Thursday, December 14, 2017

Darkest Hour and Short Takes on Wonder Wheel

         “Never Surrender!” (… At Least Until the Last Fire on the Beach Burns Out)

                                        Reviews by Ken Burke
               
 Before we get started, I’ll note that Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark is now 6 years old, having begun with our first posting on Dec. 12, 2011; since then we’ve presented reviews of 636 films/movies (we’re precise with such terminology, focusing more on art for the former, entertainment for the latter), or I guess I should say that I (Ken, on the right in the accompanying photo [although I haven't cut my hair in 6 years either so it's now about 3 times as long as what you see here]) have written all those commentaries because my co-founder, Pat Craig, is still polishing his thoughts on the most current thing that he's seen, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (the 1923 version, not the 1956 one) as his lofty standards just take some time for completion, so we should be seeing contributions from him any day now.
                   
                                                    Darkest Hour (Joe Wright)
                      
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Set in the tight-time-frame of May-early June, 1940 this film’s a fictionalization of the installation of Winston Churchill as Great Britain’s new wartime Prime Minister, with a focus on his determination to resist the European conquest of the German Nazi advance, preventing the invasion of England even as France is falling and there's considerable political sentiment within both Parliament and Churchill’s own War Council to enter into peace talks with Hitler rather than risk total destruction of their homeland, a situation made even more desperate by the looming possibility of the loss of some 300,000 Allied troops trapped on the French coast at Dunkirk as the Germans are rapidly advancing.  Given the historical foundations of this film (with even Churchill’s large daily alcohol consumption a matter of record) I’m not sure what I could say that would amount to a spoiler (You do know who won WW II, don’t you?) so I guess I’ll just steer clear of the dramatic event (if it even happened) that inspired Churchill’s final stand prior to his refusal-of-surrender-speech in the House of Commons that rallied support for Great Britain standing firm against the Germans until such time as the U.S. finally entered the war.
  
 While you can get numerous historical accounts of this brief period in Churchill’s lengthy political life through various print, cinematic, and video sources, a particular value of Darkest Hour is the astounding performance of already-award-nominated Gary Oldman in the lead role, along with the well-written-scenes (however fanciful they may be) of Churchill’s private life where dialogues with his wife, his supporters, and his political enemies help give useful insights into his public appearances that are so well-dramatized here.  Darkest Hour’s not playing in very many theaters yet, but that’s sure to change so I highly encourage you to seek it out when it becomes available. 

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)


If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

What Happens: It’s May, 1940.  Do you know where your children are?  If you’re British they’re probably engaged somehow in the war effort (as are you, the rest of your family, your neighbors, and anyone else worried sick Hitler’s armies currently advancing through other countries on the other side of the English Channel will soon be invading your shores, with the film’s opening graphics over newsreel footage of Germans on the march).  That’s the ongoing focus of Darkest Hour at the point where the ruling Conservative Party—along with the general public—has lost all faith in the appeasement policies of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin (Ronald Pickup), whose attempts at “peace in our time” with the Nazis proved useless so there’s intense clamoring for immediate new leadership, with First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) the only option acceptable to the opposition Labour Party, despite the fact Edward Wood—known as Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane)—furiously desires the position, hoping to work with Chamberlin (both of them chosen by Churchill to be part of his exclusive War Council) to discredit Churchill over his opposition to peace negotiations with the Germans so as to later claim his desired political prize.  King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) isn’t thrilled with making this appointment either (although he’ll later become a very close ally with his PM) due to Churchill’s lingering bad reputation for misjudgments connected to Allied slaughter in WW I's Gallipoli Campaign, nor are we initially convinced Winston should be the leader of the forces attempting to stop the voracious Nazi ambitions, given his seemingly-impossible-ability to stay consistently sober (demanding all meals—including breakfast—be accompanied by Scotch whiskey [along with refills during the day], with added Champaign at lunch and dinner, plus constant cigars), along with his imperious manner (except for his deference when he’s in the King’s presence, you’d have good reason to assume Churchill’s actually the monarch, despite George’s dress in military garb, appropriate for this wartime setting) that initially has his secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) in tears over his criticism she type his constant dictation in double space (more tedious on a manual typewriter), even as he gives her notes in another instance while he’s in the bathtub, she's sitting out in the hall.

 After working with him for just a short time, though (this film’s chronology goes only into early June, 1940) she becomes one of his most loyal supporters,* along with his wife of many years, Clementine (Kristen Scott Thomas)—eternally loving, loyal, but never afraid to confront her husband about poor decisionswith both of them needed as Chamberlin and Halifax further their subversive plot, encouraged by the terrible reality the Germans have swept into France, pushing about 300,000 British and French soldiers onto the French Atlantic coastal enclave of Dunkirk, risking capture or annihilation, virtually assuring a successful German invasion of England.  Halifax keeps pushing the defiant Churchill to accept Italy’s offer of peace negotiations, which the new PM resists, convinced Hitler can’t be trusted to abide by any but his own terms, with British subjugation surely the end result, treaty or not.  While most of what we witness in Darkest Hour consists of either conversations in well-appointed-but dark-confining-rooms or contentious speeches in the chambers of Parliament, Wright adds some useful visual maneuvers to energize various scene transitions or shot culminations, including long pans from screen left to right along London streets using slow motion to indicate the sense of time standing almost still as these intense negotiations (more like arguments) go on among the political leadership as to how to respond to Nazi aggression and a couple of great nighttime tracking shots where the camera begins on an individual (a military commander at Dunkirk or Churchill in London), then moves high into the sky, indicating the lonely, tiny presence of these men as great forces gather around them (especially the Dunkirk shot, where bombers fly across the screen, then explosions rip the ground below them).  Even the widescreen format of this film often feels claustrophobic as faces move into extreme closeup range from their background environments, heads almost cropped off by the upper and lower borders of the frame.

*Giving him the crucial advice his “V for Victory” hand gesture needs to be palm-forward because when it’s backhand-forward it means “up your arse.”  When many of us in the 1960s used it as the Peace sign, I don’t think we knew that distinction; maybe that’s why there was so much resistance to our anti-war-movement—you’ve just gotta understand the full nuances of nonverbal language!

