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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Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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Picture the striking landscape of New Zealand, a chubby juvenile delinquent and a scruffy old man. This is Hunt for the Wilderpeople. New Zealand writer and director Taiki Waititi memorably depicts quirky black humour with pathos around almost every corner. On the surface it’s an odd comedy about a fat little kid and the middle-aged grump, but deep down it’s a heart-warming film about two world-weary people in need of a little saving.

The rising auteur’s third film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, wittily examines 12-year-old ‘delinquent’ Ricky Baker. (Delinquent can be in inverted commas, because his horrible crimes include spitting off a bridge.) Dressed in his finest hip-hop street gear, Ricky is escorted by a wrathful social worker to a remote homestead on a North Island farm, who jokes to Ricky’s new parents, Bella and Hec, that there are “No returns”. The daffy comforting warmth of his new home is (spoiler alert) shattered by Bella’s sudden death, prompting a hilarious cameo that sets the groove for the adventures of Ricky and Hec, strangely compelling them further and further into a bizarre rampage manhunt.

There are prevalent echoes of Wes Anderson’s 2012 comedy Moonrise Kingdom, with distinct witty instincts blended into its alluring coming-of-age tale. Waititi alternates moments of action, including ferocious wild pig action, with countless segments of humour and touching moments of drama. The stunning backdrop of New Zealand’s pristine countryside derives a loveable wackiness to the film – complete with amateurish songs and picturesque production design. The characters are also exceptionally well paired, Ricky’s pottymouth and childish unpredictability offsetting the grizzled, mostly sensible Hec, played by Sam Neill. In adapting Barry Crump’s book, Waititi succeeds with a variety of offbeat elements, pairing outstanding set design with a soundtrack your ears cannot miss.

But the most wonderful part of Hunt for the Wilderpeople is it’s emphasise on the life of misfits and whacko’s disposed from society. It drives home this enormous idea that humans are altogether good … if you can give them a chance. And trust me, you can’t help but fall in love with Ricky … and Hec for that matter too.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an enjoyable, heart-warming, modest little story thoughtfully illustrated by an artist drawn to male dynamics. The laughter in the theatre drowned out the many many funny parts, but the most prevailing entity of the film was its power to draw the audience to the story and attach them to the characters. This wonderful film sets to prove that although some people are a little whacky, they can surprisingly turn out to be oh-so-loveable human beings.

★★★★☆

Catch Me If You Can – Ingenious deception (2002)

Spielberg’s supremely amusing tale of self-invention in the land of opportunity tells the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenager from Rochelle, New York. Spielberg grasped that unique history and turned it into a superbly charming pursuit story precisely set in the sights and sounds of Abagnale’s 1960’s era. The film’s approach is cheerful and fun but maintains firm attention towards the dark side of characters pain and suffering.

Frank Abagnale Jr. was only 16 when he became one of the 1960’s most legendary con artists. The film opens with his home life; everything seems perfect for the teenager, whose parents are seemingly madly in love. But everything changes when Frank Sr. is investigated by the IRS and his dear mother files for divorce only to wed one of her husband’s closest friends. In hope of avoiding the confusion Frank Jr. runs away and begins a three year crime spree in which he successfully impersonates an airline pilot, a doctor, a lawyer and several other professions, and tricks various establishments out of $2.5 million before he is caught and condemned to serve 12 years in prison.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the young Abagnale with an effortless charm, and we never fail to forget that his character is still a teenager distressed for approval from his father. Tom Hanks is also fantastic as FBI agent Carl Hanratty. The guy is passionate, ambitious and strongly devoted to his profession. Christopher Walken is great as Frank’s father. You really believe the genuine bond between the two characters. Martin Sheen appears as the impending father-in-law for Frank and his reactions to Frank’s giant stories are priceless. Jennifer Garner draws one of the biggest laughs in the movie when she tries to fraud the con man.

Steven Spielberg is a leading storyteller who has a delightful sense of visual design. Though very visually appealing and entertaining, Catch Me If You Can establishes a cheap grace because the soft ending to the movie seems to excuse Frank’s adolescent behavior. The movie, therefore, values love, compassion and sympathy above repentance and responsibility.

