Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (dir. Martin McDonagh, 2017) – A year after her daughter’s murder goes unsolved, Mildred Hayes takes it upon herself to challenge the local authorities.
Dark and funny as with McDonagh’s usual brand of wit, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri takes an incisive and thoughtful look into the complexities of humanity.
There are no clear-cut protagonists in Martin McDonagh’s works. From In Bruges to Seven Psychopaths, the writer-director takes interest most in morally grey characters, whose values are often corrupt either by upbringing or circumstance. Similarly, amorality and righteousness are indefinite in his latest masterwork, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
The story centres on Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a woman who demands sole responsibility out of police chief Bill Wiloughby (Woody Harrelson) for her daughter’s unsolved murder. Her commissioning of the damning billboards is driven by a want for justice and more so by wrath, however misplaced.
The characters are fascinating. In her dogged prosecution of the cancer-stricken Wiloughby, it is easy to dismiss Mildred as an unsympathetic and almost cruel woman. It is easier still to hate Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an irredeemable cop who repeatedly escapes consequences for his acts of police brutality and unconcealed racism.
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Good Time (dir. Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie, 2017) – Constantine Nikas spends a night attempting to break his brother out of prison after a botched robbery.
Promising less than its namesake, Good Time presents an unflinching portrait of crime, propelled by misguided familial love.
In hopes for a better future, Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson) ropes his mentally handicapped brother Nick (Ben Safdie) into his precarious life of crime. But a botched bank heist lands Nick in prison alone and leaves him unable to cope behind bars, where only the harshest of convicts escape unscathed.
The pure always act from love, the damned always act from love. Iggy Pop’s haunting track captures the complex dynamics of the Nikas brothers in Good Time. There is much to admire about how layered characters are despite minimal exposition. For instance, while it is never clear what first led Connie down the transgressive path, his criminal inclination seems borne of a misguided belief that the means may justify the end.
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The Killing of a Sacred Deer (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017) – Dr Steven Murphy is forced into making an unthinkable sacrifice when his secrets invite danger to his family.
An unbroken air of malaise assails all senses in Yorgos Lanthimos’ retelling of an ancient tragic myth.
An open heart operation sets the scene as the stranger’s organ pulsates in discomforting proximity. Post-surgery, Dr Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) disposes of his bloody gloves, then heads to a diner to meet Martin (Barry Keoghan), an orphaned teenager whom he has taken under his wing and formed a close bond with.
Back at home with his picture-perfect family, his time at the hospital is mostly left unspoken. His wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) knows nothing about Martin, whose relationship with the surgeon remains a vexing puzzle, until the kid reveals his hold over her husband.
To give away anything more feels almost sacrilegious to Yorgos Lanthimos’ vision. It is the unexpected turn of events that make his latest work such an intriguing watch, where the unsettling truth is as irrational as it is conceivable.
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Time has come for us to look back at 2017’s fair share of favourites and letdowns in film. As always, due to late releases, I am missing out on movies that I might have loved, including Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here.
Sadly, I have also had less time for trips to the cinema. Even so, Netflix has produced plenty of stunning works, some surpassing even the most anticipated blockbusters. Scouring through the films I have seen both online and off, here is a list of my personal picks.
10. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (dir. Noah Baumbach)
With his works from the realist (The Squid and the Whale) to the expressly whimsical (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), Noah Baumbach has earned a solid reputation as a versatile and brilliantly empathic screenwriter. The Meyerowitz Stories returns to his familiar world of family dysfunction, where estranged siblings find commonality in their individual search for human connection.
The outstanding work sees Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler reunite as brothers at loggerheads, alongside Elizabeth Marvel as their wallflower-sister, and Dustin Hoffman as the egotistic patriarch of the family. Subtle individual quirks reveal their identifiable histories, of which the cast plays to perfection. Catharsis ensues.
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Justice League (dir. Zack Snyder & Joss Whedon, 2017) – After Superman’s sacrifice, Bruce Wayne enlists four other known superheroes to fight against the threat of Steppenwolf.
In a highly anticipated assembly of beloved heroes, Justice League banks on pace and humour to distract from its characterisation flaws, to little avail.
With The Avengers out on their third spin and counting, pressure on DC’s own supergroup debut continues to mount. There was never a chance that Batman vs Superman’s dismal performance would have stalled the long-gestating birth of the Justice League.
Excitement no doubt surrounds the inauguration of the beloved heroes in live action. Sadly, the team’s formation proves premature. History repeats as with the disastrous Suicide Squad, where one too many iconic characters were forced to share first appearances in a runtime of under two hours, leaving behind weak impressions.
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Making a return after its supposed Final Chapter, Jigsaw has once again come under fire for championing guts for glory. Yet for all the bad rep it gets, the flak may not be entirely justified. As criticism continues to spew from every end, there is no better time than now to revisit the much-maligned ‘torture porn’ genre, and the movie that started it all.
Saw may be well known for its creative display of gore. But it was the plotting and characterisation that proved the most intriguing in the 2003 release. Such as is rarely done in horror, the film builds up a strong case for its fascinating villain, whose impetus goes far beyond pure murder intent.
Before his big plans, John Kramer was a stricken cancer patient, who survived his desperate suicide attempt. It is only with his proximity to death, did he begin to appreciate life, and it is this belief that inspired his becoming.
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