Thursday, 19 July 2018

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is ambiguous

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI - 2017
Director: Martin McDonagh.
Cast: Frances McDormand / Sam Rockwell / Woody Harrelson
Score: Carter Burwell.
Cinematography: Ben Davis.
Content Advisory: R for strong language, violence, and sexual references.
Source: Rented.


A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter's murder when they fail to catch the culprit.



It's won Oscars. It's won Golden Globes. It's received numerous award nominations. It's also sparked intense controversy and fueled fierce social media discourse. It goes without saying that I was very interested to watch this movie.


The soundtrack is a wealth of intelligently chosen musical pieces - although at first they may seem like odd choices, they do actually work. For example, who'd have thought that ABBA's "Chiquitita" would work for a harrowing scene where a building is set on fire and a man gets severely burnt? It's pure genius.
I also love how music isn't always used. Some scenes are better because of it. Silence is powerful, and this film proves it better than most.

The use of colour is amazing. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I love that particular scene where McDormand's character is getting interviewed in front of her billboards, and the red of the boards behind her just immediately ties to the subtle red of her shirt poking out from under her overalls. Or the scene where she's sitting outside talking to Woody Harrelson's character, and the shot isolates her so all you can see is the bright green of the land behind her and the blue of her overalls matching the piercing blue of her eyes. It's scenes like that that make me go "Wow", because I can tell that serious thought has gone into composing that shot. It's cinematic art, really. It's inspiring to watch.

The editing is also incredible. The dialogue is superb. The direction is flawless. Overall, the production of this film is absolutely brilliant.




The actors take on their characters with a shocking authenticity. They suck you right into their world, as if they're gripping you by your throat. They simply command the screen. And no one more than McDormand, who is every inch worthy of her Oscar win.

The characters are all well written. Everyone is three dimensional, everyone is real and human and deeply flawed and hurting, and they all have histories and pains and desires. There's also some top-notch character development. I love how we see the good and bad of every character, and how we watch the characters change and grow and learn. They're far from perfect, but they're human. They're antiheroes we can relate to.

It's breathtaking to watch these characters' personalities lead the plot. It's harsh and at the same time beautifully profound to watch McDormand and the writers encapsulate a woman's - a mother's - rage, and let its ripples loose on a torn up community. It's a rage so tangible and so well handled. It's thought-provoking, and it's relatable.

Relationships also play a big role in this story. There are plenty of messy, complicated dynamics between people, and these relationships are invaluable when it comes to the characters' roundness. They shape the characters, and the writers do an incredible job of showing character through the characters around the character. If that makes sense?




But as good as this movie is, it unfortunately also has its issues. I'm going to list them because it's the best way I can try to explain my thoughts.

- The ending. After an amazing movie, I was expecting an amazing ending. I was expecting to find out who had raped and killed the daughter, and I was expecting justice to be served. But maybe I was missing the point...

Honestly, I've been back and forth about this ending ever since I watched it. The way the film ends is this: Mildred and Dixon team up to go kill a suspected rapist, not the one who killed Mildred's daughter but who is definitely guilty of some crime involving another girl. While driving, however, they both admit to each other that they're not sure they'll be able to follow through. The film leaves us with that - with no conclusive answers, no justice, and no solutions.

My first reaction was one of fury. I didn't want to be left hanging, and I wanted to know who had raped and killed that poor girl. I wanted to know who he was and I wanted justice.  But since then, I've been thinking about the ending more and more. I've read articles, and I've read what the movie's writer has to say of how he ended his film: “It was about not wrapping up the story with a bow, not finding the solution and that person getting his comeuppance and all of that, because the story is more about change than it is about solutions.” 
He has a point. The characters in this movie do terrible things and they often aren't punished. Yet the movie never excuses this, never says that it's okay. The characters are people who deserve justice, but unfortunately, at this stage, we don't see them getting it. Solutions aren't given.
Looking at where Mildred and Dixon are at the end of the movie is quite astonishing; the two sworn enemies are actually talking, they're actually teaming up, and Dixon shows that he has a heart after all. As far as character goes, we're seeing incredible development. And maybe that's what the ending is about. It's about the characters finding a kind of peace within a terrible situation and it's about them changing.

