Quick Hit: Shifting shades of gray pour through each and every character.
It’s extremely rare to make a racist look good in a movie. It’s also extremely rare to portray suicide in an almost brave sense. Somehow, Three Billboards manages to accomplish both of these feats, along with a myriad of others in stunning and sometimes frightening fashion. That’s because everywhere you look in Billboards, you see gray – not as the color, but in the fact that no one is purely evil or purely good.
In this era of superhero films – which I’m not detracting at all – most of the heroes are purely good, and the villains are purely evil. Regardless of the “motivations” that each face, they are rarely as good as the pages of the colorful comics that have leapt from. That’s because movies have a hard time establishing all this in the short amount of time allotted to them, which is why some of the more complicated heroes have found success on the small screens (I’m looking at you Daredevil).
However, Billboards manages this feat, and does so adeptly. Each character, be it Frances McDormand’ s Mildred, Sam Rockwell’s Dixon, or Woody Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby – there’s no one that is completely free of blame. There’s no one whose motivations are completely clear, or completely white. Instead, we are given deep, complex characters that are fleshed out by extremely well-acted performances. It was surprising to me when I saw Billboards garner not just one Supporting Actor Nod for Rockwell, but two, including Harrelson as well. Though Dixon’s character will inevitably give Rockwell the win because of his more complete character arc, Chief Willoughby is the voice of reason and heart that provides some emotional heft throughout the film that is already laden with it.
Another part of the movie that is evident throughout is the raw undercurrent of humor that continues to make itself evident. Normally in a film like this, it could come across as tone-deaf or just against the tone of a movie that features such dramatic material. However, instead it provides a welcome respite to the audience from the horrors of true human characters and their interactions. I found myself laughing a number of times out loud in the theater, sometimes nearly with tears in my eyes. This is one of those movies that is well-founded with its script and extremely full of moments for each and every character to shine.
I haven’t touched on the variety of characters through the film besides the three “main”, but all the other actors and actresses do a great job. Peter Dinklage is a wonder as usual, Lucas Hedges is solid (and somehow continues to pop up in all these huge dramatic films), and Caleb Landry Jones hands in an extremely good performance to top it all off. There wasn’t a performer or moment in this film where I was disinterested, and that’s high praise indeed.
I really like this movie, and at the moment, it’s probably my front-runner for Best Picture. I’m giving the film an “A+” and a recommendation to everyone to go see it.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Returning to the finale of the rebooted series, strong developments of secondary characters assist the story to stay in the upper echelon of science fiction.
After the high of seeing Dawn, it’s understandable to be a little let down by War. That’s not to say that it isn’t a tremendous movie – it’s just different in tone, despite continuing to feature all the things that have made this series so good. What’s different is that it allows some humor to creep in – more on that later – as well as development of other characters outside of Caesar. While this was attempted with James Franco in Rise and perfected with Koba in Dawn, it’s nice to have it spread around so that the other apes that Caesar spends his time with are characters instead of beautiful digital creations.
The war between the apes and humans has been raging now for years. Caesar desperately wants peace, but the General (played by Woody Harrelson) refuses to comply. This is because there is a strange disease ravaging the human population, which has driven many of the humans to a fever point. There are desperate, emotional losses on both sides, none of which I’ll spoil here.
As I stated in the open, the strongest portion of the film is the fact that a few of the other apes are actually characterized. Rocket goes further than just being the father of Blue Eye’s friend. He’s a dedicated friend to Caesar who will follow his instructions regardless. Along with that, we finally see Maurice as the moral compass of Caesar. He goes further than just suggestion of what Caesar should do – he tells him that he will go on and do things without Caesar’s approval. The mark of a trusted advisor is that which is unafraid to tell their ruler that they are wrong.
The CGI continues to be fantastic, particularly in close-up shots. Considering the majority of the movie consists of focusing on the facial expressions of a variety of characters that are not actually apes, it’s really, really impressive. The only CGI failure that I saw was towards the end of the movie when an avalanche was manufactured by digital imagery, and then it was just a ho-hum bit of work. Part of me wonders if someone besides Weta handled that portion, but I’m not blaming anyone, just curious.
The script here is very good, and allows several characters their chance for a monologue, in particular one stand-out by Harrelson. Serkis continues to deliver his lines in the rasping bark of Caesar, and it’s really outstanding. I’ll also give credit where credit is due by saying that Bad Ape, played by Steve Zahn, is really truly funny. The beginning reactions from the other apes to him, while not only expanding the story, give a welcome breath of humor to a franchise that was dangerously close to going to Cormac McCarthy levels of dark.
There are some detractors which keep the movie from going too high on my list – in particular all that plot conveniences towards the end of the movie. I understand exactly why it ended up the way it did – I’ve seen the original five films after all. But after the terrifically acted scene with Harrison and Serkis, we rush to the final scene of Maurice and Caesar. It robs some of the series of its emotional impact because everything else has been so well thought out.
In the end, it’s still an excellent movie and a great capper to the series. I’ll give it an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Filled with emotional beats throughout, the special effects still raise this film to be the best in the series.
The film opens with some text crawl, which is normally a pet peeve of mine (outside of the Star Wars series). But after that, you’re treated to a pretty delightful film. The basic plot is this – most of humanity has died off, but they are struggling to survive in a world where our creature comforts have been destroyed. The apes, however, who escaped into the forest in the last film, are now thriving. They’ve established a whole society, complete with education and a series of commandments, the greatest of which is “Ape Not Kill Ape”.
Inevitably, we know these two factions of society are going to clash eventually. And, after a breathtaking opening scene that involves the apes hunting in the forest, we get exactly that. Koba (Toby Kebbell), the ape with the medical testing scars from the previous film, wants Caesar to distrust the humans, which is perfectly reasonable. Caesar, who remembers what humanity can be at its best, decides to trust the humans, leading to a relationship wherein the apes help the humans get a hydroelectric dam back running. This plot set-up is really well done, and the whole film is really well thought out. There were no points where I was pointing out huge plot holes.
Andy Serkis continues to be the best part of the series. His Caesar is now older and more menacing physically, but he allows all the subtle body language of that of a chimpanzee who is becoming more and more human to come through. Weta’s digital effects continue to astound, because the line is so unclear between the effects and the man. There are some scenes where Caesar needs to show true emotion, and it’s really effective. Kebbell also gets some really good acting in, particularly in a chilling scene that involves normal chimp behaviors shifting back and forth with his now “normal” behavior. Kebbell went to continue to follow in Serkis’s steps by playing Kong in Skull Island.
Matt Reeves (Cloverfield and Let Me In) brings a keen eye for action. The finale to Rise was really good – but here it’s better in ways you weren’t even expecting. Despite featuring apes on horses, apes toting guns and spears, and apes increasingly gaining the ability to speak – which is handled really, really well by the way by both Kebbell and Serkis – it never comes across as unbelievable. The care that is handled in these scenes, and in some scenes featuring emotional impact, like Maurice and young Kodi-Smit Mcphee reading together, or Keri Russell and Caesar’s wife Cornelia (Judy Greer!!) are all handled with delicacy and perfect light handling.
I think this is the best of the series, but we still have one more to go. Come back soon for the finale to this series, along with the finale to trilogy month, War For the Planet of the Apes. For today’s film, the rating is, of course, an “A+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"