Submit your e-mail and get the new reviews fresh to your inbox

Eagerly anticipating this week ... (16-18)

Eagerly anticipating this week ... (16-18)
William Friedkin's The Devil and Father Amorth (2017, documentary)


The Edukators/Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei (2004) - Strong character portrayals elevate Weingartner's idealistic drama

The three young idealist stars of Hans Weingartner's The Edukators stand and observe us against a wall on this poster for the film

Two anti-capitalist activist comrades break into rich people's homes and move around their belongings and leave messages. But as a girl enters between them, and they kidnap a businessman, their friendship and political idealism is put to the test.

The Edukators, written by Katharina Held (Free Rainer (2007)) and co-writer-director Hans Weingartner (The White Sound/Das Weiße Rauschen (2001)), is something as rare as a revolutionary, modern film.
Perhaps fitting for its subject, young socialist activists, it is shot with handheld digital cameras that denies the film aesthetically pleasing film qualities. The result, however, is that The Edukators is an ugly watch. - Except for the pleasantness of the three both beautiful and very well-playing leads, portrayed by Daniel Brühl (A Most Wanted Man (2014)), Julia Jentsch (The Murder Farm/Tannöd (2009)) and Stipe Erceg (Operation Libertad (2012)).
They make The Edukators, - which is the name they take as an activist group, - captivating. I didn't personally sympathize with their characters' actions, but they succeeded in making me sympathize with them as characters, which is another thing, and a very valuable one.
The Edukators is a thought-provoking and idealistic debate movie-political drama romance.

Watch a scene from the film here

Cost: 250k €, equaling approximately 309k $
Box office:  Reportedly 8.1 mil. $
= Mega-hit
[The Edukators premiered 17 May (Cannes Film Festival) and runs 127 minutes. Weingartner has stated that the film reflects his own past as a political activist and experience in a love triangle. He has also claimed that he was offered a big US studio budget, but that he preferred to take a 250k € loan, using his parents' home as collateral, to make the film on a low budget. Shooting took place in Germany, including Berlin, Austria, Spain and France. The film opened #70 in 2 theaters to a 10k $ first weekend in North America, where it peaked at #57 and in 19 theaters and grossed 175k $ (2.2 % of the total gross). The film's biggest 3 markets where its native Germany with 4.5 mil. $ (55.6%) from almost 890k audiences, native Austria with 0.4 mil. $ (4.9%) and the UK with 269k $ (3.3 %). The listed markets at Box Office Mojo only comes to 5.7 mil. $, so several grosses are missing, if the 8.1 mil. $ world gross listed is accurate. The film was nominated for a European award, won2/3 German Film awards, among other honors. It has inspired activists in Germany - to steal food and give to the poor in 2006 - and the US - where a statue was stolen from Bernie Maddoff in 2009 and returned signed The Edukators. A US remake was in talks with Brad Anderson helming it, but it has never come to fruition. Weingartner returned with Free Rainer (2007). Brühl returned in Ladies in Lavender (2004)); Jentsch in Downfall/Der Untergang (2004) and Erceg in Don't Look for Me/Such Mich Nicht (2004). The Edukators is fresh at 69 % with a 6.5 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of The Edukators?


Fragile/Frágiles (2005) - Balagueró's flawed children's hospital horror

A person is sitting in a moldy, dark room in what appears a painful predicament in a wheelchair in this sinister-indicating poster for Jaume Balagueró's Fragile

A traumatized American nurse is hired by a children's hospital on a small, English island. Here a passed away former nurse by the name of Charlotte haunts the place with a nasty habit of breaking the children's bones, - to prevent them from leaving her, naturally.

Fragile is written by Jordi Galceran (The Method (2005, play)) and co-writer-director Jaume Balagueró ([Rec] (2007)). It stars Calista Flockhart (Drunks (1995)), whom anyone who used to watch and appreciate Ally McBeal (1997-02)) will feel nostalgic to see again, (she has acted post-Ally but almost solely in TV), but unfortunately this Spain/UK horror co-production also reveals that she isn't a top-tier actress. That is a major downside for the film, as her role has to carry so much of it. Its writing is also at times a bit banal and predictable.
On the other hand, Fragile has a first-rate score by Roque Baños (Evil Dead (2013)) and a very affecting sound design. It also has those bone-cracking scenes, which are intriguingly frightening.

