Movie review: Three Billboards Outiside Ebbing, Missouri

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the big Golden Globe’s winner – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

IMDb summary: A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (amazing title, tbh) was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, known for such films as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. He handled both jobs extremely well.

Writing

McDonagh was inspired to write this movie by actual billboards about a crime that he has seen while traveling somewhere in the southeast of the US. Before seeing this film, I knew its premise (and thought it was super unique) but I had no idea where the narrative would go. I’m happy to report that McDonagh took this story in an unexpected and as unique as its premise direction.

Three Billboards was a story of three characters (3 billboards, 3 leads), and, through these characters’ arcs, the movie was able to explore a plethora of themes. This picture was, in my mind, more of an exploration of these three characters rather than a crime drama with them in it.

To begin with, the writing for the grieving mother was just spectacular. It was refreshing to see a character allowed to grieve openly and express her anger (it a small step from pain to anger) rather than bottling it up (our society likes us to grieve in private and be done quickly so that we could rejoin society as productive members as soon as possible). The way the film visualized pain – by focusing it on the billboards – was also super interesting. The whole interplay/juxtaposition between typically emotionless corporate advertising spaces (a.k.a. the billboards) and highly emotional plea of a grieving mother was fascinating. Also, the film did a good job of showing the extremism of Mildred (the mother) but also of making her actions understandable – the balance was just right. The flashbacks, showing the mother’s and daughter’s last moments together, also added so much depth to the story.

The second lead – the unfit police officer – was the most unexpected character for me. He began the film as an openly racist and homophobic cop – just an awful human being, but also, simultaneously, a sad little person. However, the script then added some little extraordinary details that intrigued me, like his enjoyment of comic books, ABBA, and classical music. I could not reconcile his worldview and his hobbies in my mind. Also, I expected the movie to sideline him or just use the character to build the atmosphere, but Dixon (that’s his name) actually became the main player as a story unraveled and experienced real growth. While I don’t think I agree that he had the makings of a good cop, he definitely had the capacity to become a decent person (through experience and education). In addition, Three Billboards’ writing was clever about humanizing the character without being too emphatic – found that perfect balance again.

The third lead, the town’s sheriff, was the character the easiest to sympathize with as he was portrayed as being stuck in an impossible position, mediating between a grieving mother and an unfit police force. This type of a police vs, citizen confrontation hasn’t been seen much in pictures recently, mostly because the majority of police and citizen relations have been explored through the perspective of race. Anyways, the town’s sheriff actually seemed like a good person, who cared about his job and his family. His personal arc, relating to his illness, was an unexpected but realistic inclusion, that added some layers to his character.

Three Billboards also presented an interesting dichotomy between the society and the individual: the town’s reaction to the billboards and the prejudice against Mildred and the siding with the police force were both shocking to me and didn’t paint the best picture of the middle America that is already pretty bad after the recent election (which isn’t that recent).

Lastly, the picture had a highly unexpected ending in the team-up of the mother and the police officer. Their final decision – taking justice into their owns hands without substantial proof  – was not easy to agree with. And yet, the fact that their target was spewing such horrible things at the bar and was in the military (which is supposed to consists of people working for the good of society rather than be an example of the worst of it) kinda made me understand Mildred’s and Dixon’s decision. And even though, their final resolution, as well as the previous actions of a mother, might not be the healthiest or the most societally acceptable example of how to deal with grief, it is a potential example, nonetheless. Hey, whatever works, I guess?

Directing

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, while impeccably written, was also well directed. The pacing was great – the movie was intense and emotional all throughout. The cinematography was wonderful too – the visual set-up (opening the movie with the imagery of the billboards) was highly effective and straight to the point. The mobile frame and the handheld camera throughout the rest of the film added that feeling of realism that indie movies have. The whole atmosphere of the movie was also a bit Coen-esque (more Coen-y than the Coen brothers’ own film from last year – Suburbicon). A couple of my favorite scenes in the picture (mostly because they were unexpected) were Mildred’s confrontation with the priest (if you want to find out more about her accusations, watch Spotlight – an Oscar winner from 2 years ago) and her scene with the dentist (that one was especially shocking but of the good kind of shock value).

