Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Director: Martin McDonagh

Nominated For: Best Picture; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actor (twice); Best Original Screenplay; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is very much a dark comedy and is brilliant in it. I was honestly laughing out loud which is a bit strange given the horrific epicentre of the narrative – a mother trying her damnedest to find the person who raped and killed billboard2.0her teenage daughter. Not a subject that screams laughter and yet Martin McDonagh and has found a way to make it work.

As I said there was laughter throughout, often at inopportune moments, and yet there were also a number of ‘what the heck’ moments too which not only caught me off guard but actually made me really quite emotional (but them I’m a major sap when it comes to crying at movies!)

Frances McDormand’s nomination for Best Actress is richly deserved because she is incredible. She has this tenacity to her and a take no crap attitude that is brilliant to watch. She has no time for these small town folk and isn’t afraid of showing it either. She does however have a surprisingly civil relationship with Woody Harrelson’s character of Chief Willoughby – something that you may not expect from the questions on the billboards. I think it’s quite a frank and honest way of tackling grief – especially as a result of an unexpected and violent end. And not just in terms of Mildred’s response but the response of all those around her who have been affected by the incident.

As much as I love Woody Harrelson I think going off these performances, Sam Rockwell would be the more deserving were he to win Best Supporting Actor. His character, Dixon, has the most visible development throughout the course of film. Indeed he goes from being this red-neck, racist cop with some serious anger issues to actually becoming a half-way decent policeman who finally thinks about others instead of just himself, or his mama. It’s very satisfying to watch his performance. Of course he does provide much of the comedy in the early parts of the film with his ineptitude. But then he becomes so much more than just someone to laugh at, you end up rooting for him to come good and succeed at something. Rockwell actually has some of the most touching moments I found.

But let’s not forget about the supporting cast either because they are all equally brilliant and have a significant role to play. Peter Dinklage is delightful as, as he puts it “the town midget”, James who crops up at odd moments. Caleb Landry Jones is amusing as the advertising man who bears the full displeasure of Rockwell’s Dixon on a number of occasions and yet never takes it to heart.threebillboardscharacterpostersetpic

I often find it difficult to talk about editing and scores because in reality when they are done well you shouldn’t notice them at all. And that was the case with this. The editing was seamless resulting in the narrative flowing perfectly. And the score, by Carter Burwell, was beautiful – perfectly complimenting, and at times enhancing, the feelings being elicited by McDonagh’s stellar writing and the outstanding performances of his cast.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a brilliant film and I’m glad it lived up to the hype that has been surrounding it this award season. However I will say, without giving anything away, that I was kind of left unsatisfied with the ending. Let me know what you think.

 

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Victoria & Abdul

Director: Stephen Frears

Nominated for: Best Makeup and Hairstyling; Best Costume Design

This is a film that is a veritable who’s who of British classical acting with a stellar cast including Eddie Izzard, Michael Gambon, Simon Callow, Olivia Williams, Tim McMullan and of course ably headed up by the outstanding Dame Judi Dench.

Dame Judi proves once again that she is a comedic talent with some perfectly timed acerbic one-liners. She is brilliant as Queen Victoria and actually looks incredibly like her thanks to the exceptional work of the costume department.qunsv

The costumes are just stunning – particularly Abdul’s but then he is a riot of colour against the more muted colours of Victoria’s court and of course her mourning blacks. That is not to say that Victoria’s costumes are boring because they really aren’t – they’re full of different textures and little details that make every item very different to the one that came before. The richness in the materials used is evident throughout. I really enjoyed watching Abdul’s wardrobe change to reflect his increased d188319a904f2a48e434c82405f1a2e9presence within the royal household. His costumes become more luscious and elegant as the film goes on.

The film is hilarious – much more so than I expected it to be. Mohammed, played wonderfully by Adeel Akhtar, is comedic gold and who I think the peddler in Aladdin (1992, Ron Clements & John Musker) would be if they were a real person. He is so put out to be in England and just wants to go, plus he constantly gets subtly demoted. However, for all the film is laugh out loud funny, it does become extremely poignant towards the end as we follow Victoria to the end of her reign.

