“The Emoji Movie” Movie Review

After looking over my archive of the past month, I’ve come to the conclusion that the vast majority of reviews are for films that I actually liked. And the perfect way to balance that out was by sitting through The Emoji Movie because… yeah. I’m a true masochist if ever there was one. This computer-animated adventure “comedy” was released worldwide on July 28th, 2017. Made for the budget of about $5o million, the film somehow managed to find an audience as it grossed over $217 million at the box office. Announced at CinemaCon 2016, there was actually a bidding war for the script from director Tony Leonidis, with Warner Bros. also a possible contender. But Sony Pictures won out and even went so far as to cancel Genndy Tartakovsky’s plans for a Popeye adaptation to make room for this new concept. Hey, it’s their mistake, not mine. Set in modern day, most of the story takes place inside of a phone where all of the apps and emojis live together in Textopolis. T.J. Miller stars as the “Meh” emoji Gene, who is outcast by everyone for being able to create other expressions. After something goes wrong with the phone’s owner, a high school freshman named Alex, Gene must embark on a quest with his best friend Hi-5 and a hacker named Jailbreak to get back into society. All the while, Alex is struggling to communicate in the real world with a girl he likes. Alright, no B.S. here; when I first heard about this movie back in Spring, I genuinely thought that it was a joke. I was convinced it was an Onion article satirizing Hollywood’s apparent shortage of fresh movie ideas. But no, this is a real, feature-length film brought to us by the same company behind Sausage Party and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Because of this, I didn’t see it in its theatrical run because I refused to give them any of my money. Thankfully, (Or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) it came to me on home media streaming for a short time. And now I’m sitting here… trying to come up with the words to describe my hatred. In fact, I’ve come to one solid conclusion. After careful consideration and enough time to sit on it, I can say without reservation that The Emoji Movie is the worst animated movie I have ever seen. Also true story: I saw this a few weeks ago. So why did it take me so long to get my thoughts out when it seems like they’re abundantly clear? Well, I actually gave this movie a genuine chance. I spent that entire time trying to think if there was a single redeeming quality within this mess. And I honestly couldn’t find even one. In better hands, the concept could potentially work as a satire of the digital age. Ever since The Lego Movie, I’ve been willing to give animated films the benefit of the doubt if they just seem like giant advertisements. But sadly, that’s all this is. All of the voice actors are phoning it in, probably because they’re aware of the fact that this is a “kids movie.” (More on that later) The most shocking member of the cast is the esteemed Sir Patrick Stewart, an accomplished Shakespearean actor, and former Professor X, voicing the poop emoji. There’s nothing funny about him since all of his jokes are related to feces, but there’s some novelty in saying that his role is literally shit. If we’re being real, he probably didn’t even know what emojis are and just sent a tape recording of his lines to the studio. But it’s not just him; all of the characters are given insufferable quirks and lazy surface-level jokes that never made me laugh. The only time I chuckled is when I realized the film was finally over after 86 minutes. It felt like a lifetime. What’s perhaps most baffling about The Emoji Movie is the amount of product placement shoved in. In fact, it’s bloated to the point of absurdity. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, at least half of the apps on display are outdated, such as Just Dance, Candy Crush Saga, and even Crackle. The only one of those that provided any sense of fleeting enjoyment was when the blue Twitter bird swooped in to save the heroes from peril, a la Lord of the Rings. But perhaps most annoyingly, one of the most important plot points is that the characters have to get into Dropbox and upload into the cloud. Into DROPBOX!!! Oh, and did I forget to mention that Spotify plays an integral role in saving the world? On the one hand, it’s suddenly become easy to tell where all the funding came from. But then again, it’s just heavy-handed and dumb. Speaking of heavy-handed and dumb, I have rarely seen an animated film that hamfists such a mean and disrespectful message to children this century. There’s a common excuse that gets thrown around in the industry that argues, “Oh you’re being too hard on it, it’s just a kids movie. It doesn’t have to try as hard as everything else.” I find this argument to be an insult to the intelligence of children, but still not as insulting as this film. Do you really want your child to learn that using computer expressions is better than face-to-face interactions? It’s as if the writers took all the wrong cues from Inside Out and Wreck-it-Ralph and doubled-down on pandering to the lowest common denominator. Just thinking about it right now makes me angry. Trite as can be, predictable to a fault, and feeling over 3 hours longer than it should, The Emoji Movie is an agonizingly cynical and stupid exercise in corporate advertisements. It’s completely disconnected from whatever audience it was trying to find and thus feels utterly pointless. Save yourself the trouble and just watch something like Inside Out. That’s a film that treats its audience with respect and intelligence.