 Churchill’s statements (“When youth departs, may wisdom prove enough.”) and speeches (“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat …,” “We shall fight on the beaches …” [more on the latter at the end of this review]) spread throughout the film’s short timeframe help us quickly grow to appreciate his resolve in not bending to Hitler’s will, especially at a point when it seems the situation is becoming so dire for England the country has no choice except to accept peace terms rather than risk the potential of complete destruction.  While most of what’s presented here either is linked to the events occurring on specific days for the public pronouncements or reasonably inferred as to what types of interchanges occurred behind closed doors, ⇒the penultimate climax in this story (preceding Churchill’s defiant “We shall fight” speech resulting in thunderous support for his position, silencing his critics, thwarting the threats of Chamberlin and Halifax to resign thereby bringing Labour around to their side) where he breaks his own rule of never using London’s subway system in order to quickly get a sense of ordinary citizens’ feelings about war with Germany (uniformly in support of fighting to the end) is likely a fictional construct, but it helps hammer home the resolve this somewhat-reluctant-but-always-defiant-leader brought to his country at their time of existential crisis,⇐  helping bring more understanding to those who know the name "Churchill" only as an entry in a history book or as somehow connected to London’s Churchill Arms pub (a great place to visit; I speak from experience), a chance to see what true “Victory at all costs!” political leadership’s all about.  (You’d have to look very hard in Washington, D.C. to find an equivalent at this point, although a few outspoken Senators and Congressmen/women are beginning to show resistance to the tyranny of Trump; sadly, even with Franklin D. Roosevelt in charge in 1940 the U.S. was of little help to our long-time-heritage-nation because of the 1930s Neutrality Acts preventing our involvement [except for possibly parking some planes near the Canadian border where they could be dragged into service], so we might need to visit that pub for a pint [or more] of London Pride when we get too cocky about our own assumed “exceptionalism.”) 

 Despite the horrors to come in succeeding years with the bombing of Britain and the Fascist subjugation of much of Europe until Allied victory in 1945, Darkest Hour ends in the most upbeat manner it can, with the King and his family deciding to ride out the war in England rather than flee to Canada, pre-credits graphics telling us how Operation Dynamo saved thousands of lives from the Dunkirk crisis, the sense of Churchill in triumph—even though the struggles of the next few years are implied but not elaborated with the notation that soon after German surrender Churchill’s party was voted out of control, he resigned at PM, Labour was ascendant for awhile, reminding us how fragile political alignments often are, no matter how resounding the leaders’ victories may be.

So What? When we Americans (or, in the context of this Brit-based-film, “Yanks”) think about WW II in Europe we tend to focus on our contributions to victory as depicted in films such as The Longest Day (1962; Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki; Oscars for Cinematography, Special Effects) or Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998; Oscars for Directing, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Film Editing, Sound Effects Editing)—we’d even like to think we made a major difference in ending the Holocaust, although we have to admit we turned many Jewish refugees away during that war while some of the most effective undermining of that horrid eradication program came from within the Nazi empire itself (shown in Schindler’s List [Spielberg, 1993; even more successful at the Oscars with wins for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Film Editing, Cinematography, Art Direction]) with actual liberation of those camps coming mostly from invading Soviet forces.  However, to get a sense of how our close-ally-Great Britain was dealing with this continents-wide-horror (don’t forget the imposed German presence in North Africa) in 1940 before we even allowed ourselves to overcome our isolationism (another ignominious example of “America First”) as Hitler’s forces ran roughshod over Europe we have some other notable Oscar winners—and likely nominees—to view with The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010; Best Picture, Director, Actor [Colin Firth], Original Screenplay), focused on the emergence of reluctant King George VI as a rallying force for homefront-enthusiasm for the war effort along with this year’s 2-sides-of-the-same-coin-explorations of crucial events of May/June 1940 in Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan; review in our July 27, 2017 posting) focused on the massive evacuation of the trapped troops on the French coast now followed by Darkest Hour with its study of the political wrangling at the same time in London where the new (but not-yet-widely-acclaimed) PM was bucking intense pressure even in his own party to accept peace talks with the Third Reich.

 When you put all of these recent British-focused-wartime-films together (along with others I haven't seen or have forgotten to mention), you get a solid sense of the unquestioned patriotism that emerged during this miserable time, allowing the residents of that cluster of small islands (backed up by their strong military machine, eventually aided by our even-stronger-one) to stand effectively against one of the most ruthless forces of conquest ever unleashed upon huge areas of our planet.

 Certainly, the details of what happened throughout even this limited period of the early stages of WW II could be explored in more depth than what we get in Darkest Hour, but for those who know the larger contexts of any event they’ll surely find fault with every attempt at cinematic depiction given all that could be included, especially if filmmakers (and theater chains) want to gamble with 3-hour (or more) extravaganzas attempting to present the more-complete-picture to uncomfortably-squirming-audiences.  Nevertheless, unless we insist on getting our history lessons only from limited-topic-films (rather than reading detailed accounts or watching miniseries on PBS or the History Channel) we’re likely better off piecing together depictions of aspects of the larger understanding with well-conceived, well-executed works such as Dunkirk and Darkest Hour (possibly along with an historical “sequel,” Churchill [Jonathan Teplitzky], also released this year focused on the 1944 Normandy landings [Brian Cox as Winston], but I haven’t seen it nor did it make much impact upon its short time in theaters [at Rotten Tomatoes it got 49% positive reviews, a 44% score at Metacritic]) which hone in on certain events (even mini-focues within larger events, as with Dunkirk) such as the now-unconscionable-option of a peace treaty with Hitler (doubtless a useless exercise in 1940 as shown by his negation of agreements with Stalin, leading to the vicious German invasion of Russia in 1941) to help us understand how history’s never as simple as it might seem to be in retrospect, especially as events begin approaching a century’s worth of forgetfulness, accompanied by the near-complete-loss of those who were there to witness World War II firsthand.

