CVIndependent

Thu10012020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

The Outpost—based on a real-life battle that took place at an American base poorly placed in the middle of a mountainous Afghanistan—is a harrowing and frustrating experience.

The frustration is not the result of bad filmmaking—quite the contrary, because the film is superbly directed by Rod Lurie. It’s frustrating because you know American soldiers were dropped into a situation in which they would surely be ambushed—a modern-day Little Bighorn. The battle they had to fight occurred under appalling circumstances that should’ve been avoided.

Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood, son of Clint) and his fellow soldiers are hunkered down at Combat Outpost Keating, a base located at the bottom of mountains in Kamdesh, Afghanistan. In a frightening, foreshadowing moment, an American soldier looks at the camp through the sights of his rifle while on patrol in the mountains above, and accurately narrates the sort of attack Taliban soldiers will mount in the coming days.

Lurie, a veteran, knows the business of warfare, and his staging of the ambush will cause you to sweat off 10 pounds. It goes on for what seems like forever, and many Americans fall. It’s absolute chaos, with Romesha being one of the saving graces that helps hold the band of soldiers together. Eastwood is terrific, while Caleb Landry Jones depicts a heartbreaking combination of supreme valor and total hysteria. Their performances anchor the film.

Barack Obama was a great president, but this shit happened on his watch in 2009, albeit in a war he inherited. It’s a war that is still being waged today with a sketchy Taliban peace deal that calls for some American troops to withdraw within a year. The base in Kamdesh has been abandoned, and that’s a good thing.

The Outpost is now streaming on a variety of sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the third feature film by writer-director Martin McDonagh.

It’s also his third masterpiece.

Three Billboards also marks another astonishing film achievement for Frances McDormand, who will drill into your chest cavity and do all kinds of crazy shit to your heart as Mildred, a justifiably pissed-off mother who has a few issues with the cops in her town.

It’s been five years since Mildred’s young daughter was raped, killed and burned by unknown murderers. Mildred, who isn’t even close to getting over the tragedy, spies some old, dilapidated billboards on the way home and gets an idea. After meeting with a sloppy advertising agent (Caleb Landry Jones), some guys are commissioned to put alarmingly provocative signs on those billboards.

Those signs call out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), a well-meaning but emotional man who, for various reasons, is not on his best game. He challenges Mildred, claiming the billboards aren’t fair. Her retort: In the time you took to come down here and piss and moan about the billboards, another girl could’ve been butchered.

There’s no better actress to portray Mildred—with her steadfast, emotionally raw determination—than McDormand. More than two decades ago, McDormand took home the Oscar for playing Marge Gunderson in Fargo—playing one of the nicest law-enforcement individuals the movies have ever seen. Mildred is the opposite of Marge: Kindness and hugs and Arby’s aren’t big on her mind. She wants her daughter’s killers brought to justice, and she’ll burn buildings down with people inside them to get the investigation going.

Yet somehow, Mildred is just as likable and worth rooting for as Marge. That’s because McDormand is a fearless master, and she’s a shoo-in for another Oscar nomination—at the least. Mildred says and does things in this movie that will leave your jaw hanging open, and McDormand makes all of these extremes believable and almost reasonable. There’s so much happening behind those piercing eyes. It’s the kind of performance that only comes around once a decade.

What takes this film to masterpiece levels, beyond the technical brilliance that McDonagh always delivers, is that McDormand is joined by a cast that hits every note. Harrelson caps a great year as the lawman. John Hawkes is memorably nasty as Mildred’s abusive ex-husband, while Jones manages many surprises as the billboard man, and Peter Dinklage makes the most of a few scenes as a town local with eyes for Mildred.

Oh, and there’s yet another Oscar-caliber performance from Sam Rockwell (who starred in McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths) as racist, momma’s-boy deputy Dixon. There aren’t too many character actors alive who could make Dixon frightening, sympathetic, funny, disgusting and worthy of redemption all at once. Dixon, the town drunk and racist homophobe who has a thing for throwing people out of windows, undergoes a transformation that is some kind of movie miracle. That’s because Rockwell, like McDormand, is one of the best.

That’s also because McDonagh knows how to write a script that keeps you in it with every line. While the film is, in part, a murder mystery, the crime takes a back seat to watching these folks play off of each other. There are scenes in this movie that will emotionally knock you on the floor. There’s one particular moment that is so heartbreaking, and so shocking, it’s a wonder anybody managed to get it on screen.

The year isn’t over yet, but it’s a fair bet to say this one is going to be topping a lot of award lists, adding to McDormand’s legacy and giving Rockwell the sort of high profile recognition he’s always deserved. As for McDonagh, not many directors have come out of the gate with three masterpieces in a row. He’s in an elite class of filmmakers—and he’s just getting started.

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Director Neil Jordan makes Byzantium a vampire film that is actually worth watching. Now available via IFC On Demand, this is the first decent vampire film since the undead started sparkling and moping in the Twilight films.

Saoirse Ronan stars as Eleanor, a vampire permanently stuck at the age of 16 for more than 200 years. She roams the Earth with her prostitute vampire mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton). Eleanor likes to write her stories down and then throw them away, as a means of keeping her secrets. She meets an interesting and ill boy (Caleb Landry Jones) and starts thinking that her vampire life is kind of boring.

It’s nice to see a vampire story with a majestic scope that goes beyond mere camp. Jordan literally uses waterfalls of blood in his movie, and brings his true sense of style to the proceedings. Ronan and Arterton keep things interesting, even when the script gets a little dull.

Sam Riley (so good in Control) shows up as a former soldier with a secret, and gives the vampire back-story additional depth. That depth is what makes this the best vampire movie in a long while. It’s not a great film—dull stretches abound—but it does give the genre an injection of something different.

Ronan was having a bad year after the horror that was The Host. Perhaps this will get her back on track. It’s good to see her talents devoted to something worthwhile after her appearance in one of the year’s worst films.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing