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?”
Out of the Furnace: when his kid brother disappears after getting involved in redneck bare-knuckle boxing, his stoic brother takes the law into his own hands. The acting is nothing short of stupendous; everyone is in full on beast mode; although Casey Affleck does his trademark mumbling incoherency shtick – which is becoming pretty tiresome / irksome. Despite the array of colossal performances topped by Bale and Harrelson, the film is completely marred by a time-bendingly-slow pace, which makes it seem like a 4-hour affair. It’d be like watching Aryton Senna do a Formula 1 circuit in on a mobility scooter. When you’re filling an already lengthy movie with unnecessarily long aerial takes of a car driving through woods, and a time-consuming barely relevant sub-plots (like drink driving) – your editor needs to take a running jump. As the buildup to the finale is so agonisingly drawn out, the end – although satisfying – is ultimately underwhelming. Despite being a more grim version of the boxing sub-plot from Snatch, this it’s a gritty portrayal of a broken American steeltown community in decline. A very Eastwoodian sleeper, but only because it makes you want to sleep…
Seven Psychopaths: whilst working on his screenplay titled “Seven Psychopaths” a struggling writer gets caught up in his best friend’s dog-snatching scheme. This film takes crime-thriller genre head on, and turns all of the well-worn tropes on their heads for fun, and to make a stale genre more entertaining. More than anything else, the film is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny – to the point where, if you like the absurd, risqué and offensive humour, you will have a sore face by the end: the epic imagined gunfight/showdown in the graveyard had almost everyone in the cinema crying with laughter. There’s lots of top acting from the leading men (Rockwell storms the film, although he does have the best character and funniest lines) but the ladies on the other hand – other than Walken‘s wife – don’t get much of a look-in. So there’s an entertaining story, good characters, lots of jokes – but there’s a catch: the film is let down by trying to be far too self-aware and ‘filmy’ to the point of being a quite ‘wanky’. There’s a scene in the middle film where the characters have just had a load of action and are driving to the desert, while talking about the middle of the ‘seven psychopaths’ script, where the characters are driving to the desert after an action-packed first half… I was almost chewing my fingers off with cringery. Seven Psychopaths ends up being a violent, sweary, funny and entertaining black comedy caper, with a promising ‘real’ plot is hampered by the quirky/indie emphasis of the ‘film-within-a-film’ sub-plot.
1. She thinks she’s hot Shih Tzu
2. The non-violent one
3. The seemingly normal one
4. He won’t take any Shih Tzu
5. The Passive-aggressive girlfriend
6. The one with the bunny
7. The one with issues
The Hunger Games: set in a dystopian future, teens from 12 impoverished districts must fight to the death in a custom-built arena, where only one can survive, and it’s broadcast live. The biggest problem is the overlong setup – even if it is kicking off a franchise, a totalitarian, elite ruling class keeping the rest of society in the pits doesn’t need to be explained or dwelled on for over an hour (it also makes the ending feel majorly rushed). The Capitol – imaginative name for a city – itself is pretty stupid; granted it’s unique, but the clothes / hair / beard and furniture designs were all beyond silly and ridiculous. The acting roster is great, there’s a few shaky characters (sister / mum / BF) but once it leaves district 12 it’s mostly decent from both young and old. Woody and Hutcherson in particular are magnetic presences – Katinis is also decent, but you learn far more about her in the games than the actual character building nonsense. Other than the pacing issues, CGI dogs, and a few poorly edited, bloodless, fight-scenes the film’s petty solid, and looks great. The difference-maker between The Hunger Games being received as good or great will depend on age; anyone old enough to have seen the dozens of movies with sci-fi city-scapes, morally bankrupt quest for ratings, or organised deathmatches, will no doubt feel that this is retreading old ground. But if I was 12 and seeing all of that for the first time, I’d probably shit my pants with excitement.
Seven Pounds: (Blu Ray) can’t mention any aspect of the story without giving it away, but this is essentially ‘The Will Smith Experience’ as he plays a stern, distant and socially awkward man with a questionable past. This film stews for far too long, not revealing any of the story for the first hour, starts making sense at the 1:30 mark and the penny finally drops at 1:45. For me this is far too long to rely on a single revelation, and will leave some viewers feeling short-changed or completely zoned out. The 5.1 mix is faint but atmospheric although the picture’s pretty colourless and a lot of the shots are deliberately unclear so this isn’t worth getting on BD, unless you really like Will Smith’s hair. Because they get so little screen time the supporting cast feel like a bunch of necessary extras. Not a lot else to say really, underwhelming.
Zombieland: the latest ‘Zom-Com’ pushing the genre further into the mainstream, follows a small band of survivors two months after a zombie outbreak. There’s thirty-odd ‘rules to survival’ although you only hear about six, which is a bit pants. The four humans carry the film well, and the chemistry between them is believable; Eisenberg plays a Michael Cera typecast and Woody Harrelson nails one of the coolest characters in recent cinema history. It does go some longish spells without zombies and there aren’t that many in general, but the script and humour keep things rolling despite the story never really going forward. There’s some great and graphic gore throughout and the slow-mo blood-drenched credits are brilliant. The 15 minute cameo spent massaging BM’s ego was nothing more than filler. It’s really enjoyable and will have finished before you know it. Top drawer zombie/road movie.