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Three Billboards Outisde Ebbing, Missouri

Despite the long title, ‘Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri’ is anything but a long-winded movie. It gets straight to the point which any well-written script should do. Taking its cue from the Coen Brother’s movies, ‘Three Billboards’ shares many similarities with their films. It also shares a few of its cast including Frances McDormand who once again proves to be an excellent performer. It’s always a pleasure watching a finely crafted film with ‘Three Billboards’ marking its cinematic territory with confidence.

When her daughter is brutally murdered, her mother Mildred (Frances McDormand) goes to pieces. Expecting the police to find the culprit, she patiently waits. After months go by without a result, Mildred takes matters into her own hands. Painting three huge signs, she directs her scorn at the local Chief of Police Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). With his second in command Dixon (Sam Rockwell) on hand, Willoughby tries to placate an irate Mildred. Events escalate between her and the local law enforcement as the chance to catch her daughter’s killer gradually fades.

‘Three Billboards’ makes a virtue of its unpredictability. When you think you know how the story will go, it suddenly takes a sharp turn into the unknown into a more exciting area. That’s the mark of a finely-tuned script, written by Director Martin McDonagh who also created the great movie ‘In Bruges’. Not only does he deliver flawed, interesting characters and crackling dialogue, he effectively creates an atmosphere of foreboding tension over the small town in which they reside. Despite surface appearances, there are no true ‘heroes’ or ‘villains’, just desperate but determined people facing the consequences of their actions.

The performances are first rate with McDormand’s tough as nails character running the gamut of emotions from guilt to rage with Rockwell and others very solid in their roles. ‘Three Billboards’ is more black comedy than serious drama but the performers keep things at an even keel without resorting to melodramatics. The use of flashback and switched time-lines maintains interest and successfully gives the off-kilter feel McDonagh aims for. ‘Three Billboards’ plays with traditional plot narratives and twists character perceptions making it compelling, enabling it to stand out amongst a sea of formulaic dross.

Everyone should be proud to be associated with ‘Three Billboards’ as it has its own unique story-telling edge. That’s difficult to do with thousands of stories out there but its’ efforts in crafting something different is commendable. Those choosing to move along with its occasionally peculiar techniques will be rewarded a fine viewing experience few can match.

Rating out of 10: 8

Pitch Perfect 3

Since 2011, the ‘Pitch Perfect’ series has been very popular. A simple tale of a group of female singers wanting to make it to the big-time has struck a chord with audiences. Taking a leaf out of the current craze of countless TV singing and dancing shows, the combination of both delivers the goods for those wanting a fun musical comedy. Returning for a third helping ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ aims to close the franchise with an aria of lyrical silliness before the final curtain.

Struggling to go on with their lives and work ‘real’ jobs, The Barden Bellas singing troupe feel lost. When former member Aubrey (Anna Camp) plots to reunite the group for a European tour, her cohorts eagerly agree. Among them are Becca (Anna Kendrick) and Pat ‘Fat’ Amy (Rebel Wilson). Ready to battle it out with their voices, they hit various personal and professional obstacles. Determined to win despite these hiccups, the ladies aim to band together to reach the high notes of victory.

‘Pitch Perfect 3’ plays like a comic-book superhero movie without the special powers. It’s also without much substance as it loosely cobbles together a string of scenes without much depth. But you don’t see these films for that as they are meant to entertain providing a modicum of toe-tapping tunes. It mostly succeeds even if the singing feels too slick and professional for these so-called amateur singers. The story also groans under the weight of too many characters with several receiving short shrift. Given the brief run-time, it may have been better to reduce the cast or a few of its many story-lines.

The franchise hasn’t been known for its acting with ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ having little of it. The women are there to look good while singing the auto-tuned heavy cover songs. Only John Lithgow, as Pat’s father, stands out because of his truly appalling attempt at an Australian accent. This gives a lot of unintentional humour and brightens up a rather pedestrian script. Trish Sie’s direction comes alive during the well-staged song numbers with the lush cinematography wringing much from the European locales which successfully teases out their vibrant colours.

‘Pitch Perfect 3’ isn’t great but nor is it unwatchable. If you want to see a bunch of ladies get up to musical hijinks then this is the film for you. ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ is harmless fluff that at least isn’t boring with any bum notes vanishing before the melodic finale.

Rating out of 10: 5