Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017): Hit and Miss (Review)

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Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a blackly comic look at small town mid-America, guilt, parental grief and not a little survivor anger. Frances McDormand (Fargo, Blood Simple) stars as Mildred, the mother of a girl raped and murdered too long ago and the police have made no head way in finding her killer. Sadly, despite much promise and a pretty good script, the result is a little hit and miss.

Woody Harrelson is Chief Willoughby; a beloved local figure of authority and calm. Mildred focuses on the chief with her three billboards of “shame”and accusation. Sam Rockwell is Dixon; one of Willoughby’s deputies, and the man is a shambling mess. 

The plot revolves around Mildred’s overwhelming guilt, which overrides her sense of grief, and it is this guilt that drives her through the entire film. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri almost feels like a modern noir thriller with darkly comic overtones. We side with both Willoughby and Mildred in this tale of attempted retribution and atonement.

Later, we can almost get behind Dixon’s attempt at solving the murder but the man is such a neanderthal that his dreams of becoming a proper detective can really be no more than a pathetic pipe dream. Peter Dinklage has a cameo as the village “dwarf.” (A term that his character tosses out after a disastrous meeting with Mildred and her ex.)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri starts out well. McDormand manages to almost match her performance in the 1996 Coen Bros film Fargo. We are behind her every step of the way, even more so when we learn her ironic and terrible secret. She and Harrelson’s character enter into a short sparring match that brings the film’s character’s to life brilliantly.

This “battle” is short-lived however and that changes the face of the entire story. Herein lies the problem with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. While the billboards themselves are an excellent plot device, their importance shifts about a third of the way through. We focus more on Dixon and Mildred and because of the deputy’s character, the film becomes a bit more than hit or miss with its tale.

The film does entertain though. McDormand is a treat, Harrelson scores much better here than with his excursion in the “Ape” film and Rockwell proves yet again that his range is very impressive, if somewhat misplaced in this role.

Caleb Landry Jones is great value in his cameo role of the one man in town who dares to allow Mildred the chance to thumb her nose at the local Sheriff’s office. (Jones is also superb in another 2017 darkly comic film, the horror offering “Get Out.”)

John Hawkes is spot on as Mildred’s smarmy ex and Abbie Cornish is delightful as his 19 year-old airhead girlfriend. In essence, no one puts a foot wrong in the film but the character’s, especially that of Dixon, act in ways that do not really fit their limitations.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri feels like a Coen Bros film (McDormand is married to Joel who, apparently, told her to take the role of Mildred as it was written expressly for her.) but…different. Overall it fires on most cylinders and has an ending that can only be described as “noir-ish.”

This is a solid four star film that keeps the viewer locked on to the events as they unfold onscreen. One can easily see McDormand nabbing another Oscar this year, even though the competition will be fierce (The Post.)

The Accountant (2016): Ben Affleck’s Rain Man (Review)

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The Accountant, written by Bill Dubuque and directed by Gavin O’Connor, could well be dismissed by some as Ben Affleck’s “Rain Man” film. His character either has Aspergers, or, as the film seems to indicate, a high functioning form of autism. The characters in the action thriller never actually come right out and give a direct diagnosis. 

Having a heroic protagonist with some sort of “disability” is not overly unique in the film world. The Pang Brothers (The MessengersRe-cycle) created a hitman in the 2000 film Bangkok Dangerous who was a deaf-mute (they then inexplicably remade the feature in 2008  with Nicholas Cage who played the same character only this time he was neither deaf nor mute. A real shame as he could have been better in the role if that had been the case…)

Another film that had the main character as a kick-arse hero was the Thai martial arts film Chocolate. The female protagonist, like Affleck’s character, is never diagnosed as being either autistic or having Aspergers although it was clear that she was, in that film, a savant in terms of martial arts and did have the condition.

There is no real other comparison to be made with Affleck’s hitman/mathematician Christian Wolf. Wolf can, and indeed does, kick arse physically. He is as deadly with hand-to-hand combat as he is lethal with weapons. In “Chocolate,” Zen (played by JeeJa Yanin) is a savant in every sense of the word. She picks up her skills by some sort of odd osmosis, by watching the martial arts being executed, and Wolf was trained by his father. 

Wolf’s brother, Braxton; played brilliantly by former The Walking Dead regular  Jon Bernthal (Bernthal is about to hit screens in the Netflix adaptation of The Punisher, this year), is as deadly but he lacks the autism which makes Christian that bit more dangerous.

Anna Kendrick plays Dana the accountant who finds out someone has been systematically stealing from her bosses company and John Lithgow is said boss. Oscar winner J.K. Simmons is the IRS treasury agent who enlists an underling to find out who “the accountant” really is and Cynthia Addai-Robinson plays the analysis agent forced into action by Simmons’ character Ray King.

For all the “big” names in the film, Jeffrey Tambor plays Wolf’s old cell mate in prison, the movie is not “high-brow.” While it is not a bog standard thriller by any means, there is enough action and plot to keep even the most jaded movie goer interested.

