provoked Danny into leaving him and his daughter Violet (Steinfeld). Violet has entered the sexual phase of teen angst and dresses provocatively to get attention, much to the horror of her dad and the indifference of her mom.

Greta isn’t without a backstory of her own. A Brit, she’d come to New York with her boyfriend Dave (Levine) who was also a musician but one that a major label had signed. His career trajectory was promising indeed and of course promptly he falls into an affair with Mim (Li), an assistant with the label. Greta had essentially booked her flight home and was staying the night in Steve’s tiny apartment which was how she wound up in the bar in the first place.

Maybe everyone in the bar hears a lifeless tune that sounds like every other folk-influenced song that seems to hold so much sway in alternative rock and pop these days but Danny hears something different. He hears an arrangement with violin, drums, bass, piano and backing vocals. He hears a song that has meaning and will inspire people. After having been on a cold streak for so long he finally hears something that he can work with.

At first Greta isn’t interested. She understandably just wants to go home. However, something about him is sincere. This is a man who needs fixing – as someone who needs fixing herself she can recognize the trait in others. Maybe they can fix each other. That going out on her own and making it as a musician would be a gigantic middle finger to her ex probably had its appeal as well.

Danny comes up with the idea of recording the album live outside of the studio in various outdoor locations in New York – the roof of a building, a subway station, rowing boats in Central Park – sounds kind of gimmicky but Danny uses Steve as an engineer to set up a mobile recording studio (not as hard as it sounds in this digital era) and assembles a band. For financial help, he uses one-time discovery Troublegum (Green) who realizes he owes his success to Danny and is willing to help him be successful once again.

Danny begins to reconnect with Violet who also bonds somewhat with Greta. Danny and Miriam are beginning to make reconciliation noises while back into Greta’s life comes Dave. Will they be able to go back to their past relationships with this new artistic synergy in place? Or will the past drag them down back to where they were before?

Carney also directed Once which may well be the best movie about songwriting and the redemptive power of music on those who write it and those who hear it ever made. Like in that movie, the actors do their own singing and to a large extent, their own playing. Knightley actually has a pretty pleasant voice although it isn’t remarkable. Levine, a veteran of Maroon 5 and a fixture on The Voice, has a kind of asshole role to play and he does surprisingly well, making the character somewhat sympathetic even though his behavior isn’t always the best. In fact, none of the characters here is perfect and all of them are subject to their own flaws at one point or another in the movie.

In fact, the music is pretty dang good here, surprisingly so. The music is mostly the work of Gregg Alexander, better known as the lead vocalist and songwriter for the New Radicals. While the film name checks (or tune checks) luminaries like Leonard Cohen, Hoagie Carmichael, Stevie Wonder and Sinatra, the bulk of the soundtrack is a folky poppy adult alternative that won’t offend anybody unless of course one is offended by folky poppy adult alternative music.

Ruffalo is always solid and while he hasn’t achieved the kind of status of a Tom Hanks or a Brad Pitt, he is nonetheless dependable for turning out good performances and he does the same here. Yeah, Danny has a few personality tics and he can be overbearing but you get the sense that his heart is in the right place – with his estranged wife and daughter. He knows he has some work to do on himself but given the right inspiration he might actually be able to get it all back. One roots for him to do just that.

While this isn’t to the level of Once, this is a better movie than a lot of the disappointing mid-summer films that are out in theaters currently and will certainly be worth having in your library once it makes it to home video. You might just find it in ours when the time comes.

REASONS TO GO: Ruffalo and Knightley had a different kind of chemistry that is strong in its own right. Great music.

REASONS TO STAY: May be too offbeat for some. A little bit fairy tale-esque.

FAMILY VALUES:  A fair amount of profanity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Knightley had to learn to play the guitar for her role and her husband, musician James Righton, offered to teach her but his lessons proved to be so atrocious that, in her own words, “they nearly led to divorce and murder,” but the couple remain happily married to date.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/23/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100.



NEXT: 22 Jump Street


New Releases for the Week of July 4, 2014


(Screen Gems) Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Sean Harris, Joel McHale, Chris Coy, Dorian Missick, Mike Houston, Lulu Wilson. Directed by Scott Derrickson

A practical New York City cop, struggling with his own personal issues, is assigned to investigate a string of bizarre and inexplicable crimes. He discovers there is someone else investigating the same series of crimes – a renegade Catholic priest. Together they will fight to solve these mysteries and in doing so they will come face to face with the nature of true evil. And believe it or not, this is based on actual events.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette, premiere footage and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout and language)

Begin Again

(Weinstein) Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine. A down on his luck former record company executive teams up with a recently dumped girlfriend of a rising rock star when he hears something in her that excites his imagination again. They will have to beat the odds to make something of her in an industry that has changed on the both of them, and for each of them to heal the other.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)

