Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2018)

three_billboards_outside_ebbing_missouri_xlg

Heating up the awards season with a tale of anger and conflict, this drama/thriller is one that greatly explores a small scale of America as a whole and the inner motivations of the people within that world.

Driven by the unsolved case of her murdered daughter; Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decides to rent 3 almost dilapidated billboards, in a call for possible action against the police she sees as unhelpful in their progress. Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is targeted by Hayes and tries to make her realise the death of Angela is a tricky one, but a racist and hot headed officer, by the name of Dixon (Sam Rockwell) plus Mildred’s determined anger may make this whole saga come to blows.

I’ve always loved Martin McDonagh’s work; from his play-writing of dark and fairy tale tinged ‘The Pillowman’ to one of my favourite films…ever, ‘In Bruges’. This new release from the Irish/British writer is just as dark and clever as I expected. The black comedy involved is as sharp as a knife and works expertly against the numerous moments of well placed burning drama. It’s a film that balances tones well and keeps a strong willed, unrelenting female figure at it’s forefront in a quest for justice. This couldn’t be more suitable to the real world at the moment and McDonagh ensures this brutal track of wanting answers is funny and a shocking sucker punch to the gut as well.

There has been a recent surge in people hating on the film, for it’s attitude towards racism and the character that takes a swift turn to good. Though I can see that side of the argument because this shift in Dixon’s behaviour, just because a letter sees them act differently, is a somewhat unexpected and rushed change to make, it doesn’t completely endorse the views they have/or had. They’re still a dumb and corrupt individual just hoping to come good and this whole movie is about hope; the hope of a mother finding justice.

Aside from the midst of backlash it’s facing, there comes some serious weight from the consequences of this red backed billboards which definitely polarise the Ebbing community. The great quality of this film is that is a spiralling descent into violence and anger because of how far a parent will go to seek answers and get some kind of closure. The drive is fiery and thrilling and each and every character has a scene that conjures up either a respite of laughter or a dramatic kick of unexpected tensions.

Frances McDormand is sensational in this and is deserving of every award going. It’s not just the angry vengeance that she effortlessly sells. There is a necessary and believable anguish, pain and emotive guilt to her portrayal of the character that really makes Mildred a three dimensional force to be reckoned with. Woody Harrelson is great in this, handing a sheriff with a bullseye on his head more than just a working cop, he’s a family man, sympathetic to Mildred and his narrative takes some nice and surprising turns. Sam Rockwell is finally getting recognition after a heap of turns in previous films that have almost always been the best quality. The writing of his character may be the most obvious weakness I faced but if anyone can sell it then it’s the talents of Rockwell. Peter Dinklage and Samara Weaving are two almost backseat passengers but they bring a brilliant buzz of humour to the film.

I’d been eagerly awaiting to see ‘Three Billboards…’ for a long while now and I can confidently say I’m not disappointed by it. There may be a slight niggle of a character journey but it doesn’t take away from how dark and beautiful this movie is. McDormand and the film are a thrilling delight.

8/10

Advertisements

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

hail-caesar-quad

I do enjoy the Coen Brothers work, but I can’t say I’m gushing over this latest picture. It’s fun in places and soars because of a fabulous cast but I felt it was perhaps scattered too much and bereft of a gripping plot.

We find ourselves in the 1950’s and mostly follow Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood honcho who helps stars and productions keep good press. That could become tricky though as feature star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) gets kidnapped in the midst of filming a religious epic called ‘Hail, Caesar!’. A group calling themselves The Future want money for his release and so Mannix must try to get Whitlock back.

Joel and Ethan Coen direct and write this lark and do so with a clear fondness for the way movies come together. The laughs can be found as actors or directors guffaw over choices, most explicitly in the repetitive yet genius scene between Ralph Fiennes’ directing worry with Alden Ehrenreich’s cowboy icon of Hobie Doyle. The Coen’s flit between different sound stages letting us peek at differing productions which are amusing and interesting but this back and forth never gives the movie a sense of story or tension when there could have been. Without much of a plot this movie does look and sound more like a series of images to be loved by critics or classic film fanatics.

Roger Deakins, who really needs an Oscar by now, is on top form capturing wonder in this filmy feature. The glorious epic feel of the Romans sweeping through the screen or the synchronised swimmers gloriously twirling and floating around bombshell actress DeeAnna Moran played by bombshell actress Scarlett Johansson. It looks all the way through like a glorious picture of old, a love letter to the way movies used to be made.

The film did make me chuckle and grin but I never belted a laugh, and nor did many in the audience either, I feel this movie is more subdued and lacking of an engaging narrative than it should be. The angles it bounces off in become so many that characters are lost to minimal moments making them almost unnecessary. We see ideas skewed in from journalist stories, Capitalist thoughts, kidnap, pregnancy fixing, Communism and movie making that it doesn’t ever mesh, each point just hangs there never defined.

