Upsetting the social apple cart? The unconventional romance of Splitting Up Together

(image via Spoiler TV (c) ABC)

 

SNAPSHOT
Lena and Martin were once madly in love. But, like many marriages, time and circumstance eventually took their toll. Lena (Jenna Fischer, The Office), the perfectionist, fell into the role of caretaker for everyone, including Martin (Oliver Hudson, Scream Queens). Martin felt he could never do anything right and gave up making the effort. This created a romantic rift between them. Finding themselves in a platonic marriage and acting more like a pair of camp counselors wrangling their kids than a couple hopelessly in love, they decide that everyone’s lives would be better served if they got a divorce. Still wanting the best for their three kids and facing a daunting real estate market, the couple decide not to sell their house and to “Bird Nest” instead. One parent will live in the house as the “on-duty” parent taking care of the kids, while the “off-duty” parent will live in the detached garage, doing whatever he or she pleases. They will switch off every other week.

Their kids, 7-year-old Milo (Sander Thomas), 14-year-old pre-pubescent Mason (Van Crosby) and 15-year-old feminist Mae (Olivia Keville), seem to be taking the divorce in stride. While Lena, the consummate caretaker, has to learn to loosen her reigns, Martin, who has always taken a backseat when it comes to parenting, needs to learn how to step up his game.

Then there are Lena and Martin’s married friends, Camille (Lindsay Price) and Arthur (Bobby Lee). Camille, stunning and way out of Arthur’s league, is sad to lose their best couple friends. Arthur, aware he married up, begins to question the stability of his own marriage when his friends’ falls apart. And Lena’s sister, Maya (Diane Farr), a serial dater who often gets in her own way due to her terrible taste in men, thinks that her sister is too rigid and needs to chill out if she’s ever going start dating again.

As Lena begins to dip her toes into the dating waters, Martin begins to see his own culpability in his marriage falling apart. When Martin realizes that it all began when he refused to dance with Lena at their wedding, he wants to atone for it. He secretly takes dance lessons to surprise Lena by dancing with her on what would be their upcoming wedding anniversary. Could being apart ultimately lead to them getting back together? (synopsis via Spoiler TV)

 

 

Ya gotta love life.

On the surface, it looks really simple – get up in the morning, do stuff, go to sleep.

But, of course, it’s WAAAY more complicated than that, by a good long measure, and what looks like a simple and sane solution that should be easy to execute ends up being a whole lot more difficult than anyone envisaged.

That’s the theme, along with a good deal of the detritus that flows from the life won’t scripts epiphany, of ABC’s upcoming new show Splitting Up Together which tells the story of two people who think their lives can diverge and, well, NOT, at the same time, only to find life isn’t going to be so accommodating.

As an ongoing idea, it’s got legs – it’s partly from the creator of Suburgatory (Emily Kapnek), a show I loved – and frankly if the writing stays this heartfelt and sharp, and well downright goody at times, I am totally onboard.

AND I will stop underestimating life because, you know, SNEAKY.

Splitting Up Together premieres on ABC this March.

Movie review: The Post

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

If history has shown us anything, and interestingly one of the protagonists of Spielberg’s masterful The Post describes newspapers as “the first rough draft of history”, it is that power, for all its love of intimidating show, prefers to exercise its less noble impetuses, of which there are many, in the shadows.

This is especially so in democracies where the naked, brazen abuse of power is supposed to be anathema; leave the dictators and despots to openly throw their weight around like wrestlers in the ring, the leaders in a democracy are supposed to govern solely for their electors and not their own doubtful interests.

In reality, of course, this is all fanciful idealising with the elected finding it all-but-impossible to resist the power-draped baubles of government, the chance to make and reshape the world around them far from prying eyes.

That is, in the case of the USA at least, until conscientious objectors such as former military analyst and activist Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) decide enough is enough, smuggling top secret documents out of The Rand Corporation in 1969 that come to be known as The Pentagon Papers in the hope of revealing how the American Government had lied again and again over thirty years about the Vietnam War.

But what would be the point of all this covert derring-do if you didn’t have some outlet for revelations so powerful they arguably played a significant role in destabilising the Nixon presidency which tottered and fellow a number of years later under the successive weight of the Watergate Scandal?