Listen to Roque Baños' score for the film here

Cost:Reportedly 7 mil. €, equaling approximately 8.62 mil. $
Box office: 6.6 mil. $
= Huge flop
[Fragile premiered 2 September (Venice Film Festival, Italy) and runs 93 minutes. Shooting took place in England and Spain from August - December 2004. The biggest markets were Spain with 3.2 mil. $ (48.5 % of the total gross) and Italy with 1.3 mil. $ (19-7 %). The film lacked theatrical releases in North America, the UK, France (only a film festival release) and Germany. It won 1/2 Goya awards nominations, Spain's Oscar. Balagueró returned with To Let (2006, TV movie) and theatrically with zombie horror hit [Rec] (2007). Flockhart returned in Brothers & Sisters (2006-11). 14,081 IMDb users have given Fragile a 6.1/10 critical average.]

What do you think of Fragile?


Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) - Universal's first monster bash is low on frights but entertains

This exciting poster in splashy colors for Roy William Neill's Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man promises monstrous action and a scantily clad blond

The Wolf Man is awoken to life by graverobbers and flees from England to the village of Vasaria, where Dr. Frankenstein's notes are supposed to help him finally die. - But instead Frankenstein's horrific monster is also reawoken! 

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is written by Curt Siodmak (Riders to the Stars (1954)) and directed by Roy William Neill (Hoots Mon (1940)). It is the 5th film in the Frankenstein franchise and the first sequel to George Waggner's great The Wolf Man (1941). It is the first of Universal's 'monster mash' horrors in which established characters meet each other.
The film isn't scary to me: The bizarro monsters were eerie on their own, but when their universes are welded together, the result is almost comical.
Siodmak's script saves the film, along with Lon Chaney Jr.'s (Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)) portrayal of the Wolf Man, Lawrence Talbot. Siodmak establishes an adventure-like pace in the rather short feature and works themes of anxiety towards insanity and village lynch mob mentality. SPOILER An exploded dam ends up washing the monsters away in a tidal wave of Biblical proportions.

Listen to 13 minutes of Hans J. Salter's score for the film here

Cost: Unknown
Box office: Unknown
= Uncertain - but likely a box office success
[Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was released 5 March (USA) and runs 74 minutes. Siodmak came up with the concept, because he needed a new car. Bela Lugosi had turned down playing the monster in the original Frankenstein (1931), thinking it unfit for his sudden stardom after Dracula (1931). He took the job to portray the monster 12 years later here after having payed the monster's twisted companion Ygor in Son of Frankenstein (1939) and The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), in which Ygor's brain is implanted into the monster. Shooting took place at Universal in Los Angeles. Siodmak's script had the monster talking, but test audiences reacted poorly to Lugosi's talking Frankenstein, and so this element was cut. Details on the cost and box office performance of the film are not available online, - but based on the continued stream of similar titles from Universal and the general drought of horror titles in period, the film was likely theatrically successful. Both the Frankenstein monster and the Wolf Man returned in House of Frankenstein (1944). Neill returned with Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943). Ilona Massey returned in Holiday in Mexico (1946), Patrick Knowles in Hit the Ice (1943) and Lon Chaney Jr. in What We Are Fighting For (1943, short) and Frontier Badmen (1943). Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is rotten at 25 % with a 5/10 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man?


From Russia with Love (1963) - Several remarkable elements make Young's 2nd Bond an enduring classic

James Bond returns to action, combat, stylish garbs and sexy women on this fabulous painted poster for Terence Young's From Russia with Love

When the evil organization SPECTRE lures MI6 agent James Bond to Istanbul with a Russian beauty and the chance to procure a Soviet cryptographic devise, 007 is launched on a perilous journey for the Lektor machine, his life and the life of the lovely Tatiana.

