Jan 04

Outsiders and Underdogs: 12 Films from 2017

Featured below are 12 feature films seen this past year that I believe are worth your while—especially if you identify with outsiders and underdogs. The first eight, having already been reviewed on Minding Therapy, are listed by and linked to their post titles.

“Maudie”: How Her Folk Art Bloomed from Within

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: “…can barely contain the sheer volume of capital-A Acting in this biopic focused on one of Canada’s best-known painters, a self-taught ‘outsider’ artist before that phrase was in vogue.”

“The Big Sick”: A Rom-Com with True Issues

Peter Howell, Toronto Star: “Hilarious and heartbreaking with no clear trajectory, frequently catching viewers off guard, it’s a rom-com of both heart and brain about a couple tested by illness and clashing cultures.”

“The Glass Castle”: From Best Selling Book to Film

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “It makes you feel what it’s like to be tiny and dealing with an all-powerful tyrant who is not only crazy but knows he has absolute license to be crazy, and enjoys that license. In this way, Walls’ story is not unique. Indeed for many of us, it dredges up memories.”

“Stronger”: Post-Traumatic Injury and Recovery

Scott TobiasNPR: “Stronger is an answer to inspirational dramas that treat the afflicted like the city of Boston treated Bauman after the bombing, as a victory lap instead of a human being.”

“Marshall” Your Forces: “Stand Up for Something”

Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com: “It pays attention to issues of racial, religious and gender discrimination without wavering from its main objective: giving us an entertaining film about a couple of guys who are in way over their heads.”

“Wonder” Movie Furthers “Choose Kind” Movement

Bilge Ebiri, Village Voice:So maybe this little movie about a kid with a facial disorder isn’t really about a kid with a facial disorder at all, but about whatever you and I choose to see in it.”

“Lady Bird”: Pre-College Teen Navigates Her Identity

Guy Lodge, The Guardian: “In her bright, awkward, ambitious, insecurity-riddled protagonist, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, Gerwig has fashioned a heroine reflective of a wealth of outsider identities.”

“Three Billboards”: Female-Centric, Female-Reviewed

Kevin Fallon, The Daily Beast: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, especially with that title, might seem to present itself as an idiosyncratic character study of a woman as she launches a David vs. Goliath face-off against her town, but it’s an equally fascinating mirror to the unsavory ways society instinctively behaves when a woman dares to disturb the status quo. That when a woman speaks up, no matter how justified she might be, the reflex is to silence her again.”

Hidden Figures

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “This movie adroitly portrays the sheer waste and inefficiency of racism and misogyny. Just think how much has been lost, the movie suggests, over centuries of depriving ourselves of the brains, talents and leadership of more than half our population?”

Lion

Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune: “[Dev] Patel, given a leading man role, easily grows to fill the needs of this complex and conflicted character, a man caught between two worlds, two cultures and two families.”

Dani Di Placido, Forbes: “At heart, this is a story of outsiders and misfits struggling against the system, that feels all too appropriate today, where we’re still having furious debates about the right of others to be themselves.”

Call Me By Your Name

Dana Stevens, Slate:

In the end, the viewer doesn’t worry for Elio’s long-term emotional well-being because…we know exactly who this kid is, what he desires, and how much he is and isn’t ready for. He captures the gawky neediness of adolescence, but also its exuberant flights of intellectual, emotional, and sexual self-discovery. Elio has things to learn from Oliver but also things to teach him, and watching the two learn from each other—up to and including the hard lesson of how to let go—is one of the great cinematic pleasures of the year.

Dec 06

“Three Billboards”: Female-Centric, Female-Reviewed

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, aptly called both “sorrowful and savagely funny” by Rolling Stone in its 10-best list for 2017, has one of the best story lines and some of the most interesting and complex characters and performances I’ve seen in a long time.

Most importantly, it has Frances McDormand in the lead. And in honor of rare female-centric films such as Three Billboards, I’ve decided to let this movie post be female-reviewer-centric as well.

Watch this trailer, which sets up the Three Billboards premise (and colorful language) really well:

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times, describes the basic plot of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri:

[McDormand] plays Mildred Hayes, a no-nonsense woman (she dresses, every day, in a navy-blue jumpsuit; the sort worn by plumbers or mechanics) who’s out for revenge. ‘I’m Angela Hayes’ mother,’ she says, in a voice so low you could jump over it. Her daughter, seven months ago, was raped and murdered by an unknown assailant; Mildred, frozen in clenched-jaw heartbreak, needs to know who to blame.

Mildred pays for three empty billboards to make the following statements:

    • “Raped While Dying.”
    • ″And Still No Arrests?”
    • ″How Come, Chief Willoughby?”

More about Mildred’s process, as expressed by Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

The billboards turn that grief into a weapon, a means of taking on the law and assorted men — a threatening stranger, a vigilante dentist and an abusive ex (John Hawkes) — who collectively suggest another wall that has closed Mildred in.

Dana Stevens, Slate, adds to our understanding of Mildred:

…(T)hough Mildred makes many choices that are reprehensible or downright dangerous, McDormand never fails to convince us of the fundamental decency of this woman, a tragic heroine struggling to find even the tiniest scrap of meaning in a comically awful world…Mildred is a tough person to be around…there are moments late in the movie when she commits acts that push at the limits of audience sympathy and goodwill. But McDormand, at age 60 one of our most gifted and least calculating actresses, fearlessly challenges us to love her character anyway.

How does the police department deal with Mildred? Kate Taylor, Globe and Mail: “The decent Willoughby (another finely crafted portrait of sympathetic masculinity from [Woody] Harrelson) tries to pacify her and rein in the most vicious of his officers, the explosively racist Dixon, played by Sam Rockwell in full psychopath mode.”

April Wolfe, LA Weeklyaddresses dynamics that ultimately may leave some viewers dissatisfied:

[Director] McDonagh painstakingly humanizes a character who we find has unapologetically tortured a black man in police custody. And then Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri seems to ask audiences to forgive and forget wrongs like police violence, domestic abuse and sexual assault without demonstrating a full understanding of the centuries-long toll these crimes have taken on victims in real life.

There’s another problematic issue too. The Globe and Mail’s Taylor: “If the film fails to solve Dixon’s emotional puzzle, another one that remains troubling is Mildred’s relationship with her teenage son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges), the only remnant of her family and link to her motherhood, yet apparently an afterthought in her crazed planning.”

Nevertheless, this is a movie, one with overall positive reviews, that makes you mull such things over. In closing:

...(T)here’s no better time than right now for a high-profile movie led by a meaty, complicated female character — and no better actress than McDormand to take it on. And you can put that on a billboard. Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press, regarding Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

…just the bitter pill the times call for, offered with a loving cup to make it go down just a bit easier. Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

…a cathartic wail against the zeitgeist of rape culture and state brutality. It’s a rallying cry, a right hook to the jaw, and wow, does it ever hurt so good. Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service