Friday, December 15, 2017

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the movie "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" as well as DVDs "Lost in Paris" and "Lovely & Amazing."  The Book of the Week is a biography of singer Stevie Nicks, "Gold Dust Woman: A Biography of Stevie Nicks."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer."

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

A mother is consumed with trying to get the local police to solve her daughter's murder so she comes up with a unique idea to get them to continue to investigate.

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is not a happy woman.  Nor should she be.  Her daughter, Angela, was raped and murdered and the Ebbing police have not found the guy. There is no DNA, there are no witnesses and the case has gone cold.  And, needless to say, Mildred is not happy about that.  Not happy at all.  In fact she is so unhappy that she rents three billboards outside of town, and like those old humorous Burma Shave billboards that used to dot the highways in the old days, the three billboards when read together form a saying, except it's not a humorous saying, not humorous at all.  The first one reads "Angela Hayes was raped while dying," followed by another one that reads "Still no arrests" and the third one, "How come, Chief Willoughby?" The billboards also stand within eyesight of Mildred's front porch and mark the spot where her daughter was murdered.

The billboards not only humiliate Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), but polarize the whole community particularly because everyone knows that Chief Willoughby is dying of pancreatic cancer.  How could Mildred do something like this to a man who is dying?  Well, Mildred has one goal and one goal only and that is to find her daughter's killer and make him pay so she doesn't much care that Chief Willoughby is dying.  A mother's grief knows no bounds.

Mildred and her son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges, who has put in some powerful performances in some high profile films recently - see my reviews for "Manchester by the Sea" and "Lady Bird"), are harassed by the police and the townspeople, but Mildred stands firm.  She is one tough cookie.  Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is particularly incensed, but then Dixon is not all there and has his own issues. He is a racist mama's boy with anger issues. When Willoughby commits suicide after a perfect day he planned with his wife and children, Mildred is blamed, though Willoughby disputes that by sending letters to several people, including one to his wife saying he did it because he couldn't stand for her to remember him as he faded away.  He also sent one to Mildred telling her it wasn't because of her.

This all may seem quite depressing and dour and it can be dark, but it also has humor and pathos thanks to the brilliant screenplay by Martin McDonagh, who also directs.  I see a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination in his future.  The screenplay is definitely original as well as thought-provoking and beautifully presented.

McDormand is mesmerizing and she and Rockwell are also sure to get Oscar nods for their performances, especially Rockwell, who in a supporting role, is almost unrecognizable as Dixon, the clueless swaggering Mama's boy who really does want to be a good cop but just keeps putting his foot in it.

But I was particularly taken with Harrelson's performance.  As you may have noticed, I have not been his biggest fan, though I was starting to soften towards him since "Wilson" and "The Glass Castle," but here he pulls out all of the stops - in a good way - to put in a nuanced and poignant performance about a man who really wants to help Mildred but is just too busy dying.

Written, produced and directed by McDonough (he also wrote and directed "In Bruges"), along with a Best Original Screenplay nomination, "Three Billboards" is a likely Best Picture and Best Director Oscar candidate. 

The film leaves a deep impression partly because of the performances but mostly because no easy answers are presented for any of these deeply flawed characters which is just like life, right?

Rosy the Reviewer says...already nominated for a Best Picture Golden Globe as well as Best Original Screenplay with Best Actor nods to McDormand and Rockwell.  I have no doubt it will get similar Oscar nominations - so get thee to the theatre! 

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Lost in Paris (2016)

A Canadian librarian heads to Paris for the first time to help her Aunt.

Fiona (Fiona Gordon) lives in a part of Canada that is so cold it looks like the Himalayas.  As a young girl, her Aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva who so stunned in "Amour," which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013) regaled her with stories about living in Paris.  Now the grown-up Fiona is still in Canada working as a librarian and her Aunt did go to Paris, but now her Aunt Martha has written to her to come to Paris and help her because she says social workers are threatening to put her in a nursing home.

So Fiona packs up her huge backpack with her Canadian flag waving out the back and heads to Paris.  But when she arrives at her Aunt Martha's house, no one is home, and later when she asks a jogger to take her picture on a bridge with the Eiffel Tower in the background, she falls backwards off the bridge into the water, losing her backpack and all of her money.

Then we meet Dom (Dominque Abel), a homeless man camped out in a tent next to the Seine.  He finds Fiona's backpack and her purse with all of her money in it.  Donning one of her sweaters and carrying her purse, he heads to a posh restaurant where he encounters Fiona, who had received a meal voucher from the Canadian Consulate while she awaits her new passport.  She compliments Dom on his sweater which she says is just like one she has but when she sees her purse she realizes what has happened. 

That scene was rather funny but then it all went downhill for me after that.

I so wanted to love this film.  Librarian?  Paris?  Beautiful cinematography and production values? Accomplished actors?  What's not to like?  But it just didn't add up to anything for me.

