THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY (2014)

September 21, 2014

eleanor rigby Greetings again from the darkness. It’s tough and probably unfair to write about a film project when key pieces remain unseen. Writer/Director Ned Benson‘s brilliant first take on the story was released at Toronto Film Festival in two perspectives: “Him” and “Her“. A massive re-edit produced “Them“, this version for theatrical release. As you might expect, knowledge that more exists … and in probably a more effective story telling format … renders us a bit frustrated with the blended version. Still, there is plenty here to warrant a look.

This viewer’s frustration stems mostly from the long and winding road we travel understanding something tragic has caused the split between El (the titular Eleanor Rigby) and Conor, but only being teased with details. We are offered a brief glimpse of their happy times, but never get to know them as a happy couple. Instead, Conor is shown trying to re-assemble the pieces, while El tries to move on to a different puzzle altogether.

While the story unfolds in teeth-grinding fashion, it doesn’t offset the powerful emotion and personal intensity brought to the screen by both James McAvoy (Conor) and Jessica Chastain (El). Mr. McAvoy has quietly evolved into one of the more interesting actors working, while Ms. Chastain proves herself to be among the best each time she crawls inside a role and makes it her own. We feel for each of them, before we even really know them at all.

Other superb work comes from a sterling supporting cast that includes screen vets William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, Viola Davis and Ciaran Hinds; as well as Bill Hader, Jess Weixler and Nina Arianda. That’s seven characters (plus the two leads) of which we yearn to learn more. Ms. Davis is especially effective in her all too brief appearance as a professor cutting El very little slack. And Mr. Hurt delivers a terrific monologue that strikes a chord.

So all of these wonderful pieces make for an spell-binding what-if that possibly gets answered in the dual-perspective version. The coldness and lack of understanding in the first 45 minutes can’t offset the emotion and sadness that each character feels. Rumor has it that “Him” and “Her” will get their release this year, and if so, I’ll be there in an attempt to complete both puzzles.

watch the trailer:

 


ROBIN HOOD (2010)

May 20, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Hard to argue with the box office success when director Ridley Scott teams up with Russell Crowe (Gladiator, American Gangster). Can’t really challenge the resume of writer Bryan Helgeland (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential) or the acting chops of Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow or William Hurt. And only the most cynical would deny the appeal of the Robin Hood legend … stealing from the rich to give to the poor. So why is it that I feel so cheated and let down by this version?

First of all, it is presented as a prequel to the legend. This is the story of how Robin and his band of merry men (and Maid Marion) came to be united. If it is a prequel, why then is Robin (Russell Crowe) so darn old? There is even a line in the film noting the advanced age of King Richard the Lionheart being 40 or even more! For the times, this was considered old, yet somehow Robin is ready for a career change.

The best parts of the film are the amazing sets and pieces – both the villages and the boats. And we all know that Mr. Scott can film a massive battle scene! There is a touch of Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart in many scenes. All fine, but what I really missed was the flirtatious banter between Robin and Marion. Maybe I am biased, but a Lorena Bobbitt threat doesn’t strike me as light-hearted bed chamber conversation.

My biggest complaint is with the script. It just felt clunky and messy. A couple of scenes were apparently included just so Mark Strong could scowl … and he has a great scowl! Other scenes and lines were seemingly included just to give the film a complex feel. Probably too complex for what it really is.

Oscar Isaac as Prince John was the funniest and most interesting character in the film. The preview made him look like a buffoon, but the film gave him more depth … and a couple of great lines. Danny Huston as Lionheart, Mark Addy as Friar Tuck and Matthew Macfadyen as the Sheriff of Nottingham all add to the luster, but remember this is prior to Robin’s ongoing battles with the Sheriff.

Be cautious with younger kids as it is a strong PG-13. The battle scenes are entertaining, but this is one legend that did not need its roots exposed.