Friday, September 19, 2014

Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby Is Not What I Expected

The trailer for Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is not a promo for the film that came out in theaters last week. It turns out, Ned Benson wrote and directed three films. The trailer uses pieces from all three. Which is odd because the idea stated in that 3-minute clip never actually comes to fruition in what is apparently titled "Them".
The concept for Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby was two perspectives of a romance. The trailer emphasizes the idea that we will witness both sides of that... in the same movie. The trailer lied.

But now that I got that out of my system... this version of the movie was pretty good. Albeit, hard to watch. I really enjoyed how honest this story felt. These people and their decisions all make a sad sort of sense. And once everything is revealed and you really know why things went the way they did, there's a beautiful kind of tragedy within.
Between Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, any film would be in good hands. But this feels like the right project for them. Both bring an overwhelming level of sorrow and desperation to this picture. And it feels good to get such equal performances on either side (which is what must have been necessary for the additional two films to exist... and I would like to see those at some point). And then there's the supporting cast... an amazing group of veterans all bringing their A-game. Viola Davis, Bill Hader, CiarĂ¡n Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, with Jess Wexler, and William Hurt! What a superb cast they make.
If I had one complaint, it would be the use of the name Eleanor Rigby. Every time the characters discussed the name's origin it felt forced... like Ned Benson so badly needed an excuse to use it he had to write a couple one-liners to keep us on board. But honestly, I felt as though everyone already was on board. So it became unnecessary. The song is about lonely people... this film is about those people. It shows us where they come from. Point made. So really, I suppose my thinking is, those one liners could have just been left on the floor... the name itself wasn't the problem and at the end of the day it probably informed the story with a fun little pop reference.
So, I guess what I'm saying is, despite everything... I do like this movie. I'd recommend it even. Just recognize that it's not quite what the trailer tells you it is. To get all of that would require further viewing.

What Did I Think About Frank?

Frank is a weird movie.
It's absolutely a comedy. But it exists in a bizarre plain, straddling some very dark ideals, and ultimately forces its audience to consider their own honesty in a way I'm not really used to. I really like this movie. It surprised me. Mostly because I was hearing such negative things about it. But now I'm left wondering what it was those people I spoke to so completely disliked. Because there's an obscure morality to this thing that just left me blown away.
Domhnall Gleeson's been doing great work for a while now. And he really is the driving force to this film. Which is amazing when you consider that Michael Fassbender is the titular character. But then, Fassbender's got that head on the whole time and his character is more a force of nature... an inspiration that the other characters must pull their madness from. So Gleeson does an admirable job playing the guy that unknowingly opens our eyes to the haphazard realities of Frank's band... and quite accidentally reveals his own rather obese failures. Maggie Gyllenhaal is totally insane here and it's incredibly fun to watch. And Scoot McNairy inhabits this subtle madness that just kept me on the edge of my seat.
Leonard Abrahamson should be proud of making such a strange, but fulfilling, feature. He's definitely put himself on my "directors to watch" list. Likewise, Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan created an incredibly interesting and surprisingly dense screenplay that allowed the rest of these artists an exceptional amount of room to play.
Franks surprised me. It could just make it into my top ten this year.

The Drop Misses To A Strange Degree...

...but still manages to be an alright movie.
The oddity of this flick is, I felt the performances were mostly excellent. I thought there was something interesting to the story. And the cinematography was truly great. But something got lost in the dialogue. Particularly when characters would, for no good reason, focus on one subject (a dog or a mini statuette of an angel) incessantly. It felt as if every character at one point or another commented on the same mundane thing... just so we, the audience would know it was sort of important to the plot.
Let me take a step back here. This was James Gandolfini's last movie. And he did a fine job in it. I'm not about to make light of that in any way. He really did bring his A game. But I cannot call a sort of mediocre move great just because of this context. The internal flaws of a bad script will always irk me. Tom Hardy was great. Noomi Rapace was serviceable. But that didn't really matter until the climax hit. Then the writing took an upswing for literally the most important scene of the movie before dropping back down to bleh to bring us into credits. Matthias Schoenaerts did a swell job too. But his part was so obvious. And then John Ortiz kind of made me wanna stop watching because he just couldn't maintain the same quality of performance as everyone else. It felt like the worst elements of the script would frequently erupt from his mouth.
Maybe I'm being a little too intense on this thing. But Dennis Lehane has never exactly done anything to give me confidence. And this being his first real screenplay... I guess he just lost his way in the dialogue department. I'm just saying, this script could've used a really good polish.
But at the end of the day, there was enough good in this movie to make it a worthwhile watch. If you ever enjoyed a Gandolfini performance, you'll probably get a kick out of his limited screen time. And Tom Hardy is always worth a watch. Just don't go in expecting the best picture of the year.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Skeleton Twins Is An Awfully Good Time

Let's start with probably the most interesting aspect of this film. It's a drama (sort of) starring SNL's Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. That alone is worth the price of a ticket... just the oddity that is these two making a film about such serious themes as suicide, pedophilia, and general promiscuity. But The Skeleton Twins manages to go beyond that.

