Tag Archives: Woody Harrelson


SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

A lone woman trapped out in redneck country.

Here’s an uncomfortable question to ask: in the cases of rape and sexual assault, who suffers more? The victims, or their families? We often focus so much attention on the victims that go through these unforgivable tragedies, as we rightfully should. But do we ever think as much about the father who raised her? The mother who gave birth to her? The brother that grew up with her? What regrets are they experiencing? What battles are they facing outside of the courthouses and police stations? Not to mention that’s for the cases where the victims survived. What about those who didn’t?

I know that’s probably as uncomfortable reading for you as it is typing for me, but it needs to be said. Silence on these issues marginalizes these victims to the point of forgetting them, and the one thing that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri definitely isn’t is silent. Like its loudmouthed protagonist, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is fearless, outspoken, confrontational, aggressive, and uncompromising in its truth. It needs to be seen solely on the basis of understanding what a sixth of American families are going through right now.

In Three Billboards, one of those families belongs to Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), and her family is a broken one to say the least. Her son is estranged from her, while her abusive husband divorced her so he could be with some girl that is 30 years younger than him. Her daughter is also no longer with them, and without getting into the grisly details, she was sexually assaulted and killed over a year ago.

Frustrated by the local police’s lack of progress in the investigation, Mildred takes her own initiative and rents out three billboards saying “RAPED WHILE DYING. ONE YEAR, NO ARRESTS. HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?” Needless to say, Police chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his loyal protégé Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) are a little less than amused at her antics. This spurs them and the town to protest her signage displays, pitting one lone woman against an entire town of rednecks.

While watching the film, I was reminded of a small town in Athens, Texas where my family occasionally travels out to on a piece of property that we own. You will notice that most of the people there are more, shall we say, blunt than city folks are. They don’t beat around the bush. They speak their mind, and rarely do they stray from coarse, unfiltered honesty. Profanity is a second language to them. Drinking, chewing tobacco, and spitting to the side of the road is common practice. And calling someone a bastard is a sign of affection.

I paint this picture to show you that writer-director Martin McDonagh was inspired by these same experiences while writing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and he uses these same people as a current to demonstrate serious institutionalized problems that go on within our justice system. Three Billboards hits on multiple issues all at once. Police brutality. Institutionalized racism. Homophobia. Free speech. And, of course, rape culture. You would think that the film would be overloaded talking about all of these topics at once, and would feel less like a story and more like a university studies lecture.

Not so. The conversations and the concerns these characters share feel genuine and believable, as if they are real people talking to each other and not just actors reciting a screenplay for the camera. I think this is because McDonagh centralizes the conversations around one key topic: the three billboards. McDonagh once saw similar billboards over 15 years ago while traveling in between Georgia and Alabama. Taking that image in his mind and backtracking the narrative, he creates a dialogue about the nature of peaceful protesting, and whether those protests should be tolerated regardless of the communities’ reaction to them.

I was reminded of another recent protest while watching Three Billboards: the NFL kneeling controversy. In both cases, the issues are the same: X problem is going on within local law enforcement, so I’m going to do Y until the issue is addressed. Yet, in both of these cases, the protestor is the one that is being blamed for the issues, not the entity that person is protesting. Here’s a litmus test for you: are you more offended by a billboard calling out your best friend by name, or are you more offended by the dead teenager that was killed under his watch?

In that, McDonagh forms an important conversation that needs to be had: should the victims of these circumstances be silent in their suffering, or should their additional scrutiny be even more of a reason to speak out? Political commentators note all the time that in some sexual assault cases, victims were “asking for it” with what they were wearing or how they were acting. I’m pretty sure Mildred’s daughter Angela wasn’t asking to be killed. Just an educated guess on my part.

But the movie isn’t all doom-and-gloom with dread and weariness. There are brief moments of humanity and humor that shines through the bleak shades of the film, and most of that is thanks to Frances McDormand. She’s such a spitfire of a woman in this movie, a firecracker full of attitude that refuses to take any more B.S. that she doesn’t deserve. I’m telling you, this woman has been through the ringer. She’s faced the abuse and abandonment of her ex-husband, the frustration and anger of her son, and the violation and murder of her daughter. I don’t blame her one bit for being a little off the cuff, and that’s exactly what she is here: a loose cannon ready to throw hands with anyone who approaches her with hostility. She makes you outwardly laugh in moments where she spits deep-cutting jabs, while at other times your jaw drops saying out loud to yourself “I can’t believe she just did that.”

And yet, her character isn’t devoid of sympathy or understanding. She’s actually a very kind-hearted and considerate human being, who very understandably has a hard shell for the people who have abused her kindness in the past. She is not afraid to get confrontational, and she is especially not afraid to get physical. In one moment of the picture, she makes fun of a midget for wanting to sleep with her. In another, she kicks a teenager in the groin and punches another one in her genitals. Yet, in more surprising moments, she expresses genuine care and concern for people she was mocking mere moments ago, sympathetic to their pain in moments where they weren’t sympathetic towards hers.

