Movie Reviews: Begin Again (15A)

Begin Again ****
Boyhood ****
Goltzius and the Pelican Company ****

Personal and artistic rebirth lies at the heart of Begin Again (15A), which stars Keira Knightley as Gretta, a song-writer who finds herself abandoned in New York when her boyfriend and song-writing partner Dave (Adam Levine) gets plucked from obscurity and thrust into the spotlight.

Betrayed personally and professionally, Gretta has made up her mind to move back to London when she bumps into Dan (Mark Ruffalo), formerly a high-flying music executive and now a boozing, womanising flake. The unlikely pair find common creative ground despite their many differences, and the charming, offbeat relationship that develops between them serves as the cornerstone of John Carney’s whimsical tale. Indeed, Begin Again is a film that makes a virtue of its unusual casting choices: the prim and proper Knightley and the roguish Ruffalo make for beautifully dovetailing opposites, while James Corden is surprisingly likeable as a busker who refuses to allow Gretta sink into a swamp of self-flagellation. Maroon 5’s Adam Levine is perfectly pitched as an egocentric rock star in the making, while Catherine Keener and Hailee Steinfeld, playing Ruffalo’s ex-wife and estranged daughter, respectively, offer a telling counterpoint to Dan’s self-absorbed passion for music. John Carney, who catapulted his way into the public consciousness with Once (2006), again weaves a compelling tale of redemption through music, in the process offering a manifesto of independence and rough-edged originality that rails against the sanitised corporate music industry. Knightley acquits herself very well in her big screen singing debut.

Directed by Richard Linklater, Boyhood (15A) is something of an epic in a minor key as it follows young Texan boy Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from the age of five until he graduates high school. The hook here is that Linklater intermittently filmed Coltrane — along with his on-screen sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) — from 2002 to 2014, so that it’s the same actors growing through their respective roles. It’s fascinating to watch the kids grow up, and to see their parents, played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, age in real time; all told, the project represents a superbly realised commitment and a logistical triumph. Naturally, the story dips in and out of Mason’s life, offering snapshots and vignettes of his growing pains, and while the narrative has an appropriately realistic quality in its tendency to meander, the overall effect roots the audience in Mason’s experiences. Where Richard Linklater got very lucky was in casting Ellar Coltrane and his own daughter, Lorelei, both of whom prove themselves naturals in front of the camera. Meanwhile, Arquette and Hawke are quietly excellent. The director does have an unfortunate tendency to proselytise about the political landscape of America during the period, but otherwise Boyhood is a magnificent achievement.

While we’re on the topic of maverick visionaries, Peter Greenaway directs Goltzius and the Pelican Company (18s), a kind of companion piece to Nightwatching (2007), which concerned itself with investigating the background to what is arguably Rembrandt’s most famous painting, The Night Watch. Here the artist is the Dutch engraver Hendrick Goltzius (Ramsey Nasr), who brings his performing troupe, the Pelican Company, to the Alsace court of The Margrave (F. Murray Abraham) in the hope that The Margrave will become the patron of his proposed printing works. The Margrave agrees, providing the Pelican Company entertain his court for six consecutive nights, whereupon the Company play out a series of Biblical tales that personify the six great sexual taboos, displaying acres of naked flesh that brings to fever pitch a court that was already humming with political, sexual and religious intrigue. It’s all very arch and deliberately contrived as Greenaway emphasises the story’s theatrical origins at every turn. Sumptuously decadent in its execution, Goltzius and the Pelican Company will undoubtedly challenge the patience of any viewer conditioned to more streamlined, straightforward narratives. Those who stay the pace, however, will be rewarded by a fabulously imaginative and bitingly funny satire.


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