From Russia with Love is the first Bond sequel, following Dr. No (1962). It is written by Richard Maibaum (Diamonds Are Forever (1971)) and Johanna Harwood (Call Me Bwana (1963)), based on Ian Fleming's (Dr. No (1958)) novel From Russia, with Love (1957), and directed by returning Chinese-born, British master filmmaker Terence Young (The Secret Agents (1965)).
It is filled with Sean Connery's (The Man Who Would Be King (1975)) Bond brand of sexist one-liners, spy setups, the later heavily parodied SPECTRE organization, gadgets, cool locations such as the memorable lethal spy nest of Cold War Istanbul and the gypsy camp that sees alluring belly-dancing turning into a wild cat-fight, - and the Orient Express.
Add to this Connery, the ultimate Bond, who is in his prime as the suave character here; Pedro Armendáriz (The Uprooted (1960)) in his final part as Turkish gentleman Kerim Bey, beautiful Daniela Bianchi (Special Mission Lady Chaplin (1966)) as the main Bond girl, who just can't get enough James, and Robert Shaw (A Man for All Seasons (1966)) as the blond goon, Grant. - And Lotte Lenya (The Appointment (1969)) as the iconic, lesbian, shoe-knifing villain, Rosa Klebb.
From Russia with Love is more scruffy, suspenseful, colorful and handsome than Dr. No; it relies more on espionage elements than exotic locales and is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece North by Northwest (1959). It is a spectacle of the rarest order, one that reeks of sex. - And it is certainly one of the top 3 Bond movies.

Related posts:

Terence Young: Dr. No (1962) - Bond # 1 is one attractive package
Other films in the Bond franchise: Spectre (2015) - Mendes' second Bond delivers Skyfall (2012) - The overly celebrated third pout from Daniel Craig as Bond in slick production
A View to a Kill (1985) or, Once a Gentleman, Always a Gentleman! 
Diamonds Are Forever (1971) - Connery's last Bond adventure is a colorful romp
Casino Royale (1967) - The packed spy spoof frontrunner, a film very much of its time (spoof comedy - not an official part of the franchise)

Cost: 3 mil. $
Box office: Reportedly 78.9 mil. $
= Mega-hit
[From Russia with Love premiered 10 October (London) and runs 116 minutes. Connery was paid 54k $ and a 100k $ bonus for his performance in the film. The elaborate chess set cost a huge 150k $ to construct. Shooting took place from April - August 1963 in Turkey, including Istanbul, Italy, England, including London, Scotland and - the shots of rats - in Madrid, Spain. The production was rushed to completion just the year after the first Bond film, and several remarkable problems occurred: Armendáriz was diagnosed with inoperable cancer during production: He completed almost all of his scenes without delay, in pain, and took his own life when he could no longer act. Young crashed into the ocean in a helicopter with the art director and a cameraman in Scotland, but was rescued and completed the day's shooting. Days later, Bianchi's driver fell asleep during commute, and the actress' face was bruised in the accident, barring her from shooting for two weeks. A rented boat sunk in Turkey's Bosphorus strait, and the final explosion got out of control, burning one person's eyelids and seriously injuring 3 stunt men. The film went over schedule and budget: Its original budget of 2 mil. $ seems to have ended up vastly over its limit, if the 3 mil. $ final cost is accurate. The original international gross is listed as 12.5 mil. $, double Dr. No's take, becoming the most popular movie at the British box office of 1963. With many later re-releases, the film's North American gross has risen to 24.7 mil. $ (31.3 % of the reported international gross of 78.9 mil. $). Original reviews were a mix of praise and ridicule. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe and won a BAFTA, among other honors. Young returned with The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965). Connery returned in Woman of Straw (1964). The next Bond movie was Goldfinger (1964), with Connery, directed by Guy Hamilton. Young directed one more Bond movie; Thunderball (1965).  From Russia with Love is certified fresh at 96 % with an 8/10 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of From Russia with Love?


Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) - Meyer's thrill-tastic outlaw masterpiece

A racy, sensationalistic, screamingly naughty poster for Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Three go-go dancers race-drive in the desert, where they meet a young couple. The leader of the dancers, Varla murders the guy and kidnap the girl. The group wind up at the home of some maniacs with money, and a true blood bath unfolds!

