Review – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Director: Martin McDonagh

Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, Caleb Landry Jones, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes

Three BillboardsAn accomplished playwright and director for the stage with an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short, Irishman Martin McDonagh announced himself as a filmmaking talent to watch in 2008 with his brilliant debut feature In Bruges. However, his third and latest film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, takes him to a whole new level. A darkly comedic kick in the guts, this exploration of grief, anger, vengeance, but also forgiveness, is a firecracker of a movie that will make you sit up and take notice. Three Billboards is McDonagh’s best work and appears to be the frontrunner in this year’s Oscar race.

Outside Ebbing, Missouri (a fictional town), a trio of dilapidated, old billboards sit on a road rarely used since the arrival of the highway. Local woman Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) walks into the town advertising agency and, after rudimentary inquiries about what can and cannot be said on a billboard, puts a $5000 downpayment on the three billboards for a year. In simple black lettering on a red background they are to read: “Raped while dying,” “And still no arrests,” “How come, Chief Willoughby?” Continue reading

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The Doctor of Movies’ Top Ten of 2017

beguiled

10. The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola)

Sofia Coppola won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for her adaptation of Thomas P Cullinan’s novel, taking his tale of a man entering a world of women and bringing a distinctively female perspective, making for a different movie to Don Siegel’s 1971 version. A story about an injured Union soldier who takes shelter among the women of a small Virginian seminary during the Civil War, The Beguiled is part melodrama and part psychosexual thriller with just a dash of black comedy. An entrancing film, its tone is constantly shifting as we wonder who is manipulating who and watch a paradise become a prison. Full review.

 

Spider-Man Homecoming

9. Spider-Man: Homecoming (John Watts)

The superhero movie continues to be the blockbuster form of the moment and 2017 offered up three good ones: Spider-Man: Homecoming, Logan and Wonder Woman. Logan was the most audacious, Wonder Woman was the most important, but for mine Spider-Man: Homecoming was the best blockbuster of the year. Part superhero movie, part John Hughes high school drama, it is energetic, funny and exuberant, and unlike Thor: Ragnarok (which I was not as high on as many others), did not sacrifice genuine emotion to get its laughs. It even has a good villain, long the achilles heel of the Marvel movies. After finally striking a deal with Sony Pictures, Marvel Studios didn’t waste the opportunity once they got their hands back on their number one commodity. Full review.

 

Baby Driver

8. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright)

Edgar Wright’s stylistically ambitious action/heist/music video Baby Driver is the coolest film of 2017. More than just a film with a killer soundtrack, Wright used the music as a key structural element of his movie. Allowing songs to play out in their entirety, he choreographed the action to the soundtrack. While such meticulous planning could have made the film feel mechanical, it doesn’t. Rather the whole thing feels like a dance. While somewhat lacking at a human, character level, it is an exhilarating film experience. In light of recent revelations, though, it will be interesting to see if the presence of Kevin Spacey in the cast has any impact on Baby Driver’s replay value. Full review.

 

moonlight_ver2

7. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

This year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture was an intimate, nuanced coming-of-age film which marked a massive step forward for the presence of LGBTQI cinema in the mainstream. A complex exploration of African-American masculinity and adolescent homosexuality, Moonlight tells the story of its lead character at three specific points in his young life, using a different actor to portray each stage with each actor bringing something distinct to their manifestation of the character. With a visual beauty that is not common for social realist drama and some very strong performances (most notably Mahershala Ali’s Oscar winning turn as drug dealer and mentor Juan), Barry Jenkins has taken a queer, black story, which you would assume to be niche, and made it universal. Full review.

 

Mother

6. mother! (Darren Aronofsky)

This is probably my most controversial selection because a lot of people hated this film, and I mean properly hated it. However, I don’t think I thought about a film this year as much as I thought about mother!. Darren Aronofsky’s allegory for the relationship between humanity, nature and the creator is a challenging and confronting piece of art that is intended to elicit a strong reaction. The very definition of a film that is ‘not for everyone,’ mother! will frustrate and disgust you, making you equal parts uncomfortable and angry. But whether you love it or hate it, you will think about it and you will want to talk about it. Full review.