And so Ellsberg teamed up with Neil Sheehan (Justin Swain) from The New York Times, which boldly published graphic revelations from the Papers in supposed direct contravention of America’s espionage laws.

With the Government granted an injunction to stop the publication of thirty years’ of grubby Vietnam War secrets by the Times, the baton fell to then smaller regional player The Washington Post, under then relatively inexperienced leadership of Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) who had inherited the paper from her husband Phil upon his death.

 

 

The Post, directed with powerful cinematic understatement by Steven Spielberg, concentrates its impressive narrative heft on the days that follow when The Washington Post, through connections between Ellsberg and one of its reporters Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), is given the chance to continue publication, a decision that comes with considerable political and legal ramifications.

Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), a onetime friend of the Kennedys, is a man committed to pursuing a story come what may and he is all for it publishing and consequences be damned; Graham, however, still trying to prove herself in a male-dominated world which sees her custodianship of the paper as an aberration that will soon be corrected, and emotionally attached to a media entity bought by her father in 1933, is less sure.

She is, after all, close friends with Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), the Secretary of Defense through much of the 1960s and so consequently the man at the centre of The Pentagon Papers scandal, a connection that resonates with one of the main themes of this remarkably taut and timely film – can the Fourth Estate properly execute its mandate to keep those in power honest when it is effectively a part of that establishment?

It’s a grave question that Graham must answer, and answer it she does in a conversation with McNamara that beautifully underscores her growth as a newspaper publisher first and scion of society second, and its resolution proves fundamental to The Washington Post‘s decision to publish the papers.

This naturally brings the full weight of the bullyboy Nixon Presidency down upon her, the paper, imperiling in the process the recent stock offering, the funds from which are vital to continual solvency of the company.

Add legal culpability into the mix as well, and you have a potent brew of issues – access to the seats of power, freedom of the press, and the healthiness of democracy, all issues that have resonance in tonight’s troubled times which bear a striking corollary to the blighted years of the Nixon Presidency.

For all the bluster and import of these issues and the way they played out in a few short days in 1971, The Post is relatively nuanced, slowly drawing out the story and its implications in a patiently revealing way that really only becomes a little overblown in the final act when Spielberg gets a little too inspirationally showy for his own good.

 

 

For the greater part though The Post is rigorously focused, taking a story that doesn’t have any obvious action tropes – there are no car chases, no gun fights, no bitter, public battles between powerful societal behemoths – and letting it tell its own powerful tale.

Elegantly and forcefully weaving in a welter of issues from misogyny to abuse of power, the right of the State to rule as it sees fit vs. democratic norms, The Post barely puts a foot wrong, calmly assembling the pieces of a narrative puzzle that comes to define not just The Washington Post, now one of the towering influential giants of American media, but Graham herself who proves to herself and others that she is a worthy successor to her father and husband’s media mantles.

The film is effective because at no time does it sensationalise the story nor overplay its hand; Spielberg knows a good story and understands that it doesn’t need any embellishment, not that screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer hand him any, happy to let this gripping tale speak for itself.

Anchored by impressive performances by everyone involved, most particularly by Streep and Hanks who, amazingly, had never acted together before, The Post manages to make a statement without polemic clumsiness, giving us riveting action rife with stakes aplenty and democracy in the balance, and also the confidence that if good women and men speak up that even the most debased of democracy’s inhabitants must be made to heel.

 

 

Too good to be true? Donny the Drone comes alive ready to save the world

(image via YouTube (c) DUST)

 

SNAPSHOT
The film opens in 2022, as Donny – a mapping drone who “woke up” after a midair collision with a bird, and now speaks with the lulling cadence of a new age guru – is being presented with a “Person of the Year” award. Since his transformation, he explains, he’s devoted himself to being an ambassador for machines’ ability to help people. But despite Donny’s big award, not everybody embraces his philosophy – or his vision for humanity’s future. (source: io9)

C’mon you know the type.

They have an epiphanic Road to Damascus moment, see the world more clearly and become convinced they have been granted a special perspective unavailable to the rest of us mere mortals.

Everything’s fine to begin with – they’re more zen, more appreciative of life, more in tune with what matters in life. But alas, not everyone is onboard with their new found revitialised spirituality, their kumbayah languidness and so they slowly but subtlely begin judging, demanding, coercing the world to adapt to them or be seen as the enemy.