Genre: Romance

Rating: R (for language)

Bobby Jasoos

(Reliance) Vidya Balan, Ali Fazal, Arjan Bajwa, Supriya Pathak. An earnest young person has one goal in life – to become the number one detective in the old city of Hyderabad. At first, this seems like an impossible dream but then a case comes along that may just achieve that dream for Bobby Jasoos.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Earth to Echo

(Relativity) Teo Halm, Brian “Astro” Bradley, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt. Three boys, inseparable friends, are disconsolate because they are about to be forced to leave their homes due to a highway bypass going through their neighborhood. When they start getting odd signals on their cell phones, they decide to investigate. This leads them directly to an alien being, stranded on Earth and desperate to find a way back to his native planet. E.T. phone home, right?

See the trailer, interviews, clips, B-roll video and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family Sci-Fi Adventure

Rating: R (for language and some bloody violence)


(Radius) Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda SwintonAfter an experiment to stop climate change backfires and brings on a devastating ice age, all that remains of humanity is contained on a single train that crosses the planet powered by a sacred perpetual motion engine. A class system has developed on the train with the Haves living in luxury and the Have Nots just barely surviving. We all know what happens when people have nothing to lose.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction (opened Wednesday)

Rating: R (for violence, language and drug content)


(New Line) Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Dan Aykroyd, Toni Collette. A woman on the down side of life loses her job, her boyfriend and her car all in the same day. She needs a road trip to clear her head but with no money and no wheels and no place to go, she looks to be SOL in the big city. Then her grandma has an idea…

See the trailer and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy (opened Tuesday)

Rating: R (for language including sexual references)

Four-Warned: June 2014

SnowpiercerEvery month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Most of the movies will never play theatrically where you live (unless you live in either New York or Los Angeles) but many of those that won’t will be available through Video-on-Demand; check with your local cable or satellite providers to find out if any specific movie is available through that medium.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

4. BEGIN AGAIN (2.0)

3. IVORY TOWER (1.1)
4. LULLABY (1.2)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JUNE 6, 2014

ANNA (Vertical) Genre: Thriller. A detective able to enter people’s minds and access their memories tries his skills on a teenager accused of a triple homicide. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 I do like Mark Strong but looks a bit short on thrills.
BORGMAN (Drafthouse) Genre: Thriller. An enigmatic stranger enters the life of a normal suburban family but will they will need to find out his sinister agenda before it’s too late. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 This Dutch film has taken the film festival circuit and genre community by storm.
BURNING BLUE (Lionsgate) Genre: Romance. When a criminal investigation within a Navy air squadron brings to light a forbidden affair within their ranks, the pilots begin to question their definitions of honor, friendship and brotherhood. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 A product of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era.
BURT’S BUZZ (Area23a) Genre: Documentary. The story of cantankerous Burt’s Bee’s founder Burt Shavitz and what he’s up to these days. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be the face and name of a billion dollar company?
THE CASE AGAINST 8 (HBO Films) Genre: Documentary. The inside story of the fight to overturn California’s controversial Proposition 8 which was recently struck down, restoring marriage equality to same sex couples in California and paving the way for the rest of the nation. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 An emotional look at one of the most divisive subjects of the 21st century to date.
CITIZEN KOCH (Variance) Genre: Documentary. A look at the conservative billionaires who have become the poster boys for the abuses of Citizens United and have dominated Republican politics for the past decade. Release Strategy: New York City (expands June 13, June 20 and June 27). RATING: 1.0 An important film about how our democracy has been bought and sold under our noses; everyone should see this.
EDGE OF TOMORROW (Warner Brothers) Genre: Science Fiction. During an alien invasion of Earth, a soldier who dies is continually reincarnated at the same point in time and becomes the key to winning a war that the human race has already lost. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.4 Starring Tom Cruise and based on a Japanese manga, the movie puts Groundhog Day in a sci-fi setting.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (20th Century Fox) Genre: Drama. Two cancer-stricken teenagers try to make the most of love in what time that they have. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 Based on a bestselling novel and starring Shailene Woodley, this could either be an unforgettable experience or treacly garbage if not handled right.
HOLIDAY (Reliance) Genre: Action. A captain in the Indian army on vacation is forced to rely on his training and skills while romancing a feisty young woman and taking on an implacable terrorist organization. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Seems to be an action thriller with some moments of Bollywood silliness – surprised that Hollywood hasn’t made an American version of the plot.
I’LL FOLLOW YOU DOWN (Well Go USA) Genre: Science Fiction. When a young scientist disappears on a routine business trip, his family struggles to cope with his loss until years later, a bizarre discovery leads them to believe they can bring him home. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 An interesting Canadian take on a popular science fiction subject with a solid cast including Haley Joel Osment, Gillian Anderson, Victor Garber and Rufus Sewell.
LITTLE BOY (Metanoia) Genre: War Drama. During the Second World War, a young boy struggles to bring his father back from the front. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Promising with a cast that includes Emily Watson and Kevin James but with no trailer available on the net I can’t really say for sure.
THE MOMENT (Screen Media) Genre: Thriller. Following the disappearance of her lover and her subsequent breakdown and commitment to a mental hospital, a photojournalist is befriended by a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to her missing boyfriend. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.7 It’s nice to see Jennifer Jason Leigh onscreen again.
OBVIOUS CHILD (A24) Genre: Comedy. In 1962 An aspiring stand-up comic copes with losing her job, getting dumped and discovering that she’s pregnant, forcing a reinvention of her act – and herself. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Jenny Slate has always been an excellent comic but shows herself to have possibilities as an actress here.
THE SACRAMENT (Magnet) Genre: Horror. Reporters for a TMZ-like show investigate a remote Central American cult who hide a dark secret. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 Ti West is fast becoming one of my favorite new horror directors.
SUPERMENSCH: THE LEGEND OF SHEP GORDON (Radius) Genre: Documentary. Some say he’s the most influential manager ever; some say he’s just a nice guy who negotiates like a hard ass; everyone says that they broke the mold when they made him. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 The list of people who count Shep Gordon as a friend is astounding.
THIS IS NOT A BALL (Videocine) Genre: Documentary. Vik Muniz, a Brazilian artist, prepares to create an art installation in his native Brazil for the 2014 World Cup utilizing more than 10,000 soccer balls. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.5 No trailer available at present.
TRUST ME (Starz Digital Media) Genre: Comedy. An agent of child actors has to fight to protect his latest find – and possible ticket into the big time – from an overprotective stage father, an overzealous agent and an overactive nemesis. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Glad to see Clark Gregg breaking out of the Agent Coulson mold and moving into projects that showcase his talent.
WILLOW CREEK (IFC) Genre: Thriller. A pair of Bigfoot hunters find a lot more than they bargained for in the Northern California woods. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 Director Bobcat Goldthwaite comes up with his first horror film.

