In Sean Baker's The Florida Project, the ironically-named Magic Castle and Futureland motels sit next to each other in Kissimee, Florida. This is close enough to Walt Disney World that Halley, the single mother of 6-year-old Moonee can regularly shake down the tourists and steal food to survive. But prostitution is much more lucrative (especially when she steals cash and valuable park passes), so she begins servicing “tricks” after locking her daughter in the bathroom. The motel manger discovers what is going on, and threatens Halley with eviction and a call to Child Protective Services. It sounds depressing, but since we see things through a child’s eyes, everything is accepted as “normal,” and the Florida Project would make a great compare-and-contrast double-bill with Lady Bird toast
When Pixar writer/director Adrian Molina’s brainchild, Coco was released in Mexico on the recent Dia de los Muertas (Day of the Dead), the film about a musically-gifted 12-year-old boy who runs away from his “no-music-allowed” home and stumbles into a parallel universe-de-muertos populated by humorous skeletons and prophetic spirit-animals quickly became Mexico’s highest-grossing film of all time. Coco’s problem is that he must find his way back to the land of the living before the day is done, or be stuck with the dead ones forever. Sounds simple enough, except there are so many distractions for a music-obsessed youngster. Every being on the other side loves to create and play music including his feisty, long dead, great, great, great grandmother Imelda, the charismatic troubador, Hector, who willingly agrees to help Coco—but still must stop occasionally to sing a song or three, a very friendly stray dog named Dante, and Miguel’s favorite musician Ernesto de la Cruz—a 1940’s crooner killed by a freak accident with a church bell. The opening scenes are crammed full of exposition, but once they are liberated from the constraints of the conventional “real-world,” the animators have created a masterpiece of wild sights and sounds where the “other side” appears to be a happy, and very musical place to be.
Writer/director Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age movie, Lady Bird proves that the universality of high school angst can be fresh, alive and exciting. The title is the nick-name of a Sacramento teen attending an all girls Catholic High School. Longing to escape to New York City, Lady Bird attempts to expand her circle beyond her perpetually sunny Best-Friend, and develops an experimental crush for a boy in the all-boys Catholic school. A moody drummer soon becomes boyfriend #2, but, to Lady Bird’s dismay, he is even more disappointing than boyfriend #1. Unlike most teen movies, parents are critical to the gestalt that is Lady Bird (both the character and the movie). There are interactive scenes between mother and daughter that are miniature masterpieces in a movie filled with astoundingly well-crafted performances. This film is a winner!
Director Kagonda has created a film to watch in the early afternoon so you can spend some time afterwards appreciating what you have just experienced. The story involves what happens when a world-class Korean architect slated to give a talk about the celebrated modernist buildings of Columbus, Indiana is hospitalized. His grown son is stuck in the Midwestern city, but finds companionship with a young librarian as they both try to cope with what life has dealt them, but it is so much more—a poignantly beautiful piece of conversational filmmaking where buildings become part of the cast.
I’m surprised the opening music isn’t Peter, Paul and Mary singing “If I Had a Hammer,” for that is the premise of the impressive film, Thor: Ragnarok. Thor, the mighty God of Thunder and Lightning, has lost his beloved talisman and is imprisoned on the other side of the (Marvel?) universe. Meanwhile, Hela, the Goddess of Death is hastening Ragnorak (the prophesied End of Times) to Thor’s Asgard homeland. A long role of odd characters helps Thor in his mission to thwart extinction, including the Incredible Hulk, who first appears as his opponent in a kill-or-be-killed gladiatorial contest. The destructive fight is presented with the same tongue-in-cheek humor that has always made Thor a likable character, but changes the audience’s assumption that the Hulk, is just angry grimaces. Surprisingly, these two incredibly different heroes become buddies who delight in trading one-liner zingers with each other. Marvel purists will probably cringe at all the light hearted jibs and jabs, but they will love the over-the-top climax of the film. I credit screenwriter Eric Pearson and director Taika Waititi for making everything work so well.
Faces Places (PG) 4 pieces of toast Octogenarian Agnes Varda makes another compelling “slice of life” documentary as she travels across the French countryside with photographer and street artist JR. This time, she confronts remnants of her Nouvelle Vague previous life Jane (NR) 3 and 1/2 pieces of toast Paleoanthropologist Jane Goodall’s career as a professional “wait and watcher” is beautifully preserved in Brett Morgan’s astounding doc. The audiences gets the chance to wait and watch as Jane finally gains acceptance from her beloved chimpanzees, and the primate rituals observed in the wild are mirrored by Jane and her National Geographic photographer husband. One flaw is the jarring music and fast-paced editing techniques Morgan unwisely uses to “jazz things up a bit.”
Arizona Hot Shots, Harry Dean Stanton, NY Pubic Library and Ranchera singer Chavela provide real choices
Locals brave enough to watch this bio-pic of the Arizona “Hot Shots” firefighting crew can learn a great deal about how puny little humans fight a monstrous firestorm. One thing that stands out, is the contrast between those who fight rural wildland fires and those who confront urban structural fires. The tactics, skills, techniques and equipment are quite different. Which is part of the reason the response to our local “once in 150 years catastrophe” as so unique. In this film, the Prescott, Arizona fire crew are the underdogs striving to become “Hot Shots.” The crew is capable, but are assigned “mop-up” jobs and therefore don’t get the frontline experience they need to go up a grade. The underdog story is predictable, but the actors involved elevate stock characters into individuals you feel for. Kudos to cinematographer Claudio Miranda. Only the Brave should add another Oscar to his wall of trophies.
Gil Mansergh’s Cinema Toast New Releases For the Week of 10/13/17 Professor Marston & the Wonder Women (R) Starring: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote Directed by: Angela Robinson Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston & the Wonder Women would make an excellent double-bill with Patty Jenkins Wonder Woman. I’ve written before [...]
In 1983, Ridley Scott’s astoundingly lyrical sci-fi-noir film Blade Runner took audiences to a place they had never been before. Set 30 years late, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is set 30 has an even greater “cool factor” than the original. In dystopian Los Angeles, elite teams of “Blade Runners” are assigned to “retire” (kill) any rebellious replicant (bioengineered slave laborers) who get a little too “uppity.” There are two types of replicants (called by their uber-industrialist manufacturer “bad angels” and “good angels”). I have sworn to the powers that be not to give away too many plot secrets, but it is helpful to know that two of the new replicants are named Joi and Luv. One other thing, Harrison Ford returns as Deckard.
In 1973, an over-the-hill tennis champ and serial self-promoter Bobby Riggs (astoundingly personified by Steve Carrell) is certain that no female can ever beat him. So after stunts like playing tennis dressed as Little Bo Peep (complete with her sheep), he challenges the World’s #1 women’s tennis champ, Billie Jean King to a Battle of the Sexes, $100,000 prize tennis match televised from the Huston Astrodome. Coincidentally, King has just come out of the closet. What could possibly go wrong?