Posteriors and posterity

Posteriors and posterity

‘Sex Tape’ is light yet raunchy fun, while ‘Begin Again’ is one for the ages

By Carl Kozlowski 07/17/2014

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The world has gone video-crazy, with people everywhere recording their greatest moments and sharing them with the world. Two new films, “Sex Tape” and “Begin Again,” offer different spins on this idea, and both have their own distinctly different charms. 


“Sex Tape,” the more lightweight of the two, stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel as Annie and Jay, a married couple who used to love to have sex anywhere, everywhere and in every way imaginable when they first met but have lost their spark after 10 years and two kids. Annie is about to sell her blog about mommy life to a major online distributor headed by Hank Rosenbaum (Rob Lowe), a white-bread conservative who loves Annie’s now-wholesome image. Annie decides to celebrate by shipping the kids off to grandma and getting it on with Jay all night. 


But even then, hooking up is harder than they realize. Through a series of mishaps large and small, Jay and Annie wind up worrying that they’ve flat-out lost their ability to have sex, until Annie suggests whipping out an iPad and making a sex tape for themselves, with the intention of erasing it the next day. 


Instead of erasing it, clumsy Jay accidentally sends the video out to a group of friends and family who are linked because they’ve each been given used iPads over the past couple years whenever he gets a new one through his work. And so they go on a crazed overnight quest to grab all the iPads back before they can be seen — with their best friends Robby (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Ellie Kemper) in tow, and with Hank Rosenbaum himself as the prime person from whom they must steal back an iPad.


“Sex Tape” isn’t a very ambitious film, but it definitely delivers on its promise of consistent laughs, appealing performers and some sexy moments, including Diaz in her first nude scene ever. While it’s definitely not for prudes (you have only yourself to blame if you pay to see a movie called “Sex Tape” and get offended), director Jake Kasdan leaves a lot to the audience’s comedic imagination and the surrounding proceedings, particularly during an extended sequence at Hank’s house that turns out to be full of wild surprises, are pretty imaginative and very funny. 


“Begin Again” is also an R-rated movie about adult relationships, but as a drama with a ton of terrific pop music at its core, it’s a richer and much more memorable experience. It pairs Kiera Knightley and Mark Ruffalo as a mysterious open-mic singer-songwriter named Gretta and an alcoholic record-label head named Dan who stumbles into the bar she’s singing at on the night he gets fired.


Gretta didn’t even want to be on stage that night, but Dan is certain she can be the superstar he needs to make it back to the top. The two agree to work together on an album to be recorded live on the streets and in the alleys of New York City, with unemployed musicians as her impromptu band and ambient noise like subway trains, traffic and irate neighbors all left in the mix of the final product. 


Adding to the mix are the romantic complications of the two, as Dan has to deal with his estranged wife (Catherine Keener) and teenage daughter, and Gretta has to decide whether to stay involved with the rock-star boyfriend (Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and “The Voice”) who cheated on her. Through it all, New York’s glorious locations are so key to the tale that the movie becomes a valentine to the Big Apple as well as to the power of music. 


Written and directed with passion by John Carney, the Irish filmmaker whose 2006 film “Once” became a worldwide indie sensation that also won an Oscar for Best Song, “Begin Again” follows a similar story arc but has a much bigger canvas to work with and rises to the occasion on every level. Ruffalo and Knightley are in career-best roles here, with Knightley particularly impressive because she had to learn how to sing like a champion for the part. 


“Begin Again” is not only certain to be one of the best movies of the year but has joined my all-time Top Five Favorites list (along with “Vertigo,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “There’s Something About Mary”). In a summer overloaded with special effects wizardry, it’s got the most magic of all.


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