Bottom Line Final Comments: While it's possible Darkest Hour might receive some recognition for its script, makeup, or various technical aspects, the clear focus is on Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill, which has already snagged him Best Actor nominations from the Screen Actors Guild (of their nominees I’ve so far seen only Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out [Jordan Peele; review in our May 11, 2017 posting] and Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq. [Dan Gilroy; review in our November 29, 2017 posting]and the Golden Globes (they nominate in both Drama and Comedy areas: regarding their Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Drama race, again I’ve seen only Oldman and Washington so far, but Oldman’s still #1 with me at this point), with widespread-speculation he’s also the frontrunner for similar Oscar honors.  While Darkest Hour might even end up as one of the Academy’s Best Picture nominees (although I’ll probably have a slate of others that could push it out of such consideration for me)⇒despite its questionable historical scene about Churchill venturing into the Underground for his first Tube trip in order to gather the opinions of the common folk about the war effort (a lot of conversation held while traveling just 1 stop to his destination)⇐ I certainly think Oldman’s performance will be remembered as what's astonishing here (the norm for him), with the need for any competition to be fully at the top of their own games in order to keep him from a yet-unmet-career-accomplishment.  While the praise for Oldman’s near-universal, the critical response to the film as a whole’s a bit tempered (RT offers 86% positive reviews, those surveyed by MC show a 76% average score) while it’s hardly had a chance to connect with audiences yet, despite being out for 3 weeks, as its domestic (U.S.-Canada) theater count’s only at 53 so far, yielding a tiny return of only $1.2 million, but with such attention on Oldman those numbers are sure to notably expand in upcoming weeks.

 If you’ve been following Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark for the last 6 years (I truly wonder if anyone besides myself and my ever-helpful/devoted-reader wife, Nina [thanks again for all your help, my Sweetheart], have even seen all of these postings—according to Google, a good number of people in Russia are at least occasional readers; I further wonder if that'll earn me a subpoena from Special Counsel Robert Mueller) you know I attempt to conclude each review with a Musical Metaphor offering a final perspective on the particular cinematic subject but from the viewpoint of the aural arts, just to make things as interesting (and, probably, weird) as possible for you, but it took me awhile to come up with a likely one for Darkest Hour.  Finally (as posting time drew ever-nearer), I decided to pull a Martin Scorsese move (How’s that for creating outstanding company for yours truly?) by turning to something I’ve used twice before (I try to avoid that, just in case some of you actually are regulars; I get so little feedback, except from a few cherished contributors, I really have no idea) so for my “third time’s the charm” song here, I’ll pick the same one Scorsese’s also used 3 times (Goodfellas [1990], Casino [1995], The Departed [2006]), the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” (from their 1969 Let It Bleed album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kl6q_9q ZOs (where you also get lyrics down below the YouTube screen in case you’d like to give a “shout” away yourself on those soaring choruses) because, even though Keith Richards said it just began with the inspiration of an intense rainstorm where people were scrambling for any dry spot, it soon expanded to comment on the global violence of that era, including the ever-escalating Vietnam War.

 These lyrics about “war […] rape, murder” as we “see the fire is sweeping Our very street today [… because such disasters were] just a shot away [then and remain so now unless we can turn to] love, sister It’s just a kiss away.”  This song still seems desperately relevant to me today (as well as being one of the Stones’ greatest recording/performance accomplishments, especially when someone with the vocal power of Merry Clayton or Lisa Fischer joins Mick Jagger on the delivery), easily applicable to Britain’s tenuous situation in 1940 when its imminent destruction also seemed just “a shot away” from Hitler’s hoards had not defenders like Churchill, along with all the brave men and women from both sides of the Atlantic given their all for this cause.  Back then there was the horrid concern of tyranny running rampant like a “Mad bull lost [its] way,” a terror finally put to rest in 1945.  May we be spared a reprise of that in our own heavily-armed, trigger-happy world, but if you’d like a final dose of historical encouragement on this issue let me encourage you to listen to the full version of Churchill’s "We shall fight on the beaches ..." speech (12:17, from his June 4, 1940 address to the House of Commons; text shown on the screen along with appropriate images from WW II to illustrate various topics he explains, primarily about the successful evacuation of thousands of trapped troops from Dunkirk), used as the dramatic turning point in the film as he rallied his countrymen’s reluctant politicians to the cause of needed heroic defense of their freedom.
                   
(attempt at) SHORT TAKES (but critical inclinations demand more)
                
                         Wonder Wheel (Woody Allen)
            
In a 1950s summer at Coney Island we find ourselves being told a serious story by one of its characters (so, truly, it’s his point of view) about how a struggling couple, each with a troubled child from a previous marriage, has little in common anymore, so much so that the wife’s having an affair with a younger lifeguard while her stepdaughter’s on the run from the mob.

Here's the trailer:


       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
                        
 When you’ve directed 43 feature films (as well as written/co-written all of them; I’m not counting TV movies, segments of anthology films, etc. or the few Allen wrote but didn’t direct) in 51 years (beginning with the “found art” revision, What’s Up, Tiger Lily? [1966]) it stands to reason not all of them will be considered masterpieces (even titans of other aspects of the visual-arts-world—except possibly for Michelangelo [in my opinion]—have plenty of acceptable work that’s not up to the highest-quality-level of their most-renowned-accomplishments), so it shouldn’t be any great shock that Wonder Wheel’s not fully of the same caliber as such triumphs as Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), or Blue Jasmine (2013), but that hasn’t kept most all of filmdom's critical-establishment-at-large from being very negative toward Woody’s latest offering, with RT noting only 32% positive reviews (of 112 when I went to post) while the folks surveyed by Metacritic yielded an uncharacteristically-higher-score, but only at 46%.  Many of the complaints center on the sense this film's too much like a play, that it’s not cinematic enough (despite praise for master cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s [Oscars for Apocalypse Now {Francis Ford Coppola, 1979}, Reds {Warren Beatty, 1981}, The Last Emperor {Bernardo Bertolucci, 1987}, plus other well-known-triumphs such as in Bertolucci’s The Conformist {1970} and Last Tango in Paris {1973} or Carlos Saura’s Tango {1998}] renderings of the colorful environment of Brooklyn’s Coney Island).  

 But, as noted in the second Related Links items for this film a bit farther below, Justin Timberlake (whose character, Mickey Rubin, has a crucial role in this story as well as narrating it to us with direct-address/4th-wall-violations) says of Wonder … It’s like a play on locations.”  In that same link (and another one which wraps up this review) Kate Winslet (who plays Ginny Rannell) also notes the similarity here to the theatrical heritage along with her admiration for (and fear of) the intimidating quality of the script, just as Mickey tells us at the outset he’s in the NYU Masters program in European Theatre so his presentation of what happens here is flavored with his love for melodrama.

