Review : Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I’m always playing catch up when it comes to Oscar nominees. This is the only Best Picture nominee that I have actually seen yet, despite all my best intentions. The kind of anticipation I had for this movie was more like wariness – I knew it was going to be depressing, so I wasn’t really looking forward to it. But I’m so glad I went.

This movie has weathered a lot of criticism, despite a 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating. I’m going to talk about some of that below, so warning – there will be spoilers, so maybe only read this if you’ve already seen the movie.

A lot of people said that the film felt more like a play. This is true, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing – in fact, it was kind of intriguing. It made good use of the kind of super-close, intimate acting that suits movies, and the setting and characters reveled in their own gritty realism. But the structure was very play-like, which was intriguing. It kind of gave me vibes of one of Sam Shepard’s plays.

About Sam Rockwell’s character – the criticism that was leveled here was completely unwarranted, and I’m about to explain why, at length, so stay tuned.

Jason Dixon is a racist. This is undeniable. It serves to place his character in an uncomfortable place where you revile him for his views and actions, feel sorry for him for his limited prospects, feel pity for his pathetic predicament, and also feel glad for his actions towards the end. I think he is a very well written character because he makes you so uncomfortable – he contains multitudes, he is a walking contradiction, he can’t be categorized as strictly good or bad – and all of that makes him so much more real than a character that is a hundred percent evil at all times.

I think we have reached a point as a society where people are having serious issues seeing anything other than black and white. There are so many shades of grey. A racist is a racist, and they should never be applauded or admired for that, but it doesn’t mean that they are like an evil cartoon character who isn’t also capable of doing something good once in a while. There was so much criticism of how a racist character isn’t “deserving” of a redemption arc, but isn’t that the character that needs it most of all? If we wrote off every racist as irredeemable, we might as well just bomb the whole world and call it a day on the human race. It seems like it would be much more useful to think of racists with a growth mindset – maybe they just don’t know any better, maybe they are scared, maybe they can change, maybe they can learn, maybe they can do better… and they are probably more likely to do these things if they are presented with positive leadership by example.

I felt similar feelings when there was the furor about The Handmaid’s Tale including black women, and completely erasing the fact that Gilead was meant to be white supremacist as well as deeply misogynistic. The director of the show said something like that he didn’t see the difference between making a show about racism and a racist show. Except that things like racism need to be depicted on screen, otherwise it is being erased and swept under the rug. People need to see depictions of terrible things so that we can make our judgments about how terrible they are – ignoring them or shying away from these representations is basically saying “racism doesn’t exist”, when it surely does, it needs to be seen so that we can make a judgment about it being a bad thing. Some of the criticism of Three Billboards felt like… people would have rathered that Jason Dixon was either politically correct in every way, or that he didn’t exist. But of course he exists – he is probably like hundreds or thousands of small town cops in America. People need to see that. There is no use acting like every person on screen needs to be a hundred percent likeable or politically correct in order to be a valuable part of the plot.

Anyway, all of that aside, Sam Rockwell’s acting was so good. Even though Best Actor/Actress is considered more prestigious than Supporting Actor/Actress, I actually thought he was better than Frances McDormand – even though she was amazing too. I just loved the way that you felt so much for Jason Dixon, even when those feelings violently opposed each other. His character was such a tragedy.

I would recommend this movie – I’ve already told Nathan and Mum that they have to see it – but I don’t think I will be wanting to watch it again in a hurry. It was depressing. I went to see it during the daytime, so there were a bunch of (rude) seniors there who seemed to think that they were there for a comedy… and were quite disappointed when they walked out. Their loss. What we did see was something bleak, uncomfortable and unrelentingly bitter, but I’m glad I saw it.

(Angry) Thoughts on The House of Mirth

For science, read this article first.

We had the most uninspiring NYE. Nathan played video games, I read a book, we ate okayish takeout burritos and not a drop of alcohol touched our lips. We were both tired and I was feeling sick. There was a minor adventure when a baby bird fell down the chimney, and Nathan got to have a Cinderella moment when he caught it and it flew from his hands out the window, singing a merry tune as it went.

Anyway. I wanted to watch The House of Mirth.

I hadn’t seen the movie since I was about 15, half a lifetime ago (literally). I had fuzzy but fond memories about how tragic everything was for Lily, but mostly about what a dreamboat Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz) was. I had a ridiculous crush on Eric Stoltz after this movie. I remember reading the book around that time as well, which just further furnished all my daydreams about how wonderful Selden was.

