(2017, Dir. Sean Baker)
"I can always tell when adults are about to cry."
I have been on the wait-list for this movie at my library for a few months now and it only just came in, so, needless to say, I didn’t get to see it before the Academy Awards. Oh well. Going into The Florida Project, I knew it was one of those movies that should’ve been nominated for Best Picture and wasn’t, but I didn’t really know what else to expect. I had actually seen the trailers for this one—despite the fact that I am vehemently opposed to watching trailers for movies I want to see, I couldn’t avoid this one. They kept showing it at my movie theater, but I did my best to tune it out. I was intrigued, though—I’m always a fan of Willem Dafoe (his cigarette-smoking rat in Fantastic Mr. Fox isn’t a career-defining performance for him, or anything, but it sure is funny) and I’m always a fan of things set in motels, hotels, what have you. After the trailers, still all I knew about the movie was: Willem Dafoe, purple motel, small child, Florida? So kudos to that trailer, I guess, for intriguing me but not giving me too much information. (Some trailers deserve a chance. Most don’t. So I avoid them all!) And speaking of too much information, there are (fairly light) spoilers from here on out!
A big thing with The Florida Project is that it could have so easily had a major tone problem. I found myself worrying about it through a good chunk of the movie at the beginning. As a film it walks a really fine line between drama and comedy, and a lot of movies try to do that, and a lot of movies have a hard time finding that footing (*cough* Three Billboards *cough*). The Florida Project is really funny at times, and really devastating at others. Sometimes it’s both at once. The premise of this movie requires layers to work. It has layers, so it works. A good example of what I mean is the scene where Halley and Moonee take “swimsuit selfies!!!” It manages to include different perspectives on the scene—Moonee’s innocence, the audience’s knowledge that something deeper is going on—without violently hitting anyone over the head with subtext.
For all its candy-colored vibes, The Florida Project is a subtle movie. A lot of movies about poverty like to go full-on tragic backstory. There’s no explicit backstory to be had here, and I didn’t miss it at all. Tragic backstory is a really easy way to play up the empathy factor, and they just didn’t need it in this movie. The characters are who they are, not fallen from some kind of former glory (or at least stability) to some kind of pitiable current existence. It’s a very present-tense story, which is difficult to negotiate, but well-executed overall.
In that same vein, this movie had a habit of using these vignette-scenes that for some reason caused me a great deal of anxiety. Every time the kids went out on another unsupervised adventure and there was an extended shot of them walking, I thought for sure that one of them was about to get hit by a car or something. (It’s the same fear I experienced during all of Bicycle Thieves. Do I need to see a therapist?) And then every time, without fail, the scene would suddenly change and everything would be fine. At first, it felt kind of lazy, like they were always just building up this tension and then resolving it off-screen with a scene-change. (Remember in Season 2 of Gilmore Girls when there’s a whole episode about how Lorelai’s house is full of termites and it’s going to cost a million gazillion dollars to fix and then they never ever mention it again so we must assume it’s okay? Like that.) Ultimately, I think, it wasn’t lazy storytelling, though I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. To the filmmakers’ credit, these seemingly inconsequential vignettes established patterns and norms that became essential to creating a lived-in reality for the characters without top-heavy exposition. Then, it was all the more apparent when those patterns were disrupted.
Some norms were established without me even realizing it until they were broken. Moonee goes through a lot throughout the course of the film, but it isn’t until the very end that she finally breaks down and cries. It’s a really powerful moment, and a really great performance. The fact that a seven-year-old carries this whole movie is really remarkable. That is to say, Brooklynn Prince is phenomenal. I hope she does more great stuff in the future, but I’m always worried about child actors. (Are they okay?!?!?) Willem Dafoe was fantastic and really amped up that essential Compassion Factor that The Florida Project kind of revolves around. Also, hey, Caleb Landry Jones, we saw a lot of you this awards season! Overall, great performances in this movie. It felt very Real.
