TLDNW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The phrase TLDNR (Too Long, Did Not Read) is for posts on the Internet that you want to know about but can’t be bothered to read. This is a segment called TLDNW (Too Long, Did Not Watch). It’s for people that just don’t have time to go to the movies. Now, I work pretty hard every year to see the entire list of films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. You probably won’t get to all of them, because I assume you have a social life. Luckily for you, it is my goal in the following weeks to post reviews of the 2018 Oscar-nominated best pictures so that you can be caught up before the big night.

However, I know even reading a whole review is time-consuming and not for everyone. Many people just look at the star rating and don’t bother with the rest of the review. Even now you’re probably bored of this introduction.

So I’ll make it short and sweet. For every movie I review, I’ll include three sections: 1) A 1-word review.  2) A 20-word review so you have things to say about the film when your friends ask if you saw it. 3) An in-depth 500-word review.

BONUS: This year, I’ve added bonus content baby! This year I will be reading each review in a podcast format if you don’t even time to READ. There will be a podcast of me reading each review and THEN a bonus podcast where I discuss the film with a fellow film friend.

TLDNW: 1 Word

4/4

Hard

TLDNW: 20 Words

★★★★/★★★★

Frances McDormand struts her way across the screen and kicks you right in the crotch. I can’t believe the best picture winner uses the C-Word so much.

TLDNW: 500 Words

Four out of Four Stars

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not an easy film to watch. This is not to say that it isn’t one of my favourite movies of the year, just that it is not an entirely FUN movie. Not that best picture nominees should be fun to watch, and not that there shouldn’t be challenging films out there- just that in every sense of the word this movie is HARD. It’s hard to watch, and it’s about hard characters making hard decisions, and they’re living in a hard world.

The set up for Three Billboards is that a woman named Mildred (played perfectly by Frances McDormand, who will certainly garner her second Oscar for this role) buys the old billboards outside of her small town of Ebbing, Missouri to shame the police department for not solving her daughter’s rape and murder case fast enough. She calls out police Chief Willoughby (played thoughtfully and with incredible nuance by Woody Harrelson) who in turn is dying of cancer. She also has to deal with Willoughby’s bumbling officer Dixon (played perfectly by the, until now, criminally underrated Sam Rockwell). It is a convoluted plot to say the least but writer/director Martin McDonagh does not miss a beat.

Now there are two things that have been pressing my brain in regards to this movie. The first is something that I noticed while watching the film. This is that McDonagh has done something very few writers can do, which is give every one of his characters beautiful and deliberate arcs. Each character has depth, and internal conflict, and each one has to deal with hardship. No one character is static for the whole film and this is a feat very rarely achieved by a major motion picture. None of the characters are entirely good, or entirely evil. It is a film populated by massively complicated characters. Martin McDonagh has gone on record to say that this film is about moral ambiguity and hopes that the audience questions the actions of the characters.

This brings me to the other thing that has been pressing on my brain, something that I didn’t realize until much after watching the film– which is the racial tone deafness of the whole thing. Three Billboards has been panned recently because it gives far too much redemption to Sam Rockwell’s character. We learn early on that Dixon tortures black people that are in police custody – a certainly poignant issue in the world today. Racial tension with law enforcement officers is a major issue right now, and has been for a long time. So, to have a racist law enforcement character is no small action on McDonagh’s part. Where the film has fallen into a bit of trouble is that this choice, to have Dixon be a racist, is brushed over far too quickly. Sure, he’s called out for it a few times but overall his character is redeemed at least in the eyes of Mildred. Many have said that Dixon is a character that is too redeemed by the film. Helping this white lady with her problem has redeemed him in some way and not in the appropriate racial healing ways. He never gets his comeuppance for being a racist.

Here’s my point- and this is perhaps what McDonagh is referring to when he discusses moral ambiguity- Dixon isn’t actually redeemed by the film. You do not leave the theatre feeling like Sam Rockwell’s character is a hero. In fact, you don’t feel this way about any of the characters. This is the hardness of the film. McDonagh challenges us to ask what makes a good person? What does it mean to be redeemed? Three Billboards asks these questions of its audience, and I’m not so sure it gives us an answer. Just like the characters, the answers to these large questions of “what does it mean to be good, or bad”, are complicated. They are messy.

Now, I am not a person of colour and I can see how this film can certainly be a difficult watch for anyone facing the prejudices of the justice system – but I don’t think this film should be panned just for having difficult characters who have to deal with the hardness of the world and who are, at least in my eyes, not redeemed for their crimes.

Three Billboards is challenge, and funny, and difficult. It dares you to guess what’s going to happen next and then delivers a swift, Mildred Hayes, kick in the crotch.