 

Acting

  • Frances McDormand was truly brilliant as Mildred Hayes. I believe that her performance here was as good as the one in Fargo, for which she won an Oscar, and I’m hoping that she will get another Academy Award this year.
  • Woody Harrelson (Triple 9The Hunger GamesNow You See Me, The Glass Castle, War For The Planet Of The Apes) was also really good as Sheriff Bill Willoughby. His performance was short (ended quite suddenly) but one of the best of his that I’ve seen (then again, he is always good even if the movie itself is lacking).
  • Sam Rockwell delivered his greatest performance as Officer Jason Dixon – he made that character seem like a real person rather than a caricature. I’m so glad that Rockwell is finally getting the recognition he deserves – he definitely should have gotten more awards nominations in the past, especially for 2009’s Moon.
  • On the supporting front, Peter Dinklage had a cameo role and it was a bit weird seeing him here – he and Tyrion Lannister have become one in my mind (playing such an iconic character is both a blessing and a curse). A few actors from other awards nominees’ also had roles here, including Lucas Hedges (was nominated for Manchester by the Sea last year and played a similar role in this film – that of a grieving teenager; he is also in Ladybird – another huge contender this awards season) and Caleb Landry Jones (who appeared in Get Out – the most mainstream film this awards season).

 

In short, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a perfectly balanced and powerful drama about grief, pain, and anger that was brought to life by 3 amazing acting performances.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Mountain Between Us

Movie reviews

Hello!

A counterprogramming drama that dared to go against Blade Runner 2049. This is the review of The Mountain Between Us.

IMDb summary: Stranded after a tragic plane crash, two strangers must forge a connection to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow-covered mountain.

  1. The Mountain Between Us was written by Chris Weitz (the writer of Cinderella and Rogue One) and J. Mills Goodloe (the writer of Everything, Everything, The Age of Adaline, The Best of Me), based on the novel of the same name by Charles Martin. The Palestinian/Dutch director Hany Abu-Assad directed the film. While his non-English projects have been well received and even gotten a few Academy Awards nominations, his latest English language project will definitely not reach that level of success.
  2. The Mountain Between Us could be briefly described as Sully + Everest + any generic romantic drama from the last century. As you can probably tell, that last part (the romance) was the thing that I had the most problems with. I really thought that the whole romantic aspect of the movie was extremely forced. I did not buy the two characters as lovers. There is such thing as getting closer when facing a crisis and then there is just bad writing. The strangers to dislike to love arc did not work at all.
  3. I also didn’t particularly appreciate the very traditional archetypes for characters based on their gender. Of course, the female of the two had to be the more emotional one (an old-school damsel in distress), while the man could be rational/logical. Also, the driving factor for the woman had to be family/love/marriage, while the male character would focus on his career more. Having said that, if you are gonna make your character into a doctor (what a lucky coincidence for the plot), I can at least applaud you for picking the specialization that I wanted to practice – neurology.
  4. Structurally, the picture was fine. The opening set-up was efficient and quick even if a bit far-fetched. However, the drawn-out conclusion felt unnecessary and like an afterthought. Visually, the film did look good, mostly because of the gorgeous mountainous settings. However, some of the accidents on the mountain, like the characters falling, seemed rather fake – problems with CGI? Lastly, the inclusion of the dog into the story did nothing for me, as not an animal lover, but I’m sure that it was a positive factor for a lot of moviegoers.
  5. The two leads of the movie were played by Idris Elba (The Dark Tower, Star Trek Beyond, Bastille Day, Beasts of No Nation) and Kate Winslet (Collateral Beauty, Triple 9, Steve Jobs, Insurgent). Their performances were satisfying, cause the both of the actors are professionals, but nothing extraordinary. Also, I feel like their performances were not as good so as to carry the whole movie, which was exactly what they had to do.

In short, The Mountain Between Us was a confused survival/romance drama that felt really dated. A definitely skippable (at the cinema) movie, though it would probably work as a rental.

