Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Film Review

In Bruges is one of my favourite movies of all time, and unlike a lot of people I really liked Seven Psychopaths, so I was looking forwards to Martin Mcdonagh’s new project.  With this film he has the backdrop of small town America, where middle-aged mother Mildred (Frances McDormand) reminds the local police about the murder of her daughter by renting out Billboards just outside of town.  The signs are provocative and question the police on why there haven’t been any arrests in seven months.  From here she engages in a conflict with the police department, and of course herself.

There are a couple of things to get out of the way before I discuss the major problems this film has.  First of all, I found no problem in the films attitudes towards race and McDonagh does well at creating a dark character from this.  Second of all, if you take this film for what it is, then it is absolutely fine.  It is a decently structured movie that has some laugh out loud moments, and a few nice pieces of direction.  The problems come from that structure however, and the way the story is told.  Right from the very beginning the film is humorous – almost to a point where certain scenes are set up like full – on comedies (talking sitcom level).  This means that when particular scenes are meant to me more dramatic, audience’s chuckle because they are in the comedy mind-set.  In nearly every scene of the first half of the film it is played for laughs, so the second more interesting half loses a lot of its weight.  Consequently there was a distance from myself and the narrative because of how comic the situations and characters were.

Frances McDormand as the central character does a good job, but because of the themes of the film her character wasn’t totally likeable.  This is kind of the point though, about how crippling regret and grief can be so McDormand handles it all well.  Sam Rockwell is terrific as ridiculous cop Dixon in the second half of the film, and just sort of funny in the first.  It has an incredible supporting cast behind them, including a cute Woody Harrelson performance, though the choice to cast a younger woman from Australia as his wife didn’t make much sense?  Peter Dinklage is under-utilised (considering he’s in the top 1% of dramatic actors) and his stature is overplayed.  Overall the great cast keep the film watchable, but mostly their characters were cartoonish.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI

This is the first review of the year that I’m struggling to keep under 500 words so maybe I’ll write something else about it.  I would describe it as a good film, but nowhere near as good as the praise it has been receiving.  There were so many little moments that felt out of place in a grounded film about loss?  I would like to ask McDonagh if he meant for it to be a sub-realistic parable, rather than a black drama slash comedy.  Perhaps that would make the film work a bit better.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes.  (Just close your eyes and put your fingers in your ears when the deer arrives).

War for the Planet of the Boring and the Stupid (Apes)

This is a series of films that sticks in my mind, which means that I have a lot to say about them!  When I first saw the Tim Burton Planet of the Apes it horrified me; mostly because Burton is a psychopath but also because thematically it’s pretty scary.  The idea of an Ape uprising is frightening stuff, and what the original films did well was bring in other interesting themes alongside that – about humanity, discrimination and arrogance.  So, there’s always an uneasy thought when you begin to think about these films narratively.  And with the first of the reboots Rise that uneasiness is definitely there.  It’s a solid movie that is really rough around the edges but is incredibly touching, especially if there is someone in your life suffering from Dementia.  The film sets up this idea of a greater Ape intelligence convincingly and there is an emotional connection with the characters.  Then along comes the sequel, which I think is probably the strongest of the three.  It opens up the conflict between the Apes and the humans and how they cannot coexist.  It boasts a series of exciting set pieces and those human issues are relevant within the Gary Oldman character.  Unfortunately all three of the films fall to many Hollywood clichés but none more than the latest and final film of the reboot.

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The War for the Planet of the Apes is 90% nonsensical from the start and a bitter disappointment.  I follow plenty of film critics on Twitter and they unanimously praised the film as a top rate blockbuster.  Mark Kermode, who I greatly admire, liked the film and didn’t really bring up the issues I have with it.  It’s almost as though they are watching a different film to me.  Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad film, it’s a good one.  It should be praised for its achievement in its special effects and composition of its Ape characters.  Andy Serkis is of course remarkable as Caesar and completely dominates the scenes he’s in.  And the majority of the action is wonderfully put together, especially in a horse chase scene through some snowy mountains.  Though I would say it never reaches the cinematography heights of the second film Dawn, which is absolutely gorgeous.  The problems I have with the film are a hold-up on the plot and some of the decision making in the film.  I’m not going to dissect every scene and pull it apart because I often feel like you have to sacrifice some clarity to make it entertaining; go to yourmoviesucks.org’s y YouTube channel for that.  Nevertheless there were some key elements that annoyed me throughout the run time.