Forrest Gump – The Story of a Lifetime (1994)

Forrest Gump is a film heart-breaker of eccentric wit and startling beauty. Gump’s story is an extraordinary virtual-reality tour of the late twentieth century American history. Vietnam, integration, Watergate and other significant events illustrate from the perspective of Hanks’ lovable slow-witted character as he finds himself entangled in situations he can’t seem to understand. The combined everlasting love, dedication, persistence and joy in this film is both refreshing and captivating.

Forrest Gump is gifted with a low IQ and a pure soul, which leads him into a delightfully childlike atmosphere even as he matures. He leads a very charmed life and follows a straight path throughout the world, ever true to the informal advice of his mother. As he grows up he encounters a miraculous incident that eliminates the need for him to have braces on his legs, a childhood girlfriend who constantly remains faithful to him, surviving Vietnam with high awards, and in general, a tendency to transform everything that happens to him into good.

Tom Hanks plays Forrest Gump, a simple Alabama soul who serves his country with dignity and perseverance. Tom Hanks plays the role with a smooth Southern intonation and Evangelic sincerity. Gump is the typical simpleton, his only main characteristic is the passive virtue infused in him by his mama. Overall the performance is a breathtaking balancing act between comedy and sadness, between a story rich in big laughs and quiet truths.

The film effectively follows Forrest on a tour of recent American history. The director, Robert Zemeckis has experience with special effects, previously incorporated in his other feature films such as Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Zemeckis uses computerized visual effects to place Gump in historic situations with real people. Gump teaches Elvis to swivel his hips, becomes a football star, meets John F. Kennedy, speaks at an anti-war rally in Washington, features on the Dick Cavett show with infamous John Lennon and serves with honour in Vietnam.

Forrest Gump is a beautiful illustration of hope and inspires me constantly to strive above and beyond the expectations. Gump is a new male role model, a nice boy with a loving attitude, complete honesty and genuine kindness, which everyone knows is hard to find. The film has many meaningful quotes and inspirational events, for instance my personal favourite; ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know which one you’re going to get’.

Romantics Anonymous ~ An Odd Twist On True Love (2012)

Romantics Anonymous is a bittersweet tale of true love between two pathologically shy chocolate makers. I was pleasantly surprised by the genuine affection and charming humor displayed from the quirky characters throughout the film. Award winning director Jean-Pierre Améris plays with terrifying emotions, misfits and good old-fashioned romance to create this perky retake on everlasting love.

Angélique, a saucy-eyed beauty with a halo of curls, is a gifted chocolatier who is so meek that the merest compliment makes her faint. To build up her confidence she regularly attends 12-step meetings for people who struggle with anxiety disorders. Her male counterpart, Jean-René, is the middle-aged owner of a chocolate shop drowning in debt. Jean-René is afraid to answer his telephone, listens to encouraging tapes at night and regularly visits a therapist. The desirous pair meets when he hires Angélique as a sales representative. The pair embark on a series of failed dates, misread signals and anxiety attacks.

The acting quality is superb. Isabelle Carré is perfect as the wide-eyed Angélique, determined to overcome her insecurities. Benoît Poelvoorde is a refreshing twist on prince charming, a creative character who reveals his charming flaws throughout the film.

The cinematography by Gérard Simon has the palette of a chocolate box; it’s a combination of dark hues and silver highlights that make the real-world location of hotels, factories and streets look like a studio fantasy – rich and beautiful. The films upbeat sense of potential seems earned and its style, seductive.

Romantics Anonymous is an artistic romance with outstanding production, creative cinematography and brilliant actors. Romance blossoms in an unusual way and the unique humour is ironically amusing. If you embrace Romantics Anonymous for what it is, you are sure to enjoy the film, particularly if you admire French romantic comedies.

