Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (R)
And the winner for strangest movie title of the year is, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, from this point on to be referred to as “Billboards.” It’s a dark, violent, intense drama with just enough humor to make it less, shall we say, unrelenting.
Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a mother who is grieving and angry over the murder of her daughter. She’s convinced the local police department isn’t working hard enough to find the killer, and after several months, decides to get proactive by using three billboards to publicly accuse the popular police chief of not doing his job.
The billboards set off a chain of events in the town that affects all the main characters, especially Mildred (seriously, is there anyone under 110 alive named Mildred?) And why does she wear prison-style jumpsuits to work at a gift store? But I digress.
You think that Billboards is going to be about an angry and determined mother fighting an inept police force to get justice for her murdered daughter. But as the story moves forward, we learn a lot about the characters. Mildred might be pursuing justice, but in the process she’s hurting everyone in her path, including her son Robbie (Lucas Hedges from “Lady Bird”). Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), is a tough guy at the office, but then we see him with his young wife and daughters and think “Mean ole’ Mildred, picking on this sweet man who’s a great dad.”
But nobody evolves as much as Deputy Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a dim, thuggish, mama’s boy with a reputation for violence. He’s the worst right? Wrong.
There are scenes in “Billboards” that will break your heart and others that will make you laugh out loud. Credit writer-director Martin McDonagh for creating these complicated and compelling characters who carry the equally complicated story. This is the best performance that McDormand has delivered since winning the Best Actress Oscar for “Fargo” in 1996. She is ferocious and does not care even a little bit what anyone thinks about her. Harrelson is tremendously affecting as Willoughby, battling his own demons as he tries to deal with Mildred and her billboards’ assault on his reputation.
But the revelation to many will be Rockwell who I’ve followed since his underappreciated work in 2002’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.” Since then he’s been the best thing in a lot of bad movies. As Dixon, he has to convince us that a not-very-bright thug, capable of random violence, can become a better man. There is nothing I would like better than to see Rockwell walk off with a well-deserved Oscar. If you don’t mind strong language, ugly jumpsuits and occasionally jarring violence, “Billboards” is one of the best movies so far this year.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: 4 out of 5 Stars
“Coco” is the latest animated venture for Pixar and while not as well-written as the studio’s best films like “Inside Out” or “Up,” it delivers a thoughtful story and vibrant, stunning visuals.
Miguel is a 12-year-old boy living in Mexico. He wants to play music but because his great-grandfather abandoned the family to pursue a career as a musician, nobody in Miguel’s extremely tight family, has ever or, if grandmother has her way, will ever, pick up an instrument or sing a song. Instead it seems, Miguel is destined to follow everyone else into the family business of making shoes.
But Miguel is determined to live his dream and pursuing that dream takes him on a very unexpected journey. On Dia de los Muertos, the day when Mexicans honor the connection of the living and the dead, Miguel’s escapades lead him to cross over to the land of the dead where he encounters members of his family he’s only seen in photos, as well as Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who becomes Miguel’s guide in this strange world and who needs the boy to help him as well.
The characters on the other side are about 27 times less cuddly than Woody and Buzz from “Toy Story.” I did get used to the animated skull faces, but didn’t need quite so many scenes of skeletons breaking apart and reassembling. The music is good, but not very memorable.
I was surprised at how much I learned about the cultural significance of The Day of the Dead, watching “Coco.” Again, the look of the film, from buildings to spirit animals, is eye-popping.
The message of the importance of love, memory and family, snuck up on me and made all three in my movie-going party, including one adult male, tear up. There are some major themes in this movie that could lead children to ask thoughtful questions about death, so be prepared for that. I recommend “Coco” for all ages for its lovely story and gorgeous visuals.
Coco: 4 out of 5 Stars