So, we watched the movie last night. I have never, ever, not in my entire life, had such a dramatic – violent – change of heart on my feelings about a book or a movie. I can’t even explain it. I’ll try my best, splitting my reaction and interpretation into two halves:

Fifteen year old me: Lawrence Selden is such a babe, and look – he’s so above all of that high society rubbish. All of those people chew you up, spit you out and abuse you, Lily – be like Selden, reject it and be free. It’s all your fault – you cared too much about money and luxury, you could have lived a more humble life as Selden’s girlfriend if you’d been brave enough to shrug off societal expectations. He was just waiting for you to make that leap, you could have been happy but you were too stupid!

Thirty year old me: Lawrence Selden is the worst. He could not have been more of a jerk. Yes, the social circles that Lily move in are unwaveringly cruel, and yes, she made one terrible decision after another, but this was almost always a result of her naivety and trusting nature. But Selden planted the seeds of everything – it was him who kept her at arm’s length and was happy to derail her chances at security and maybe even happiness because it was more fun for him toy with her, confuse her and tempt her for his own amusement, but never offer any sort of commitment or even emotional availability. He swindled her – he took advantage of her love for him by not guiding her towards what was right or responsible for a woman of her position, but instead acting like “if you act according to my principles – even if they ruin your whole life – then maybe you’ll live up to my expectations and maybe I’ll give you the time of day”. He promised to love her, but withdrew it the moment that she had a get a job and couldn’t be the decorative nymph of his lust-dreams. He is a user, he is selfish, he thinks he is so much more special than anybody else, he thinks that society’s rules don’t apply to him, but really, he’s just the worst.

There! If I had a punching bag, I’d be taping Stoltz as Selden’s smarmy face to it right now – it is 24 hours later and I’m still mad. I guess that as you get older, you meet so many Seldens in real life. They are everywhere, and that’s why the film still feels so raw and relevant even now. You will also meet a Bertha Dorset or two. I suppose I should be proud that I have a better sense for these kind of toxic mind games these days, but it frightens me how naive I was when first watching the film – with age comes experience, I guess!

Review: Hidden Figures

I have been so slack with seeing movies this summer. So many things that I wanted to see were gone from the cinema before I got a chance to see them, though I wanted to see Jackie and it didn’t even play near me. But last night I got to see Hidden Figures. I went with Jennifer and Mum, to watch a film about women for International Women’s Day. 🙂

Basically, the film is based (extremely loosely) on a true story and details three genius women working at NASA in the early days, with the Civil Rights Movement and anti-Russian space race paranoia as a backdrop. They come up against endless barriers and obstacles because of their sex and colour, but all three prevailed and went on to become celebrated pioneers and heroes in their field. They are Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson).

The script was not great. The dialogue was often clichéd, or just failed to hit the right notes at what could have been really meaningful moments. There was one moment early in the film where they give a visualization of Katherine’s mathematical prowess, as she sees the geometric tiles from a mosaic rise off the surface. But after that, apart from a lot of impressive chalkboard equations, it didn’t really touch again in any creative way on how uniquely gifted her mind was. Some of the music was great – I loved the era-appropriate songs and the gospel-tinged score, but I felt like the modern music that was inserted here and there was a bit jarring and took away from the period setting – whenever it happened, suddenly it felt a lot more like modern day actresses playing with costumes rather than a true account of a time and place.

Now, the performances. Let me start with the positives! Octavia Spencer was amazing, as she always is. There is a scene where she personally delivers her work to Kirsten Dunst’s character’s office, only to be stared at with disdain by all the white female staff and treated like a delivery girl. With just her amazingly expressive face, she conveyed so much about the frustration, disappointment, indignity and injustice of the situation, while maintaining a professional facade. It was an amazing moment later in the film when those same women who looked down on her are shepherded into the new computer department that she manages, to be taught by her – I was just about bursting with pride and happiness for her at this part.

In the opening scene, I got bad vibes from Janelle Monáe. I only know her as a musician, so I wasn’t expecting much, and honestly just expected her to be playing herself. But she got better and better as the movie went on. She was playful and feisty, and aside from her performance, she rocked all the vintage styled clothes. I loved how spirited she was and how she wouldn’t take no for an answer – gumption is the word I’m looking for. I’d love to see her in more movies in the future.

Now the bad part. I could not warm to Taraji P. Henson, at all. The biggest reason sounds ridiculous, but it’s totally legitimate – her eyebrows did not move, not even once. They are utterly frozen, inches above her eyes, in this weirdly angular Joan Crawford approximation. It was so distracting, but apart from that, it took so much emotion away from her face during what should have been crucial moments. Actresses of the world – please do not get Botox. Your face is your craft – please show us how angry or sad or calm or happy you are, don’t just tell us with a frozen face. The other part that got on my nerves about her performance was how she changed her voice and her whole demeanour whenever her boyfriend-then-husband was around. It was literally this sugary, simpering, dumb, baby porno voice. It just didn’t gel at all with the fact that she was meant to be such a genius as well as an incredibly strong woman.

