Three Billboards captures our cultural moment

I don’t want to tell you that you’re wrong about Three Billboards because it feels weird to tell someone that their genuine reaction to something is wrong, so instead I’d like to offer how my reaction and experience watching the film was different.

To me, the film is vital to this particular cultural moment we are living through. It’s a long moment, unfortunately, that has been defined by an assault on truth and the triumph of outrage over reason. This potent cocktail that we have imbibed has led to a moral drunkenness in our country. Three Billboards is the hair of the dog.

The ambiguity in the film is so essential to why the film works the way it does. The ambiguity forces us to wrestle with who these people are and what their actions mean. Characters we believe to be good do awful things and characters we believe to be awful do good things and the film never stops to tell us what that means or how we should feel about it.  

It reminded me a bit of Louis C.K. I’m not here to defend him. I don’t know that he’s earned that or that he deserves the benefit of the doubt. However, I read an interview with Tig Notaro recently where she sort of wondered aloud if he had championed her famous stand-up routine about cancer as a way of shielding himself from criticism. Creating a way for him to point at some work and say, “Hey! I support women!” It’s entirely possible that she’s right. That this man who has done horrible things was so calculated in his actions that he chose to do something seemingly altruistic as a way of protecting himself against the behaviors that were certainly, some day, going to come to light. I’m willing to believe that this version of events is true (and they very well may be). But I also think it’s entirely possible that Louis heard the stand-up routine, thought it was great, and asked Tig if he could support her by putting it up for sale on his website and that’s it. That his previous behavior never entered into his mind. I think that’s also very possibly true. And we’ll never know. I think it’s easier to think he did the good thing for bad reasons because it fits a narrative that allows us to feel righteous moral outrage.  

Three Billboards seems to be dead set against letting anything fit a narrative. Instead it’s constantly challenging the narrative we would create in our heads and it denies us the pleasure of indulging in righteous moral outrage by exposing to us that Frances McDormand’s Mildred is right, and also kind of awful, and that Sam Rockwell’s Dixon is awful, but also capable of doing something good. The film never condemns Mildred and it never seems to want to redeem Dixon either. In both cases it’s denying us what we want, to root for Mildred and to condemn Dixon. And then faced with good behavior by Dixon the film also denies us the pleasure of seeing him fully redeemed. I think writer-director Martin McDonagh is doing this because these narratives are ultimately harmful. That the actual truth of the world is that bad people do good things and good people do bad things. You can’t know why anyone does anything and indulging in righteous moral outrage is not only counterproductive, but damaging to everyone involved. Instead the film does ask you to decide for yourself how to feel. I’m not always a fan of that kind of thing in a movie, but I think it’s appropriate here.

Ryan Ferguson

War feigns profundity

War for the Planet of the Apes is a bludgeoning film of empty and meaningless metaphors wrapped up in the clothing of presumed depth. It’s the sort of picture that feigns profundity, but instead collapses under the weight of its misguided imagery.

Set 15 years after the outbreak of the plague that wiped out a significant amount of the human population, the narrative depicts Caesar (Andy Serkis) seeking vengeance for the brutal slaughter of his wife and child at the hands of a mythical figure known as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The choice comes at the cost of his tribe who are making a long journey beyond the desert for a new promised land.

Predominantly, the story could be read as a loose adaptation of the Exodus tale. However, the interpretation has little validity because Caesar never feels like a Moses figure and the other facets of the story lack shading. The ape leader eventually tracks the lionized military figure to a far distant base and finds out that his tribe have been placed under bondage in a labor camp. The Colonel requests the collected group to build a wall.

However, there is never any reason for this demand, and instead the plot point comes across as an overt post-Trumpian reference without story-driven significance, let alone evoking Exodus. The general problem with War is that its metaphors are empty and do not say anything about the characters in the picture.

There is some Christ imagery in the picture as Caesar is strung to a cross. But it begs the question: what does the character have to atone for? He is just one ape; his tribe could have easily have been captured with or without him.

Likewise, the American national anthem being played while soldiers beat up and whip a number of the apes is indicative in suggesting that slavery has pervaded America’s past. But equating an entire race to the apes’ plight is too edgy; it ceases to become subversive and instead is objectionable.

Crucially, the film is at odds with itself. The title implies a finale soaked in bloody battle, but instead the picture delivers a belabored and pretentious skirmish that ultimately feels inconsequential.

From: Sartaj Singh

Guardians Vol. 2 full of grace notes

What I won’t defend: the glorified carnage, yet another “blow up the glowing thing in order to save the universe” superhero movie ending, or Sly Stallone.

What I will defend: Chris Pratt’s ongoing ability to surprise with his acting; how they maintained a healthy mix of irreverent humor, action, and obligatory MCU service; and how these maladjusted Guardian misfits learn to love each other and themselves in a surprisingly uncheesy way. The subplots of Nebula, Yondu, and Mantis hardly drag the focus away from the Guardians. On the contrary, they enhance each of them by calling attention to the compelling parts (or defects) in the Guardians’ personalities, and propelling them toward the reconciliation and peace (however temporary) they crave. The Yondu and Nebula storylines were especially affecting, both on their own and how they affected Quill and Gamora respectively.

How can the antagonism between Quill and Rocket be “forced” given their very believable insecurities and irrepressible need to be the wittiest, most tough-guy fighter of the group? And did you fall asleep during the scenes between Rocket and Baby Groot? They contained the same delightful rapport from the first film, altered for the new, infantilized version of Groot. You must have missed those and the other “grace notes” that peppered the entire film, including the best Zune joke of all time.

No doubt the plot goes a little haywire once Kurt Russell enters the picture. (What was up with his castle and all those porcelain dioramas? Demigod hobby I guess.) It pretty quickly didn’t smell right, so I spent most of the second act waiting for The Turn. But since I’ve lowered my expectations considerably for Marvel villains, my larger concern was enjoying the laughs and unexpected poignant moments along the way.

You insist it’s a small movie trying on big-boy blockbuster pants, but I saw it as putting on one of those clear, gelled spacesuits that Quill wears at one point: the spectacle fits snugly around the human core. I’ll put up with an explosion or 17 for that.

From: Chad Comello