CVIndependent

Tue08042020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the third feature film by writer-director Martin McDonagh.

It’s also his third masterpiece.

Three Billboards also marks another astonishing film achievement for Frances McDormand, who will drill into your chest cavity and do all kinds of crazy shit to your heart as Mildred, a justifiably pissed-off mother who has a few issues with the cops in her town.

It’s been five years since Mildred’s young daughter was raped, killed and burned by unknown murderers. Mildred, who isn’t even close to getting over the tragedy, spies some old, dilapidated billboards on the way home and gets an idea. After meeting with a sloppy advertising agent (Caleb Landry Jones), some guys are commissioned to put alarmingly provocative signs on those billboards.

Those signs call out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), a well-meaning but emotional man who, for various reasons, is not on his best game. He challenges Mildred, claiming the billboards aren’t fair. Her retort: In the time you took to come down here and piss and moan about the billboards, another girl could’ve been butchered.

There’s no better actress to portray Mildred—with her steadfast, emotionally raw determination—than McDormand. More than two decades ago, McDormand took home the Oscar for playing Marge Gunderson in Fargo—playing one of the nicest law-enforcement individuals the movies have ever seen. Mildred is the opposite of Marge: Kindness and hugs and Arby’s aren’t big on her mind. She wants her daughter’s killers brought to justice, and she’ll burn buildings down with people inside them to get the investigation going.

Yet somehow, Mildred is just as likable and worth rooting for as Marge. That’s because McDormand is a fearless master, and she’s a shoo-in for another Oscar nomination—at the least. Mildred says and does things in this movie that will leave your jaw hanging open, and McDormand makes all of these extremes believable and almost reasonable. There’s so much happening behind those piercing eyes. It’s the kind of performance that only comes around once a decade.

What takes this film to masterpiece levels, beyond the technical brilliance that McDonagh always delivers, is that McDormand is joined by a cast that hits every note. Harrelson caps a great year as the lawman. John Hawkes is memorably nasty as Mildred’s abusive ex-husband, while Jones manages many surprises as the billboard man, and Peter Dinklage makes the most of a few scenes as a town local with eyes for Mildred.

Oh, and there’s yet another Oscar-caliber performance from Sam Rockwell (who starred in McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths) as racist, momma’s-boy deputy Dixon. There aren’t too many character actors alive who could make Dixon frightening, sympathetic, funny, disgusting and worthy of redemption all at once. Dixon, the town drunk and racist homophobe who has a thing for throwing people out of windows, undergoes a transformation that is some kind of movie miracle. That’s because Rockwell, like McDormand, is one of the best.

That’s also because McDonagh knows how to write a script that keeps you in it with every line. While the film is, in part, a murder mystery, the crime takes a back seat to watching these folks play off of each other. There are scenes in this movie that will emotionally knock you on the floor. There’s one particular moment that is so heartbreaking, and so shocking, it’s a wonder anybody managed to get it on screen.

The year isn’t over yet, but it’s a fair bet to say this one is going to be topping a lot of award lists, adding to McDormand’s legacy and giving Rockwell the sort of high profile recognition he’s always deserved. As for McDonagh, not many directors have come out of the gate with three masterpieces in a row. He’s in an elite class of filmmakers—and he’s just getting started.

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Yes, Mr. Right is yet another one of those hit-man comedies—but this one is pretty good, largely because it has Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick in it.

Actually, it’s good only because it has Rockwell and Kendrick in it. Kendrick plays a woman who just broke up with her boyfriend after catching him cheating. (She has a drunk-closet scene that is very funny.) Rockwell plays a hit-man who wears a clown nose, likes to dance when he kills, and usually kills those who hire him—because killing is wrong.

Of course, the two meet in a store and start an unorthodox relationship. They like the same sort of things, and both have the ability to catch knives thrown at their faces. She eventually finds out he kills people, and that sort of complicates things—yet they still give it a go.

The film covers stupid, well-worn territory, but the leads are good, and they pull the material through. Kendrick, who has been in a million movies lately (actually, she’s in six this year—not counting this one), has solid comedic chops; she should be a bigger star than she is. She also brings a bit of crazy, and it’s convincing. Rockwell is Rockwell, and I can think of nobody better to play a dancing hit-man.

Tim Roth shows up as the guy who trained Rockwell’s character. I have no idea what kind of accent Roth is doing at first … it’s sort of a Texan Christopher Walken kind of thing, and it sounds pretty annoying. However, he winds up having a pretty good reason for the weird accent, so it’s forgivable. Anson Mount plays a crime lord with anger issues, and he’s one of the funnier things in the movie.

The film is forgettable, but mildly enjoyable.