Written and directed by the stars, Fiona Gordon and Dominque Abel, I had several issues with this film.  One, it was just too farcical.  I am not a big fan of broad, farcical comedy.  But having been a librarian myself, I am also not a fan of librarian stereotypes, and Fiona, with her weird hairstyle that reminded me too much of a librarian's stereotypical bun, her glasses and her sneakers just made me cringe.  Not to mention she didn't seem like she was very smart. She was a grown woman who was totally flummoxed by being in Paris for the first time.  I mean, she was a librarian.  Didn't she read any guidebooks before she went?  And then there was Dom, who came off as part Monsieur Hulot, part Mr. Bean, but unfortunately, I was never really into either of those characters.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like fantasy with broad humor you might like this, but despite the production values - the film was lovely to look at - and some sweet moments, the film was just too unrealistic and Keystone Cops-ish for me.

Lovely & Amazing (2001)

A little slice of life circa early 2000's about a mother and her three mixed up daughters.

The best thing about this film was seeing a very young Jake Gyllanhaal.  It was also a reminder why I never really liked Catherine Keener very much.  Not that she isn't a good actress.  She is and maybe that's the problem  She is too good.  She is too real, and unfortunately, she brings that realness to too many really annoying characters.  Since this film was 16 years ago, it's highly possible that this was the first of her many annoying characters.

Keener plays Catherine, a woman who - did I say she was annoying? - is in an unhappy marriage and can't seem to get a job.  Instead she makes little chairs out of twigs and tries to sell them to boutiques.

Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer) is Catherine's sister, and she is a model/actress who is very insecure, so insecure that in a cringe-worthy full-frontal nudity way she stands naked in front of Kevin (Dermot Mulroney), an actor she has just had sex with and only recently met and asks him to critique her body, though I will say it was refreshing to be reminded that women once actually had pubic hair.  Elizabeth is also obsessed with adopting stray dogs.

Jane (Brenda Blethyn) is the matriarch who has adopted Annie (Raven Goodwin), a little black girl.  And thank god we have Annie, because she seems to be the only one in this film with any sense. She serves as the conscience of these vapid L.A. people.  Everyone else is self-absorbed and insecure, especially in regards to their body image. We see where Catherine and Elizabeth get it from when Jane sets the tone by planning on getting some liposuction to lose five pounds.

This was an annoying movie about annoying people.  I think it was supposed to be quirky and funny and real, but I just thought the whole thing was annoying.  Everyone talks at each other and makes no connections and, in fact, Catherine is down right rude to little Annie, telling her when they are at the beach that she certainly doesn't need sunscreen.

Catherine is clueless and just taking up space and to make matters worse her husband is having an affair with her best friend.  Finally shamed about not working, Catherine gets a job at a quick stop photo developing shop.  Remember when we had to get our pictures developed?  There she meets Jordan, a very young Jake Gyllenhaal, and actually starts feeling a bit better about herself, probably because Jordan has a huge crush on her and she knows it.

All of the characters are train wrecks, but like a train wreck, you can't take your eyes off of them.  I guess we are waiting to see if they can be redeemed but halfway through the film I said out loud to the screen "Who are these people?"  But I guess the point here was that everyone's life is messy and narcissistic and it's all reflected in Annie, who no one seems to be taking care of.  There is one particularly poignant scene when Annie takes herself to McDonald's to eat because no one has the time to fix her dinner and she sits in silence as the adults around her act like idiots. She has a weight problem and you can see the insecurity of the adults is rubbing off on her when she feels like she has to justify how much food she has ordered.  "I'm not going to eat it all." But her no-nonsense innocence is in stark contrast to the jaded, bored sensibilities of the adults.  So if that was the point, OK, but I just wish the film didn't have to also be annoying to make that point. 

Not sure how I ended up watching this film. Must have been one of those instances where I saw a trailer for it.  You know the ones.  The trailer is more interesting than the film.  Or maybe I read somewhere that it was some sort of cult classic and I should see it.  Roger Ebert liked it, but then he liked most things.

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, who went on to direct "Enough Said," which I liked much better than this one, this film was notable for its portrayal of real women and the relationships between mothers and daughters. It had the makings of a smart, observant film but it just really didn't go anywhere and the fact that the characters were so annoying didn't help.

The film was also notable for the early careers of so many actors - Keener, Gyllenhaal, Dermot Mulroney.  But like I said, I never really liked Keener as an actress just because she seemed to play so many characters like this - quirky, inappropriate, awkward but these days she has morphed into a sort of middle-aged warmth that I like better. She is still awkward and has all kinds of actory mannerisms but at least she isn't annoying anymore.

But the film belongs to little Raven Marks in her very first film role (she was 9) and who went on to have a very successful TV career. This film was also at the height of Dermot Mulroney's popularity (it followed "My Best Friend's Wedding"), though he never really lived up to his promise as a leading man and is now seen mostly in bad guy roles.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I actually think it's possible to make a film about annoying people without it being an annoying movie but that didn't happen here.  It's neither lovely nor amazing.

***My 1001  Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

162 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Henry likes to murder people.  A lot of them.

I had been putting off seeing this one because it just looked creepy as hell...and well, it was.