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“Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” Movie Review

Well, Star Wars fans, here we are. After The Force Awakens, we all begged for Lucasfilm to make a more original movie that didn’t mimic the same story beats as the Original Trilogy. And now we have this movie to unpack, so let’s dig in. The 8th main installment of this epic space opera series was released worldwide on December 15th, 2017. Having already accumulated the second-biggest opening weekend of all time domestically, the film is well on its way to breaking the $2 billion mark given the time. While critics have given strong reviews to writer-director Rian Johnson’s new entry, fans have been more mixed in their opinions. Admittedly, there’s a lot of density here in terms of storytelling and themes. And don’t worry, there are absolutely no spoilers to be found in this review. Picking up right after The Force Awakens, the Resistance is on the run after striking a victory against the First Order. Meanwhile, the scavenger Rey goes to an island on a distant planet to learn the ways of the Force from the last living Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker. All of this is happening as the young Kylo Ren continues to struggle with his allegiance to either the Dark or Light Side and his mentor Supreme Leader Snoke is hounding his every move. Like I said, this movie doesn’t follow the beats of the Original Trilogy. Whereas The Force Awakens had to play it safe in order to properly set up the new characters and put the plot on a path, The Last Jedi tosses franchise conventions out of the damn window to go in new, uncharted territory. Some fans may hate it for that, and I understand why. But to me, the second installment of this sequel trilogy had to shake things up in order to propel this series forward. And not only did it shake things up, it took the established structure of a Star Wars movie and threw it in a blender. That’s a long analogy of saying… I freaking loved it all. Rarely has there been an entry in a blockbuster franchise, especially one so beloved and iconic as Star Wars, that has felt this fearless and ambitious. It has no qualms about pushing the boundaries for the characters and turning the wheels off the main road. In that, a lot of fans may not like this movie because of what it does to certain arcs. One story involving Finn and a new girl named Rose dragged in the middle act, but I don’t want to delve into that. As a huge fan of Rian Johnson’s previous film Looper, it was very exciting to see him abscond with $200~ million of Disney’s money to make his own movie with his own voice. And that voice has a lot to say. Virtually all of the cast members from the previous film return here and they have all grown comfortable. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are particularly great as Rey and Kylo Ren, by far my favorite arc in the entire movie. Their dynamic dances back and forth like a ballet, playing off of each other’s conflicts and desires. In her last-ever film role, Carrie Fisher is as witty and charming as she always was as Princess Leia Organa. Though she’s bright with hope and optimism, it was difficult watching her scenes knowing her real-life fate. But the scene-stealer here is undoubtedly Mark Hamill’s return as Luke Skywalker in easily his best performance to date. Gone is the idealistic farm boy from Tatooine who wants to get power converters from Toshi Station. This is a tired, embittered old man who wants nothing more to do with the conflict of good and evil. In many ways, Rey has swapped roles with him as he’s hesitant to pass down the torch of the Jedi Order. On the directing side of the camera, The Last Jedi sings its singular vision with spades. As always, the visuals are astounding, switching (mostly) seamlessly from practical to CGI effects in one scene. Johnson’s collaborating cinematographer Steve Yedlin also makes sure to use a wide color palette, particularly that of red. The red throne room of Snoke, the red Praetorian Guard, red salt from the planet Crait. They take what’s normally a symbol of evil or wrong and make it beautiful. Along with Bob Duscay’s slick editing job, we get some of the best action sequences in the franchise. The lightsaber battles have never looked more precise and elegant than here with wide shots and fluid movement. And thanks to Industrial Lights & Magic, all of the computer-animated characters look like tangible beings. In a career spanning over 6o years and over 100 film scores, the legendary John Williams brings out his finest soundtrack since at least Raiders. Though he does recycle leitmotifs such as “Rey’s