Posts Tagged ‘Keira Knightley’

For lovers of music, seeing a great tune put to an image can be an incredible joy. It also works wonders to see a fondness for music really shining through in something. For instance, John Carney’s Once, where a street busker writes and rehearses songs, with an jubilant tone, found a large audience both during its cinematic run, home entertainment release, and then its stage adaptation. Carney made such an impression with Once that to see him return to a musical focus made perfect sense. He writes and directs Begin Again (originally called Can a Song Save Your Life – a more fitting title), a story of a disgraced music producer who finds a great talent in a young singer-songwriter during an open mic-night.

Going from the naturalistic style of Once, with unknown actors, to the Hollywood-produced, huge star ensemble of Begin Again, thinking of Carney selling out could initially be accepted. Almost instantly, however, Begin Again shows that the nuanced sensibilities found in his 2006 feature are still intact. There are some big set-pieces, and luxurious scenes related to the moneyed side of the music industry, but are so obviously highlighted, that they are made to feel out of place alongside the grounded focus. Mark Ruffalo as the lead is an excellent choice to present this ideology – an actor who eases into his roles and always feels like the “everyman”. Keira Knightley regularly falls outside of this spectrum, so glamorous and chic in the media. In this, she loosens up and shines as the blossoming talent that Ruffalo’s Dan discovers. Reconsidering how they present their stars is not the only fascinating aspect of Begin Again, the regular rom-com formula is eschewed whereby love and heartbreak are dealt with entirely realistically.

Balancing a domestic situation between Dan, and his estranged daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and ex-wife (Catherine Keener), a break-up between Knightley’s Gretta and singer Dave Kohl (Adam Levine), and a production of a live street-recorded album, Begin Again is a compound narrative. Carney never struggles with this, with only minor moments feeling dull or forced. Carney simply has a very measured take on plot and focus, able to cross between arcs without anything seeming inharmonious. And his spotlight on musical creation is always marvellous – the core of this film, and what everything pivots around. The soundtrack is the pulse of the film – with earbugs that will stay with you long after – full of life, keeping you entertained all the way through. It shows the progression of an album with tact, educating on the process and showing you the ebullient time that people must have creating music they love and believe in.

Some may find that Begin Again feels too kitsch in parts, and it never tries to recreate the matter-of-fact aesthetic of Once, leaving it as a polished yet practical film. Performances and music are warm and heartfelt, making it a certain crowd-pleaser. One scene explaining how one song can illuminate the most banal happening is a precious Carney observation, and a sublime, brief piece of cinema. And to leave you with one thought, who could have imagined the star of Lesbian Vampire Killers, James Corden, could steal so many moments away from famed Hollywood actors?

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Canadian director David Cronenberg has had something of  a career change in recent years. Once renowned for his body horror features, he took a turn towards more psychologically probing thrillers. Horror fanboys might balk at this transformation, but you could argue that Cronenberg hasn’t really changed his spots. His films are still focused on human dysfunction and the less palatable parts of our nature, but this time it’s under the skin.

A Dangerous Method tells the story of perhaps the ultimate psychoanalytical drama, that of Freud and Jung. Cronenberg details how the young and upcoming Jung (Michael Fassbender) is taken under the wing of the more established Freud  (Viggo Mortensen), an intellectual buddy duo if you will. Their relationship starts to disintegrate when the two disagree about the right treatment of a wayward patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), which is a microcosm for their wider held views.

The film is handsome and fairly engrossing. There are some Edward Hopperesque mise en scenes, and the era is carefully reconstructed. Fassbender and Mortensen are fine in their roles, though neither character stretches two actors who have given a lot more in other roles. Keira Knightley, however, is a unwelcome distraction. Spielrein suffered from bouts of hysteria and unfortunately Knightley fails to convey this in an authentic fashion. Her gargoyle gurning seems to suggest an actor rooting around for the right way to play a difficult role, but I was yearning for an unknown instead, someone not quite as prim as Knightley.

Much of the film relies on extended dialogues between the characters discussing theories and dreams, and there is only perhaps one set piece in the entire film. This leads me to question whether this story lends itself that well to cinema. It is interesting no doubt, Jung and Freud’s relationship and the ideas that they were pioneering, but you get the sense that you would get a richer, more in depth reading from a book on the subject rather than a film. Additionally, the difficult material leads Cronenberg into some stagey drama that occasionally feels like a parody of a serious Hollywood biopic.

It’s still an intriguing, insightful film, but not wholly successful in its execution.

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