The Sapphires – Soulful Inspirations (2012)

Australian director Wayne Blair’s recent film based on the hit stage musical, The Sapphires, is a warm, big-hearted crowd pleaser. A powerful combination of perky music, appealing performances and an enlightening story delivers this film festival favourite; virtually impossible to resist. This film is a good old-fashioned romantic musical comedy that is both emotionally and harmoniously spotless.

Inspired by a true story, The Sapphires is about three cheeky yet talented Aboriginal sisters and their cousin living their dream of performing on stage. The film originates in Australia 1968 precisely during the harsh Vietnam War. Sisters Gail, Julie and Cynthia travel into town to audition in a local talent competition where Dave Lovelace, a scruffy keyboard player, recognizes their talent and takes them on a whirlwind of challenges and incredible opportunities. Follow the journey of four ambitious singers and discover the meaning of love, friendship and hope all over again.

Tony Briggs, son of one of the original sapphires, creates the screenplay in collaboration with Goalpost pictures. The movie’s finger-snapping appeal comes from R&B and rock ‘n’ roll tunes that offer an arousing yet astonishing soundtrack to the disturbing Vietnam war. The Sapphires wear decorated outfits of the era and move with stylized choreography of original sixties girl groups.

The central performances of all the actors have their pleasures but the film’s irresistible on-screen chemistry comes in the form of Irish actor Chris O’Dowd. The ‘Bridesmaids’ co-star plays scruffy talent scout and manager Dave Lovelace, who introduces the women to soul music. He’s joined by authentic soul sisters Jessica Mauboy, the pop sensation who steals the show with her sumptuous lead vocals and the constantly oppressed yet talented Deborah Mailman. Funky singers Miranda Tapsell and Shari Sebbens are the most dominant and feminine members of the group.

The Sapphires is more than just a cute musical comedy, although if you make it through this film with dancing and singing along then you have a heart made of stone! Between all the amazing singing and performing the film explores some real history and the struggle for respect and rights that Aboriginal people went through during this period, as well as the unsettling reality of life in the war zone. The Sapphires sing their R&B hearts out, wow the servicemen and discover the meaning of family, friendship and war.

Anna Karenina – Triumphant Romantic Tragedy (2012)

Director Joe Wright takes on Leo Tolstoy’s infamous novel to create a marvelous theatrical interpretation of the adored romantic tragedy. Anna Karenina progresses through the discovery of self, the betrayal of loved ones and the risks of pursuing true love. Expect transformation by the realism and unimaginable attention to detail and discover the most visually spectacular film of the year. Anna Karenina is a true masterpiece.

Anna Karenina initiates in the late 1870’s when Anna, the wife of respectable official Alexei Karenin, ventures to Moscow to save her brother’s failing marriage when she unintentionally attracts the eye of dashing Count Vronsky. Fearful of her interest in him, Anna returns to St. Petersburg, only to catch Count Vronsky on her footsteps. It’s only a matter of time before Anna accepts Vronsky’s advances and claims his undying passion for her. The pair instantly embark on a journey of love, pain, self discovery and inconceivable sacrifices.

Joe Wright successfully takes on this big budget film with an admirable idea for cinematography in mind. Scenes will generally originate in a theatre building, on stage or in an auditorium among costumed extras who constantly lurk in the background. The most startling scene is the horse race set exclusively in the theatre with striking visual effects and an overall stunning execution of events. The intense, fast-paced camerawork and emphasis on sets makes the opening scene a blur, but eventually the bustle constrains enough for the viewer to interpret the story.

Anna Karenina is portrayed by the fearless Kiera Knightley who deplores with exquisite, large brimming eyes her rejected state. She takes on this role with a whole new level of maturity. Her restraining husband is performed by Jude Law; bearded, pale-eyed, self punishing and distressed with guilt and love. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Count Vronsky, capturing his shallow and youthful role genuinely well. All of the actors – particularly Knightley – perform admirably.

Anna Karenina is an artistic romance with stunning production and costume design, complex cinematography and brilliant, motivated actors. So if you enjoyed movies such as Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, then Anna Karenina is one you must definitely see. Joe Wright executes a spectacular adaptation of the novel with depth and humility and flawless acting from the entire cast.