Theme” or “The Force” multiple times, he brings a harsh yet controlled sound to layer on top. Of particular note is one of the final tracks, “The Spark,” which is essentially a heroic riff on the Imperial March. Williams’ trademark of piercing horns and buoyant percussion are all here. But it’s the new concertos of low-strings that help elevate this to some of his best work. More than ever, The Last Jedi is concerned with exploring the themes commonplace in Star Wars; good vs evil, living up to a legacy, the courage to become a hero. But what if that legacy was overly romanticized by the ages? What if your hero was falsely judged by history? These are the questions the movie’s interested in asking. Luke spends so much time running away from his own legend, that he leaves his admirer choking on deceit. At 2 hours and 32 minutes, it’s the longest in the series yet, taking its time to unfold these ideas gradually. But with the way the story progresses, time is virtually nonexistent to me and it just flies by. I want to go more in-depth but I’ll wait for you to see the movie yourself. Though it has some pacing issues and one arc that could have been tweaked, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is a boldly dense and deeply satisfying emotional adventure. By far the best Star Wars movie under the Disney banner, it’s also my favorite one since The Empire Strikes Back. Thematically rich and bursting with memorable characters, this is a movie I can’t wait to experience on the big screen again and again.

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“Raw” Movie Review

In all of 2017 cinema, I don’t think there has been a single film that lives up to its title quite like this one. Dear God, I had to take a few showers after watching this. The debut feature of writer-director Julie Docournau, this sexually-charged horror drama premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival under the International Critics’ Week section where it won the top prize. It was released worldwide on March 10th the following year and just barely earned back its budget of $3.1 million. It also held a screening at TIFF, and the screening for it was apparently was so real and volatile that two viewers fainted and were escorted out via emergency medical services. That should give you some idea as to the effect this movie had upon audiences, including this critic. The story follows a young woman named Justine who begins attending an unnamed veterinary school somewhere in France. Upon meeting up with her older sister Alexia, she becomes embroiled in harsh hazing rituals from upperclassmen. Despite being a lifelong vegetarian, she is forced to eat raw meat on campus and her craving for flesh only gets stronger as she goes on a personal journey. How do you even evaluate a film that repulsed you in almost every possible way yet still loved everything about it? This movie had gotten a lot of hype leading to its release, if only because of how explicit its content was. I’m not typically one for foreign films, but I was still intrigued. There’s not much I can build up to saying this, so I feel it’s appropriate to put out there: Raw is one of the best directorial debuts of the 21st century so far. One could easily write this off as the nothing more than the next shocking entry in art-house French horror cinema. You’d be forgiven for thinking just about that. But it’s also a surprisingly involving coming-of-age drama about Justine’s transitional period in life. There’s a sensual undercurrent flowing with every act of brutality carried out onscreen. She’s just budding her true self out into existence in a very horrific yet captivating manner. It’s not until she finally blossoms like a flower that we discover what she’s truly capable of. And it’s not exactly comfortable viewing. Garance Marillier totally knocks it out of the park in her lead role as Justine. She evokes all of the insecurities and naivety typical in a teenage girl, but she also brings something charming and different about the character. She and Docournau were made for each other, evident in the fact that they made a short together before this. Her sister Alexia is played by Swiss actress Ella Rumpf, who brings something neat to the supporting table. She’s definitely the more unstable and party-hungry of the siblings, and her wildly unpredictable decisions throughout the movie take the viewer further down the rabbit hole of juvenile hedonism. And finally, Justine’s roommate Adrien is played well in a fantastic debut from Rabah Naït Oufella. Of the characters, he was perhaps the most interesting one because of his contradictory nature. And his scenes provided most of the spare