 Whether these incorporated-justifications for what’s dismissed by many critics as artificial staginess will be acceptable to you or not will likely depend on whether you’re willing to grant Allen such artistic license or whether you feel these are desperate justifications attempting to account for a failed venture into serious drama without the relief of comedy Woody’s so well-known for nor even the romantic allure of such successes as Midnight in Paris (2011), instead offering us an extended-family-tragedy reminiscent of the interpersonal horrors found in the savage works of Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill (the latter getting a notable mention within ... Wheel)Briefly, this constantly-confrontational-plot set in the 1950s concerns Ginny’s already-miserable-after-just-5-years-marriage to Humpty (Jim Belushi), who runs the boardwalk’s merry-go-round, easily shows off his quick temper, pines for a drink as she insists he stay on the wagon, with a running resentment for her young son, Richie (Jack Gore), by her first marriage (which failed because of a lusty affair which she just couldn’t reject, despite the deep love her jazz-drummer-former-husband had for her), a pyromaniac brat who not only sets small fires everywhere but also steals and skips summer school to watch movies.  Widower Humpty’s got an adult kid from a former marriage, Carolina (Juno Temple), who surprisingly shows up to stay with Dad’s new family in their noisy apartment right above a shooting gallery, on the lam from her mobster husband because she squealed on him under pressure from the law (even though a couple of goons come looking for her, the excuse she’d never be here because of her falling-out with Humpty over her marriage holds up).

 Soon she’s joined Ginny as a waitress in the local clam house, then adds the complication of a mutual attraction with Mickey, much to Ginny’s chagrin as she’s having an affair with him, expecting this younger lover to soon take her away from all her misery (complete with splitting headaches).  Ginny even steals $400 from Humpty (another point of contention, as he suddenly warms to his daughter—now going to night school to become an English teacher—putting all his extra cash aside for Carolina) to claim a hocked pocket watch, which she engraves for Mickey, only for him to dash her dreams by saying he’s really got more attraction to Carolina (the watch is soon thrown away onto the beach as Ginny’s life-drama [she was once an aspiring actress] overwhelms her).

 Wrapping up the plot, Ginny finds the goons learn where Mickey and Carolina will be having dinner one night, decides against warning them for her own benefit, tries to play dumb when Carolina never comes home after Mickey also puts a hold on their involvement so they walked away separately after their meal.  Mickey figures it all out, angrily confronts Ginny before storming off, Humpty’s back to drinking which can’t be good for Ginny (he gets physically abusive to go along with his verbal harangues), with the final shot of the film being the kid setting yet another fire, this time on the beach near the lifeguard stand.⇐  Admittedly, Ginny's dialogue at times (despite its eloquence) does seem more like theatrical soliloquys on love, mistakes, forgiveness than a naturalistic emotional outpouring; Humpty early on bears too easy a resemblance to Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando) in A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan [1951] for the film but with common knowledge Brando lit up Broadway with the role prior to its adaptation); the whole premise at times feels like the more morbid aspects of O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller (although you can’t fault Allen for being inspired by them the same way he was by Ingmar Bergman for his earlier more serious works, such as the superb Interiors [1978]—shot by another virtuoso cinematographer, frequent Allen collaborator Gordon Willis [all 3 of Coppola’s Godfathers {1972, 1974, 1990} among many other notable achievements]—clearly evoking aspects of Bergman’s Cries and Whispers [1972], shot by yet-another-camera-master, Sven Nykvist); and the obvious use of Expressionism (especially in the way certain night scenes in the Rannell apartment are lit with the nearby neon lights, throwing intense reds, blues, and yellows onto the characters’ faces) seem to be offsetting to a good many critics, but overall I found it to be powerful in many scenes with Winslet due consideration as a Best Actress Oscar contender, although the negative reviews, the limited exposure (now only in 47 domestic theaters after 2 weeks in release) with correspondingly low grosses (just about $300 thousand so far) don’t bode well, even for such deserved recognition.

 I’ll encourage you to see Wonder Wheel (the title’s an oblique reference to the huge Ferris wheel often dominating the background of many of the shots) if you can find it, but only if you’re willing to accept the total lack of humor (except maybe some “Oh, shit!” audience reactions when Carolina’s getting into trouble with Mickey she has no clue about, or possibly the irony of Richie setting a fire in his psychiatrist’s office), the difficulty of finding a place where it’s playing, and its intentionally-mannered-presentation at times.  To help you mull over that choice, I’ll finish with my Musical Metaphor, “Act Naturally,” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5rpAqfd35Q (Beatles live show, date unknown; written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison; first recorded [as a hit single] in 1963 by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos; on The Beatles’ 1965 U.K. Help! album and 1966 U.S. Yesterday and Today album)—with its amusing commentary on a broken-hearted-lover becoming a “big star [… if all he’s] gotta do is act naturally […]Cause I can play the part so well,” providing my little sarcasm to those who bemoan Wonder Wheel’s anti-Naturalistic script/performances but also acknowledging how all the main characters in this film are/become “The biggest fool[s … in their own lives, leading] sad and lonely [existences].”  Hopefully, this comic counterpoint to … Wheel’s near-unrelenting-intensity will keep you satisfied (especially if you need some palate-cleansing if you actually see the film) until next we meet.  Or, if that doesn’t work too well as a sendoff, you might enjoy a short video (7:01) of Winslet describing how Allen recruited her for the role, doing a nice imitation of him in the process; then, to further such explorations into the creative process for actors here’s a marvelous conversation (32:34) between Winslet and Gary Oldman discussing their respective roles in Wonder Wheel and Darkest Hour, a great opportunity to learn about how such well-respected-thespians are a lot more worried about being able to conquer the on-screen-challenges they face than we might ever suspect of them, given the successes we see on screen.

