FlixChatter Review – The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

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It seems that a straight love-themed drama is hard to come in Hollywood. Instead we see romance as part of another genre, i.e. romantic comedy, romantic thriller, romantic sci-fi and so on. It’s even more rare to see a love story in a three-film format, not a trilogy mind-you, but the same story told from three different perspective [as you can read in my spotlight here] where director Ned Besson shot three films from his and her perspective, then created a third – more marketable – version, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them.

So who’s miss Eleanor Rigby? You might be inclined to think she ‘disappears’ in the same sense as Gone Girl, but no that’s not the case here. But the title makes sense as the film progresses, which is unfolding in an unhurried pace that is far from boring. It opens with a gorgeous young couple, Eleanor and Conor, running off without paying their bill at a restaurant. It’s apparent the two are blissfully in love, which makes you wonder all the more what happen to such a seemingly jubilant marriage. Besson didn’t immediately fill in everything about the incident that trigger the relationship’s collapse, which can be at times frustrating but it also made me appreciate the journey with the characters. 

EleanorRigbyStills1I read afterwards that Besson apparently had a relationship with the lead actress, Jessica Chastain, and that in a way the story is somewhat biographical. Perhaps that’s why I think Chastain is so perfect in the role, though I think she would be anyway without their history. She’s the kind of actress whose got such a captivating screen presence, both strong and vulnerable, as well as being able to remain likable even if her character isn’t always so. In fact, at times I feel like perhaps she’s being unreasonable. What could be so horrible that made her decide to take such drastic measures? I feel that Eleanor chooses to drown in her own grief despite being surrounded by such a supportive family, which I think is still a privilege as not many people would have such a privilege. Yet I couldn’t dislike her and I attribute that to Chastain’s soulful performance.

On the other side is James McAvoy as Conor, the *jilted* husband who tries to win her back. McAvoy is such a capable actor, I always think that given his resemblance to Gerard Butler, the two could be brothers, but he’s the kind of performer I wish Butler could be. McAvoy could juggle big-budget Summer movies like X-Men Days of Future Past, in an iconic role no less, yet he can still *disappear* [pardon the pun] into an entirely different role here. Like Eleanor, Conor is a flawed character who struggles with his crumbling marriage as well as his frosty relationship with his dad. I’d have to say I prefer McAvoy in dramatic fares and I hope he does more stuff like this where he plays a regular guy.

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I feel that under less capable hands, both Conor & Eleanor might not have been as captivating nor as convincing in conveying deep emotional heartbreak. Even in quieter moments, both actors can hold your attention and they definitely get you involved in their story. It definitely helps having a solid supporting cast, I especially like Viola Davis as a college professor who became Eleanor’s unlikely confidant, as well as Ciaran Hinds & William Hurt as the father of Conor & Elinor, respectively. Bill Hader provides somewhat of a comic relief as McAvoy’s BFF. He’s ok but I feel that their scenes felt too much like a traditional *ingredient* of a typical rom-com, so it feels like a weak link in an otherwise unconventional drama.

It’s a small quibble though, the film does a lot of things right in that it really got you involved in the characters’ journey. As I’ve been married for some time to my college sweetheart, it definitely made me think about what I’d do if this circumstance were to happen to me. There is a moment in their apartment where barely any word is spoken, but it was such a heart-wrenching and delicate moment between the two. Yet I don’t feel manipulated into feeling something that’s superficial, there’s no sweeping music to tug your heartstrings, it was all the result of being invested in the story. That said, the music/songs are quite enjoyable and fit the theme of the film nicely. As I mentioned before, I love that Besson took his time to reveal the incident that propel the story. He give you some subtle hints throughout so you can take a guess what happens but the details remain open-ended.

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Overall I’m impressed by Besson’s feature film debut, and applaud him for trying something different w/ the format. I like how intimate and personal this story feels, brought out by authentic and compelling performances of the two main actors. The cinematography of NYC is gorgeous and it shows a warm, even personal side of the city that complements the story. I’d be inclined to check out the His/Her version when they’re out on rental, that’d give me more insight into both characters and their story. It’s too bad that reportedly the film didn’t do well at all at the box office (per The Wrap) as I’d love more people to see this film. I was hoping that Besson, as well as McAvoy & Chastain get some nominations come award season, but that seems unlikely. In any case, I highly recommend this if you’re in the mood for a character-driven drama with splendid performances.

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Thoughts on this one? If you have seen it, I’d love to hear what you think.

