Movies I’ve Recently Seen: Coco, Three Billboards…, Leningrad Cowboys…, & Faces Places

Amazingly, I really liked all four films.

Coco (2017), Coast Cinema, Fort Bragg

This beautiful journey into Mexican traditions of the afterlife (via big-budget Hollywood, of course) manages to be serious, emotional, and fun. Young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) belongs to a family of shoemakers who hate music. But music runs deep in the boy’s soul. On the Day of the Dead, he accidentally goes to the other side, even though he’s still alive. To come back, he must learn a lot about life in general and his family in particular. And, since Pixar made this movie, his journey is also funny, suspenseful, exciting, and visually stunning.

And yes, there is a character, Miguel’s great-grandmother, named Coco. You’ll have to watch the whole film to discover why she’s the title character.

Like a lot of movie theaters these days, the Coast Cinema shows commercials before the trailers. But in Fort Bragg, the commercials were decidedly local – an insurance agent, a restaurant, and even a medical marijuana dispensary (and that’s for a kids’ movie).

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), California Theater
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Here’s a movie you can’t pin down by genre. It’s a dark comedy, a serious drama, and a murder mystery laced with frightening violence. Frances McDormand, brilliant as always, stars as a small-town mother consumed with the hunt for her daughter’s killer. The crime happened months ago, and the cops have stopped actively investigating the case. So she puts up three billboards attacking the police chief (Woody Harrelson), even though he’s dying of cancer. Nothing is simple here. Characters you root for do despicable things. And at least one despicable character finds some good in himself. The excellent cast includes Sam Rockwell and the always wonderful Peter Dinklage.

Leningrad Cowboys Go America, FilmStruck

Very funny! A strange family of musicians, all wearing the world’s weirdest hairdo (which matches their equally-weird shoes), set out from their home in the steppes to win fame and fortune in America. Trouble is, no one in America wants their music, and they must learn quickly about rock and roll. Meanwhile, their manager is eating like a king while the musicians starve. Filled with sharp, deadpan humor. The music is often awful, occasionally good, and always weird. I think it may also be a satire about Communism.

B+ Faces Places (2017), Pacific Film Archive

Elderly filmmaker Agnès Varda and young photographer/muralist JR travel across France, photographing people (mostly blue collar), talking to them, and putting up photo murals on the sides of buildings and other structures. JR has a real knack for turning existing structures into art; he places his giant photos so that they work with the shape of the existing buildings, windows, and staircases. The two make an interesting pair; the athletic JR leaps from one structure to another while Varda, in her late 80s, walks with a cane. Matthieu Chedid’s slow but joyful music brings it all together.