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Non-Review Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

“All this anger. It only begets more anger.”

Ironically enough, given the title, the anger in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri never seems to ebb. Martin McDonagh’s small town black comedy drama is a parable about grief that metastasises into all-consuming rage. Fire is a recurring fixation for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a potent metaphor for both the scorched earth left behind by trauma and the tendency of such anger to swallow up everything in its path. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a cautionary fable.

Reading the signs.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri benefits from a number of different factors. McDonagh’s script is smart and well-constructed, wry in the right places and emotional when it counts, imbuing the characters and their surroundings with an organic and lived-in quality that enriches the story built around them. The locations are atmospheric and effective, creating a sense of place that extends beyond mere geography. The cast is fantastic, particularly supporting turns from Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.

However, Frances McDormand is the engine that drives Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. While the film features several set pieces built around fire, the hottest flame burns at the heart of the central character. As enraged mother Mildred Hayes, McDormand captures the energy and the depth of a woman raging against a system that let her down, an unjust world that denies her closure, and her own sense of guilt and responsibility.

Ebbing and flowing.

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Watch! True Detective Trailer!

Matthew McConaughey has really reinvented himself, hasn’t he? Over the past few years, McConaughey has invested considerable effort in being taken seriously as an actor. His work in films like The Lincoln Lawyer and Bernie has been a large part of this, but he’s always garnered considerable praise for his work on films like Killer Joe and Mud. His upward trajectory seems to be continuing, with McConaughey taking the lead role in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and now headlining (with Woody Harrelson) HBO’s upcoming new drama True Detective.

It’s amazing how skilfully HBO has cornered the market on high-quality high-interest television. True Detective would be interesting enough given its caliber and pedigree – McConaughey and Harrelson starring, with Cary Fukunaga directing – but it’s especially interesting given the format that has been chosen. The first season will apparently be a self-contained story, charting a seventeen-year investigation in Louisiana. However, if the show is renewed, apparently plans are to recruit an entirely new cast for an entirely different story.

In essence, it seems – not having seen the show in action – that it’s a serial anthology. Or, perhaps more accurately, a collection of annual miniseries collected under the same brand. Colour me excited at the prospect. American television tends to be wary of miniseries as anything other than prestige pieces, but I grew up on British television, where it was possible for a show to run just eight episodes and to be considered an artistic success. True Detective looks like an experimental take on a familiar set-up from a fantastic creative team. It looks stylish and atmospheric, and I’m a sucker for well-told crime tales.

I’m already looking forward to it. It’s out this January, on HBO, which means Sky Atlantic will likely air it not too long afterwards.

Non-Review Review: Now You See Me

Now You See Me hinges on its final twist. How you react to that twist will define what you think of the movie. Cynics would argue that it’s a rather trite and cliché way of wrapping up a generic mystery with flash distracting from substance, with director Louis Leterrier frantically trying (and failing) to paper over the ever-widening cracks in narrative logics. Others will forgive it as theatrical excess, acknowledging that – though crucial – the denouement isn’t all that is worth appreciating in a magic trick. True magic is an artform, a narrative worth appreciating for technique and wit as much as to grasp the final turn.

The last act might let it down a bit (quite a bit), but Now You See Me spends most of its runtime as an enjoyable romp watching charming people engage in amusing set pieces. There’s a showmanship to it, an energy and flair. Leterrier often feels like he’s cobbling the film together as it threatens to rocket away from him, but there a pulpy energy that manages to hold the house of cards together until the last possible moment.

Lighting up the room...

Lighting up the room…

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Non-Review Review: Seven Psychopaths

“Meta” is a concept that can be very rewarding, but it’s very difficult to do right. Often, it seems a little heavy-handed, a little self-indulgent. The art of writing fiction about fiction can easily descend into a writer documenting his own process, or become clever for the sake of being clever – offering an easy way out of virtually any dramatic situation, and allowing the script to answer pretty much any question with “because the writer says so.” Nevermind that movies about movie are prone to become a little self-congratulatory, or a little too self-focused. Seven Psychopaths never completely falls apart, but it occasionally struggles with these sorts of problems a little bit in the middle. Martin McDonagh has produced a very thoughtful and clever exploration of the traditional revenge film, but the execution feels a little bit too clunky at times.

I understand that this might be the point, but there are times when Seven Psychopaths feels like more of a narrative experiment than a compelling story in its own right. Still, it’s witty and funny and bold and smart and charming. Those attributes aren’t the easiest to come by, and certainly not in this combination. Seven Psychopaths might not be the incredible success that In Bruges was, but it’s a film that takes chances, and which tries to push both the genre and its audience a little out of their comfort zone. It is very hard not to respect that, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was fairly consistent charmed throughout its runtime.

The write stuff…

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Non-Review Review: Rampart

Rampart features a powerhouse central performance from Woody Harrelson as corrupt Los Angeles Police Officer Dave Brown. Harrelson manages to take a character who should be (and is) reprehensible, and yet manages to imbue him with the faintest sense of tragedy. However, the problem is the movie that takes place around Brown. Brown’s story is an inherently tragic one, a relic of a by-gone era trapped in his own self-destructive pattern. He’s not dynamic or proactive, and so reacts to the world around him. While director Oren Moverman populates the film with any number of iconic and recognisable character actors, the film can’t help but feel a lot too sterile, a little too inert. We’ve seen this story before, and while Harrelson’s performance is compelling, the film around him is not.

He’s got this police thing working gangbusters for him…

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Non-Review Review: Zombieland

It takes a certain mindset to enjoy Zombieland. Not everyone can laugh at the fact that a zombie clown’s nose squeaks as you bash its head with a mallet. Fortunately, I discovered, I can.

Tallahassee goes to bat...

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Non-Review Review: No Country For Old Men

It’s a funny world. But it has always been a funny world and it’s arrogant to presume that the world waited until we got here to go and get itself in a mess. Sure, some of us carry the fire off into that night, but it’s a very cold and very dark night and all we have is faith that there is an even greater fire out there waiting for us. No Country For Old Men is a stunning film – an odd fusion of the Coen Brothers with Cormac McCarthy which manages to say a hell-of-a-lot without weighing itself down with too much exposition or dialogue. It’s a great film which realy stands out even amongst the Coens’ already-impressive filmography.

Yes, it's a silencer. On a shotgun.

Yes, it's a silencer. On a shotgun.

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