Tuesday, 2 January 2018

January 1-4 2018
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
All the Money in the World
Downsizing (catch-up from Boxing Day releases)
Pitch Perfect 3

The new year has well and truly arrived (happies to you all!) and brings new films, many vying for the big upcoming awards season. Some very strong stuff here. 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Length: 115 min
© Fox - top-shelf film-making with great themes
and impressive performances
I think this film is already on my top 10 for 2018, and there's a whole year to go! Mildred (Frances McDormand) is desperate for some progress in the murder/rape of her daughter, so she mounts posters with provocative questions aimed at local police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on huge local billboards. This brings her into conflict with virtually the entire town, especially red-necked Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell). The film appears comic from the trailer, and while it certainly has amusing moments, it's actually a deep drama, with monumentally strong performances from the three leads. Rockwell is stunning as the dim-witted, violent and racist Dixon, Harrelson brings extreme nuance and emotion to his character, and McDormand gives one of her best performances in years. The shades of grey given to each character, along with the subtlety and cleverness of the dialogue make this film one of the best films I've seen in a long time. The moral issues raised, with regard to revenge and forgiveness are also challenging. (For prudes, it comes with an extreme bad language warning!) 
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

All the Money in the World
Director: Ridley Scott
Length: 132 min
© Roadshow - a tense retelling of a world-shattering
kidnap story involving the then richest man in the world
The Kevin Spacey scandal saw a last minute replacement of a leading role in this film and re-shooting of all Spacey's scenes. Exit Spacey, enter Christopher Plummer as billionaire John Paul Getty, whose 17-year-old grandson JPG III (Charlie Plummer - no relation)  was kidnapped by Calabrian gangsters in Rome in 1973. The film follows the wealthy tightwad's initial refusal to pay the ransom, and the endless attempts by Getty Jnr's mother Gail (Michelle Williams) to appeal to the old man, and to plead with one of the softer-hearted kidnappers (Romaine Duris). Mark Wahlberg rounds out the excellent cast as the ex-CIA operative who liaises with Gail and the tight-wad billionaire. This is tense and intelligent film-making that really does justice to a ghastly true story (though how accurate the facts are I don't know).  This is indeed a reminder that wealth is no guarantee of happiness. 
4 - highly recommended!

Director: Alexander Payne
Length: 132 min
© Paramount - small people's worries are no different
from large - humans all face the same issues. 
In Norway scientists make an incredible discovery - humans can be shrunk to a tiny fraction of their size, making less use of dwindling world resources and allowing people to live in greater luxury than they could otherwise afford. Paul (Matt Damon) and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to make the leap, get shrunk and move to Leisureland where the miniaturized people live. But when Audrey chickens out, leaving Paul little and alone, he must decide what he really wants out of life. The concepts in this film are fabulous, and it starts out as an apparent satire on consumerism, excess and suburbia. The film soon shifts gear, with Paul's meeting of his neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz), who throws lavish parties and trades in contraband. When Paul meets Dusan's one-legged Vietnamese refugee cleaning lady Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), he discovers an enclave of slum-dwellers inside the seemingly idyllic small world and his helping skills are put to use. Yet a further shift in film tone sees apocalyptic end of days environmental disaster themes emerging, and things get quite mysterious. Despite the unevenness in tone, the film had me captivated for its long run time, and a couple of the acting perfs are nothing less than genius, namely Waltz as the eccentric neighbour and Chau, who is already nominated for a Golden Globe. This is a thought-provoking rumination upon life and its ultimate meaning, regardless of one's size.
3.5 - well recommended!

Pitch Perfect 3
Director: Trish Sie
Length: 93 min
© Universal - gotta love the Bellas - but
not necessarily the film
The Bellas are back singing up a storm. I remember really enjoying the first film in this trilogy, and marvelling at the excellent acapella singing. But this third, and hopefully final, instalment left me cold, with nothing but the singing to recommend it. The group go on tour to entertain the US army overseas, and beyond that the plot barely registered on my brain. Aussie Rebel Wilson is her usual crass self, John Lithgow as her dad does an appalling Aussie accent, and Anna Kendrick is an actor worthy of far better roles. Enough said! (However, in my forgiving way I suppose fans of the franchise will want to see it.) 
1.5 - don't bother!

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