Begin Again

Night Moves Movie

Superheroes rule the box office and the Guardians of the Galaxy have brought us the biggest film of the summer (which is about to dethrone Captain America to become the biggest film of the year). But talking about these big-budget behemoths with gigantic box office rewards (unless you’re the latest installment of the Expendables or Sin City brand) means talking about the same thing over and over again – a happy hour of strange creatures, diversified only by a couple comedies. Fortunately there’s a great mix of summer fare that kicked absolute ass on a very modest per-screen basis. One can’t exactly expect that a limited release in select big cities would fare as well if it expanded to thousands of theaters across the nation (averages generally shrink when/if they do), but it’s still great to see the “little guy” head into a release in a handful of theaters and earn a better average than the top summer film (Guardians had $23,118 on 4,080 screens). All of the following movies beat that average (save one that opened on only two screens), and offer everything from period dramas to modern comedy to films that took over a decade to capture. The men in tights, so to speak, may have won the box office, but I’m happy a selection of films like this still exists in this ever-mainstream movie world.

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mark ruffalo and keira knightley in begin again

In just two films, writer/director John Carney may very well have created a new genre: the neo-musical. First, there was 2006’s Once, a breakout indie film with an Oscar-winning song, “Falling Slowly.” Now he follows a similar plot trajectory with Begin Again (which was once wistfully titled Can a Song Save Your Life?). Two musicians – one male and one female – meet, collaborate on a project and flirt with impunity before ultimately deciding they would rather make music than love. Through his stories about musicians and collaboration, Carney has found a way to update the musical to our contemporary, authenticity-driven times. In his films, the characters frequently break into song, but they don’t break the fourth wall, and the stories never devolve into spectacle. However, Carney has more on his mind than genre-busting. Both of his neo-musicals contain a creeping criticism of a music industry that is depicted as overly-focused on image and provides little room for the true artist to find space to grow. In Once, the characters are working to create a demo so that they can get a record deal, but the implicit question asked by the film is why a singer as talented as Glen Hansard has to make ends meet by busking on the street in the first place (in real life Hansard fronts The Frames, a successful Irish rock band). If Once’s industry criticism is subtextual, Begin Again is more overt about its intentions. The film stars Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley as Dan and Greta, a music producer […]

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mark ruffalo and keira knightley in begin again

When Inside Llewyn Davis hit theaters late last year, it showed audiences that being a solo acoustic artist on a small record label was anything but ideal, and the farthest thing from glamorous. But apparently the industry has changed quite a bit since the ’60s, because all it really takes nowadays to beat the competition in those dreary streets of New York City is for Mark Ruffalo to hear your song in a smokey bar and declare you a sensation. That’s it! Well, okay, there’s a little more to it than just Ruffalo’s undivided attention. There are Central Park boats involved and Cee Lo Green‘s wisdom to understand. The trailer for Begin Again, which is the new title for Toronto Film Festival favorite Can a Song Save Your Life? (and a blissful rename at that — what a terrible first try that had been) sets off to show all this and more when Ruffalo’s Dan, a recently fired record label executive, crosses paths with Keira Knightley‘s Gretta. She’s a girl just kicking it around NYC with an acoustic guitar in hand after being dumped by her rock star boyfriend (played by Adam Levine, the second host of The Voice we see featured in this movie).

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