 

Big Sick

5. The Big Sick (Michael Showalter)

First-time screenwriters and married couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon drew on the true story of their own unconventional courtship to create the year’s best romantic comedy. Nanjiani, a stand-up comedian best known for his role in Silicon Valley, plays himself, reliving the experience of his new girlfriend (with Zoe Kazan portaying Gordon) being placed in an induced coma while his traditional Pakistani family were unaware he was seeing a white girl. With its unique scenario and examination of the migrant experience, The Big Sick takes a genre that is often derided for being a bit formulaic and makes it insightful and personal while still being incredibly entertaining. There are also some very good supporting performances from Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents. Full review.

 

silence

4. Silence (Martin Scorsese)

While films like The Departed, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street have seen Martin Scorsese enjoying the most commercially successful period of his celebrated career, Silence is his most unashamedly uncommercial film in decades. Based on the novel by Shusaku Endo about Jesuit missionaries in imperial Japan (which Scorsese first read back in 1989), it is a long, slow and challenging meditation on questions of faith and doubt. Scorsese’s Catholic upbringing has always been one of the primary influences on his filmmaking, and Silence is a good companion piece to his earlier wrestles with faith in The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Thanks to Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography and Dante Ferretti’s production design, it is also one of the most beautiful looking films of the year. Full review.

 

la-la-land

3. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)

While thanks to Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty and the team from Price Waterhouse Coopers La La Land is destined to be immortalised in trivia competitions as the only film to be incorrectly awarded Best Picture as the Oscars, that should not detract from how wonderful a film it is in its own right. After its haul of 14 Oscar nominations it is easy to forget how risky a proposition this film was. There hadn’t been an original musical of any significance come out of Hollywood since Newsies in 1992. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling may not be the world’s most polished singers and dancers but they share great onscreen chemistry, and with Damien Chazelle’s flair for directing with music and Justin Hurwitz’s fantastic score, La La Land was a joyous piece of uplifting, escapist entertainment. Full review.

 

Get Out

2. Get Out (Jordan Peele)

Get Out was the film which came out of nowhere to become the cinematic talking point of early 2017 and remains the best reviewed film of the year. On the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Get Out borrows that central premise – a white girl bringing her black boyfriend home to meet her unknowing family – but takes it in an entirely different, and far creepier, direction. Written and directed by Jordan Peele, best known as one half of the sketch comedy duo Key & Peele, Get Out functions simultaneously as a top-shelf piece of horror cinema and a sharp, zeitgeisty piece of social commentary. Full review.

 

I Am Not Your Negro

1. I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)

A surprise pick for number one as I doubt it is featuring on many such lists, but I saw this documentary at the Sydney Film Festival this year and it blew me away. I Am Not Your Negro brings to life author, intellectual and activist James Baldwin’s unrealised book ‘Remember this House,’ a personal account of his experience of the murders of his three friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Using archival footage of Baldwin, plus excerpts from the treatment for the unpublished work unrecognisably performed by Samuel L. Jackson, Raoul Peck tells the whole story in Baldwin’s distinctive voice. A great thinker, Baldwin was speaking hard truths in the 1960s which remain hard truths today. If you can find it, see it. Full review.

 

The Next Best (alphabetical): Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve), Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan), Happy End (Michael Haneke), Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi), Loga(James Mangold), Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson), The Teacher (Jan Hrebejk), War for the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves), Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins)

The Worst Movie of the Year:

Rough Night

Rough Night (Lucia Aniello)

Oh, how I wanted this to be good. We are in somewhat of a golden period of screen comediennes, and while dude-bros might kick up a stink about which is the appropriate gender for busting ghosts, there have been some really good female driven comedies in recent years. But Rough Night set its gender-flipping sights on a sub-genre – the massive party/night out that goes horribly wrong – which largely produces terrible films so, true to form, it is too. It even caused a small controversy, outraging the sex industry for its characters’ flippant reaction to the death of a stripper. As fate would have it, the similarly themed Girls Trip came out shortly after and received much better reviews.

