By: Henry J. Fromage –
With a little extra off time and a bit more chill in the air, finally got back in the theaters to catch the Oscar hopefuls streaming in this month.
232. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
I’m all in on the both of the McDonagh brothers, and Martin McDonagh getting legit feature length Oscar attention (he already has one for his dramatic short Six Shooter) is genuinely exciting stuff indeed. So, I’m happy to report that this film is entertaining in all the ways a McDonagh film usually is- a colorful, colorfully-speaking cast of characters cast impeccably, a truly dark sense of humor mixed in with the dramatics like only a Korean auteur elsewise would dare, and a story that grabs you and holds you from start to finish. The only problem- all the marketing that posits this film as holding some sort of serious opinion on Ferguson-style police brutality. Make no mistake, this film, like all of both McDonagh brothers’ films, takes place in a heightened parallel universe where the rule of law very tenuously exists (seriously, every one of the main characters should have been very easily and deservedly incarcerated before we’re even halfway through it- and this is a film about the police, mind you). As long as you walk into this film understanding this, you’ll have a blast. We’ll see how successful that Oscar marketing spin, proves, though.
233. Patti Cake$
So, this is boilerplate inspirational scrub musical wanna-be finds her voice and shows it to the world stuff here, make no mistake. However, for my money, the formula works when the characters (and acting) are this relatable and interesting, the direction is this energetic and inventive, the music is this surprisingly credible, and the catharsis is this good. Typical Sundance striving, sure, but if you liked the awesomely bombastic trailers, you’ll love the film (and if you hated them, then your opinion is probably already made).
This is Pixar finally delivering at feature length on the promise of that goddamn heartbreaking short film to begin Up. Once again, we’re dealing some pretty basic storytelling here (I had most of the literal beat by beat plot figured out in the first third of the film, and so can you!). However, that’s what Pixar does– they just do it better than probably anybody these days, and if this story of life, death, and family ties doesn’t rear back and donkey kick you in the feels, you quite likely don’t have any. I probably don’t need to even mention how stunningly detailed and realized the Dia de los Muertos-flavor afterlife is here- definitely worth your big screen ducats.
PS- While I actually like Frozen unlike Oberst, apparently, his instincts to avoid the 20-plus minute Olaf-starring short that replaces the trailers in most markets were spot on. Hot, steaming garbage involving none of the behind the scenes talents that brought Frozen to the screen, as far as I could tell. For the kiddos, because kiddos are easily pleased.
235. The Last Detail
This Jack Nicholson Oscar vehicle apparently had quite a reputation in its day for its ribaldry, and it is plenty ribald, even if not especially impressive by modern standards. Nicholson stars alongside Otis Young as Navy NCOs detailed to escort a 19 year seaman (an extremely fresh-faced Randy Quaid) caught stealing from a donation box and sentenced to 8 years in military prison for the deed. The hard-living and highly opinionated Nicholson gets a stroke of conscience alongside Young, and they decide to drag out their week-long detail to the end and show this kid who’s barely lived some good times before he gets locked up. Fascinating for its perspective on a seedier and livelier New York and Philadelphia, among other places, it plays well as a roadtrip comedy with some strong touches of drama even today.
236. Last Flag Flying
The reason for getting around to The Last Detail now is Richard Linklater’s new, loose 2003-set sequel to the film (or rather, adaptation of the loose sequel of a book by the original author). Linklater has great fun drawing parallels between the two films and two worlds (instead of going whoring in NYC like the first film, the three leads… buy their first cell phones). However, the real crux of the film is a comparison between their Vietnam (only lightly referenced in the original, but now playing a prominent part in the past of these characters- again, loose adaptation) and the first Iraq War, to which Steve Carrell’s Larry has lost a son whose body the three are now transporting back home with him, and our present day, in which thousands still serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. Laurence Fishburn and a very Nicholson-esque Bryan Cranston deliver quality comedy in their abrasive relationship, but it’s Carrell’s soft-spoken performance that makes this film worth seeking out.