Poverty tales in The Florida Project, musings on death in Lucky and a celebration of learning in Ex Libris
Believe it or not, there are 13 new movies just arrived in town. Several of them are very good and three were at VIFF. I can’t review them all, can only mention some, but here’s the list:
The Florida Project: 4 ½ stars
Ex Libris: The New York Public Library: 4 ½
Only the Brave: 2 ½
Loving Vincent: 4
Goodbye Christopher Robin: 3
Take Every Wave: 3 ½
The Snowman: 2
Same Kind of Different as Me: --
Tyler Perry’s Boo 2: A Madea Halloween: --
THE FLORIDA PROJECT: Here’s a glimpse at the underbelly of American society. It’s a seedy hotel in Orlando, not far from Disney World and only 160 miles or so north of Mar-A-Lago. A tourist booked in there by mistake calls it “a welfare, slum hotel.” The residents are poor. We meet them through their kids who run through the site, hold spitting-on-cars contests and know about the man in one unit who “gets arrested a lot.” Off the site they pass the Disney Gift Centre, a fast food place shaped like an orange and an ice cream place where they beg for money, buy one cone and share three ways.
Moonie (played vibrant by Brooklynn Prince) is their leader simply because she’s precocious and adventurous. She’s another of a recent crop of very natural child actors. Her mom (Bria Vinaite) is single, heavily-tattooed, volatile and supports herself by selling perfume to tourists. Willem Dafoe is the manager who has to keep order in the place and seems to have a good heart that he shows only now and then. This is a no-nonsense view of the lower class, funny at times, exasperating at others. That’s because unlike Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake in which the poor were screwed by the system and bureaucracy, these people seem, to have accepted, even brought on, everything that’s happened to them. Yet, we grow to like them and empathize. That’s the achievement of writer-producer-director Sean Baker who also looked at marginalized people in his previous film, Tangerine. He delivers sunny stuff with an edge. (5th Avenue) 4 ½ out of 5
LUCKY: It’s a bit strange watching this film so soon after Harry Dean Stanton passed away. Not bad, but odd because he plays a man always aware that death will come eventually and he has to be prepared. His doctor says he’s still in good shape, and at 90 should be happy he has outlasted so many of his friends. So he continues on with a daily routine of cereal for breakfast, some yoga exercises, a crossword puzzle at the local diner and watching game shows on TV. And visiting a local tavern where he gets to snap back at comments like “Friendship is essential for the soul” with “It doesn’t exists.” The sole, that is. He’s an atheist and a realist; he expects only darkness when he dies.
Thoughts like that intrude on his life regularly, even in comic scenes, as when David Lynch appears as a bar patron preparing “an end of life plan” for his pet tortoise. Most of these are not comic and they accumulate into a serious consideration of the idea of death. It’s not grim though; it’s presented in a light tone. The script and all the actors are lively and Stanton is warm even when he gets grumpy and blurts out his philosophy “The truth is we’re all gonna go away into the blackness and void and nobody’s in charge.” It’s an affecting film and a fine first directing job by character actor John Carroll Lynch. (International Village) 4 out of 5
EX LIBRIS: It’s not unheard of to spend three hours in a library, but three hours watching a movie about a library? Yes it’s too long but you’ll never get bored. More than that, you’ll be uplifted. Frederick Wiseman has made a film that celebrates knowledge, of all kinds. And incidentally, critical analysis, political action, education and the arts. With his fly-on-the-wall documentary technique he goes inside the New York Public Library (and a few of its branches) and you’ll be thrilled by what he finds.