The Florida Project Review

At my screening of The Florida Project during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, director and co-writer Sean Baker directed a questioner to Google the film’s title to learn what it means. “It’s been harder […] to Google it since the film came out,” he admits. “Now we’re the one that comes up on Wikipedia first, which is weird.” That’s saying something because the original Florida Project refers to none other than Disney World itself, the epicenter of the Sunshine State under whose shadow Baker’s film (which our own Chris Evangelista called one of the best of 2017) takes place.

In 1966, shortly before he passed away, Walt Disney created a documentary laying out his vision for “the Florida Project,” a utopian community where free enterprise could cure the ails of the modern city. (Watch for yourself on YouTube, while you can, to marvel at his ultimately unrealized dream.) In his original vision for EPCOT, Disney envisioned a city without slums or ghettoes. Now, half a century later, the site of his idyllic metropolis showcases some of the starkest inequality in America, where children like the ones in The Florida Project grow up in motels along the same roads that others take to the Magic Kingdom.

But in my interview with Sean Baker, we focused less on this ironic contrast and more on the deep reserve of humanity and empathy shown for the people who dwell there.

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lean on pete review

Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete is a social realist drama of the highest order, combining the gentle pastoral touch of David Lynch’s The Straight Story with a probing sympathy for individuals on the edge of society recalling the best of the Dardenne brothers. There’s no armchair sociology here, just rich character observation steeped in a spirit of compassion. Haigh never veers into grandstanding “issues movie” territory or troubled youth drama. It’s just the story of an adolescent boy in need of the tiniest bit of permanence and security.

That boy is 15-year-old Charley Thompson, played by Charlie Plummer, a pure but restless soul hitched to the fortunes of his good-natured single father Ray (Travis Fimmel). When the film starts, the two are just getting settled into a new home in Portland, and Charley clearly has the routine down. He unpacks his trophies, goes for a run around unfamiliar streets to acquaint himself with the area and puts his Cap’n Crunch in the refrigerator to avoid the roaches. Charley is no hopeless, despairing victim – he’s just stuck in a situation beyond his control. From a young age, he has already learned not to get sentimental and accept nothing as permanent.

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let the corpses tan

Anyone who can bear to stare directly into Let the Corpses Tan may walk away with the sensation that their eyelids are burning, almost as if someone seared them with a scalding hot poker. That’s by design. And for those who don’t mind the pain, the embrace of directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani will provide a masochistic thrill.

This isn’t just gross-out, go-for-broke genre cinema. Let the Corpses Tan begins with a jarring gunshot, from which Cattet and Forzani proceed to fire on all cylinders, deploying a full arsenal of cinematic techniques to induce the visceral response they seek. Color, framing, montage – you name it, they’re using it at full throttle. Edited at the zippy speed of a sleek commercial, this is 90 minutes of pure cinematic sensory assault.

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foxtrot review

Comedy and tragedy are usually treated as two wildly different emotions – the Golden Globes even consider them so different as to break up their film awards into two tracks on those lines. But for a writer/director like Samuel Maoz, the dichotomy is not so clear-cut. His new film Foxtrot, the stealth sensation of 2017’s fall festival season, evinces how these two experiences are not opposites, but rather two sides of the same coin. Maoz, in just his second narrative feature, repeatedly demonstrates the way hilarity and calamity are never far removed from one another. Just one break in the other direction can produce a wild twist of fate.

With the absurdist deadpan of Swedish master Roy Andersson, Foxtrot captures a unique look at how young men respond to both the banality and boredom of war, as well as how adults absorb the trauma of death. It’s best to let the strange whims of life in the film guide the viewing journey; go in as blind as possible. As he charts the impact of a calamitous development, Maoz responds to a full range of human reactions. They’re never treated as separate gears to operate. Instead, pain and humor are complementary forces that overlap and bleed into each other.

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unicorn store review

“The most grown-up thing you can do is fail at things you really care about,” imparts Joan Cusack’s Gladys to her daughter, Brie Larson’s Kit, towards the close of Unicorn Store. It’s the perfect nugget of wisdom for a tale of stilted, prolonged adolescence. But the film, Larson’s debut behind the camera, is a world away from the Seth Rogen-style manchild so prevalent in the past decade of comedy.

Kit, like many millennials, struggles to adapt to a corporate environment and bristles at the drabness of office life. She’s an artist by training with an instinct to color outside the lines, a proclivity received unkindly by her stern professor. Kit snags a temporary gig at PR&R PR, where she finds herself unsure of how to reconcile her well-nurtured passion for individual expression with the mandate to be a productive, contributing member of society. At this sterile company, suit-clad men envision selling products on their purpose alone. Kit wants to set her imagination free to convey how those same products make her feel.

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Man on the Moon Documentary - Man on the Moon Documentary - Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond Review

“When did this movie start?” asks a modern-day Jim Carrey to director Chris Smith. It’s the start of what we know as Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond – With a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. It’s also probably one of the more normal things Carrey says or does throughout the documentary, a work presenting unreleased footage shot by Carrey behind the scenes of his Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon.

Read our Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond review from TIFF below. Read More »

First Reformed Review

We’ve quietly entered a renaissance of master American filmmakers tackling religious subjects with the gravity, dignity and seriousness they deserve. Add Paul Schrader’s latest movie First Reformed to a growing list of modern masterpieces on faith through hardship that includes Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man and James Gray’s The Immigrant.

Read our full First Reformed review from TIFF below. Read More »

hostiles review

“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” So begins the epigraph of Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, a Western that explores America’s then-undeveloped territories as a fertile ground for nihilism, despair and self-reflection. Gone is the frontier myth of endless possibility and opportunity, replaced by a plot that is quite literally a march towards death.

As his final assignment, Christian Bale’s hardened Captain Joseph Blocker gets charged to return Adam Studi’s ailing war chief Yellow Hawk back to his tribe’s sacred land in the Montana territory. It’s a ferrying operation of the direst degree, and one that Joseph approaches with a fair amount of trepidation. He knows the route and the perils inherent in crossing this way. In order to let Yellow Hawk die with dignity, many others may die along the way getting there.

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On Chesil Beach Review

A novel is a novel, and a movie is a movie. A novel can be turned into a movie, but to do so successfully, it must surrender certain properties of the page to better suit the screen. This seems obvious, but it bears repeating because this common sense seemed to escape Ian McEwan when adapting his own novella On Chesil Beach for the cinema. By keeping a literary structure intact, the film is dead on arrival. Read More »

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kings review

Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Kings is the latest, but almost assuredly not the last, cinematic response to the increased visibility and amplified intensity surrounding conversations on police brutality towards black Americans. The Turkish director claims to have been working on the project for over a decade since she attended film school in the United States, and it’s highly likely that a significant factor in getting the film greenlit (and attracting the talent it did) came from the continued prevalence of racially biased policing in the news. If we’re due for a rash of these woke-minded dramas, though, they need to have a firmer, more strident voice than what Ergüven displays here.

The writer/director casts her gaze back a quarter-century to the Los Angeles riots of 1992 following the acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King. She’s correct to observe from the outset that the situation was so tense that it resembled a volcano, a comparison she makes by quite literally superimposing faded footage of lava over aerial footage of the City of Angels. It’s heavy-handed, sure, but at least Ergüven is saying something here. The rest of Kings is a muddled mess of narrative threads and half-considered ideas, intimations of intriguing stories that she never gives the chance to develop.

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