Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – A Movie Review


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3 BillboardsDarkly comic, incendiary and riveting, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a whiplash inducing experience. At one moment, the film has the audience laughing at something absurd and hilarious. Then, in the next, the movie turns to something sobering and disturbing. Perhaps one of the points of Three Billboards is that very feeling, that life and death come at us from such bizarre angles and at such unpredictable times, that we often do not know whether we should laugh, cry, scream or sob. If that was the goal of the film, well done, all. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards has (and I am going to try NOT to make this a motif of the review) three things going for it: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell. All three are nominated for Academy Awards and the nominations are more than well deserved. Theirs are brave performances, performances that shine lights in dark places, that resonate with realism and, specifically in the cases of McDormand and Rockwell, that illustrate something ugly that lurks in us all.

They are all but impossible from which to look away.

McDormand is predictably brilliant as Mildred Harris, a mother turned inside out by the grief she feels over the rape and murder of her only daughter. Dissatisfied with the efforts of the police at solving the case, Mildred pays for the three billboards that lend themselves to the film’s title, billboards that call out law enforcement in general and the Chief of Police in particular for their lack of action. This is a role that few other than McDormand could assay. She is riveting in rage and pain and laughter. She paints a character who is unkind and unfocused, lashing out at anything that moves. She is often hard to watch but McDormand is fully in command.

Harrelson’s Chief Whilloughby is another note-for-note perfect Harrelson creation. How good has Woody Harrelson become? Of all the characters in movie, Whilloughby comes off as the most rational and reasonable but Harrelson is not satisfied to play him straight. Rather, what may have been a simplistic performance in the hands of a lesser talent becomes a brilliant one. He, too, is nominated for an Academy Award, nominated for cause. In a movie of great performances, his is the most measured and the most heartbreaking.

Let us make that three acting nominations as Sam Rockwell, too, gets a nod for his work as Dixon, an unrepentant, uneducated racist cop who is loyal to Whilloughby to a fault. A monster of emotion who seems, much like McDormand, to let his rage flow in all directions, Dixon becomes a surprising (and some feel disappointing) focal point of the movie. Rockwell somehow manages to keep the audience interested in Dixon. That is something of a feat.

Martin McDonagh’s film is up for Best Picture and he is nominated for Best Original Screenplay among others and all of those accolades are certainly deserved. There is a lot going on in Three Billboards, but left inconclusive, most of it, frankly, is unappealing. Moral quandaries of deep complexity are introduced then shattered by anger. Characters face themselves in their darkest places and often find ways to go to places even darker still. Themes overlap and intertwine and provide no easy answers or resolutions. On many levels, Three Billboards is quite hard to watch. Moral murkiness does not always equate with brilliance, however, and I wish that Three Billboards would have taken a few more stands on the themes – the many, many themes – it so well introduces. An enticing set up is not the movie’s problem. Paying it off is.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI receives THREE AND A HALF WELL, BILLBOARDS out of a possible FIVE.

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Black Panther – A Movie Review


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Black Panther

I will restrain myself from pronouncing Black Panther the best of the Marvel Studios movies. 

For now.

However, you can certainly believe the hype: Black Panther is a wonderful movie – thought provoking, beautiful, exciting, uplifting – and it deserves each accolade it is receiving. On its way to a massive and record opening, Black Panther will, like Wonder Woman last summer, likely serve as a touchstone that will change the way people think about superhero movies.

Actually, it is likely to change the way people think about movies in general. More on that later.

Black Panther does many amazing things, primary among them is passing itself off as a comic book movie. It simply is not or, rather, it is much more than that. Sure, there are the trappings of the superhero story: a young man receives special gifts and powers upon the death of this father and, after fighting through self-doubt and challengers, assumes the mantle of hero. Each-and-every box of that trope is fully checked. Black Panther (played by a very engaging and well cast Chadwick Boseman who premiered in the role in Captain America: Civil War) has a super suit, super powers and is super clear in his mission. He is also a wonderful hero. But he does not act alone.

Of the many surprises Black Panther has in store for its audience, one of the most delightful is that it is actually an ensemble movie. Perhaps even more delightful – and important – is that the ensemble is comprised almost exclusively of women. On hand and in roles which are just as prominent as Boseman’s are Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Danai Gurira as Okoye and Leticia Wright as Shuri. Nakia is a secret agent just as competent as the Panther, Okoye is a member of the Panther’s royal guard who is clearly a superior fighter to him and Shuri is the most brilliant character on screen. I wanted to see more of these women that the movie (even at 2 hours and 14 minutes) had time to showcase. Each performance was wonderful and nuanced. Each was full of surprises. Factor in Forrest Whittaker and Angela Bassett in supporting roles as well and you have put together an amazing cast. Each of them, like the movie overall, exceeds expectation.

Michael B. Jordan is remarkable as Eric Killmonger, the protagonist in the film. He embodies Killmonger with complexity and pathos and overcomes some of the typical, villain must be connected to the hero plot devices that plague these movies. His rage is as believable as him being an equal to Black Panther and, when the final showdown comes, Boseman and Jordan are well suited for it and well matched.

