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Begin Again (Blu-ray Review)

Begin-AgainBack in 2oo6, I was a big big fan of the sort of musical film Once.  Love the movie, loved the soundtrack even more.  It was a daring film, because above all else, that music had to be excellent in order for the film to truly work, and it did.  Then, it wound up winning an Academy Award for one of its songs, all was great and then I never really followed anyone involved from the film afterward.  Writer and Director John Carney has made two films since, but I didn’t know about them until I looked him up for this review.  He returns to craft another music based film, this time focused in a bigger city, with bigger stars and a story dealing with a similar musical mission to Once, but this one with a little more promised success and bigger ambition.   And wow, Keira Knightley isn’t too bad of a singer.  I was surprised to learn she actually sang for her own songs that were performed in the film.

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Film 

A chance meeting of a down and out music executive who’s lost almost everything and a singer-songwriter that is ready to give up on her ambitions leads a to a newly acquired friendship.  After no one wants to finance a demo for Gretta, Dan decides they are going to produce it as freely as possible and go it on their own.  Dan also has the idea that they should record the entire album outside at different notable locations in  New York to give a real sound and capture the spirit of the city within her music.  Through the recording and adventures, their friendship bond strengthens as they succeed song by song in their recording process and learn plenty of what brought each other to their meeting.

I wasn’t sure what to expect here with Begin Again.  This summer, I was e-mailed from AMC offering free tickets to see the movie during its second weekend in release.  I mean, I was interested in the film, but I wasn’t sure whether that was a positive marketing spin or a desperate one.  As it turns out, having seen the movie, that move, intentional or not, was actually in the very vein of what this film is about.  Its almost a tribute to the film’s climax.

While I was impressed with Keira Knightley’s singing, and I always lover her in everything (big fan), I gotta say Mark Ruffalo was outstanding in this film.  He’s a presence I’ve always loved in movies.  For me, he’s got that John Cusack factor, where I’d sit through a bad movie (And I have) because he’s in it and is guaranteed to at least be enjoyable in his performance.  Here, he gives what is likely going to be an overlooked performance come awards season.  The guy plays drunk in this movie better than I ever have before.  Ruffalo also gets a crazy good swing of emotion and a believable and naturally, believably paced “turn your life around” arc that is probably exponentially greater than the page because he’s in the part.

John Carney has some really great storytelling motifs on display here that work out in spades.  The way he introduces us to the characters and their backstories is genius and gives the introduction of the two characters a sort of maximum impact.  One of my favorite moments Carney has is when Dan first sees Gretta play and he starts envisioning a full recording of her solo acoustic song and the instruments on stage start playing themselves on stage as he directs this all in his head.  The film also has some very nifty music number pieces in the film that work quite well.

The film is strong enough to overcome some stunt casting that does and doesn’t work at times. Cee Lo shows up and you basically are just getting a “Hey, look, it Cee-Loo!” scene.  Adam Levine her isn’t the greatest but he’s passable and I can understand casting an actual musician in the role as it works.  Levine does have some star power, and if he improves as an actor he could make for some good roles in movies.  Funny enough, he has a period in the film where he has a mustache and looks EXACTLY like Ross Gellar in the Friends episode where they watch the old home movie where Ross plays “Axel F” on his keyboard.

Musically speaking, the songs in the film a pretty darn good.  I don’t think they approach the greatness of the songs in Once, but these work better in a more pop friendly sense.  Plus, there’s some great, more loose performance pieces in the film with it.  I also enjoy that the film doesn’t pine too much on the Ruffalo-Knightely relationship and really keeps it to them just being two friends and partners in music crime that really need each other in this moment.  Its hard not to get caught up in enjoying this film’s musical journey through producing this demo and dealing with the leads’ relationship conflicts.  Its a film that for the most part is pretty feel good, but isn’t afraid to go where it needs to dramatically either.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail:  This is a nice bright, vibrant image displaying just about every lick of detail you could find on the screen.  Fingerprints on scotch glasses, scratches on guitar faces, and fabric oozes with detail.  Also, water is well displayed on her, smooth and natural.

Depth:  There is some good depth here, and a really good example would be the scene where the band is playing on the rooftop.

Black Levels:  Blacks are inky and natural.  For the most part detail is still visible throughout, only few scenes is fabric or surfaces not discernible.  Ruffalo’s curls are plenty visible throughout.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are bold and everpresent.  They are vibrant and the palette is wonderfully displayed on screen.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural and consistent.  One outside scene looks to have a yellow filter on the lens but that’s it.

Noise/Artifacts:  Not a spec.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics:  The music is displayed quite richly in this 5.1 track.  Instruments feel very loose and tracked on their own with no real blending present.  There’s a good mesh between, score, voice and effects.  Effects are very lifelike in their sound and most everything is accounted for.

Low Frequency Extension:  The bass and bass drum in the songs are enhanced from the subwoofer as well as the score and doors shutting.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Mainly the music and ambiance.  Right/left interplay is pretty good, especially in the instrumentation of the live music scenes.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Crisp and clear.  A little lower in the mix but its just fine.

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Extras 

Begin again comes with a Digital Copy of the film.

The Making Of Begin Again (HD, 20:53) – The cast and crew talk about the productions, filming the music and the ideas behind the film’s story and characters.

Lyric Music Videos (HD, 14:39) – “Lost Stars” Performed By Adam Levine, “Lost Stars” Performed By Keira Knightley, “Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home” Performed By Keira Knightley, “Like A Fool” Performed By Keira Knightley

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Summary 

Begin Again is a nice little journey that winds up being feel good even through the darker and more dramatic portions.  The music is pretty impressive and watching the creation of it is even more outstanding.  This Blu-ray brings that music to life terrifically and the visuals that go with it look just as good.  The bonus features offer a pretty in depth behind the scenes as well as some lyric videos to…I guess sing a long with at home?  If you were a fan of once, you should definitely pick this up as its a very nice companion piece to that film.  Is it as good?  I dunno, I’ve been with Once for a while, but I’ll say they’re both good in different ways.  Check out Begin Again if and when you get the chance.

Begin-Again-Blu-ray

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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