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PLOT SPOILERS

To start with the film is certainly not a War between Apes and humans.  It is on a much smaller scale than that, which is fine but I think the marketing is slightly misleading in this.  I was expecting a climactic battle on an epic level and instead I got a kind of revenge film?  A revenge film that is set up because of a coincidence?  It is a coincidence that the Colonel can suddenly sneak into the Ape encampment deep in the woods and execute Caesars family and a coincidence that Caesar sees him do it.  Thus, he goes for revenge and with his pals he stumbles across Joshua from Friends who idiotically gets himself killed, leaving his daughter for Maurice to fend for.  And this character is one of the massive flaws of the film because she is mostly pointless.  I get that she is there to show the good of humanity and that it isn’t Ape versus Human, it’s Good versus Bad.  Yet this introduces one of the problems I have with all the Ape films, I’m a human!  I relate with the human characters far more than the Ape ones and will follow them blindly despite their evil tendencies.  There is a lot of this film where humans are non-existent or completely lost of likeability, meaning we’re stuck rooting for Ape characters we can’t really relate to.  There is only Caesar that appears well rounded; even Maurice is a little too good to be true.  But, back to the little girl, who has the same expression on her face all the way through and manages to add zero substance in any scene.  Probably the most ridiculous part of the film is when the Gorilla gives her the flower out of nowhere then of course dies in the next scene.  It scream forced, and like most of the film is pushing for an emotional release that isn’t there.

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Next is more stuff that is irritating but passable, such as the ‘Bad Ape’ character who I thought was going to bring other Apes into the mix, but no why make it interesting when it can be formulaic!  The film turns into an escape thriller of sorts that is fully based upon plot devices and clichés.  And I have questions more than answers.  How did the soldiers manage to capture all of the Apes so quickly?  Why do all these soldiers blindly follow the Colonel?  Woody Harrelson is charismatic enough but he’s clearly insane and the crossbow guy who we’re meant to sympathise for at the beginning loses all human traits and ignorantly abides the Colonels orders.  The Colonel himself is full of contradictions, like being totally ruthless let willing to let Caesar live, for what reason?  He’s a tactical genius who has managed to gain the following of a small army but can’t work out that he needs to feed his slaves so that they can work?  Also, he lets a little girl walk straight through the gates, and subsequently poison him, as well as barricading on top of a series of convenient escape tunnels?  The whole escape series of events are ludicrous and just thinking about them triggers me.  We then get a ending that is fine, though killing Caesar and whole load of humans we don’t know felt like a rushed resolution so that there’s no possibility of a fourth film.  Like I said I’m not going to go through the entire plot, but the narrative appeared narrow and dull where it could have been so much more.

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I think the thing that most disappointed me about the film was how dragged out and boring it was.  After the excitement of the previous film and the possibility of some interesting directions it could go in, it really let me down.  There are segments of this film that rely on Caesar carrying the weight of the drama, so when he’s absent or the plot is silly it doesn’t work on any level.  Tonally the film is incredibly dark, and to be honest I was a bit disturbed it’s only a 12A.  If there was a ‘fuck’ in there it would be a 15 but because it was just mass murder, loss, fascism, slave labour and the apocalypse anyone of any age can see it!  And when a film is that dark, it has to have a level of drama that you can connect to but they went so far off with the narrative that I didn’t care at all.  The excitement came in bursts and in between there was a whole load of emptiness.  Overall, I would recommend this film to someone who enjoyed the previous ones and if you can handle some really peril fuelled cinema.  It is breathtaking on a visual level and occasionally entertaining (thanks to some obvious nods to Apocalypse Now that at times is very close to the nose!).  However it never took off in the way that it could, or showcased an ability to surpass the original films.  My main question after all of this, after all the misdirection and flat story-telling, is: where on earth is James Franco?

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