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is written by Jackie Moran (Wild Gals of the Naked West (1962)), with Californian master co-writer-director Russ Meyer (The Seven Minutes (1971)) contributing story elements. It was Meyer's 9th theatrical fiction feature.
This movie simply exceeds the usual bar of awesomeness by miles. It has to be experienced, and even then its wild, renegade thrills are stupefying.
The scruffy, dirty jazz and rock that fills out the film's soundscape fits perfectly with the insane, overstrung dialog and characters. Tura Satana (Irma la Douce (1963)) is mean and badass as Varla, and Meyer and Charles G. Schelling (The Black Cat (1966)) has cut the film to perfection.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is the epitome of a cult film and a subversive treat that continues to spread its wicked fun.

Related post:

Russ MeyerBeneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979) - Late-late night sex-silliness from Russ Meyer

Watch Meyer speak shortly about his career in an interview here

Cost: 45k $
Box office: Unknown
= Uncertain - but appears to have been an initial-flop-later-hit
[Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was released 6 August (USA) and runs 83 minutes. The title was changed from The Leather Girls to The Mankillers to its final title, which sound editor Richard S. Brummer came up with. Meyer has stated that it signifies a film that has everything: Speed (faster), sex (pussycat) and violence (kill! kill!). The film was shot on B/W due to its low budget. Susan Bernard was just 16 at the time, couldn't drive and was afraid of Satana. Her mother was present during shooting, which took place in California. The fights include real hair-pulling and throwing sand in the face. The film was released on a double bill with Mudhoney (1965), also directed by Meyer, in North America, and the only other listed market is West Germany in 1967, prior to re-releases, beginning in the 90s. Reports on its performance differ; it seemed to have flopped initially, but have become profitable over time, as it has become a cult item. It made 36k $ in its 1995 US re-release. Satana returned as an uncredited stripper in Our Man Flint (1966). Meyer returned with Motorpsycho! (1965). Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is fresh at 74 % with a 7/10 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!?


Fair Haired Child (2006, TV movie) - Malone turns out another weak Masters of Horror TV movie

The titular monstrous child haunts this ominous poster for William Malone's Fair Haired Child

A girl is abducted by a mad married couple, who throw her into a hole in their castle, where their son lives a doomed life of having to eat youngsters.

Fair Haired Child is the 9th episode of the first season of Mick Garris' (Hocus Pocus (1993)) Masters of Horror TV movie anthology. It is written by Matt Greenberg (Seventh Son (2014)) and directed by William Malone (Creature (1985)).
This is a really bad TV movie. It has one cool effect of Lori Petty's (Orange Is the New Black (2014-16)) head getting splattered completely against a window. But otherwise, Fair Haired Child is without merits: Wretched acting, photography, sound and a clichéd story bog this dumb creation down.

Related posts:
Other Masters of Horror TV movies: Dance of the Dead (2005) - Hooper's ugly Masters of Horror nonsense

Chocolate (2005) - Flavors, visions and eroticism in Garris' TV movie thriller
Deer Woman (2005) - Landis and son's solid Masters of Horror entry 
Cigarette Burns (2005) - Carpenter burns out in weird, tiresome TV movie  

Hear the title theme for the Masters of Horror anthology here

Cost: Unknown
Box office: None - TV movie
= Uncertain
[Fair Haired Child aired first 6 January on Showtime (North America) and runs 55 minutes. Malone returned with Parasomnia (2008). 2,958 IMDb users have given Fair Haired Child a 6.5/10 average rating.]

What do you think of Fair Haired Child?


Final Destination 2 (2003) - Ellis's sequel is a ridiculous but impressive and entertaining array of wicked mayhem

A batch of fresh young faces are back for abrupt tragedies on this dark poster for David R. Ellis' Final Destination 2

Due to a premonition, a girl on her way to spring break vacation is able to save several lives in a freakish freeway accident, as 21 wood logs fall off a semi. But Death has his ways of catching up...