I will take this opportunity to clumsily transition to what is a possibly-clumsy analogy to Italian Neo-Realism. Not really the movement as a whole, but DeSica’s Bicycle Thieves specifically. I got serious Bicycle Thieves vibes from this movie, and I am prepared to explain! Big-picture-wise, it’s this idea of a parent and a child against the world. Both films show parents that don’t have it figured out (for whatever reason), but yet are trying to present a façade of certainty and experience to a young child. Also, The Florida Project’s cast of unknowns (save Jones and Dafoe) contributes to the kind of reality that Bicycle Thieves also aimed to create. More specifically, the scene where Halley takes Moonee to the hotel buffet reminded me a lot of the scene in Bicycle Thieves where they take a break from their search to eat those cheesy sandwiches.
That being said, The Florida Project is a quintessentially American film. It speaks to a very specific kind of experience, and one that doesn’t get a lot of screentime—or, at least, accurate screentime. The Florida Project captures the aspects of American childhood that don’t revolve around school. The setting of the movie is extremely specific, yet the film speaks to a very broad range of people who had similar experiences despite disparate circumstances. There’s that Empathy Factor again--The Florida Project does a really nice job of showing that there’s a universality to childhood experiences and discoveries, regardless of who you are or where you come from. That’s power in cinema, folks!
(2016, Dir. Garth Davis)
In Short: Google Earth will make you cry.
I watched this movie over two months ago (yikes, I'm behind) on a transatlantic flight (double yikes). This was not a great plane movie, mostly due to the fact that I couldn't really hear, so the whole middle of the movie where everyone is speaking English with an Australian accent? I kind of had to guess at what was going on (no subtitles). At one point, Nicole Kidman was crying, and I had no idea why! That was not ideal.
However, the lack of distinguishable audio made me pay more attention to the aspect of the movie I could easily consume--the visuals. This left me wondering--HOW on EARTH did this not win the Oscar for Best Cinematography? If you're reading this, chances are you know my feelings about La La Land. I adore it. La La Land is a pretty movie, for sure, but every piece of Lion is drop-dead gorgeous from start to finish. And not only does it look fantastic, but the visual style was important to the story. Due to the fact that the plot of Lion jumps around in time a little bit, the visuals had to indicate those differences in order to make the story easy to follow. There couldn't be discrepancies, though--it all had to flow together as a cohesive piece, and it certainly did. That was really done right.
On the flip side--this movie has a mega slump in the middle (like many movies do). Sunny Pawar is so utterly compelling as young Saroo that when Saroo grows up, you miss his younger self. Don't get me wrong, Dev Patel is great! There's just something to be desired in the way the story is told through the middle. The whole angsty, anti-social Google Earth-ing bit gets kind of old kind of fast. I was also confused by Rooney Mara's role--it's too large to be a cameo, but too inconsequential to really affect the story that much. And why is she on the poster? She's hardly in the movie! Maybe if I had been able to hear I would understand. Oh well.
I really liked this movie, but I think it deserves a rewatch, especially now that it's on Netflix. Mostly, I'm excited to see what Sunny Pawar is going to do in the future--that is one talented child!
(2000, Dir. Ethan & Joel Coen)
In Short: Three escaped convicts search for treasure in the Depression Era Deep South in this re-imagining of Homer's Odyssey.
How did it take me this long to see this movie? (I feel like I say that about a lot of these.) And how is this my first Coen brothers film? These are pressing questions that will not be answered in this review.
To address the two most striking features of O Brother Where Art Thou:
1) Color Palette: As the movie begins, the first shot fades from black and white into color--sort of. It's a really muted palette, full of beige, pretty much, and not much else. And my immediate thought was, "Oh boy, this is going to get old fast." But to my surprise, it didn't wind up feeling gimmicky. The limited spectrum of colors helped to create the right tone for the movie. The larger-than-life nature of the characters provided the color, and the scenery did its part being drab.
2) The Music: I know this isn't exactly a fresh take on this movie, but, wow, the soundtrack is awesome. Not only is it awesome, but it works into the story really well.
Even though it was kind a little bit deus-ex-machina, I loved that the whole Soggy Bottom Boys plot ended up saving the main characters. It was kind of outlandish but it felt earned, especially with the gubernatorial race subplot.