By Duncan McLean

Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Andy Serkis, Benicio Del Toro, Gwendoline Christie

Star Wars Last Jedi

When The Force Awakens was released in 2015 to relaunch the Star Wars saga it had three specific functions: nostalgia, preparation, and reassurance. It had to remind audiences why they loved Star Wars, it had to establish the new generation of characters who were going to take on the franchise from our old favourites moving forward, and, after the prequel trilogy, it had to leave us confident that they weren’t going to screw this up. The result was a film that was a lot of fun, but was fairly criticised for playing it a bit safe. It set a platform and Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth episode in the storied saga, has built on that platform. Nowhere near as dependent on nostalgia as The Force Awakens or even Rogue One, The Last Jedi is liberated to be more adventurous with its narrative. Continue reading

Review – Detroit (2017)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jacob Latimore, Ben O’Toole, Jack Reynor, Hannah Murray, Kaitlyn Dever, Jason Mitchell, Anthony Mackie, John Krasinski

Detroit

Fifty years on from the Detroit riots, and with the issue of police brutality to African Americans very much still alive, Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow brings the horrific story of the Algiers Motel Incident, in which a dozen black men were tortured by police with three ending up dead, to the big screen. Bigelow, collaborating for the third time with screenwriter Mark Boal, has shown herself to have a special talent for examining human stories against the backdrop of violent conflict. We saw it in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty and we see it again, albeit in a different way, in Detroit.

In the Fox Theatre Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and his group The Dramatics are waiting to go on stage for a gig they hope will be their big break only to have the show suddenly cancelled when police demands that everyone be sent home due the growing disquiet in the streets outside. Feeling sorry for himself, Larry and his friend Fred (Jacob Latimore) head to the Algiers Motel to stay off the streets until the trouble blows over. Continue reading

Review – The Beguiled (2017)

Director: Sofia Coppola

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Reicke, Emma Howard

beguiled

Thomas P Cullinan’s 1966 novel The Beguiled was first adapted for the screen by Don Siegel in 1971 with Clint Eastwood in the lead (immediately preceding their collaboration on Dirty Harry) in a film which played up the story’s horror elements. Writer-director Sofia Coppola’s adaptation, for which she won best director at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is a different film. While also a trimmed down, streamlined version of Cullinan’s story, Coppola gives it a distinctively feminist perspective, aligning our point of view with the female characters.

1864, Virginia. It is three years into the American Civil War, the result of which is becoming clearer by the day. A young girl, Amy (Oona Laurence), finds a wounded Yankee soldier, Corp. John McBurney (Colin Farrell) in the woods and offers to take him back to Ms Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies for treatment. Continue reading

Review – Justice League (2017)

Director: Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Mamoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, David Thewlis

Justice League

While it had all sorts of problems and received a pasting from critics around the world, one thing you have to hand to Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is that it swung for the fences. It had an idea and committed to it. It just didn’t end up being an idea which connected with audiences. Justice League, the latest film from Warner Brothers’ much maligned DC Extended Universe, is a significantly less ambitious movie. A gun shy film which shows more evidence of being chastened by the reaction to Batman vs Superman than emboldened by the success of Wonder Woman, it plays it safe and, as a result, ends up being entirely bland and largely forgettable.

Chronologically, Justice League is a sequel to Batman vs Superman rather than Wonder Woman. We find the world still mourning the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), and his passing has left it vulnerable.  Winged Parademons who feed on fear have started showing up at Gotham and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is convinced that they herald something much worse on its way. Continue reading