Rate: 2.7/5

Trailer: The Mountain Between Us trailer

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Movie review: The Glass Castle

Movie reviews, Uncategorized

Hello!

The Captain Fantastic-esque movie for this awards’ season – The Glass Castle – has reached theatres, so let’s see if it is as good as its predecessor.

IMDb summary: A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty.

Writing

The Glass Castle’s script was written by the director of the picture Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham (who wrote the 2017 religious pic The Shack), and Marti Noxon (writer on Buffy and To The Bone). It was based on the memoir of the same name by Jeannette Walls (who was played in the film by Brie Larson). The writing for the film was interesting – it had some great moments but a few flaws too. First, the narrative simultaneously unraveled in two temporal lines, past and present, and these two were connected well-enough. However, the story itself was a bit too long – there were differently quite a few moments which could have been cut and made the plot more tight and streamlined. Nevertheless, the fact that the story was so long and drawn out kinda helped to build a strong emotional core of the film.

The Glass Castle had the Interstellar syndrome of focusing on a single child’s relationship with the parents and kinda letting the other children fade into the background (but, I guess, since the movie was based on one person’s memoir, it’s okay for the film to also have a more centered focus). Thematically, the movie tackled a lot of issues. The most obvious one was the less-than-conventional lifestyle of the family (and this were the Captain Fantastic similarity came in, although, CF was more about living unconventionally, while this one was more about just living in poverty). It was depicted quite well and with enough detail. The second topic was the parent-child relationship. That discussion had the ultimate message that parents need to respect their children’s life choices, even if they might do something different in their place (at least that was my takeaway).

The third issue was the abuse in the family. This problem was depicted in both The Walls’ family and the father’s family. The first recreation of the issue (in The Walls family) was way more well-rounded, while the abuse in the father’s own family (abuse of the mother/grandma) was only just glanced at, which was the biggest flaw in the film. If that was definitely the case of pedophilia, the movie should have looked at it much more. If it wasn’t the case, all the speculations needed to be cleared out way more overtly. Lastly, The Glass Castle also presented an alcoholic character and had one of the best and most accurate representations of the issue. The withdrawal scene, as well as the irrational need for a drink, were very realistic inclusions.

While The Glass Castle did a fairly good job of presenting a variety of issues and topics, I wish it were more critical of them. I saw this being the main complaint in the reviews of the various critics and I completely agree with them. The end of the picture was mostly sugar-coated and very Hollywood-y. While forgiveness is a powerful tool to have, an ability to stand for one’s own beliefs and to cut toxic people from one’s life, no matter how close to them one used to be, are also important life lessons that I wish the film would have added.

Directing

Destin Daniel Cretton, who has previously mostly worked on short films and documentaries, directed The Glass Castle as his 3rd feature film. The pacing of the movie was really slow, and while the emotional connection between the viewer and the characters was quite successfully built, the narrative itself did drag and got too repetitive at times. The cinematography was good, very classic, drama-style one. The director also did a good job of working with the actors and pulling amazing performances out of them.

Acting

The two stand-outs from the cast were Brie Larson (Room, Kong, Free Fire) and Woody Harrelson (Triple 9, Now You See Me 1+2, War For The Planet Of The Apes). Larson has actually previously worked with this director and her involvement in his film post-Oscar win, kinda raised the movie’s profile. Anyway, Larson, once again, proved that she deserved that last Oscar that she won and I hope to see her standing on the Academy stage once more in the future. Harrelson also nailed his role. This time around his performance as an alcoholic was even more believable than in The Hunger Games. Other supporting cast members included Divergent’s Naomi Watts (she was amazing as the eccentric artist mother) and Sarah Shook (Steve Jobs), Josh Caras, and Brigette Lundy-Paine as Jeannette’s siblings. New Girls Max Greenfield also had a fun role, while Ella Anderson did a very good job as the younger version of Jeannette.

In short, The Glass Castle is an interesting biopic that should have analyzed rather than just depicted its source material. The acting is top-notch, though.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Glass Castle trailer

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Movie review: Manchester By The Sea

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since the awards’ season is finally in full swing, let’s review one of its frontrunners – Manchester By The Sea!