The music was exactly what this movie needed to push it over the top--in a good way. Not that the setting for any film has to be justified, but in a loose adaptation of classic literature like this, the old school country music was the perfect justification for the 1930s Southern setting.
My one and only major gripe about this film overall is that the plot was ALL OVER THE PLACE! I know it's the Odyssey (sort of) but there were so many side stories and characters that it felt a little cluttered. It gave the story the scope of an epic, but it didn't feel quite right. I don't think I really minded it too much while I was watching it, but looking back, some things feel superfluous. (Like the bank robber? what was the payoff there?)
A brief note on the actors: This was impeccably cast. George Clooney is charming in typical Clooney fashion, Tim Blake Nelson brings the quirk, and John Turturro is just so GOOD in everything.
To wrap this up, I think it's fitting that the title comes from Sullivan's Travels. This is the happy medium between Sullivan's O Brother and the comedy he winds up wanting to make--it depicts human struggle and reality but it does so in a way that's colorful, charming, funny, and hopeful. I enjoyed it a lot.
(2016, Dir. Stephen Frears)
In Short: Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) is a very bad opera singer--but nobody told her. What's next? Carnegie Hall, of course.
Florence Foster Jenkins wants so badly to be good, but it's trying too hard. The costumes are nice, it's a good-looking movie, but it just lacks substance. Streep is good, I guess. Hugh Grant is good, I guess. Simon Helberg is great as the pianist but he's way too cartoon-y to fit in the world that the movie seems to inhabit. I guess that was an attempt to comedy it up, because based-on-a-true-story gets boring if nothing is done with the story. I knew the Florence Foster Jenkins story going in, and the film didn't provide any great historical insight or emotional understanding for me, so it fell pretty flat. I was just watching what I already knew--there were no layers to it. To be fair, this was an end-of-8-hour-transatlantic-flight watch, but I watched a lot of based-on-a-true-story movies on planes in June, and this was easily the worst of them. Sorry, Flo J.
(1977, Dir. Woody Allen)
In Short: A neurotic New York comedian considers his failed relationships.
The original title for Annie Hall was Anhedonia, which is the term that refers to the psychological condition of being unable to feel joy. I see why they changed the title, in the end--Anhedonia isn't very marketable--but the original works really well. The movie's central tenet is that Alvy sabotages his own life and relationships. He lacks that ability to feel joy because he is looking for it in the wrong places.
This is a romantic comedy but the film's romance and joy aren't in the moments that romcoms typically use to make everyone feel all warm and fuzzy. Annie and Alvy's first meeting is pretty awkward. Alvy buys Annie books about death. They're not romantic in the sense that other movie couples are, and that's why Alvy can't be happy.
The scenes that stood out to me as representing the best parts of Annie and Alvy's relationship were the lobster scene and the spider scene. Though these scenes occupy very different emotional registers they really illustrate how Annie and Alvy work together as a couple. Therefore the other lobster scene towards the end of the movie was super affecting for me. It's in that moment that both Alvy and the audience realize what Alvy lost--something that seemed so mundane was actually unique.
I loved Annie Hall. I loved it. Woody Allen's abject grossness aside I LOVED this movie. It was so intricate and weird and tongue-in-cheek in all the best ways possible. It mixed reality with fantasy in a perfect blend that made for something that felt true without just watching life on screen. The split screen, the breaking the fourth wall, the time travel, everything. Really good stuff. Really, really good.
(1966, Dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
Considering I didn't see all of Breathless, this was my first Godard. When I was looking up stuff about The 400 Blows, I kept seeing stuff about this other movie starring an older Jean-Pierre Leaud, directed by Jean-Luc Godard. With each screencap of Masculin Féminin I saw the more I was convinced that I absolutely had to see this movie. So I went all the way to the Cincinnati library and acquired it.
You already know from my previous post that I loved this movie. I loved it a lot. I haven't tried making any kind of favorite movies list for quite a while but I know this would be on there.
I never wanted this movie to end. Not because I needed a plot to be resolved or a question to be answered, but because I just got so attached to the characters. I doubt I could even name any of them but I was very invested in them because they seemed so real. I enjoyed spending time watching these characters because they seemed like very real people with very real lives outside of what was being shown on screen. I really liked that. I'm all about it.
