John Carney

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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Can a Song Save Your Life?

John Carney’s Can a Song Save Your Life? answers its own (inescapably clunky-sounding) titular question within its first twenty minutes, but it’s hard to tell if that salvation is ultimately sustainable. After all, most songs only last a few minutes, and what happens when the music stops? Burnt out music executive Dan (Mark Ruffalo) has a thing for long shots, and while that may have worked for him in his early days, he hasn’t had much luck when it comes to finding bankable new talent for a number of years. (Oh, and his personal life is also in shambles, because of course it is.) Stuck in a low-rent apartment, estranged from his rock writer wife (Catherine Keener, who can’t quite reach her normal charm levels here, mainly because half of her face is bizarrely hidden behind her hair) and his just-rebellious-enough teen daughter (Hailee Steinfeld, who should have gotten more screen time here), and running on fumes career-wise, Dan is at rock bottom. So it’s a pretty nifty stroke of luck that he just so happens to walk into a local bar running an open mic night in order to kill time before actually killing himself, and it’s also pretty cool that Greta (Keira Knightley) is there (reluctantly) singing and yes, it’s also totally awesome that her song actually refers to someone throwing themselves in front of a subway. If you can get past the silly plot contrivances and relatively thin script, Can a Song Save Your Life? just might […]

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Despite a dud for a title, John Carney‘s Can A Song Save Your Life? sounds intriguing, particularly when you consider that Carney is the man who brought us the incredibly charming Once and that he had lined up a somewhat unexpected pair to top-line his production. Back in February, the project was announced with Scarlett Johansson on board to play a young singer looking to break into the music biz after a bad break-up, alongside Mark Ruffalo as a record producer who turns her life around (professionally and personally) . It was set to be a fun little reunion for the Avengers pair, something more romantic and pleasing to the ears. But now Johansson is out and Ruffalo’s name is nowhere to be seen in the latest dispatch regarding the film. ScreenDaily reports (via Cinema Blend), that Johansson has stepped away from the project for “personal reasons,” and that her role will now be played by Keira Knightley (not an entirely bad swap, really). The news reports that Exclusive Media will financing and producing the film, in addition to selling it at Cannes, and as far as other stars, it only mentions Hailee Steinfeld (who is set to play the producer’s daughter), there’s nothing about Ruffalo. With the ‘Ruff (go with it) making such a big splash in The Avengers, it seems unlikely that an upcoming production wouldn’t be trading on his name any way they can. Is he out, too?

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Actors Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo are already set to tear apart city blocks together as members of The Avengers this summer, so why shouldn’t they be in a love story together as well? Sounds like the logical next step. To that end they’ve both joined Once writer/director John Carney’s next film, Can a Song Save Your Life? Why the ridiculous title? Well, because, like Once, this movie is also about musicians falling in love. This time the story is set in New York City, where Johansson will be playing a plucky young singer trying to start a career in the music business after getting dumped by her stupid boyfriend. While there she meets a charming though mumble-mouthed record producer (Ruffalo) who’s been down on his lucky lately (you know, because he’s a record producer), and the two start up a fling that manages to turn both of their lives around.

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Early on in the documentary The Swell Season, its subjects sit on the floor of their tour bus and stare at a familiar movie poster, a tweaked one-sheet for the Oscar-winning Once, which cast Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard as modified versions of their real life selves. It’s the same poster that appears throughout the documentary in various forms – on CD covers, on sheets of paper, on signs announcing their tour – yet in this quiet moment, Hansard and Irglova appearing to finally be getting their first good look at it. They kneel over it for a beat, gazing, and then they start listing all of the things that have been changed from the original photograph – Hansard and Irglova’s legs have been lengthened, Hansard’s hat has been removed and his hair has been added on, the colors of their jackets have been changed, the two have been made to look as if they may be holding hands, but Hansard is most struck by a change he can’t quite but his finger on – “they” somehow made him “more handsome.” On the most basic level, The Swell Season is about the difficulty in dealing with a sudden rise to fame, and the strange alienation and disconnect that comes with that – what happens when “they” make you “more handsome.” But as the film charts that sudden rise, it also tracks a converse reaction that relies so much on that first ascent as to be nearly mathematical. That’s a fancy […]

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A mental patient pretending to be an alien, a gullible town and the director of ‘Once’: ‘Zonad’ offers some goods.

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Irish films generally fall into a few limited categories. There’s the dark and dour movies that explore their troubled history with the IRA (Bloody Sunday), films that focus on abuses at the hands of misguided and violent authority figures (The Magdalene Sisters), movies where people sing bad songs poorly (Once), and then there’s the whimsical fantasies about seal people attempting to enslave humanity (The Secret of Roan Inish). That’s it really. But now a fifth category can be added to the official Irish film canon… zany comedy!

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