laughs in the film. And Raw also makes sure to grab viewers’ attention through its technical aspects. Belgian cameraman Ruben Impens contrasts the lens’ technique quite often. Often times, a scene unfolds from a beautiful, distant wide shot which helps develop the atmosphere. We can’t see the faces of the people, but we know what they’re doing. The one exception was a during a party scene early on in the film that was captured on a single shaky shot. We follow Justine the whole way through the event, and we really share her feeling of discomfort. Other times, a shot will linger on one particular subject for a certain amount of time which heightens the uneasy and foreboding tone of the film. The musical score is composed by British man Jim Williams in his 6th feature film, and boy is it memorable. The soundtrack at times feels like an homage to old-school horror movies, with plucked strings and organs switching off from each other. In fact, that’s probably not too far off from he had intended. But still, the main melody is composed of a harsh synthesizer that works to further establish the warm feeling of tension and anxiety. It also succeeds in keeping the audience humming after the credits roll. Before you start humming, though, you’ll have to wash out all of the disgusting imagery you’ve just witnessed. Despite its 99 minute-long runtime, virtually everything horrendous or provocative that you could imagine is placed somewhere in the movie. Want a bit of context? Arguably the tamest part of the entire movie is when Adrien, Justine’s roommate, is watching gay porn on his laptop. But it’s not exploitation. There is ultimately a purpose for the violence and gore, it pushes the plot and character development forward. All of it leads to a shocking final twist where everything is suddenly given more meaning and all we’ve seen is explained. To be honest, it’s actually not as bloody as I had anticipated, but that’s not saying much. While it’s certainly not for everyone, especially the faint of heart, Raw is a lurid parable of flesh and sexuality. It has finally been added to Netflix after months of failing to hunt it down. It’s genuinely one of the best films of 2017 and reveals Julie Docournau as a brand new talent to keep it an eye on.

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“The Disaster Artist” Movie Review

Have I ever told you guys that I’ve thought about becoming a film director someday? Well, this movie has given me even more of an incentive to pursue that dream. That’s one of the few things we can thank The Room for. This biographical comedy-drama received a standing ovation at the premiere of its rough cut at South By Southwest in March. After another screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, it released worldwide on December 1st, 2017, where it has already earned back its $10 million budget. Based on the tell-all nonfiction book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, Seth Rogen’s production company set up film rights with James Franco in place to star. Despite the real-life subject wanting Johnny Depp for the lead role, Franco and A24 replicated the marketing strategy by having an actual billboard on Highland Avenue where they would call him and he’d ask them to see his movie. Beginning in 1998, the true-story stars the director’s younger brother Dave as an aspiring actor named Greg Sestero who befriends a fellow student Tommy Wiseau. After the two move to Hollywood and struggle to find any work, they resolve to make their own movie, The Room. And as the production unravels, their friendship and passion for acting is tested by a number of blunders which lead to the creation of one of the worst movies ever made. For those wondering, I have seen The Room. I caught it on cable once a few years ago and kept thinking the entire time, “What the hell is this?” It earns its reputation as the epitome of “so bad, it’s good” because, despite its terribleness, I just couldn’t look away. I will say that the only way to truly enjoy it is with a crowded theater where attendees know the movie backward and forwards and throw spoons at the screen. But the idea of a movie about the making of that movie? That’s like a cinephile’s wet dream come true. Do you need to have seen The Room in order to appreciate The Disaster Artist? No, you don’t. But you should definitely see James Franco’s new film because it’s highly entertaining. You can tell his deep passion and respect for the subject at hand. In fact, some scenes from The Room, such as the rooftop or the flower shop sequences, are recreated exactly as they were, right down to the framing of the shots. But also because Tommy Wiseau is one of the