Weekend Roundup: ENDGAME review

It’s another s-l-o-w week at the box office when the number one movie is a small-budget horror flick The Possession and it barely cracked $10 million! I skipped the cinema this weekend, though I was initially anticipating The Cold Light Of Day. But the utterly dismal critical rating (9% on rotten tomatoes!!) dissuaded me for shelling out 10 bucks to see it, no matter how much I LOVE Henry Cavill. Ah well, best to just wait for the rental methinks.

So Friday night, my hubby and I decided to see a little-seen thriller/drama ENDGAME set during Apartheid in South Africa. I’m glad I stumbled upon this film because I had never heard of it before. I was just looking at the positive reviews of Dredd 3D and was curious who had directed it, which brought me to Pete Travis. Seems like nobody has seen this film as I asked three times on Twitter about it and got zero response. Only my pal Ted replied saying he hasn’t even heard of it! Ah well, read my mini review below, I think it’s a worthy film.

I also got to see Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The reason I’m curious to see it is because a few weeks ago I heard that Keanu was reportedly keen on making Bill & Ted 3! And since I haven’t seen the original, I though what the heck. Well, it’s definitely a silly movie in the vein of Wayne’s World, but it’s good fun and quite a hoot to see how Keanu hasn’t aged that much in 23 years!!

Anyway, here’s my review of:

ENDGAME (2009)

apartheid |əˈpärtˌ(h)āt; -ˌ(h)īt|
(in South Africa) a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.

The subject matter is quite heartbreaking, as is any movie about racial segregation. Based upon the book The Fall of Apartheid by Robert Harvey, the movie is a dramatization of the covert discussions between the African National Congress (ANC) and the National Party, that brought down the Apartheid regime.

It starts off with a suspenseful scene of Jonny Lee Miller‘s character being ‘smuggled’ into the black township to hear about the suffering of the black Africans. I thought he was a doctor at first, but it turns out Michael Young is a businessman, a public affairs director for Consolidated Gold Fields, a British gold-mining company. Young ends up being the key individual who brought about the controversial secret meetings between the two opposing parties, down to securing a country house in Somerset, England to host the talks.

For a film that barely has any action or shootouts, the level of suspense is quite high. Despite not having a lot of knowledge about who the main key players are, I quickly sympathize with what each of the players signed on to, and the risk that came with it. Travis’ direction depicts the predicament subtly but efficiently, it’s a slow build-up to the momentum but he manages to keep it engaging.

I did get a bit dizzy from the hand-held camera work used in some scenes, and in this case I don’t think it’s really all that necessary to use this technique. Fortunately, there are a lot going for it here that keeps me intrigued. The filming location in Cape Town definitely helps enhance the authenticity and atmosphere, but what really sells the film for me is the cast, especially Chiwetel Ejiofor as Thabo Mbeki from the ANC side. Ejiofor has this aura of intelligence and gravitas that is perfect for his role, and he also carries the emotional moments very well. There’s a scene where he’s overwhelmed with shock and fear following a car chase and you just feel he’s thisclose to falling apart.

The rest of the supporting cast is full of B-list actors who are excellent in their roles. Miller does a good job as not only the ‘instigator’ but also the ‘moderator’ of sort, and he depicts the role of a quiet hero in a perfectly-understated way. At first I thought that Mark Strong‘s character is the usual bad guy type, but there’s actually more to it than meets the eye. The only one I wasn’t too keen on is William Hurt as philosophy professor Willie Esterhuyse, but mostly because I can’t understand most of the things he’s saying with his odd Afrikaans accent. But yet the crucial scenes between him and Ejiofor are terrific, their slow bond of trust is intriguing to watch, those scenes are one of my favorite parts in the movie. Derek Jacobi also has a brief cameo here as Miller’s boss, but it’s always nice to see him deliver lines the only way he could. Last but not least, NYC actor Clarke Peters delivers an emphatic performance as Nelson Mandela, the thing that strikes me about the quiet hero is how his inner strength helps him to stay calm during even the bleakest moments of his life. It’s truly extraordinary what he went through, but even more remarkable is how he survived such an ordeal with grace.

At the end of the film, some facts are shown as to what happens to the real-life characters following the meeting. Though it still take years before the reign of Apartheid ended, it showed what the courage of a few brave men could do and the power of hope in humanity. I highly recommend this one. It’s a sophisticated historical drama on an important subject that’s well-written and well-acted. It’s not a ‘sensational’ movie, uplifting without being emotionally-manipulative, which is perhaps why it flew under the radar.