On one hand, I respect how it ended and I can totally see what the writer was trying to do. On the other hand, it is still a movie, and a movie tells a story. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a story should follow through on the promises it's made to an audience. The way this movie leaves it, the story is incomplete. We still don't know who killed the daughter, and we don't know what the two main characters are going to do about it. Is it satisfying? No. But have the characters growth and changed, while the world's still trash around them? Yes. 

-  Unrealistic no consequences. In the film, Dixon beats a man and tosses him out of a window. He also punches a woman in the face. In both cases, his actions are exposed to a gathered crowd, including the police chief. Another scene in the movie has Mildred setting fire to the police building, which so happens to have Dixon inside of it (he survives, but is badly burned). In this case, the police chief asks Mildred and another man on the scene - not in so many words -  if they were involved. They give a weak excuse. And that's that. The chief doesn't push it further.

Now that's just plain unrealistic. Dixon beating a man and hitting a woman is assault, and yet he's not even arrested. The worst thing that happens is that he's fired from his job as a cop. That's it. But he beats these two people up in front of witnesses and the incident is totally glossed over! That is not realistic! Putting aside the fact that yes, we would've liked to have seen him arrested (again, the movie isn't so much about solutions, so while it never excuses the bad behaviour, it doesn't always punish it), it's unrealistic because there's no reason why the police chief didn't arrest him. We're not even given a reason why he might've been let off. Same with Mildred's setting fire to the building. Any good police chief would not have let her weak alibi slide, he would've pressed further. But in this instance, he doesn't! I can look past the fact that their actions should've been punished, but I find it hard to look past the fact they weren't. If that makes sense? Within the story, the no-consequences just isn't sold well.



Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an intense, gritty drama that hooks you from its opening scene. It's fueled by well rounded characters and topical issues, and is brilliantly written and stunningly presented. 
But the ending is inconclusive. There are also a number of small issues that take away from the otherwise solid story.

Monday, 16 July 2018

2 Mini Film Reviews: TOMB RAIDER and GAME NIGHT

TOMB RAIDER - 2018
Director: Roar Uthaug.
Cast: Alicia Vikander / Dominic West / Kristen Scott Thomas / Daniel Wu /
Score: Junkie XL.
Cinematography: George Richmond.
Content Advisory: PG 13 for sequences of violence and action.
Source: Rented.


Lara Croft, the fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer, must push herself beyond her limits when she discovers the island where her father disappeared.




Want to watch an entertaining action movie? Watch this film. It's a terrific action flick, gorgeously shot, and with a tight, fast-paced plot. The dialogue is good - although predictable -, the action scenes are incredible, and Alicia Vikander is everything. She's exceptional.  She gives us a more vulnerable, relatable, human Lara Croft to root for, and her acting is simply perfect. 

The plot is uninspired, but Tomb Raider is still a fun, exciting reboot led by an amazing actress.





GAME NIGHT - 2018
Directors: John Francis Daley / Jonathan Goldstein
Cast: Rachel McAdams / Jason Bateman /
Score: Cliff Martinez
Cinematography: Barry Peterson
Content Advisory: R for language, sexual references, and some violence.
Source: Rented.

A group of friends who meet regularly for game nights find themselves entangled in a real-life mystery when the shady brother of one of them is seemingly kidnapped by dangerous gangsters.



What a waste of time. I read that premise, was instantly obsessed, but after watching just a few minutes of this film I was furious. I'm furious because it's a missed opportunity. It could have been amazing.
It wasn't. 

The good things: 
1: Rachel McAdams. She's not great, but she's better than the rest of the cast and her outfits are amazing. They've dressed her so well. She looks fantastic.  
2: Billy Magnussen. His part is small, but he plays the dumb, hot-headed blonde young guy so well. His lines actually made me laugh. 

The bad things: 
- SO DARN UNREALISTIC. Like sure, I'm not saying that there can't be over-the-top moments, but you gotta sell it. You have to find that balance and make it work. Instead, this plot is totally far-fetched, ludicrous, and without a hint of realism. You can't even suspend disbelief because the writers aren't giving you a reason to care; their writing and characters are too poor. 
- Comedy? Not so much. I never laughed. I get that humour is subjective, but still - I laugh pretty easily in comedies, and this gave me nothing. Maybe it's also a matter of having the wrong actors, actors who can't do comedy, trying to do comedy? Ugh I dunno. All I know is that the plot's stupid, the acting's weak, and the funnies aren't there. It's dumb and silly and the writing's pathetic. 
- Characters? Please. They're hardly characters. To enjoy the game, you have to know the players, and not one of these characters is well established and developed. The plot and the "humour" are being forced onto flat characters, which also gives the comedy nothing to work of off. Overall, it's a mess of weak characters and bad writing.   



I can imagine how amazing this film could have been. The premise has so much potential! But unfortunately, it flops big time.  

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Weekly What's Up - reading, watching, cooking


I am so ready for next week to come and for this one to be over. My Mum's away for a few days (she gets back tomorrow) and so I've been doing all the household stuff, including cooking, and I am A) tired and B) overwhelmed. I always manage to make more work for myself, and then I get stressed. And when I'm stressed I clean and tidy and then start crying. 

Bleh. Anyway. I just need to chill. Watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S and The Vampire Diaries seems like a good idea right now :) I'm hoping I'll get time this evening. 


Posts of the Week

I reviewed the beautiful film, Lady Bird.

I reviewed a chilling thriller: Paper Ghosts.

Currently Reading

I'm still buddy reading The Cruel Prince with my squad, still slogging through The Smoke Thieves, just started The Favourite Sister, and I'm slowly making my way through a Netgalley ARC of Star-Touched Stories.




For Review

These two books were surprise bookmail, and I'm not sure if I'll actually read them. The Empire of Ashes is the third book in a series and it's too much of an epic fantasy for me. I might try Ocean Light, though.







How has your week been? What are you reading and watching? Do you enjoy cooking? 

Friday, 13 July 2018

PAPER GHOSTS - by Julia Heaberlin

PAPER GHOSTS - Julia Heaberlin
Published: April 2018 - Penguin.
Genres: Adult / thriller / mystery / contemporary
Pages: 368.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Sexual innuendos. Mature themes.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Penguin Random House SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

Carl Louis Feldman is an old man who was once a celebrated photographer. That was before he was tried for the murder of a young woman and acquitted. Before his admission to a care home for dementia Now his daughter has come to see him, to take him on a trip. Only she's not his daughter and, if she has her way, he's not coming back . . . Because Carl's past has finally caught up with him. The young woman driving the car is convinced her passenger is guilty, and that he's killed other young women. Including her sister Rachel. Now they're following the trail of his photographs, his clues, his alleged crimes. To see if he remembers any of it. Confesses to any of it. To discover what really happened to Rachel. Has Carl truly forgotten what he did or is he just pretending? Perhaps he's guilty of nothing and she's the liar. Either way in driving him into the Texan wilderness she's taking a terrible risk. For if Carl really is a serial killer, she's alone in the most dangerous place of all . . .

A few months ago I read Black Eyed Susans by Heaberlin and didn't think much of it. But when I saw the synopsis for Paper Ghosts, I couldn't resist. It looked so, so good. And unique.


Heaberlin's writing was the one thing I loved about Black Eyed Susans, and in Paper Ghosts it's equally - if not more - beautiful. The descriptions are palpable with some deliciously unique metaphors and similes (eg: "A faint slice of light spills like bleach..." ); the dialogue is biting and realistic; and Heaberlin's real genius lies in how specific her language is. Her scenes come to life because she takes them in with every sense she has. She delves into the tiny details, and she's vigilant of every necessary prop. The scenes are so fleshed out because she pays attention. It's incredible. It's incredible, without boring you. 

Like her descriptions, Heaberlin's story is concrete. It's tirelessly researched, and again, Heaberlin proves that detail matters. Her story becomes three-dimensional because she digs into the scene. She's has crafted a mesmerising world - she's peeled away the superficial and heightened what we subconsciously know is there, but have never noticed.

If I've learned anything, it's that every lost girl has exactly the same value.

