Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Also known as: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (stylized on screen)
Release Date: September 4th, 2017 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Samara Weaving, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, Željko Ivanek, Sandy Martin, Brendan Sexton III

Blueprint Pictures, Film4 Productions, Cutting Edge Group, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the law on what ya can and can’t say on a billboard? I assume it’s ya can’t say nothing defamatory, and ya can’t say, ‘Fuck’ ‘Piss’ or ‘Cunt’. That right?” – Mildred Hayes

I’ve been hitting the theater, trying to catch up on some of the indie films I’ve been missing. Luckily, I have a lot of days off to use between now and the end of the year, so playing catch up should be fairly easy now that Cinespiria has gotten through Darktober and Noirvember and there isn’t a theme for the month of December.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a really nice surprise. While I did expect to enjoy it, it wasn’t as straightforward and cookie cutter as I anticipated. But I probably should have known better with Martin McDonagh in the director’s chair, as In Bruges and Seven Psycopaths weren’t films that one could label predictable.

This picture has a magnificently solid cast but so did Seven Psychopaths and McDonagh has shown that he’s fully capable of managing an ensemble. Although, while this is an ensemble piece and everyone is well beyond satisfactory, Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is center stage in just about every scene and she really put the weight of this picture on her back and succeeded, giving us another masterful performance. She is a tough cookie and she never relents in her quest to find justice for her raped and murdered daughter.

Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell both do fine in this film, as well. Both men play cops and, at first, based off of how the story starts, you aren’t really a fan of either man. Harrelson’s Sheriff Willoughby wins you over fairly quickly, as you sympathize with his illness and the toughness of his job and a system that can’t always catch the bad guy. Rockwell’s Dixon is incredibly unlikable for two-thirds of the film but there is a real turning point where the angry boy with a badge becomes a man. Both cop characters, like all the characters can’t not be affected by the events of the story. People change and this is a film about character evolution and redemption, just as much as it is about justice or lack thereof.

This is the second film where I’ve seen Caleb Landry Jones play a nice and decent character, a departure from the psychos he played in Get Out and the revival of Twin Peaks. This guy has come along way since I first noticed him in X-Men: First Class and he’s really carving out a nice career for himself with a good amount of diversity in his roles. I hope to see a lot more from him in the future.

We also get to see character actors John Hawkes and Sandy Martin and both shine in their small but influential roles. Clarke Peters shows up and I always get excited when I see him, as he was one of my favorites in the underappreciated HBO show Treme. Another HBO alum, Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones, plays a nice and sweet character in this. Brendan Sexton III, probably most remembered as the young shoplifting shithead in Empire Records and as a bully in Welcome to the Dollhouse, plays a character not too dissimilar from his earliest roles.

Three Billboards is a film that carries a lot of emotional weight and unfortunately exists in our sad reality where sometimes the worst people get away with deplorable acts. The film ends with two of the characters having to make a grave choice but we do not get to see what they decide to do. Like these characters, you want justice for Mildred’s daughter but you also have to ask yourself where the line is drawn while understanding that nothing will bring her back.
Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Blood Simple. (1984)

Release Date: Septhember 7th, 1984 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Joel Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, Samm-Art Williams, M. Emmet Walsh

River Road Productions, Foxton Entertainment, Circle Films, USA Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Gimme a call whenever you wanna cut off my head. I can always crawl around without it.” – Private Detective Visser

I was glad to find this streaming on The Criterion Channel, which I have access to through my FilmStruck subscription. It’s a pretty stellar service and worth the price tag if you are really a film lover.

Blood Simple. is the debut motion picture of the Coen Brothers. While the brothers would go on to be real auteurs, they had to start somewhere and in all honesty, Blood Simple. is a fantastic movie for a debut.

The picture is a visual delight and really encompasses the feel of a neo-noir film. It is dark but the color palate is still vibrant and vivid. The use of lighting and contrast is near perfect and this is a film that has aged exceptionally well. It really matches the Coen style that would become more and more famous with each new release in their always growing oeuvre.

