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2017 – Read the best of THRILLER Feature Films: part 3

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Film Review: CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER (USA 2017) ***

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California Typewriter Poster
Trailer

California Typewriter is a story about people whose lives are connected by typewriters. The film is a meditation on creativity and technology featuring Tom Hanks, John Mayer, Sam Shepard, David McCullough and others.

Director:

Doug Nichol

 

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Film Review: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE (USA 2017) ***

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Thank You for Your Service Poster

Trailer

A group of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq struggles to integrate back into family and civilian life, while living with the memory of a war that threatens to destroy them long after they’ve left the battlefield.

Director:

Jason Hall

Writers:

David Finkel (based on the book by), Jason Hall (screenplay) (as Jason Dean Hall)

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE is a biographical film based on true events (the closing credits reveal the pictures of the real characters) on the subject of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  Returning after a war and adjustment back to civilian life has been dealt time again in films like the well-known THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, but few have dealt specifically with the Iraqi War.

The film opens appropriately with the cause of Sergeant Adam Schumann’s (Miles Teller) trauma.  After a bomb goes off and injures fellow soldier Emory (Scott Haze), Adam fireman lift’s him down to safety.  Well, almost.  He drops him down the stairs resulting in some brain injury.

The film shifts to the return home.  The homecoming is shown with the fanfare of waiting family and loved ones.  The film centres on three soldiers, all of whom find things are not so smooth sailing.  The other two are Solo (Beila Koale) and Will Waller (Joe Cole).  Waller has it the worst when he finds himself abandoned by his wife who takes his child and empties his bank account.  Waller shoot himself in front of her at the bank she works in.  That part seems quite incredible, though it must have happened as in the non-fiction book of the same name written by David Finkel.  The rest of the film follows the other two as they adapt to their PTSD.

The script is adapted by Jason Hall who won an Academy Award nomination for his adapted screenplay of AMERICAN SNIPER.  When Steven Spielberg pulled out of the director’s reigns, Hall jumps in and makes his directorial debut.

The first time direction is obvious in the way the film unfolds in a safe, standard way predictable with no unexpected punches pulled.  The obstacles preventing Solo and Adam from getting their psychiatric care are all there – the long queues; the red tape requiring proof; the waiting time; with the soldiers finally getting their way after some needed shouting and anger outbursts.

Miles Teller in the main role of Adam proves once again his ability to carry a film on his own.  With recent rave reviews for his performances in films like WHIPLASH and the recent ONLY THE BRAVE, this film will add to his impressive resume.  Of all the actors, comedian Amy Schumer (TRAINWRECK, COMEDY CENTRAL) is totally miscast in the serious role of the dead soldier’s wife, Armanda.  

As for the rehabilitation of the soldiers, it seems too convenient that Adam is recovered after Armanda tells him that her dead husband wanted Adam to continue living, this removing Adam from the guilt he feels.  The same kind of convenient removal of guilt occurs in the recent film STRONGER where the bomb victim rehabilitates after one meeting with the guy who helped in during the Boston. marathon bombing.  But Hall’s script at least shows the long path towards recovery.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE is a heavy film with a heavy theme.  One might argue that it is a story that needs be told – and that is right.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50LQGcb5knE

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Film Review: THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (USA/UK 2017) *****

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Poster
Trailer

In this darkly comic drama, a mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder, when they fail to catch the culprit.

Director:

Martin McDonagh

 

Written, co-produced, and directed by one of the most esteemed playwrights in Ireland (the play, THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENAN) Martin McDonagh, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI arrives with all the hype after winning this year’s Toronto International Film Festival prestigious People’s Choice (Most Popular) Film Award.  This is a film that can be enjoyed by both the commercial audience and critics alike.  It is smart, funny (darkly so), suspenseful and brilliantly acted by all concerned.

Nine months after her daughter is raped and murdered, a woman, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is totally frustrated that there has been no progress with the investigation led by the local police chief, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).   Using the last of her hard earned money, she leases three billboards from Red (Caleb Landry Jones) on the edge of her Missouri town to condemn the local police force for failing to find the culprit.  This angers the sheriff and one of his top officers, Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a red-neck racist mamma’s boy, with a temper to suit his prejudice.  Mildred is one angry, foul mouthed woman who would kick any man in the nuts if they comes across her the wrong way.  The billboards gradually lead from one bad incident to another resulting in the suicide of Police Chief Bill Willoughby.  This infuriates Jason who beats Red up, ending up in Red being in hospital and himself fired from the force.

Despite the wicked humour, McDonagh’s script is smart enough never to forget the main issue at hand – the desperation of a mother to see justice done.  The irony though, is that Mildred is not that good a mother who on the eventful night of the rape, had an argument with the daughter that led her to walking alone and abducted.  Those like myself who love irony, will see it rearing its head again when the racist Jason coming up as the one with the best clue as to the killer.

As one would imagine after the film passes its half way mark, it is not the identity of the killer that is important.  It is the nature of people – how people change, and in this film for the better.  The chief who kills himself writes letters to Mildred and Jason that would change them.  This is the reason audiences would favour the film.  It has heart, sympathy despite the dark humour and foul language – more irony here (the film with the most foul language has the biggest heart.) 

One might argue as to the necessity of the abusive language used in the film.  To McDonagh’s defence, thee are people in the world that utter the ‘f’ word in every sentence.  Mildred happens to be one of them. 

McDonagh develops excellent characterizations.  The best is the lead, Mildred.  Mildred has so fierce and powerful a personality that one is never sure what she will do, thus becoming an exciting presence in every scene she is in.  Sam Rockwell achieves marvellous results with his complex character which might win him an oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  McDonagh’s film’s ending is also impressive.  It is a 4 way open ended non-Hollywood ending, which is the smartest conclusion I have seen in a film this year.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jit3YhGx5pU

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Film Review: SUBURBICON (USA 2017) ***

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Suburbicon Poster
Trailer

A home invasion rattles a quiet family town.

