Thursday, 30 August 2018

Film Review - The Spy Who Dumped Me (15)

Abort! Abort mission! Go!
Sometimes, as I've said before, it pays dividends for the cinema-goer to keep his expectations low. Mine were genuinely modest this time around. Both leads had a track record in being funny, the trailer made me smile a few times and it seemed like I was in for a daft, entertaining romp. That's all I was asking. Sadly The Spy Who Dumped Me didn't even scale those moderate heights.
As per the film's title, there's a promising set-up. Mila Kunis plays Audrey, a Los Angeles girl coming to terms with a break-up, helped all the way by her BFF Morgan (Kate McKinnon). Then her ex crashes back into her life pursued by a clutch of assassins and the truth comes shockingly to light - Audrey had unwittingly been dating a guy up to his ears in global espionage. Without warning she and Morgan are plunged into that same world, trying to deliver a crucial whatsit into the right hands, while being pursued all across Europe by murderous assailants. And of course they're able to trust no one except each other.
It's the kind of premise I've been championing here at Filmic Forays. Two 'sisters' doin' it for themselves, the way Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox described in the song. Taking no crap from anyone else and covering each other's back, while at every turn being witty, irreverent and hilarious. Both these gals can be all of the above - see Kunis in the Bad Moms movies and McKinnon in numerous Saturday Night Live skits - and there are scattered moments of realised potential here. But it's largely a case of squandered opportunity in a film that's messy on several fronts.
It's tonally all over the shop for starters. The story is crammed with action sequences as brutal (and five times as freaking loud) as anything in last year's Atomic Blonde, while still trying to be a wacky screwball comedy. It's a massively jarring combination - one the movie might have survived, if only the screenplay had been funnier; Melissa McCarthy's Spy made the same tonal error, but got away with it by providing a regular stream of laughs. Here the dialogue is rapid-fire with the girls giving it their best, but to little avail. Too many gags fall flat, and McKinnon in particular ends up mugging like fury to make up for the script's deficiencies. As for the plot - there's definitely one in there somewhere. But when I stopped laughing, I stopped caring.
Ultimately The Spy Who Dumped Me is a real good news/bad news scenario - one that's starting to frustrate me. It's good that films are being made with comic actresses of this calibre in mind. And it's bad - painfully so - that they're often as lame as this one.
Gut Reaction: The kind of laughter that dies in your throat after ten minutes of trying, plus actual wincing at the volume. Lots of wishing it was better.

Where Are the Women?: High-profile - both behind the camera and in front - but there's no glory here for anyone. Even Gillian Anderson is wasted in a thankless extended cameo.

Ed's Verdict: 4/10. It's not loathsome like last year's The Hitman's Bodyguard, but it is still rubbish. And there's enough spark between Kunis and McKinnon to show what this misguided project should have been.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Film Review - BlacKkKlansman (15)

