Begin Again is a great example of a modern musicala film centered on music that doesn't interrupt the story with unrealistic song-and-dance numbers. Keira Knightley stars as a young singer-songwriter in the shadow of her rock-star boyfriend. Mark Ruffalo co-stars as a down-and-out record producer who discovers her latent talent on open-mike night at a noisy bar. Both characters are in the dumps and looking for an escape route. They find it in her music, which is more like ore than gold but is ready to shine. The redemptive quality of music carries this film, although it glosses over some problems (alcoholism, a broken marriage) that aren't so easily solved. Irish writer/director John Carney builds on his previous success with a musical movieOnce (2006), which launched the Oscar-winning song "Falling Slowly." Begin Again is a bigger production that borders on the formulaic but has enough charm to overcome its clichés.
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Edge of Tomorrow is the evil twin of Groundhog Day (1993). Tom Cruise plays a cowardly U.S. Army public-relations officer who pisses off a general and finds himself busted to private and assigned to an infantry squad on the eve of a major battle. The enemies are invading space aliens well on their way to conquering Earth. Through a quirk of fate, Cruise's character discovers that when he's killed in combat, he relives the same day again and again but can alter his actions to survive. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's character discovered the same unexplained ability and used his reincarnations to become a better person and a worthy lover. In Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise's character uses his reincarnations to become a better killer. Both films may be regarded as Buddhist allegories, but the new one seems to replace nirvana with Valhalla. Normally, it's unfair to judge one movie against another that has an unrelated storyline. In this case, however, they're so similar and so different that they're almost mirror images of parallel universes. Starting now, it's unthinkable to see one without seeing the other. Both are good in their own ways. But Edge of Tomorrow is the more unsettlingit shows a weaponized twist on the Buddhist quest for enlightenment.
Maleficent retells the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale from the viewpoint of Maleficent, the wicked witch who cursed the beautiful young Princess Aurora to eternal sleep. But in this revisionist history for the modern age, the wicked witch is not so much wicked as emotionally damaged. Betrayed by a lover, Maleficent (played with delicious verve by Angelina Jolie) becomes embittered and bent on revenge. Aurora (Elle Fanning) just gets in the way. Unlike Sleeping Beauty, Disney's 1959 animated adaptation of the legend, this live-action remake is noteworthy for showing good versus evil as shades of gray, not black or white, and for offering a path to redemption. Is it too Freudian for little kids? Probably not; they're more perceptive than we realize. But the computer-animated fire-breathing dragons and other violent scenes go far beyond the 1959 version, which was scary enough for small children. This movie is better suited to adolescents and adults.
Finding Vivian Maier is an intriguing documentary about an elderly Chicago woman who died in 2009 and left behind a storage locker filled with personal effects. Among them were more than 125,000 photographic negatives, color slides, 8mm movie films, and self-recorded tapes. Vivian, it turns out, was an extraordinary amateur photographer whose workespecially her urban street photographycompares favorably with that of the best professionals of the 20th century. Yet she never published, exhibited, sold, or shared her work with anyone. She labored her whole life as a nanny, caring for the children of affluent families. And she was mysterious. She never dated or married, never discussed her own family or background, and sometimes used an alias. What were her secrets? Why did she hide her talents? John Maloof, the young man who discovered Vivian's artwork, explores her life in this startling but ultimately puzzling film.
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- The Death of BYTE Magazine. In 1998, after 23 years of operation, BYTE Magazine was shut down by its new owner, CMP Media. A year later, CMP launched BYTE.com as a very different web-only publication. To learn the inside story about what happened to the world's second personal computer magazine, see Tom's Unofficial BYTE FAQ: The Death of BYTE Magazine.
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