MOVIE REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Led by a powerhouse ensemble of somber yet sharp performances, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a testament that a masterful screenplay, heartfelt performances and a director who respects the simplistic veracity of the narrative’s premise is all that it takes to produce a classic.

The film follows the story of Mildred Hayes (McDormand) who has decided to put up three billboards expressing her frustration that the police officials of Ebbing, Missouri haven’t yet done an arrest for her dead daughter’s killer. This follows an array of circumstances that has put her disposition in jeopardy, unraveling political undertones of racism and abuse of authority.

The film’s screenplay is the biggest asset that it boasts. It’s exceptionally sharp, it’ll make you bleed. Despite its display of a discordant, gloomy atmosphere, it speaks grief subtly by interjecting wit and humor here and there, suggesting that a film about grieving needn’t necessarily to be about screaming and buckets of tears. It showed how simply a human being goes on with a life that still possesses the need of having to move on, despite being haunted by a past that hasn’t been given justice yet. It’s a grief-centric film that doesn’t take its theme literally. It shows many layers of human emotions other than what we already know. The minimalist approach of translating grief on screen is a great reminder of last year’s Manchester By the Sea, where director Kenneth Lonergan displayed the oxymoron of ferocity through his characters’ emotional vacancy.

Frances McDormand sure did deliver a superb performance. However, credit mostly goes to the screenplay. For the majority of the film, the screenplay somehow is on the driver’s seat whilst she was on the passenger’s side. Her lines are fierce and distinctly bold. But was it the best performance of any female actor throughout the year? I don’t think so. Oftentimes, her portrayal of Mildred Hayes felt one dimensional. I didn’t really get the chance to know her other than one fact: she wants justice for her dead daughter. I don’t think her performance was layered enough for me to truly sympathize. But I applaud her for bringing us to a place that is so rare — somewhere between grieving and acceptance. She didn’t go crazy about the fact that her daughter is dead; rather, she showed a post-momentum of what it feels like to face the facts, and search for the truth. McDormand took us to that gray area, wherein most actors just give us black or white. It was a very specific feeling that not all films can show us. But in all, she is fierce because her lines are fierce; as a character, I don’t see it resonating through the years as a performance to remember.

Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are both great foil characters that created a distinction of perspectives towards justice between officials and citizens. McDonagh’s creation of their worlds took us onto a rocky boat where everyone’s colliding due to the current of differences in belief and principles. Ultimately, the film gave a finale that expresses how hope can be achieved when a man of power and a citizen in need decide to settle feuds and differences, and work together. It didn’t give us a rainbow of happiness, as it clearly avoided the cliché route. But, it showed the infinite possibilites of changing the atmosphere through unity — something that is sound and relevant to our humanity’s climate today.

Overall, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is raw, sometimes quirky, and somberly emotional. Its specificity is assertive, and McDonagh’s direction is clean and respectful. Above all, it’s a clear collaboration of an actor and a writer. McDonagh knew how to propel his cast’s performances, and knew what he had to do to make them be as good as they are.

4.75 out of 5 stars

Zendaya rewrites the stars with Zac Efron in musical film ‘The Greatest Showman’

Playing opposite multi-talented actor Zac Efron as Anne Wheeler is another fast-ascending young star, Zendaya in the big screen musical “The Greatest Showman” along with Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Keala Settle and Rebecca Ferguson.

“The Greatest Showman” is a vibrant and engrossing “rags-to-riches” story about a man who achieved the impossible, through determination and the sheer power of his vivid imagination. A pioneer who invented the Big Top, P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) is considered to be the original showman. The Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe and Tony Award winner brings the impresario and entrepreneur to life and we follow him as he launches his circus, ultimately revolutionizing entertainment. Michelle Williams delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance as Barnum’s wife, Charity, while Rebecca Ferguson gives a scene-stealing turn as the iconic 18th-century opera singer Jenny Lind, known as the ‘Swedish Nightingale’. With original songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the Oscar and Tony-winning songwriters behind La La Land, the movie was directed by the exciting new filmmaker, Michael Gracey.

Though much of The Greatest Showman is drawn from the outlines of P.T. Barnum’s life, two fictional characters bring in fresh points of view: Zac Efron’s Phillip Carlyle, the sophisticated man of the theatre who quits his upper-crust life to join the circus – Barnum’s ringmaster protégé; and Zendaya’s Anne Wheeler, the daring, taboo-breaking, pink-haired aerialist for whom Carlyle falls headlong.

The singer and actress most recently seen as Michelle Jones in “Spider-man: Homecoming”. Zendaya knew right away the role was for her – especially because Anne is a natural leader of the so-called Oddities.” “To me, Anne is very confident, very poised and very comfortable in her own skin, at least when it comes to being in the circus. I think that’s what the circus does for all the Oddities. It allows them a place where they can believe in themselves, where they can experience respect and love and have a safe space to be who they are.”

She too was drawn to the love story, especially because it was honest about the obstacles inter-racial lovers faced for so long in America. “It’s tragic that Anne and Phillip’s can’t love each other in the way they long to literally due to the color of their skin,” Zendaya says. “At the time, it would have been dangerous, so most of what they can do is just exchange looks. For Anne, it’s especially hard because she’s dealt with racism all her life and now she’s slowly falling in love with the exact kind of person she always thought hated her. But love is not something you control. Love just happens to you.”

Zendaya dove into training, spending months working with professional aerialists, gaining upper body and core strength and taming fear. “My body has been through a lot, and I’ve had lots of bruises and soreness to show for it,” she laughs, “but it’s been so worth it, especially seeing Michael’s vision come to life. I never in my entire life thought that I would be flying around in the air but I’m very proud of myself, because I tried my best and came way out of my comfort zone. Now, I’m no longer afraid of heights!” Naturally, Zendaya looked forward to the singing and dancing, one of her life’s own great passions. She especially loved working with Keala Settle in the song “This Is Me.” “I know there are young women and young men out there who need to hear that message – to hear that even if I’m bruised, I can be brave and I’m who I’m meant to be. I found the words really cool,” she says.

“The Greatest Showman” opens January 31 in cinemas nationwide from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.