I'm happy to be talking to a true white American.
Troubled times produce creative responses. Steven Spielberg's reaction to Trump era claims of fake news was The Post, a story of the free press holding the government to account when it misinformed the public. Now in BlacKkKlansman director Spike Lee tackles America's racist upsurge under its current political administration. And in doing so he crafts one of the most accessible, compelling and provocative films of his career. Did I mention entertaining and funny? I'll get to that.
BlacKkKlansman, though heavy with contemporary relevance, is based in recent US history; like The Post it's set during the upheaval of the Nixon administration and the Vietnam War. Its inspiration is the unfeasible but true story of Ron Stallworth, the first black officer in the Colorado Police Department. Acting on his own initiative, Stallworth established contact with a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, with a view to infiltrating them. Unable to show up in person (for obvious reasons), he asked a white fellow-detective to act as a surrogate. Hence there were two Rons - the one who sustained phone contact, and his partner who played him at Klan meetings. 
Spike Lee takes this factual basis and uses it to forge a taut police thriller that also draws on the tumultuous racial politics of 1970s America. Stallworth is played by John David Washington, son of Denzel, in a performance to make his dad proud. Equipped with smarts, panache and one of the best afros in the history of cinema, he's a magnetic protagonist, reminiscent of iconic Blaxploitation hero John Shaft. His teammate on the force is Jewish detective Flip Zimmerman, Star Wars' Adam Driver supplying equal dramatic weight, as a guy who till now has more easily been able to ignore the prejudice levelled against him. The rapport established between the two of them and their colleagues is easy, natural and a consistent source of laugh-out-loud moments. 
It's a relief in a story with a core of darkness. If humour is one side of this coin, horror is the other - not the blood-and-guts kind, but rather the stink of naked racism. The Klan scenes are claustrophobic enough to make your skin crawl; heavy with bile and vicious racial insults, they're also nuanced enough in the characters they portray to feel scarily real. And having an undercover Jewish cop relaxing in their fetid company heightens our response. Enter David Duke, one-time Grand Wizard of the KKK (portrayed here by Topher Grace as the suave and articulate public face of intolerance), and the creep-factor only intensifies. 
Spike Lee has made politically confrontational films over three decades and he pulls no punches here - whether referencing dubious racial stereotypes from Hollywood's past or echoing recent Trumpian rhetoric in the dialogue. The early '70s setting also enables him to explore tensions over how best to combat racism; Stallworth's 'change the system from within' stance is pitted against the more radical sympathies of the girl he's dating (Spiderman: Homecoming's Laura Harrier with a 'fro to match her attitude). The most heartening aspect of the movie, however, is Lee's respect for Stallworth's approach - something emphasised in the film's searing conclusion.
BlacKkKlansman is an ambitious brew of funky '70s style (its soundtrack is glorious), tense police procedure and toxic racial politics. It's a magnificently realised period piece and a bitingly contemporary satire - one fuelled by the fire that recent events have lit under the director's ass. While it will undoubtedly stick around as a high-point in Lee's career, the time to see it is now.
Gut Reaction: Much laughter - some hearty, some uneasy. Cringing discomfort, particularly at one moment of grim racist iconography. Oh, and I was pummelled into silence by the footage with which the film closes. Goddamn.

Where Are the Women?: Harrier is great as student activist Patrice, while Ashlie Atkinson brings a sad-sack humanity to bitter Klan wife Connie.

Ed's Verdict: 9/10. Make no mistake, this is first and foremost a great story, with gutsy and sometimes hilarious central performances. But it also punches like a heavyweight. The most important film I'm seen so far this year, and one of the best.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Film Review - Christopher Robin (PG)

It's not stress. It's Pooh.
Disney's new Winnie the Pooh film is a fascinating hybrid beast full of talking stuffed ones. While last year's Goodbye Christopher Robin was a biographical tale of Pooh-writer A. A. Milne's relationship with his real-life son, this new movie takes the fictionalised version of the boy from Milne's stories and explores what happens when he grows up. It's not dissimilar to what Steven Spielberg did in Hook for the character of Peter Pan. The result is a story more about male mid-life crisis than talking animals, one that's a genuine oddity but worth your exploration along with Hundred Acre Wood.
The story begins as young Christopher Robin has one final rambunctious party with Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, etc, before leaving that idyllic world and entering one called 'growing up'. Decades later Christopher is struggling in a frugal post-WW2 London, the pressures of work in a luggage company having turned him into a stuffy adult with insufficient time for his loving wife and daughter. Then Pooh pops miraculously via tree-trunk into his life, as if conjured from the recesses of his tired mind. The bear's mission (as much as his fuzzy brain understands it) is to help Christopher rediscover both the animal companions of his childhood and his joy in living. 
There's a lot that I loved about this film, not least the way it brings Pooh back to his archetypally English roots. (The Americanised version never felt entirely right to me.) Jim Cummings returns with his iconic voices from the Disney antimations - a husky Pooh and a spluttering Tigger - but these are blended with the likes of Toby Jones and Sophie Okonedo (Owl and Kanga respectively). The settings are muted in colour but gorgeous, whether the untamed parts of rural England or austere late '40s London. It all has a restrained British feel to it, with a smattering of references - including one memorably bouncy Tigger song - to the primary-coloured cartoon features. A very canny compromise.
The toy animals are a saggy, threadbare bunch, but brought to vivid life and interacting often hilariously with the real-life setting. Much of the film's joy is watching these clumsy anarchic toys engage with the stuffiness of the adult human world. (Having said that, I enjoyed Eeyore's depressive donkey musings on life even more than Tigger's ADHD.) Ewan McGregor is meanwhile perfect as the middle-aged curmudgeon with a boyish spirit lurking beneath. His philosophical chats with Pooh are touching as well as funny, while his revelations regarding the type of grown-up he has become provide real pause for thought.
And that is, perhaps, my main reservation regarding the film. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but have no idea how a child audience would react to the plight of this male 40-something protagonist. True there's plenty of mayhem involving honey-spillages and getting stuck halfway through tree-trunks, and spirited young Bronte Carmichael is given quite a lot to do as Christopher's daughter Madeline. But ultimately this is centred on the dad and his own quest for self-understanding. (So was Mary Poppins admittedly, but that movie was all through the children's eyes; this one is largely not.) 
Is this a family film that will have more profundity for adults, or one for grown-ups that might additionally engage the children in the audience? Additionally, if it's all a metaphor for what's going on in older Christopher Robin's mind, then how come other people can see the talking toys as well? That's just weird! Alright, I'm probably overthinking it - because this film is witty and creative, funny and moving. And if you like well-crafted and imaginative storytelling set in a nostalgic world, that's maybe enough to make it work. Now - who's for a game of Pooh Sticks?
Gut Reaction: Charmed and consistently taken by surprise at where this film went. Plus Pooh and Eeyore made me laugh a lot.