The opening scene to the first Final Destination sequel maybe isn't as scary as the plane accident that opens the original film from 2000, but it is an absurdly well-done and spectacular scene nonetheless. An epic car crash.
The plot is a rackety construction, and it gets dopier from the fact that Final Destination 2 takes itself embarrassingly serious. It is written by J. Mackye Gruber (Kyle XY (2006-08)) and Eric Bress (The Butterfly Effect (2004)), with Jeffrey Reddick (Final Destination (2000)) contributing story elements, and directed by David R. Ellis (Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco (1996)), who is primarily a second unit director and stunt specialist.
Final Destination 2 is really all about the deaths, which are bigger, wilder and bloodier than those from the first film. They make the film a regular mix of action and gore, and Ellis has a firm handle on staging these scenes, which, for a genre fan, are good fun.

Related post:

Final Destination franchise: Final Destination (2000) - Wong's entertaining death chiller kicks off lucrative fatalistic teen franchise

Perhaps Final Destination 2 is just a 'repulsive spectacle' as Claudia Puig of USA Today opined, but it succeeds in instilling a strikingly physical effect in some audiences, as can be seen in this audience reaction video for the film

Cost: 26 mil. $
Box office: 90.4 mil. $
= Box office success
[Final Destination 2 premiered 30 January (USA) and runs 90 minutes. Shooting took place from February - May 2002 in British Columbia, Canada, including in Vancouver. For the pileup scene, no CGI cars were added in post, just logs, smoke, debris and blood. The film opened #2, just slightly behind fellow new release The Recruit, to a 16 mil. $ first weekend in North America, where it spent another week in the top 5 (#5) and grossed 46.9 mil. $ (51.9 % of the total gross). Its 2nd and 3rd biggest markets were the UK with 9.3 mil. $ (10.3 %) and France with 4.7 mil. $ (5.2 %). The film is the lowest-grossing in the franchise, which continued with Final Destination 3 (2006), The Final Destination (2009) and Final Destination 5 (2011). Ellis returned with Cellular (2004). Final Destination 2 is rotten at 48 % with a 5/10 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of Final Destination 2?


The Post (2017) - Spielberg returns to mastery with a thrilling salute to the virtues of real, critical, brave journalism

Two big stars climb some of the many steps towards government on this simple, great, sobriety-signaling poster for Steven Spielberg's The Post

In 1971, a former military analyst for the Defense Ministry leaks a copy of a top-secret report on the United States governments' internal knowledge of the long war effort in Vietnam, which clashes repeatedly with their statements to the public. As Nixon's White House leans hard on the press, the country's first female leader of a major newspaper finds herself with a hard choice to make.

The Post is the 31st theatrical feature and - in my opinion - 7th masterpiece from Ohioan master filmmaker Steven Spielberg (Lincoln (2012)), - following, in chronological masterpiece order; Jaws (1975), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler's List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). It reaffirms that Spielberg is still one of the world's top filmmakers, and the sheer number of masterpieces he has made easily ranks him among the all-time best filmmakers. The Post is written by Liz Hannah (Skin (2014, short)) and Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate (2013)) and based on the actual Pentagon Papers leak and coverage.
The Post joins for the first time two of the great actors of our time, Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies (2015)) and Meryl Streep (Adaptation. (2002)), which is thrilling in itself, but of course especially since they are in a great story here: Hanks has less motion character-wise as the principled editor Bradlee, whereas Streep is the film's anchor and main protagonist as newspaper owner Kay Graham, who balances taking her paper, The Washington Post public while also deciding on a course in a political publication storm. Streep is a saintly force of one here, and her performance's nuances and drive makes the sky-high stakes for her very real to us. This, - along with the practical points of retrieving the report and debates on its imports, - helps make The Post a thrilling and riveting watch.
Adding quality are also a fine cast of supporting actors: Bob Odenkirk (Girlfriend's Day (2017)), Tracy Letts (Paramedics (1988)), Bradley Whitford (I Saw the Light (2015)), Jesse Plemons (Flutter (2014)) and Bruce Greenwood (Donovan's Echo (2011)), who has a striking resemblance to his character Robert McNamara, are all on point. Spielberg works with a brilliant team of proven collaborators, and especially Janusz Kaminski's (Hania (2007)) cinematography and Rick Carter's (The BFG (2016)) production design are a joy to behold.
The Post is inevitably compared to the great All the President's Men (1976), which details Washington Post reporters uncovering of the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon's resignation, and recent great investigative journalism drama and Best Picture Oscar-winner Spotlight (2015), and many try to belittle the film's power and quality with these comparisons, but the truth is that The Post is grade A filmmaking from start to finish.
It is also a big celebration of the importance of real, committed, daring journalism, the freedom of the press and its check on those in power. - A stance and message that is at least as timely today as it was in the 1970s. The Post makes a sly implicit parallel between Nixon and Donald Trump's White House today, and it makes us as audiences wish that there are journalists out there today on our watch, uncovering, for instance, the undeniable red lines that must exist between Facebook, Russia and Trump's election, hidden under what may today be millions of strands of digital data.

