Thursday, October 26, 2017

Loving Vincent and The Florida Project

                        “You’re gone from me, whoa, whoa 
                         Tragedy”  (from The Fleetwoods' 1961 album Softly)

                                                         Reviews by Ken Burke

         Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Vincent van Gogh’s life, fame as a pioneer of what we now know as modern art (especially in realm of Expressionism which evolved partially from his paintings more formally known as Post-Impressionist), personal struggles with mental illness, and tragic death (likely from suicide, although this film intends to raise some questions about that but based on more than the screenwriters' speculations, so there’s really nothing I can say about Loving Vincent truly functioning as a spoiler; however, there’s not much more I can say about it either in this concise statement that can be effectively reduced to words.  … Vincent is a magnificent cinematic experience that needs to be seen, preferably in a theatrical setting on a large screen but at least in high-definition-video in the biggest format you can access, because it began as live-action-cinematography (enhanced by some computer graphics) but was then transformed frame-by-frame into a series of 65,000 oil paintings capturing the style of van Gogh’s thick paint/bold brushstroke-approach to render an incomparable visual experience greatly augmenting the mystery plot line—from a year after the artist’s death but with extensive flashbacks to the span of his adult life—about whether he died of a self-inflicted-gunshot-wound or a shooting done by someone else.  Loving Vincent is as fascinating a cinematic experience as you’ll ever hope to find.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: ⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.  OK, continue on if you like.

What Happens: Vincent van Gogh died in the French country town of Auvers-sur-Oise on July 29, 1890 as the result of a festering bullet wound to his gut from 2 days prior.  The plot of this film begins a year later in the town of Arles (far southern region of France) where postman Joseph Roulin (Chris O’Dowd—you can recognize his voice but his image is completely painted over in a colorful, kinetic style to resemble van Gogh’s famous portrait of the man, as are all of the other characters and locations in this film; see the next section of this review below for more on this astounding presentational process, including placing these characters within facsimiles of van Gogh’s paintings such as father and son Roulin carrying their conversation into Vincent’s The Night Café [1888]) tells his son, Armand (Douglas Booth), he must deliver a long-held-letter Joseph still possesses to Vincent’s brother, Theo (Cezary Lukaszewicz)—a beloved sibling as well as essential financial supporter as Vincent sold few paintings, during his embattled life*—in Paris because he no longer has a valid address.  Although the ongoing narrative of … Vincent is often interrupted by relevant flashbacks of van Gogh’s (Robert Gulaczyk) life—shown in black & white, without the flamboyance of the richly-hued-scenes of the 1891 present nor the pulsating energy of the paint—what basically happens is Armand (with a sour attitude toward Vincent, remembering the grotesque incident of the artist mutilating one of his own ears as the result of arguments with former friend Paul Gauguin [Piotr Pamula], then presenting this severed body part to a local prostitute) travels to Paris to meet with Père Tanguy (John Sessions), who tells him Theo’s also dead, from syphilis and heartbreak, passing away not long after his brother’s demise.  Now determined to deliver the letter to Theo’s widow, Armand travels to Auvers (only about 17 miles from the center of Paris) in hopes of getting information on her whereabouts from people whom Vincent lived with in those final days.

*For years legend said he sold only 1, but this article notes there were at least 2 or 3, although such meager income still required Theo’s ongoing help.  Ironically, in 1990 van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890) fetched a record $82.5 million (inflated to $151.2 million today), since replaced as the top-seller by Willem de Kooning’s Interchange (1955), bought at a 2015 auction for $300 million.

