“The Square”, Way Outside the Box

There were many reasons to escape into the cinema today; 11 hours (in two days) of intense retail work (100% friendly customers though), wide angle steer clear of some who haven’t found their zen, and an ice cold message from a former college sweetheart. Need I go on?

I was even willing to go solo to “The Square” knowing how much I loved the director’s (Ruben Ostlund) previous film “Force Majeure” which was nominated for a Golden Globe back in 2015. But to the companionship rescue galloped my friend Dave, who went way outside his box by attending a foreign film of considerable length, 2:22.

And just like Mikey in the old Life commercials, he liked it! And so did I….but….

Ok positives first:
Tremendous screen writing*. This film had that verisimilitude that the phrase “you can’t make this sh*& up” implies. I won’t give away any of the ‘what the bleep just happened’ moments, but three stand out specifically to me.

The acting was top notch: Claes Bang, who rarely leaves the screen, was totally believable as the museum director who slides down the slippery slope of megalomaniac justice seeker. Elisabeth Moss’s character is if the Handmaid (she’s in the Margaret Atwood novel inspired tv series) got revenge by going off the deep end.

Cinematography, again, gorgeous, from the sex scenes to the art work, to the spiral staircases that symbolically end in a square, just fabulous.

And if the *one wild loose end that isn’t tied up is a message that we care more about the impact of fictional work then we do human reality, then let’s give this movie the Academy Award. Though Ruben should really have a flyer ready to explain that to people on their way out.

My only gripe (besides the obscurity of the aforementioned) was the last 15 minutes. If Ruben had ended it at the press conference, hand the Oscar over right now. But to go on and on meandering to a cheerleader’s competition and then a near miss at a dumb ass parent move (never leave your kids in a car in a strange place) which negates character development (like hello, wasn’t that what got you in the mess to begin with?) was a disappointment. Like a Fuji apple I have thoroughly enjoyed only to find a rotten spot on the last bite, that’s “The Square”.

But all is forgiven. One last bite can’t spoil the wonderful surprises, much needed escape, and calm company this experience supplied. Go see this.

Two’s Company, Three Billboards a Crowd

There’s some aspects to appreciate about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Mo. Martin McDonagh is a proven writer (In Bruges, The Pillow Man), but while Three Billboards has some unique qualities; a snapshot of small town America, some complex characters, and lot of twists, I couldn’t love it.

First, the positives: my incredible bias for Sam Rockwell. If you’ve read my blog, you know he’s one of my top five actors of all time. Unfortunately in this film, he’s a despicable character, but I appreciate he can’t always wear the white hat and I’m also amazed at how young the guy can look with a super short hair cut (he’s 49, but looks 30 here).

Second, two scenes were gorgeously done. One, the orange juice scene which I won’t go into due to spoilers, but this was almost Magnoliaesque (Magnolia is a movie by PT Anderson with MANY memorable poignant vignettes). In this scene, props to Caleb Landry Jones (who was also impressive recently in American Made). Two, the comeuppance lecture Frances gives to the priest that comes to console was priceless and should be tweeted to the world.

And of course the star of the show, Frances McDormand. There’s not much this lady can’t do, though she hasn’t mastered Streepian epic tales or dialects (besides North Dakota), she can do no wrong in the dramedy department. She deserves a nomination, but not the win for this. Sorry, the Lady Bird still soars higher. Or even Aubrey Plaza for Ingrid Goes West.

A minor character who stood out for me was John Hawkes who looks so much like Chris Cooper that they could be brothers. He really glows as Frances’s ner do well ex-husband. But again, because he is written as an over the top cad, it’s a turn off.

Who else? Woody Harrelson is solid as ever, but not given much to play with, here. And the actress choice for the wife seemed weird-a wine drunk with a British accent telling her husband with cancer to go shovel the horse barn? What kind of vicious c word does that? And the kids, equally unbelievable. I see where McDonaugh was going, showing Woody as forgivable foil, but better actor choices and writing in this subplot would have helped a lot.

Lucas Hedges is over saturated now. Let’s give some other young adult actors a chance.

Peter Dinkler does a great job, but watching rude behavior toward little people is not funny, nor is using the word retard or the n-word. Don’t get me wrong, McDonaugh was attempting to show these folks as buffoons, but it’s so crass to watch these days in light of the actual idiots that still remain in the U.S. that it’s tough to watch. God help us if there’s a small town and police department actually in existence with such ignorance.

The violence was also over the top. Yes, I know this is McDonaugh’s trademark, but I don’t care. No one survives being beaten and thrown out a second floor window, nor receiving third degree burns…let’s start portraying violence as truly harmful so kids brought in stupidly by ignorant parents don’t get the desensitized impression you just bounce back from these type of injuries.

I enjoyed the moral arc of the characters and the theme of hope. But the aforementioned unrealistic characters and plot did not impress me. In Bruges brought a tear to my eye, but Three Billboards just made me chagrin.