Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

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So sharply written that it cuts, the third movie from award-winning playwright Martin McDonagh is a dramedy that starts with cleverness and wit, then opens up into something truthfully human.’ Jeffrey Anderson – Common Sense Media

I walked into the cinema with no idea what the title of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri really was, or meant, or in which sequence those five words were constructed. All I knew was that this film snatched a Golden Globe for Best Drama and two acting awards, so I figured that coming into my favourite season of the year (after autumn) of the Academy Awards, this was on the top of my list of must-see films. And I was so right. If you read the synopsis like I did, then you’re probably not overly enticed to pay this humble film a visit, because The Greatest Showman or Coco are far more entertaining, but I think that if you give it a chance you will feel all of the emotions and much much more. After all, this is a masterpiece!

Three old weathered billboards stand alone scattered against a sparsely travelled road on the outskirts of small Missouri town, Ebbing. Mildred Hayes, portrayed by the brilliant Frances McDormand, has placed a one-month down payment on their rent to display three small phrases to all who pass by: ‘Raped While Dying’, ’And Still No Arrests?’, ‘How Come, Chief Willoughby?’. Those three emotionally charged phrases ring throughout the entire film, painting a canvas of one mothers anger and heartache for her lost daughter toward the local police force. Ebbing’s chief officer Sheriff Bill Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, is the target for vengeance for failing to find the killer, despite his own long suffering in his battle against cancer. Rather than focusing on the crime and resolution as you would expect, Three Billboards zooms in on the cause and effects of tragedy, the repercussions of pressure and the harboured inner anger in all of us. Yet the movie travels across more than just revenge in this battle between Mildred and the law, but into the very depth of our humanity.

The pain of others haunts Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in just the same way as the overarching theme of vengeance does. Here you can see playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh pave the way into a genre of his own, mixing pain and violence with frequent cruel laughs. Although it doesn’t seem like it according to the plot, you’ll be laughing from start to finish. But perhaps the most ambitious aspect of the film doesn’t lie in the comedy tragedy mix, but in the depth of the characters. Here the playwright showcases his unique style in constructing a story with the highly talented characters on focus, which leaves you vouching for, yelling at and laughing with every single one of the characters on screen. In particular, feminine righteousness and masculine power in Frances McDormand and her equally excellent hard-ass Woody Harrelson and violent Sam Rockwell play to a defining range of dislike, empathy and arrogance, each one making an indescribably powerful impact on the course of the film. In fact, ThreeBillboards is so narrow on the characters that it feels as though Ebbing is only a small town of nine people, and perhaps that is what appealed to me the most. The entire film (without giving anything away) sticks within the outlines of a revenge film, yet portrays a kaleidoscope of emotions in a town stricken with heartache and sorrow in one big plight to find a killer and maybe one day to all get along.

If its insanely high ratings or success in the Awards circuit isn’t enough for you to go and watch this film, there’s not much I can do. But just know you’re missing out.

★★★★★

IMDb – 8.4/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 93%

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Home Again (2017)

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‘This is one of those brightly lit Hollywood romcoms with commercial-style acting and precious little insight into human behavior. It’s built on thin contrivances and thinner characters.’ Michael Ordona csm

My loyalty to Reese Witherspoon and Nancy Meyers, who produced The Holiday, The Intern and It’s Complicated (all films I loved), pulled me on board for the most recent addition to the romantic comedy genre. Here, amateur writer and director daughter of Nancy Meyers, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, juggles appealing younger men, outrageously expensive interiors and coddled well-off people in the hope of creating a warm romance, but didn’t quite hit the mark. My biggest mistake was coming to Home Again after watching the triumphant Big Little Lies, so be aware that the two are practically polar opposite – except maybe Witherspoon dropping off her kids to school in an expensive SUV. Home Again is here to please, so it’s very pure and very simple.