Even viewers who are not fans of Ben Affleck, like my friend the local librarian – who cannot abide Affleck’s “lack of talent” – enjoyed the film and thought he brought much to the role. Granted, the level of interaction between Affleck’s character and others in the film is subdued. However, the most endearing part of the film occurs when the two brothers meet up later in the film. “Hello Braxton,” says Wolf in a way that is sweet and completely incongruous with the scenario. (It is one of the best bits of the film.)

There is a humorous attempt at a burgeoning romance between Wolf and Dana. It works, but only just, and quite wisely the film lets this matter drop without too much fanfare.

To be perfectly honest, the movie delivers more on the action sequences, and Christian’s almost super-human prowess as both an accountant for the world’s most dangerous people and hitman than it does on the character development department.

Affleck does well as does Bernthal, although the only real disappointment here is that the “twist” reveals itself all too early in the film. The constant flashbacks, despite the lack of time spent on Wolf’s brother make this a no brainer.

Simmons brings his usual workmanlike performance and Addai-Robinson gets too little screen time, as does Kendrick, but overall the cast deliver adequately although Lithgow seems to be relegated to two dimensional baddie who panics in the end.

The Accountant delivers and fires on most cylinders. It is a solid 4 star film that relies on the action to entertain. There are  few laughs, mainly the interaction between Kendrick’s character and Affleck’s but, once again, this is forgivable as the film really is more action than anything else.

Affleck does well in the fight sequences and director O’Connor puts everything together nicely.  There is no sign of the star’s Batman persona, he manages to perform his deadly tasks with all the emotion of a dead-eyed doll, and he only shows any real emotion when he cannot finish any job at hand.

It is well worth a look and can be watched on Amazon, iTunes, Google play and so on. Have a look at the trailer:

Green Room (2016): Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots Nailing It (Review)

Anton Yelchin as Pat

Written and directed by “Murder Party” and “Blue Ruin” auteur Jeremy Saulnier, Green Room has the sad distinction of being the last film released starring Anton Yelchin before his untimely death on June 19, 2016. The film follows the misfortune of a struggling punk band who stumble onto a murder while playing at a skinhead roadhouse.

Saulnier, whose debut feature length film was the brilliant low/no-budget offering “Murder Party,” has a knack for making American film that have a distinctly English feel to them.  Taking a note  from such talented Brit filmmakers like “Dog Soldiers” (Neil Marshall, who wrote and directed the werewolf picture, specialized in violent and terse thrillers like Doomsday and the gloriously scary, and all female, The Descent before moving onto mainstream television.)

Yelchin plays the meekest member of a punk band who later teams up with Poots as they fight against a group of white supremacists tasked with killing them.  Patrick Stewart plays wonderfully against type as the club owner who calmly arranges for all the witnesses of the murder to be disposed of.

Green Room, for the most part, takes place in a claustrophobic setting. The band members plus one, Poots’ character Amber, are trapped in a club (roadhouse) in the dressing room, aka green room as Darcy (Stewart) and his Aryan lackeys work out how to kill them all.

The band, which consists of three young men and a female guitarist, and Amber work together and the film is really all about survival. Everyone does a great job in their respective roles but Poots and Yelchin almost effortlessly nail their performances from word one.

Poots boasts a sort of “bowl” band cut and pigtails that makes her looks like a demented Pippy Longstocking’s wannabe while Yelchin appears to be almost emaciated. At one point early in the film Pat (Yelchin) takes Sam (Alia Shawkat) on the back of a folding bicycle and he looks so rail thin that one wonders how he pedals the thing with her balanced on the back. 

All  the band look thin and somewhat wasted, as behooves a young musical group struggling to find gigs, food and petrol. Wisely, the film spends little time on white supremacy themes and opts instead to have Darcy remind his club members to “remember, it’s a movement, not a party,” as the only reference to their leanings.

There are pit bulls, the usual “pet dressing” of these members of society, and they are used against the young band members throughout the film. Saulnier, who has already proven that he can do comedy horror on a budget, with “Murder Party” and a quirky, bloody, crime thriller (Blue Ruin) has now shown what he can do with a horror/thriller.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the entire film is Darcy’s unflappable calm as he plots the demise of so many people. He even instructs, via a seemingly throwaway remark, how to kill the people responsible for the whole “cluster-f***” in the first place.

The soldiers who willingly go after the targets are also unsettling but as they are really quite two dimensional they serve more as bogeymen cohorts rather than the real deal, like Stewart’s character.

Green Room looks top notch with its grimy sets and gritty decor. Black walls with graffiti scrawled everywhere and a dressing room that looks too disgusting to walk through add to the grungy feel of the bar where the band play.

Once again, the late Yelchin proved just how versatile an actor he really was by playing a more unconventional lead character. Saulnier even allows his lead to be somewhat horrifically injured, a move that causes the audience to wonder of the actor’s character will make it past the first reel.

The band comes across as a real group of musicians who are working hard to make it happen. Kudos to all the actors for finding the truth of characters that could have been flat two dimensional people without a perfect marriage of script and actor.