The characters are amusing though, their flourishes and their names being so wonderfully goofy and studio send ups. Thora/Thessaly Thacker, Burt Gurney and the winner – Laurence Laurentz. The dance number is toe-tappingly silly, Channing Tatum’s blonde flick and look backs are hilariously over the top and most character looks fall delightfully under the gormless idiot look that the Coen’s so brilliantly encapsulate in their writing. Only a shame that the characters aren’t backed up by a fun or rewarding plot.

Josh Brolin practically does everything as we see him do all the work, finding himself here there and everywhere trying to solve problems and ultimately bring back Baird. He is a straight man, not really demonstrating much comedy as George Clooney does that, going back to his ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ routine to play buffoonish and moronic. It’s not as good as that film or his performance in ‘Burn After Reading’ either but he is still having a ball. Alden Ehrenreich will be one to watch, he plays the singing Western star with such grounded believability that when he steps out of his comfort zone you feel for him, he ends up being the hero of the piece in my mind. Ralph Fiennes once again proves his unquestionable prowess for comic timing, in his two main scenes his face speaks volumes and his delivery adds even more. Scarlett Johansson pulls the cheesy starlet grin with no depth as the mermaid and then counters with a thick accent and a penchant for problems. Tilda Swinton fans get two for the price of one as she portrays twin journalists with a sense of striking fashion and similarly striking headlines. Frances McDormand is a smoking, scarf wearing editor that is merely a cameo but brings in one of the better moments as we see how well the Coen Bros can do dark material. Channing Tatum tap dances his way through as a sailor and more. Hail, Dumbledore! We even get Michael Gambon as a narrator just to make this whole thing more starry and more filmy filmy.

Flecks of brilliance and movie making behind the scenes comedy but a portion empty and flat for my liking. This Coen outing is boosted by a grand cast and a glowing adoration to movies of the golden era.

6.5/10

The Good Dinosaur (2015)

good-dinosaur-poster

2 Pixar releases in one year, how exciting and new for this studio, yet this prehistoric picture is neither exciting or new, it’s certainly lush and easy to follow but my thoughts of the trailers looking childish were sadly not proven wrong. This film is the kindergarten Pixar to counter balance the much better and more grown up themes of ‘Inside Out’.

Apatosaurus parents Ida and Henry (Frances McDormand and Jeffrey Wright) raise three children on their farm, but youngest and littlest of the lot is Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) who is afraid of nearly everything. On a lightning filled journey to try and catch a human kid or critter Arlo is told to overcome his inner worries and on an ensuing trip with this boy he learns what he’s capable of.

It’s such a basic and disappointingly uninspiring plot, the story of a protagonist overcoming a problem through mis-adventures is something I didn’t expect Pixar to do so simply. Meg LeFauve handles the screenplay as if aiming it for the younger audiences. There’s no adult smarts or intelligence coursing throughout to help this A to B road-trip like narrative become more sparky. Upon first hearing about this Pixar process I instantly thought of the meteor missing and therefore seeing a film about the dinosaurs in a more modern day setting but the first trailer swept that exciting prospect away.

I just feel that the whole dinosaur meeting man moment isn’t that dramatic and what could have been a stronger theme is lost in the annoying thread of Arlo’s klutzy nature. Even if LeFauve and the four other story writers had shunted the time forward some more we could have seen some more engaging scenes with larger groups of humans in a period that never happened in real life. Arlo and Spot’s bond is emotional by the end don’t get me wrong but I feel they team up way too quickly and in general is quite bland.

Now to get to the look of this movie, I really loved the sheer detail of the backgrounds, the visual beauty of these million year old landscapes are incredible, the water, the dust, the rocks, it all fills out the screen with colour and majesty for this film about the power of nature. Frustratingly, these gorgeous sceneries are flawed by the characters. I didn’t think they’d come across badly for me but they do, the dinosaurs are so oddly shaped that it clashes with the more sophisticated work of the scenes the creatures find themselves in. I know it’s animated but these dinos feel so cartoonish that it bugged me. At least it had a fun looking’Dumbo’ Pink Elephants on Parade moment as the two get drugged on some fruit.

Musically this second 2015 Pixar feature hits the right notes. Mychael and Jeff Danna compose a great number of tracks that help this coming of age story come along. It swells for the emotional parts, such as the circling of families or the boy and his dog ending. The score also hits peaks for the more dramatic whirls that mirror the crushing sights of lightning and flooding rivers. I think their work on the score is great and would defintley make some of the scenes much more frightening for the children watching.