most mysterious and eccentric figures in the history of the film industry. No one, not even Sestero, knows anything concrete about him except that he apparently has a bottomless pit of money. And screenwriters Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter, previously scribes for The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars, find the empathy and the human being inside of him. At least, as much as they could. The younger Franco Dave finally finds himself a worthy role as Sestero, a good-hearted yet quiet actor. Having him play Greg was a stroke of genius because he manages to have great chemistry with his older brother and is the only one in Hollywood willing to give him a chance. But I’m sorry, no matter how many celebrities make a cameo in this film (I counted at least 45) none of them come close to James Franco as Tommy. A revelation in every part of his performance, he nails everything about Tommy Wiseau. From his strange accent to his oddball laugh, it was all spot-on. He has no business making a movie of any sort, but we still root for him in the end. If we’re going to talk about Gary Oldman receiving praise for his makeup-heavy work in Darkest Hour, then James Franco also deserves Oscar consideration for Best Actor. As I said, he has a clear passion for the subject at hand, and that also shows on the technical side of things. Cinematographer Brandon Trost chooses to use a shaky, vérité-style movement around the set in between takes of The Room. In fact, several shots are on one take which gives off this feeling that we’re watching a documentary about Tommy Wiseau rather than a narrative feature. With the creative decision to have several celebrities give interviews at the beginning in a cold open, everything felt real and lived-in. And like many other films of its kind, it ends with a montage of footage and photos featuring the real-life versions of both Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau. While this strategy feels tacked-on most of the time, I felt like it worked here pretty well. The way that Stacey Schroeder edits the real footage together with what’s unfolding before our eyes is pretty nice. And for me, The Disaster Artist could not have come at a better time to come out. For all the scandals of abuse, harassment, corruption, cover-up, divorces, and indifference in current stories regarding the film industry, here’s a movie about a couple of goofballs who are genuinely trying to chase their dream. And seeing the tumultuous production of it progress was invigorating as they constantly butt heads on opportunities. As many of you probably know, The Room was meant to be a very gritty, Tennesse Williams style drama. And so when Tommy slowly realizes how people are actually reacting to the finished movie, it was heartbreaking to see his brainchild collapse. I felt like that was what this film captured best, even though, again, no one really knows anything about Wiseau. The Disaster Artist is a hilarious and unexpectedly heartfelt tribute to all the dreamers in the world. Some characters feel like they get left behind, and it occasionally panders to fans of The Room. Otherwise, I’m very happy with this product. In a way, Tommy Wiseau succeeded because his “masterpiece” is still shown and talked about all over the world. And he got a movie made about it.

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“Thor: Ragnarok” Movie Review

So this must be what it looks like when the entire board of head bosses at Marvel starts tripping on acid. If this is the result, then I’ve gotta have a taste of it. Released on November 3rd of 2017, this sci-fi superhero comedy has thus far earned over $833 million at the box office worldwide. The 17th(!) overall entry in the most unexpectedly successful franchise ever to hit theaters, it also serves as the final film starring the God of Thunder in the leading role. The film serves as the first blockbuster for director Taika Waiti, who previously found success from indie comedies like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Set two years after the events of Age of Ultron, Thor finds himself in a new battle with Hela the Goddess of Death. After a freak accident, he is deserted on a distant alien planet where he’s forced to fight to the death, Gladiator style. With the help of Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk, who’s also imprisoned as a fighter, he must find a way to get back home in time to prevent Ragnarok, the prophesied ending of Asgard. I have an odd history with the Thor franchise. Even though I liked the first one by Kenneth Branagh, it just didn’t hold up upon repeat viewings. And the second one The Dark