She kind of wrecked the movie for me. I could intellectually relate to the horrible discrimination that she faced and feel bad about it, but I couldn’t empathize with her as much as the other two characters because she just didn’t seem to inhabit her character and feel their emotions like Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe did. There have been studies that show that Botox reduces the ability of users to empathize with others, and maybe an additional part of that is that people are less likely to empathize with them.

The movie was pretty standard in being a feel-good, inspirational type story, even if it’s claim to be ‘a true story’ was tenuous at best… which is sad, because the real life stories of these three women are insanely interesting, but they just don’t come together as such a conveniently neat narrative as this film required. A lot of the racial and gender issues that the characters faced could have been ripped from today’s headlines in America, which was a powerful comment on how there has been progress, but there is still a hell of a fight ahead for everybody. Parts of the movie were great, but other parts of it were just a bit ham-fisted and under developed. Octavia Spencer deserved every bit of her Oscar nomination, but I am puzzled about why this was up for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay – it was good but not great, and certainly not amazing.

The Theory of Everything


Last week, we went to the movies on a school night, on a whim. Best part of not having kids is that we can just drop everything and decide at 8:00pm that we fancy catching a 9:30pm session! We do this quite a bit actually. Anyway, we saw The Theory of Everything. I really enjoyed it. It didn’t try too hard to be a tear-jerker or inspiration porn (check out Stella Young’s TED talk if you haven’t heard of this term), nor was it one-dimensional saccharine fluff. It worked hard to convey the complexities of marriage, disability, and independence/dependence. The film did not delve too deeply into the academic side of things, which is to be expected of something adapted from a biography written by Stephen Hawking’s ex-wife, instead of by him. And although it was sad to see somebody having their youth and vitality waste away until they could barely move, the film ultimately focused more on the fact that despite his illness, he has still managed to live an extraordinary life. In fact, Stephen Hawking himself mentioned in an interview that he was very lucky that he was working in a field where having motor neuron disease was not such a great impediment.

The biggest revelation of the night was Eddie Redmayne’s performance. Before seeing the film, Nathan was dead certain that Michael Keaton should have won the Oscar for his performance in Birdman. But having seen The Theory of Everything now, we both agreed that it was a masterful performance. It was a bit confronting for me, as my grandfather died of motor neuron disease, but it was somehow more startling to see it unfolding for someone so young. Aside from the way he inhabited his character, his physicality was amazing – when he was dragging himself up and down stairs in the early stages of his decline, you truly believed that it was taking every ounce of energy that he had.

However, the highlight of the night came from a woman who was seated a couple of rows behind me in the cinema. During a scene where Stephen Hawking’s belongings were being packed into a box, the woman gasped and loudly exclaimed, “Oh no! He didn’t die, did he?”

movie review – gone girl


Last night, I went to a preview for Gone Girl with some friends and family. I went in with no expectations – I hadn’t read the book or any reviews, all I had to go on was a trailer. From that, I assumed it would be something along the lines of What Lies Beneath, but it ended up more like Arlington Road. The premise is simple: Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, whose wife Amy goes missing, he becomes a suspect in her disappearance and is subject to ‘trial by media’. What happens after that is absolutely thrilling.

Normally with movies, I can see which direction it is heading in. It’s a bad habit, but I will often blurt things out like “I bet he’s going to have an affair with the friend and then she gets pregnant and then the neighbour will find out and kill the friend” (hypothetical – not what happens in Gone Girl, FYI) – then Nathan googles it, and often I’m right. But I couldn’t figure this movie out, at any step along the way. I suppose it didn’t help that the first half the movie was told from two completely unreliable points of view, but I could never pick what was going to happen next. The psychology of Nick and Amy’s marriage was really deeply layered and interesting to watch. Some of the sex scenes were a bit hot though – I was sitting next to Mum and it was hilarious watching her squirm in her seat and quietly mutter things like “oh for god’s sake!” when it all got a bit explicit.

One of the best things about the movie is that I’m still hashing out the details in my head, trying to figure out whether there are any holes, or what certain things actually mean. I still haven’t wrapped my mind around the ending, not completely. I also ordered the book as soon as I got home, so if that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is. Another great aspect of the movie was the fact that I have the biggest girl crush of all time on Rosamund Pike. She is seriously just the most beautiful woman in the world, and her skin and eyebrows are perfection (also, watch her in Pride and Prejudice and tell me that she is not the personification of all that is lovely and sweet in the world). However, she is magnetic for entirely different reasons in Gone Girl.

I’m only now realizing how hard it is to write a review without spoiling the whole thing. This isn’t really a compelling review at all, but all I can say without giving the game away, is that you should go see it – it’s really, really good!