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Thoughts about this movie? Also, did you see anything good this past weekend?

FlixChatter Review: Robin Hood (2010)

In my weekend roundup post, I’ve alluded to the fact that this version of Robin Hood is a bit Gladiator-ized, and it’s as though Scott aimed the theme to be ‘The Outlaw that defied a Kingdom.’ It’s been rumored that this movie allowed Russell and Ridley to work on a pseudo sequel to the award winning Roman epic. But did you know that the original script actually didn’t start out that way? In fact, it was as a fresh new take of the medieval hero tale, too fresh perhaps, for Hollywood studios to take a chance on.

Ridley Scott & Russell Crowe: will Robin Hood be their last ‘tango’ together?

Then it was called Nottingham, where Crowe was originally tapped to play both Robin and his nemesis the Sheriff of Nottingham. According to NY Mag, it was intended to be “.. a lighthearted Robin Hood movie, but with a clever twist: What if the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham had actually been a good guy, a dedicated public servant who’d just suffered from bad PR? What if Robin Hood was really kind of a jerk? What if they both had a thing for Marian? And what if the whole story were told from the perspective of this intriguing Sheriff?” Heh, I would’ve loved to see THAT version of Robin Hood, and that’s the script that had Crowe signed up for.  Alas, Scott begged to differ, saying that it was ‘[expletive] ridiculous’ and argued that “you’d end up spending 80% of the publicity budget explaining why it was Nottingham and not just Robin Hood.” The fascinating article also mentions how this convoluted squabble over plot puts a pretty sizable dent in the Scott/Crowe relationship.

In any case, many twist and turns and countless rewrites later, we’ve got this ‘traditional’ Robin Hood which is more of an origin story of how expert archer Robin Longstride eventually becomes Robin of the Hood we know today. Here’s the basic synopsis in a nutshell:

Following the death of King Richard in a battle in France, Robin and his three newly-acquired sidekicks encounter a dying knight Robert Loxley who’ve been ambushed in their journey home carrying the dead king’s crown. The culprit is none other than the treacherous Sir Godfrey — Mark Strong essentially reprising his role in Tristan + Isolde — this time he’s siding with the French in their quest to invade England. In his last breath, Loxley made Robin promise to take his sword back to his father in Nottingham. It’s there that Robin meets two key people: Loxley’s wife Marian and her father-in-law Walter (Max Von Sydow) who helps shed some light into his childhood memory with his own father.

I guess every hero these days, no matter what era, have to have some daddy issues (see my Iron Man review).

Crowe’s Robin prepares for battle

So by now you’re asking, where’s the ‘robbing from the rich and giving to the poor’ legend that we know of? Well, there’s the amusing bit of that when he takes back the grain for Friar (Father) Tuck, but for the rest of the movie, this Robin finds himself amidst a political quandary involving a new king, his new treacherous right hand man, and the French, all the while assuming the identity of a dead knight (thus he’s known as Robin of Loxley, not Longstride).

What works:

  • Despite looking rather bored and lethargic (perhaps due to that bickering mentioned above), Crowe is still a force on screen that still manages to get our attention. And Scott is a director who can create a gritty period piece like no other. The costumes, cinematography and on-location set design of the medieval world feels so real I could almost smell the dirt and damp ground the actors tread on. The whole thing feels gloomy and somber, which is both good and bad. Good because it really fits the era and the shadowy period of that time where war and poverty are prevalent. But also bad because it just makes you feel rather blue.

    Robin & Marian’s slow-burn love story
  • A major plus point for me (as I mentioned briefly here), is Cate Blanchett’s casting, I’ll forever thank the casting director’s choice to replace Sienna Miller with the Aussie actress. The story pretty much picks upright after Robin meets Marian. The chemistry between them is subtle but it is there, and I like the understated-ness of the scene, it starts out a bit playful but changes as soon as Robin delivers the bad news.
    ,…
    This is why I love Blanchett, the Aussie actress is an adept thespian precisely because when I watch her, I don’t see her ‘acting.’ She makes me sympathize with Maid Marian almost instantly, and her reaction the moment she finds out about her husband’s death is heart-wrenching. No, she doesn’t squeal or whimper in such a way that her lips quiver uncontrollably. None of that overacting is necessary. She simply grows quiet, her facial expression dims as if a light bulb within her has just been plucked out. She turns around and stumbles slightly as she walks away, trying to compose herself. Not only does she grieve for the obvious loss of her husband, but she also mourn for her father in-law in losing his only son, which also shows her compassionate character.