World was… one of Marvel’s worst films to date and one I never saw again after leaving the theater. So you can imagine my reaction when plans were announced for a third installment. But I suddenly became more excited when I heard that Taika Waititi was at the helm for it. What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople are 2 of my favorite comedies in recent years, and seeing the little New Zealander moving into blockbuster territory was what ultimately got me to give in my ticket. And he has delivered to us not just the best Thor movie by a country mile, but the first straight-up superhero comedy in the MCU. The film is by far the most distinguished from the rest of its siblings by infusing every frame with a flaring personality. Jokes were cracked and gags were unleashed almost every other line. Waititi himself scored huge bits of stomach-hurting laughter as the voice of a CGI rock creature called Korg. On more than one occasion, a dramatic monologue would be interupted by a sudden physical gag. At times, it felt like there were too many jokes being crammed in at once. One thing’s for sure, though. The director 100% doesn’t care what you think of his movie. In an age where stories of clashes between studio profit and artistic vision are regular, it’s refreshing to see a filmmaker being allowed to let loose onscreen. At least, to a point. Having been one of the most boring characters in the MCU up til now, Chris Hemsworth is finally given the chance to be cheeky yet vulnerable as the titular protagonist. Stripped of his hair and hammer, he shows off great skills of improvisation and surprisingly on-point timing. However, for the third time in a row, Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba steal the show from right under him as Loki and Heimdall, respectively. Whereas Heimdall is a world-weary warrior coming down to his last stand, Loki is as deceptive as ever, yet there is a sense of genuine concern for his home and adopted brother. Jeff Goldblum shines as a pitch-perfect alien caricature of himself, while Mark Ruffalo gets one of the few quiet moments with Thor. Tessa Thompson may seem like a generic drunkard-turned well-intended badass, but Cate Blanchett is more so as a dime-dozen all-powerful villain. She does what she can, but she falls into the same lame archetype we’ve seen countless times already. However, whatever Thor: Ragnarok falters in for its story or characters is completely made up for by its technicality. Bright, saturated colors fill up the picture in every scene. By far the most visually interesting movie of the series, Waititi’s quirkiness seemingly never ends to shine throughout the 130-minute runtime. There are spare moments when the action starts to get super cut-up by Joel Negron and Zene Baker, as they try to keep everything as slick as possible. The way that Javier Aguirresarobe moves the camera from moment to moment keeps the audience immersed in a tale that never takes itself too seriously. I’m telling you, it was borderline psychedelic at times. Composer Mark Mothersbaugh moves from T.V. to film to give us one of Marvel’s most memorable scores to date. (That’s not saying much) The forgettable sweeping orchestras are replaced here with pulsating synthesizers and fitting electronic music. It matched the idiosyncratic space adventure unfolding before our eyes. The movie opens with an action scene using Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song,” which fits incredibly well and sets the offbeat tone to follow. That was immediately followed by a surprise celebrity cameo that had my entire theater roaring. This, along with the gorgeous color palette, makes it feel as though they were going for a vibe throwing back to the 1980’s, the golden age of cheesy adventures. And thank God they do. However, try as he did, Taika Waititi is still confined to the regular formula of the other Marvel movies. The film is at its best when it’s silly and weird, mostly on the alien planet. But when we cut back to Asgard, it’s moody and rather predictable. Now that’s not to say that the ending turned out how I expected it to be. In fact, without spoiling anything, it signals a huge shift for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. But up until then, nearly everything outside of the alien planet is uninteresting and nothing more than Hela giving extended monologues about why it’s her duty to rule the Nine Realms. But Waititi does his best, and that’s good enough in this case. Thor: Ragnarok lays endless jokes and appealing visuals on top of a patented superhero formula. Although not quite my favorite of the MCU, it’s leaps and bounds better than the previous Thor movies.