It ain’t pretty and that’s where the trouble starts …

Mackenzie Sheppard’s Donny the Drone harnesses this scenario is powerful and very clever ways as a drone become sentient, then more knowing and insightful and then … well watch and find out …

 

Weekend pop art: Follow these maps to a whole new movie experience

Guardians of the Galaxy (image via Gizmodo (c) Andrew DeGraff)

 

Movies are increibly intricate when you think about it.

A ton of moving parts with everything from a perfectly-written script to first-rate actors to an inspired director, pitch-perfect music and dazzlingly good cinematography having to come together having to come together to make it all work.

Sometimes of course it doesn’t – I’m looking at you Bewitched! – but when it does it’s magical, and you can see every last bit of that magic in Andrew DeGraff‘s marvellous artwork which turns films into maps.

You can track the entire length and breadth of these films in his inspired works which he has now grouped together into a must-get publication called Cinemaps, with many of the maps – really they are so much more but as Gizmodo observes it’s the closest word anyone can mind to describe these singularly unique creations.

Bored with life? It’s time to go on a brilliantly-clever journey like no other through the movies you know and love.

 

Jurassic Park (image via Gizmodo (c) Andrew DeGraff)

 

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (image via Gizmodo (c) Andrew DeGraff)

 

Wizard of Oz (image via Gizmodo (c) Andrew DeGraff)

 

 

Book review: Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello

(cover image courtesy Penguin Books Australia)

 

Though humanity likes to wrap its relationship with the natural world in Disney-esque romantic notions of togetherness and interdependence, the harsh reality is that since we first picked up tools and starting altering our environment, we have been doing the animals around us a great disservice.

This has only accelerated since the Industrial Revolution raised up wholesale destruction and technological advancement upon the altar of progress, elevating humanity’s place on the world stage and inevitably consigning animals to the roles of pets, circus curiosities and zoological diversions.

In Elena Passarello’s exquisitely well-wrought collection of essays, Animals Strike Curious Poses, we gain a harrowing and sometimes uplifting understanding of the fraught connections between humanity and the animals with which we share our planet.

Using as a guide a number of iconic animals that have seized the public consciousness for one reason or another, Passarello examines how our primal fascination with the natural world – she contends that the way we interact with animals goes back to before language was added to our cultural armoury when thought and experience reigned supreme – has shaped us as much as we have it.

In doing so, she draws on her experiences growing up, musing on the way about whether even she, an actor, writer and teacher at Oregon State University with a long fascination with animals, really sees them as they are or rather, like many of us, as we would like them to be.

“Along with sensing, and then ignoring, that the unicorn was phony, I also knew it was probably some kind of victim, though even that didn’t deter my pleasure. I could not yet grasp how costly a real animal’s presence in my imagination could be. Of this I am the most ashamed, because I know a version of that ignorance still lives in me. I didn’t grasp, or I refused to consider, what kind of subjection was possible—the various ways humans open up and alter other creatures.” (P. 183)

While this focus may seem dour and oppressive in some ways – we have destroyed things and altered that which we claim to love – it is in fact immensely rewarding to read, suffused as it is with a deep and abiding love of animals that comes through in every poetically-wrought word.

Passarello is rightly regarded as one of the 21st Century’s greatest emerging essayists, someone who can distill complex and intimate notions that may in straightforward narrative hands be oppressive to the point of exhaustion, but which in her gilded, beautifully-articulated way are eminently accessible and far easier to appreciate and take in.

Given the ongoing degradation of the natural world, which we seem to see through some weird twisted God-given dictum to go forth and subjugate the earth come what may, her book is more pressing than ever; however you get the impression that the intent of Animals Strike Curious Poses is not to weigh readers down with polemic conundrums and enervating portrayals of the fallen natural world but rather to get us thinking of how we approach animals and hence the entirety of the environment around us, divorced though we may be from its realities in our modern digital bubble.

 

(cover image courtesy Kenyon Review)

 

To bring about this epiphany, and that is indeed what results in ways big and small by the end of this marvellously thought-through and poetically enunciated book, Passarello takes on journeys through the lives of animals as diverse as Yuka, a 39,000 BP mammoth discovered on the thawing tundra of the Russian steppes, the starling Vogel Staar that supposedly inspired Mozart to even greater heights of genius musical virtuosity and Arabella, a small cross spider that succeeded in taming the demands of zero gravity far faster and more completely than the humans who placed her aboard Skylab in 1973.

