Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is everything a great movie should be, it’s a smart thriller, a black comedy drama, a murder mystery and a riveting journey, a skillfully executed high wire act. It requires close attention to absorb the myriad ways it looks at our nature and the plot twists. Frances McDormand is on fire as a mother whose daughter was raped and murdered; enraged that local police can’t or won’t solve the crime. She erects billboards calling out police indifference; reaction is swift and negative but she only ramps up her activism, getting physical, verbal and more. A friend’s arrested and suddenly the police are paying attention to her. Sam Rockwell is the dumb racist cop who refuses to re- open the dead girl’s file while Woody Harrelson, the sheriff suddenly acts as fast as he can to make an arrest. Each character is alive with detail and meaning. McDormand definitely be nominated and, depending on The Post with Meryl Streep, should win. Rockwell will be nominated but every single performance is out of the park, including John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters and the astoundingly capable stage actress Sandy Martin as Rockwell’s mother. It’s crammed with important side stories, rich with emotion and authenticity. Run don’t walk to see this.
Justice League unites Batman and Wonder Woman against, you guessed it, a huge mankind-destroying threat, actually an old one born anew. They must gather together the superheroes and bring in newbies but even for them the task is formidable. Jason Momoa makes his much anticipated appearance as Aquaman and there’s Cyborg and The Flash. So will our mighty, mighty heroes do it? Will they save the earth? Probably. History is future and all. Wonder Woman is the top grossing of all the DC film titles and that’s some drawing power. On the other hand Justice League was delayed due to production problems so IDK. And the burning question is – will the League trounce Thor?
Wonder stars Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as the parents of a boy (Jacob Tremblay, from Quebec!) born with facial differences that prevent him from going to regular school. By fifth grade this mother thinks it’s high time he stepped into the world and went to school. He is well received and is seen as a hero, inspiring compassion in his new classmates and teachers. Augie’s journey teaches him that “you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out”. This is a nicely timed family film that is empowering for kids and parents.
Sweet Virginia is southern fried Gothic crime dirge starring Jon Bernthal as a rodeo star sidelined by too many concussions, who now runs a motel. Christopher Abbot is a sweet-faced thug who would rather murder someone in broad daylight than talk to them. Imogen Poots hires him to kill her husband so she can cash in on the insurance he says he has, then she befriends the wife of a man for whose death she’s responsible and she’s under surveillance. The spiral continues to tighten; its claustrophobic, insanely wicked and yet has grace, a daring take on small town values. Jamie Dagg’s direction allows space for thought and leaves much to our imagination and puzzle solving skills. The look, sound and feel are definitely dirge like. Fine viewing for a certain kind of mood.
Netflix’ Mudbound vividly captures the 1940s American South in a film based on the international bestselling novel by Hillary Jordan. Mudbound’s set firmly in the world of rural southern race culture and it’s as uncomfortable a film as that suggests. It’s a masterful work by filmmaker Dee Rees with powerful performances from each and every actor. Mary J. Blige has her Burning Bed moment in the gorgeous, measured and mature performance as a slave who’s seen too much but retained her humanity and dignity. Pappy, the racist, poisonous old slave owner played with hellfire by Jonathan Banks is unforgettable and his sons played by Jason Clarke and Garret Hedlund show us degrees of compassion within that rancid world. The poetry of the film found in the natural world and the quiet shared moments of trust and love sit in sharp contrast to the systemic cruelty that for four hundred years was the American way of life.
From Russian filmmaker Andrey Konchalovsky comes the Silver Lion Award winner Paradise.Olga, a Russian aristocrat, former editor of French Vogue and now a resistance fighter in WWII is arrested and interned in a concentration camp for trying to save Jewish children. She gives sexual favours to a Nazi officer who gives her luxuries until he is shot by the resistance. A young officer being eyed for a top position when Hitler retires to live the life of a wandering artist seems only on the edge of understanding what the Nazi regime is doing. He sees Olga in the camp and remembers their flirtation many years earlier in Italy and hires her as his cleaner. The film is black and white, alternating between camera-facing monologues and dramatic action. Daily life in the camp is made to seem ordinary even banal, but it’s in the details. Strange, polarising film.
Trumping Democracy was released as “Unfair Game” in France earlier this year, a study of fake news and the Trump presidency. Filmmaker and “fake news” expert Thomas Huchon rejigged it for North American audiences to be as timely as possible and it is nerve shredding. Huchon looks at the connection between national and international politics and how disinformation works, focussing on ultra-conservative billionaire Robert Mercer and his investments in Breitbart News and the data firm Cambridge Analytica and involvement creating fake news. He padded out the Trump campaign with sympathetic staffers and used social media to micro-target voters using Facebook dark posts often reposted by Trump’s children. Huchon graphs Trump’s statements since the dark day he came to power and finds Trump tells the truth 4% of the time. The doc will be available to stream on Amazon and Vimeo Nov, 21st with a DVD release to follow.
If you’re fan of The Crown season two isn’t far off. The series about the ins and outs of the British Royal family is a huge hit and Season Two fabulous, or at least the couple of episodes I sneaked. Heavy indeed lies the head that wears the crown. Queen Elizabeth struggles with an unfaithful husband, her son’s unwise picks for girlfriends and a frustrating inability to speak out on political issues. Mores the pity because she has been a lot over the decades, what works, what doesn’t and what is best for the Commonwealth. She’s also in a fractious relationship with her sister Princess Margaret, who appears to resent Elizabeth’s position and acts out by drinking, smoking and bedding celebrities. And of course, Her Majesty must keep it all to herself and do the family job with that famous stiff upper lip. Season Two begins Dec 8th on Netflix. Jolly good fun.
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