Begin Again — Movie and Soundtrack Reviews

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begin again PHOTO

Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, and his beard.

Begin Again should’ve been called Once Again. Writer/director/musician John Carney is covering similar ground here. No, lightning didn’t strike twice, but so what. You watch this movie and leave the theatre feeling all warm and gooey.

This couple meets over a song, but things are slightly different than Once. Instead of Ireland, they’re in New York. And instead of the woman being intrigued by a busker performing on the street, this is a drunk indie record label founder who discovers the woman singing on stage in a dive bar. That doesn’t mean we don’t see a busker in the film. He’s there (James Corden) and provides some comic relief.

The singer/songwriter is played by Keira Knightley and you’ll be impressed that she does her own singing. Mark Ruffalo plays the record label dude. It’s one of those professions that belongs on the list of most common jobs for movie characters (along with writer, food truck owner, and architect). I’ve always been a fan of Ruffalo (if you haven’t seen The Kids Are All Right and You Can Count on Me, watch ‘em). Yet in this I got a bit tired of him doing the same old thing. Always three sheets to the wind and acting smarter than everyone in the room. Yet when we see him dealing with his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) in a believable way a father would with a rebellious teen…or arguing with a musician over whether any famous singers are truly authentic (she mentions Dylan, he knocks it; she comes back with Randy Newman, he applauds it). Ruffalo ends up winning you over despite all the baggage he brings to the role.

Knightley is having some problems with her boyfriend, played by Adam Levine (Maroon 5), in his film debut. He’s on the verge of stardom, but they started out as a struggling duo.

So many of the scenes in this movie we’ve seen before (some even from Once). Yet there’s enough originality here that kept me entertained. One moment early on has Ruffalo hearing the song being performed in a bar where patrons are more interested in their drinks and conversations than who’s on stage. He imagines the various instruments and strings he’d add to the number. It’s something I imagine producers do all the time, and it was a clever visual.

You can see many of the scenarios coming down Broadway, as they eventually make a record together. Yet it has enough surprises you didn’t see coming, as well as the songs. They’re a bit overproduced, but good enough (although it is odd that she gives Adam Levine crap about that very thing).

I enjoyed seeing rapper Mos Def as the co-founder of the record label. He was great in Cadillac Records, and I hope he continues to do films. Ceelo Green is fun in his role as a rapper that owes everything to Ruffalo, and helps him out when he’s in a jam.

It’s nice to see one of my favorite actresses, Catherine Keener, downplaying her role as the ex-wife. There’s something so annoying about the ex-wife character always being a major witch. It’s nice to see that they do care about the child they’re raising, even if they don’t care much for each other (or do they?).

It’s weird when a movie has scenes you’ve seen so many times before, but they still work. One that comes to mind has the two leads walking around New York while listening to their favorite cheesy songs. We get the visuals of nightlife from various strangers, while we hear Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra. It’ll make you wonder why you feel the need to go into a hot club in the Gaslamp Quarter, instead of walking on the beach with your love, listening to your favorite tunes.

The script had its moments. There are funny references to Jerry Maguire and Taxi Driver. It did need a bit more, though. Once was able to get away with less dialogue, because the songs were stronger and everything  about the story felt fresh. The songs here needed to be edgier. Yet every 10 or 15 minutes, you’re treated to a heartwarming moment.

As fun as the drunk dialing scene was in Sideways, it’s topped by Knightley. She sings an improvisational song to a guy who done her wrong.

It’s smart the movie was just over an hour and a half. At two hours, this would’ve been a mess.

In the summer, studios give you all the aliens, comic books, explosions, and car chases. Here’s something for the adults to go see on a date night.

It gets 3 ½ stars out of 5.

begin again STUDIO PHOTO

Just as the movie wasn’t as good as Once, neither is the soundtrack. That being said, I haven’t been able to take it out of the CD player in the car and there are four songs that I keep playing over and over. Adam Levine’s record label “222 Records” released it this month and if you saw the movie, it’s a must. If you didn’t, you’ll have a few catchy tunes that you’d probably like so much more if you saw the film that accompanied it.

