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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Movie review: Breathe

Movie reviews

Hello!

Yesterday, I had a chance to attend a preview screening of Breathe as part of the BFI London Film Festival. Thus, my review of the film is coming out early. Hope you enjoy it!

IMDb summary: The inspiring true love story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease.

Writing

The novelist and awards’ nominated screenwriter William Nicholson (who wrote or co-wrote such movies as Elizabeth: The Golden AgeLes MisérablesMandela: Long Walk to FreedomUnbroken, and Everestpenned the script for Breathe and did a great job. The film’s story had to cover quite a wide time frame, so the movie mostly focused on the major events in the lead duos life and had quite a few time jumps. The opening sequence of Robin and Diana meeting and falling in love was very quick: with lesser actors in these roles, the romance would have seemed rushed, but, in the case of Breathe, I thought that the set-up was written and later realized on film effectively enough. That sequence also established the lifestyle that Robin and Diane led: adventurous, exciting, and active. It also neatly set-up their caste (middle/upper) and their friend group – both factors came into play in the plot a bit later.

Thematically, Breathe touched upon a variety of concepts, like the most unversal one of them all – love, but also sacrifice, survival, and bravery. It was also interesting to see how the family’s social class informed Robin’s survival (amongst other things). For one, his better than a lot of people’s financial situation allowed him to be relocated to a more convenient house and to have the funds for the medical machinery (the historical medicine was very well-realized in the picture). However, it was also really heartwarming and uplifting to see Robin taking his personal goal (to survive) and expanding it into a communal goal for the betterment of the whole community of the disabled.

Two other related concepts in Breathe were friendship and humour. Robin’s and Diana’s friends helped them a lot, both physically and emotionally. It was also just remarkable to see that, even though Robin had a condition that was a hinder to his life, that did not change the way his friends communicated with him: they were still joking around, partying, drinking. It was a different life, not a ‘normal’ one (whatever that means), but it was as valid as the life of any individual. Robin, Diana, their son, and their friends took the difficulties and made life into an adventure, with moments of both weakness and triumph. And Breathe not only told this story, but convinced its viewers of its remarkability and had a lovely message that life is always worth living, no matter the circumstances.

While the film generally was quite emotional (alongside being funny – tears would be replaced by a smile and vice versa), its ending was the peek emotional time. The jokes kind diminished it the last 15 minutes of Breathe and were replaced with a sense of sophistication. The last moments of romance were so pure and simple, which resulted in the line that defined this film – ‘My Love, My Life’. Lastly, the choice to die on one’s own terms was presented as a dignified and powerful action (I can hear all those against euthanasia scoffing while reading this sentence). It was A middle finger to faith and determinism rather than life itself.

Directing 

Breathe was directed by the king of motion capture Andy Serkis. This was his directorial debut and not a film one would expect him to direct, knowing his achievements with the CGI and motion capture technology (Serkis has already directed a film that is more in line with what he usually does: he has his own version of Jungle Book, but it keeps being pushed back in the release schedule so as to escape from Disney’s The Jungle Book’s shadow). I though that he did an incredible job with Breathe. The film was shot beautifully and the jumping around in time was handled as good as it could have been. I wish, however, that he would have made the film longer. Some of the scenes, especially at the beginning, felt like they were cut off too quickly, while the snapshot focus on the major events of the characters’ lives had a sense of urgency. Basically, I wanted Breathe to be allowed to breathe more (no pun intended or was it?). Having said that, the movie did slow down a bit as it was progressing: the shots were allowed to linger longer and the camera did not cut away as quickly.

Acting

Breathe has assembled a brilliant cast and it got especially lucky with its two leads, who had realistic and very sweet chemistry.

Andrew Garfield has become a new awards front runner, with last year’s Hacksaw Ridge and Silence (who knew that being replaced as Spider-Man will be the best thing that has happened to his career?). I’m positive that he will get a nomination this year, for that monologue at the conference alone. Maybe he even be rewarded to his technical difficulties of acting as a disabled person, similarly how Eddie Redmayne won for his transformative role of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

Clare Foy has made the jump from the small screen to the silver one very successfully. Although, I don’t know if Netflix’s The Crown can really be seen as a TV show, knowing its production quality, budget, and amazing storytelling. I’d love if she got a few nominations for her performance too, I could definitely spot a few key scenes which can certainly be included in her awards’ reel.

The supporting cast of the film was good too. Tom Hollander (Tulip Fever, The Promise), in twin roles, was the most obvious comedic relief. Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville starred as the inventor Teddy Hall, whose talents were crucial to the survival of Robin and I wish we would have seen more of him. Dean-Charles Chapman (GOT’s Tommen) and Ed Speelers (another Downton Abbey alumni) had small roles as well.

In short, Breathe was a great film that told an extraordinary, touching, and humorous real-life story, which was brought to life by a wonderful group of actors and a competent first-time director. Definitely a picture worth to be screened at the Opening Night Gala of the BFI London Film Festival

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Breathe trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Detroit

Movie reviews

Hello!

The race issue has always been a prominent theme for the awards’ season. Nowadays, this problem has re-established itself as a contemporary issue and, with the street riots and the public displays of violence back in the news, Kathryn Bigelow’s cinematic return – Detroit – is more topical than ever.

IMDb summary: Fact-based drama set during the 1967 Detroit riots in which a group of rogue police officers responds to a complaint with retribution rather than justice on their minds.

  1. Detroit was written (and produced) by Mark Boal, who has also written Bigelow’s two previous features. The script was based on real events, while the characters were also inspired by real people. The film opened with a 2D animated sequence, which gave a brief history of the larger issue. However, the picture itself focused on the specific events in Detroit and on a group of people, in various positions, who got caught up in the event. This limited focus helped to go deep into the matter, while the inclusion of a wide variety of characters presented multiple sides of it. The film didn’t paint one said as inherently bad or good. Both of them seem to be operating in a gray area. For one, not all the police officers were abusive. Similarly, not all the rioters were actually fighting for anyone’s rights – they just looted and spread chaos for the sake of it.
  2. I really appreciated the human perspective on the riots, meaning that the personal lives of the characters took the front seat, while the riots were only the background setting. These two layers came together in the middle of the film, for the main sequence in the hotel, which was really hard to watch because of the blatant police brutality as well as stupidity (e.g. not even knowing how intimidation tactics work). One of the most despicable moments in the picture was a police officer tampering with the crime scene to spin the story in a positive light for him. It was also interesting to see how those police officers weren’t necessarily painted as racist but just simply awful people in general.
  3. It was also fascinating to see the differences in the portrayal of the local vs the state police vs the national guard and made me question the training and the background checks of the lowest tier of the police officers. There were some policeman in the film (from all levels) who actually attempted to help the people and I wish that there was maybe more of that type of representation for a more balanced view to be formed (unless there weren’t actually many police officers helping IRL instead of doing the damage). And the damage has been done in excess: by taking lives or ruining them; by making incorrect assumptions; by painting the innocent as the enemy because of their skin color; and by distorting and perverting justice. The ending of Detroit drove home the point that, while life goes on, the consequences – both physical and psychological scars – remain.
  4. Although Kathryn Bigelow hasn’t made a movie since 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty (and 2008’s The Hurt Locker before that), she has not lost an ounce of her style. Detroit’s visuals had her signature mobile frame and quicks zoom ins/outs – basically, a narrative picture’s interpretation of the documentary style. The structure of the film was good too – I liked how she relocated the main event from its usual 3rd act into the middle of the film.
  5. Detroit had a great cast full or both familiar and fresh faces. John Boyega (Star Wars VII, The Circle) was really good as the intermediator between the two sides, while Will Poulter (The Maze Runner, The Revenant, War Machine) was absolutely stellar – while Poulter has already played bullies, I have never hated him as much as I did in this film. The singers Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore (Collateral Beauty) had small roles, while Jason MitchellHannah Murray (GOT’s Gilly), and Kaitlyn Dever also co-starred. Jack Reynor appeared as well: he has been doing quite good, career-wise, by booking pictures like Sing Street and Free Fire – that Transformers 4 gig, thankfully, hasn’t done a lot of damage. Lastly, Anthony Mackie (Marvel, Triple 9) had a borderline cameo role too, he has previously worked with Bigelow on The Hurt Locker.

In short, Detroit was a great crime drama and also a great biographical picture, that told both the personal stories of the people and the communal facts of the event. The watching experience itself was quite heavy on a heart but incredibly engaging to the mind.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Detroit trailer

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Movie review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m still playing catch up with the summer movies, so let’s review a picture that some people (small numbers of them as it tanked at the box office) saw last month. It’s King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword.

