Thursday, March 29, 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Sam Rockwell deserved an Oscar for this.

Good thing he got one I guess!

One of very few Oscar season movies to grab my attention beyond their Oscar material, this inexplicable film is either an upbeat violent drama or an immaculately subtle, pitch-black comedy. The incomparable Frances McDormand is Mildred, a woman whose daughter was brutally murdered, and the killer never caught. To light a fire under the police force and keep the case from being buried and forgotten, she hires three billboards near her home, puts some bold, goading words on them, and then steps back to take flak from every side.

Unexpected, crazy, beautiful, and heartbreaking plotlines ensue.

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the film is similar to his previous, Seven Psychopaths, but with a significantly more serious edge. The film toes the line of reality while being firmly planted on the side of fiction; heightened and caricatured. Though serious and dark, and unwilling to downplay that aspect, this film is at its base, made to be entertainment -- entertainment that challenges, moves and evokes thought, but entertainment nonetheless. To that end it finds humor where it can, and finds it in many wonderfully unexpected places. To that end, its characters display realism through their exaggerated existence; and to that end, the plot moves with irony, violence, a plethora of bold turns, and plenty of cinematic flair.

This movie is absolutely rich with content. So much detail in every moment, so much to read between the lines; so much to glean from expressions and subtleties of performance. My favorite thing is how completely inconspicuous the foreshadowing is -- a couple times I realized what was about to happen by remembering a casually mentioned line from before. But I could never guess exactly what would happen, because the film would then immediately take another twist in a new direction. The plot direction was impressive to me as it was unpredictable, and is confident and cleanly displayed -- save for one plot hole so obvious and significant that I'm wondering if I merely missed something, with how confidently the film plowed through it unblinking.

The conflict mixed with understand between all the characters in a thing to behold. 

McDormand is way out there with Mildred, finding an interesting balance of likability. That is, she's almost completely unlikable as a character -- brazen, hardened, rude, selfish -- but is so sympathetic that we care for her anyway from the get-go, and by the end she has shown genuine good qualities. McDormand also deserved her Oscar; average performances aren't exactly in her wheelhouse. Woody Harrelson was also nominated for his supporting role, and the balance his character made was intricate; full of ins and outs and things to consider. His character -- the police Chief -- influences the plot more than anyone. There is nary a not-impressive performance or character to be seen, but you'll forgive me if I spend my time on one in particular:

Sam Rockwell I've been a fan of since I first saw The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and seeking out his movies, every one only increases my admiration. After seeing this, his first-ever Oscar-nominated performance, I've realized something: That he commits the exact same level of intense devotion to every role -- as naturally as another actor might phone in or run on star-power. It just so happens that Dixon is the first role he's landed where the character is so complex and mesmerizing on the page, that when he brought it to life with the same dedication and care as always, suddenly no one could ignore the merit or the talent which he's quietly possessed his whole career.

I think he deserved every award he got, but I'm a fan regardless of those trivialities. 

Dixon was the most unexpected aspect of this whole wild movie. Rockwell's performance is outstandingly good. I expected that, and adored every second. What I didn't expect was the arc direction the character would take, and that astounded me -- multiple times. This character in any other movie would've been a throwaway straw man, boring an irritating. Here the movie builds him, moment by unprecedented moment, into a gorgeous arc, that, every time it moves forward, seems incapable of taking another step without snapping and destroying the realism, but doesn't; again, and again, and again, into a thought-provoking and moving conclusion. Many of his moments make you laugh and hurt simultaneously, and no one can make the most of a beautiful opportunity like that like Sam Rockwell.

I'm not sure if a year's time will see me remembering this as basically a Rockwell vehicle that conducted some timely explorations and looked great; or if it will stick with me in a permanent and significant way. Without a doubt it's an excellently constructed film. The characterization is immaculate all-around. The location is lovely and memorable and it is shot in a wonderfully clear, sturdy way that complements the blunt but heartfelt tone. The way the writing ties in to itself is endlessly impressive to me, and the plot itself plays by its own rules in great ways. It had a lot to say but isn't preachy about it, nudging with gentle, subtle violence.

This movie boils down to sincere moral exploration through outlandish characters.