The plot is slow. Don't expect bloodcurdling action or scream worthy twists, because you'll be disappointed. The mystery is breathtakingly clever, but its twists aren't always obvious and its climax isn't horrifying. It's understated. It's severely intelligent, but it's not altogether shocking.
I admit I was bored for a lot of the book. Only around page 200 did I start loving it, and from then on I definitely felt more invested. So yes, it may take a while for you to get into the story, but it doesn't mean you aren't reading quality from start to finish. At the end of it all, you'll probably find yourself deeply appreciating the book. I loved it by the end.

The characters, including the unnamed heroine (we only learn her name towards the end of the story) are unreliable. This makes for fantastic suspense and unsettling company. Carl is a messed-up creep, but there's something mysterious about him. The heroine is a woman burdened by her sister's disappearance, but she's also rather unhinged. I ended up loving her and her arc.



Paper Ghosts is as sinister as the title implies. It's a slow, unique, and steadily disturbing thriller with unnerving characters, exquisitely penned  by an extremely talented author.  

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

LADY BIRD (film) is darkly humourous and heartfelt

LADY BIRD - 2017
Director: Greta Gerwig.
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, and Timothée Chalamet.
Score: Jon Brion.
Cinematography: Sam Levy.
Content Advisory: R for language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity.
Source: Rented.


In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, California.



I've wanted to see this movie ever since the Oscar season. It's received numerous accolades, including a Best Actress nomination for Ronan and a Best Director nomination for Gerwig, and the critics have loved it. It looks so well done.


Firstly, let me just squeal from the rooftops that I cannot wait to see Gerwig write and direct more films. I'm literally ecstatic to see her future work. Apparently she's going to remake Little Women with Meryl Streep, Emma Stone, Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet, and I can just imagine how breathtaking it will be. Because it will be. That story was made for Gerwig to turn into a film. She'll do an impeccable job. Of course she will.
But let's talk Lady Bird.

Gerwig's writing is phenomenal. Her wit, the dry humour married with tragedy, the achingly beautiful realism infused into her script, is sublime. Her dialogue's often a bit on the nose, but I think that's the point (and it works). She's a exceptional writer, and she's an equally outstanding as a director, too. There's so much of her own life and her own heart in this movie and it clearly shows. It's a labour of love and passion.

The soundtrack is splendid. The production and sets are gorgeous, and the cinematography perfectly establishes what Gerwig admits to wanting: every shot to be "like a photograph...framed and presentable......like a memory." And that's how the scenes look; meticulously constructed frames awash in a very specific aesthetic. They're like captured memories. They make the film feel intimate - personal. If you're interested, you can even read this fascinating article where Gerwig, her cinematographer, and her colourist discuss in-depth the film's look. I found it amazing and inspiring. 
I love the devilish humour. As much as this is a painful look at the turbulence of adolescence, it's also a story bubbling with offbeat humour that stems effortlessly from its realistic characters and aided by the actors' comic timing. It's genuine, and it's frequently outrageous. It's heartwarming.


The pacing is tight, and I was invested and entertained throughout the movie. For a while I did feel like the plot lacked direction, but it soon becomes clear that this is a tale following a teenage girl's transition from home to university and her relationships with the people in her life during that time, most notably her relationship with her mother. But although coming-of-age films are nothing knew, Gerwig keeps this one fresh and amazingly unique with her own careful interpretation. She taps into the messes of a teenage girl's life from her friendships, her romantic attachments, and her family dynamics, and tends to each aspect deeply and carefully. It's a story so well told that it feels like nothing you've seen before. And as a teenage girl myself, I found myself relating a lot to Lady Bird's turbulent emotions and relationships. It's a stunning story, brilliantly conveyed.

The acting is inevitably excellent when you have a cast like this. Laurie Metcalf steals every scene she's in, but then so does Timothée Chalamet with his profound screen presence. There is just so much weight to their performances. Both actors were easily the highlights for me, although obviously Saoirse Ronan is brilliant as well, and every actor and actress acts with an equal combination of heart and skill. The characters are so well-nuanced, themselves.




Lady Bird is an extraordinary debut from Gerwig, and easily establishes her as a directorial force with which to be reckoned. The story comes straight from the heart, and explores the different kinds of relationships in a teenage girl's life with wit, sensitivity, and candour. It's a love story in more ways than one. It's a work of art.