REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Seven months after the murder of her daughter, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) challenges the local authorities, who have not caught the culprit, by promoting the injustice on three billboards on the road to her hometown.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is from writer and director Martin McDonagh. This is the man behind In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, so if you have seen them, you’ll now at least a little of what to expect from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – which is black comedy, drama and violence.

Frances McDormand is brilliant as the vengeful and hurting Mildred. She’s a woman in pain who wants justice and is not afraid to cause pain and distress in order to get it. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is trying to be understanding with what Mildred is going through, and does his best to explain that there just isn’t the evidence to catch her daughters killer, while struggling with his own demons and an unruly police force. Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is a racist and violent cop and is no way a good guy and the film doesn’t paint him like one. He’s the main antagonist of this story, hurting anyone close to Mildred in order to get to her.

That’s the thing about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, none of the characters are particularly likeable and all of them are very angry and mean. While you understand Mildred’s frustration it doesn’t mean she’s doing the right thing, and while Dixon does evolve as a person, he’s never completely changed or “good”, he’s still the disgusting and dangerous person he always was, just changed slightly.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is funny but it’s also super dark – the script manages to balance these two elements really well. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is tough to watch at times, remembering a scene at a dentist still makes me shudder, but the incredible performances pull you into the story and gives you a memorable film. 5/5.


REVIEW: Denial (2016)

Acclaimed historian Deborah E. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) must battle to prove the historical truth of the Holocaust when renowned denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) sues her for libel.

Denial is an engaging courtroom drama that respects the history it is debating. While it gives Irving the space to put across his views, it never says those views are right or fair. The film frames Lipstadt and her team of lawyers as the speakers of truth and rightly so.

The scenes set at Auschwitz concentration camp are very respectable. The actors’ reactions to the environment they’re in is visceral and nothing is over-played in these scenes. The shorts of the hundreds and thousands of suitcases and other belongings of the Jews who were there is haunting, and the film doesn’t flinch away from the cold, harsh truth of the place and its history.

The courtroom scenes are tense as Irving and Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), Lipstadt’s lawyer, verbally spar over points of racism, anti-Semitism and what is fact and fiction. It’s touching how this case becomes so much to all of the defence team, Rampton can be blunt in his questions when investigation Auschwitz but it’s only so he can be best prepared.

There’s a few scenes between Lipstadt and a holocaust survivor (Harriet Walter) that are touching but almost feel like they are there to hammer home the point of getting some form of justice or closure for the victims and survivors, when it’s not really needed thanks to Weisz’s performance. Lipstadt is a Jew and that emotional connection can be found through her, and she acts as a voice for those who suffered.

Denial is a gripping true story. It’s a tough watch at times but great performances by all involved makes you root for those fighting for the truth in a very clever and complicated way, while Spall plays a man who you can’t quite believe is a real person, who apparently truly believed what he did. 4/5.

REVIEW: Molly’s Game (2017)

The true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a self-made woman who ran the most exclusive high-stakes poker games in America, attended by film stars, musicians, businessmen, and unbeknownst to her, the mob, and the subsequent court case when she becomes an FBI target.

Molly’s Game is a fast-paced film, with rapid quick-cut editing and a voiceover from Bloom throughout. This voiceover adds details such as she was thinking and, when it comes to the poker games, explains some of the slang terms for hands and cards. While the film does offer these moments of explanation, there’s a lot to take in and it might have been easier to follow, and perhaps that bit more enjoyable, if you have more of an understanding of poker. It’s still an engaging film though, there’s just a lot of information being giving to you almost constantly through the voiceover.

The script is razor sharp, which is unsurprising really as it’s penned by Aaron Sorkin (writer of The West Wing, The Social Network and many other shows and films). The dialogue is funny and lively, and the scenes jump between the present and Bloom’s court room battle, and her rise and fall in the world of poker.

Jessica Chastain gives another stellar performance here. She’s commands every scene she’s in and outshines just about any other actor she’s on screen with. Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, Bloom’s lawyer, and their verbal sparring matches as they slowly begin to understand one another are electric.

Molly’s Game is an entertaining film, albeit perhaps a bit overlong, with great performances, some laughs and high-drama. 4/5.


REVIEW: Downsizing (2017)

The world is suffering from overpopulation but some Norwegian scientists have found a solution – shrinking people to five inches tall. When Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to change their lives and become small, things don’t go the way they expect.

Downsizing has a solid first act. The concept of shrinking people down so they don’t use as much resources or produce as much waste is fascinating and it was really cool to see how the process worked and what it meant for society – both for those who became small (an irreversible process) and those who stayed normal size. Seeing small people (and things), in a normal sized persons world is weird but enjoyable because it’s so unusual.

The premise is an interesting one, with what it tries to say about the environment, poverty, and society as a whole but unfortunately it seems to try and say too many things so it ends up saying nothing of real substance.