I liked what it had to say; I liked the story, the look, the tone, the humor, the emotion, and of course I loved the complex characters and the fine performances that made them larger than life. If at a later time the impression it left on me has faded, that will be alright. Personal connection is tricky and unpredictable, but there's a big difference between a movie meaning much, and a movie meaning much to me. Time will tell if this movie will find a permanent spot in my heart, but for now: I think this film is a pretty doggone incredible piece of filmmaking, and I love it for that alone.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Road

and star in this subtly-scifi drama about a father and a son who are journeying through a freezing apocalyptic wasteland in pursuit of the one thing they have left: survival.

 Directed by , based on the novel by .

Nuclear fallout has killed all the animals and bugs, the plants and trees are dying and literally crumbling down around them, and humanity is all but gone. Sure, there are a few humans left, but most have lost their humanity. Suicide is only slightly more popular than cannibalism. The father is determined to protect his son as best he can, and grapples with the idea that someday the best protection he may be able to provide is to shoot him in the head with one of the two bullets remaining in his pistol.

This film is bleak. It's the epitome of the word. It started, and began explaining all of the above to me in Viggo's soft and dramatic voice-over, and when he was halfway done I thought there was no way in the world I was going to like where this movie goes. The journey might be well-told and beautifully, harrowingly shot, but it would be impossible to conclude and leave me happy. I thought that, but how wrong I was.

 Bleak scifi films love to end further down than they start. This one breaks the tradition for exceptional results.

The Road is a journey through hopelessness toward the impossible goal of hope. Miraculously, it gets there; and impressively, it gets there realistically. Through every turn the movie ponders the natural questions that its extreme setting creates: In the most dour situations, does survival ever become worthless? Can inhumanity or immorality be forced on people by circumstance, or is it always a choice they make? Is it possible to live in a world of pure evil, and not fall into evil?

With every question that is subtly posed, it seems that cynicism and pessimism will win every time, but then truth pushes its way through and the father and son press on, unsoiled. They carry "the fire" inside them, they say, and it seems to drive them past hardships that no one else had the courage or will to overcome. The determination they display in such a bleak world is staggering and inspiring.

There's so much rich content to glean. I feel like I picked up on 60% of what's there.

On the more technical side, the movie is taut -- put together excellently with a strong tone and beautiful imagery. The pacing is slow but steady, and consistently edged with foreboding suspense. Performances are wonderful, particularly Viggo, who carries the movie almost completely alone, and expresses all his questions and worries and thoughts without exposition via dialogue. Kodi is also great; this is the youngest I've ever seen him, so he doesn't get quite as much to do, but is still impressive.

This is a hard-hitting movie in the best possible way, leaving you haunted and pondering its dark themes. It may disturb or depress by its vile setting and the darkness it explores, but is determined to uplift with its themes and character arcs. Every message it gives, and every conclusion it makes, is doggedly, admirably, beautifully hopeful. Against all odds, this bleak little film left me soaring.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Upcoming Movie Roundup - March

February started out with the surprise release of The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix. I had already dubbed it "The Month of Scifi," so unexpectedly springing one of the year's most anticipated scifi movies at us was perfect beginning. Of course the movie itself wasn't perfect, and divided opinions among fans. Still I enjoyed it very much. Read my review here!

Then I went to the theater to see Black Panther, but still didn't manage to see The Death Cure. Sadness. Black Panther was a Marvel movie, and did basically everything that entails. Didn't hate it, didn't love it. Read my review here!

We started the Netflix TV show Altered Carbon (and are currently two eps from the end) and I was pretty disappointed, because while the world is nice and scifi, and it had a noir-type premise, the feel of it is very normal for TV shows today, and I'm not finding it terribly compelling. Whenever I finish maybe I'll review it and see if I can figure out and express exactly how it fails.

But no matter, because there is Mute. The trailer made this Netflix film look less noir than Altered Carbon, but that was because it didn't reveal any of the plot, but it turns out the plot is noir through and through, and I loved it. Mute is exactly what I mean when I say "I like the scifi-noir genre," and after worrying me with terrible critic reviews, blew me away and is currently my favorite film of the year. Read my spoiler-free review here!

March has five Fridays, so there's lots to get to -- I'll probably keep it brief. There's one movie at least that I absolutely must see no matter what, and lots more that looks interesting in various degrees. Hope y'all had a great February! What did you see that you liked? And what's looking good this month?

