Begin Again

 

This light rom-com with (mostly) great music and (mostly) good-looking people has a couple of surprises. (These are not significant spoilers, so read on.) First, Keira Knightley is a decent singer. And, second, the relationship between her character and Mark Ruffalo’s does not go the way one might expect.

Greta James (Knightley) is the tag-along girlfriend of singer Dave Kohl (Adam Levine). She accompanies him to NYC to kick off a new record deal. Dan (Ruffalo) is a record company exec who has lost his mojo—he can longer launch a hit artist. He hears Greta sing and wants to record her music.

Dan is estranged from his wife Miriam (Catherine Keener). When Dan meets Greta, she has just left Dave after watching his reaction to a newly recorded song he plays for her. (She intuits that he has cheated on her while recording in LA.) So the scene is set for them to hook up, no? No. Both are focused on the music. (Although some of their time together is a bit flirtatious.)

Dan comes up with the idea to record Greta’s songs all around New York. Get a couple of good mikes and a laptop and go. Outside. On sidewalks. In alleys. In subway stations. Sidemen include Greta’s friend Steve (James Corden) and Mark and Miriam’s daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld).

Dan is old school. An early scene in the film shows him listening to CD’s by new artists while driving through Manhattan. Most are generic rhythmic pop. Dan is so disgusted by what he hears, he tosses most of them out the car window.

Adam Levine of Maroon 5 (and “The Voice” TV show) is a passable actor and is the movie’s best singer. Another Voice star Cee Lo Green has a small part in the film.

Begin Again is an R-rated movie that could easily have been rated PG-13, except for some bad language. There’s no sex, nudity or drug use. Why would writer/director John Carney (creator of the beloved 2006 film Once) feel the need to keep his movie off-limits to romance-minded teens?

Knightley and Ruffalo are fun to watch together. Begin Again is not a typical musical, but music is central to the film. There’s much to enjoy here.

Three Days To Kill

Kevin Costner is not the best actor in the world, but people like him. Men like him because he’s a man’s man who made three movies about baseball. Women like him because he’s rugged, yet sensitive. Of course, he is a handsome man, too.

In Three Days To Kill, we get Costner the gun-toting action hero. We also get Costner the absent husband and dad who’s trying to make up for time spent apart from his family. In TDTK, when those two worlds intersect, the results are funny, frightening, ridiculous and/or deadly.

Following a shootout and chase on foot, CIA agent Ethan Renner (Costner) collapses. A doctor tells him he has just a few months to live. He goes back to Paris to reconnect with his teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) before he dies. He tells his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) that he’s done with spook work.

Up pops the CIA’s Vivi (Amber Heard), driving a fast car and looking like a fantasy babe, offering Ethan an experimental drug that might save him from death. But only if he will eliminate CIA targets “The Albino” (Tomas Lemarquis) and “The Wolf” (Richard Sammel).

Ethan’s pursuit of these weapons dealers happens at the same time he is mending fences with the family, leading to a few cute intersections of the two story tracks. In the midst of tense action, his “I Don’t Care” ringtone signals a call from Zoey. A bad guy who is duct-taped to a toilet shares his mother’s recipe for spaghetti sauce by phone to Zoey.

Another storyline that reveals Ethan’s good nature (not expected from a CIA operative) involves squatters. When he finds his Paris apartment occupied by a large African family and learns the law protects them, he eventually shrugs and accepts it.

Does the action pic/family drama crossover work? Generally, yes. The action, including decent chase scenes, exciting shootouts and gory death, is good. And the family part, featuring some nice bonding between Ethan and Zoey, is sweet. Hailee Steinfeld’s performance is significantly better here than in 2010’s True Grit.

Three Days to Kill, directed by McG of Charlie’s Angels fame, moves along nicely and does not bog down. And, while the film’s outcomes are not unanticipated, McG keeps it interesting with quick transitions back and forth between the film’s two tracks. Costner fans, male and female, have a good movie to enjoy together.

TDTK is rated PG-13. Gunplay is excessive but the sex and cursing are minimal.