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“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” Movie Review

This movie represents the best type of advertisement out there: Get up off your butts and go make a difference. This darkly comic crime drama won the top prize of People’s Choice Award at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival back in September. Following a relatively limited released on November 10th, the film has already made back its $12 million budget and will no doubt continue a strong run thanks to strong word-of-mouth and rave reviews from critics. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the playwright behind the films In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, the screenplay was reportedly conceived back in the early 2000’s when he saw billboards similar to the ones in this movie while traveling through America. He apparently shaped the story around the question of “Who would put up something like that?” Set in the titular small town, Frances McDormand stars as Mildred Hayes, a woman whose daughter was raped and murdered 7 months prior. Frustrated with the lack of progress on the case, she rents three billboards just outside of her town condemning the police department. This leads to a war with the cops, particularly the chief and one racist officer, several townsfolk, and her own family. But hopefully, this can get them to find a new suspect and bring it all to a close. No, I have not yet seen the director’s debut feature In Bruges, though it is high on my watchlist. But I have seen, and enjoyed, Seven Psychopaths, an underrated black comedy with Tarantino-esque dialogue and circumstances. So in that, I knew I had to keep an eye on Martin McDonagh and the projects he’d potentially undertake. And when I first heard about this movie, two thoughts ran through my head. First, this is ridiculously relevant to the current anti-police climate being felt in many areas of the country. Second, how did he come up with such a cool concept? I wanted to see how he’d approach the subject matter. And he has come up with one of the year’s best films. What I appreciated most about the film is how realistic it was. One of my complaints about Seven Psychopaths was that the story felt too ludicrous at times and sometimes felt like style over substance. Three Billboards is almost as if McDonagh heard those responses and decided to get down and dirty in this small town. The dialogue is once again brilliantly written and endlessly profane. The characters have no problem saying some really inappropriate things to each other, some on a regular basis. Virtually every single swear word that you can think of is probably said in this movie, but not in a gratuitous way. It feels like this is as close to reality as could be done if a situation like this were to actually occur. It was unexpectedly funny and, at times, sobering. Frances McDormand is already a legend for movies like Fargo, but she honestly gives the best performance of her career in this film. She curses like a sailor, smokes like a dealer, and is mean to everyone who opposes her actions, but still incredibly thoughtful and deeply troubled. My favorite scene is when a priest asks her to take down the billboards and she goes on a diatribe about how gang laws passed in the 80’s related to priests who are “culpable” to abuse. A pointed, if cynical observation. Woody Harrelson portrays the irritated yet sincere Chief Willoughby, a man who clearly wants to do some justice, but has to deal with rotten apples. One of those apples is Sam Rockwell, who turns in a brilliant role of a racist, drunken cop. Though the character could be easy to write off, Rockwell gives him shades of pity and foolishness as we see he’s nothing more than a product of his environment. And while the rest of the cast, especially Lucas Hedges as Mildred’s troubled son and Peter Dinklage as a funny yet insecure townsmen, do a great job, it’s these 3 actors that are at the forefront of the drama. Let’s take a minute to discuss the technical attributes of the film. Previously a favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, cinematographer Ben Davis uses natural lighting and washed colors to get the accurate look of a small town. Whether we’re on the side of the freeway with the titular billboards or inside neon-lit bar with the characters, we’re always there in the moment. McDonagh’s background as a playwright means that single-location scenes are always engaging, but he makes sure that something else happens to keep the audience’s attention. The edits by Jon Gregory between stuffy indoor rooms and open-air environs outside is rather clever. One of the most memorable sequences is when one character goes on a full rampage, and it’s all taken on a single, handheld shot. I wouldn’t necessarily call this an “action scene,” but it definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. The soundtrack is brought to us by Coen brothers collaborator Carter Burwell. (Which is fitting since this feels like a film they would make together) Compared to most other musical scores this year, it’s a rather simplistic one, but undeniably effective. Most of the tracks consist of the rhytmic blues-like beat of a guitar and hand percussion, giving off the effect of armies marching to war. It also contains real-world songs of country or rock in the background, but their names aren’t coming back to me right now. And in some instances, there is no music. This, I feel, allowed some of the more powerful scenes to breathe. My major issue is about the ending. It made sense for the sake of the story and ended on an unconventional note. But you’ve just spent 115 minutes with this town, and it felt stretched out a little. I’d have liked to watch at least one more scene. In any case, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri finds its outstanding cast reveling in searing comedy. The perfect blend of pitch-black humor and frighteningly real drama.

