Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr. Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Benedict Wong, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Peter Dinklage, Idris Elba
With the incredible success of Black Panther, which is the year’s top grossing film by some margin and Marvel’s third highest grossing film ever, 2018 was already a winner for Marvel Studios before they had even played their trump card. Avengers: Infinity Wars is, by most any measure, one of the biggest movies in history. The film that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building to for a decade now, it is a crossover epic 18 films in the making, and promises to be the blockbuster movie event of the year.
When Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has been missing from Earth since Avengers: Age of Ultron, comes crashing down into Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) Sanctum Sanctorum he brings with him an ominous warning. The titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) is gathering the infinity stones. These six gems forged in the big bang each control an elemental power and if he gets his hand on all six, and he already has three, he will become all powerful. His ultimate goal? Genocide on an unimaginable scale. Continue reading
Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci
Revelations of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and the institutional cover up which protected its perpetrators, have rocked communities all over the world. The effect has been particularly devastating in cities where the church and the wider community are almost inseparable. Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight takes its title from the small, four person investigative team at the Boston Globe who, in 2001, uncovered a scandal in the local archdiocese which started a snowball effect which would be felt around the globe and earned the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize.
The Boston Globe has a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Baron has worked at the New York Times and the Miami Herald, so he has serious credibility. But he is Jewish, unmarried, and doesn’t even like baseball. In other words, he is not Boston. In his first meeting with the Globe staff he draws their attention to a small column buried deep in the paper about a local priest who has been convicted of child sex offences and decides that this will become the next target for the Spotlight team Continue reading
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Samuel L Jackson
The 2012 superhero team up movie The Avengers, the culmination of Phase One of Marvel Studios plan for blockbuster world domination, was an enormous success taking $1.5 billion worldwide and becoming the third highest grossing film of all time. So naturally expectation is sky high for their next gathering, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is still haunted by the events of New York which concluded The Avengers. Knowing what forces exist in the universe he is acutely aware of the limitations of the Avengers. They can only protect the world from so much. With the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) he has been secretly working at a plan he calls Ultron, which he imagines as “a suit of armour around the world.” After the Avengers reclaim Loki’s sceptre from a Hydra bunker, Stark and Banner try and harness its artificial intelligence and plant it in Ultron. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so sure enough this plan backfires. Designed to keep the peace, the sentient Ultron (James Spader) sees allowing the Earth to evolve through the elimination of the human race as key to achieving that peace. Continue reading
Director: John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, Mos Def, Catherine Keener
In 2006, Irish writer-director John Carney had an indie hit with his shoestring budget musical Once. The film, about a romance between a Dublin busker and a Czech flower seller who are brought together by their passion for music, won an Oscar for Best Original Song and spawned a Tony Award winning Broadway musical. Carney returns to familiar territory with Begin Again. Originally titled ‘Can a Song Save Your Life?’, the film explores the redemptive power of music and creative collaboration.
In a New York bar a young woman is invited up on stage to sing one of her songs and is almost completely ignored except for one man who stands transfixed. We rewind to approach the scene from two different perspectives; first his, then hers. He is Dan, a music producer who has hit rock bottom. His marriage has broken up, his daughter doesn’t respect him and he has just been fired from the record company he founded. She is Greta, recently broken up from her long-time boyfriend and song-writing partner after he hits the big time and is corrupted by fame. Dan hears something in Greta’s music that lights a fire in him and convinces her to record an album. Without access to a studio Dan and Greta decide they will make the album an ode to New York, and set about recording tracks live in different locations around the city, incorporating the ambient sounds of the town into their music.
While very derivative of Once, Begin Again is a glossier, more Hollywood movie with a bigger cast and bigger stars. Despite this, it manages to retain the sincerity of the earlier film thanks largely to strong performances from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. The two share great chemistry, but Carney thankfully resisting the urge to slip into cliché and keeps their relationship platonic. While that these two can act should be no surprise, that Knightley can sing might be. She does all her own singing, and while she doesn’t have a big voice, it is an emotive one. These two are surrounded by a quality supporting cast including Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. It is James Corden though who steals the show as Greta’s old friend and the film’s chief comic relief.
While not a musical, music is obviously of central importance to the story. For these characters music is their life, and the film has some really clever ways of demonstrating the importance of music to them. There is one magical scene in which we see Greta’s initial bar performance from Dan’s perspective. As Dan’s imagination flies away arranging this song we see different instruments – a piano, drums, strings – start to play themselves accompanying the lone guitarist.
With music being so central to the story, it is supremely important that Carney and his team got the songs right. Fortunately, the film’s songs, primarily written by former New Radicals front man Gregg Alexander, are among its strongest attributes. However, there is a slight inauthenticity in the filmmakers’ unwillingness to back the premise of the album they are recording. We watch these live street recordings taking place but it is all too obvious that we are hearing studio mastered audio.
Begin Again is not as artistically aspirational as its characters are. It prefers to engage in some mainstream Hollywood feel-goodery. But the fact that this film remains upbeat, never wallowing even as the characters go through some low times, makes it a very hard film not to enjoy.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Begin Again? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.