Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri Discussion

As a fan of Martin McDonagh this has been one of my most anticipated movies ever since it was announced. Having had the pleasure of seeing this movie twice now I am delighted to say that it’s his best movie… No small feat considering the pedigree of his previous movies. The premise of this movie is that Mildred Hayes, played wonderfully by Francis McDormand, puts up three billboards calling out the local police force about their inability to find the people responsible for raping and murdering her daughter. The film then chronicles the fallout that follows.

As you’d expect from Martin McDonagh this is a pitch black tragi-comedy.  He displays such a firm grasp on tone that he is able to make me cry in one scene and then immediately cut to a scene played for laughs… The fact that this works so seamlessly is extremely impressive.

The entire cast is absolutely phenomenal delivering career best performances from careers that are littered with standout performances. Sam Rockwell, in combination with Martin McDonagh’s writing, manages to imbue a traditionally one note character with so much depth that you miraculously end up semi-rooting for him by the end. And as one has come to expect from Sam Rockwell… He once again steal the movie. That’s not meant to be a disservice to any of the other actors however, merely a testament to his talents. McDormand delivers a towering performance as Mildred. You really feel the guilt she feels over her daughters death but her tenacity and quick wit shines through. Woody Harrelson is outstanding also, and is afforded the film’s most emotional scene. In a particular scene with Mildred highlights both these actors abilities and brings more depth to both of their characters in heartbreaking fashion.  Peter Dinklage also does a lot with his character despite his limited screen time. One of the film’s strengths is that all the characters feel fully realised. Nobody is all good or evil… Just different shades of grey. One of the central themes of the movie is how violence begets more violence (Peter Dinklage is granted one of the film’s funniest lines discussing this). All these characters have their preconceived notions and this film masterfully shatters these and is demonstrated in a number of scenes throughout. Many of the characters are afforded with rewarding arcs that feel true to the nature of the character.

There’s lovely details peppered throughout such as Dixon reading comics lending credence to his acts of heroism later on and a nice piece of foreshadowing about people admitting to crimes in bars, and no doubt many more subtleties throughout the movie that will be picked up upon future viewings.

The direction is absolutely sublime here. McDonagh smartly favours an understated approach save for one incredible one shot action sequence. Something that really stood out for me on the second viewing is that he isn’t afraid to let the scene play for a bit longer as he has the confidence in his actors to let the camera linger on them. This really draws the viewer in and helps build connection to the characters.  He knows the material so well to realise that this isn’t a film that requires showy direction and the more subdued approach works wonders. It also allows the acting and script to really shine. His knack for writing witty dialogue is on full display here with many brilliant lines getting big laughs. The soundtrack is also great and feels appropriate given the setting.

I genuinely believe that this movie will be remembered as a classic in decades to come. From the fantastic characters, the sharp dialogue and interesting way the story plays out, this is a film that leaves a lasting impression.

 

The Handmaiden Discussion

I’ve been a fan of Park Chan-wook after watching Oldboy for the first time and following on from that discovering Korean cinema. I believe he’s outdone himself with his latest movie The Handmaiden. This is an exquisitely crafted movie and I think it will be remembered as a masterpiece in years to come. The Handmaiden is an erotic psychological drama that focuses on the relationship between two women. To say anymore more about the films plot would be to spoil the experience of this movie. The story goes in many interesting directions and keeps you guessing as to what the characters true motivations and intent are for a good portion of the film. I was engrossed from start to end, no mean feat for a film that’s two and a half hours long.  The film is split up into three parts, which each new part re-contextualising what’s happened before and allowing you to see events unfold from different perspectives.

Each character is brilliantly written and flawlessly performed by the actors. Each actor fully embodies their characters and play each role to perfection, especially the two lead actresses. I am looking forward to revisiting this film with the knowledge of how things play out to try and see the subtleties in the performances early on that may allude to the characters intentions. This is a movie that I feel will benefit from repeat viewings.

The film is a visual treat. The cinematography is beautiful and really helps communicate the films story with intimate close ups at key moments. The colours on display here are  gorgeous too with lovingly created sets and stunning locations used. I really liked how the shots were framed and the movement of the camera in certain scenes. While I will concede after my first viewing I may not have grasped the reasoning behind the camera moves, I certainly noticed how dynamic the camera work was and I feel it helped keep me engaged throughout. The score is also beautiful and it was utilised brilliantly to illicit an emotional response out of the viewer.

Much has been made no doubt about the film’s explicit sex scenes. While they are certainly graphic they do not feel gratuitous as they serve a clear purpose in the film’s narrative and to the characters. That being said this is not a movie to watch with your parents. This is a Park Chan-wook movie so expect it to get somewhat fucked up at certain points…

The film also subverts gender norms with the women pulling the strings here and overcoming the controlling men in their lives without it beating you over the head. This is confounded with the film being set in Korea in the early 1900’s. The men in this movie scheme, manipulate and abuse women but the female characters are never treated as victims but rather strong, capable characters who are able to claim their power back.