Where Are the Women?: Hayley Atwell makes the most of what she's given as wife Evelyn, and Carmichael is pleasingly non-bratty as Madeline.

Ed's Verdict: 7.5/10. While not achieving the perfect family balance of Paddington 2, Christopher Robin is still worth your time for its sheer artistry. And for parents - it has a message your young kids will want you to embrace.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Film Review - The Equalizer 2 (15)

They're going to war with me.
2014's The Equalizer was a big-screen adaptation of the '80s TV show starring Edward Woodward as private detective Robert McCall. A major presence is required to fill the Woodward shoes and Denzel Washington proved a perfect fit with his natural compassion and air of contained ruthlessness. His McCall was a retired government operative with a dark and violent past, content to work a regular job and relax reading Hemingway in his favourite diner - until a threat to someone he cared about drew him into a new role as righter-of-wrongs. Now when the innocent and vulnerable are threatened, he restores balance (or 'equalises'). 
The first film was a pacy, workmanlike thriller that made good use of its star. In this rather meandering sequel McCall is working as a Boston cabbie, a job that fits around his new calling as a benevolent vigilante. He's blending into his blue-collar community, trying to keep a young would-be artist (Moonlight's Ashton Sanders) on the straight and narrow and travelling far and wide to sort out business for his oppressed clients. But elsewhere crack assassins are plying a lethal trade, with his ex-senator pal (Melissa Leo) and one-time special ops partner (Game of Thrones' Pedro Pascal) both taking an interest. McCall lends his detective skills from afar, before brutal developments drag him in deep.
If the movie has deficiencies (and it does), it's not the fault of its star. Even in a standard genre movie like this Washington exhibits the same degree of intensity as he did in Glory or Malcolm X, never more so than in the quiet moments. There's depth of friendship with the few buddies he has, a touching paternal quality with artist Miles and an utterly convincing switch into lethal mode - where you sense he could break all your bones without breaking a sweat. The best scenes are those he shares with the lad, whether cajoling him to pursue his gift or taking him grimly to task over the lure of a criminal lifestyle. It's utterly believable stuff - coming straight from the gut and showing itself in those transfixing eyes. 
The issues lie elsewhere in both plotting and pacing. This follow-up delves into McCall's past, but does so in a way that mimics too many story beats of the first film; it even leads to a showdown that for all its evocative setting seems way too familiar. Twists are signposted and there's little is in the way of genuine surprise for a seasoned thriller fan. Various subplots stall the momentum to the point of sluggishness, with a resultant watering down of the drama. Yes there are a few sequences where the stakes register, but not enough for the story to prove compelling overall.
Sharing the original movie's writer and director, The Equalizer 2 is intermittently entertaining, but wastes opportunity to fully explore the ambiguities in McCall's character. He's attempting to redeem himself for unspecified crimes of the past, but doing so by subverting the law; it's an irony ripe for exploration but one that's largely bypassed. So if you're not going to wrestle with those issues, the least you can do is keep things whizzing along. Otherwise, despite your leading man's finest efforts, it all ends up a little bit dull and grey. 
Gut Reaction: Touching father-surrogate-son stuff and a few white-knuckle moments. But too much sitting and waiting for predictable things to happen.

Where Are the Women?: A few cameos, Leo's tough not-quite-retired politician being the most memorable.