The royal household is both brilliant and at the same time deplorable in their actions. Their self-importance, bestowed due to being part of the royal household, results in them being fairly impotent characters. They have no real power as that all lies with the Queen and yet a large portion of their time is devoted to how to increase their power and influence – a pastime that is threatened by Abdul’s arrival. They’re only concern is how this unusual relationship reflects on the Royal household, and in turn their position within said household, and actively ignore the effect that Abdul’s presence and friendship has on Victoria. It is a physical change that comes over her whenever some of their manoeuvring result in Abdul falling slightly from favour. I have complete sympathy for Victoria in the film and actually really admire her for looking past the initial, obvious differences, and learning more about the world around her. She was after all, as she mentions a number of times, the Empress of India so why shouldn’t she learn about that country and its cultures. It also highlights the deep-rooted mistrust towards the Muslim community and Islamic culture – long before any of our current day issues even began to rear their head.

The makeup is outstanding – especially that used to transform Eddie Izzard to Prince Bertie. It was so good that my mum did not realise it was Eddie Izzard. Having said that I couldn’t help but see a strong resemblance to Mark Hamill’s look as Luke Skywalker in bertielukeStar Wars: The Last Jedi (2017, Rain Johnson) I don’t know what it is – and it’s probably me that sees it. Izzard’s performance as Bertie is nuanced – it’s comedic, as you would expect from an actor like Izzard (although he’s a very talent ‘straight’ actor as well). And then at the same time Frears doesn’t shy away from the fact that actual Bertie isn’t always the nicest person and has all those conceits that seem to come along with growing up super privileged. And his actions at the end of the film are utterly disgusting! But I will say no more for fear of someone shouting “Spoilers” at me. I actually enjoyed Victoria and Abdul much more than I initially expected to – it’s a delightful little film.

Oscars 2018 Nominations

90scars_newsbanner_copyIt’s nomination day … or at least it was when I was writing this (evening rehearsals meant that I couldn’t get near a computer in order to post it on the same day!) I haven’t attempted my usual thing of trying to see as many nominated films as I can before the ceremony for a couple of years but my aim for 2018 is to be more consistent with my blog. What better way to start then with trying to watch 33(ish) films in little over a month (while working full-time and rehearsing for a show twice a week?!?!)

At first glance the nominations are not all that surprising because if you follow the awards season a number of the big hitters, The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro), Darkest Hour (Joe Wright) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh), have been racking up the wins through the season. I do find it surprising that Get Out (Jordan Peele) has got quite so many nominations as it has – and in some pretty big categories too – but that’s because I don’t tend to associate the horror genre with the Oscars. It’s also like it could be a pretty good year for the Brits with a fair few nominations racked up over a number of categories – and as a Brit this makes me incredibly happy.

Greta-Gerwig-Lady-Bird-2018There have been a number of wins for me already though as there seems to be slightly more recognition for women in the industry with Greta Gerwig becoming only the fifth female director to be nominated for Lady Bird, and Rachel Morrison making history for being the first ever female cinematographer to be nominated for rachel-morrison-e1516715520872her work on the Netflix movie Mudbound – let’s just take a moment to marvel at how rapidly the movie landscape is changing in that a movie created for a streaming service has been nominated for a number of Academy Awards! Now I know some may argue that the whole #MeToo movement has had an impact on this year’s nominations … and it probably has … but at least it’s put women at the forefront of discussion and these women have been recognised for their talent not their looks. And that, like I say, is a win for me!

I would love Gary Oldman to take home the Oscar for Best Actor … and people seem confident that this will be the case thanks to his recent wins at The Golden Globes and SAG Awards … but I have learnt to never underestimate Daniel Day-Lewis who seems to be the Academy’s darling and has in my opinion won previously over other more deserving actors because he is “method”. It all just becomes a bit boring when he is nominated for something as there’s a very high chance he will win. Anyway enough with that little rant.