JUNE 11, 2014

BURNING BUSH (HBO Europe) Genre: True Life Drama. The legacy of a Czech student who burned himself alive in protest of the Soviet occupation is defended by an idealistic lawyer against a communist regime seeking to discredit his sacrifice. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.2 Initially made as a miniseries and condensed down into feature film form.

JUNE 13, 2014

22 JUMP STREET (Columbia/MGM) Genre: Comedy. The two misfit cops from the first film take on a college drug ring. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 For whatever reason I’m just not so enthusiastic about this movie; maybe later.
ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE (Image) Genre: Horror. A group of elite cheerleaders who died during a party mishap show up at school the next day with some mysterious new appetites. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Nobody does horror with quite as much style as Lucky McKee does.
HELLION (IFC) Genre: Drama. When his brother is taken from their home, an increasingly delinquent teen sets about getting him back. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 May well be Aaron Paul’s best performance yet.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (DreamWorks) Genre: Animated Feature. Hiccup and his dragon Toothless must take on a fearsome new foe. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.2 Likely to be the summer’s biggest animated feature.
THE HUMAN RACE (XLRator) Genre: Science Fiction. Eighty strangers are forced to take part in a brutal race to the death where there is only one survivor. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Dark, brutal with a twisted sense of humor – which makes it a must-see for me.
I AM I (Gravitas) Genre: Drama. After meeting her estranged father at her mother’s funeral, a woman realizes that he believes that she is her mother and decides to let him believe that. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Not sure what to make of this.
IVORY TOWER (Goldwyn) Genre: Documentary. As student debt rises and available jobs shrink, high school graduates begin to wonder seriously if college is actually worth it anymore. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.1 A sobering look at higher education, it’s cost to society and whether or not the system is actually serving America or geared towards making profits.
LIFE’S A BREEZE (Magnolia) Genre: Comedy. A struggling Irish family races against time to find a lost fortune. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Another charming Irish movie; you gotta love it.
LULLABY (ARC Entertainment) Genre: Drama. When his father determines to take himself off of life support in two days, his estranged son attempts to reconnect with his family one last time. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.2 A fantastic cast and a subject that we tend to shy away from could well be a terrific film if they don’t make it too treacly.
THE ROVER (A24) Genre: Science Fiction. In a world made chaotic by the collapse of civilization, a man uses a gang member left behind to take back the car they stole from him. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (expands June 20). RATING: 2.0 Guy Pearce movies always seem to be worthwhile viewing.
THE SIGNAL (Focus) Genre: Science Fiction. Students tracking a hack job on MIT mainframes wake up from a cross country road trip into a living nightmare. Release Strategy: Limited (expands June 20 and 27). RATING: 2.1 Looks pretty creepy; sort of a more horrific Close Encounters.
WITCHING & BITCHING (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror Comedy. A group of Spanish bank robbers on the run in the Basque mountainsides come up against a coven of witches preparing an ancient ritual. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.8 Think of Pedro Almodovar directing The Witches of Eastwick.