The voice cast is good, after a director and acting re-shuffle this movie obviously had some issues but that isn’t felt with the people behind the microphones. Jeffrey Wright sounds strong and all knowing as the Pixar equivalent of Mufasa. Steve Zahn has one of the best roles in a flitting rage of evil portrayed in his pterodactyl character. Raymond Ochoa does a neat job as the main character though he becomes quite annoying very fast as a somewhat passive character for the most part, likely scared of his own shadow. Frances McDormand doesn’t get much to say but sounds kind as the loving mother dino. I just have to mention Peter Sohn who not only directs but voices a creature adorned Styracosaurus who happens to be the weirdest one scene animated character for a long while.

It suffers for me because it comes after ‘Inside Out’ but also more realistically because it has a one note story that doesn’t do much. But saying this, even for a film of theirs that isn’t strong it still had me enjoying parts and even welling up which just shows that Pixar still have that magic within their work.

6.5/10

Moonrise Kingdom from theflimculb

The wonderfully written site at theflimculb, which looks at both the big and small screen offerings has only gone and reviewed a Wes Anderson beauty for my blog. It can also be found on my guest review page and please discover more great stylings of her writing at theflimculb 

So here it is, their thoughts on ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ –

Moonrise Kingdom Poster2

Wes Anderson is one of those directors whose films are ripe for the age-old, and over-used, adage, ‘you either love it or you hate it’. Personally, when it comes to Wes and his cinematic offerings, I’m a lover not a hater. But if you’re not a fan of quirk and whimsy then I suggest you look away now.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) is set on the fictional island of New Penzance, off the coast of New England. And let’s just say, if it weren’t fictional I’d have already packed my boxes and secured the services of removal firm. The central characters of the film are youngsters Sam (Jared Gilman), a wise-beyond-his-years, pipe toting, orphaned boy scout, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), an aloof but observant, possibly depressive pre-teen with a penchant for the music of Francoise Hardy. After becoming acquainted at the local am-dram production of Noah’s Ark, the two begin a pen-pal correspondence in which they secretly plot their escape from their respective lonerdoms. When the day of the great runaway arrives, Sam comes prepared with maps, whistles and camping supplies. Suzy bring sci-fi novels, a record player, assorted records and a kitten, because, seriously, what more does a person need? At the discovery of the two missing youths, Suzy’s parents (played expertly by Bill Murray and Francis McDormand), Sam’s scout group led by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), and local policeman and boat-dwelling bachelor, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), all burst into chaotic action and the hit the trail of the love-struck runaways.

Sam and Suzy Moonrise Kingdom

The film, as is the style of Anderson, is punctuated by the appearance of screen-filling placards of the written word, this time it’s the childlike and charming letters between Sam and Suzy that litter the narrative. And, also the norm for Anderson, he creates not just a story, but a whole world; a fully functioning microcosm, so real that it can be watched with an odd sense of nostalgia even in those of us who grew up in ‘90s United Kingdom. Moonrise Kingdom is set in 1965, it is a time when children played outside and adventures were not confined to the virtual reality of whatever console is currently in gaming vogue. But it’s not a perfect world. Suzy’s parents reside in a deadpan marriage and converse only by shouting from room to room. Her mother frequently mounts her bicycle and disappears to share a cigarette and more with Captain Sharp. And Sam is not only on the run from the boy scouts, but also from Social Services. Why are those words capitalised? Because Social Services is the name of the character played by Tilda Swinton. She plays Social Services. No joke.

Moonrise Kingdom is at once detached and touching. As an audience, it feels as though we are viewing the events from a distance, perhaps through Suzy’s cherished binoculars with which she observes, and silently judges, the actions of those around her. The film is hare-brained and hilarious, eccentric and innocent, simple and yet excruciatingly detailed. It features the kind of cast that can only be boasted by an Anderson creation and the genuine and solid performances that go along with it. There is no mistaking Moonrise Kingdom for the work of anyone else, and it shares themes with other Anderson classics. With The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), its common denominator is a dysfunctional family. With Life Aquatic (2004), the similarity lies in the essence of an outlandish mission. And with Rushmore (1998), a theme of childhood schemes is shared. So why, if this film has so many links with its predecessors, is Moonrise Kingdom still enjoyable? Have we not seen it all before by now? Well, the saying goes, ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’, and Anderson’s unique style and strong sense of storytelling is still very much functional.

The film is clearly a member of the Anderson family, but it’s as fresh-faced as its young actors. It is a summer getaway on a never-dull island, a trip back to childhood and the study of a lovable and undeniably ridiculous community. It’s Wes at his best. And I give Moonrise Kingdom a nine out of ten. “Only nine?” I hear nobody asking. Well yes, it loses one point for some slightly uncomfortable pre-teen underwear dancing.

9/10