I’m usually a bit indifferent to the Short Film categories because it’s so hard to find a way to watch them that I tend to give up. However this year, we’ve had quite a bit of local news coverage about one of the nominees for the Best Live Action Short Film, The Silent MV5BZTk4YzAzM2MtMGVjOS00Y2M5LTk1YTItZGM2ZmYwZTI1YzM0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc3OTI2MTM@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_Child (Chris Overton) and this has piqued my interest in it. Not only is it a brilliant story for a film – what do deaf children have to overcome to have some sense of normalcy in a world that is predominately hearing – in the wonderful and fascinating language of British Sign Language (BSL) but it has a pretty cool origin story too. Two actors from the English soap Hollyoaks, who created it as a passion project, based on personal experience. Chris Overton even learnt BSL specifically so that he could communicate with Maisie Sly who plays the little girl and is profoundly deaf in real life. How awesome is that?!

The Best Animated Feature category feels a bit weak to me this year but I guess that happens on occasion. Some years there is a plethora of animated feature films to choose from and then other years there aren’t quite so many and you end up with a few randoms in the category. Kind of feels like that this year, not gonna lie.

Every Oscars nomination there is always something that leaves me a little bit disappointed and this year was no different. This year I’m pretty sad to see that The The_Greatest_Showman_posterGreatest Showman (Michael Gracey) has been largely overlooked with only one nomination – Best Original Song with “This Is Me” (which will be amazing when performed on the night by the way!!) I did sort of expect that it wouldn’t garner that many nominations, especially in the bigger categories, but I thought that it at least had a shot at both Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Cinematography, as both of these elements are outstanding. I’m not really sure why it’s not really picked up that many nominations as for me , as much as I loved La La Land (Damien Chazelle) and believe me as a fan of 1950s Musicals I really do love it, The Greatest Showman just blew it out of the water. But it doesn’t seemed to have touched the critics in the same way although everyone I know is astounded by it and pretty obsessed with the soundtrack it has to be said. I could go on and on about The Greatest Showman but I think I’ll wait until I actually review it properly.

And on that subject – any ideas on how I should go about reviewing the films for this year’s Oscars? Should I do them as individual films and note what it is they’re nominated for or do I do it by category and mention each film? Any thoughts would be muchly appreciated you guys. And now I shall leave you and make a start on watching all these incredible films.

Rear Window

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

1954

“A fascinating study of obsession and voyeurism – Rear Window combines a perfect cast, a perfect screenplay, and particularly a perfect set for a movie – that’s even better than the sum of its parts.” (288-289, Joshua Klein, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) James Stewart and Grace Kelly are stunning in this film as the wheelchair bound L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies and his long-suffering and under appreciated girlfriend, Lisa. And it was so important that the cast be brilliant in order to carry the film and hold the attention of the viewers given that the entire narrative takes place within a very narrow landscape. Likewise Thelma Ritter’s put-upon housekeeper, Stella, is the perfect foil to Stewart’s obsessive photographer.

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“Rear Window, the film, is constructed every bit as thoroughly as its elaborate set. Watching it is like watching a living, breathing ecosystem with the added thrill of a murder mystery thrown in for good measure.” (288-289) The set for Rear Window is definitely ambitious but makes perfect sense for practical reasons. By building an entire block Hitchcock ensured that he had complete control over every aspect of the action taking place. However, as brilliant as the set is, it does feel like it is completely enclosed within the four walls of a sound stage which creates a sense of claustrophobia. Then again, knowing Hitchcock this was probably by design and added to Jeff’s feeling of being trapped and ultimately helpless. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be stuck in the same room for weeks on end – I go a little bit mad over the holiday period when I’m not needed at work and have to escape my house on a regular basis – but watching Jeff become more and more fixated on the exploits of those around him gives a tiny bit of insight.

