The Purge: Anarchy
July 24, 2014
Begin Again (** ½) R
The best way to describe writer-director John Carney’s Begin Again, the much-anticipated follow-up to his celebrated 2007 film Once, is slight but vaguely enjoyable. The film isn’t likely to set the woods on fire, in terms of revolutionary story telling, as it mostly resembles a warmed over version of his acclaimed film from seven years ago. Still, it does have its undeniable charms and is buoyed by the performances of its likable leads Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley.
Since Carney has delved into this territory before, the inevitable comparisons to his two similarly themed stories are bound to crop up. The central conceit of both films—two lonely and wounded hearts bond and make music together—works in tandem with Carney’s character and performance centered tendencies. In Once, the story seemed to flow more organically, but a problem with Begin Again that crops up more often than it should is a requirement of suspension of disbelief.
For instance, seemingly in about the time it would take one to shave and shower, the Mark Ruffalo character has put together backing musicians, funds and recording equipment that will allow Knightley’s character to show off her songwriting and performing prowess, making an album in the process.
Knightley & Ruffalo in the comedy/drama Begin Again
Anyone with any working knowledge of the music business knows that most of what we see in the film simply isn’t feasible in the real world but the charm of the actors helps us to forget these things and go with the flow. Still, every now and then something will happen that jolts you from the ongoing fantasy and realizing that what we’re seeing is a wee bit of a stretch.
In the film’s opening scenes, we are witness to singer-songwriter Gretta (Knightley) reluctantly performing one of her songs to a disinterested crowd in a NYC bar as talent scout Dan (Ruffalo), finds himself taken with what he’s hearing. The film then gives us the back story, in flashback, of what has led Dan and Gretta to this place.
In the case of Gretta, it’s because she decided to travel with her cheating musician boyfriend (Adam Levine of Maroon 5, in an interesting big-screen debut) to NYC as he records songs for a movie. Gretta, of course, leaves the boyfriend after learning of his indiscretions, while Dan, smarting from a lack of promotable talent and the dissolution of his marriage, is thinking of offing himself. The magic found in Gretta’s music changes everything for everyone involved.
Writer-director Carney has made two films in the interim since the surprise success of Once but this is the first time he’s opted to set a film in the world of music. It seems to be more agreeable to him than his last two films, which were virtually unseen in the US. The songs, as in his other film set in the music world, are enchanting and well performed here by Knightley and Levine. Begin Again may not be quite up to the level of his previous effort but it’s worth a look, even if a bit flawed.
The Purge: Anarchy (**) R
I will readily admit that I was intrigued by the concept of last year’s surprise hit film The Purge, a story hook that involved an overpopulated, futuristic society wherein criminal law is thrown out the window for a 12 hour period in the hopes that some of the population will be scaled back during the festivities.
The problem with the film was in its final act, which devolved into a poor man’s version of Straw Dogs, as Ethan Hawke took on the tormentors who had broken into his house and threatened the safety of his family, much in the same vein that Dustin Hoffman did in director Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 classic. At this point the film became bland and derivative, leaving me with hope that should a sequel be forthcoming, perhaps the filmmaking team would choose to rectify some of the mistakes inherent in the first film by expanding on the film’s core concept.
After the financial success of the initial Purge outing, it was inevitable that The Purge: Anarchy would find its way into theaters at some point. Director Michael Bay (Transformers, etc.) had served as producer on that initial film and everyone knows that in the ongoing battle between art and commerce, Bay will side with the latter every time.
Scary people in The Purge: Anarchy (a sequel)
And so we have a new entry in what appears to be a franchise but instead of offering us something new, it’s pretty much a warmed over version of last year’s film with the exception that the locale has been moved outdoors.
In this film we have a group of people, who for the most part, are strangers. We get a semblance of a back-story during the opening scenes before the Purge rears its ugly head and the filmmakers attempt to get us to empathize with the characters, although all of them come across as bland. Of course it doesn’t take long before this group of disparate characters converge after getting caught in the streets during the Purge.
And so the tedium goes until the final act, which does offer a bit of mild diversion in a subplot that lets us know that the rich are not above participating in the Purge either; just not in the ways that one might expect.
The greatest cinematic transgression of The Purge: Anarchy is that it just doesn’t offer enough surprises. This is especially true when one takes into consideration the possibilities that a premise like this one might provide. Sure, there’s enough of the ol’ ultraviolence to please those members of the audience who enter into this affair expecting nothing above and beyond that type of thing. But anyone wanting anymore than these cheap thrills is going to have to wait something a bit more substantive when the third Purge film surely arrives next year. I, for one, am not holding out much hope.
Both of these movies are playing all over this area and at the Carmike, in Hickory.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.