Witherspoon is Alice, a newly separated 40 year old interior designer with two beautiful daughters, who has just moved back to her late director father’s LA home. Her sheepish, rumpled and still wildly-in-love husband Michael Sheen is back in New York, desperate to patch things up. On the eve of her 40th birthday celebrations, Alice meets three young wannabe filmmakers with a dream of succeeding in LA. Opening up her lavish garden house for their use during their time making it in LA reels in an odd but sweet makeshift family, the combined traits of everything her ex-husband should have been. The house guests become unpaid child-care providers, tech troubleshooters and man candy, and of course from here on out the rest of the movie is pretty predictable.

Meyers-Shyer had previously mentioned that Home Again was a reflection of the struggles of young divorced women combined with a gender twist on May-December romances, which is interesting enough. But Alice’s hurdles are not relatable to the majority of its viewers, considering they all blow over once she gains the courage to verbally confront them. So inevitably, you are pulled into an alternate reality where everything is just as beautiful on the inside as the outside, and the rich and famous inhabit every luxury on a silver platter. Following her award worthy work in Wild and Big Little Lies, this is an inevitable step backwards for Witherspoon, yet there is something different and oddly charming that appeals to this light hearted rom-com.

If you’re at the cinemas in Australia this weekend, you practically have to pick from The Snowman, Geostorm, Kingsman, Home Again, Blade Runner 2049 or Captain Underpants – i would pick the latter, or if that isn’t your cup of tea, then Blade Runner. But if you’re after a light hearted, slightly disappointing, sometimes funny but overall satisfying romantic comedy you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for in Home Again.

★★☆☆☆

IMDb – 5.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 30%

The Mountain Between Us (2017)

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Every once in a while you stumble upon something that makes you fall in love all over again, with that irresistible magic that first sparked your passion. Every movie lover can trace their journey back a few years, or possibly decades, to the moment that they first realised movie magic existed. I honestly never thought that Idris Elba and Kate Winslet would take me there, back to that dim little movie theatre on the corner of James and Robertson Street. Looking back now, I realise this is probably a movie I enjoyed a lot more than I “should have” (because in reality The Mountain Between Us has almost altogether flopped,) but I at least hope you can agree that there is nothing not to love about Elba and Winslet on a snowy mountain, battling for survival in what is almost an adventurous romance.

Kate Winslet is the free-spirited Alex, a photojournalist eagerly awaiting her wedding the following morning, while Idris Elba is the straight-laced Ben, a brain surgeon who must desperately operate on a dying 10 year old boy interstate. An impending storm has stranded them both at Salt Lake City Airport, with little choice but to wait out until the morning. With everything at stake, the pair persuade a local charter pilot to fly them across deadly mountain ranges, with little concern for local aviation or the pilot’s failing personal health. And so it goes, a sudden fatal stroke cascades the plane into the snowy peaks of Utah and we are left to pick up the pieces of their extraordinary battle for survival. I don’t have to fill in the gaps here, as I’m sure your mind is already drifting to the many injuries, hypothermia … or maybe even mountain cougars, you’ll see it all.

Kate Winslet once survived a sinking ship in Titanic, and Idris Elba once thrived on the streets of Baltimore in The Wire. There is no reason why these dynamic actors shouldn’t carry enough dramatic weight between them to elevate a trek through the desolate snow-blanketed mountain ranges. But instead, they find themselves floating somewhere between drama and soap opera. But here I’ll attribute Elba’s surprising awkwardness to his first-ever crack at romantic lead, (p.s. just as you might have hoped he is nothing short of dreamy.) Based on the novel by Charles Martin, and propelled by the screenplay collaboration of Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, who share a wide scope of successful romance films between them, The Mountain Between Us has all of the mesmerising elements to succeed. Add Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, the visionary behind Paradise Now and Omar (a love story, mind you) and there’s no room for fault. But here the once epic vision fails and instead the beautiful mountains begin to look more like molehills.

Right – but coming back to my dramatic spiel in the beginning. For a reason unbeknown to me, I was enveloped in the charasmatic charm, mystery, drama and unfolding romance, so much so I almost shed a happy tear. The film may have altogether tumbled and it might have been dramatically corny, but my romantic soft spot overcame. So if you’re weighing up whether to watch this one, you need to first consider the pros and cons for yourself in order to really derive a solution. If you read this review and at any moment in time you felt compelled to throw up, I am inclined to tell you that this is definitely not a movie I would recommend for you. It’s so bad that it’s really good!