 In the process he speaks with Dr. Gachet’s housekeeper, Louise Chevalier (Helen McCrory)—whose memories of Vincent prove quite hostile as she defends her employer, who had painterly aspirations of his own but was no match for his one-time-friend-and-border—Adeline Ravoux (Eleanor Tomlinson), the proprietor of the inn where Vincent was staying when he died—with a much more sympathetic attitude toward the painter—Marguerite Gachet (Saoirse Ronan), the doctor’s reclusive daughter, who showed a fondness for Vincent until he was told by her father not to pursue such—the local river Boatman (Aidan Turner), who spent some time with van Gogh, telling Armand how the already-mentally-disturbed-man was harassed by local boy Rene Secretan (Marcin Sosinski), as well as interviewing Dr. Mazery (Bill Thomas), who not only claims van Gogh’s wound had the characteristics of murder rather than suicide but also says the shooting occurred at a local farm not in the wheatfield where some say Vincent painted his final work (although other accounts see this as another romantic myth, citing a few others done after the noted Wheatfield with Crows [1890], leading to Armand’s speculation Vincent was shot by Rene), then finally he meets Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn), returned from out-of-town-business, who admits he feels guilt for channeling his own frustrations with not becoming a talented painter into harsh comments to Vincent about how his former-colleague’s condition and financial needs were taking a serious toll on Theo’s health—spurring Vincent to suicide to relieve the burden placed on his brother—although Gachet rejects the murder line-of-inquiry, insisting a mental patient could easily have gone from stability (indicated by Vincent in a letter to Postman Roulin sent 6 weeks prior to his death) to madness in this short time.

 Dr. Gachet finally gets the long-lost-letter to Theo’s widow who’s happy to receive it (signed to Theo as “Your loving Vincent,” providing this film's title) as she later indicates in a reply to Roulin and his son.  Pre-credits intertitles finish the film with brief historical accounts of what became of some of these characters, including Secretan admitting his earlier torment of van Gogh but still insisting on his deathbed Vincent stole his pistol to commit suicide. (Although no one could ever answer why, if so, he shot himself in the stomach rather than the head, with speculations Vincent changed his mind after the first wound, then walked back to town in hopes of recovery, which was not to come because there was no surgeon at hand to remove the bullet lodged deep inside of him.)

So What? To fully appreciate what’s going on with Loving Vincent you need to understand its production process, which took 7 years to complete (the ultimate expression of a “labor of love”) using 125 artists (you can go here to see the enormity of people needed to make this film) to paint the 65,000 individual images (all oil on canvas) used to generate what we see on screen for about 88 min. (plus about 6 more of standard credits, made in the usual manner) for a total of 898 shots; all of the actors involved did their scenes against either a green screen onto which images taken from 120 of van Gogh’s paintings were added or a fully-constructed-set based on those paintings; then computer animation was used to add movement of birds, leaves, etc. to produce the foundational “rough cut” of this film.  From that each frame was then isolated so the various artists could recreate them all on canvas with oils in a style similar to van Gogh’s (including thick impasto applications of paint), to then be reshot into the final projected version. (It’s these thousands of oil paintings that make this film unique because any animated feature made in the traditional hand-drawn, then photographed frame-by-frame style is also individually painted on the transparent cels, but that’s essentially fill-in-color to lines inked in by the animators or their assistants whereas the process in … Vincent uses the same artist to fully create each cluster of images, based only on some foundational lines taken from the rough cut, then captures the resulting visual on computer.)  

 However, even 65,000 pictures aren’t enough to produce this film (24 frames-per-second x 60 sec. = 1,440 frames per minute x 88 min. = 126,720 frames to project), so each one of the 65,000's shot twice for the final release print (taking us back to 19th century proto-cinematic-experiments which showed you need only about 12 images per second to produce the illusion of motion we call “persistence of vision” in film and video media—24 [or more] are used just for further enhancement of the final result, to reduce annoying "flicker").  The result is this marvelous merge of photography, painting, and animation producing a distinct look standing apart from standard forms of animation as there’s an “electric” feel to the faces on screen where the paint itself seems to slightly-vibrate even as the entire face/body of the character moves smoothly through his or her cinematic spaces.