Related posts:

Steven SpielbergWar Horse (2011) - Spielberg visits WWI with problematic horse drama

The Adventures of Tintin/The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011) - Affinities for Tintin, earlier Spielberg and film will decide your experience of this 3D mo-cap adventure
Super 8 (2011) - Abrams' nostalgic family crowdpleaser (producer)
Band of Brothers - TV mini-series (2001) - WWII-sacrifice and -comradeship portrayed with skill and integrity (producer)
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) - A robot fairy tale with both heart and mind
Amistad (1997) or, Must... Free... Slaves! 

Empire of the Sun (1987) - Spielberg's grand production of boy-in-China-during-WWII is a misfire
Twilight Zone The Movie (1983) - Fear takes many forms in tragedy-struck anthology

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) - Spielberg's greatest accomplishment
1941 (1979) - Spielberg's bizarre 'comedy spectacular' sinks like a rock  

Top 10: Best car chases in movies reviewed by Film Excess to date
Duel (1971) - Spielberg's truck terror is ideal afternoon fare

Mentioned movie: Spotlight (2015) - McCarthy puts an admirably bright and sober light on one of the major crimes of modern history 

Watch a trailer for the film here

Cost: 50 mil. $
Box office: 168.7 mil. $ and counting
= Box office success
[The Post was released 22 December (USA) and runs 113 minutes. Spielberg got involved with the script and production in February 2017 and, feeling that it was a timely story that was important to make and release fast, shot it during post production of his Ready Player One (2018). Shooting took place in New York from May 2017 - ?. The film opened #20 in 9 theaters to a strong 526k $ first weekend in North America, where it peaked at #2, behind Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, spent 3 more weeks in the top 5 (#4-#5-#5), spreading to 2,851 cinemas, grossing 81.7 mil. $ (48.4 % of the total gross so far). The 2nd and 3rd biggest markets have been the UK with 12.8 mil. $ (7.6 %) and France with 11 mil. $ (6.5 %). Several journalists have criticized the film for downplaying The New York Post's involvement in the breaking of the Pentagon Papers to the public. The film was nominated for 2 Oscars: Best Picture, lost to The Shape of Water, and Best Actress (Streep), lost to Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It was also nominated for 6 Golden Globes, won an AFI award, 3 National Board of Review awards and many other honors. Streep returns in Big Little Lies' S2 (2018) and theatrically in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018); Hanks is involved in several coming releases, and which one will be first is not yet sure. Spielberg returned with Ready Player One. The Post is certified fresh at 88 % with a 7.9/10 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of The Post?


The Florida Project (2017) - Baker skewers Disney Florida's backyard's social travesties with potent mother-daughter drama

A brightly colored, semi-psychedelic poster for Sean Baker's The Florida Project with its lead mother-daughter duo at its center

At a motel in Kissimmee, Florida, near Walt Disney World, 6 year-old Moonee lives with her mother Halley, whose life is a constant battle to secure next week's rent and providing the basics for the two.

