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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Happy Birthday: Frances McDormand

francesmcdormand.jpgHappy Birthday actor Frances McDormand

Born: June 23, 1957 in Chicago, Illinois, USA

Married to: Joel Coen (1 April 1984 – present) (1 child)

 

 

 

 

Raising Arizona
1987
dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
starring
Nicolas Cage
Holly Hunter
Miller's CrossingMiller’s Crossing
1990
dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
starring
Gabriel Byrne
Marcia Gay Harden
DARKMANDarkman
1990
dir. Sam Raimi
Starring
Liam Neeson
Frances McDormand
FARGOFargo
1996
dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
starring
William H Macy
McDormand
SwingersAlmost Famous
2000
dir. Crowe
starring
Billy Crudup
Kate Hudson
WONDER BOYSWonder Boys
2000
dir. Curtis Hanson
Starring
Michael Douglas
Holmes
THE MAN WHO WASN'T THEREThe Man Who Wasn’t There
2001
dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast
Billy Bob Thornton
James Gandolfini
Burn After ReadingBurn After Reading
2008
dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring
George Clooney
Brad Pitt
MOVIE POSTERTRANSFORMERS 3
dir. Michael Bay
Stars:
Shia LaBeouf
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
MOVIE POSTERMADAGASCAR 3
dir. Eric Darnell
Stars:
Ben Stiller
Jada Pinkett Smith
MOVIE POSTERTHIS MUST BE THE PLACE
2012
dir. Paolo Sorrentino
Stars:
Sean Penn
Frances McDormand

 

PROMISED LAND
2012
dir. Gus Van Sant
Stars:
Matt Damon
John Krasinski
MOVIE POSTERMOONRISE KINGDOM
dir. Wes Anderson
Cast:
Bill Murray
Bruce Willis
MOVIE POSTERFRIENDS WITH MONEY
2006
dir. Nicole Holofcener
Stars:
Jennifer Aniston
Frances McDormand

 

Movie Review: HAIL CAESAR! (2016)

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hail_caesar_poster.jpgHAIL, CAESAR! (USA 2016) ****
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenrich, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

Review by Gilbert Seah

The Coen Brothers remain in top form.  They etch out a film almost annually, with almost each one a critical hit.  Their films are an annual event many moviegoers now look forward to.  Their best films include TRUE GRIT, FARGO, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and BURN AFTER READING, and all their films share the Brother’s keen sense of humour.  HAIL, CAESAR! like BURN AFTER READING is pure comedy and this one is a worthy tribute to the Hollywood dream-making machine.  It has the feel of a farce yet, it total respects the Hollywood studio system, for all its faults and errors.

The lead character is a Hollywood studio fixer by the name of Mannix, subtly portrayed by Josh Brolin, in the kind of role he has mastered.  He is a dead serious character you do not want to mess around with.  Or you will get slapped around like his main star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) did, before being told to then go out and act like a star.  The film begins with Mannix in a confessional box, pouring his heart out to the priest.  Mannix is shown to be a decent man, one that respects other human beings, despite their faults and one who loves his wife and kids.  He is the backbone of America and the one that make sense in the Coen film.  Which is required – or all else will go to nought and the film degenerates into nonsense.  Of all the sins confessed, the one that affects him the most is his cigarette smoking.  He has promised his wife (Alison Pill) to cut down and is unable to do so.  The plot generally follows Mannix around while things in the Studio fall apart, while being offered a smoke most of the time.  Mannix fixes things, hilariously yet credibly, and that is the basic premise of HAIL, CAESAR!  While all these are going on, he is wooed for a better paying, better hours job at Lockheed Incorporated.

The things that can go wrong provide most of the satire and entertainment.  A famous actress, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is pregnant and her image is about to be ruined.  A famous cowboy actor, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is unable to utter his lines to the satisfaction of his director Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes).  Tabloid columnist sisters (both played by Tilda Swinton wearing different hats) want a scoop trying to dig in dirt about star Whitlock.  The most jarring problem is Whitlock being kidnapped by a groups of disgruntled scriptwriters who want their far share of the dough.  Mannix has to sort them all out.

All these problems provide ample opportunity for hilarity – Coen Brothers style.  And they keep the laughs coming with twists in the story as they know best.  The brains behind kidnapping turns out to be communist Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum).

The Brothers play plenty of homage to old classics.  There is a spectacular swimming Busby Berkley swimming number, Esther Williams style as in MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID, a one-take musical gay-type musical number with no dames to the tune of “No Dames”with nods to ANCHORS AWEIGH and Rogers and Hammerstein’s song “There is Nothing like a Dame” from SOUTH PACIFIC and scenes that could be taken right out of William Wyler’s BEN-HUR, just to name a few.

The Brothers have also assembled quite the impressive all-star cast, though some on the list only appear for a few minutes in a scene or two.  The Jonah Hill character seems present just to utter the line  “It’s all part of the job, Miss.”  Fiennes and Johansson are only present for two scenes while Frances McDormand has only one as a chain-smoking editor who gets chokes by the film reel in the editing room.  For whatever they do, they leave the audience wanting for more.  Relative newcomer Ehrenreich steals the show as the cute cowboy who eventually helps Mannix instead of the other way around.

Great directors have made films about the passion in the making of movies.  Fellini had 81/2, Truffaut LA NUIT AMERICAINE, Almodovar BAD EDUCATION and the Coen Brothers HAIL, CASEAR!.  Everything comes clear as to what the Coens are up to by the end reel.  There are elements that don’t work that well or are overdone, but or the most part HAIL, CAESAR! is quite the movie, especially for the moviebuff.  HAIL, CAESAR is a minor classic but a major delight!  I would see it again.

 

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