Review: “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them” 2.1.15

This was a film that I had been following throughout the festival circuit as it had opened to mostly positive reviews at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013. Shown as a 2-part film at that festival with the same title but differentiating each part by “Him” and “Her” it wound up popping up at last year’s Cannes Film Festival put together as one film – “Them”, for reasons I can only speculate on but can imagine the Weinsteins felt a 2-part film would be much more difficult to market and turn off audiences by the daunting task for watching (for further proof see Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant “Che” which was shown in 2 parts but was virtually unseen as it clocked in at just about 4 and a half hours). So here we have the 2 films packaged together in one part that I almost considered seeing in their original 2 parts, but decided to forego the idea and see the version that was released this year on DVD. I wanted to see this film for 2 major reasons, both of them having to do with the fact that I knew little to next to nothing about it other than I thought I had read a Stephen King book by the same name years back and without having researched it though it might be an adaptation of it. That and I really really like Jessica Chastain, who won me over in a number of recent films like “The Tree of Life (2011), “Take Shelter” (2011), “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012), and last year’s “Interstellar” (I’m also really looking forward to seeing her in the recently released “A Most Violent Year”). She almost never seems to disappoint and is one of the best actresses currently working in the film industry working today. I’m also a fan of James McAvoy. Liking his career trajectory and his choices of films he’s made with movies like “The Last King of Scotland” (2006), “Atonement” (2007), “Trance” (2013″), as well as his TV work in the original BBC version of the show “Shameless” (2004-2013). So not knowing much about it added to the fact that I really admire the 2 leads, was the real reason that led me to want to see it.

The film starts out by introducing us to its 2 leads – a woman named Eleanor Rigby (Chastain) and her husband Conor (McAvoy). The two appear to be madly in love which is seemingly quite apparent from the start. However, soon after, we find Eleanor jumping off a bridge and plummet to what we think is her demise. Though she lives the fatal accident, and returns home to her family, who don’t seem to know how to act or what to do or say since their daughter has just attempted to take her own life. Her father (played by the always excellent William Hurt) encourages her to go back to school to get her mind off of things and gets her back into a program she once dropped out of (for reasons that is uncovered as the story unravels) with the help of a professor (“Doubt’s” Viola Davis). Meanwhile James McAvoy’s character Conor, who runs a restaurant that’s a sinking ship, too goes home to his wealthy but distant father and receives little to next to no compassion other than a place to stay. He does seek solace in his best friend, the chef at his restaurant (Bill Hader, who I loved in last year’s “The Skeleton Twins”), but even he can’t seem to be capable of giving the help Conor seems to so desperately need. Conor begins to track down his ex-wife Eleanor as he appears to want nothing more than to have a conversation with her. Though Eleanor is completely shut off from both him and her family, but finds a bit of sympathy in Viola Davis’ college professor. The film then rears its head and gives us a bit more back story into what event ultimately led to the couple’s decimated marriage. Which is when we as the viewer are entered into a heart-rendering story about grief, loss, and the devastating effects it can have when people are confronted with it.

I wound up being slightly mixed about the film but thought it had more pros than it did cons. First off, it totally went against my expectations of being a mystery, suspense, or horror story and winds up a more conventional and straight ahead drama. Throughout it I couldn’t help but think about other films that I’ve seen that deal with similar themes like death, loss, the grieving process, and failed marriages like Todd Field’s “In The Bedroom” (2001 – one of my top 25 favorite films of all time) as well as 2 other films from 2010 – John Cameron Mitchell’s “Rabbit Hole” and Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine. All of which came to mind while watching it. The acting here, as one would expect from both of these two brilliant young actors, is top-notch. Chastain once again puts on a performance that’s a sight to see beaten down by her loss. McAvoy was also almost equally as good as her grieving ex-husband who has his fair share of demons. I also really liked its ruminations on grieving and how everybody deals with it differently, which is a credit to the writing team. Where it fell a bit short with me was its sometimes slow pacing in which it’s a bit confusing as to why Chastain’s character Eleanor or her ex-husband are in grief and mourning until about halfway through, when I personally thought the revelation could have come much sooner and been just as effective. It also felt a bit too familiar as the majority of us have probably seen this same subject depicted and explored before like in the films I mentioned above. Lastly, the ending felt a bit anti-climatic, that left me thinking what the overall message was that the writer and director wanted me to take from it other than grief and the coping of a loss can be incredible difficult. That being said, the two performances, at least to me, were both good enough and the story though a bit trite, was engaging enough that I’d consider it at least a worthwhile watch. Even if the end result leaves a little bit left to be desired.