Track 1 is Lost Stars.  Levine sings the ballad, written by Gregg Alexander, Nick Lashley, Danielle Brisebois, and Nick Southwood. These are the names that wrote most of the songs on the soundtrack. And the lyrics on this are special. It starts: Please, don’t see/Just a boy caught up in dreams and fantasies. Please see me, reaching out for someone I can be/Take my hand, let’s see where we wake up tomorrow. Best laid plans, sometimes it’s just a one-night stand/I’d be damned, Cupid’s demanding back his arrow…

By the time Levine belts out “I thought I saw you out there crying/I thought I heard you call my name” you have tears running down your face (if you remember the scene in the movie).

Track 2 – Tell Me if You Wanna Go Home. Keira Knightley shows she’s a double-threat, as she does her own singing. That doesn’t mean her vocals are the best in the world, but they work. Lashley and Alexander write the lyrics. I dug the line “give back a heart that’s on loan.”

Track 3 – No One Else Like You. This Levine song is awesome and could be a huge hit.

Track 4 – Horny. This is a catchy tune Ceelo Green performs. I don’t remember it being in the movie, but the soundtrack said that some of the songs “inspired” the film, so who knows. But hey…I’ll never turn down a Ceelo track. Dude has some amazing pipes.  He reminds me of Stew (playwrite and singer/songwriter from TNP).

Track 5 – Lost Stars. This is the acoustic version performed by Knightley. It’s less polished and unlike the first version, not overproduced. It’s also one of the most beautiful ballads you’ll hear all year. Having both versions of the song works perfectly. I liked the fact that Inside Llewyn Davis did that with a tune on their soundtrack.

Track 6 – A Higher Place. Adam Levine doing another catchy pop tune that sounds like something off a Maroon 5 record.

Track 7 – Like a Fool. Not to be confused with the Bee Gees tune. This was written by the writer/director of the film, John Carney. He’s a musician, and this is one clever tune. Because of the lyrics and style of Knightley singing, it reminds me so much of a Jill Sobule song. It’s also the best break-up song I’ve heard since Liz Phair’s “Divorce Song” in 1993. When the song is performed in the movie, she sings it over the phone to a former lover after a night of drinking (it always helps when you’re getting bombed with a fellow musician). It’s a lot more powerful hearing it this way.

Track 8 – Did it Ever Cross Your Mind. This is by Cessyl Orchestra, and it doesn’t work for me.

Track 9 – Women of the World (go on strike). It’s another Ceelo Green song I don’t remember in the movie, and I’m not sure how it even fits here. It seems like something from the “Think Like a Man” soundtrack. I would’ve preferred the soundtrack drop this, and put the little rap Ceelo does when he’s talking to Mark Ruffalo. He’s freestyling, and one of his posse starts beatboxing. I’m also not sure why, for comic relief, this soundtrack didn’t have the British guy (James Corden) who was a busker and open-mic performer. His songs were kind of punk and not that great, but fun. Why not one of them on here?

Track 10 – Coming Up Roses. Don’t confuse this with the Elliott Smith song. This was written by musical genius Glen Hansard (Once). Remember, he’s an Oscar winner. Knightley sounds lovely singing this. My one complaint is this. When we watch the movie, these songs were all recorded outside. It not only saved them money on renting a studio, but it gave them the “sounds of the city.” Yet in this song (and others), I don’t hear a single sound from the city! No taxi cabs honking, subways, kids playing, sirens, or men yelling out their window “Would you shut up down there!” Heck, if the Lovin’ Spoonful can easily put in sounds of New York (car horns, jack hammers) in their song “Summer in the City,” and that was the mid-60s, surely they could’ve put these sounds in here and added to the piece and given the songs more of a pulse.

Track 11 – Into the Trance. Another by the Cessyl Orchestra. It reminds me of The Kinks late ‘70s material.

Track 12 – A Step You Can’t Take Back. This reminds me of a Sheryl Crowe song but with much better lyrics. It’s the song that Ruffalo’s character first hears Knightley sing in the bar. Since she sings about stepping onto a train, I now get to include this on the list of best train songs. That would include Midnight Train to Georgia, People Get Ready, Mystery Train, Downbound Train, Peace Train, Folsom Prison Blues, The Midnight Special, One After 909, 5:15, Train in Vain, and of course, Randy Newman’s Dixie Flyer. In the movie, they express their love of Newman. Well, music fans will love this soundtrack.






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