A Bitter Harvest (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2017)

three_billboards_posterWhen grieving mother Mildred takes the drastic measure of renting three billboards asking the local Police Chief Willoughby why he has not arrested anyone in the rape and murder of her daughter, the town is thrown into strife. Many believe it is unfair to call out Willoughby. Officer Dixon (an abusive racist cop) is especially incensed, because he feels she has attacked a great man. Add to that, Willoughby is facing a death sentence with cancer.

Three Billboards is a very good film. I want to get that out of the way.  The film is heartbreaking, angering and funny.  Frances McDormand’s Mildred is both sympathetic and a bit infuriating. In one scene, on a date, she is forced to face that she can be quite insensitive. You understand she is in a lot of pain, but she is remarkably out of touch with the world around her, even when people reach out in kindness.  And Woody Harrelson turns in a solid performance as the exasperated Willoughby, a man who seems to believe everyone in town is basically good, including racist Dixon.

And this is kind of the problem the movie has. See, Dixon is a violent racist, one scene plays it up for laughs. In another he violently attacks a the owner of the billboards and punches the man’s secretary in the face. And he just gets fired. Yet the film wants us to see this as a lead up to his redemption. And the film never earns that. There is no evidence he has seen the light for his racism. And even when he has a noble moment, in the end, he and Mildred go on a mission that…well…is morally dark.

I think this was best addressed by video essayist addressed it best in his video “How (Not) To Discuss Racism In Film.  I am including it here, but please note there are massive spoilers.

Moonshine (Transformers: Dark of the Moon,2011)

Transformers-Dark-Of-The-Moon-PosterSo the Autobots came to earth in an attempt to escape with a weapon the Decepticons wanted.  It was lost when it bumped into our moon.  On board is Sentinal Prime.  Turns out when they established Optimus was the Last Prime in the previous film…it was incorrect.

Sam is no longer with Mikaela, instead he lives with his new hot girlfriend who is introduced to the audience with a five minute tracking shot focused solely on her ass.  Because what better way to introduce you cast member.  It is not presented with any eye of satire or self criticism.  The Autobot’s relationship with the Government is a bit stressed, and when there is a betrayal, the Decepticons make a threat to the world to get rid of the Autobots.  Chicago is totaled as they take over.

Again, the effects look great and the cast is absurdly good.  Frances McDormand, Alan Tudyk, Leonard Nimoy and John Malkovich join the mostly returning cast.  But the frustrating thing here is that some of the characterization feels off.  The fact that Sam is still lacking any confidence is tremendously nervous is tiring.  He is a goof, yet (among other things) gets stunning girlfriends and has directly saved the world twice before this film.  There is no evidence that people think he is a joke, so the idea he cannot get a higher level job than a mail-room clerk is hard to believe.  The character has not grown at all since his introduction in 2007.

In the beginning, Optimus Prime is pretty in character as a noble leader and warrior.  But towards the end of the film he lets thousands die to teach Earth a lesson about how needed the Autobots are.  He coldly kills characters who are surrendering and begging for mercy.

I noted in the Revenge of the Fallen review that Fox was gone after that.  According to production interviews with Bay the reason Fox was gone?  She looked different when she came in for the third film.  He heavily implies that she had enough surgery that she looked nothing like her character anymore.  Bay laments that “for some reason” women in the entertainment industry feel a need to “change their looks”.  Has Michael Bay actually seen one of his movies?  Because if he has, he might get a clue as to why actresses “change their appearance”.  And to replace Fox?  He hired a model (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) who had never acted before.  Because being an actress is unnecessary for a Michael Bay film.

The story is another revision to the series…every film to this point revises why the Autobots and Decepticons are here.  The effects and stunts are the high point.  And that is about it.  Maybe these are the best they can do with a toy robot collection.  But that should not be the case.  Creativity should be possible, even with a toy based franchise.

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