Ed's Verdict: 6/10. Denzel never disappoints, and his rapport with Sanders would make for a great movie in itself. But ultimately this is a lacklustre sequel that doesn't attain the modest heights of the original.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Film Review - Unfriended: Dark Web (15)

Hold on... You stole someone's computer?
I've yet to see 2014's horror-thriller Unfriended, so I came to this follow-up with no possible risk of 'same old, same old'. Unfriended: Dark Web uses an identical conceit to its predecessor - a scary story playing out entirely on the screen of one character's laptop. (A very now kind of storytelling.) The first film was a tale of literal computer haunting, where a ghostly victim of online bullying wreaked cyber-revenge on a smug group of friends. With no clear supernatural element Dark Web taps into something more terrifying - the sinister illegalities we all know are lurking somewhere beneath the web's comforting surface. 
Colin Woodell plays Matias, a 20-something guy embarking on an online game night with his old college friends. This he's doing on a second-hand laptop supposedly bought on Craig's List. But when Matias goes exploring, he discovers a mysterious cache of files that seem to be taking up most of the space on the hard-drive. His choice to click and investigate uncovers something deeply sinister, putting himself and those closest to him at grave risk.
Adjusting to this radical storytelling format might take a while for an Unfriended newbie. There's a lot of on-screen information to absorb - Matias' group Skype chat with his in-jokey fellow Millennials, his Facebooking with an angry girlfriend and his detective work. You become oriented quickly, however, most of the online activity being disarmingly familiar. Which is why it's disturbing when Matias' experience takes a turn for the darker: cryptic communications via an account he should never have accessed, unnerving revelations, a gnawing sense that he's tangled with something very wrong indeed. The film's industrial soundscape heightens the sense of dread, as do some creepy visuals, before the horror become scarily explicit. By the time this laptop-user's nightmare gets real, we're hooked - horribly so.
The movie's young actors sell this mounting paranoia and are sketched out sufficiently through the group-babble for us to care about their fates. Matias' relationship with his deaf girlfriend is dealt with sympathetically, as are the issues between two characters in a same-sex relationship. All of which ultimately makes for a tougher watch. When horror protagonists are halfway likeable, their misfortunes hit home - especially when their plans are as innocuous and everyday as a gaming session.
Inevitably there are some dubious horror-movie choices to facilitate the story. Also the movie overplays its hand in the final act, each outrageous plot twist outdoing the previous one, until it all gets too preposterous for words. (I mean this really stretches credibility to snapping point.) But by that stage the sense of fear is so tangible that it doesn't awfully matter. The story delves into subject matter so dark, and from such a mundane starting point, that its later excesses do little to undermine the cumulative sense of dread. 
Unfriended: Dark Web is technically smart and constantly inventive. It may be reliant on well-worn horror tropes, but the ingenious narrative form recycles them to gripping effect. The film also serves as a macabre cautionary tale. Jaws kept people out of the water, while The Exorcist put them off messing with ouija boards. Well next time I stumble on a second-hand laptop of unspecified origin, I'll probably take a hammer to it or simply run. Now that's how you know a scary movie has done its job.
Gut Reaction: Vaguely unsettled, followed by finger-gnawingly tense, leading to pretty damn harrowed. Horror-cinema fear levels are subjective of course. But this is the first scary movie in a while that's genuinely creeped me out.

Where Are the Women?: You can say what you like about horror as a film genre, but it's quite the equal opportunities employer. Betty Gabriel (the weirdo housemaid in Get Out) and Rebecca Rittenhouse are particularly good.

Ed's Verdict: 7/10. Its plot logic mightn't bear much scrutiny, but Unfriended: Dark Web is intense, efficient and ruthless. Some horror you shake off on leaving the cinema. This is the kind that lingers...

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Film Review - The Bookshop (PG)