    Her chemistry with Crowe is one of the movie’s strong points. It’s not a blatant love affair, but one that grows from initial attraction to a mutual respect and eventually love. The scene where Marian finally allows Robin to embrace her as she mourns yet another loss is an especially tender and sweet moment, which is nice to see amongst all the mind-numbing action.
  • The supporting cast is equally great: Danny Houston in his brief scenes as King Richard, Max Von Sydow as Sir Walter Loxley, William Hurt as William Marshall, and Oscar Isaac as the young King John, all are noteworthy. I’ve never seen Isaac before this movie but he was quite impressive here. I also didn’t know he’s Guatemalan. Wow, his British accent was spot-on I thought he was a Brit!
    Reliable character Mark Strong once again proves he’s the go-to guy for bad ass villains. His cunning sir Godfrey knows first hand just how good of an archer Robin is, twice. The second one is perhaps the most gruesome but memorable scene set in extreme dramatic slo-mo. Focusing on Robin’s face as he spots his enemy, fixes his aim, arrow is released and we watch it fly across the sky and hits the target bulls eye. Ouch!

What doesn’t:

  • Movie starts arduously slow. In fact, I find the first twenty minutes or so pretty tedious, I don’t know if it’s because the lead actor didn’t seem all too happy to be there or the dialog or what, but I was worried even early on that I might not make it through the rest of the movie!
  • The whole movie lacks the ‘wow’ factor. Sure it looks realistic, which is commendable, but they all look like something I’ve seen before, and I’m not just referring to Bourne woods, which is the same woods as the opening battle scene in Gladiator. You’d think that given the whopping $237 million budget, we’d get to see the ‘wow’ factor the way my jaw dropped the first time I saw the Colosseum replica in Gladiator.

  • Crowe’s inconsistent, unrecognizable accent doesn’t bother me as much as the humdrum dialog, which is ironic despite the fact that as the NY Mag pointed out, Scott had hired an Oscar-winning screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love) to work as an on-set dialogue polisher,  which set the film’s final screenwriting tab to a staggering $6.7 million. Unlike the much-quoted Gladiator, there aren’t many lines from this movie worth remembering. I do like the ‘rise and rise again until the lambs become lions‘ line which means never give up, but that’s just about all I can recall.

  • The battle scenes lacks bite because it’s been dialed back to fit a PG-13 rating. Perhaps the expensive production cost means Scott had to make sure the movie appeals to a wider audience, as an R-rating automatically means a lower profit margin. The final battle scene was the only full-throttle sequence, it’s serviceable I suppose, but stops short of the glory of the movie it’s supposed to live up to.
  • This being an origins story, shouldn’t Robin be much younger? Crowe is 45 when he made this movie, making him the oldest actor to play the role of Robin Hood. Now, that’s not a criticism on the actor’s look mind you, it’s just that I always picture Robin as being in his 30s or early 40s. It’ll make it more challenging to pull off if Scott did get his way to stretch his Robin Hood story into a trilogy.
  • Lack of character development. The complicated storyline is borderline claustrophobic and as there just isn’t enough time (even with 2 hrs and 20 minutes running time) to go into detail for even the fairly important characters.

    William Hurt as William Marshall
  • For example, Matthew MacFayden as the sheriff was given pretty brief screen time, which doesn’t allow him to do hardly anything. The only memorable scene is the last scene where Robin provides a nail for him in the form of an arrow (as you’ve seen in the trailer). I for one would like to see the real-life character William Marshall character explored a bit more also. William Hurt’s performance adds a dignified layer to the story as the loyal statesman who had a hand in the history of the Magna Carta, but I was left wanting more by the end of the movie.

In conclusion, glad I saw it even though it falls short of an ‘epic.’ As I said before, this movie is somewhat ‘critics-proof’ for me because of the Crowe-Blanchett combo, and I still stand by that notion. Without their involvement, I might not even be interested to see this. Given the flaws, I’m still curious to see a follow-up to this, because I think then we’ll see Robin being Robin now that we’ve got the ‘history’ part out of the way. Scott has said in numerous interviews that he wanted to do a trilogy of the film, but given the production problems and lack of interest from moviegoers , I seriously doubt his dream will see the light of day. As it stands now, the movie hasn’t cracked $100 million in the US, so it’s a long, arduous road to make up for the hefty budget.


Have you seen this version of ROBIN HOOD? Well, what did you think?