Ben Is Back (2018)

Damn you Cineworld. This film, for whatever reason, wasn’t shown at my local cinema. It’s weird, they had trailers for it, and posters up, but then didn’t show the actual film. It’s a shame as I really wish I saw this with other people. It’s a film that’s crying out for witnessing alongside people so you can see their emotional reaction. I really liked this film. I thought it would suffer from being very similar to Beautiful Boy. In reality, all it does is make Beautiful Boy look worse. It makes it seem slightly more selfish in comparison. I’m not saying it was selfish, but that film ended with details about the family the film is about, whilst this one ends with details for addiction centres to contact if you’re suffering too.

There’s one other moment where this film definitely wins out for me: when it shows us WHY the character is addicted to drugs. He got put on highly addictive pain medication by his doctor. This information is showcased in the best possible way; by having Julia Roberts approach the doctor who prescribed them saying they’re not addictive (and who is now suffering from dementia), and basically calls him an asshole. It’s a great scene, and it’s one which showcases an ugly truth that the world tries to hide; the role of prescription drugs in drug abuse. Drugs addicts are usually showcased as having their journey start with “they wanted to be cool so sparked up a marijuana doobie at the discotheque with their fellow cool cats” or “Their parents asked them to tidy their room so they rebelled by injecting heroin into their eyeballs”. This allows us to not care about drug users as we see them as junkies and losers, which makes it easier to dehumanise them and support policies which harshly punish them (and ironically driving them more towards drugs). This means that any form of funding for addiction centres is pushed against because “they’re just loser junkies, they shouldn’t get government help”, so that money instead gets spent on expensive bottles of whiskey for politicians (that’s not a joke btw, the houses of parliament has a fully taxpayer-funded bar which has led to at least one politician getting so drunk he couldn’t vote, which is his job. If I drank at work I’d be fired). This film shows HOW addiction can start, and how it can happen to literally anybody with the way the medical system is operated which decides to just throw pain pills at everything because things like physical therapy will take too long and doesn’t make drug companies any money.

I guess I should actually start talking about this film, right? Fine *sulks*. I’m starting to really like Julia Roberts. I didn’t at first as I saw her as emblematic of what I dislike about Hollywood, style over substance with really bland stories which just play it safe, over sanitised films you feel you’ve seen before you’ve seen them because of how formulaic they are. Those films don’t allow you to see much performance as a lot of the characters are flat and don’t get to showcase much genuine emotion. Lately, she’s been in some films that show how talented she really is. Her performance helped to anchor Money Monster (which is a real forgotten gem), and she is BRILLIANT in the remake of Secret In Their Eyes. Her great run continues in this. Her anger, pain, and the emotional frailty this situation is giving her are all over her character and she performs them perfectly. Lucas Hedges also continues to show that he is really f*cking good. He’s in a weird position as he’s been critically acclaimed, yet hasn’t yet gone into full mainstream where you can use his name to sell a film to a casual audience. I feel he’s nearly there though. He’s just one film away from fully breaking through, and when he does it’s going to be magnificent. He has a great future ahead of him, and I look forward to it.

So yeah, if you get a chance to watch this, you have to see it. It’s that damn good. It’s emotionally devastating and beautifully ugly.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

*whispers* I think I liked this more than Coco. Now, obviously, they’re two very different films. But when a Pixar film is one of the first films you see all year it can sometimes seem like the cinematic year has peaked already. Thank god for this film then, showing that there is hope. Well, I say “hope”, this film isn’t one that really gives you that. It’s unrelenting in its bleakness, yet conversely is also incredibly funny. This is not a pleasing film, but it is a satisfying one.

This is the kind of film you don’t really watch as a film, you experience it. There’s no happy ending, good deeds go punished and bad deeds are rewarded. This does affect the way you watch it at the cinema. There’s a certain point in the film where a major event happens (not spoiling it as you REALLY need to see this film) and it feels like this is what the film has been building to. It felt like a natural crescendo for the film, where even if it wasn’t the ending it would be very close to it. I saw people quickly finish their drinks and food in preparation, then the film continued for like another half hour. The enthusiasm and the mood in the room deflated like a…..well, like a balloon being deflated. Kind of annoying, but also kind of wonderful. That’s basically the point of life, isn’t it? That there are no definitive endings and sometimes all you have is more questions.

three-billboards-outside-ebbing-missouri-landscape
This is one of about three scenes in the film which are in contention for best of the year

The story wouldn’t be much though if it didn’t have the right cast to play it out. The cast that’s put together for this is absolutely superb, it’s been well documented how good Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell are in this. But the supporting cast is great too. Caleb Landry Jones is smug enough so that even he’s right you still kind of want to punch him and throw him through a window. Lucas Hedges continues to show that his work in Manchester By The Sea wasn’t a one-off bit of luck. Just generally a great ensemble cast. But I do need to point out the leads. I’ve watched a lot of films with Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell in, so it should be difficult for me to lose myself in a film starring them. It should be really difficult for me to not think of them as Woody and Sam, and to start thinking of them as the characters they are. But they’re so damn good that you do get lost in their performances, you buy into their characters easily. There’s one scene in particular where Woody Harrelson’s character is in an argument with Frances McDormand’s when he suddenly coughs up blood onto her. The way the actors play it is perfect, they instantly switch gears from an emotionally intense scene to a different kind of intensity. It’s a stunningly beautiful piece of acting, and a scene everybody should watch.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI
“So how’s it all going in the nigger- torturing business, Dixon? “It’s ‘Persons of color’-torturing business, these days, if you want to know. And I didn’t torture nobody.”

I will admit I’ve struggled to write this review. It’s much easier to write reviews of bad films or films which could be improved. For this all you can say is “it’s really good”. Can’t point out problems, can’t point out weak links in it. I can’t even moan about it being underrepresented at awards shows. If it had M.Night directing it at least it would have had a twist ending where it turned out to be something to do with aliens. I mean, it would have been shit and ruined the film, but it would have given me something interesting to write about. Damn this film and it’s wonderful, brilliant greatness.