Drawing on evidence that Yuka was hunted to her final resting place by a warrior intent on a kill, Passarello imagines what her final moments must have been like, even as she examines how her modern-day discoverer and his friends viewed her body, as a timeless artifact that was less animal that representative of a time long ago that we even now struggle to articulate a full understanding of and which evades any kind of fulsome appreciation.

With Vogal Staar and Mozart, we are gifted with a stunningly moving portrait of how a diminutive starling, a species of bird known for its complex aerial displays and loyalty and faithfulness that some have compared to dogs, may have driven a man already known for his immense talent and grasp of what musically moves us, to create over 60 new pieces of music in the time the two were together.

“Mozart turns to the bird, which moves closer to the front of the cage and stares. Starlings are more responsive to human eye contact than mammalian pets; they know when they’re being watched and aren’t afraid to hold a gaze. It’s one of the primary traits—along with a high touch response—that allows deep bonding between starlings and humans, as we love eye contact, too. One ornithologist called the starling ‘the poor man’s dog’ for its ability to connect and demonstrate loyalty. And sound assists this connection; what better way to bond than in a duet?” (P. 78)

Possibly one of the most astounding tales is that of Arabella, a tiny spider that, with her dogged determination to spin a web in an utterly alien environment, won the hearts of not just the three highly-professional astronauts who accompanied her on the Skylab mission but the entire population of the United States and likely the world.

These three stories, along with countless other absorbing tales that demonstrate not simply Passarello’s broad and deep knowledge of the natural world but also her considerable love for it too and willingness to be honest about how she interprets it, carry along on a meditative journey into the natural world (and the many fascinating and esoteric ways it intersects with the man-made world; these seemingly divergent elements are drawn into Passarello’s essays with breathtaking ease and elegance).

It’s a world that exists utterly independent of people in certain ways – although the author does touch on how we and animals were once intimately connected prior to the march of industralisation which rent us apart – and yet which has always been interpreted in ways that suited us more so than the subjects of our fascination.

As ruminations on the links between humanity and the natural world go, Animals Strike Curious Poses, is a singularly superlative achievement, one that illuminates the immense beauty and diversity of the natural world, documents how we have impinged upon it, and asks us indirectly to reconsider the nature of that engagement, all delivered with prose so clever, poetic and imaginative that you can’t help be drawn, in life-changing ways, into each and every essay in the collection.

About as romantic as F: new Love, Simon trailer shows love with a great big secret

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Everyone deserves a great love story. But for seventeen-year old Simon Spier it’s a little more complicated: he’s yet to tell his family or friends he’s gay and he doesn’t actually know the identity of the anonymous classmate he’s fallen for online. Resolving both issues proves hilarious, terrifying and life-changing. Directed by Greg Berlanti (Dawson’s Creek, Brothers & Sisters), written by Isaac Aptaker & Elizabeth Berger (This is Us), and based on Becky Albertalli’s acclaimed novel, Love, Simon is a funny and heartfelt coming-of-age story about the thrilling ride of finding yourself and falling in love. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

As a gay man who came out a long time ago, I knew all too well what it is to shoulder the burden of an impossible to utter secret.

Well at the time it feels like you’ll never be able to get the words, with the full import of coming clean about your sexuality seemingly too big an ask.

That’s where we meet Simon who is a typical teenager in every way possible – with the exception of his sexuality which defiantly won’t accede to the heteronormative world around him.

“I deserve a great love story, and I want someone to share it with.”

No one knows that of course but his online friend Blue, a fellow gay student at his school who is the only one who knows the full expansiveness of Simon’s needs and desires.

 

 

At its heart, Love, Simon aka Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, which was a brilliant read in just about every respect, is a pure and simple love story, a beautifully articulated of life that doesn’t fit the norm but is no less wonderful and meaningful because of it.

If nothing else, and there’s a great deal to learn from this funny, wise and insightful story, Love, Simon will go a long way to reminding people once again that love is love and that it is no respector of the labels we apply.

Love, Simon opens 16 March in USA and 29 March in Australia.

Now this is music 101: Yung Lean, Gabriel Black, Said the Sky & FRND, Pale Waves, Sir Sly

 

I love listening to music. (If you haven’t figured that out yet, then clearly you haven’t been paying attention.)