And here are the podcasts:

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TLDNW: Lady Bird

The phrase TLDNR (Too Long, Did Not Read) is for posts on the Internet that you want to know about but can’t be bothered to read. This is a segment called TLDNW (Too Long, Did Not Watch). It’s for people that just don’t have time to go to the movies. Now, I work pretty hard every year to see the entire list of films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. You probably won’t get to all of them, because I assume you have a social life. Luckily for you, it is my goal in the following weeks to post reviews of the 2018 Oscar-nominated best pictures so that you can be caught up before the big night.

However, I know even reading a whole review is time-consuming and not for everyone. Many people just look at the star rating and don’t bother with the rest of the review. Even now you’re probably bored of this introduction.

So I’ll make it short and sweet. For every movie I review, I’ll include three sections: 1) A 1-word review.  2) A 20-word review so you have things to say about the film when your friends ask if you saw it. 3) An in-depth 500-word review.

BONUS: This year, I’ve added bonus content baby! This year I will be reading each review in a podcast format if you don’t even time to READ. There will be a podcast of me reading each review and THEN a bonus podcast where I discuss the film with a fellow film friend.

TLDNW: 1 Word

4/4

Charming

TLDNW: 20 Words

★★★★/★★★★

Laurie Metcalf’s legacy. Greta Gerwig steps into the fray. Vowels Ronan’s best work yet. Wait, is that Lucas Hedges AND Timothee Chalamet – how many movies are they in this year?

TLDNW: 500 Words

Four out of Four Stars

The conversation surrounding Lady Bird began, I think, with the fact that it became the highest reviewed film on rotten tomatoes of all time – giving it a 100% rating. That number unfortunately has dropped now to 99% due to some reviewer who also gave Dunkirk an F- score, so can he really be trusted? The sentiment is still the same despite one dumb guy – Lady Bird is a universally loved film, and it is not hard to see why.

Here’s Lady Bird’s trick – it comes across and presents itself as a bit of a fluff film. It reads like a Romantic Comedy or even worse as a kitschy Hallmark film about a mother and daughter learning to love each other. I don’t think anyone who has seen this film would refer to it as a fluff piece but at first glance or by first synopsis one might assume that it is nothing more than Sunday afternoon Women’s network original. It is just beyond this fluff layer, which is so superficial it might as well be transparent, that a highly intricate, deeply thoughtful, beautifully crafted film comes to light. Lady Bird is secretly a tightly wound masterpiece. Every bit so perfectly laid that it has the appearance of something much lighter.

The first, and perhaps most prominent, piece of this machine is the stellar performances. Of course Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan lead the charge. Both actresses bring a grace to their performances that are as subtle as they are moving. With just a flick of an eyebrow or a cock of the head Metcalf makes moviegoers everywhere lean over to their neighbour and say “oh my gosh, that is exactly what my mom does”. It is unfortunate that Allison Janney (I, Tonya) is in the supporting actress fray this year or Metcalf would have the Oscar already. Saoirse Ronan has never been a slouch either, her Oscar-nominated performances in Atonement and Brooklyn are no small feathers in her cap and Lady Bird only confirms for me that she has a long career ahead of her. The supporting cast including PULITZER PRIZE WINNING PLAYWRIGHT Tracy Letts (?!?!), Lucas Hedges, Timothee Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Lois Smith, and Jordan Rodrigues is outstanding.

There are plenty of other pieces to this film that work incredibly well – the cinematography, the score, the soundtrack, and the costumes aptly capture the look and feel of 2002 Sacramento – but it is the direction of Greta Gerwig that makes all these pieces fit together. I read a really great thread on Twitter the other day about how this film is secretly a masterpiece – and I’ll include it at the end of this article – but I would like to echo its sentiments. There has been some significant conversation about Gerwig being left out of directing nominations. Perhaps the most upsetting was the snub at the Golden Globes (where she was replaced by, barf, Ridley Scott). I think that the main reason she has been overshadowed by bigger presences like Guillermo Del Toro, Spielberg, and Christopher Nolan is because this film doesn’t LOOK like a technical marvel. Directing statues in the past have almost always gone to directors who seem to be dealing with large technical spectacles. The beauty and grace of Lady Bird is that it is just as intricate and technical as a larger production like The Shape of Water but in a much subtler way. Gerwig still stands among the giants in this category for capturing a mood and fostering performances that reflect this mood. That is why Lady Bird is such a quiet masterpiece- and also unfortunately why it will be criminally overlooked for Best Picture.

Lady Bird is a film that can make you laugh, and cry, and call your mom right after. It is also a film that has sat inside my brain since I saw it in December – a rare feat at this time of year. It is a quiet masterpiece that deserves our attention on every level.

Here’s the link to the podcasts:

Here’s that Twitter Thread:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>If you’re wondering why Greta Gerwig has been left off certain Best Director lists, I would say this is the kind of thinking that leads to such an outcome. <a href=”https://t.co/obE80G8O8s”>pic.twitter.com/obE80G8O8s</a></p>&mdash; Guy Lodge (@GuyLodge) <a href=”https://twitter.com/GuyLodge/status/951146729843372032?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 10, 2018</a></blockquote>
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