Mr. Right is available on demand and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

In the original Poltergeist, a dude eating a drumstick tore off his face while looking in a mirror, and threw chunks of his bloody flesh in a sink. Somehow, that movie managed to get a PG rating.

In this remake, Sam Rockwell cries, and that somehow leads to a PG-13 rating. I love Sam Rockwell, but it’s hard to watch him work up tears for this crap. Actually, this movie is hard to watch from start to finish, even if you haven’t seen the original.

In 1982, director Tobe Hooper (teaming with writer-producer Steven Spielberg) made a horrific treat spiked with humor. This paltry remake from director Gil Kenan has none of the spark of the original, and is merely a routine haunting movie with cheap “scares” involving clown dolls (that don’t actually scare) and kid actors who fail to register. (I won’t single them out, because they are kids … but they do suck.) Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt squirm through the roles originated by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams.

There was no good reason for this undertaking. The movie shouldn’t have been remade. If somebody tries to remake Jaws, I will be truly pissed off. Leave the Spielberg properties alone!

Poltergeist is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Laggies is a so-so movie made watchable because of its stellar cast. The filmmakers should feel lucky that Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz and a guy named Sam Rockwell got talked into gracing this one with their presence.

Directed by Lynn Shelton and written by Andrea Seigel, the film tells the story of Megan (Knightley), a woman in her late 20s who is still spinning signs for her dad’s business. When her boyfriend (Mark Webber) proposes, and she sees her dad (Jeff Garlin) cheating on her mom shortly thereafter, it all proves to be a bit much for her—and she splits.

After illegally buying alcohol for young Annika (Moretz), Megan winds up at Annika’s house, where Annika’s dad, Craig (Rockwell), is sulking after his wife left him high and dry. Predictably, Megan becomes a mother figure to Annika while falling in love with Craig.

Rockwell could be star in a remake of Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio and still make the thing interesting. He’s the sort of dynamic actor who can elevate material like this; his scenes with Knightley have a lot of life. Moretz always does a good job of playing a dazed teenager, as she does here.

I can’t help but think that all of this talent could’ve been off somewhere else making a better movie, but as it stands, Laggies has its charms thanks to their involvement.

Special Features: You get a director’s commentary and some deleted scenes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Sometimes, all a movie really needs is Sam Rockwell.

Rockwell stars in A Single Shot as John Moon, a reclusive poacher living in a trailer deep in the woods. One morning while out hunting a deer, he accidentally shoots a woman. Then, he finds a whole lot of money (echoes of A Simple Plan) and decides to keep it in an effort to make things better with his estranged wife (Kelly Reilly).

Of course, the money actually belongs to bad people—and those bad people will be coming after John Moon. They most certainly will.

A Single Shot doesn’t feel original; in fact, it feels a bit hackneyed at times. But the performances are often riveting, and Rockwell keeps it watchable. There’s also an unrecognizable Jason Isaacs as an unsavory sort, with the underrated Joe Anderson also playing a bad guy. William H. Macy brings a slight taste of comedy to his shifty lawyer character, and Jeffrey Wright is devastatingly good as the town drunk.

Director David M. Rosenthal, directing the script by Matthew F. Jones (who also wrote the novel on which the film is based), gives the film a nice, gloomy atmosphere. His work has consisted mostly of comedies in the past, making his achievements here impressive, all things considered. You never get the sense that this is a director working outside of his comfort zone.

All in all, this is Rockwell’s movie, and it’s a departure for him after a recent string of comedies and lighthearted fare. (He’s currently in cinemas with the coming-of-age comedy The Way Way Back.) This is a passable movie that is perhaps a little beneath his talent—but, hey, it’s Sam Rockwell.

The film is available to watch via sources including Amazon.com and iTunes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Without a doubt, Seven Psychopaths is one of the best releases of 2012, and it further establishes writer-director Martin McDonagh as a creative force to be reckoned with.

McDonagh assembled a stellar cast, including Colin Farrell (who also starred in McDonagh’s brilliant In Bruges), Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson. Farrell plays Marty (a character McDonagh undoubtedly modeled upon himself), a screenwriter struggling through his latest project. His movie within the movie involves seven psychopaths, and the characters might—just might—be based upon people he actually knows.

McDonagh writes some of the funniest and most shocking dialogue out there, and he gets masterful performances from everybody involved, especially Walken and Rockwell. Walken is allowed to be as strange and eccentric as ever, while Rockwell gets his best role in years, allowing him to show off that funny, nasty charm that makes him unique.

A subplot involves Rockwell and Walken kidnapping a dog belonging to a crime boss for ransom, and it all leads up to a surprising, and violent, conclusion.

This one ranks with Barton Fink and Adaptation as one of the better films about the frustrations of writing.

Special Features: There are only a few short behind-the-scenes featurettes. The movie is great, but the features are disappointing.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing