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Every movie we see #68: Begin Again will comfort ears ringing from summer’s blockbusters

July 10, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies, Music No Comments →

begin again

Movie #65: Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch, with Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as vampires. This will be reviewed in full.

Movie #66: Barefoot. We had no intention of watching this, but when we saw Scott Speedman we had a Felicity flashback. Of course she should follow him. Coincidentally, in Barefoot beautiful mental patient Evan Rachel Wood follows him to New Orleans.

Movie #67: Labor Day. Jason Reitman’s latest has been vilified by critics, but we suspect they didn’t get it. It was directed by the guy who made Thank You For Smoking and Young Adult after all. It has to be a trick.

Labor Day begs the question: If at the supermarket Josh Brolin politely but firmly asks you for a ride, would you not dump the groceries and the kids to do as he asks, overlooking the minor detail that he is an escaped convict? And if he does all the repairs on your house, cooks and cleans, fixes the car, bakes peach pie, and plays catch with your child and a kid with cerebral palsy, would you not keep him? Critics miss the obvious: It’s porn for disillusioned girls!

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With Begin Again, writer-director John Carney restates the theme of his indie hit Once—the power of music to connect people—but with bigger stars. It’s a low-key, unassuming movie that may be of interest to people who have been on the margins of the music industry. Such as ourself, which is why we like it.

Mark Ruffalo plays Dan Wheeler, a dejected fallen genius producer/A&R (two letters that immediately whisk us back to the 90s, when everyone was in A&R and even the clunkiest garage band had a shot at signing with a major label) man who, on the day he gets kicked out of the independent record company he co-founded, accidentally walks into an impromptu performance by songwriter Greta. Yeah, it’s on the same day, but we’ll overlook that for Mark Ruffalo, who makes us want to adopt him.

Greta, played by Keira Knightley who can put on a shapeless house dress and make it look trendy, is also dejected. She had come to the US with her musician boyfriend Dave Kohl, who predictably cheats on her on his way to stardom. Dave is played by Adam Levine, whom we almost did not recognize with his clothes on.

Dan convinces Greta to do an album, and since they don’t have a production budget they record the songs guerrilla-style in locations all over New York City. In the process Dan sorts out his relationships with his estranged music journalist ex-wife (Catherine Keener) and his teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld, our favorite hyphenated Filipino in Hollywood, who has something other teenage actresses don’t have: she really comes across as a teenager). He also has to figure out his place in the current music industry, which bears very little resemblance to the music scene of the 90s. Dave’s new fame makes Greta think hard about what she wants as an artist. Musicians have always had to deal with the temptation to sell out, but in the 21st century the number of ways an artist can sell out has increased exponentially.

The choices that a recording artist has to make are neatly demonstrated with the evolution of a song called Lost Stars. First we hear the basic acoustic rendition by Greta (Keira can sing). Then we hear the overproduced album version by Dave, who has no problem with giving the audience what they want to hear. Then we hear Dave performing it before an audience. There are many songs in Begin Again, and it always makes us happy to hear Stevie Wonder acknowledged, but Lost Stars is the one we hear most often. It’s a pleasant tune, but like the rest of Greta’s album, fairly generic indie, often mopey, pop. In other words it’s no Falling Slowly.


Falling Slowly carried Once. Its rawness and intensity underscored the protagonist’s rage as well as his undeclared feelings for his writing partner. Lost Stars lacks emotional weight. Dave/Adam Levine will have to take his shirt off while singing it to make it memorable. Greta, who comes from the old school singer-songwriter tradition, would not like that.

In short, if you’re going to do a movie about the redemptive power of music, better make sure the music is worthy. Other than that Begin Again works, and we like how it skirts the corny fake-romantic turns that make movies of this sort so irritating.

Rating: Recommended. It’s not often we hear melodies rather than explosions at the cinema these days. And if you haven’t seen it, look up Once.

Every movie we see #63 and 64: First get shredded by The Rover, then relax with Chef.