Overall I absolutely loved this movie and don’t really have anything negative to say about it right now. There was a rather odd scene inserted towards the end that threw me but other than that this film is masterfully done. I was engrossed the entire time and adored the stories twists and turns and the psychological aspects involved. This is a beautiful movie on every level and one that I will be revisiting again. I saw the theatrical version and will be checking out the extended version to see if the additional time adds anything to the story.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Discussion

One thing that you cannot say about Star War: The Last Jedi is that it plays it safe. This is a Star Wars movie not afraid to take risks. And it’s all the better because of it.

The movie starts off with an exhilarating action set piece with Oscar Isaacs charismatic Poe Dameron. It’s here that also highlights one of the films main flaws for me… The humour. Poe’s “banter” with Hux felt forced and didn’t land. This is a recurring issue throughout the film with the humour quite often falling flat. Although I’d be lying if I didn’t chuckle at the ridiculousness of seeing Luke milking some strange alien before drinking blue milk… However, this energetic sequence highlights Rian Johnson’s capability helming large scale action and in this film he crafts some of the series’ best action set pieces, most notably the Kylo Ren and Rey fight sequence. The vibrant colours and slick choreography made it one of the series’ high points in terms of action.

After years of speculation amongst the fans we finally get to find out what happens after Rey presents Luke Skywalker with his lightsaber… And in one of the film’s funniest moments he just tosses it over his shoulder. This serves as a metaphor for how the film intends to deal with the rabid fan base… In the same way that Luke doesn’t care about the lightsaber and tosses it away, SW:TLJ does away with any preconceived ideas that fans have about where this story is going to end up. This movie does not care about the fan’s endless speculation and theorising over the last two years. It revels in defying fan expectations.

The film’s strengths lies in it’s characters. I found all of their arcs to be engaging and satisfying with them linking in to the central theme of failure and learning from said failure. While the plot line was somewhat sloppy in it’s execution I found Poe’s arc to be one of the highlights. This is a film series that has always leaned in on characters trusting their instincts and here Poe’s instincts got hundreds of rebels killed. How many times have we seen movies where the cocksure pilot always knows best and takes matters into their own hands and is inevitably proven right by the end. I found it to be a great subversion of our expectations and as shown at the films climax, leads to Poe being a more effective leader.

I’ve seen complaints about Finn and Roses storyline being superfluous and a bore. And while I agree to an extent that the diversion to the casino is the weakest plot line, it is necessary for Finn’s character growth. He starts the film off with no particular affinity for the rebellion and trying to flee from the First Order. By the end of the film he’s ready to sacrifice himself for the cause. His story line also ties into the central theme of the movie. Finn, Rose and Poe’s actions cause the deaths of hundreds of rebel soldiers. It’s a bold move that’s sure to rile a lot of fans up having each central characters failing in some manner. Luke failed Kylo Ren when he was still Ben Solo and in his moment of weakness, turned Ben Solo into Kylo Ren. Rey underestimated her ability to turn Kylo Ren to the light side. Poe’s recklessness and arrogance in wanting to be the hero derails the escape plans. Finn and Rose inadvertently cause the deaths of many rebels. Holdo not informing Poe of her plan results in him taking matters into his own hands. For me, each of the characters arcs felt satisfying, unexpected but mot importantly true to the character. I know that’s controversial considering Luke was going to kill Ben Solo… But to me it highlighted that even legends like Luke Skywalkers were susceptible to their darker impulses and showed him to be human too. I’m sure many fans will feel that it’s not true to his character but the original trilogy showed he had tendencies towards the dark side of the force. Luke being a recluse and his demeanour demonstrated how heavily his mistake was weighing on him.

The movie features some really striking imagery too. Most notably for me the shot of Luke and Yoda watching the tree burn, the shot of Luke standing in front of the AT-ATs and of Luke against the backdrop of the two suns. The incredible sequence where Holdo lightspeeds through the imperial fleet has to be up there as one of the most visually stunning sequences of the year. The sound design here too is masterfully handled, especially Rian Johnson having the confidence to follow it up with complete silence.

Finally, the acting is continually impressive with Adam Driver and Mark Hamill being the standouts. Adam Driver has made Kylo Ren the most interesting and complex villain we’ve had in Star Wars. In two films he’s imbued him with so much depth that I am thrilled to see where this character goes in the next movie. The decision to kill Snoke and focus more on Kylo Ren is a brilliant decision as far as I am concerned as we get a much more nuanced character who the audience are far more invested in. This should lead to some emotionally charged conflict occurring in the finale between him and Rey. Mark Hamill also does wonders with the character of Luke Skywalker. He manages to perfectly sell the guilt and shame Luke feels over his past mistakes and provides a great send off for this character (although let’s be honest… he’s definitely coming back as a force ghost). The rest of the cast continue to do solid work but those two impressed me the most.

The film is certainly not without it’s flaws. The casino sequence was sloppily handled and needed to be trimmed down, the horrendous Leia in space sequence, the dialogue was incredibly cheesy at points (Rose’s godawful speech to Finn after crashing into him being the most egregious example), there’s plot holes and contrivances and misjudged humour. However they do not derail the overall experience in my opinion. This is a solid entry to the franchise that took risks and has left us in a tantalising position going forward. It defied expectations and took risks but did so in service of the characters. This is a much more character focused story than many expected and I appreciate them taking the difficult middle entry in that direction. I believe once the dust has settled that this will gain popularity over the years once fans have a chance to digest it.