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#Critics Cinema

#Critics Cinema

The Florida Project

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 09:00 AM PST

In a rundown hotel walking distance from Disney World live 6 year-old Mooney (Brooklynn Prince) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). Set during a single summer, the film focuses on Mooney's friendships with Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and her mother's struggles, scams, and cons to come up with rent every week while a fall-out with her best friend (Mela Murder) causes trouble for her both herself and her daughter.

The Florida Project is amazing, but it isn't a fun movie. There are no cute twists, easy answers, or tacked on happy endings for Halley or her daughter. Left largely to their own devices the kids get into trouble beyond regular childhood mischief, and the compromises Halley makes to feed and house her daughter lead to a heartbreaking finale. There's not much plot as settings and circumstances are fleshed out by showcasing the average days in which the characters live. I'm not sure how much of the children's scenes were scripted, and how much was improvised by letting them run wild, but young Miss Prince proves more than up to the challenge when the story gets serious in the film's final act.

In many ways as childlike as her daughter, Halley is a loving mother who is always looking for an easy answer to whatever issue arises. Her child needs food? She calls on her friend the waitress at the local diner. She needs rent money? She scams tourists. She has trouble with someone at the hotel? She solves it with her sharp tongue and fists. Despite her obvious love for her daughter, it's clear that Halley is treading water to keep them afloat for as long as she can, but sooner or later the tide with overtake them both.

In a crucial supporting role, Willem Dafoe is terrific as the hotel's manager and maintenance man. Despite his gruff exterior, and them being a constant pain in his ass, he continues to look out for Halley and the kids, carrying as much about the occupants as keeping the rundown hotel in shape. It's been more than 15 years since the actor's last Oscar nomination, but based on his performance here there's a good chance he'll be walking the carpet next spring.

A more cohesive plot may have helped flesh-out the story a bit more and given a more structured storyline, but co-writer and director Sean Baker plays to his cast's strength while framing the story of a marginalized family and their struggles with an unflinching camera. Set almost literally in the shadow of the "happiest place on Earth," there's a joy in the children's rambunctiousness, and in Halley's love for her daughter, but the shadow of Mickey Mouse can only cover up deeper issues for so long, even for the mischievous and lighthearted Mooney who can't help but begin to see cracks in the fantastical world of her imagination.

Last Flag Flying

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 06:00 AM PST

Last Flag Flying is a by-the-numbers road trip movie featuring three talented actors (Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne) and an experienced director (Richard Linklater), all of whom have done more memorable work. The film centers around Carell's character seeking out two Vietnam War buddies when he learns his son's body is being shipped back from Afghanistan. Having not seen each other in decades, and tied together by an irresponsible act that left another member of their unit dead, the odd couple of Fishburne and Cranston begin the long journey to help their old friend bury his son.

There's nothing really wrong with the film, other than being Linklater's least-ambitious project in recent memory. This is the man who spent more than a decade putting Boyhood together and crafted the most accurate version of a Philip K. Dick story we've ever seen on film. The solid, if predictable, script offers plenty of moments for each of the three actors to shine. It has its heart in the right place and should play well to both military and civilian families alike, although I didn't find the film's emotional moments as affecting as the film's premise suggests.

The Square

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 10:01 PM PST

I'll be honest, I don't know exactly what to make of The Square. It's hard to create a satire poking fun at pretentiousness when your film is at least as pretentious as as the subject of your mockery. Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund's film certainly provides its share of moments satirizing modern art, middling celebrities, what wealthy donors of the arts really care about, and marketers. However, the film is over-brimming with subplots involving a threatening letter, a mugging, an angry child, a crazy one-night stand (Elisabeth Moss), and a marketing plan so ridiculous it's impossible to take it seriously.

Claes Bang stars as the curator and public face of a museum in Stockholm about to unveil their newest addition (which gives the film its name). The wistful, if hopelessly naive, piece of art is a square in which the artist believes that whoever enters leaves all negativity behind and will receive whatever help they need from those that pass by. As concepts go it's no more or less ridiculous than an artist (Terry Notary) jumping around like an ape and nearly sexually-violating a young woman during a dinner for wealthy donors.

With a meandering 142-minute running time, The Square is desperately in need of a tighter script and extensive editing. While I can't recommend the film, it's just weird enough for me also to not be able to completely dismiss it. That said, if you do decide to give it a chance, I'd hold off until home video where your fast-forward button could prove very beneficial.