But more than that, I need the music to say something meaningful to me, to dig into the marrow of life and really think about what makes it tick, what makes us tick in response and how we deal with all the fallout because, yes my friends, there will be fallout and it will often not be that pretty.

These five artists fit the bill to a tee, understanding that great art reflects life as it is actually lived and not as it it’s portrayed in a NIKE commercial or on a perfectly-curated Instagram account.

Are you looking for music that soothes the ears and speaks to the soul? Try these amazingly good songs on for size, the soundtrack for your existential angst …

 

“Red Bottom Sky” by Yung Lean

 

Yung Lean (image courtesy Yung Lean Facebook page)

 

Swedish rapper Yung Lean is about as quirky and idiosyncratic as they come.

Which in today’s crowded musical landscape, where technology has democratised the business of recording and releasing to a previously unheard of degree, is a very good thing.

“Red Bottom Sky”, which comes with a suitably out-there video, is one of the best songs this sometimes uneven artist has released, all lilting, hushed softness and chilled sensibility with a ruminative spirit to match, one which is brutally and searingly introspective – “Broken glass in my hands … I’m a cursed man.”

It’s a beguiling, desperately honest existential accounting that feels healingly meditative at the same time, a beautiful paean to those moments we all go through when dramatic thoughts come to us in the quiet of night or moments when life has reach an unaccustomed idle.

 

 

“Hurricane” by Gabriel Black

 

Gabriel Black (image courtesy official Gabriel Black Facebook page)

 

Described by Line of Best Fit as “the missing link between emo, rock, and hip-hop you need to hear”, and they’re absolutely right, you do, Gabriel Black is an artist who wears his heart most assuredly on his sleeve.

Unflinchingly realistic about his own struggles and the vagaries and contrariness of life, Black, who hails from , is  a man dedicated to honesty and telling it like it is, and as he tells Line of Best Fit, he is gratified people are coming along for his existentially truthful ride:

“I’m just staying true to how I feel in the moment. Right now my songs come from a darker place. I didn’t think about other people at all honestly. I am honoured that people have reacted the way they have and that has been the most beautiful thing. It has given me a purpose.”

It’s this refreshing attitude that imbues songs like “Hurricane” with so much appeal – this is life in the trenches, unadorned and not gussied up to please anyone; it just is and in a world where social conventions more or less demand we spin everything, including how we actually feel, it’s a blessed, wonderful relief.

Throw in some brilliant guitar pop that gives all this heartfelt articulation a shiny, appealing gloss and you have an artist who is going to go place because he lets who he is truly inform his art, something that our b.s.-weary world is well and truly ready for.

 

 

“Faded” by Said the Sky and FRND

 

Said the Sky (image courtesy official Said the Sky Facebook page)

 

Catchy as hell, “Faded” is a collaboration between Denver-based, Colorado native Trevor Christensen aka Said the Sky and the appealingly-mysterious LA-based FRND who seems to have a penchant for koala masks.

The result of this partnership is a song that beautifully defies expectations:

“‘Faded’ opens to a deceptively progressive backdrop and poppy vocals. While the intro leads the listener to believe the producers have ventured into strictly commercial pop territory, the intricate house drop adds a surprising layer to the track.” (Dancing Astronaut)

Breezy and layered it might be but this danceable melodic vibe belies a song that’s grappling with the painful afterwash of a relationship gone wrong.

While the singer admits “I know it’s pretty obvious you did nothing wrong”, that doesn’t remove the omnipresent weight of pain and loss and “Faded” spends its time grappling with how you move on in the most hook-laden of ways.

 

 

“New Year’s Eve” by Pale Waves

 

Pale Waves (image courtesy Pale Waves official Facebook page)

 

Don’t you just love New Year’s Eve?

Yes, it’s supposed to be a heady time of optimistic expectation and hoped-for renewal, and who knows maybe that will happen, but it’s also burdened by a lingering sense of regret and looking back that, left unchecked, can do your head in, like totally.

Trust me, Manchester, UK pop group Pale Waves knows exactly how you feel, and offer up for your listening introspection, the appropriately-titled “New Year’s Eve” which comes with the requisite amount of regretful mournfulness, perfectly married with a somewhat upbeat tune that catches the yin and yang of that time of the year perfectly.