The Florida Project is the 6th theatrical feature from great New-Yorker filmmaker Sean Baker (Tangerine (2015)), who co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Bergoch (Starlet (2012)). The Florida Project was an early name for the Orlando, Florida Disney park. The downright psychedelic quality of Florida in general and Orlando in particular are highlighted in the film, which begs the question of how that style affects the mentality of the inhabitants there. - I certainly was not inspired to throw my hard-earned holiday money towards a stay in Florida from the presentation of the state given here.
Watching The Florida Project reminded me of Andrea Arnold's recent, great American Honey (2016), which deals with youths that also reside in shady motels, however not for long, in their hustling journeys and uncertain lives across America. That film is more enjoyable to sit through, simply because it has a lighter, compelling story and an air of youth and survival and unity. The Florida Project is an equally accomplished piece of independent filmmaking but a more oppressive and tough watch, because it deals with the mother of a little girl, and the other kids around who grow up in similar circumstances. - Is American Honey's Star (played soulfully by Sasha Lane) going to end up like Halley here? The possibility certainly exists.
Halley is a terrible mother. She doesn't reach the level of Precious' mother Mary, (played chillingly by Mo'Nique back in the great Precious (2009)), because she does is available for her daughter and loves her. But her own lifestyle, - and no-doubt also her personal experiences growing up and becoming a woman, - have left her as a multi-tattooed, blue-haired young woman in the skimpiest outfits and trashiest mouth. Her rudeness and physical affront seems to a self-enforcing bad circle for her, as it makes her unemployable and hard to befriend for just about everyone around her.
The situation is only made more complicated from the fact that Moonee lives with her and naturally takes influence from her mother's behavior.
Baker gets dauntingly realistic, natural performances from his cast of mostly amateurs: Bria Vinaite's (Adultland (2019)) Halley is a provocative character to say the least, but she is somehow also hard to completely reject, and this is a serious feat; she is undeniably a mother, no matter how we feel about what she passes on. Brooklynn Prince (Monsters at Large (2018)) is a true find as Moonee, a true star and a fierce and incredible emotional center for the film. She is helped by two other fine child performances, from Christopher Rivera and Valeria Cotto (Backup Plan (2018, short), who together share some childhood fun, adventure and misbehavior that most will be able to relate to. The film also has a master turn from Willem Dafoe (Fireflies in the Garden (2008)), the cast's only veteran and star actor. Dafoe plays the motel's upstanding manager, who is both a policing and care-giving, social presence on the premises, and does it to a T, adding a layer of humanity to the otherwise somewhat grim social realism. One scene in particular, in which Dafoe's alert eye spots an elderly man who has wandered into the children's grounds and goes to handle the man, who has definite ill intentions, is a standout and a riveting scene in The Florida Project, in which one good man protects his turf and the children on it.
This and other scenes in The Florida Project graze the crimes, ugliness and debasement that is inherent in these high-risk living conditions with equal subtlety. This makes the film easier to take, but the images and what could have happened haunt our imaginations as adult audiences nonetheless, which is part of its agenda. But what could be done about a situation such as Halley and Moonee's portrayed here is no easy question.
Baker and The Florida Project deserve high praise for inviting us to experience lives such as theirs so skillfully rendered for a while regardless.

Watch a trailer for the film here

Cost: 2 mil. $
Box office: 10.8 mil. $ and counting
= Big hit
[The Florida Project premiered 22 May (Cannes Film Festival) and runs 111 minutes. Baker and Bergoch interviewed people in the area as research for the screenplay to achieve its authenticity. Shooting took place on location. The many helicopters in the film are in it, because the production could not afford to pay them not to operate by the motel. The film is shot on 35mm film, except for its last scene: SPOILER Moonee running from the motel to the Walt Disney Land was shot without getting permission from Disney with an iPhone 6S Plus. The film opened #27 in 4 theaters to a strong 157k $ first weekend in North America, where it peaked at #16 and in 229 theaters (different weeks), grossing 5.9 mil. $ (54.6 % of the gross to date). The 2nd and 3rd markets so far have been France with 1.2 mil. $ (11.1 %) and the UK with 807k $ (7.5 %). The film was nominated for 1 Oscar: Best Supporting Actor (Dafoe), lost to Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, won an AFI award, nominated for 2 Independent Spirit Awards, won 2 National Board of Review awards, among many other honors. The Florida Project is certified fresh at 96 % with a 8.7 critical average at Rotten Tomatoes.]

What do you think of The Florida Project?

Eagerly anticipating this week ... (15-18)

Eagerly anticipating this week ... (15-18)
S. Craig Zahler's Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)