She can't do that. It's my bookshop. It's my home.
The Bookshop sneaked into UK cinemas and out again, or so it seems, at the beginning of summer 2018. I caught it at a one-off screening at my local Odeon, having seen the photo of a friend meeting actor Bill Nighy on set in my native Northern Ireland. (The Ulster countryside stood in very effectively for England's south-east.) I'm glad Odeon found room for it in their schedule - this is a beautiful and poignant story that acts as welcome cleanser after the recent CGI shenanigans of The Meg and its rival blockbusters.
Adapted by Spanish director Isabel Coixet from Penelope Fitzgerald's 1978 novel, The Bookshop is an outsider's perspective on a very English confrontation. Emily Mortimer (you might know her best from TV's The Newsroom) plays Florence Green, a World War Two widow whose ambition it is to open a bookshop in the coastal East Anglian town of Hardborough. This seemingly inoffensive project finds opposition in the form of local socialite Violet Gamart (a sweetly vitriolic Patricia Clarkson). The grand lady has vague plans for the same damp property that Florence is renovating, backed up by a fierce sense of entitlement. But moral support is at hand in the form of literature-loving recluse and kindred spirit Edmund Brundish (Nighy)...
This is a small-scale but painstakingly observed tale, a metaphor for establishment efforts to stamp out an individual's dreams. Mortimer is an unassuming but nuanced heroine, her performance conveying the inner life of a woman stricken by tragedy but buoyed up by literary passion. Her life-affirming character is hemmed in by apathy and antipathy in the form of reluctant bank-managers, unhelpful solicitors and one particularly vapid local TV executive (James Lance in a fine display of condescension masquerading as friendship). And as her main antagonist Clarkson turns in a masterclass in passive aggression - all acid-smiling insincerity. The film has a seam of bitter humour throughout, where ruthless intentions wear a mask of politeness. But there's good-heartedness too; Nighy is both wryly funny and touching as Brundish, while Honor Kneafsey is open-faced and winning as Florence's young bookshop employee Christine.
Director Croixet provides a more austere view rural England than you find in most period films, the starkly beautiful cinematography warming into rich colour as Florence's bookshop vision is brought to life. This is a leisurely-paced piece of storytelling, most interested in its characters and what may (or in some cases simply may not) be going on within them. And when you have performances as finely judged and complex as in Mortimer and Nighy's first face-to-face encounter, it's good to have a camera unafraid to linger. The whole film has a stillness to it that brims with unspoken feelings, all of them plaintively underscored by Alfonso de Viallonga's orchestral soundtrack. Some will call it slow - I call it beautifully observed, on both visual and emotional levels.
There's a poignancy to The Bookshop that stems from the disappearance of such gorgeous independent establishments from the high-streets of modern Britain. But this film also has much to say about grief, friendship, worthy ambition and the power of great literature to ennoble people's lives, even when others' pettiness and small-minded outlooks are marshalled against them. While its geographical boundaries are limited, this story is about nothing less than how books can open minds and revolutionise the human soul. All of which turns the unlikely figure of Florence into a genuinely courageous heroine. One for our time as much as her own.
Gut Reaction: No towering emotions, but a sense of Florence's joy as she opens her first ledger and of her frustration as the forces of small-town darkness mass against her. The ending brought a tear...

Where Are the Women?: Emily Mortimer is wonderful - generally speaking and here specifically. And Patricia Clarkson provides proof, were it needed, of her greatness as a character actor.

Ed's Verdict: 8/10. Any film that has Bill Nighy's face lighting up as he reads his first Ray Bradbury novel is worth my time. Understated, painful and tender, The Bookshop is definitely one to browse.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Film Review - The Meg (12A)