Here’s what the professional critics had to say … ‘This romantic drama is most compelling as a mild story of survival adventure. Contemporary romances often stumble over the first hurdle: Their dramatic obstacle.’ – Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media or ‘A perfect title for a movie in which neither the subzero temperature nor the romantic heat penetrates more than skin deep.’ – Peter Debruge, Variety

IMDb – 6.2  Rotten Tomatoes – 43%

★★★☆☆

The Big Sick (2017)

The Big Sick first caught my eye in Empire magazine, when I realised that this inspiring true story turned rom-com featured Kumail Nanjiani as well, himself. This stark contrast from other retold true stories brings a powerful warmth, wit and depth to his character in a sincere parallel to the truth upon which the film unfolds – making The Big Sick one of the most amazing stories told this year.

Kumail Nanjiani is a young Pakistani stand up comedian from Chicago, who spends his days performing, meeting eligible Pakistani girls (not by choice) and showcasing his love for Pakistan through one-man-shows in his local theatre. During one particularly dry gig, Kumail meets his match in Emily, played by Zoe Kazan. However, Kumail’s traditional Muslim family are unaware of his romance, and continue to press for an arranged marriage with other local Pakistani girls. Mention of the next development in the film should not come as a shock, considering it’s The Big, Sick, after all and the publicity campaign is heartily in Emily’s unfolding medical crisis – but do not fear because it’s nothing like the weepie Me Before You or The Fault in Our Stars. In fact, this dramatic crisis brings a beautiful display of superior storytelling as we follow Kumail as bedside vigil alongside Emily during the entire process. Ultimately, what unfolds is a unique story of faith, commitment and passion wrapped in the fabric of a modern love.

One of the most wonderful things about The Big Sick is the husband and wife duo that brought their story to life, Kumail Nunjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Almost parallel to the real events that conspired in their own relationship, the storytelling gravitates to the passion and honesty of the living breathing masterpiece (that is their story) that brought this film to life. The sharp, intuitive and witty scripting delves into a lot more than you would naturally expect from a rom-com, diverting into almost another genre in itself. The modern love, age-old prejudices, religion and commitment knitted into real life romances come alive in this film, in a way that is both as profoundly deep as it is profoundly entertaining. I’ve watched a lot of comedies, but I haven’t laughed out loud like this in a long time.

The undeniable on-screen chemistry that grows between Kumail and Zoe is the cherry on the top of the cake, in a story that reaches out of a cross-cultured romance into the turmoil of our world to bring a shining beacon of hope. In this way, The Big Sick does more than make you simply think, it draws together people, our community, to become better people with more compassion for others. No wonder this is the film everyone is talking about. Don’t miss your chance to revel in its magic – you won’t be disappointed.

Rich in emotional honesty and equal parts moving, The Big Sick successfully infuses the traditional rom-com formula with a modern sensibility.”

★★★★★

IMDb – 8.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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“The filmmakers think little of the emotional and intellectual connection fans already have with this property, and have put all their chips on the aesthetic.” Vulture

“Ghost in the Shell struggles to dig below the surface of its thought-provoking concepts and bring real depth to its striking visuals.” Screen Rant

The simple fact of film is how could you possibly improve what is considered to be one of the greatest predecessor films? The groundbreaking 1995 original Ghost in the Shell, directed by Mamoru Oshii was to many viewers … a masterpiece. The influence of the anime sensation reached far outside its die-hard fanatics and instead made a mark on the prominence of Japanese film making in the West. The much talked about remake with Scarlett Johansson bombed at the Box Office Weekend, not to mention its current predicament standing face to face with a $60 million dollar loss.