While this film kind of a had a plot, it was more about conversations and relationships than solving any conflict. I'm kind of obsessed with talking and I find the poetry of conversation really fascinating. A film can cover a lot of ground content-wise if it's not bound to a plot. Characters can talk about anything at all if they're not bent on solving the Big Problem! That was new and interesting to me.
The music from this movie is amazing. Chantal Goya, who stars alongside Leaud, was a pop star of the time and her music is used as the soundtrack and it is just great. I've been listening to it constantly!
There were approximately a million other things I loved about this movie (the ENDING! etc) and maybe some things I didn't but prom killed me dead and my arms feel like they're made of jell-o. So that's the end of that. Peace out.
I watched many a movie over spring break (and a lot of Twin Peaks and some Gilmore Girls), so here's a brief roundup. Some full-length reviews will be coming soon!
The Blues Brothers (1980, dir. John Landis)
This is a movie that really commits to the bit and it was a lot of fun! It had me in stitches. It's so out there but it all works very well. I had the Rawhide theme stuck in my head for days after.
Shoot the Piano Player (1960, dir. François Truffaut)
In direct contrast with The Blues Brothers this one was sad and understated, yet musical! And gangster-y. Not a fun one but a good one.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004, dir. Wes Anderson)
Oh Wes, how I've missed you. This is easily my least favorite of Anderson movies I've seen (sorry!); I felt it somewhat lacked focus. It does have an incredible soundtrack, though. And of course it's still good and I really liked it, I just didn't love it like I wanted to.
Masculin Féminin (1966, Dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
Maybe one of my favorite movies I've ever seen? Wow! Wow. It was very conversational and that's what I'm all about. I got very attached to the characters and the music is delightful and visually it's very cool and I just really loved this movie.
An Affair to Remember (1957, Dir. Leo McCarey)
I've been meaning to watch this for a year or so and it was on TCM so I took my chance then and there. I spent the last ten minutes sobbing violently. Enough said.
Brief Encounter (1945, Dir. David Lean)
TCM put this on after An Affair to Remember so I just stayed put, and it was very worth it! This was a bummer of a movie that had a really interesting circular sort of narrative. It made for a great double feature.
Elevator to the Gallows (1958, Dir. Louis Malle)
I liked this one a lot--it felt sort of Hitchcock-esque but you could definitely feel the French New Wave coming on. The music was absolutely amazing (Miles Davis!) and mistaken identity is always intriguing.
La Chinoise (1967, Dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
(Pictured above) Wow Part II! WOW! I'm obsessed with this movie. It's pretty similar to Masculin Féminin but with markedly more Marxism. I have so much to say I can't say anything except that I LOVED this one. Wow.
(1973, Dir. James Bridges)
In Short: A Harvard student struggles through his first year of law school.
I better not watch this movie again for the next ten or so years because if I do I'll feel the same as I did watching it this time: I never want to go to law school.
I did like this movie, though, and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. It certainly had its ups and downs, but overall it was a worthwhile watch.
The Paper Chase really, really wants to be The Graduate, and don't we all? The Graduate is great. But The Graduate is The Graduate and The Paper Chase....isn't. I think a lot of energy was wasted on trying to emulate Benjamin Braddock's story when Hart's story is a completely different animal. Hart is passionate and he's not entirely selfish and that makes him the complete opposite of Benjamin. The stories can't read the same way. Yes, they're both about men in their early twenties. That's about it. The Paper Chase could have benefited from creating an identity more its own.
That's my main issue with the movie. When I realized it wasn't really about the relationship between Susan and Hart, I was a little more okay with the underdeveloped nature of said relationship, though it still bugged me. I liked the study group dynamic (even though certain members angered me beyond rationality) and the tension of the classroom was captured really, really well. It felt Hart's Big Moment with Kingsfield towards the end feel really earned.
I really liked some of the camerawork in this film. One scene that especially stands out is the one pictured above. Susan and Hart are having a serious, intimate conversation and yet the camera holds that extreme long shot of them for the whole conversation. It adds a weird coldness and distance to the scene that I thought was really interesting.
The ending is what really hit it home for me. I might not have liked the whole movie if it weren't for the ending. If Kingsfield had said something like, "I've learned as much from you as you have from me" or some nonsense like that, I would have been really grumpy about it. What a waste! But the effect of "What's your name?" was perfection. And even though I knew that Hart was going to throw his grades into the ocean the minute Susan handed them to him, I still enjoyed that. Again, it felt earned. It drove the point home.
I liked The Paper Chase! Young Edward Herrmann was there! It's a good companion to Legally Blonde, I guess! That's all. Good stuff.
(2004, Dir. Jared Hess)
In Short: A kid from rural Idaho goes to high school and deals with his family. His expressions are consistently as emotionless as that last sentence.
We all know that I love Napoleon Dynamite. (I mean, have you seen the “Vote for Pedro” class t-shirts I designed? I love Napoleon Dynamite.) I’ve seen it many times, and it just doesn’t get old. I have always found it really, really funny.
Examining why comedy is funny is really tough. Watching this movie for the umpteenth time with the purpose of writing a review, I found myself thinking about why I find this purposefully flat high school comedy to be so...comedic. I think a lot of it is in the “purposefully flat” part. Napoleon doesn’t smile throughout the whole movie. His inflection rarely changes and when it does, it’s only barely, and it’s when he gets just a little bit louder to say “freakin’ idiots” or some such thing. It’s impossible to connect with the protagonist, and that’s weird and uncomfortable at first. There’s no real emotional arc to the movie--someone I know once said, “You feel the same after the first five seconds of Napoleon Dynamite as you do after the whole hour and a half,” and I think that’s pretty astute. It’s that flatness to the main character that accentuates the outlandishness of all the others, and makes them all the more funny. There’s a bored kind of quality that lends itself so well to the deadpan comedy that this movie employs. Crazy situations might be funny paired with over-the-top reactions to those situations’ craziness, but those situations are even funnier, Napoleon Dynamite proves, when there’s no reaction at all. It’s funnier for Napoleon to drink a glass of milk and say, “The defect in this one is bleach,” with absolutely no expression of disgust or any other emotion than it is for him to drink a glass of bleach-laced milk and start gagging or shouting. The Funny is in the flatness.
This movie has a very distinct look to it. I’ve heard it described as being part of a “Wes Anderson Genre” and I think that’s fairly accurate. Not only do the characters fit that description, and the wandering plot (reminiscent of Bottle Rocket), but the aesthetic of Napoleon Dynamite is specifically curated in a way similar to Anderson’s films, with overly-kitschy settings and a color palette that is kind of outside life. The sort of cuts and shots employed vary so well and so surprisingly (again, good for the visual kind of comedy that this movie relies on) that it’s an interesting movie to watch despite the integral nature of its blandness.
I love Napoleon Dynamite. Case closed.
(1996, Dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf)
In Short: A former policeman and a film director collaborate to make a movie chronicling the event that brought them together twenty years earlier.
I don't remember exactly how I came across this movie, but it's a good thing I did. It's an Iranian film, and it's vastly different than anything I'd ever seen. The most noticeable difference is that the storytelling is not as blatant as in American or other Western cinema. The whole story is there, sure, but it requires some assembly. It's not lazily written or poorly put together, it's thought provoking. It demands attention.
The style in which this film is shot is very documentarian. It all feels very real and raw. There's very little scoring and no complex editing, but there are some truly beautiful shots in the simplistic visuals of this movie. There are no close-up shots that I can recall--everything is medium to wide, which puts an odd sort of distance between the viewer and the characters. These choices close and re-open the emotional gap between the film and its audience.
There are a lot of parallels happening in this film--between two different sides of the same story, between art and reality, between the past and present. It's absolutely fascinating to see all these parallels develop and continue independently throughout the course of the film until everything comes together at the end. It's very powerful.
This is a film about perspectives--new perspectives on an old issue, different perspectives on the same issue--and how a person can learn from them, or how they can change the course of events. A Moment of Innocence urges viewers to consider the full scope of any situation and to imagine other people complexly. That's valuable advice any day.