The film begins with a close-up of a woman's beautiful face, but as the camera pans slowly away we see that she is dead.

Then we meet Henry (Michael Rooker) driving his beaten up car interspersed with more flashbacks of other dead bodies as he drives along. Henry stops for coffee at a café and compliments the waitress on her smile.  Henry could just be any handsome young man.  Even serial killers can be sociable, I guess. But then he goes to the mall, targets a woman and follows her home.  But when she arrives home her husband comes out to help her with her packages so Henry backs off.  But he'll be back.

Then on the way home Henry picks up a young hitchhiker carrying her guitar. 

Henry lives with Otis (Tom Towles), a gas station attendant and part-time drug dealer, who has just picked up his sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold), at the airport.  Becky has left an unhappy marriage and needs a place to stay.  When Henry arrives, he has a guitar case with him and gives Otis the guitar. Oh oh.  So much for that young hitchhiker. 

Henry and Otis had met in prison. Henry was there for killing his mother. We get a little insight into Henry's character when Becky asks him about killing his mother but that is the only attempt made to explain why Henry likes to kill people or why or how he chooses his victims though he gives some insight when he says to Otis, "It's always you or them one way or another."

We never actually see the murders, just the bodies, until later in the film, when Otis witnesses Henry killing a prostitute and gets the bug himself and the two end up killing a family together and filming it with a video recorder and then watching it on their new TV.

Later it becomes clear that though Henry kills practically everyone he comes across he is more of a gentleman than Otis, who is quite the perv, especially when he tries to rape Becky, his own sister.  Even Henry has standards.

This was Michael Rooker's first feature film role and he is amazing as the handsome but dead-eyed Henry but for me that doesn't save this film.  It's just too dark and intense.

Directed by John McNaughton with a screenplay by McNaughton and Richard Fire, this is a low-budget film (he used then unknown actors and spent only $125,000) that does a good job of showing the seemy side of life and the actual brutality of murder, something that is often trivialized or even glamorized in films today, but the film is very, very hard to watch and I had problems with why it was even made or why it was a must see. I felt guilty for watching it.

Why it's a Must See: "[The film] is loosely based on the story of real-life serial murdered Henry Lee Lucas.  It is exceptional for its realism of style and amoral viewpoint, and it remains with the viewer as one of the most disturbing movies ever made...Henry evokes horror through gritty realism and excellent acting.  The film is not fun to watch, but it is important in that it forces viewers into questioning our cultural fascination with serial killers."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"


Rosy the Reviewer says...very, very disturbing.

***Book of the Week***

Gold Dust Woman: A Biography of Stevie Nicks by Stephen Davis (2017)

A biography of singer Stevie Nicks who helped to make Fleetwood Mac one of the most popular bands of all time.

This is an unauthorized biography so rock and roll biographer Davis did not have access to Stevie herself so had to rely on existing interviews, articles and books about Stevie and the band, as well as the recollections of Stevie's friends, family and those she has worked with. But Davis has put together an entertaining biography that covers the basics of Nicks' life - her Welsh ancestry and her growing up years (she was born in Phoenix but her family moved to California when she was very young) as well as the ups and downs as she made a career for herself as one of rock and roll's leading ladies. 

Stevie came from a musical family.  Her grandfather had dreams to become a country singer and often brought Stevie along when he had local gigs.  In high school she started playing the guitar and writing songs and eventually met Lindsay Buckingham and they formed a duo - Buckingham Nicks. They worked the grueling music scene with Stevie waiting tables to make ends meet and hoping for a big break.  

In one of those classic Hollywood right-place-right-time scenes, it just so happened that Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac was looking for a replacement lead guitarist.  Fleetwood Mac was a successful rock band, but because of the loss of Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, who both left the band under bizarre circumstances, they were faltering.  When a recording engineer at a studio where Nicks and Buckingham did some work recommended Lindsay, Mick offered Lindsay the job but Lindsay said yes only on the condition that they also take his girlfriend too -- and rock and roll history was born.  When Stevie and Lindsay joined the band, their songwriting, charisma and Stevie's flamboyant stage presence helped Fleetwood Mac become one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.

Davis shares lots of inside information especially during the tumultuous time that they were all making the Rumours album, which could be called "The Break-Up Album."  All of the band members were in various stages of breaking up.  Davis also covers the personality clashes (according to Davis Buckingham wasn't a very easy guy to get along with); the-who-was-sleeping-with-who lineups; Stevie's relationships with Mick Fleetwood, Don Henley and Joe Walsh; the drugs and drinking that almost killed her; and her solo career that is still going strong. 

Rosy the Reviewer entertaining biography of one of the most glamorous and sexy women in rock and roll who at 69 is still sexy and still rocking.


Thanks for reading!

See you this Tuesday for a

Special Edition of

Rosy the Reviewer:

"My New Kitchen,


I Survived a Kitchen Remodel But Told My Kids if I Ever Decided to do Something Like That Again They Had My Permission to Put Me in a Home! "



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