The line between humans and machines is blurred. In a time when we expect jobs to disappear to machines in coming years, this idea doesn’t sound so absurd. Ghost in the Shell takes place in a future where cybernetic enhancement isn’t simply routine, but it is widely accepted. Humanity is enabled with technological abilities that far outweigh real life, allowing them to survive harrowing accidents or abolish alcohol poisoning with a silver liver. Major Mira, played by Scarlett Johansson, is rescued in the wake of a refugee attack that left her so gravely injured that only her brain survived. Government-funded Hanka Industries grasps the opportunity to give Mira’s brain a new life by inserting it into a completely artificial body – she’s the first of her kind. The perfect blend of mind and soul (Ghost), Major Mira is coupled with astounding advantages in agent work.

The cerebral element and extraordinary pacing of the original anime scared off the non-Japanese audience in its release. Yet, the film’s worldwide cult success developed later with the video release and gradual word of mouth. This cannot be the same result with the live-action Hollywood Remake, so director Rupert Sanders has evidently dialed down the introspection, dialed up the action and tweaked the plot to resonate with an ‘orphan come hero’ plot us Westerns eat up like a juicy burger. But yet, he could not help but grapple with the knotty philosophical questions couped up in cyber-implants and human souls, because at the end of the day that’s kind of the big idea behind the film.

It is clear to any viewer, that the predominant selling point of the film is its absolutely breathtaking visual impact, that draws you away from the comfort of the theatre to a world of holographic advertisements the size of skyscrapers, robot fashioned geisha’s and mechanical body parts. Peel back the neon and artifice and underneath is a concrete jungle of cyborg shops and street dealers peddling implants – its thrillingly sensational. But here most importantly, Sanders pays a generous tribute to the original anime, drawing out the themes and ideas that grew so beloved by viewers. Particularly well, Ghost in the Shell marries the original impressive physicality of the leading lady with the emotional vulnerability and real life determination of Scarlett Johansson. Johansson has proven to be a mesmerising actress time and time again, bringing intelligence and fearlessness to every aspect of her work, and this time she sells the philosophy of the film with the depth of the human identity.

Of course the visual beauty of Ghost in the Shell is parallel to a weaker narrative than its overwhelmingly successful predecessor, but it carries an authenticity and thought provoking nature that differentiates this film from the rest.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 6.9/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 46%

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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All monster films fall into two kinds of categories – one that takes its time to reveal the monster and one that shows you the monster straight away. The star of this show is front and center for the entire 118 minute running time. We’re all accustomed to the mighty King Kong from Merian Coopers’ 1933 original all the way to 2005’s Jack Black reboot, there are just way too many spiels to list. But you’ll be happy to know this remake is engaging, mesmerising and Tom Hiddleston (I’m sold).

Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ reset of the Kong legend returns to 1973, as the last American troops are pulling out of Vietnam. Colonel Packard, played by Samuel L. Jackson (I’m sold sold), is reluctant to leave the battlefield, suspended in an existential crisis as the war draws to a close. Packard’s right-hand man Chapman, Toby Kebbell, looks forward to returning home to his son, as do all of the other helicopter squadron members do. But on the other side of the world, Government representative John Goodman relentlessly pursues a hollow-earth theory expedition on Skull Island. A land mass perpetually overcast by violent storms, there is no limit to what could be discovered. He hires James Conrad, Tom Hiddleston, to be the skilled tracker on the mission to chronicle any findings, and piggybacks on the helicopter squadron to discover monsters, bombs and a grizzly John C. Reilly (Step Brothers).

Vogt-Roberts and the film’s screenwriting trio play out the occasionally troubling conflicts of Vietnam on the backdrop of a panicked survival group attempting to escape a forbidden island. The period setting throughout Skull Island is based on an appealing soundtrack by the stooges and Jefferson Airplane, but the updated man-vs-beast conflict of previous King Kong tales roots in the blood-soaked anxiety of war. The cycle of war is astonishing, and superbly written – unlike anything you’ve seen in any other King Kong film. The island is richly bathed in colour of both natural and post-production, but this unique style sets it apart from any modern re-imagining. Designs are impressive, creations are emotive and breathtaking … it’s showy … but it works.