In fact, describing Mildred Hayes best describes the rest of the movie: a thick skin with a soft heart.

I find no faults in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, only actions and conversations that will make you uncomfortable at watching. They’re supposed to. There are people like Mildred and Angela Hayes all over the world today facing the same anger, sadness, frustration, disappointment, and lack of closure from what they’ve experienced. All they’re left with is the pain, and they’re given nothing to compensate for it. McDonagh had two choices in portraying that loss: either show it in its rawest, most honest form, or don’t show it at all. McDonagh chose the former. If you don’t want to experience that for yourself, that’s totally fair. You can always leave the movie theater. Mildred Hayes can’t leave her life.

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SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

All hail Caesar.

We fade in on a series of words. Rise. Dawn. War. Perhaps these words could have been used to describe every conflict in human history. In this context however, they refer to the apes, who were once the inferior species on the planet, now becoming so powerful and so many that they’ve pushed humanity on the verge of extinction. The sad part is that it was never in the ape’s intentions to do so. Nature has simply taken its course.

In this penultimate moment building up over the course of several years, War for the Planet of the Apes finds the ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) picking up the pieces of his broken life. War with the humans ravages the ape’s home day by day. Apes are dying every week from the attacks. And no matter how much Caesar pushes for peace, the humans keep pushing back for war. Like any general during wartime, Caesar is stuck in a cycle of violence, and he’s powerless to do anything about it.

One day, the ape’s forest home is raided and they are forced to flee from the carnage. The apes band together and find a new, safe location miles away from the humans in the desert. Caesar, however, cannot forget or forgive the deaths that the humans have caused. Now determined to avenge his fallen brethren, Caesar sets out alone to find the man who killed them and finally end this insufferable war.

I never expected to get so wrapped up into a movie about talking monkeys fighting against human beings. I especially didn’t expect to be rooting against my own species. Yet, that’s exactly what happened when I watched War for the Planet of the Apes, an epic and emotional conclusion to this prequel trilogy that functions as a summer blockbuster, a war drama, and a somber tragedy all at once. Few films reach the depth and the complexion that War for the Planet of the Apes reaches, even fewer that belong to a franchise.

First things first: Andy Serkis as Caesar. Holy cow. Serkis has always been a powerhouse actor in motion-capture performances, with his roles ranging from the cowardly and bipolar Gollum in Lord of the Rings to the angry giant monster in King Kong. With Caesar, however, he’s always displayed an intimacy and acuteness to the character that makes him believable not just as an ape, but as a husband, father, and leader struggling with the consequences of war. With Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Serkis displays how accurate he can be in portraying animalistic behaviors. With War however, he displays that alongside the emotional gravity that is attached to Caesar, the internal conflict of an ape who longs for peace but is pursuing it through fields of dead bodies, human and ape alike. This is simply a masterful performance delivered by the talented Andy Serkis. If he does not get nominated for an Oscar for this performance, then he deserves a special achievement statuette at the very least.

The character is also written extremely well, just like all of the characters are in this epic. Reportedly sitting in a theater for hours just for the purpose of watching movies, director Matt Reeves and writer Mark Bomback pulls inspiration from any source they could find, from Bridge on the River Kawaii to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. There really are a lot of similarities between War for the Planet of the Apes and other war dramas. The crippling effects on an established society, the murderous instinct that grows within its soldiers, the post-traumatic stress that comes from battle, even the God complexes that some generals amass victory after victory. This truly is a layered film, filled with a plethora of ideas and conflicts that make all the characters and their struggles interesting. A movie about talking animals has no business being this compelling or thought-provoking, yet War for the Planet of the Apes swiftly earns its title as the best Planet of the Apes movie out of the series.

The visual effects, of course, are as spectacular as they’ve always been. Not just with the explosions and action sequences, but also with its animation of the apes, their movements, and how they look and feel like real mutated animals. Viewers cried foul play a few years back when Dawn of the Planet of the Apes lost the best visual effects Oscar to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. I genuinely believe this film has a better chance of nabbing the award than Dawn does, mostly because its job is so much harder. While the effects team still has to adapt the ape’s movements and mannerisms (even more this time, because the film almost entirely focuses on the ape’s perspective), they also have to animate the ape’s strained emotions and facial expressions. Capturing the intimacy of that is hard, especially in animated form. Yet when the ape’s tear up, cry, snort their nostrils in anger, or smile, it feels like a real animal is in front of you performing these movements, not a visual effects artist from behind a computer screen.

You should be aware that War for the Planet of the Apes is not an action film, even though it is marketed to look like one. I saw a lot of kids in the screening I attended, and many of them were restless and anxious because there wasn’t a lot of movement happening on-screen. That doesn’t mean that the film is boring, but it does mean that it takes time to build up its story and illustrate the emotions that characters are experiencing. Because it takes this time to invest in itself, War for the Planet of the Apes ends up becoming a masterful picture, equal parts powerful, emotional, and morally conflicting. I knew there had to be some reason why it’s main protagonist was named after a Shakespearean tragedy.