This is the unfortunate thing about Downsizing, the premise and the set up is great but it never really lives up to that. After the first act, the film, much like Paul himself, meanders along, and things just happen to Paul without him really being that proactive. The film doesn’t go where you think it might but if anything, that makes it worse as it seems almost aimless, and you feel the just over two hours running time.

Damon is fine in his role but Christoph Waltz as Paul’s neighbour Dusan is the most fun and engaging character. He lives life to the full and has some of the funniest lines. With the character of Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) a Vietnamese revolutionary, it seemed the film wanted you to laugh at her. She often seemed like a racist caricature and again the film didn’t really seem to know what to do with her.

Downsizing is supposed to be a comedy, and at times it is. Other times though it feels like the concept was stretched out to more than it could be, losing humour and any real character development on the way. 2/5.


REVIEW: The Rider (2017)

After suffering from a near fatal head injury from the rodeo, young cowboy Brady (Brady Jandreau) tries to find a new identity for himself when he is not able to do what he’s always known and loved.

The Rider is interesting as it blurs the line between documentary and drama. Jandreau plays a version of himself, it’s his real-life head injury you see at the start of the film, staples in his head and all. This realisation that this story is so close to home for all the cast involved makes it even more touching and brilliant.

The Rider is about the American heartland and what it means to be a modern cowboy. The dangers these young men face and the difficulty of finding another purpose in life when the rodeo is all they’ve known. Brady is an amazing rider and horse trainer, seeing him with the animals, their connection is clear, so watching him struggle when he can’t do that anymore is tough to watch. Jandreau gives a subtle yet brilliant performance, he’s often quiet and controlled so when the tears or frustration appear it’s even more powerful.

The Rider is just a beautiful film in every way. A beautiful story, stunning cinematography of a gorgeous landscape and haunting music. You don’t need to love horses to fall in love with this film – I certainly don’t. The performances and characters and the subtleties of this film stick with you. It’s a brilliant film about a group of people and a career that seems to be dying out, a very different kind of Western. 5/5.


REVIEW: Columbus (2017)

When Jin’s (John Cho) father becomes seriously ill, he travels from Seoul, Korea to Columbus, Indiana to wait to se if he recovers. There he befriends Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young woman who loves the city and its architecture.

I will start this reviewing by being honest and telling you that I did miss a bit of this film due to nodding off in the cinema. I’m not sure how much I missed, maybe about 15 minutes in the middle, as I felt my eyes drooping and waking myself up by my head suddenly falling forward. While I the fact I had a snooze might not make Columbus a bad film, I think it was a sign it’s a film that wasn’t for me. Now onto the review proper.

Columbus is a very slow film, focused on two different people who find someone to talk to. Jin doesn’t want to be stuck in this town as he waits for his father to either get better or die, he mostly stays because Eleanor (Parker Posey), his father’s friend, says he should. Casey loves her town, her job in a library with her friend Gabe (Rory Culkin) and while she’s smart and everyone says she should go away to college, she’s reluctant to leave her mother (Michelle Forbes). Cho and Richardson both give great performances and they do feel like an unlikely friendship.

Columbus does some really interesting things with how it frames its characters and the landscape, with buildings and sculptures often getting more space on the screen than the people. There’s one scene where you are seeing the characters through their reflection in mirrors rather than face on. This makes a layer of distance between the viewer and the characters. This along with the fact that important conversations or character moments are often unfinished or seem to happen off screen makes it difficult to connect with the characters and what they are going through.

Columbus is a beautiful looking film with a calm, soothing soundtrack, but not a lot really happens. While everyone gives good performances, there’s not enough to pull you in and become attached to any of them. If you like interesting architecture, with characters walking and talking about architecture, Columbus might be for you. 2/5.


REVIEW: The Fits (2015)

While training in the boxing gym with her brother Jermaine (Da’Sean Minor), tomboy Toni (Royalty Hightower) becomes interested in the dance troupe that practices in the room next door. When Toni decides to join the troupe, she not only struggles to fit in with the other girls but finds herself in danger as the each of the group starts to suffer from violent fits and fainting spells.

The Fits is an atmospheric and intriguing film about a young girl growing up and the balance between trying to fit in and being yourself. Toni is athletic and strong, but it’s in such a different way to the girls in the troupe that she finds it hard to be a part of it to begin with. The film does a good job of showing how isolated Toni feels with the way the camera frames her and the music, or lack thereof. As Toni comes into herself and starts to get the dance routines you can see the joy shine through on her face.

The fits that the girls in the dance troupe almost begin to seem like a right of passage, as those who have had them discuss what it felt like, and those who haven’t wish to have them so they know what it’s like and can fit in. Toni’s budding friendship with Beezy (Alexis Neblett) is charming and the way they play together in the gym after dark feels incredibly real. that’s one of the good things about this film, all the characters and performances feel so organic you want these young girls to succeed.

The Fits is a slow film with a good lead performance but it’s a good job it has such a short runtime as I found myself getting more bored than interested as the film progressed. It’s a strange film that’s hard to describe, something it shares with many other small-budget indie films. 2/5.