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Posts Tagged ‘Frances McDormand’

“ISLE OF DOGS” My rating: B

101 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

So much is going on in Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” that it’s hard to wrap one’s head around it.

Perhaps it’s best to let our eyes do all the work, for this is one astoundingly beautiful animated film.

Shot with the same stop-motion techniques as Anderson’s earlier effort, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” this new entry employs the filmmaker’s usual deadpan humor with gorgeous Japanense-inspired designs and a yarn about human/canine relations.

It’s part sci-fi, part “Old Yeller.”

In an introductory segment designed to look like Japanense screens and woodcuts and propelled by throbbing Japanese drumming, an unseen narrator (Courtney B.  Vance) relates how, after an outbreak of “dog flu” and “snout fever,” all canines in the city were banished by the cat-loving Mayor Kobayashi, head of the ruling Kobayashi clan.

The dogs were transported to an island of trash off the coast where they learned to dig through the refuse for sustenance.

But not all humans are anti-dog.  A few still long for the days of “man’s best friend”; a pro-pup scientist is even developing a cure for dog flu.

The plot proper (the screenplay is by Anderson, who developed the story with Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura) kicks in with the arrival of Atari, the ward of the Mayor who has stolen a plane and crash landed on the Isle of Dogs in search of Spots, his beloved guard dog, who was torn from him by the canine exodus.

The boy immediately teams up with a quartet of puzzled pooches (voiced by Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum) and the suspicious Chief (Bryan Cranston), who understandably nurses a bad case of anti-human sentiment. (more…)

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Frances McDormand

“THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI” My rating: A- 

115 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Frances McDormand gives what may be her greatest performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

But then the film scores a trifecta of sorts by also containing best-ever perfs of both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.

Add to that the fact that the latest from Irish auteur Martin McDonough (“In Bruges”) is the funniest movie ever about grief, and you’ve got a serious — and seriously hilarious — moviegoing experience.

Not a perfect one, though.  Granted, the first hour of “Three Billboards” is just about flawless. In the latter going McDonough abandons the brilliant character study he’s been presenting and tries to woo us with iffy melodrama.  Still…

The title refers to three billboards on the road near the Ozarks home of Mildred (McDormand).  Almost a year earlier Mildred’s teenage daughter Angela was raped, murdered and her body set afire.  The local cops have hit a dead end and the angry, acid-tongued Mildred decides to jump start the investigation through shaming.

She calls at the local advertising firm and soon those three billboards read like a grim set of Burma Shave signs: “Raped While Dying.” “And Still No Arrests.”  “How Come, Chief Willoughby?”

This is a full frontal assault on the local police led by Chief Willoughby (Harrelson).  By all accounts Willoughby is a decent guy who has exhausted all leads. DNA collected at the crime scene doesn’t match anyone in the data base, and Willoughby rejects Mildred’s demand that the authorities collect samples from every boy and man in the county.

Willoughby reveals that he’s dying of cancer, apparently in the mistaken belief that this will soften Mildred’s wrath and she’ll take down the billboards. She’ll have none of it: “They wouldn’t be so effective after you croak, right?”

Woody Harrelson

Mildred may be the toughest, most uncompromising and prickly character of McDormand’s uncompromising and prickly career. You may not like her (she commits an unconscionable and, frankly, ludicrous act of arson against her perceived enemies), but you can’t take your eyes off her as plows through the town’s irate citizenry like a vengeful bulldozer. (One may look at the actress’s excellent work in HBO’s “Olive Kitteridge” as a sort of test run for this film.)

Her attitude even comes through in her choice of clothing. Nothing feminine about Mildred’s garb…she wears a blue jumpsuit and a Rambo-style headscarf, looking like Rosie the Riveter with a “can-fuck-you-up” attitude. (In one of the film’s slyer jokes, Mildred operates the Southern Charm Gift Shop — which thanks to her attitude is utterly devoid of  charm.)

Mildred’s contempt for the cops has its basis in more than just personal grief.  Deputy Dixon (Rockwell) is both astoundingly stupid and overtly racist and Mildred has no problem in calling him on his proclivities: “How’s it all going in the nigger-torturing business, Dixon?”

Dixon’s answer is that nowadays it’s “the person-of-color-torturing business.” (One of the iffier aspects of McDonough’s screenplay is that an honorable man like Willoughby employs a vicious asshat like Dixon; we’re led to believe that the Chief feels sorry for this moron and actually sees some potential in him. This strains credulity, but sets up later questionable developments in the Dixon subplot.) (more…)

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