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: Life

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the annual space movie. For the year 2017, it’s Life.

Life follows in the vein of the sci-fi space films, like 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, 2015’s The Martian, and, I guess, 2016’s Passengers. It’s also kinda similar to the earlier pictures, such as 2009’s Moon and 2007’s Sunshine. Life is the most similar to the last one because both films feature diverse groups of astronauts stuck on a space ship and have horror/slasher elements in addition to the sci-fi themes.

IMDb summary: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

Writing

Life was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the duo previously co-wrote Zombieland and Deadpool). Story wise, the movie was not the most original but the narrative was still interesting and exciting. The two major themes were human intervention and survival. The character development was minimal but there were still a few nice character moments dispersed throughout. In fact, the movie’s main star was the alien – all the set-up focused on it rather than the humans. Life definitely depicted life beyond earth in an old-school way: the creature was instantly violent rather than communicative like the ones in Arrival. Whether the actual alien of this movie was just the rip-off of the Allien, I don’t know. It definitely appeared similar to that one and it was probably a good idea for this film to come out before Allien: Covenant.

In addition to there being some scenes to depict the character’s backgrounds, the picture also had a couple of sequences of the astronauts doing both scientific experiments and publicity for ISS. I really loved those parts and appreciated the fact that the scriptwriters attempted to show a variety of activities done by the astronauts. The ending of the movie was also interesting. I don’t know whether they didn’t explain what actually happened with the pods (how did they switch?) because they are hoping for a sequel or because they wanted to leave it open for speculation/discussion?

Directing

The Swedish director Daniel Espinosa directed Life. This was his second US-based picture, but he has also directed Child 44 in the UK (really enjoyed that one) and made a couple of films in both Denmark and Sweden. I quite liked what he did with Life. The visuals were just absolutely gorgeous and not once did I think that we weren’t in the real ISS. The pacing and the intensity were also great. The horror elements of the action weren’t cheesy either and didn’t rely too much on the jump scares but used the technique of suspense building and the visceral imagery to elicit a reaction. In fact, some of the scenes were quite gruesome and uncomfortable to watch but they were effective so I can’t fault a movie for that. The camera work was also pretty impressive, especially one of the early long shots that seemingly went all through the space station. The alien POV was also a neat effect.

Acting

The film had a very diverse cast for a narrative reason rather than just for a financial one. The astronauts were played by Jake GyllenhaalRebecca FergusonRyan ReynoldsHiroyuki SanadaAriyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya.

Seeing Gyllenhaal on screen in yet another movie made me realize that he is one of a few actors who is constantly working. He never seems to fall off the radar even if his pictures don’t earn much. A few of his recent films that I enjoyed are Everest, Southpaw, and, especially, Nocturnal Animals. It was also really nice to see Ferguson in yet another American film (she began her career in Sweden, but has already appeared in MI5, Florence Foster Jenkins, and The Girl on The Train) and I’m excited to continue following her career. For Reynolds, this was his first post-Deadpool film and I think that his role in the marketing campaign for Life was expanded because he is the man behind the Merc with a Mouth. The ad campaign led me to believe that he will be an important part of the picture so I was quite surprised with his character’s story arc.

Sanada, weirdly enough, portrayed a character in Life who very closely resembled his character in Sunshine – a movie which I already mentioned in this review because of its and Life’s similar stories. What a coincidence that these films share an actor too. Bakare has mostly done TV work before now, but he also had cameos in big films like Rogue One and The Dark Knight. Lastly, Dihovichnaya is a newcomer to the Western mainstream cinema but is an established actress in Russian-speaking indie cinema market. I hope that her work in Life will provide her with more opportunities in the West.

In short, Life was a well-made space horror flick. It had a great cast and neat, suspenseful action, which will entertain the majority of the cinema -goers, and an open ending for those who appreciate the intellectual layer in their sci-fi.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Life trailer

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Movie review: Warcraft

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to another movie review. This time, we are discussing Warcraft or Warcraft: The Begining – Hollywood’s latest try to make video game movies a thing.

IMDb summary: The peaceful realm of Azeroth stands on the brink of war as its civilization faces a fearsome race of invaders: orc warriors fleeing their dying home to colonize another. As a portal opens to connect the two worlds, one army faces destruction and the other faces extinction. From opposing sides, two heroes are set on a collision course that will decide the fate of their family, their people, and their home.