It’s not exactly “Auld Lang Syne” as We Are: The Guard rightly observes but dammit if it doesn’t nail how NYE feels, when we stop pretending unbridled giddy optimism is the only option.

 

 

“&Run” by Sir Sly

 

Sir Sly (image courtesy official Sir Sly Facebook page)

 

Good god but this song has a way of insinuating itself into your earworm and your dancing shoes and never ever leaving and frankly, one listen and you won’t care a bit.

L.A.-based band Sir Sly (singer Landon Jacobs, Jason Suwito and Hayden Coplen) have crafted a gem of pop song that urges us all to “kick our shoes off &Run”.

And if this is the soundtrack, and your day can go even remotely as idiosyncratically as the one depicted in the soundtrack, then why not listening to the song at all.

We Are:The Guard winningly describes the song as “certified weirdo pop bop” and it is all that and more, a gorgeously offbeat piece of pure pop that makes you smile and induces this sense that life can be a whole let banal that you may have become accustomed to.

 

 

NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Life stressing you out on a near-constant basis? The amazing family of Twitter user @bluedizz show you how to create an oasis of stress-free fun (and go viral while you’re doing it!)

 

Do you like your fantasy animation Short But Sweet? Well, you’re in luck …

(image via Vimeo (c) KLOMP! Animation)

 

You know how a lot of fairytales end with … “And they all lived happily ever after”?

It’s a comforting thought isn’t it? Life rarely gives anything approaching truly happy endings; hell we can barely manage mildly pleased most of the time and forget about a donut when you actually need one.

KLOMP! Animation hear your pain and in response have created not so much an endless donut maker (though lord knows that would’ve been welcome) as a snappy two minute animated short film, Short and Sweet (Kort maar krachtig), stuffed full with witty language, hilarious fairytale tropes (destined hero, damsel in distress, quest companions etc etc amusingly etc) and a gloriously ironic ending that will have you laughing like a dragon on helium.

This inspired piece of animation, which makes gloriously merry with the fantasy genre, was screened by Dutch movie theater chain Pathé before Thor: Ragnarok, and one you’ve watched this gem of a cartoon, you will completely understand what pop culture soulmates these two films are.

They go together perfectly, much life and donuts … yep, we’re still waiting for our order …

(source: io9)

 

Movie review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

(image via IMP Awards)

 

How do you extricate yourself from the mire of grief and its myriad, messy repercussions? Is is even possible or are you constantly captive to the irrationality and deep-flowing emotional currents that come in the wake of losing someone?

They’re two of the insightfully-asked questions posed by writer/director Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which thanks to across-the-board top flight performances and nuanced writing that never provides easy answers (or any answers at all sometimes which, let’s face it, uncomfortably mirrors real life) is one of the most engrossing explorations of grief’s slippery slope to come along in some time.

Refreshingly the film, which has rightly attracted an avalanche of fervent awards buzz, never portrays either the issues it is examining nor the broken, fallible people mired in them as anything other than complex, difficult to navigate and capable of extraordinary amounts of collateral damage.

There are no easy Tony Robbins soundbite slogans to give the easy illusion of healing or progress, no epiphanies to move the emotional logjams blocking the way forward for pretty much all the characters and no great climatic finish to things that suggests all the pain is irrevocably and cleanly behind them.

No, Three Billboards is life firmly and without disguise down in the gut-wrenching trenches of life, that doesn’t pretend for a minute that the passage of time or a positive attitude will magically make everything better.

Impressively, it plunges into this maelstrom of unadorned real life, which by rights should be unremittingly, jarringly bleak with a pleasing mix of black humour, nuanced portrayals, occasional bursts of violence with again a blackened edge, and a sense of understanding compassion for everyone involved.

 

 

Given the gravity of the situation at hand, the murder of a teenage girl who was raped while she lay dying before being set on fire, the deftness of tone and pleasing layered approach to both characterisation and narrative is all the more impressive.

The mother of the girl, who is only featured in one expletive-laden scene where mother and daughter part for the last time on less than amicable terms (a memory which only compounds the ever-present grief), Mildred Hayes is portrayed by the incomparable Frances McDormand as a woman so deeply-enmeshed in grief that coming for air, thinking rationally or putting aside her neverending rage is all but impossible.