IMDb summary: An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

Writing

Kenneth Lonergan, who I only knew as the screenwriter behind Scorcese’s Gangs of New York, both wrote and directed Manchester By The Sea. I really enjoyed the narrative that he came up with for this film. First of all, I liked the setting choice – the majority of movies (both indie and mainstream ones) that I’ve seen tend to focus on either the huge urban metropolises of the USA or on the stereotypical rural south, so it was refreshing to see an American movie set in just a normal and mundane city of Manchester that wasn’t super big but also was not just a small town in the middle of nowhere.

In addition, I liked the fact that the film’s mundane focus, like the logistics of daily life, were treated with respect and importance because these things are important even if we don’t think about them as such. The big reveal of the past tragedy was unexpected and completely horrifying, but it allowed the film to explore the themes of guilt, of feeling like one should have been punished and of not being able to forget. Speaking about the last theme, I loved that the resolution of the movie was that one does not necessarily have to forget, no big revelations has to come in the end. Sometimes, it is better to just live.

Other few topical points that the movie made were 1. the portrayal of the worker as present in people’s lives without being seen and 2. that the showing of emotions is a positive thing and not a sign of weakness. From this review or the trailers, you might think that this film is really depressing and sad and it is that in part (it is also sometimes uncomfortable and unsettling), however, it also has a few lighter moments that arise from the daily lives of the characters and that give hope to the future and hope is the only thing that makes our lives, as well as these character’s lives, better.

Directing

Lonergan’s directing was as great as his writing. I loved the almost documentary-like feeling of the picture and the slow but engaging pace. The steady camera shots brought a classic aspect to the film while the play between the offscreen and onscreen space modernized it. The sea or the ocean wasn’t as big of a character in the movie as I expected it to be, but it was always present in the background and kinda characterized the city without overbearing it. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack by Lesley Barber. The sacral gospel-like numbers and the tunes by a string orchestra really elevated the atmosphere of the picture.

Acting

Casey Affleck (Triple 9, The Finest Hours, Gone Baby Gone) played the main character in the film and did a magnificent job. His brilliant performance has already been rewarded with a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice Award. He will, most likely, take both the SAG and the Oscar in the Best Lead Actor category. Casey has always tried to stay out of the spotlight but I think that it is gonna be quite hard to do that moving forward. I wonder if he is going to follow in his brother’s Ben’s footsteps and do something really mainstream (although Ben Affleck is probably regretting that he took on the role of Batman as the critics just can’t stop picking on his films both the mainstream and the indie ones).

Speaking more about his performance in Manchester By The Sea – it was truly brilliant. He portrayed the social reservedness/awkwardness and almost the emotionless of the character just perfectly. The past tragedy of the character could also always be felt in the appearance/the behavior of the actor. Affleck also played the character as a realistic drunk and not an over the top one (similarly to Emily Blunt in The Girl on The Train). The overall performance seemed to be of low energy but it was actually very subtly powerful.

Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilynstarred as the main character’s ex-wife and, even though she only appeared in the handful of scenes, she did a spectacular job. Similarly to Affleck’s, her performance was grounded and silently persuasive. My favorite scene of the film was William’s and Affleck’s characters’ encounter in the street – it wasn’t an easy or a pleasant scene to watch but it just allowed the acting skills of both actors to truly shine and that’s why it was my favorite.

Lucas Hedges, to whom Manchester By The Sea was a breakthrough film, played the teenager nephew of Affleck’s character and was really good too. I liked the fact that his character was written as a realistic teenager that could both be in a band and on a hockey team, both have girlfriend(s) and like Star Trek.

Kyle Chandler and C.J. Wilson also played two small supporting roles and did a great job with their limited screentime.

In short, Manchester By The Sea was a great picture with nice writing and directing. However, the acting was the thing that made it stand out from other films.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Manchester By The Sea trailer

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Movie review: Hacksaw Ridge

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before the year ends, I’m desperately trying to see all the movies I’ve missed and all the films that might make my top 10 list. Well, I just came back from the cinema where I saw a strong contender for it – Hacksaw Ridge.