 Now, I’ll truly close on a minor note (so to speak) about one of the last links in the cluster below, “Hotel California,” where I’ve once again capitulated to the Google/YouTube overlords:  I chose at some past point to use this song among my 3 regular posting signoffs, specifically the version from the 1998 ceremony where The Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but YouTube later took down the link due to some copyright problem.  However, I found another link of the same material, used it instead until it too disappeared; this went on for 10 more repeats (including just a 1-week-lag between my postings of 2 weeks ago and last week).  Then, when I found last week that my latest re-link was gone after only 1 day I just gave up and starting using the audio-only-version provided to YouTube by Warner Music Group, so hopefully it’ll remain stable from here on out (but none of the “Hotel California” links on my previous postings will work—except those from 12/7/2017, the Summary of Two Guys Reviews page [originally posted July 5, 2013, regularly updated], and our ancient, original ABOUT THE Blog homepage [December 12, 2011, as noted at the top of this posting]), so do me a favor, scroll down to the “Hotel California” link far below here before you click off, and listen to it just to make all of this silly trouble worthwhile.  Pat and I thank you so very much.
                       
Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
            
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about Darkest Hour:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Xn6YUu8FzQ (41:49 press conference with director Joe Wright, screenwriter Anthony McCarten, and actors Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn [begins with trailer attached to this review, audio very low until the actual round of interviews begins when the volume finally increases])



Here’s more information about Wonder Wheel:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y68G6rymZjA (32:53 press conference with producer Erika Aronson and actors Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Jim Belushi, Juno Temple [audio hampered by the echo of the room, makes some statements inaudible, which is a shame because their audience is having such an hilarious time—I tried using the closed-caption feature but it proved to be both inconsistent and inaccurate; the video quality’s not so great either, but hopefully even if you only get about half of it you’ll still find a lot of useful insights into Allen’s working procedures on the set])



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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
         
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Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 10,918 (a continually-declining-number as of late—oh well, fame is fleeting, even for this fabulous site); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

         “Toto, I know we’re not in Kansas anymore after we
          crossed over into Missouri, but this sure doesn’t
          look like Branson.  Damn it, I think we're lost again!”

                                                    Review by Ken Burke
                  
                 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
                 (Martin McDonagh)
                         
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): A woman’s furious that her daughter was raped and murdered 7 months ago but so far the cops have no clue who was responsible so she takes it upon herself to rent 3 billboards just outside of her town condemning the local police chief for the lack of progress on the case; initially unbeknownst to her, though, he’s not only serious about trying to solve this brutal homicide but is facing his own major problems battling terminal cancer, despite the impact his death will have on his wife and 2 small children.  Angry confrontations intensify as a racist local policeman isn’t afraid to challenge the distraught mother over her billboard strategy, but he’s got his own problems trying to deal with his miserable excuse for a mother, a vile woman who’s usually about as drunk as her hot-tempered son.  What comes from all of this hatred is an intense study of humans pushed to their limits, desperate to find some acceptable response to the horrors life can burden any of us with.  I can’t say anything further here without violating the no spoiler pledge, but I can enthusiastically encourage you to seek out Three Billboards … which is expanding into considerably more theaters as Oscar buzz continues to grow about several categories, especially the superb acting by Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

Be forewarned that this is a Red Band trailer complete with R-rated language.


Here’s another trailer with somewhat-more-sanitized-speech (not completely).

            
If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
               
What Happens: After some opening eerie-yet-ethereal shots of dilapidated billboards in diminished light or fog we move into our increasingly-grim-story set in (fictional, as best I can determine) small-city Ebbing, MO where friecely-angry, divorced resident Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand)—almost always dressed in work-functional-coverallsnotices that 3 billboards on an infrequently-travelled-road near her property aren’t being used so she scrapes up $5,000 to rent them for a month (with more months intended), using them as statements (the way Burma-Shave shaving cream used to put a series of signs advertising their product along state highways many decades ago [example: “If our road signs” “Catch your eye” “Smile” “But don’t forget” “To buy” “Burma-Shave”]) to publically express her frustration with the local police for not yet finding the rapist/murderer of teenage daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton) 7 months ago (Mildred’s misery’s enhanced by a flashback conversation between mother and daughter the day the girl died in an argument over whether she could go out that night, with Angela insisting she would; as she storms out, Mom snaps “I hope you get raped on the way!,” to which daughter replies “You old cunt!,” with Mom’s comeback of “I’m not that old,” typical of the occasional humor here).  Mildred’s billboards are a blunt attack on local Police Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson)—“Raped While Dying,” “And Still No Arrests?,” “How Come, Chief Willoughby?”—for not having even been able to turn up any clues.  He’s furious with her actions (drawing the attention of a local news team) because he’s sincerely tried to find the criminal, but there’s no clue through a DNA match.  He can do nothing legally to force her to take down the signs, although most of the community—including her sullen son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges)—sides with him instead of her (despite their sympathy for the tragedy she’s suffered, without even knowing Willoughby’s own tragedy: he’s dying from pancreatic cancer).

 Tensions continue to rise, including from Mildred’s abusive ex-husband, Charlie (John Hawkes), concerned not only for his own reputation-by-association but also fuming she got the $5,000 by selling his tractor (although he’s moved on regarding relationships by taking up with sweet-but-not-so-sharp-19-year-old Penelope [Samara Weaving]—he’s also unsupportive of his ex-wife’s after-death-devotion to their daughter, informing Mildred that Angela asked to move in with him just a week before her demise).  Mildred even gets some insults from her dentist, which she responds to by jamming the drill into his thumb.  Normally, this would get her arrested, but during questioning by Willoughby (she bluntly denies doing what we’ve just witnessed) he accidently coughs up some blood on her so she’s released in a show of mutual sympathy.  No such understanding comes from local cop Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a poorly-educated racist (although he’s learned enough protocol to know when she accuses him of “n_____ torturing” he haughtily tells Mildred the correct term is “African-American torturing,” another example of how the ferocious conflicts in this film are sometimes softened with some unexpected-yet-disconcerting/hilarious uses of comedy), egged on by miserable Momma Dixon (Sandy Martin) to maintain the constant errors of his ways.  ⇒Even Sonny Dixon’s got a soft side, though, as we see him break down in tears when he learns of the sudden suicide of Willoughby, who took his life to spare wife Anne (Abbie Cornish) and their young twin girls the agony of watching his inevitable deterioration (his shot to the head especially comes as a shock after he’s spent a lovely day with the family, seemingly now at peace with his awful fate).