Director:

George Clooney

Writers:

Joel CoenEthan Coen 

 

Written by the Academy Award wining Coen Brothers, Grant Heslov and George Clooney himself, this odd piece of satire on the American dream turning into an uncontrollable monster nightmare has its wicked charm but unfortunately fails.  But better an ambitious failure than a simple minded film with no faults – I always say.

The film is set in the fictitious community of SUBURBICON – of perfectly manicured lawns and white picket fences (as in similar films, FAR FROM HEAVEN, PARENTS), one can tell something is amiss or going to go terribly wrong.  In PARENTS, the boy discovers that his parents barbecue human flesh and in FAR FROM HEAVEN, the husband comes out of the closet.  In SUBURBICON, the father of the family, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) hires two killers to do away with his wife in a home invasion scenario so that he can be with her sister, Maggie (both roles played with Julianne Moore with blonde and brunette hair).  They plan to go to Aruba with the collected insurance money.  But things get complicated, particularly with the interference of an enterprising insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac) who ends up being poisoned by Margaret.  Their son, Nicky (Noah Jupe) is totally aware of everything that is going on, as he is always snooping or eavesdropping.  Father has no qualms  with doing away with the meddling son, just as the cannibalistic dad would gladly eat his son in PARENTS.  (The film feels very similar to PARENTS at some points.)  A lot of fun in the movie is observing how Nicky discovers what is going on and tries to save his own life.

SUBURBICON’s humour and writing has the distinct Coen Brothers touch, especially in the way events suddenly occur out of the blue and how violence can also suddenly come into the picture (reference: the Coen’ ARIZONA).  But the humour can be so sly and at times so dead-pan, that the humour can be missed.  Also, the film unfolds at a dead slow snail’s pace.  One would definitely fault the film’s direction and editing, though Clooney has directed a few outstanding films in the past.

The art direction of the 50’s idle housing estate is nothing short of perfect.  As the camera pulls back, one can see how all the houses and streets are interconnected.

The film also intercuts into the main story a side-plot of the first coloured family that moves into SUBURBIA.  From initial surprise to full outrage, the neighbourhood finally riots right outside the coloured family’s house.  Ironically the two boys, the coloured boy and Nicky become the best of friends, playing throw and catch baseball, the typical American sport.  The two kids show how adults should behave.

Despite the film that illustrates Murphy’s Law that if anything that can go wrong will and at the worst possible time, the film does end beautifully on an optimistic note, which almost saves the film. One plus of the movie is French composer Alexandre Desplat’s score that includes some suspense music as heard in a typical Hitchcock film.

SUBURBICON premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to mixed reviews.  Still, it is an interesting failure, and by no means a dull piece despite its slow pacing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBezc1S1BAQ

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Film Review: WONDERSTRUCK (USA 2017

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Wonderstruck Poster
Trailer

The story of a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection.

Director:

Todd Haynes

Writers:

Brian Selznick (based on the book by), Brian Selznick (screenplay by)

Runaway kids escaping to a strange, new town in search of a parent.  This subject has always been a favourite for films and plays, the most notable being the recent Tony Award winning THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, in which a boy travels to London to find his father.  IN WONDERSTRUCK, a young deaf autistic boy leaves home after his librarian mother is killed in a car accident.  All he has is a little clue of a museum.  He takes off with some cash obtained from his Aunt Jennie (Michelle Williams), gets his wallet snatched but eventually finds out the truth about his father, who he initially knew nothing about.

WONDERSTRUCK appears like a a typical story but director Haynes (CAROL, POISON and his best movie SAFE FROM HEAVEN) decides to do it different.  The openly gay director has always dealt with isolated loner characters who has to come to terms with some truth.  In WONDERSTRUCK, because the subject is deaf, Haynes blacks out all words, so that the film feels like a silent movie with just background music.  The film is alternatively shot in colour and black and white for the flashbacks (in the year 1927).  It seems a good tactic but it does not all work.  For one, the film ends up very difficult to follow.  With no dialogue, one has to figure out who is whom, how the subjects are related and basically what is going on with the plot.  It does not help that the film intercuts two stories set fifty years apart, switching frequently between them.  Each tells the story of a child’s quest.  In 1927, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) runs away from her father’s New Jersey home to find her idol, the actress Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore). In 1977, recently orphaned Ben (Oakes Fegley) runs away from his Minnesota home in search of his father.  Moore plays two roles – the older Rose as well as Lillian Mayhew which confuses matters even more.

The reason the film is called WONDERSTRUCK is revealed towards the end of the film.  The film’s sets are amazing, special mention to be made of the New York City model though details are not really shown.

Director Haynes leaves the audience much in the dark for the first half of the film.  Though one might, upon considerable thought put all the jigsaw pieces together, it is a very frustrating process.  Director Haynes, gives the full explanation during the last third of the film, what then is the purpose?  Is it to illustrate to the audience the inconveniences of being deaf?

The cast largely of unknowns (excepting Moore, Michelle Williams in a token role and Tom Noonan) including Fegley do an ok job, noting exceptional.

Though credit should be given to Haynes for his non-conforming storytelling techniques, it does not really work.  It comes together at the end, as if Haynes gave up and decided that it is safer to tell it all the usual way.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n207k52C3DM

 

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Film Review: THE SNOWMAN (USA 2017) **

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The Snowman Poster
Trailer

Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman.

Director:

Tomas Alfredson

Writers:

Peter Straughan (screenplay by), Hossein Amini (screenplay by)

 

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