Green Room is a solid 4 star film. It entertains and keeps the audience close to the edge of their seat as the characters are hunted down through the film. The movie can be seen on Amazon.com, as part of the “Prime” stream and if you have not already done so, head on over to watch this one.

Rosewood: Fairy Tales & Frozen Truths – Family (Review)

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Rosewood “Fairy Tales & Frozen Truths” re-addresses family and how we never really know everything about those in our bloodline.  Villa has to face issues that her brother Marcos has and Rosie finally accepts that the newest member of his familial world should be allowed to give up a kidney.

A female children’s entertainer is found frozen solid in a freezer. Mitchie realizes that the dead woman is dressed in a Cinderella outfit, right down to the glass slippers, and it is clear that she did not die of hypothermia. It is also obvious that the young woman was murdered.

Mitchie takes a personal interest in the case as the dead woman also lost her parents at an early age. Team Rosie learn that the victim had been hit with a heavy object and it was this that killed her, not the intense cold.

The suspect list includes:  A father suspected of abusing his child, another children’s performer, the dead woman’s legal guardian and the woman’s boss. At the end of the episode it turns out that the murdered “Disney Princess” was killed by an evil “step sibling.”

Rosie and Slade argue throughout the episode about that kidney and Donna Rosewood steps in to help out Daisie Villa when her son Marcos refuses to see her. We find out that Marcos has been taking pictures of Annalise’s friends and family to facilitate getting to know them.

Hornstock also intercedes on Annalise’s behalf when he finds out that Marcos is avoiding Daisie. They find out about all those photographs and Villa tells her brother off. At the end of the episode, Marcos explains what is happening in his life and why he was avoiding his mother.

Slade and  Rosie have a talk about family and the captain putting himself at risk. Rosie also explains that since the condition was self inflicted he feels that Slade’s risk is unacceptable.

This was a good episode. It took a long time to find out who the killer was and when the reveal came it was the sister who not only killed the princess but she was also poisoning her mother.  It was a Disney-esque twist based on sibling rivalry  and greed.

Rosewood has always been about the charismatic Rosie, the relationship between he and Villa and the family he has built around himself. Villa’s family also figure into this equation and everyone in the circle is a part of Dr. Beaumont Rosewood Jr’s extended family.

It looks like next week will see the transplant take place and it will be interesting to see the outcome. Slade, who revealed to Rosie this week that he is more sinner than saint, has a doomed air about him that does not bode well.

While it took some time for the new captain to fit into Rosewood’s verse, he has finally become a fixture that works well in this Miami based crime show. Hopefully he will not expire “mid operation.”

Rosewood airs Fridays on FOX. Tune in to watch the dynamic duo of Morris Chestnut and Jaina Lee Ortiz. They are the hottest “non” couple on television at the moment. Do not miss out on their splendid chemistry.

Cast:

Guest starring Manny Montana as Marcos Villa, Ginifer King as Veronica Collins, Gina Hecht as Paula Benjamin, Ellen Wroe as Gretchen Benjamin, Kim Matula as Leanne Forrest and T.J. Linnard as Vince Hanna.

Nowhere Nevada (2013): A Boy and His Stripper (Review)

Nowhere Nevada is a “retro” film. A throwback to those brilliant days of “Drive-In” films like the old Hell’s Angels flicks, with an almost obligatory Bruce Dern appearance, and a hard grainy rock soundtrack. The film also has “A Boy and his Dog” feel to it, only in this case the animal has been replaced with a stripper.

Shot entirely in northern Nevada and featuring a solid soundtrack populated with musicians from that state, Nowhere Nevada is a rambling, disjointed road trip film. It is also a lot of fun.

Directed and cowritten by David Richards (the late Marianne Psota also wrote the screenplay) Nowhere Nevada is a loving homage to all things Nevada. The state that boasts strip clubs, gambling, a huge desert and Area 51 is another character in the movie that sees a couple of malcontents running away from a disgruntled drug lord.

T.J. (Jef Derderian) and Christy (Liz Cole) make off with some envelopes full of coke and money. They run into a group of random “local” characters as they run from “K” (Max Volume) and the film wanders from one situation to another. 

The cast includes what appears to be a number of real strippers, tattoos and all, a number of band members from various Nevada groups and a lot of performers who wanted to pay homage to the late screenwriter Psota.

Art imitates quirkiness in this “garage film.” Cinematographer, and editor, Tyler Bourns has, along with director Richards, put together a film that sometimes jumps eclectically from scene to scene. It is  an apparent homage to “Planet Terror” (that splendid homage to grindhouse films by Robert Rodriguez) and it works to the film’s advantage.

There is a small amount of nudity, as befits this type of retro film, and some discrete sex. The acting is not “top notch” but, again, it matches the feel of the film and its theme.

At 100 minutes the film is not overly long and while it is a tad disconnected, it entertains in an old-fashioned sort of way. (Think The Wild Angels and Bruce Dern…)

A solid 3 star film  Nowhere Nevada is worth watching if for no other reason than its ’60’s feel and that Area 51 quirkiness.