One of the best pieces of cinematic news to report is the release of Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh’s grimly amusing, compelling, and ultimately compassionate study of a very determined mother’s quest for justice. Frances McDormand (in her best role since Fargo) dominates the proceedings as a grieving mother who is frustrated with the local law’s lack of progress regarding the investigation of her daughter’s rape and murder. In order to jump-start matters, she rents three little-used billboards outside Ebbing (hence the title) in an attempt to both goad and shame the local police chief (Woody Harrelson) because of the perceived inaction.
Since this is a Martin McDonagh film, nothing ever comes easy, or is as simple as it appears.
While the town’s police might seem to be a sorry, incompetent and even unjust lot (personified by an excellent Sam Rockwell as a mother-ridden officer with plenty of issues), the police chief himself is a respected, responsible officer who has tried to do the right thing—and is himself coping with a terminal illness. And though McDormand’s single-minded character is generally sympathetic, she walks a fine line throughout as it becomes clear that she feels some kind of culpability in her daughter’s death and in her teenage son’s feelings of abandonment.
Three Bilboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a terrific movie, beautifully acted, with moments both harrowing and haunting, as well as some scenes depicting surprising tenderness and compassion that left me feeling as moved as anything I’ve seen this year. It is uniformly well-acted, with excellent turns from Rockwell, Harrelson (whose character has a well-etched, quirky sense of humor and justice), John Hawkes (as McDormand’s estranged husband with a much younger girl friend), Peter Dinklage (McDormand’s friend and admirer), Lucas Hedges (from Manchester by the Sea, as McDormand’s depressed son), and a strong, subtle performance from McDormand that should garner her another nomination.
This is well worth seeing, especially if you desire an absorbing, intelligent night at the movies.
Justice League assembles many of the DC heroes you’ve come to know and perhaps like: namely Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Batman (Ben Affleck), the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Victor Stome), and Superman (Henry Cavill—why be coy, you knew he was coming back—regardless of the outcome of Batman v Superman). This time they’re united (eventually) against a supervillain who wants to both dominate and destroy the world. Well…what else is new?
Directed by Zack Snyder from a script by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, Justice League is a generally entertaining blend of action and more action, with the occasional side trip into characterization and hero bonding. Gadot still dazzles as Wonder Woman, whether trading quips or trying to assert herself as as the leader and moral center; Affleck seems to have roused himself a little, and Momoa’s Aquaman and Miller’s the Flash have their amusing moments. And while the action sequences are well-done (and not as excessive as has been previously the case), the central villain is a bit of a bore—perhaps one of the lamest super-villains to ever (dis) grace a superhero film. In addition, what partly makes this franchise different from (and inferior to) to the Marvel franchise is the lingering feeling that—in the DC Universe, all you really need to save the day is Superman. Yes, the team is assembled, but in the end, Superman can get the job done by himself, thank you very much, wherein with the Marvel heroes, it’s very much a team effort.
A word of caution: if you are tempted to see the film at a theater newly equipped with both 3D and 4D-X---DON’T!!
The 4D-X showings resemble going to Universal and watching one of those virtual, interactive chases in the endlessly shifting seats which go forward, back, side to side depending on the sequence—so that the viewer is virtually pummeled by the end of the film. This viewer opted (soon after the movie began) for a stationary seat so he could properly enjoy the film—at last.
THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS
If you want to see a film that could conceivably fill you with the holiday spirit, you might want to see The Man Who Invented Christmas, a somewhat fanciful look at the circumstances that led Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) to writing A Christmas Carol, complete with the presence of Dickens’ charmingly irresponsible father (Jonathan Pryce) and a scowling gent who becomes the personification of Scrooge (Christopher Plummer), and who constantly “visits” the beleaguered Dickens while the author tries to advance the narrative—and get himself out of his financial quagmire. The film is tasteful, charming, amusing, heartwarming, and populated with winning performers, namely Stevens and a sterling Plummer.