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“NOW YOU SEE ME” Review (✫✫✫)

And now you don’t.  

We open on a black screen, similar to how a magician opens up his show behind the secrecy of a red curtain.  A deck of cards can be heard flipping through the background with the presence of a calm, cool, and serene voice to accompany them.  “Pick a card”, he says.  “Any card”.  But before his volunteer can pick a card, he is quick to remind her “But look closely.  Because the closer you look, the less you will actually see”.

The words of a true magician, and the fact that he flipped this deck and actually picked the card I choose impressed me even more.  This character is named Atlas, who is played by Jesse Eisenberg, and he is a street magician on such a skill level to where he can make skyscrapers light up in the night.  As he impresses a crowd of ongoing viewers, one stands in the audience with a hood over his head quietly observing Atlas.  We can’t see his face and we don’t know who he is, but he carries a card in his pocket, and leaves it for Mr. Atlas at the end of the performance.

Atlas isn’t the only magician to receive special treatment: three other magicians have also been observed by this strange visitor and have been left cards for each of them.  There is the mentalist Meritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), the pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and the escape artist Henly Reeves (Isla Fisher).  All four of these talented magicians have been recruited by a secret cult called “The Eye” to carry out a secret mission for them.  One year later, they come together in their first show as “The Four Horsemen”: and during their show, they rob a bank all the way in Paris while still performing in Las Vegas.

The FBI are called in to investigate, and they bring in Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to arrest and interrogate the four horsemen.  Pressing as he is, the horsemen are equally as clever and deceptive.  Henly is spinning chairs, McKinney keeps reading his mind, and Atlas ends the interrogation by taking off his handcuffs and snapping them onto Rhodes.  The rest of the film shows Rhodes chasing the four horsemen, trying to figure out their plot, and to stop them before they succeed.

This film is all about style over substance, a movie that is more concerned with tricks and showcase over character depth and dimension.  Do I care about dimension, however, if the film is more than fun enough to take it over?  The success of movies do not just come from how deep or complex they are.  They also come from how well-made the picture is, how sharply the cut is edited, and how cleverly the narrative is structured.

And boy, if Now You See Me is anything, its definitely clever.  Directed by Lois Letterier (Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk) and written by screenwriters Ed Solomon (Men In Black) and Boaz Yakin (Remember The Titans), Now You See Me is a movie driven to the brim with its cleverness, its wit, deceit, and effervescent charm in its characters, in what they do, and how they do it.  In many ways, this movie reminds me of caper films such as Oceans Eleven and The Italian Job: its a movie where characters cleverly trick and deceive their pursuers and expose them to their traps and their decisive plans.  They don’t use muscle, brawn, or big guys with guns to get what they want: they use their wits, their brains, and their thievingly cunning plans to accomplish their goals in the plot.

Of course, these plans weren’t inherently inspired by the four horsemen in themselves: someone from the shadows has helped them with this plan, and is always monitoring these horsemen from shadows of secrecy.  Tonally, the film achieves what it desires, and throughout the conniving plot we’re always wondering a key mystery: who is the fifth horseman?  Why did he enlist in the help of these four?  Who could it possibly be?  Is it one of the FBI or Interpol, pretending to be on one side while coyly playing for the other?  Or is it another mystery card player, one who has hidden behind a long-aged myth and has hidden himself from all cards in the field?

This isn’t just a caper film: it is a complex and fascinating mystery, and the cast of characters is all the rogues gallery in this police questioning.   Mark Ruffallo does well as Dylan Rhodes, and in small moments of intimate revealings he shows a man who was once a boy who will always hate those in higher power oppressing the helpless underdogs.  Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman make great cameos, and each play a role we don’t normally see from them, Caine being an antagonistic money monger and Freeman being an observant expose’ of schemes.  Eisenberg, as always, is a knockout in anything he does.  Here his character combines both the social awkward and invertedness of The Social Network, and the coy, cool, sleek confidence of Brad Pitt from Oceans Eleven.  Don’t ask me how he does it, okay?  He just does.

And this is a film that has been bombasted by critics.  For what?  A few quotes I pulled from Rottentomatoes:  “Overcooked, overcomplicated and underinteresting, this heist caper turns into a mess”, one critic said. “Complicated nonsense”, and “…a flimsy plot whose logic disappears faster than a rabbit in a hat”.

There is some truth here.  Yes, the film is overcomplicated.  Yes, it is elaborate and sometimes distracting.  Yes the characters are one-note and thinly written.  And yes, the twist ending is dangerous enough to make the entire narrative collapse on itself, let alone offering the threat of plot holes.

In other words, I’ll admit I don’t understand everything by the end of the picture.  And that’s precisely the point.  There isn’t any fun with a trick that has been exposed: the fun comes in with those trying to figure it out.

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