JUNE 20, 2014

CODE BLACK (Long Shot Factory) Genre: Documentary. Viewers are given a glimpse at one of the busiest trauma centers in the country, a place where modern emergency medicine was invented and uses it as a means of discussing the health care crisis this country now faces. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Could very well be a film that leads to real change.
COHERENCE (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Genre: Science Fiction. On the night of an astronomical anomaly, eight friends at a dinner party experience disturbing phenomena. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Could be a real mind-bender.
JERSEY BOYS (Warner Brothers) Genre: Musical. Direct from its hit run on Broadway, this musical is a fanciful look at the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 Clint Eastwood? Directing a musical?!?
THE LAST SENTENCE (Music Box) Genre: Biographical Drama. Swedish journalist Torgny Segerstedt crusades against Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia as Sweden struggles to maintain its neutrality during the Second World War. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.5 Meant to take this franchise in a completely different direction might be just what the mad scientist ordered.
LE CHEF (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Comedy. A 3-star Michelin chef is about to lose his namesake restaurant along with his inspiration but finds hope in a talented but stubborn young chef. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 This French comedy was one of the favorites at this year’s Florida Film Festival; read my review here.
THINK LIKE A MAN TOO (Screen Gems) Genre: Comedy. The couples from the surprise hit first film head out to Vegas for a wedding. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 Kevin Hart is beginning to develop into one of my favorite comic actors.
THIRD PERSON (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. Three couples in three cities all hide secrets as their stories entwine in unexpected ways. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Another strong ensemble piece for writer-director Paul Haggis.
VENUS IN FUR (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Romance. A theatrical impresario becomes obsessed with an actress auditioning for his latest play. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 The latest from iconic director Roman Polanski.

JUNE 25, 2014

YVES ST. LAURENT (Weinstein) Genre: Biographical Drama. The story of one of the 20th century’s most iconic clothing designers whose innovations continue to influence fashion today. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.4 Not really a big lover of fashion but the trailer looked intriguing.

JUNE 27, 2014

BEGIN AGAIN (Weinstein) Genre: Romance. A former record company executive and the dumped ex-girlfriend of a rising rock star find each other and make beautiful music together. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles (opens limited release July 2; expands wide July 11). RATING: 2.0 Mark Ruffalo is becoming one of my go-to actors and Keira Knightley is always easy on the eyes.
THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY: THE STORY OF AARON SWARTZ (FilmBuff) Genre: Documentary. The story of Swartz, founder of Reddit and creator of the RSS protocol whose life ended tragically at 26. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.5 Those who know the story know that Swartz is a modern hero.
JACKPOT (Doppelganger) Genre: Crime Comedy. The sole survivor of an adult book store shootout in Sweden relates to police how it all started with a winning soccer pool ticket. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 From acclaimed author Jo Nesbo with a kind of Coen Brothers sheen.
LA BARE (Main Street) Genre: Documentary. After performing in Magic Mike, actor Joe Manganiello was moved to explore the world of male stripping further and set his sights on one of the more well-known establishments of the art in Dallas. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 A compelling story of the real guys who take off their clothes and the sometimes tragic consequences.
SNOWPIERCER (Radius) Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller. Revolution is in the air on a train which contains the last vestiges of humanity during an Ice Age created by a failed experiment to halt climate change. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 Based on a French graphic novel and directed by the Korean master Bong Joon-ho, the trailer looks incredible.
THEY CAME TOGETHER (Lionsgate) Genre: Romantic Comedy Parody. A corporate piranha falls for the small business owner his company is threatening to shut down. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 While the cast looks incredible, the trailer kind of left me flat.
TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (Paramount) Genre: Science Fiction. Following the events of Transformers: Dark of the Moon the world is picking up the pieces in a post-Transformers era but a greater threat lies ahead. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.6 The franchise resumes with Mark Wahlberg in the lead and Dinobots!
VIOLETTE (Adopt) Genre: Biographical Drama. The complicated relationship between writer Violette Leduc and Simone de Beauvoir. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 I’m not familiar with Leduc’s work but I do know it is some of the earliest feminist writing in the world.
WHITEY: THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA VS. JAMES J. BULGER (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. The tale of gangster Whitey Bulger and his fight against the United States that has called into question our entire system of law enforcement. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Provocative look at a saga that has sent shock waves throughout the entire law enforcement community.

Edge of Tomorrow, The Fault in Our Stars, Obvious Child, 22 Jump Street, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Jersey Boys, Think Like a Man Too, Begin Again, Transformers: Age of Extinction