July 03, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies 7 Comments →

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The Rover, the second feature from David Michod (Animal Kingdom), is a western-style revenge thriller that asks the audience to define what a human being is. Set in a wasteland after an apocalyptic event called “The Collapse”, it stars the always-excellent Guy Pearce as a man who sets out to retrieve his car from the men who have stolen it. Robert Pattinson does good work as the carjackers’ halfwit cohort.

We wonder if The Rover has anything to do with the Harlan Ellison novella A Boy and His Dog, which is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and was going to be expanded into a novel called Blood’s A Rover (not related to the James Ellroy novel).

Rating: Drop everything and watch this in the cinema before it disappears.

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Chef is so low-key and pleasant, it’s like having a meal with friends with the TV on, tuned to the Food Network. Why was it even filmed, except as an excuse for friends to hang out? Writer and director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) stars as a chef who does his work not for the critics but for the people. He achieves mainstream success but what he really wants is the freedom to pursue his personal projects. Now replace “chef” with “filmmaker” and you know what Chef is really about.

Favreau’s character has a meltdown following a bad review in a food blog, and after an unfortunate Twitter exchange over the article, he takes a break. The most unbelievable thing about Chef is not that women who look like Sophia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson would go for him—he is a celebrity chef after all—but that his ten-year-old son would volunteer to help him clean and refurbish a grotty food truck so they can spend time together. You may enjoy seeing Robert Downey, Jr playing a variation on Tony Stark.

Rating: Food porn. If you’re on a diet, you should probably avoid it. It gave us a hankering for Cuban food. Could someone recommend a Cuban restaurant? A place that sells Cuban sandwiches and carne asada?

Ah, look at all the lonely people

June 29, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies, Music No Comments →

Calling something The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby naturally raises questions.
- When will she pick up the rice in the church where a wedding has been?
- Does she keep her face in a jar by the door?
- Does he darn his socks in the night when there’s nobody there?

We’re watching this anyway.

Every movie we see #62. Transformers 4: Ubusan ng Lahi

June 26, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies 1 Comment →

Movie #61: Noah by Darren Aronofsky. Don’t think of it as a tale from the Old Testament, think of it as a bizarre origin story with pretty boys in skinny jeans and ancient Transformers.

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Transformers 4: Age of Extinction is the latest installment in a blockbuster series about cars and trucks that turn into giant robots from outer space. If you expect it to make sense, you’re insane. Plus it’s directed by Michael Bay. All Michael Bay movies are about his (redacted because Transformers 4 is for General Patronage).

True, the movie might have seemed more rational if I could remember what happened in Transformers 3, but all I recall is chaos, explosions, and hardware. Which pretty much sums up the entire Transformers movie franchise. Confessions: I really enjoyed the first one, and applauded when the evil one announced, “I…am…Megatron!” Imagine my disappointment when Megatron turned up in a subsequent episode wearing a very large scarf apparently borrowed from Rita Gomez, accompanied by a noisy bird. I also prepared my tear ducts in expectation of the moment in the cartoons where Optimus Prime dies. In the second movie he died for about two minutes then is revived…because it’s a movie.

Read our review at InterAksyon.com.

All You Need Is Kill is in paperback

June 25, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies No Comments →

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We prefer that title to the rather generic Edge of Tomorrow or even Groundhog Day In War With Aliens. Still, we enjoyed Edge of Tomorrow to little pieces and we’re curious to see how different it is from its source, the Japanese science-fiction work. All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka is available in an English translation (not a “novelization” of the movie, but an English rendering of the Japanese science-fiction work) at National Bookstores, Php315 a copy. Look in the Movie Tie-Ins shelf.

Weng-Weng, OTJ, Shift and How to Disappear Completely in this month’s Sight & Sound

June 20, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Movies No Comments →

Between this and the annual best list, this is probably the most attention Filipino cinema has ever gotten in the venerable magazine. Well-played, everyone.

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