“Hitchcock relishes the film’s particularly postmodern scenario: we, the viewers, are entranced by the actions of these characters, who are in turn entranced by the actions of still other characters. It’s a vicious circle of obsession laced with black humor and a dash of sexiness.” (288-289) While eventually the murder mystery, admittedly the main drive of the narrative, is solved there are so many other mini stories that take place alongside the big event … and although we, as viewers, get invested in these as well there isn’t the same sense of resolution to them. As usual with a Hitchcock movie you are left with an ever so slight feeling of dissatisfaction. There’s always that question of “what happened to …” in the back of your mind.

It seems to be a bit of a theme with me today that the films I am posting about have been remade at a later date – or rather reimagined and modernised and Rear Window is no exception. In 2007 it became the basis for the Shia LaBeouf movie Disturbia (D.J. Caruso) – brought up to date and with a younger cast. DisturbiaAgain though there is that sense of claustrophobia due to having an extremely limited landscape (this time a house and his neighbours) and the increasing obsession with the actions of those around him. Rear Window is much more of a slower burn and much more psychological which you would expect from a director like Hitchcock whereas Disturbia has considerably more action in it (partly due to the decision to have Shia’s character hindered by an ankle monitor rather than an injury) but both have their selling points.

I think I actually prefer Rear Window to Psycho – there is less of a macabre feeling to it which makes for easier viewing for me. Plus Jimmy Stewart really is a magnetic actor to watch.

 

Batman

Director: Tim Burton

1989

Batman“In this blockbuster movie version of Bob Kane’s classic comic, director Tim Burton reimagines eponymous superhero Batman (last seen on screen in the campy 1960s TV incarnation) as a dark and conflicted character.” (767, Joanna Berry 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Not only am I a massive Tim Burton fan but I’m also a comic and superhero fan and my introduction to the cinematic visions of the classic superheroes (I was already a massive fan of the X-Men cartoons on TV) was through this movie so it will always hold a special place in my heart. While it was a much darker re-imaginging of the ‘Caped Crusader’, especially when held up against the camp Adam West incarnation, I’m not sure that it really holds up all that well when you take into consideration the multitude of Batman movies that have now graced the silver screen – each one seemingly getter darker and more brutal than the one before. When I watched this recently I realised that there is a much more heightened fantastical element to this version of the DC hero than in say Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy or even the more recent reboot featuring Ben Affleck in the titular role. There is a camp, almost cartoony, feel to this Batman that was not there in the same way when it first came out and for me that takes something away from it as a film.

Every aspect of this film screams Tim Burton, from the highly stylised sets and costumes to the insane parade through Gotham with enormous inflatable balloons. batmanfloat3.2817And it is very much situated in the era of its creation – namely the 1980s. Big hair, big shoulders, big songs … just everything in excess. For me Michael Keaton, as Batman, was something of a revelation as I had only really seen him in Bettlejuice (1988, Tim Burton) where he is almost unrecognisable as the manic title character. It was great to see him take on a more serious, conflicted and emotional role. Joanna Berry has got it completely right when she says, “[W]hile Burton gives his Caped Crusader depth, darkness, and even romance (in the form of Vicki), the show is almost stolen from his hero by the villain of the piece, the Joker, played with gusto by Jack Nicholson. Resplendent in purple suit and clown-like makeup, dancing to the Prince songs that pepper the soundtrack, he was surely the most enjoyably unlikable bad guy to hit the screen in a long time.” (767) Jack Nicholson was outstanding as Batman’s nemesis, The Joker. tim-burton-batmanHe’s maniacal while at the same time being anarchical. And he just roars onto the screen in his extraordinarily bright costume – an instant icon! There is a charm to him as well though – you can’t help but be drawn in to his personality. And yet for me the ultimate Joker, as I said before in my post on The Dark Knight (2006, Christopher Nolan) will always be Heath Ledger. While Jack is clearly insane there seems to be more of a sense of innocence or jokiness about his antics – yes he’s out to cause chaos but he does it in a humorous way that doesn’t involve much maliciousness or even bodily harm. The same cannot be said of Ledger’s Joker – he’s all about the hurt and really does want to see the world burn. There is a more visceral and realistic feel to Ledger’s Joker than Nicholson’s. However it cannot be denied that Nicholson did indeed pave the way for all following cinematic incarnations of arguably the most recognisable bad guy in the DC universe.