Her rage and near-palpable grief find expression occasionally in phsyical acts of violence, the delineation of which would spoil a few major plot points, but mostly in quietly but forcefully-articulated moments of rage or in more reflective times alone when the gruff, combative exterior is put aside and the tears are allowed to fall.

The title is drawn from one of her more calculated acts of grief-response when she decides to put a series of pointed messages to the local police chief, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), a decent man who is dying of cancer and who is, like pretty much everyone in Three Billboards, given fully fleshed out, multifaceted form.

When one of the town’s policeman, Dixon, comes across the billboards one night which pointedly say (1) Raped while dying (2) And still no arrests? (3) How come Chief Willoughby?  he alerts his boss who responds in way profoundly and movingly different to what you might expect.

The scene that follows the discovery of the billboards’ confronting content – not only do the words strike a chord but theya re visually striking, big bold black letters on a neon orange background – is emblematic of the film as a whole as a clearly genuine Chief Willoughby expresses his genuine frustration at the lack of progress in solving the murder and his understanding of Mildred’s pain.

A subtext to this scene is Willoughby’s sense of hurt that Hayes would doubt he is giving the case everything he’s got but accompanying is a tender sense that he nevertheless appreciates why Mildred would take that course of action.

Therein you have layer upon mesmerisingly gripping layer of human interaction at its most raw and intimate and real, a pattern repeated throughout the film which never resorts to easy cliche or standardised trope but subverts and ducks and dives around expectations in a way that intimates that if life isn’t going to accommodate with easy answers or cleanly-solved issues then neither is this wholly remarkable and deeply-affecting film.

 

 

Three Billboards twists and turns much as you would expect it to but it’s never in a hurry to reach an end point, one that while it’s not neatly tied in a pretty red bow does give some small measure of humourously pleasing resolution, taking us on a journey that challenges and provokes as much as it compassionately understands and sits in close empathetic closeness.

Each and every character, from Red Welby (caleb Kandry Jones) who works at the advertising company which owns the billbords to Mildred’s gift shop coworker Denise (Amanda Warren), both of which are subjected to Dixon’s emotionally-loaded racism and vitriol – that Dixon still emerges as a fully-rounded character you care about speaks to Rockwell’s ability to brilliantly portray complex, deeply-flawed characters – through to Mildred’s hurting son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) to Mildred’s sweetly-vulnerable suitor of sorts James (Peter Dinklage), are given due time, appreciation and voice.

It’s impossible not watch this film about damaged people, and honestly aren’t we all to some extent which underscores how brilliantly well-executed this deep-dive into the messier aspects of the human condition is, doing their best, and often failing, to navigate the great gaping potholes of life, especially that lived in the shadow of trauma, and not feel connected in visceral ways to each and every one of them.

You want each and every one of them to get someplace better, most especially Mildred and yes, even Dixon (Rockwell is that good) but you are cognisant all the way that even if this is possible, it won’t be handed to them on a platter.

Three Billboards, a grippingly, stirring ode to the downs and ups and pitch-black hilarity of life, knows life is never going to be easy, especially when grief has its cold, cruel, unrelenting hands on you but it never deigns to pretending it is all easily fixable or a snap to extricate yourself.

Full of messy, bloodied loose ends and unanswered questions, grim moments and knowing laughs, toweringly good performances and writing so perfectly balanced and magnificently-balanced it will leave you gasping at times with its sheer brilliance, Three Billboards is life left to its own devices with humanity grappling to keep up in its wake and not always but sometimes succeeding in the attempt.

 

 

Great Scott! Back to the Future doesn’t look quite so shiny in actual 2015

(image via YouTube (c) College Humor)

 

If there is one thing, among many to be honest, that I loved about Back to the Future films, it was its breathless, glittering expectation of what 2015 would look like.

Way back in 1985, the film franchise, politely putting aside the complete and utter lack fulfilment of the 1950s retro-future world of flying cars and food in pills, has envisaged a land of flying cars, limitless eco-friendly energy, holograms on every cinema frontage and yes, hoverboards.

Alas for all its giddy optimism, and good lord didn’t we love them for it, the real 2015 came and went with nary a sign of any of the future fabulousness encountered by Marty (Michael J. Fox).

Just how disappointing would that have been to the characters? Well, just watch and find out …