Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: the mother of a murdered teenager goes head to head with the local town’s police department. This film tickles and jokes with you then WHAM, punches you in the kidney, again, and again, and again. I’ve never been in a screening where the audience went from rapturous crying-with-laughter straight in to shock, fear, or dread in a split second. Performance-wise, picking out an individual would be unfair as everyone is sublime: Rockwell steals his scenes with superb comic delivery, whereas Harrelson and McDormand show real heart, and damn near everyone else in the top-to-bottom dream cast brings their A-game. The direction is never in yer face, but it immaculately handles the comedy and emphasizes every twist, turn, and reveal that the ultra-tight screenplay has to offer (no line of dialogue is wasted). The plot is harrowing, yet it unfolds in such an anarchic way that you’re never sure what’s around the corner. The only complaints I can level at the film are that it has about 5 natural endings, but keeps chugging on at an even slower pace (and what’s with the midget obsession; there was no need for the character to be a midget other than the cheap laughs). Three Billboards takes the notion of a ‘Tragicomedy’ and pushes both aspects as far as they can go, making it an absolute rollercoaster of emotions for the viewer. Powerful, emotive, and raw; I wouldn’t grudge this film any of the awards that it’s up for.
“RAPED WHILE DYING”
“AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”
“HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”
Winter’s Bone: an old-before-her-time teenager must hunt down her estranged father in order to keep her house, and troubled family together. The general structure of almost any film is: set up, complication(s), and resolution. In Winter’s Bone all three sections consist of Jennifer Lawrence running around in the wilderness looking for her dad, which is so flat and one-dimensional that it tires very quickly. Almost every scene plays out like this – “Is my dad here?” “Can’t tell you child”, “tell me”, “no” – repeat x40. It’s also tear-inducingly bleak in it’s visuals and style – everything greyed out and void of any interest. It’s all a bit Cormac McCarthy-esque, not unlike The Road. Lawrence is decent – in a Hungry–Games style role – but the standout for me is her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) who is absolutely spellbinding. What with all of the plaudits this comes with, you can’t help but feel a bit cheated by it. A very, very solemn version of “Dude, where’s my Dad?”
Ghost Shark: when a wounded shark floats into a satanic cave and dies its ghost comes back with a vengeance, leaving any amount of water unsafe: swimming pools, baths, puddles, cups, even rain! What do you want from a SyFy direct-to-video film called “Ghost Shark”? Bikinis and gore per chance? For a 15-rated shark romp there’s an abundance of both: the film uses every scene as an excuse to show some bikini-rocking babes, and there’s a bunch of great gore moments – people being bit in half, split in half, pulled down toilets ass-first and chomped into tiny buckets of soapy water – it’s all well beyond what you’re used to from these films. Despite the knowing tongue-in-cheek feel of the film it’s one of the better shot and acted SyFy affairs (for what that’s worth!) I’m not even going to start on the plot, because, well it’s about a shark that is a ghost – and the title alone should tell you everything you need to know about the level of the film. While Ghost Shark won’t be winning any Academy awards next year, it tears chunks out of the recent slew of shark–based monster movies.
Real Steel: in the near future professional boxers have been replaced by robots; this film follows the highs and lows of a struggling ex-boxer in this new era, and relationship with his estranged son. I’ll put it out there straight away – I loved Real Steel. Something else to note up front is that Virgin, HP, Ray Ban, Dr Pepper, Bing, X-Box 720, Wired, Sprint, Budweiser, Beats By Dre & ESPN logos (to name but a few) are shamelessly crowbarred into centre frame at every opportunity. Back to the film, there’s an equally shameless cheese-rammed story of sporting underdogs, and runaway dads, that’s quite predictable but surprisingly well-played. The action is absolutely fantastic – jaw-droppingly impressive CGI helps – especially for the fights, which are amazing to watch. More generally, the film is brilliantly shot and photographed. Jackman’s on good form, and the kid’s not too annoying – all other characters are tertiary stereotypes, like the Russian billionaire and advanced Japanese tech nerds, but they make for great baddies and push a subtle all-American vibe that’s rarely seen at the moment. It’d be easy to dismiss this as ‘Rocky with Robots’, but Real Steel landed every single punch on me; it’s such a boys film, with a classic comeback story, training montages, cool gadgets, big action, robots hitting each other, manliness, and plenty (albeit mostly unintentional) laughs. This is what big-budget movies are all about for me – story, spectacle and entertainment. It’s the most fun I’ve had in the cinema all year, can’t wait for the sequel.
Score: 8.5 /10
Whatever Works: follows the story of two polar opposites as they fall in love in New York. It boasts Woody Allen and Larry David but hasn’t even been mentioned in the UK yet – someone sort this out! It’s pretty much what you expect from these two: a patchwork of ‘Curb’ and classic Woody Allen. Larry David plays an angrier and more hateful version of himself, yet his dry and honest dialogue ensures he remains likable – and his chess teachings are immense! There’s a few references to the audience, which is typical Allen, but seems a bit uncool these days. Not much effort has been put in to the characters either: ditsy girl, genius, free spirit, christian etc. Despite this, it’s a great story that’s surprisingly upbeat and enjoyable to watch. With some laugh out loud moments, New York, bouncy music and a witty script it marks a good return to form – especially following Vicky Christina Barcelona, which was also surprisingly enjoyable. Old school Allen nails a modern Screwball.
No Country for Old Men: Javier Bardem stole the show for me as a believably chilling psychopath, although Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones both nailed their characters with conviction. The story’s brilliant, and has the trademark Coen brothers look, feel and occasional black comedy moments. There’s also a couple few scenes where the suspense is unbearable, something that’s hard to pull off. Set in 1980, it says a lot about the new-age crime, criminals and violence at the time and how traditional police struggle to solve, or even understand it. The last 30 minutes are quite weak, and the loose ends will annoy some people. Top-drawer film that it well worth watching.