THE FLORIDA PROJECT (USA 2017) ***1/2

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A Fantastic Woman Poster
Trailer

Marina, a waitress who moonlights as a nightclub singer, is bowled over by the death of her older boyfriend.

Director:

Sebastián Lelio

Writers:

Sebastián Lelio (screenplay), Gonzalo Maza (screenplay)

A big hit at film festivals all over the world in 2017, THE FLORIDA PROJECT is the kind of small budget, feisty down-to-earth look at poverty as lived by people in the fringes of the city.  THE FLORIDA PROJECT takes the audience into the projects around the huge Disney amusement park in Florida where the subjects stay in low income motels with names like Future Land and Magic Castle.  The buildings are sadly painted in purple and pink making them look even cheaper and more pathetic.

Around these areas live 22-year-old Halley (Bria Vinaite), and her six-year-old daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince).  Moonee is a spirited child who with her own ‘little’ gang create trouble around the area like spit-balling, entering forbidden roos or dilapidated buildings.  At one point, Moonie and her friends set fire to a building nearby, while her mother Halley drags her daughter to see the fire, unaware that her daughter was the cause of it.  “This is better than watching TV,” she remarks.

Many movies have successfully used adolescents to demonstrate trouble in the fringe communities.  Clio Bernard’s THE SELFISH GIANT and Lynn Ramsey’s RATCATCHER are two British examples.  But the FLORIDA PROJECT feels closer to Andrea Arnold’s AMERICAN HUSTLE which sees a young adult try to survive in the fringes.  All are excellent films.

As energetic as THE FLORIDA PROJECT is, Baker’s film is not without faults.  The one glaring one is his character of Halley.  Halley is a cardboard stereotyped broke single mother, foul mouthed and mostly nasty.  Unlike Baker’s other characters in the film, Haley is depicted with one type of behaviour and shows no variation or change.  The film also opts for a happy ending where the two kids find themselves running into Disney World to enjoy their fantasies.  The audience is expected to forget that Moonee was about to be taken away from her mother to a foster home.  But the playing in the rain sequence shows that there is no need for expensive toys for Mooney to have a good time.  There is one shot Baker shows of a factory outlet for Disney toys, a sorry second-hand fantasy land for the poor.  The sign with mugs at 99 cents serve to highlight the fact.

As mischievous and naughty Moonee is, it is quite unbelievable that her mother Halley never gets mad at her.  Their bonding is overdone, especially in the segment where the two play in the rain.  Baker also avoids Halley finding out the truth that Moonee set fire to the buildings nearby.

Bobby (Defoe’s character), though only a supporting character brings very bit of the story together,  He, the motel manager is totally aware of all the happenings, is stern or sympathetic when he has to be.  His is a well-written role compare to that of Halley’s.

The film is also over-long a over two hours.  Much of the mischief committed by the kids could be condensed, even though they are very laugh-out loud funny and bring amusement.  One can likely see the reason director Baker kept these segments in the film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwQ-NH1rRT4

 

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UNA MUJER FANTASTICO (A FANTASTIC WOMAN ) (Chile 2017) ***1/2

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A Fantastic Woman Poster
Trailer

Director:

Sebastián Lelio

Writers:

Sebastián Lelio (screenplay), Gonzalo Maza (screenplay)

 

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio broke into the international film scene with his Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee GLORIA back in 2013.  His latest hit, already critically acclaimed since its debut at Cannes also deals with a female protagonist, actually a transgender heroine, played astonishingly by Daniela Vega.  If nominated for a Best Actress Oscar she will make headlines as the first transgender to get nominated in the Best Actress Oscar category.  Lelio’s camera loves her.  And she is very good in the role too.  And very beautiful!

A FANTASTIC WOMAN is the portrait of a woman adrift.  Marina (Vega), the FANTASTIC WOMAN of the title is beautiful, enigmatic, and plunged into a precarious situation after her older boyfriend dies unexpectedly in her company.  Her world is turned upside down.  She has to come to terms not only of her loss but with the horrid prejudice of his family.

Fifty-seven-year-old divorcé Orlando (Francisco Reyes) wakes in the middle of the night, suffers an aneurism, and falls down some stairs.  He sustains injuries that will come to haunt Marina after she takes him to the hospital and attempts to slip away before authorities and family members begin prying. 

Marina knows she’s regarded with suspicion for her youth, class, and, above all, gender status.   She experiences the viciousness of Orlando’s son, the cold-heartedness of Orlando’s ex-wife, and the intrusiveness of a detective from the Sexual Offences Investigation Unit force Marina to not only clear her name, but also to demand the very thing no one seems willing to give her: respect.  The saddest segment is when she is denied the human right to say goodbye to the dead Orlando.  She is chased out of the funeral church service by her family.

The events are also put into a different perspective from Marina’s sister and her husband, who reluctantly offer to help.  At least they realize that it is the right thing to do.

The film is shot in Santiago, though the touristy sights are not seen.  The film is accompanied by sombre music when it needs to and uplifting music at other times.

Lelio’s film contains both disturbing scenes and scenes of elation.  The ones most difficult to watch are understandably those involving abuse to Marina.  Marina is picked up and forced into a car by Orlando’s brother and family, beaten, taped up and then tossed out of the car.  Marina at one point, goes dancing to forget her troubles.  In a fantasy sequence, she dances wearing sparkling top together with those dancing around her.  Marina finally sums up her courage to do what is right – to see her lover, Orlando one last time before he is cremated.

A FANTASTIC WOMAN is both a sad and uplifting film that illustrates the old adage that something that will not kill you will make you stronger.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgDhpy9Z-NM

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