Near the end of “Begin Again,” the new musical romance from “Once” director John Carney, record producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) instructs a guitar player, who is also his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), to “keep it simple.” It seems director Carney took the advice as well, using the KISS principle—Keep It Simple Stupid—in the telling of this uncluttered story of redemption and pop songs.
When we first meet Dan he’s having a bad day. His estranged daughter is mouthing off to him, he gets fired from the label he helped create and even his car breaks down. The day—by this time it’s night, actually—improves when he stumbles into a bar to drink his blues away and hears Gretta (Keira Knightley) singing a sad song from the stage. In his mind’s eye he hears a hit, a song that could make her a star and give him another shot at relevancy.
Before he can begin again, however, he must help Gretta get over her ex-boyfriend, up-and-coming rock star Dave Kohl (Adam Levine)—he’s the kind of guy whose voicemail says, “It’s Dave. I’m probably doing something awesome so I won’t get back to you… ever.”—and her distrust of the trappings of fame.
“Begin Again” is as much about the love of music and it’s ability to heal as it is about the various relationships it essays. Carney is covering familiar ground here. His film “Once” breathed the same air, but it’s rarefied air, and he pulls it off with panache.
For instance, Gretta and Dan bond over a shared iPod filled with their favorite songs. Taken by the music they have a “we have to dance right now” moment, but it’s done with a twist when they go to a club and dance to their own music courtesy of their iPod earphones while everyone around them literally dances to the beat of a different drummer.
Ruffalo brings considerable passion to the role of Dan, an “I’ve-been-down-so-long it’s-looking-up-to-me” kind of guy. He’s a walking cliché, a record man who got eaten up by the business and a rough personal life, but Ruffalo gives him a soulfulness that’s very winning.
Knightley looks like an undiscovered indie darling, bringing a delicate but steely sensibility to her performance and the songs that help tell the story.
“The Voice” alum Levine and CeeLo Green (as a successful musician who owes Dan a favor or two) lend some music industry cred to their roles, but the heavy lifting, acting wise, is done by Ruffalo and Knightley.
“Begin Again” is a self contained story with a beginning, middle and satisfying end, but sets itself up for a sequel in the subtlest of ways. Dan comes up with the usual idea of recording Gretta’s album outdoors to get a real taste of New York in the grooves. After successfully setting up under the Brooklyn Bridge and in Central Park, Gretta suggests they could expand their horizons and make records on the streets of several other European cities. I’m not sure if that’s enough to build a franchise around, but I’d sure like to spend some more time with these characters.
The only thing worse than hearing the words, “We need to talk about our relationship,” is hearing other people actually talking endlessly about their relationships. Such is the tedium of “Last Night,” a talky new drama starring Keira Knightley and “Avatar’s” Sam Worthington.
Keira and Sam are a married couple living in a cool downtown NYC loft. She a freelance writer, he sells commercial real estate. She has the dreaded ex-Parisian boyfriend (Guillaume Canet), he has a flirty co-worker (Eva Mendes). When he leaves town for one night on business their commitment to one another will be challenged.
Usually I don’t mind talking head movies, especially when the heads doing the talking are as attractive as Knightley, Mendes, Worthington and Canet, but my patience was tested by this bunch of chatty, introspective, insecure basket-cases. There’s garrulous and then there’s the script for “Last Night.” It appears to simply be made up of a series of monologues about love, life and relationships, most of which begin with a line like, “Remind me why it didn’t work out between us.” Even worse are the clumsy attempts at metaphor. In one scene Knightley and Worthington are having a tense cell phone conversation. “This isn’t a very good connection,” she says as her phone and relationship go on the fritz. Deep. Not.
The occasional effective moment—the way Knightley guiltily presses ignore on an incoming call from her husband—are overshadowed by the endless inane chatter. In one scene there’s a cut-a-way to the dog and even he looks bored. You can imagine how the audience feels.
My main question after watch the new Pirates movie is, If this was the first one of the series would we have had a two, three and four? I don’t think so. It’s a big splashy epic, but lacks the fun and Johnny’s joie de vivre of the original. It feels like Disney has plundered the “PotC” treasure chest one too many times.
At the behest of King George, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), a one-time pirate now turned privateer, is searching for the fabled Fountain of Youth. His job is to claim it for England before the Spanish armada gets there. Meanwhile, Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) is shanghaied to work on board a ship run by the evil Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and Jack’s old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz). They’re after the fountain too, but first must fight off man hungry mermaids.
The “PotC” movies have never made a great deal of sense—there’s more plot twists and turns that there are lines on co-star Keith Richard’s face—but they’ve always had a forward momentum based on Depp’s charm and some cool special effects. “On Stranger Tides” doesn’t ever feel like it really gets up and running. The first hour is spent setting up the second hour, so expect lots of exposition broken up by the kind of action scenes that used to be the trademark of the series.
Now, in the hands of director Rob Marshall, who takes over from Gore Verbinski, the action sequences are as well choreographed as you might expect from the man who made “Chicago” and “Nine,” but as as exciting as you would expect action sequences made by a man who specializes in musicals to be. Again, not surprisingly, he uses music effectively, particularly in the first big set piece as the king’s guards chase Sparrow through the palace and into the streets of London, but despite the booming soundtrack the visuals fall flat. I liked the mermaids and think their attack sequence is the most exciting thing in the movie, but I may be wrong simply because the movie is so dark I may have missed something.
Also on the flat side is Depp. Maybe playing the same character four times in eight years has taken some of the swash out of his buckle, or perhaps the limitations of Captain Jack are becoming apparent. Either way he’s no longer the most interesting character in the “PotC” universe. Once again Rush steps up and keeps Barbossa interesting, but the best character of the bunch is McShane’s nasty Blackbeard. He mad, bad and dangerous to know, and he adds some much needed spark to the second half of the movie.
“PotC: On Stranger Tides” has all the elements we want from the franchise—supernatural creatures, swashbuckling and swaggering Depp—and less of what we don’t want—Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley and their convoluted love story have been thrown overboard—but isn’t exciting enough to shiver anyone’s timbers.
Anyone raised in the music video era, or with the attention span of gnat will understand the visual language of Domino. Images fly by on the screen so quickly I almost got whiplash watching this stylish, but frenetic story of Domino Harvey, the real-life Ford model and wild-child daughter of actor Laurence Harvey turned bounty-hunter.
As Domino Pirates of the Caribbean and Bend it Like Beckham star, the rake-thin Kiera Knightly, proves that she can carry a movie. She also proves that she can head-butt, punch, kick and num chuck a movie.
There is nothing subtle here from Tony Scott’s over caffeinated camerawork to the violence to the story, which takes off on flights of fancy, ignoring the true-life events of Domino’s life in favor of exploitive fiction. Domino is a loud, chaotic and noisy picture that is more a tribute to Tony Scott’s editing prowess than it is to the memory of the real Domino, who died at age 35 just months before the movie was released.
Fun self-depreciating supporting roles by former Beverly Hills 90210 stars Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Greene, playing themselves as the much-abused hosts of a reality TV show add some pop to the humor in the film. Mickey Rourke continues his much belated comeback, playing his now signature role as a dirty tough guy trying to cling to the last ounce of his humanity.
Some will find Domino’s fast pace and outrageous story make for a good time at the theatre while others will have to reach for the Aspirin halfway through the movie.