Film Review: “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri”

Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell
Directed By: Martin McDonagh
Rated: R
Running Time: 109 minutes
Fox Searchlight Pictures

“Raped While Dying.” “And Still No Arrests?” “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” The billboards put up by Mildred Hayes (McDormand) hope to shed more light on the rape and violent murder of her daughter Angela. But the billboards aren’t the powder keg, they’re the fuse. The bright red billboards with black lettering quickly become the talk of the town, despite being placed on a rural stretch of untraveled road outside the sleepy Missouri town of Ebbing. Frustration turns to anger. Anger turns to rage. Rage turns to violence.

As “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” slowly unravels and reveals it’s hodgepodge of townsfolk and officers in the local police department, we learn that justice isn’t black and white, literally and figuratively. We learn that Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) isn’t incompetent or ignoring Angela’s murder, but the case has simply gone cold. We do however learn he acts as warden of his own prison that houses racist, bigoted officers, some of whom are drunk and known throughout town for savagely beating minorities.

What director and writer Martin McDonagh does so wonderfully is avoid propping the two opposing sides, Mildred and the Ebbing Police Department, as the heroes and villains. All the characters in his film are flawed creatures, and McDonagh twists the audience’s expectation on their heads and plays with our distaste and sympathy simultaneously. Despite the obvious commentary on contemporary on social and political topics, McDonagh constantly reminds us that morality is a fluid beast.

For a film with such dark thematic content, like rape, murder, racism and hatred, there’s a lot of witty dialogue and wicked humor. It’s a perfect counter-balance to some of the film’s more gripping moments, serving as an exhale during those tense scenes. There’s even a twinge of sardonic humor for those guilty enough to laugh at it. The laughs are mainly led by Mildred in her most ferocious moments or when one of Ebbing’s most incompetent boys in blue, Officer Jason Dixon (Rockwell), wants to retort.

McDonagh is a master at introducing characters and automatically telling the audience who they are, but at the same time manipulating their actions in realistic manner that subverts our expectations. Caught in the war between Mildred and the police is the townsfolk, sometimes offering their condolences in private, but publicly taking the side they disagree with. It’s an honest portrayal of small town politics, how rumors become truth, and how sometimes no one’s really right or wrong in an argument.

Led by an outstanding cast, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a smartly written film capturing the raw emotion of tragedy, it’s tangled aftermath and how attempts at a resolution sometimes leads to more pain. It conveys a lot of unspoken truths without providing a lot of answers. If “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has a message, it’s not one of optimism or pessimism, but it’s complicated, just like the characters populating this rustic Show-Me state town.

Film Review: “The Glass Castle”

Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts
Directed By: Destin Daniel Cretton
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 127 minutes
Lionsgate

There’s an old adage that everyone has heard at some point about how we can’t pick our parents. I hate that truism. It’s rarely used in an earnest conversation and mainly glosses over a more deep-seeded conflict. In “The Glass Castle,” the conflict is multi-layered and a lot more complicated than its face value. Rex Walls (Harrelson) drags his wife and kids cross country to escape debt, police and his own parents, internalizing and allowing some of his more dark secrets to manifest into emotional manipulation and possible abuse.

Rex repeatedly attempts to drown his sorrows in alcohol, but surprisingly reveals a softer side anytime he hits the bottle. That’s not to say he has his deplorable moments with whiskey heavy on his breath. His four children and wife, Rose (Watts), are generally at his mercy as he goes from dilapidated home to dilapidated home. They live without proper plumbing, heat or even food sometimes. They finally settle down in rural West Virginia where his children, on the cusp of puberty, begin to piece together that their father isn’t the kind, gentle soul they have believed him to be.