Frances McDormand, a Coen regular and wife of Joel, makes her film debut and she knocks it out of the park. It’s pretty incredible that she got to start her career with something so well written, directed and featuring spectacular cinematography. McDormand’s acting matches the quality of the film, top to bottom, and is a testament to how good she is, even when lacking the experience that would eventually lead to several awards for her craft.

The film also stars John Getz, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh and Samm-Art Williams. Each actor brought their A-game to their roles and this is one of the best acted films of 1984, which was an iconic year in cinema history. While the film didn’t get a wide release until 1985, it spent 1984 winning over critics and audiences on the film festival circuit.

Blood Simple. was funded by a trailer that the Coen Brothers made in an effort to do just that. The film had a $1.5 million dollar budget and it makes the most of what it had, financially. Ultimately, it birthed the career of one of Hollywood’s greatest creative duos. Without Blood Simple., the world may have never gotten Fargo, The Big LebowskiO Brother, Where Art Thou?No Country For Old Men and a slew of other true classics.

The plot is well structured and has a lot of layers to it. Essentially, a woman cheats on her husband, he hires a killer, the killer tries to play both sides against one another to his advantage, everyone reacts on instinct and makes things worse due to a lot miscommunication and deception. The ending is a perfect exclamation point on the story.

Blood Simple. might not be as well known as the Coens other films but it was a launching pad for their great work that is still top notch, decades later.

Film Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Release Date: February 1st, 2016 (Regency Village Theater premiere)
Directed by: The Coen Brothers
Written by: The Coen Brothers
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Alison Pill, Wayne Knight, Christopher Lambert, Fisher Stevens, Patrick Fischler, Clancy Brown, Robert Picardo, Dolph Lundgren, Michael Gambon, Peter Jason

Working Title Films, Mike Zoss Productions, Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

hail_caesarReview: 

The Coen Brothers always peak my interest when they have a new film coming out. Granted, I’m not a nut like the hardcore Coen loyalists but I am a legit ordained minister of Dudeism, a relgion based off of their film The Big Lebowski.

Hail, Caesar! is a motion picture littered with stars. For the most part, everyone other than Josh Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich and George Clooney feel like they are just glorified cameos. Ehrenreich isn’t even on the poster. But then you have Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill on it, while they are only in a handful of scenes.

The film is beautiful to look at but it is lacking in just about every other regard. Sure, the acting is top notch but when you have a cast full of talent like this, where most of them are limited to just a few scenes, they all probably had their best stuff because they weren’t bogged down by a rough shooting schedule and didn’t need to focus on anything longer than a few pages of dialogue, if that.

It is an enjoyable movie, don’t get me wrong, it just wasn’t as exciting or as interesting as it would lead you to believe. The introduction of Johansson’s character was magnificently shot and executed but I feel like her character was just brought into the film so that the Coen Brothers had a reason to create their own old school Hollywood synchronized swimming extravaganza. And I feel like that is the true purpose of this film, that the Coens wanted to try their hand at old school filmmaking techniques and to do it while working with all their friends.

Additionally, where we saw footage of films within the movie, they never really looked like pictures from 1951, where this is set. The films, even if they were black and white, were too sharp and too clean. The typefaces used looked out of place and not of that era.

There was just too much going on in the movie. I know that the plot is about Brolin’s Eddie Mannix and how he has to manage all these Hollywood superstars. However, it would have been a more interesting movie had it really just focused on one of his situations. Sure, the others could have been included but too much time was given to things that distracted from the narrative. The only real interesting plot thread was Clooney’s Baird Whitlock being kidnapped and held for ransom by communist writers. In fact, I adored the dialogue in those scenes between Clooney and the commies.

Hail, Caesar! is fun, to an extent. It just feels very empty and although it created a world that truly feels lived in, it didn’t explore it deeply enough.