I would say that Burton’s Batman has now become one of the best films to introduce kids to the world of Batman and Gotham as it is, retrospectively, light-hearted enough not to cause any issues. It’s definitely still a great film to watch – you just have to approach it with an expectation that it now reads as rather tongue-in-cheek.

Dangerous Liaisons

Director: Stephen Frears

1988

“Frears leads us into the boudoirs and drawing rooms of the wealthy aristocracy, each one dripping with elegance and wickedness in equal measure.” (763, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I actually came to Dangerous Liaisons fairly late in the game – and more importantly after having seen the modernised remake that is Cruel Intentions (1999, Roger Kumble) What remained with me is how close the two films actually are. However if I was to choose one to watch it would always be Cruel Intentions. dangerous_liaisons_nbt_270Now that’s not to say that Dangerous Liaisons isn’t any good. Far from it. Dangerous Liaisons is sumptuous and rich, full on intrigue and questionable morals, coupled with absolutely gorgeous period costumes. Throw in a stellar cast and you have the perfect recipe for an enjoyable film.

“Glenn Close steals the show as the vicious and vindictive Marquise de Merteuil, whose main enjoyment in her bored, rich life is to conspire with the equally cynical Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich).” (763) gefaehrliche-liebschaften-dangerous-liaisons-glenn-close-john-malkovich-D1K58NThe companionship of Glenn Close and John Malkovich is only heightened and strengthened by their competitive nature. They’re continually trying to one up each other, which with their complete lack of compassion for other people just makes for an interesting narrative. Michelle Pfeiffer is the perfect mixture of naivety and backbone to avoid becoming nauseatingly simpering – something that could have too easily happened with her character. There is something about the combination of the aristocracy and their callous nature that is fascinating to watch – you don’t like these characters but you can’t help but watch their machinations with a sense of both disgust and admiration for their gall to behave in that way.

I know I mentioned it earlier and technically it isn’t in the book but I couldn’t leave a review of Dangerous Liaisons without doing a quick comparison to Cruel Intentions. I don’t know if it is because I watched Cruel Intentions first or if it is the more modern setting of the story but I can connect more with Cruel Intentions than Dangerous Liaisons. The setting is modern-day New York city although admittedly still situated within the upper classes. Gone are the lavish period costumes and the ballroom settings to be replaced with the effortless elegance than seems to be synonymous with wealth. 74OOkCoNbMb5bDg1AVXQxmGUTexThe characters are much younger allowing the narrative to be moved into the tumultuous setting of a high school. Despite some significant changes the thing that struck me is that so much of dialogue remains the same. And yet it is these significant changes that make the remake much more approachable for me as a viewer. The lavish nature of Dangerous Liaisons actually makes it much more fantastical, and therefore far more removed from my experiences. I also found the characters more forgiving and more relatable than their original counterparts. And let’s face it Ryan Philippe, Resse Witherspoon and Sarah Michelle Gellar are excellent in their roles, particularly Sarah which is such a departure from her role as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (arguably her most famous role, certainly at the time of this film!)

“A handsome look at lust, betrayal, and guilt, Dangerous Liaisons is both lavishly mounted and beautifully portrayed.” (763) As much as I enjoy Cruel Intentions I would still recommend Dangerous Liaisons as it is a stunning visual experience and the play between Glenn Close and John Malkovich is wonderful to watch. And then go watch Cruel Intentions and see how they compare.