IMDb summary: Robbed of his birthright, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy – whether he likes it or not.

A few general thoughts on the background of the movie: 1. I’m actually a fan of the 2004’s version of King Arthur. It used to be one of my favorite nonanimated childhood movies and the archery sequence on the lake combined with Lord of the Rings: Two Towers final battle were two reasons why I took up archery. 2. While the trailers for the film looked fine, I never expected it to succeed at the box office or to turn a big profit. Neither the two leads are big box office draws, nor is the mythology that the film is based on a hot property. So, bearing that in mind, who, the hell, approved a $175 million budget for this picture?

Writing

2017’s King Arthur’s screenplay was credited to the director Guy Ritchie, producer of HP films Lionel Wigram, and, the writer of the new Robin Hood and The Flash movies, Joby Harold. The Judge’s director David Dobkin contributed to the story as well. In general, the writing was of mixed quality. I thought that the narrative (broadly speaking) was fairly straightforward (an hour of Arthur being called into action, and another hour of him attempting to defeat Jude Law’s character), however, the details within the story were really convoluted and even confused (there was too much happening at once).

Thematically, the concepts of egoism and power were suitably touched upon. The ending teases of the round table and all the knights were also pleasant. Other than that, since I don’t know much of King Arthur mythology from the legends, I can’t comment on the stuff they did or didn’t use.

The script also made a lot of interesting choices with the characters. For example, Arthur was written as a witty, talkative and borderline cocky individual – all these ideas are in opposition to the Arthur I’ve alway imagined – serious, reserved, yet quietly proud (basically, the 2004’s movie’s version). Still, overall, I was quite pleased with a different take on a character. I have also seen a lot of complaints online about the female characters of this film, mostly the lack of them. I can definitely see where these people are coming from – a few female characters that are introduced are either sacrificed, portrayed as obese or sexualized tentacled mermaids or are used for decoration purposes. And yet, the main mage character was also a female and she did shine in the movie and displayed her powers (really vaguely defined ones) in a spectacular fashion. The informant female character did not have much to do but at least she was present. Hers and Jude Law’s characters interactions were actually quite neat.

Directing, Editing and the Soundtrack

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s and RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes’s director Guy Ritchie helmed King Arthur and did an okay job. The high fantasy medieval setting (which I’m a fan of) was realized quite well (I’m a sucker for the combination of good historical costumes, sword fights, archery, and magic). The epic scope of the film was also worthy of praise. However, the mediocre CGI was quite infuriating, especially in the movie that cost this much to produce. The action scenes – filmed in a video game-like close-ups and slow motion – could have been better too.

The elements of the film, which are the most discussion worthy, were editing and sound design/mixing. The soundtrack on its own (by Daniel Pemberton) was really good and it was, at times, inventively paired with the visuals. However, some combos of image and music did not work. However, even in the bad combos, the song choices weren’t as unfitting as they were in Suicide Squad. A lot of these combination sequences were edited in a music video style – a lot of jump cuts, short snippets of dialogue, and a fast pace. On their own, these sequences seemed quite unique and entertaining (their explosive energy was amazing). However, when these quick sequences were followed by long, drawn-out scenes of people sitting and talking, the final effect turned out to be quite jarring and the whole film – uneven.

 

Acting

  • The two leads of the film were played by Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law. I really liked Hunnam in the titular role and would love to see him getting more cinematic roles but I doubt that that will happen, due to the poor box office of this picture. He previously played the lead in the Pacific Rim and a supporting part in Crimson Peak. The Lost City of Z is his other 2017 release. Jude Law’s (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Genius, Anna Karenina) performance, to my mind, was the best part of this film. He looked good (his armor was basically the silver version of Dominic Cooper’s armor in Warcraft) and he seemed menacing. In the final battle, I would have rather seen him fighting in the said armor rather than a generic CGI monster (his evil form). I also thought that the announcement of Law as the Young Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts sequel will give this movie a boost and some free promo but it doesn’t seem like the said casting news helped much or at all.
  • The two female characters were played by theFrenchh-Spanish actress Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey from Pirates 4 and by The Mummy’s Annabelle Wallis. I really enjoyed the cool and collected performance of Bergès-Frisbey.
  • King Arthur also employed the talents of two GOT actors that can’t seem to espace the middle ages – Aidan Gillen (Baelish) and Michael McElhatton (Bolton). Gillen (who was also recently in Sing Street) did a good job and I could see shades of Baelish in his performance, while McElhatton’s role was just slightly bigger than a cameo.
  • Another two actors, whose involvememnt is worthy of mention, were Djimon Hounsou (Guardians, The Legend of Tarzan) and Eric Bana (The Finest Hours). They both did a fine job with their limited screeentime.