The movie itself is unlike any of the others which have proceeded it. There is precious little world building or fan service here and Black Panther is the better for the absence. One part James Bond movie, one part mediation on race, one part celebration of all cultures and one part action movie, Black Panther is simply a terrific and captivating experience that will resonate far beyond the manner in which other comic book movies do. Black Panther wants to be what it is, yes: a Marvel Superhero Movie. But it wants to be – and IS – much more than that. It will have to be counted on any “best of” list of Marvel films and I wonder, way in the back of my head, if we will be talking about it when Academy Award nominations for 2018 are announced early next year. 

We should be.

It will continue to smash box office records and reasons it has struck such a note with the general public will be considered, written about and debated. And that is a good thing. The movie gives lie to the idea that a film starring a black cast, featuring black creators and discussing themes of race cannot be a hit with a broad audience.

And thank God for that.

I am looking forward to Boseman and many of the rest of the cast appearing this summer in Avengers: Infinity War and I cannot wait for Black Panther 2

BLACK PANTHER receives FIVE ARMORED RHINOS out of a possible FIVE.

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Countdown to INFINITY… Iron Man 3


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ONE A WEEK UNTIL Avengers Infinity War opens in May!

Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk| Iron Man II Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy \ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Captain America: Civil War | Doctor Strange |            Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther

Week Seven: IRON MAN 3

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 is one of my favorite Christmas movies. Did you forget it takes place over the holiday? It is also smart and fun and directly deals with fallout from Avengers. Though there are many for whom the big reveal of the identity of the Mandarin did not land, it absolutely worked overtime for me. Almost every choice made in Iron Man 3 works. It is a much superior sequel to Iron Man 2. 

It is surprisingly funny and it might be Robert Downey jr’s best performance in the role of Tony Stark which is surely saying something. The movie’s main antagonist, Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian, is a slight improvement over the typical villain. And the chemistry between Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow along with the dynamic between Downey and Don Cheadle is terrific, too.

Iron Man 3 is a very much self contained affair. There is very little world building here and the majority of the plot threads it introduces are not really revisited again. It also takes on some of the most “grown up” themes of any of the Marvel films.

And the initial segment of the closing credits – the Hart to Hart homage, the driving and super-duper theme song by Brian Tyler and the images from all 3 Iron Many movies – is too much fun.

Iron Man 3 plays like the final installment in Iron Man’s solo adventures, and so it has been.

 

Iron Man 3 premiered before I was blogging reviews, but it receives FOUR AND A HALF DORA THE EXPLORER WATCHES out of a possible FIVE.


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • The Mandarin
  • Tony’s army of Iron Man suits (which are, of course, destroyed in the context of the movie)

CONNECTION(S) TO INFINITY WAR:

  • The kind of artificial intelligence that is seen in the new suits sets up a plot point of Avengers: Age of Ultron which will lead to Captain America: Civil War which will… you get the point.
  • Stay for the post credit scene which continues the development of the so-called “science bros” rapport between Tony and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner.
  • We know that Tony puts his armor back on before Avengers: Age of Ultron, but the audience is never actually told why or how.

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Link’n’Blogs – 2.16.18: Everything You Need to Know about Black Panther


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I loved Lincoln Logs when I was a kid. Though I never entertained the idea that I would be a designer, engineer or architect, something about putting together these wooden and plastic pieces was simply simple fun. Connecting to ideas through the blogosphere seems similar to this pursuit, hence the title of this weekly post. Each Friday, I intend to post something interesting I’ve read out there on the internets. Hopefully others will find these posts as thought provoking as I have.

If the hype machine is to be trusted (it isn’t typically, but I hope it is in this case), Black Panther is the best of the Marvel movies to date. That would be very cool as he is also one of the least known of the Marvel characters to receive a film. Get ready for the movie with Cosmopolitan’s all you need to know about the Black Panther by clicking T’Challa (do you know what that is?) below…

Black Panther Kirby

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Get Out – A Movie Review


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GetOut0

Any movie that makes a reviewer analyze the fine differences between allegory and symbolism must have something going on, right? Any movie you cannot shake immediately after viewing, that creeps up on you, that keeps playing with your head long after the final reel has some gravitas, yes? Any movie that grabs you and holds on to you is a cut above the usual fare, true?

Get Out does all of the above and more.

Look for metaphor, for symbol, for allegory and you will find it. Or, do not. Just watch the film for what it is (at least on one level): an enjoyable, terrifying thriller that is all but prescient in plot and theme.

First time writer/director Jordan Peele hits the ball so far out of the park with Get Out that it seems unfair to him. What in the world will he do for a second act? His debut feature is entertaining, taut, watchable and timely. It has immense staying power, lingering in the recesses of the brain – perhaps “taunting” the brain is a more apt verb. Get Out knowingly, lovingly, manipulatively taunts its audience.

And that is so much fun.