[B-]

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Review: ‘Filth’ 10.8.14

Sometimes even despite having 20 titles or more in the “available now” section of my Netflix queue I find myself in a crunch deciding what to move up to the #1 spot. Then there are other times where there’s maybe 5 movies vying for the spot on any given week (the second half of October is looking exceptional for DVD releases by the way). I more or less chose this film amongst the many in the litter because well, there really wasn’t all that much else on my queue that was available that stood out. I like James McAvoy a fair amount but I can’t say I usually choose a film solely based on him being in it. I did like him in the original version of the British TV series “Shameless” and in films like “Atonement” (2007), “Wanted” (2008), and last year’s “Trance”. He’s a very respectable actor. The trailer also stood out as it looked pretty sick, twisted, and depraved. Similar to Danny Boyle’s incredible “Trainspotting”  (1996) which only makes sense given that it’s written by the same author as the film in which that was based on, Irvine Welsh. I’ve read both Welsh’s “Trainspotting” and “The Acid House” when I was a teenager; though never “Filth”, to know enough going into what I more or less should be expecting. Because of my familiarity with the types of characters and stories he writes about. But still, I can’t go so far as to say I had the highest of expectations for it.

The film itself, like most of Welsh’s novels, takes place in Scotland. The story revolves around a Detective in the local police department (played impressively by McAvoy). He is up for a promotion to Detective Sargeant, and goes around doing everything in his power to be sure he lands the promotion, while also engaging in every sort of illegal activity possible to ensure that he won’t. This guy is right up on par with both Harvey Keitel and Nicolas Cage in the “Bad Leiutenant” movies (1992 and 2009). He gets off on things like busting other people’s chops by manipulating them, being a sexual predator and happily commiting adultery, perverse sexual games and masterbation, and participating in copious amounts of drinking and drug use. Yep. This isn’t your average policeman. It’s one that could possibly only exist in the twisted Irvine Welsh universe. The central story line being that a murder takes place. One that offers McAvoy’s character the “in” he needs in order to secure his promotion. The movie then follows the every step of his debaucherous journey. Coming back every now and then to remind us that it’s still a film about a murder taking place and the efforts (or lack thereof) that he tries to make to solve it.

What we wind up with is not so good a film that has a particularly good time with itself. It’s more or less an exercise in style over substance. I personally liked the look of it. It was shot proficiently well enough and used some unique camera angles to convey the drugged and tripped out images on screen. It also had a kind of playfulness and whimsy about it; almost fantasy-like, that I thought served the material well. McAvoy does a great job in his role. A role that I found strinkingly similar to that of Jude Law’s earlier in this year’s “Dom Hemingway”. The kind of role that the director allows the actor to go all out bat shit crazy while performing and relishing in the spectacle of it all. It also boasts a pretty solid soundtrack of recognizable classic rock hits that I had a good time with. All of that aside, the plot gives aimless a new name. It’s incredibly shallow and pointless. That and it totally loses its footing in the 2nd half and goes into “now we’re supposed to feel bad for the guy/sentiment” territory. Sorry but there was zero emotional interest on behalf of myself other than having fun with the character for them to ask me to actually care about him. In fact, all I really wanted to do was to continue to see him drinking, drugging, and whoring himself out until there wasn’t really much left of him at all. That would have been more befitting and appropriate given the tone of the first half. But then again, I did have barely enough fun with the movie despite its aimlessness and shallowness because at the very least it was a shot of adrenaline. Which is much more than I get from so many other movies these days.

Grade: C+