 Willoughby’s presence remains in a manner of speaking, though, because he’s written letters combining humor with blunt realities; Abbie finds the one left for her (explaining the reason for his drastic choice), with others to Mildred and Dixon delivered later.  In a move intended to agree with/confront Mildred, her letter contains $5,000 to pay for another month’s rent on the billboards so as to convince the community to keep the investigations going while Dixon’s letter encourages him to find his calling as a respected detective if he'll let go of the hate festering within himself.⇐

 Dixon’s got a ways to go to release that hate, as his response to Willoughby’s death is to storm across the street from the police station to the office of Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones), who rented the billboards to Mildred.  In a rage (fueled by the misunderstanding Willoughby took his life out of remorse for the billboards’ accusation), Dixon beats up Red, throws him out of a 2nd-story-window-story-window, witnessed by new Chief Abercrombie (Clarke Peters) who immediately fires Dixon (he gives up his gun but needs some time to find his badge).  Based on a conversation we see with Dixon and his gruesome Momma, we assume he’s the instigator of the next act of vengeance, the billboards set on fire which Mildred encounters as she drives home one night with Robbie. Using fire extinguishers they put out the blazes but the messages are destroyed, only to soon be replaced because the guy who hung them had a second set.  ⇒But that’s not enough for Mildred so she goes into town one night, throws Molotov cocktails at the police station, setting it ablaze, not knowing Dixon’s inside finally reading his Willoughby letter.  He manages to struggle out through the flames, badly burned but saving Angela’s case file.  Mildred once again escapes legal action when she’s suddenly given an alibi by car-dealer James (Peter Dinklage), who asks for a date as repayment; she begrudgingly goes to dinner with him but insults him enough that he leaves, although Charlie and Penelope are also at the restaurant with the ex obliquely-admitting he set the billboards on fire even as he wants to call a truce with Mildred, which she shockingly accepts.⇐ 

 ⇒A bit later (after some recovery but still scarred—although when in the hospital he surprisingly finds some comfort from also-recovering-sign-guy-Red) we’re back with Dixon again as he’s in a bar sitting in a booth behind a guy from Idaho bragging about a rape (this creep also showed up in Mildred’s tourist-trinket-shop one day, implying he might be Angela murderer); Dixon’s convinced he’s stumbled onto the mysterious killer so he starts a fight that goes badly for our newly-awakened-crusader (in a touch of mild sarcasm, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” [Joan Baez version, where she inadvertently messes up a few of the lyrics, but that’s probably appropriate in the context of this film] plays on the soundtrack*) but does allow him to scrape off some skin from the guy, hoping for a positive DNA match.  Sadly, there’s no match (besides, this jerk was on active duty in the Middle East when Angela was killed), but Dixon’s ready to drive to Idaho to kill him anyway, convinced he’s guilty of some other rape even if not Angela’s, so he asks Mildred if she wants to go along even after she confesses to Dixon she bombed the police station.  She agrees; though. as they drive away they admit to each other they’re not fully ready to go through with this act of second-hand-vengeance, so they’ll decide later if they’re really going to shoot Mr. Idaho.⇐

*You can hear it here (from her 1971 Blessed Are … album; fittingly, the printed lyrics aren't always fully accurate to what she's singing so confusion continues) but I prefer the original version from The Band (on their 1969 album The Band; the video’s from the documentary of their farewell concert, The Last Waltz [Martin Scorsese, 1978]).  These images of Civil War-era Confederate defeat on the Baez video may give Jeff Sessions and Roy Moore fits, but that's the least I can do for them.

So What? I usually try to get to at least 2 options in the local moviehouses for my almost-weekly-postings but various logistics* gave me time for only 1 new offering this week; however, that’s no problem because of the high quality of Three Billboards …, which I see as having potential for Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (McDormand), Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell), plus maybe others in technical categories I don’t always pick up on as much except cinematography and editing (neither of which are all that unique in this case, but I fail to be surprised at some of the nominees emerging from the various technical guilds although I think often they come as aspects of bandwagon-effects from the more-publicized-categories).  In retrospect, if you're a film producer you know you’ve got something impactful going for you when your cast also includes people such as Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, and Peter Dinklage, even though they all have relatively minor supporting roles because there’s so much going on with the primary presences of McDormand and Rockwell—we’d all assume Harrelson would've had more of a physical presence in this story, although the clarifying/inspirational one he offers in his letters (voice-overed by him with poignant effect) gives us an indelible sense of him even though he’s not on screen too often; were it not for Rockwell’s powerful contributions Harrelson might even be up for Supporting Actor consideration himself.⇐

*Including finally setting up a personal website, after the one I’d had for so long at Mills College (Oakland, CA) was retired, along with me, about 4½ (an auspicious number for me this week; see further comments in the next review section below) years ago. This one’s housed under Academia.edu so it’s focused on research and résumé, as opposed to the much-more-informal-tone of this blog (although I’ve maintained a bit of that attitude with the photo I chose to use), so if you’re interested take a look at https://kenburke.academia.edu/(Although I have to admit some semblance of my academic writing’s been creeping in here as well with the increasing use of these footnotes, but I’ve got to find some strategy to keep these reviews at their ungodly length, don’t I?)

 ⇒Another striking aspect of this new film is how unpredictable it is not only in aspects of plot development (I’d never have anticipated Willoughby’s suicide, especially as quickly as it came, nor Mildred’s attack on the police station; the burning of the billboards was unpredicted by me as well, but given what I know first-hand about oppositional attitudes in smaller towns in the South and Midwest [with Missouri straddling both areas as it’s geographically in what’s considered U.S. Midwest but also was recognized in the 1860s by the Confederate States of America as part of their rebel territory even if it never declared itself in secession] I’m not at all surprised to find someone in Mildred’s community would finally take action against her protest, although plot circumstances initially lead us to assume it was Dixon [whose name—Jason Dixon—certainly evokes the Mason-Dixon line, literally the boundary between Pennsylvania and Virginia/Maryland/Delaware but a cultural-signifier of the demarcation between U.S. slave and free states, again putting Missouri into the realm of the Confederacy] who started the fires) but also in terms of character development or general lack thereof regarding Mildred.⇐  Even when we understand her anguish at the horrid fate of her daughter and her seething frustration at the lack of justice for Angela’s abuser, those facts still make it hard to just accept she’d imply an innocent priest is part of a gang like the Crips and Bloods because of the atrocities committed by perverted members of his profession, then kick 2 high-school-students in the crotch for throwing some liquid on her windshield when she drops Robbie off one morning (no charges again, as if everyone’s but Dixon’s afraid to try to confront her).