It does have laughs. With these two actors, how could it not? But the laughs are grounded in the real world. They feel honest and completely unforced. And Wiig and Hader never let themselves slide too far from the darker aspects of their characters. It's actually very exciting to watch such comedic people walk this tightrope. It ain't a given that they'll reach the other side. So I really appreciate Mark Heyman and Craig Johnson for giving them a vehicle to experiment so within.

And that gets me to the writers. I was fortunate enough to catch them for a Q&A this last week and was very pleased to hear how important this movie was to both of them. It's not by any means a traditional Hollywood flick. And it took them ten years to get it made, so clearly they HAD to get this thing done. I really like how they managed to take so many ridiculous themes and make something endearing and recognizable out of them. Everyone in the audience I attended with seemed onboard and nothing seemed to stray too far beyond anyone's comprehension. It really goes to show that "Hollywood formulas" are not by any means the only way to go. Something that's obviously been proven many times before, but execs tend to ignore the evidence.
In any event, The Skeleton Twins is good. Definitely worth a watch. And maybe even a rewatch if you enjoy the "dental hygiene" sequence as much as I did.

Love Is Strange Was Delightful

The most epic casting of the year comes here... in Love is Strange.
Someone stood up at a meeting somewhere and made that choice to cast Alfred Molina alongside John Lithgow as a loving couple. You get two actors of that caliber to state your case and everyone 's gotta be on board. Right?
And boy do they shine. Each of them gets their time to shine with some truly incredible albeit quite subtle moments. I was just sitting back in awe of their performances all movie long. And I'm grateful to have had this experience during what is often a very questionable month for film.

But let's step away from those two actors for just a moment. Love is Strange was just an interesting film to me in general. The message is an important one and the flick itself creates a seemingly level playing field for conversation to anyone willing to sit down in the theatre and watch. Because the message is simply: Love. And Love no matter the boundaries. That everyone can and should be allowed to experience it and not be condemned for that. Love is personal, and learning to love is quite hard. So to witness two people, no matter who they are, who have discovered the essence of that, is just a magical thing.

Love is Strange moves slowly, but in the best possible way. It allows the story to wash over you in a rather beautiful manner. And it doesn't hit you over the head with unnecessary editing. Rather, it plays to its strength... the actors.

This is, in my opinion, a must see.

I Wanted To Like The Two Faces Of January...

...but I just couldn't get on board.
The thing is, I really like the people involved with this thing. And I don't necessarily think any of them did a bad job. Just, somehow, the basic premise was flawed from the start and nothing could really get going from there. At every turn it felt as though the script just copped out.
Relatively good performances by the three leads (Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Isaac), not terrible direction by Hossein Amini, and pretty good camera work seemed desperately overshadowed by a general lack of planning on the part of... well Hossein Amini sort of shot himself in the foot by writing this script for himself to direct. And his choice of locations generally felt unfulfilling and distracting to everything else in the story. I could never tell where the characters were at any given time. So maybe it does fall on direction...
And I suppose this is a more flawed film than I initially wanted to let on. But it's the little mistakes here and there that could easily have been fixed to make a solid Third Man type of flick. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it feels less like that wonderful piece of cinema, and more like a compilation of weird cellphone pictures from a rather disjointed vacation with a few celebrities in them.
I don't want to say you shouldn't see this... but it generally missed the mark for me.

Unfortunately, Catching Up With Pompeii

Believe me, I would not have watched this movie if it wasn't one of the few options I had on a thirteen hour flight.
And sitting there, trying to keep my focus on the movie still managed to be tough because... well... it was really truly awful. Legit. Pompeii is a molten (pun absolutely intended) pile of steaming shit. Paul W.S. Anderson is still making movies somehow. And they are not ever going to get better. I think he's made that clear at this point.
The awkward thing is, this director (the guy responsible for Alien v Predator) still manages to get some interesting B and C list actors to join his projects. I love Game of Thrones, so of course I wanna see Kit Harrington succeed. But he certainly didn't do anything to warrant my affections here. Similarly, Emily Browning just didn't have any presence in this flick. I like the energy she's brought to other films, though I'm starting to wonder if I haven't been brainwashed by how much I enjoyed her in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is another one of those guys I want to like, but every step of the way he seems to throw a wrench in it. Like when he quit Lost to go write, direct, and star in his own life story. How'd that work out for you dude? And then there's Kiefer Sutherland. Why did he do this movie? He certainly doesn't need the money. Yet he seemed rather content to put up one of the most abysmal performances of his entire career... for what?
Ugh. In my estimation, all of these actors are better than this. But that's just the power of a bad filmmaker. Paul W.S. Anderson needs to stop making movies. And I'd advise everyone to just not even go to the theatre when these things come out. It's not worth your money just because you may be a little curious.