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“Mudbound” Movie Review

I’m crazy behind on writing movie reviews. I’ve effectively canceled plans to review The Phantom Menace to get more out there. Let’s start with one of the most triumphant. This historical period drama made a splash at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival when it premiered to critical acclaim. Following an intense bidding war, Netflix landed the distribution deal at a whopping $12.5 million. It was widely released on the streaming giant on November 17th alongside a limited theatrical run. So if there’s any movie this year that Netflix is gunning for Oscar consideration, it’s going to be this one. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, the story follows two families- the white McAllans and the black Jacksons -who are forced to live and work together on a cotton farm in rural Mississippi. When their two eldest sons Jamie and Henry return from World War II, tensions rise as serious ethical and moral questions are brought up. They must wrestle with poverty, racism, love, and loyalty in a Deep South that doesn’t seem to want either of them. I know what you must be thinking from that short synopsis: This is yet another movie existing solely to make white people feel guilty about their past, yet in the end, lets them know that prejudice is a thing that has long since ended. My friends, please wash that thought out because this film is far more than something so simple as that. I had heard lots of buzz from this picture ever since it premiered back in January. Whispers that Netflix may finally have a major contender for the Academy Awards on their hands. One might easily scoff at that idea, but those whispers were true. Director Dee Rees’ Mudbound is a huge step forward for the service. As you may recall from a previous review, it’s been reported that Netflix is currently $20 billion in debt from all of the original content they’ve been putting out. In fact, there was another report a month or so ago saying that they want to produce and distribute as many as 80 films next year. In my humble opinion, that’s not a good idea for them. If anything, they should become more selective of their library of content. Films like this and Okja have the potential to set them up as one of the great Hollywood studios, and indeed, this film’s Oscar chances may send more filmmakers flocking towards them. The whole cast does a fantastic job here, but this is clearly a show for the matriarchs of the family. Carey Mulligan’s role as the wife Laura defies period stereotypes by being neither a White Savior or a racist plantation wife. Instead, she is a headstrong woman stuck in a household run by masculinity. Mirroring her is singer Mary J. Blige as the concerned Florence Jackson, who easily trumps everyone else in the film. Despite having the best of intentions, her world is constantly swirling as the families clash and reconcile. Garret Hedlund and Jason Mitchell play the two prodigal sons with excellent chemistry. The scenes of their bonding and sharing stories from the War give the audience hope that everything will be okay. The one character who’s not shades of gray is Pappy, played well by Jonathan Banks. A virulent racist, most of the families’ problems stem from him, and I didn’t like watching his scenes. Mudbound isn’t just a showcase of pure acting, as the technical aspects are very accomplished. Rachel Morrison’s cinematography reflects the dirty world the characters have to live in. It’s a rich and down-to-earth aesthetic that perfectly captures the scope of the story. The shots of vast fields and open land are contrasted by the small houses the McAllans and Jacksons are trapped in. There’s also some visceral editing from Mako Kamitsuna with near-perfect cutaways in every instance. Two particular examples standout. The first is when Jamie and Henry are losing friends in combat over at Europe while a Gospel service begins singing heavenly tunes. The other is a disgusting act of violence committed near the end of the film that moves away enough for the viewer to see with their imagination. Both were powerful and unveiled a bigger picture than just this farm. The musical score is composed by artist Tamar-Kali Brown. He manages to bring an Americana voice to this story, fitting since it’s a Southern drama. Most of the tracks mix together sorrowful low strings with a soulful African-American chorus. Some other tunes sound like bits and pieces of rhythm and blues music from the early part of the century were mixed together in a melting pot. Blige also contributes her beautiful voice for an original ballad called “Mighty River” that plays over the ending credits. Much like the message of the film itself, it’s lyrics are clear: we’re not so different from each other. And we need to clean our wounds of the past. Which brings me to the thing binding this film together: hatred. Both of the families have it in them, and even give it out in small doses. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that racism is far from over. Yes, we have come a long way since the days of both slavery and Jim Crow laws were considered societal norms. But Dee Rees understands how deeply rooted and complex of a problem this topic is and even makes a case that may never evaporate from the land of America. That’s not to say that the film is misery porn with no hope for humanity. Instead, it presents the parasite of prejudice as it is, and even ends on a note of love. Although it occasionally feels like there are too many characters at once, Mudbound is a sprawlingly relevant Southern triumph of character and melodrama. It’s one of the most essential films of the year, with a heavily involving story and shaded individuals with humanity to spare. It gives me hope for the future of Netflix originals. Please set aside 2 hours and 15 minutes to watch this movie, and you’ll feel the same way.