This is a hard movie to pin down in terms of genre. It is billed a horror film and produced by a horror movie house, but it is not precisely horror. It plays out as a thriller, but it is not quite that. It is very funny – surprisingly funny – but it is not a comedy. Get Out defies categorization in the best way.

Simply put, it is absolutely original and we need more movies like it.

There is a reason Get Out has been nominated for major Academy Awards. It is up for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay because the movie is that good and the accolades are very well deserved.

Peele as a writer and director distinguishes himself immediately with a singular vision that he is able to realize on the screen. His choices, from casting to locations to scene work, are spot on and each supports the over-arching themes of the film. The more I consider the film, the more I realize there is very little left to chance. The package of Get Out is very impressive, each line of dialogue, each plot point, each image on which the camera lingers is placed where it is and when it is in service of the whole. And it is these individual pieces that stay with viewers. Peele has created a wonderful film.

Daniel Kaluuya is stunning and pitch perfect. The ultimate terror his Chris Washington displays by the end of the film is as convincing as the character’s initial confidence. As events being to unravel around him, Kaluuya breaks down by degrees – by degrees both subtle and shocking – and the audience goes on the hellish ride with him. He is the stand-in for the audience in the film and though he is treated like anything but an everyman by the characters in the movie, Kaluuya has an accessible persona and it is a critical persona to succeed in this role. If the audience cannot relate to his Chris, the movie does not work.

It does work, largely because of him.

The rest of the cast are no slouches, either. Allison Williams, in particular, is something else. To say more than that would be a disservice. Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford are on hand in support roles and any movie that can attract their talent in support work must be doing something right.

In a recent spate of movies determinedly not giving audience what they expect (The Last Jedi anyone?) Get Out delightfully subverts expectations. Knowledge of the plot and proceedings of the movie cannot prepare one adequately for where the film goes or for the journey on which it takes the audience. Frightening, thrilling and fun, Get Out is a movie that works on many, many levels. It works on every level Peele conceived and that, in-and-of-itself, is something to see.

Get Out deserves the recognition it is receiving. Do not let anyone tell you differently. I have not been able to shake it, and I do not want to.

GET OUT receives FOUR AND A HALF SILVER SPOONS out of a possible FIVE.

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Love At The End… February 14, 2018


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A simple promise on Valentine’s Day… and, appropriately enough, it comes from a story The Cinnamon Girl (my Valentine) shared with me.

When the end of my days arrives, I hope to be able to speak in those final moments, to be peaceful in the approach and to tell those I love just how much I love them.

I hope to be able to tell The Cinnamon Girl just how much she has taught me love, how much she has changed my world, how much she has made me better.

But here is the promise, if I am not able to speak, if death comes too quickly, know this: just because my last words were not “I love my Cinnamon Girl” only means I did not have the time or ability to say it.

It will surely be my last thought.

Happy Valentine’s Day to my Valentine.

Cinnamon and me final

You see us together…

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The Best Sequential Art I Read Last Week: February 7 – 13, 2018


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I am a comic book collector and happy to be one. I might say “proud” if I hadn’t, over a year ago, switched to reading digital as opposed to print comics. I feel a bit robbed of the tactile sensations of the hobby – of the turn of the page, the sneaking look to the panel a page over, the bagging and shorting and stacking and filing. Though I read my comics in a different medium than I used to, I still treat each Wednesday (comic book delivery day to specialty shops around the country) as different from the other days of the week. I subscribe and now, rather than go to the comic store to be handed the books pulled for my “Hold Slot,” I click a button on my iPad and watch them download.

Then I read them.

Rare is the week that I don’t read them all between Wednesdays and some weeks I have, well… let’s just say more comic books in my digital downloads than a grown man should. Comic book legend Will Eisner (creator of The Spirit) is one of the most influential men even to put pencil to drawing board in the pursuit of making comics. So influential was he that the industry awards (think the Oscars or the Emmys or the Grammys) are named The Eisner Awards. He called comic books “sequential art,” perhaps because he became embarrassed by his profession when he had to admit what he did for a living. This is my weekly reaction to the comics I read.

Comics I Read Last Week:

Untitled

The best comic I read last week was Batman #40

Writer: Tom King

Artist: Joelle Jones

Batman #36 is the best Valentine’s Day comic book I have ever read. No, strike that: it is the best comic about love I have ever read. No kidding.

Joelle Jones’ work is all but perfect and she is comfortable with characters in costume and out. The choices she makes in staging her scenes are ever inventive and compelling. Her figures have scope and scale. They look like she wants them to look and their appearances do not alter panel-to-panel. I would love to see her on a big-team book, a top tier title. She deserves that kind of exposure.

Tom King continues his love letter to Batman and his love letter to, well, love in the “Super Friends” arc. I am so heavily invested in things working out for Batman and Catwoman that I am surprised. He has such a handle on both of them and they speak in distinct voices. One could read his scripts without attribution and know whose dialogue is whose. That is not something one can say of every book on the market. This is impressive.

The storyline itself is compelling, but the themes raise King’s Batman to an entirely different level. If he is not the best writer working in comics today, he is in the top five.

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