OCTOBER 27TH, 2014
BEGIN AGAIN // John Carney trades in his delicate musical touch for celebrity appeal and a bigger budget; $150,000 versus $9 million. “Once” was a love story told through the passion of music with its main ballad, “Falling Slowly,” going on to win the 2007 Academy Award for Best Original Song. “Begin Again” has a love story buried in it somewhere, perhaps for a city rather than between two people, while its ballad, “Lost Stars,” (sung by Adam Levine) may be catchy but is simply not as captivating. Carney does continue to find interesting ways to keep music intriguing and alive in cinema, but in turn, loses focus on what really turns heads. Whereas Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová of the band The Swell Season broke through in “Once,” by composing and performing their own music, Carney turns towards established stars like Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley, who actually make the film feel smaller by their presence. Kudos for casting Adam Levine, who does perform his own songs, at least keeping that aspect of Carney’s films alive. Levine was actually always pegged for the part and even declined to be paid for the role, this marking his feature film debut.
Ruffalo’s role was also written for him, playing the lead character Dan, a down-and-out music producer forced out of his own company. Knightley plays Gretta, the girlfriend of soon-to-be superstar Dave (Levine), who is unceremoniously dumped after Dave’s first glimpse of success. Dan meets Gretta at an open mic night when she is forced onstage by a friend. Seeing huge potential in her music, Dan propositions her to make an album. With no money and no recording studio, they set out to produce an album on the streets, in the parks, and among the people of New York City. What comes off as a great premise for a film becomes a narrative that glides along with nothing stopping it. Obstacles are always easily overcome. Very little stands in the way of them making the album and begs the question why everyone isn’t out in the streets recording their next EP. Even Dan’s side stories, like he and his wife’s (Catherine Keener) separation and his absence and lack of authority over his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld of “True Grit”) are both easily resolved problems. The biggest challenge the film poses is whether there are actually ever feelings between Dan and Gretta, and since that is never addressed, that question still remains.
Having gone from such a tight, passionate, low budget work like “Once,” which really showcased something special to a less inspired, overproduced, Hollywood outing like “Begin Again,” one has to ask, “what happened?” “Begin Again” is in no way a bad film, but it fails to display the ingenuity featured in Carney’s previous work, showing just how high the bar was actually set with “Once”. With a bigger budget and bigger stars, Carney should have brought his unique vision to the masses. Instead, he assimilated his work into the romantic comedy genre, driving a wedge between his past and his present. Had singer-songwriter Adele, who was initially considered for Knightley’s role, been cast opposite Ruffalo, (and I mean no ill-will to Knightley) that would have shaken things up entirely. But without any real chances taken, “Begin Again” feels like a film that could have been made by anyone.
DELIVER US FROM EVIL // Some day, hopefully soon, horror filmmakers will realize that certain tropes are not scary anymore. One of these tropes is checking under the bed. “Deliver Us From Evil” leaned heavily on this scare in their marketing campaign. Even messing with expectations after checking under the bed is now an overused motif. If there was nothing under the bed, something will provide a scare following the mislead. Obviously, horror tropes exist for a reason and can still be achieved with brilliance, but when films are as lazy about them as “Deliver Us From Evil,” one prays for the day that filmmakers exorcise their own bad habits.
Speaking of overused ideas, “Deliver Us From Evil” is “based on a true story,” which apparently almost every film being made today is printed with the same monicker. In this case, however, the film is adapted from the 2001 non-fiction book entitled “Beware the Night,” written by an actual New York cop named Ralph Sarchie, of whom the film is based. Following Sarchie (Eric Bana) as he encounters some paranormal phenomenon while on duty, the unique element to this film and specifically stemming from the press tour, was actor Eric Bana stating that he was shown photographic proof of an actual exorcism and even stated, “it will be forever etched into my brain”. Owned by the NYPD, that evidence is unfortunately impossible to find on the internet. Chances are that footage is far more scary than anything in this Jerry Bruckheimer produced feature.
The immensely talented Édgar Ramírez portrays Mendoza, the unconventional priest that eventually convinces Sarchie that the devil is at play. Reminding heavily of “The Exorcist”, I begin to wonder whether a film about exorcism can even be made in this day and age, without feeling too reminiscent of the William Friedkin classic. With Sarchie and Mendoza teamed up, they allow for a nice balance between genres, heading an intense cop thriller with a dash of classic horror themes sprinkled in. Had director Scott Derrickson taken some broader steps, this could have easily lived up to notion that it actually happened. But somehow, behind all the fake skin carvings and weak attempts at scares, “Deliver Us From Evil” makes a pun out of its own name by being a completely average, by-the-book horror venture.
WISH I WAS HERE // After a decade since his directorial debut, Zach Braff returns with his crowd-funded darling “Wish I Was Here”. Once again starring as lead, Braff trades in his college student naivety for a more weatherworn adult role, as Aidan Bloom, husband and father of two. Playing the out of work actor, everyone in Aiden’s life continuously asks him when he plans on getting a real job. The long list of people includes his wife, Sarah, played by the stunning Kate Hudson, his father, Gabe, played by the legendary Mandy Patinkin, and even the rabbis at his children’s Jewish school; a school that his father pays for but can no longer afford due to unexpected medical bills. With the ever present distinction that his current state of affairs may overshadow his dreams, Aidan faces the ultimate choice.
Like him or not, Zach Braff has a definite acting and directing style that pairs nicely with independent filmmaking. With most critics not finding any redeemable qualities in his character, I, for one, found an authenticity to his portrayal, allowing the performance to come from a real place. Aiden is a living, breathing character with conflicting emotions and a sense of entitlement that most everyday people walk around with. And life gets in the way. Whether its his daughter (Joey King) shaving her head, his father receiving in-home hospice care, or his wife getting hit on by a creepy guy at work, Aiden takes on challenges that normal people face everyday and for that I respect Braff for taking a chance and telling a story from the heart. And there is plenty of heart, with one of the best emotional speeches this year coming from a heart to heart between Hudson and Patinkin on the discussion of legacy and what Patinkin’s boys (Braff and Josh Gad) need from him before he dies. Hudson and Patinkin both deliver honest and natural performances that highlight the tone of the film.
Unlike “Garden State”, Braff takes “Wish I Were Here” to a much more rich and fulfilling level. Where “Garden State” had quirk and off-beat humor, “Wish I Were Here” has reoccurring themes that provide humor, like casting calls and home schooling, plus a strong narrative arc that allows for an emotional resonance. What “Wish I Were Here” does share with “Garden State” is a soundtrack full of powerful popular music from bands like The Shins, Radical Face, Badly Drawn Boy, and Bon Iver, which take the sentimental moments to an entirely different level. Much like his days on “Scrubs”, Braff is unafraid to push the boundaries of his characters in new and interesting ways. He can be goofy but also take things to a serious tip. If you do not see any redeemable qualities in his characters, then maybe you are not looking hard enough. Whether Braff finds himself crowd-funding his next project or stepping back into studio work, as far as I am concerned, he will always have a place in limelight, especially when it comes to this low budget fare.
|Child of God|
|Deliver Us From Evil|
|Life Of Crime|
|Wish I Was Here|
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