In short, King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword was, to my mind, not as bad as everyone said. The filmmakers made some weird choices with the editing and music (at least they tried something different) and did overcomplicate the plot which lacked (sort of) female characters, and yet, I was still pretty entertained by the final product.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword

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5 ideas about a movie: Free Fire

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a new British indie movie Free Fire that acted as a great counter-programming to the awful Ghost in the Shell.

IMDb summary: Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.

  1. Long time readers of my blog will know that I’m a fan of British contemporary cinema. Even before I lived in the UK, I would try to watch all smaller British films that reached my then hometown’s movie theater. It’s pretty sad that the majority of these films do no interest non-European audiences. It’s especially heartbreaking that an amazing film, like Free Fire, will probably go unacknowledged by many global cinema-goers as well. I first found out about the picture in an article in an Empire magazine. The publishing focused on the logistics of the big shoot-out sequence and made me really interested to see the final product.
  2. Free Fire was written and directed by Ben Wheatley, in collaboration with the long-time creative partner – writer and editor Amy Jump. I’m very much a newcomer to Wheatley’s work. The first film of his that I saw was last year’s High-Rise. The dystopian drama was both puzzling and intriguing. It also had a magnificent cast –  Wheatley continued this trend in his next movie too.
  3. The writing for the movie was quite nice. There was no obvious narrative or a story, but the way the character interactions were included within the action was really cool. The attempts at flirting were especially inappropriate in the circumstances of the movie, and, thus, hilarious. In general, the movie was full of actually funny jokes. I laughed out loud multiple times. This group of characters with their various levels of stupidity and all the in-fighting was also super entertaining to watch on screen. Lastly, the decision to loosely tie in the film’s plot to the real historical events in Ireland/Northern Ireland in the 1970s was an interesting choice.
  4.  I also loved the visuals of the film. The big action set-piece was seamlessly executed. The visual craziness was neatly paired with quieter moments full of amazing verbal jabs. Plus, even before everything had escalated, Wheatley succeeded at building tension between the characters, so the start of the shoot-out was somewhat believable even if extremely sudden. The action itself was captured with a mixture of close-ups and wider shots and, while the said action was gritty, bloody, and brutal, it was not literally dark, so one could actually see what was happening on screen. In fact, the color palette was pretty warm – a lot of browns and yellows – a perfect match for the 1970s setting and the tacky costumes. I’m so happy that shoulder pads are no longer in style. What I’m sad about is that this film’s soundtrack and the similar style of music are no longer on the radio.
  5. The film had an amazing cast, full of accomplished and well-known actors. This time around, their ‘acting’ included playing kindergarten-like children in adult bodies and crawling around a lot. The cast’ included big name talent like Brie Larson (Room, Kong), Sharlto Copley (Blomkamp’s films, Hardcore Henry), Armie Hammer (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.The Birth of a Nation, Nocturnal Animals), Cillian Murphy (In the Heart of the Sea, Anthropoid, soon Dunkirk), and Jack Reynor (Sing Street). I loved Larson’s character as well as her interactions with Murphy’s character – they had this subtle chemistry which really worked. I also liked seeing Hammer actually having fun with the role and loosen up a bit. Reynor has been popping on my radar a lot lately, maybe that he is that one actor whose involvement in the Transformers franchise actually led to some good work? The film’s cast was rounded out by a lot of great but less well-known actors: Babou Ceesay (Eye in the Sky), Enzo Cilenti (small role on GOT), Sam Riley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Maleficient), Michael Smiley (Black Mirror’s White Bear episode), Noah Taylor (small role on GOT too), Patrick Bergin (Irish screen actor), and Tom Davis and Mark Monero (TV actors).

In short, Free Fire is a super enjoyable action-comedy that works both as an action movie (the craftmanship of the big action sequence is amazing) an as a comedy (the visual jokes as well as small funny moments of dialogue pair off nicely).

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Free Fire trailer

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