One fish did all this?
Everything you need to know here is on the poster. It's Jason Statham versus a bloody big shark. Yes - the man from the nonsensical-but-fun Expendables and Crank franchises is tangling now with a prehistoric beastie from the deep. You want Godzilla-scale monster action, you've got it. You want a gruff but likeable leading man, tick that box. You want entertainment where the most thought required is how to get the popcorn from the carton to your mouth, this is your film. (I don't judge - some Friday nights this is exactly what's required.)
Statham plays Jonas Taylor, a deep sea rescue diver who (like Dwayne Johnson in Skyscraper) is reeling from a mission gone terribly wrong. To add insult, no one believes his crazy story about a sea creature big enough to snack on a blue whale. But when scientists in an underwater research facility go poking around in a newly discovered (and unfathomably deep) ocean trench off the Chinese coast, the beast strikes again. Who they gonna call? The 'Stath', of course, who reluctantly returns to face his new fishy nemesis the megalodon - a species of shark thought extinct some several million years. At which point it all gets very chompy and equally daft.
The Meg is one of the few summer blockbusters not part of an established franchise, but for all the nonsensical fun it provides, this is scarcely an original idea, and I'm not talking about Godzilla.
There's only ever been one genuinely great shark movie, and that was gifted to us by Steven Spielberg in 1975. Still, there have been some enjoyably preposterous sharky outings since Jaws, the genetically enhanced predators of 1999's Deep Blue Sea springing foremost to mind. More recently there's been a slew of straight-to-video or TV sharksploitation tales, like the joyously titled Sharknado (and its five sequels). And 2016 brought us The Shallows, a stripped-down suspence thriller that actually attained some Jaws-level claustrophobia.
The Meg is, in contrast, an all-harpoons-firing big-budget studio shark-pic. It's proficiently made throughout and splashes along with such a rapid stroke that you don't worry too much about how derivative it is. All its glossy production and impressive tech can't disguise how shamelessly this movie steals from the Spielberg classic, albeit with finesse and some additional big money-shots. (One overhead shot of massed swimmers is particularly striking.)The characters are diverse but under-drawn, so that you never get particularly invested in the relationship-based subplots. Nor are the jokey bits particularly funny. But none of this is why anyone's watching, right? We want jeopardy and we want spectacle.
The film is duly crammed from its early stages with well-crafted shark-on-Statham action, all of which is as hilariously outlandish as you might hope. The big lad from Lock, Stock and Snatch delivers a beefy, no-nonsense performance that refuses (like Dwayne Johnson in Rampage) to be dwarfed by a massive people-devouring CGI co-star. The UK's favourite B-movie action hero also manages considerable charm when bonding with potential love interest (Bingbing Li) and her winsome daughter (Shuya Sophia Cai). If there's one thing this guy knows, it's how to play to his strengths - he was a Commonwealth Games diving competitor once, so it feels like the water is welcoming him back.
The Meg promises a limited range of pleasures and delivers on them, gaining some extra points for achieving an international feel the way Rampage did (as a US/Chinese co-production it's aiming squarely at two vast cinema-going markets). It's a well-packaged entertainment, big, brash and disposable - and ultimately one more reminder of how good Jaws really was. Have fun, and then revisit those New Jersey waters with Chief Brodie and the boys. Now that's a real shark experience.
Gut Reaction: Interest held, partly due to being kept on high cliche-alert, and provided with more than a few dumb laughs. Oh, and a bit sorry for the shark - it was minding its own aquatic business until those scientists showed up...

Where Are the Women?: There are three female characters on the team, all of whom are made to look capable rather than stupid. This is progress!

Ed's Verdict: 6/10. Well I gave Rampage that score, and The Meg exists on precisely the same level of big, stupid fun. A perfectly serviceable weekend diversion, but enough with the brainless monster flicks, Hollywood. Please.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

DVD/Blu-ray Mini-Review - The Florida Project (15)

Jance, do you wanna go play with the kids from the purple place?
The Gist: Moonee is a six-year-old girl living with her mother Halley in rented motel accommodation just outside Disney World. Part of a community members of which are all one step from homelessness, she lives out wild adventures with her pals Jancey and Scooty over one long, hot Floridian summer. Halley meanwhile is attempting to scratch out a living, while shielding her daughter from the precarious truth of their existence, her struggles and bad decisions observed by gruff but benevolent motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe). How long Moonee can remain in her idyllic bubble of childhood is worryingly uncertain.  
The Juice: Directed and co-written by Sean Baker, The Florida Project presents a strangely magical picture of growing up in a less than magical setting. Often shot from ground-level, it provides a child's eye view of this dingy urban landscape, using vivid pastel colours - bubblegum pinks and zingy oranges - to suggest how a young imagination can transform anything into its own Magic Kingdom. The irony is glaring - Moonee is allowed to run semi-feral, her reckless mother unable to escape this grim poverty trap on the Disney doorstep. Baker shoots it all impressionistically, halfway between drama and documentary-style, drawing remarkable performances from a largely inexperienced cast. The kids give raw, unforced performances that are charming and appalling to equal degrees, with Brooklynn Prince uncannily good as the precocious young Moonee. Instagram discovery Bria Vinaite plays the mother as a laughing, swearing whirlwind of immaturity, both loving and neglectful. And Dafoe blends into it all perfectly as the kids' de facto guardian - exasperated but sympathetic, and doing what little he can to help them all out.
The Judgement: 9/10. This is what independent cinema does best - crafting a sense of real lives, shot by painstakingly edited shot. Baker finds beauty and joy within a situation of borderline-despair, and deep humanity inside characters not always easy to like. He sugar-coats nothing, yet finds a way inside the minds of these naughty, untamed motel children, reminiscent of 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird (only with no Gregory Peck to impose order and wisdom). The film never judges its characters, it simply observes, and lets us ponder how people become this marginalised within a wealthy society. Abrasive, funny and in the end terribly moving, The Florida Project would most definitely have featured on my 2017 Top Ten, had I caught up with it in time. Find it and see it.