 ⇒Further, Mildred (personifying "dread") seriously demands Willoughby keep checking the DNA of every man on the planet if necessary to find Angela’s killer, then takes it upon herself to set fire to the police station (not knowing Dixon was inside) because she also assumes Jason is her arsonist.  She’s a sympathetic-but-scary-character brought to effectively-troubling-life by the controlled fury of McDormand, just as Dixon’s a hell of a lot more complex than he initially seems, with nuances slowly shown by Rockwell’s grand performance.  We definitely have reason to empathize with Mildred’s anger over the lack of progress in arresting Angela‘s rapist/killer, but when she turns to her own acts of violence against the dentist, the high-school-kids, then the police station we have to wonder just how far we’re willing to go with her desperate need for revenge (even Penelope notes “This anger just begets greater anger”—of course, she saw that on a bookmark when she was reading about polo, mistakenly remembering the content as polio, so we’re back to including grains of salt in our respect for her insights), with our hopes Mildred and Dixon will reconsider their vigilante quest against Idaho-guy, especially when they have no proof beyond his bragging he’s actually harmed anyone (and may be suffering from some form of PTSD after his combat experiences).  In Dixon’s case, it might seem like a bit of a fictional stretch that Willoughby’s encouraging letter to let go of his hate would so quickly set him in motion to aid Mildred by saving Angela‘s police file, then risking great bodily harm in the bar just to collect DNA from the assumed perp, but in some of the scenes with Momma we can see how this grizzled, drunken, social outcast has added to the daily warping of her son, an influence he desperately needs to turn away from.⇐

 This film’s so good that even though one of my regular weekly viewing companions had already seen it she eagerly agreed to go again with my wife, Nina, and me last weekend; afterward, she said it was easily as compelling upon a second viewing, although that didn’t really help her (or us) always understand what Dixon’s saying, but he’s drunk a good bit of the time (even in the mornings) so I chalk that up more to Rockwell’s splendid portrayal of this noxious-but-miserable-man than to poor delivery.  However, one plot element our friend understood the first time but we didn't (until I read a mention of it later in a couple of reviews, then discussed it with her) is that Angela died from being burned alive (for me, it greatly complicates the “Raped While Dying” billboard as I can’t imagine even the most demented assaulter violating a woman while she’s on fire); now this is verified, though, I see it as an even more tragic end for this girl, furthering the literally-hellish-nature of this extremely intense story.  It’s a marvelous triumph of narrative presentation although not always that easy to neither watch nor ruminate on later.  However, don’t be dissuaded by its lean take at the domestic (U.S.-Canada) box-office of just $13.5 million so far after a month in release as its reach has just now expanded to about 1,430 theaters (including my suburban home of Hayward, CA, not a likely location for such a troubling-film).  If you can stomach the serious subject matter being masterfully explored—or just want to be aware of what seems to be a sure-Oscar-contenderthen Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri should definitely be on your must-see-it-soon-list.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Over the 3 months of our current autumn season (now approaching winter except here in sunny California—although that has its own drawbacks with concerns over further disasters from our wildfire season when high winds, dry grasses, and random sparks can take their terrible toll, as is the case now in areas in and around the Los Angeles metropolitan sprawl where fires are raging, not much under control) I see my recent 20 reviews from Dolores (Peter Bratt; review in our September 6, 2017 posting) through Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Dan Gilroy; review in our November 29, 2017 posting) don’t always match up with the general critical consensus (I frequently go higher than my colleagues, especially regarding what’s still my #1 film of 2017, Loving Vincent [Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman; review in our October 26, 2017 posting], earning my extremely-rare-5-star-rating while those surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic gave Vincent ... positive reviews but in the 78% and 62% range respectively). While only 8 of my 20 analyses were notably different from the “norm,” even regarding 7 others I was in agreement with only 1 of those collective sites, not both (although that’s as much their “fault” as mine, because their scores often have as much as a 20-point-gap, with the Metacritic reviewers usually turning in lower totals [not that difficult to do, given their reviews are assigned a number, then averaged while all you have to do at RT is offer positive comments to be “certified Fresh”*—although there’s still some argument over how much positivity you have to display to gain such notation from RT’s staff]).








*Exploring a temporary tangent to see if you can stay focused, I'll note RT’s new all-time-Fresh-champ is Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig; review in our November 23, 2017 posting), maintaining its perfect 100% positive set of responses through many dozens of reviews (it’s still expanding to a larger range of markets, surely helped by snagging the New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Picture with star Saoirse Ronan as their Best Actress; in fact it now has 189 positives as I go to post), topping Toy Story 2’s previous record of 163, with both at the 100% mark, so in our statistically-obsessed-culture we even find ways of measuring degrees of perfection.  I debated going up from 4 to 4½ stars for Lady Bird (which managed to get through its entire running time with nary a single mention of either President Lyndon Johnson’s wife or TV animated character Hank Hill’s dog) but held back as I’m very cautious with those higher numbers; still, I’m hopeful Oscar nominations will be forthcoming, as it’s one of the year’s best along with Three Billboards … .

 However, in the case of Three Billboards … there’s little disagreement with my 4½ stars from the critical collectives, clearly marking it as not only one of the best of this year (although I did also award 4½ stars to Lucky [John Carroll Lynch; review in our October 19, 2017 posting], along with that tightly-guarded-5 stars for Loving Vincent) but also across the grand sweep of recent cinema (in my 6 years writing reviews for this blog I’ve given only six 5 star-ratings and now six 4½’s), with concurrence from RT offering 94% positive reviews,* MC a lofty-for-them 87% average score for Three Billboards ... .  It all works wonderfully in this film, from the foundational concept to the ever-elusive-script-developments to the all-powerful-acting, all held together by a firm directorial vision.