Skull Island takes on the role of mixing in memorable actors in even the smallest parts of the film. Few of the characters are built upon more than an introduction or a rapid-survival failure. John C. Reilly is particularly spot-on, with a mix of mania and sorrow, in the middle of an extravagant tale of monsters. Goodman is a selfish deadpan, Jackson derails with his eyes fuming with rage and Larson delivers a kind of kindness and compassion that causes Hiddleston to run around in gas masks for her. The cast is sensational really, and in my opinion a great combination for an epic spiel like this one.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of Kong comes after you’re done reeling from the fun of the film. This definitely won’t be the last we see of this fantastic ape, but it’s the kind of messy enjoyable throwback that will leave you wanting more.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 7.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 79%

Oscar Predictions & Winners 2017

In Australia it is currently exactly 1 hour and 20 minutes until the Academy Awards begin, and I am perched on a bench outside the glorious New Farm Cinema filled with expectation for what is soon to unfold. My mind is buzzing with excitement for all of the wonderful films I’ve seen leading up to the ceremony, and I cannot wait for the deserving winners to be revealed!

Here are my predictions!

Best Picture – Manchester by the Sea, which I believe should win for being an outstanding film .. yet we all assume La La Land will take the victory.

WINNER: Moonlight

Best Director – La La Land’s Damien Chazelle deserves this one.

WINNER: Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Best Actor – Denzel Washington will probably win this one for Fences over Casey Affleck, but either way they both deserve an Oscar.

WINNER: Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress – Isabelle Huppert deserves this one, but neck and neck with Emma Stone that is.

WINNER: Emma Stone – La La Land

Best Supporting Actor – Mahershala Ali hit it out of the ballpark for his astonishing performance in Moonlight.

WINNER: Mahershala Ali – Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress – Viola Davis will get this one hands down.

WINNER: Viola Davis – Fences

Best Cinematography – Silence was beautiful, and so were many other nominees in this category, but as most of us predict, La La Land will be victorious.

WINNER: La La Land

Original Screenplay – Manchester by the Sea (of course)

WINNER: Manchester by the Sea

Adapted Screenplay – Moonlight deserves this one, but Lion is right behind it.

WINNER: Moonlight

Best Animation – Zootopia really nailed if for me as one of the best kiddie movies ever.

WINNER: Zootopia

Best Editing – La La Land

WINNER: Hacksaw Ridge (Go Australia!)

Best Documentary – O.J. Made in America

WINNER: O.J. Made in America

Best Foreign Film – The Salesman

WINNER: The Salesman

Best Production Design – A tie between Arrival and La La Land.

WINNER: La La Land

Best Costume Design – Jackie, or front-runner Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

WINNER: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Documentary Short – The White Helmets

WINNER: The White Helmets

Best Original Score – La La Land, but Lion was spectacular too.

WINNER: La La Land

Best Song – City of Stars from La La Land, a beautiful and deserving piece that destroyed by heart.

WINNER: City of Stars – La La Land

Make Up and Styling – Star Trek Beyond

WINNER: Suicide Squad

Best Animated Short – Piper from Pixar was the best!

WINNER: Piper

Best Live Action Short – Silent Nights

WINNER: Sing

Best Sound Editing – Hacksaw Ridge blew me away with its sound editing, fingers crossed.

WINNER: Arrival

Best Sound Mixing – Hacksaw Ridge or of course La La Land.

WINNER: Hacksaw Ridge (Go Australia!)

Visual Effects – Deepwater Horizon was superb, but I think The Jungle Book will take this one because I had to watch it 3 times when it came out, and each time was better!

WINNER: The Jungle Book

Of course, we all know La La Land will take out many awards, and a girl can dream about Manchester by the Sea taking our top prize, but this year has been sensational and I’ve seen some of the best pictures yet! Everyone here deserves an Oscar for their amazing work, especially the front-runners.

Updates will follow as the Awards ceremony unfolds. I’m popcorn and heart ready. ✌