IMDb summary: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

Writing

TV writer Andrew Knight and playwright Robert Schenkkan wrote Hacksaw Ridge’s script and did a very good job. They managed to tell a very personal story in the context of a huge global event – WWII – and have given a unique perspective on it. This film, similarly to The Birth of a Nation, was not only a war drama but a religious picture too. The power of belief and religious dogmas were contrasted to the horrors of war. The writing for the main character was really good and extensive: his upbringing and personal background really helped the viewers to sympathize and even identify with him. I especially liked the contrast between his quite violent childhood and the feeling of innocence that he maintained in his adult years before the war (the sweet flirting scenes showcased that the best). These varying scenes made him into a fully rounded character and set up his character journey neatly. The truly heartbreaking and inspiring part of his story was the fact that he managed to keep his goodness when faced with the evilest thing in the universe – war.

The most compelling part of the film, to me personally, was the second act. I found it really interesting to see how this man struggled to even get to war. The court speech was one of my favorite pieces of dialogue (the other one being the line from the 3rd act ‘Help me get one more’). The debate on whether rules or beliefs are more important was interesting too.

When watching this movie’s narrative unfold on the big screen, a couple of questions popped into my mind. The first one revolved around bullying in the army – we all know that that happens in real life and we all have seen the countless movie scenes with the Sergeant shouting at the Privates. This type of a scene has become a cliche in both the reality and in cinema. The question that bothers me is why? Why is bullying in the army seen as accepted and normal rite of passage? The second, more general movie question, has to do with war dramas. Every year, at least one WWII or WWI film reaches theaters and they all usually do pretty well, both financially and critically. I’d like to know when are we going to run our of real (and fictional) war stories to tell? When is humanity’s fascination with world wars is going to end? Maybe if one starts in real life, there won’t be any need to look for this kind of horrific violence in the cinema.

Directing

After a 10 year hiatus, Mel Gibson (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ) came back to directing and did a magnificent job with Hacksaw Ridge. I loved how he realized all the different parts of the story (upbringing, training, and war) and how he paced them: the movie was quite slow and long but I didn’t feel like it dragged unnecessarily, the balance between drama and action was good. The way the actual war sequences were actualized was just spectacular. They were graphic, violent, and uncomfortable to look at – everything a war scene should look and feel like. From start to finish, Gibson crafted a solid and well-constructed motion picture, which was cleverly completed with the inclusion of the real life counterparts of the film’s characters. I always appreciate these real world tie-ins in the biographical dramas.

One last note before I move on to acting – I would really like to praise the sound designers of this film – their aural effects accompanied the striking visuals of war and really made an impact, this time around. The first few bomb explosions in the first few scenes of the war action really startled me – they were extremely effective.

Acting

  • Andrew Garfield played the lead and did an absolutely spectacular job. After he was replaced as Spiderman, Garfield has really turned his career around and focused more on serious and indie films rather than blockbusters. He started and produced 99 homes and was also in Scorcese’s Silence (which was yet to be released widely).
  • The supporting cast of the film featured so many familiar faces: Vince Vaughn (True Detective Season 2), Sam Worthington (Avatar, Everest), Luke Bracey (Point Break), Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, LOTR, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas), Rachel Griffiths (Saving Mr. Banks), Richard Roxburgh (Moulin Rouge!)Teresa Palmer (Point Break, Triple 9) and Nathaniel Buzolic (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals) had roles of varying sizes. All of them delivered great and realistic performances. One aspect in which the film lacked realism was the physical look of its soldier characters – the majority of them looked like male models rather than soldiers, but, this is Hollywood, so I should not have been that surprised.

To conclude, Hacksaw Ridge was a very strong WWII drama – the best one in recent years – coming close to even the likes of Saving Private Ryan in its levels of quality. This film had a truly amazing and unique narrative at its core, which was nicely brought to life by the main actor – Andrew Garfield –  and the main man behind the camera – Mel Gibson.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Hacksaw Ridge trailer

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