 As I bring this review to a close, I’ll offer you my standard use of a Musical Metaphor to give a concluding perspective on what’s occurred in the film under critical-consideration (but from the obscurely-related-viewpoint of the aural arts), this time with Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”* (from his 1970 album After the Gold Rush), at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpY3xFTYHTQ (a performance with Crosby, Stills, and Nash at NYC’s Fillmore East, 1970) with its acknowledgement the pain of losing love can push you into states of mind that prevent you from comprehending reality because your “head is inside a dream.”  (Although I did consider for quite awhile to instead use Young’s “Down by the River” [from his 1969 album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere] because of its surreal mixture of ecstasy, death, and assaultive-guitar-riffs reminding me of Dixon’s fierce attack on Red in response to his grief over Willoughby’s suicide but decided to go with the quieter “Only Love …” in keeping with what I hope is Mildred and Dixon’s eventual decision to not commit murder in Idaho, in what would be a wayward act not unlike how “Down by the River” mixes love with alienation, connection with rejection; still, I always enjoy listening to "Down by the River" so if you’d like further immersion in my musical indulgences this week, here’s a version of one of Young's lengthy standards [21:39, Although I wish whoever recorded this had panned over to the video screens more often; as shot it seems to be about as far away as I’d have to sit at such an expensive concert, with tiny musicians.  I’ve never seen Neil do “… the River” live but this is as close as I can get, from the 1st weekend of the Desert Trip festival {October 8, 2016}; my marvelous companion, Nina, and I were at the 2nd weekend where his epic “long song” was “Cowgirl in the Sand” and another song from that night was “Harvest Moon,” which is now an ongoing link almost at the very end of each Two Guys posting, along with my new personal website noted here above].)

After such total immersion in the travails of Three Billboards ..., you should take a break with Bing
in an attempt to re-capture some of the intended holiday spirit of the times before finishing this review.
*Not to be confused with Gene Pitney’s "Only Love Can Break a Heart" (on his 1962 album of the same name) with its odd use of background whistling, reminiscent, to me at least, of Bing Crosby's “White Christmas” (written by Irving Berlin), where he doesn’t actually sing as much as you expect him to, a good bit of the song’s running time taken up with repetition of the lyrics by his background chorus and his casual whistling; given that Bing’s recording (a hit single, found 1st in album form [literally, a collection of six 78-rpm discs] in 1942 with Song Hits from Holiday Inn [songs in a movie directed by Mark Sandrich, starring Crosby and Fred Astaire, now a perennial favorite], the tune winning the Oscar for Best Original Song) is considered by the Guinness Book of World Records (even though I’m more impressed by the Guinness pour of world-class-beer) as the best-selling-single of all time with estimated sales of Crosby’s version somewhere in the vicinity of 100 million copies worldwide (not to mention the multitude of other singers’ recordings) and with the holiday season we’re now in you might be ready to give it a listen (supposedly the 1942 original, but the master was damaged from all the reproductions so this may be the 1947 remake, intended to reproduce the original as much as possible).  See, when I have only 1 film to review, I wander to infinitesimal regions of trivia, so you’d better hope I get to the movies more frequently next week.

Just to be clear, Sam Rockwell's sharing this couch with "Momma" Sandy Martin, not Christopher Walken
 As for "Only Love ..."—I realize it's been awhile since I gave you the link so I repeated it for your benefit(supposedly written by Young in sympathy for bandmate Graham Nash’s spilt from Joni Mitchell) and its resonance to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I find its soft approach to heartache (in melody as well as lyrics) with the question “When you were young And on your own How did it feel To be alone?” becoming a haunting query for now-not-so-young Mildred, Bill, and Jason, all of them alone, at least regarding their heads “inside a [bad] dream [with our hopes that] Someone should call [them] and see if [they] can come out Try to lose the down that [they’ve] found [because] only love can break your heart,” whether it’s the love from now-deceased-relationships (including not only Angela but also whatever connection Mildred might have had with Charlie, long gone now, with her link to Robbie ever-more-tenuous as well), love of relationships soon to be severed (Bill’s physical pain is exceeded by the sort of emotional pain he hopes to spare his family even as he inflicts another version of it on them), or the aching for love probably never experienced (Jason’s briefly acknowledged as suffering from the unspecified loss of his father, damaged by the ongoing relationship with his mother).  Although these characters, like all of us, might “Try to be sure Right from the start” that what they hope to invest in will produce their desired results, yet how will they respond “if [their] world[s] Should fall apart?”  No one gets off easy in Three Billboards … as fate’s made it difficult—if not impossible—to “make the best of [their] time,” yet what would any of us do in these soul-draining-circumstances, with hopes of finally finding some form of redemption?  It’s probably worth a trip to Missouri (at least the Missouri of your mind) to find out.
                
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
             
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Here’s more information about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri:

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/threebillboardsoutsideebbingmissouri/ (Take note: when I first opened this site it was playing the Red Band trailer with the film’s salty language so Close the video if you don’t care for such; also I initially had troubling opening it on Safari but it worked better after a couple of tries, worked fine on Chrome to begin with.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRnG_naHmVQ (28:20 interview with writer-director Martin McDonagh and minor-character actors Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Clarke Peters; begins with that R-rated Red Band trailer so skip ahead to 2:41 if you like but you’ll find the audio’s a bit low overall here) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iv3SCkoDdTE (11:14 interview with McDonagh and actors Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell which I've included if for no other reason than the irony of McDonagh and McDormand discussing the film’s main character, Mildred, talking about the anger of this woman left behind by the justice system yet we see that they’re being interviewed by Charlie Rose, now dismissed by PBS and CBS for his alleged sexual misconduct—as McDormand says in this discussion, “Justice is larger,” although not in the context of Rose and the many other politicians/celebrities being accused by the now-speaking-up-women [and some men] who are taking action in the same way Mildred does in this film, with a bit more irony that the longer version of this interview aired on PBS before the Rose scandal broke)



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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of kenburke409@gmail.com.  (But if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possibleacademic articles about various cinematic topics at my website, https://kenburke.academia.edu, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"

—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
           
OUR POSTINGS PROBABLY LOOK BEST ON THE MOST CURRENT VERSIONS OF MAC OS AND THE SAFARI WEB BROWSER (although Google Chrome usually is decent also); OTHERWISE, BE FOREWARNED THE LAYOUT MAY SEEM MESSY AT TIMES.
              
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 15,270; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week (the total monthly responses declined again—I suspect Russian collusion, even though they're part of my audience—but I’m back to 5 continents this time, excluding as usual Africa and Antarctica):