As you all probably know, Warcraft: The Movie is based on a series of video games (Warcraft and World of Warcraft). I, personally, knew nothing about the game except that it was set in a fantasy world. So, I was part of the audience, which would either make or break this movie – a non-fan who still chooses this film over the others.

In general, I have always been fairly skeptical about video game inspired films. I have seen the worst (Hitman Agent 47), the bad (Pixels, Prince of Persia), the okay (Need For Speed) and the great (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – a film that is not even based on a video game but feels like one). I still need to watch The Angry Birds Movie and I am also quite interested in Assassin’s Creed film because I’m a fan of Fassbender and I have read an Assassin’s Creed comic.

Speaking about Warcraft – it is currently my favorite cinematic adaptation of a video game. I don’t know why the critics are so harsh to judge it and are not evaluating it for what it is. I had an amazing time watching the picture, was a bit lost at first, but quickly found my way. I can’t say ‘No’ to a movie that deals with high fantasy concepts (like LORD, GOT). I’m actually even considering trying out the game or at least researching the role a bit.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

The film was written by Charles Leavitt and the director Duncan Jones. I though that Warcraft’s script was a bit better than Leavitt’s last film’s – In The Heart Of The Sea – script and vastly better than his second to last’s film’s – Seventh Son – screenplay.

The film had a lot of characters and they didn’t receive much development but I think that they all got enough to peak my interest. I also liked the fact that the characters died, thus, the stakes were high. The ending was kinda weird but I understood why they left it so open – they are hoping for a sequel. I also wish that the film succeeds adequately for this story to be allowed to continue on the big screen.

The film also had nice themes and messages. I liked the notion that the traditions are superior to the leaders. I also liked the inclusion of values such as family, honor, sacrifice and tolerance. The importance of survival and creating/finding a home was also a nice advice to spread.

Directing

The movie was directed by Duncan Jones. I really enjoyed his debut film – an independent sci-fi feature Moon. I also liked what he did with Warcraft. I appreciated the plethora of locations and the world-building in general. The action was also exciting – the shots from the ground-up and the over-the-shoulder-reverse shots actually allowed me to feel like I was in a video game. The CGI was also the best that I’ve seen in years – the faces of the Orcs looked alive – with real emotions and real sweat, blood, tears. The end credits were also excellent.

Acting

The movie’s few had quite a few unfamiliar faces (at least to me), but I did enjoy all of their performances. Some were better, some were worse, but on average, everybody did good.

I really liked Viking’s Travis Fimmel in the lead as Lothar. He was charming, witty and a skilled and loyal fighter. MI: Ghost Protocol’s Paula Patton as Garona was also a nice and interesting character and I liked her role during the finale. The Finest Hours’s Ben Foster as Medivh, the Guardian was also good but a bit cartoonish at times. I was also pleased to see one of my favorite actors Dominic Cooper (Need For Speed and Preacher) as King Llane and I did like his noble act at the end. Cooper’s co-star on Preacher Ruth Negga (Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.) played the Queen Taria and also did a wonderful job – I loved her final speech as well as her interactions with Garona. The last human character, Ben Schnetzer’s Khadgar was a bit annoying at times, but I have a feeling that he will play an even bigger role in the future films.

The CGI/motion capture part of the cast consisted of Toby Kebbell as Durotan, Robert Kazinsky as Orgrim, Daniel Wu as Gul’dan and Anna Galvin as Draka among many others. As I have already mentioned, the effects looked amazing, however, the actors’ performances, underneath the motion capture technology, were also stellar. They not only looked like living beings, they were actually alive on screen. I’m not that familiar with the previous work of these actors, except Kebbell. He was in that awful Fantastic Four film last year, but I think he redeemed himself with Warcraft and will also be in Kong: Skull Island next year. Kazinsky had a small role in Pacific Rim, while Galvin has mostly done TV work. I haven’t seen any film’s with Wu before, but I did like him as the main villain – he did looked menacing and acted appropriately.

All in all, I had a great time with Warcraft. It exceeded my expectations and definitely pleased a non-fan. I had a few fans of the game sitting beside me at the screening and they also seemed really excited and entertained. Hope the sequel happens!

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Warcraft trailer

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