“The Glass Castle” is told from the point of view of Rex’s second oldest child, Jeanette. Brie Larson is wasted as grown-up Jeanette, but is played much better in flashbacks by Ella Anderson. The other three kids don’t have much of a personality in the flashbacks, but considering its Jeanette’s memoir, that’s perfectly fine. The audience’s perception of Rex unravels as Jeanette gets older and sees Rex as a flawed father figure. Besides being an alcoholic, he possibly abuses their mom, imprisons the children within their own home without proper education and prioritizes booze over buying essentials for the family.

Rex is a difficult character to root for, at all. His likeability is buoyed by Harrelson’s ability to flip from a shattered, paranoid man to a charming goofball. It’s difficult to fully comprehend Jeanette’s overall attitude because when Larson is brought back, she’s used to deliver icy stares and spout declarative disgust in the film’s present day. It’s not only until the end of the movie that she begins to warm up to her father’s habitual lies. “The Glass Castle” sloppily attempts to ever convey a direct, and even indirect, message about who Rex really is.

But because it continues to play with Rex as an anti-hero, “The Glass Castle” is rarely boring and is a sometimes interesting, if not derivative, soap opera. There are predictable beats, but the film throws a few curveballs and avoids several cliché moments, settling for a more genuine dramatic effect. Some viewers may even see their own family in the Walls, which is both heartbreaking and terrifying. Of course the modern day Walls most likely wouldn’t be able to handle life without a smartphone.

“The Glass Castle” is based on Jeanette’s memoirs, which I imagine is much more lengthy and in-depth. The book is a bestseller with a massive following because of its truthful slice of impoverished Americana. Despite taking place in the 70’s, there are parallels to the broken small towns that continue to dot America, which add another level of relatability to the film. However the entirely white cast may disarm and confound anyone outside the demographic depicted on-screen.

There is a level of understanding in “The Glass Castle” about how once one or both of your parents pass, you don’t necessarily reflect on the bad times. You seem to neglect how terrible they may have been, but instead focus on and cherish the moments where they showed their parental love and care for you. The things that bugged you and the moments of turmoil are reflected on through tears and laughter, as long as those memories weren’t too tumultuous. “The Glass Castle” is a peculiar film about hindsight forgiveness, more than blind acceptance.

Win Passes to the Kansas City Premiere of “The Glass Castle”

Media Mikes has teamed with Lionsgate Films to give 50 readers and a guest the chance to be among the first to see the new film “The Glass Castle” in Kansas City.

The screening will be held on Tuesday, August 8th at the Cinemark Palace at the Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri and will begin at 7:00 p.m.

All you have to do is go here and download your passes.The first 50 readers to do so will receive a pass for two to attend the screening. This is a first come/first serve contest and once the passes are exhausted the giveaway is over.

“The Glass Castle,” starring Oscar winner Brie Larson as well as Oscar nominees Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson, opens nationally on August 11, 2017

Film Review: “Wilson”

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern and Judy Greer
Directed by: Craig Johnson
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 34 mins
Fox Searchlight

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

First off let me inform you that this is NOT the movie we’ve all been waiting for detailing what happened to Tom Hank’s volleyball buddy in “Castaway.” And no, I don’t think I’m the only one who was upset when I learned the news.

Everybody knows a Wilson (Harrelson). He iust goes along with his life until it’s time to do something with it. His choice is to make amends with his ex-wife, Pippy (Dern). Imagine his surprise when he discovers that, instead of being fat and frumpy, Pippy is actually quite beautiful. Beginning to believe that his luck may be changing, Wilson learns that Pippy never had the abortion she left home to have. Instead she had a baby girl and gave it up for adoption. Wilson is amazed. He has a daughter!

Carried along by a brilliant performance by Woody Harrelson, “Wilson” is based on the very dark graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. Wilson is set in his ways and can’t understand why complete strangers refuse his friendly conversation starting. As he and Pippy begin to reconcile they decide to “find” the daughter they gave up 16 years ago, which has mixed results.

If you’re looking for a quirky comedy to help your day go by, feel free to spend some time with “Wilson.”