Death Wish
Mar 2nd; R
Bruce Willis action movie -- violence and guns and frontier justice! Probably won't be super great since it's a remake, but there's no denying the appeal.

Mar 2nd; R
This one says it's a noir. Is noir making a comeback? Looks like a mystery that is both intense and easy going at the same time. Nice tone and cinematography in the trailer. Neon plus the Australian Outback. Very neat combo. Good reviews too.

The Vanishing of Sidney Hall
Mar 2nd; R
The writing and mystery elements of this one is more interesting to me than the cast, but it stars Logan Lerman and Elle Fanning. Lerman is a writer who disappears without a trace to get away from the unpleasant fame following the publishing of his controversial book. Bad reviews so far, but considering Mute I'll be paying attention anyway...

A Wrinkle in Time
Mar 9th; PG
I never read the book, and from the looks of things I should put more priority on that than on going out to see this kids scifi/fantasy adventure. It looks like the sort of thing that I won't be able to resist watching eventually though, even if it isn't anything special.

Mar 9th; R
There's some weird, crazy things going down in this trailer. Dark comedy, so that's great if it's done well, and a great cast too. Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo -- and Sharlto Copley!

The Hurricane Heist
Mar 9th; PG-13
Yes, this movie is going to be stupid. And yes, that's half of why I absolutely must watch it. Even if I didn't my brother would make me because he loves stupid disaster movies. And this one has a heist that the heroes must thwart at the same time! But the other half of why I'll watch it is Toby Kebbell. So yes -- I'm there.

Mar 9th; R
This isn't really the kind of plot I'd usually pay much attention to, but this will be the last film of the late Anton Yelchin's, so it worth mentioning on that alone. Also Olivia Cooke playing a sociopath is weirdly appealing.

Tomb Raider
Mar 16th; PG-13
Chances of this movie being good are... not good. Really very not good. But it'll probably have a decent run anyway, and action flicks can only be so bad -- as long as there's action, ya know? I'll watch it for cheap someday probably, just because of it's mainstream status. Alicia Vikander may elevate it a bit, but the trailer looks like a video game, and I'm not feeling it.

Journey's End
Mar 16th; R
WWI drama starring Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield and Paul Bettany. Looks like a well made film.

7 Days in Entebbe
Mar 16th; PG-13
A telling of a true story where Israeli Special Forces rescue hostages of a terrorist plane hijacking in the 70's. It ends well, so that's nice, and stars Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike -- but as the terrorists. So I guess don't get too attached? Eddie Marsan appears to be the main good guy.

Pacific Rim Uprising
Mar 23rd; PG-13
John Boyega's turn in the seat -- er, turn to share the seat -- with... Scott Eastwood? Okay. Whatever, I think I get how this works, but I haven't actually seen the first one due to a distaste for Charlie Hunnam. But I did survive Legend of the Sword, so maybe now I should bite the bullet and see what this is all about. This trailer is certainly under no delusion about what kind of a movie it is.

Mar 23rd; R
Is Claire Foy crazy? Or is she not? That's the biggest reason to see this right there. The curiosity. Anyway, this looks like a very effective thriller. The wide angle lenses and tall aspect ratio alone make it feel so intense and claustrophobic.

Isle of Dogs
Mar 23rd; PG-13
Stop-motion? I love stop-motion! Wes Anderson? I love Wes Anderson! I haven't seen his other stop-motion endeavor because I'm too cheap to buy the DVD apparently, and it isn't streaming anywhere I use. So I should consider going to the theater for this one I think. Or else I may never get the chance!

Ready Player One
Mar 29th; PG-13
Yes, I'm ready. Heck, I've been ready for TWO YEARS ever since I first finished the book and looked up the cast and director. Tye Sheridan in the lead, Simon Pegg and Mark Rylance supporting. And now there's Ben Mendelsohn as the villain and Olivia Cook as the love-interest. And Steven Spielberg directing a movie from a book that was inspired by the works of Steven Spielberg! Honestly the book wasn't even that great, but it has such great cinematic potential I'm stoked to see what they do with it. Naysay all you like. It might crash and burn, but I'm going to be excited and hopeful anyway! Just don't change the ending...

Lean on Pete
Mar 30th; R
Aw, this looks like such a great film. Coming of age, indie adventure and drama, horses... based on a book too, which puts even more confidence in the story quality. I definitely want to see this.