 Of course, such a technical undertaking could simply be considered a massive gimmick (going beyond such previous undertakings in this vein such as in “Crows” [one of the individual segments of Dreams {Akira Kurosawa, 1990} where an art student enters a van Gogh painting to meet the artist himself {played by director Martin Scorsese}, then wanders through other van Gogh canvases before ending in the famous Wheatfield with Crows] or films by Richard Linklater such as Waking Life [2001] and A Scanner Darkly [2006] which also began as cinematography with live actors but then are “painted” over using computer animation to produce various dream-like-visual-styles) if there’s no compelling narrative underlying this constant swirl of colorful imagery.  Some critics, such as my local honcho, Mick LaSalle (of the San Francisco Chronicle, giving him the advantage of the widest readership in my area, along with his additional syndication and online presences) thinks this critical element’s missing from … Vincent: “If the narrative is flat, so is the movie […] there’s little mystery to be had. ¶  In a desperate attempt to put anything onscreen that will stretch things to feature length, the movie tries to generate interest into the brooding angst of young Armand as he goes about his search, but it’s a hopeless strategy. The audience cares only about van Gogh, not about some random guy. It’s like making a movie about Jesus that gets mired in the mood fluctuations of one of the minor apostles.”  I assume it’s already abundantly clear I disagree the “death mystery” element of … Vincent isn’t intriguing (even if fictional, as I’ve seen few accounts of van Gogh’s life that don’t conclude it ended with suicide), but I’ll bolster my distance from LaSalle’s comments with this statement from his own local colleague, Kelly Vance of the East Bay Express who sums up his review thusly: “Surely by now the Van Gogh mythology has entered the public domain. He's anybody's image of the misunderstood genius at this point, and Loving Vincent is a blazingly convulsive portrait of the artist, whether it's factual or not. See it and be exhilarated."  

 One way to experience that exhilaration beyond simply seeing Loving Vincent (difficult, playing in only 114 domestic [U.S.-Canada] theaters after 5 weeks in release, yielding a meager $1.4 million box-office-return so far, not boding well for your chances to find this magnificent creation on a big screen before it disappears into videoland, but do try if you can) is to refresh yourself on van Gogh’s work and life, with a sense of how he captured subjects in his unique way as explored in this documentary (59:05) or this survey (53:14) of all 862 of his oils, done in roughly the final 10 years of his life (although the order—if any—of this video eludes me because it’s not chronological nor does it seem to be organized by subject-matter-category).  Fortunately for me, I can say I speak from some experience in having seen a good many of van Gogh’s paintings (certainly nowhere close to all of them, though, except in picture books) in places such as the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery in London, the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, and probably other locations as well.  They’re brilliant enough in proper reproductions, but seen in person these triumphs have the same magical quality that permeates this remarkable film.

Bottom Line Final Comments: You can tell, though, from the overall critical response—evidenced by LaSalle’s remarks above, but there are others much more harsh in content (Rotten Tomatoes surveyed 78% of reviews with a positive tone but the average score at Metacritic is considerably lower at 62%)this Polish-UK joint project isn’t as universally-beloved as my exceptionally rare rating of the full 5 stars would indicate, a decision I’ve made only 5 times in almost 6 years of providing commentary in this blog, in the process of reviewing 625 films/movies (in keeping with some aspects of traditional critical snobbery, I do note qualitative differences in intent of what’s on screen although when the “mere” movies are entertaining enough they can earn my higher numbers just as easily as the more aesthetically-driven films do) prior to this posting with only Fences (Denzel Washington, 2016; reviews in our January 4 and 12, 2017 postings) being from our second century of commercial cinema (starting with the Lumiere Bros.’ December 28, 1895 inaugural paying-audience-screening of very short movies they’d shot).  So, do I really feel that in years to come future audiences will see Loving Vincent as being the type of groundbreaking technical and/or compelling narrative I now find defining such cinematic classics as The Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925) with its archetypal use of dynamic montage editing; Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939) a masterful combination of deep-focus-cinematography, moving camera, and complex human decisions (“The awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons”—still one of the most significant statements I’ve ever heard on screen); Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966), a meta-meditation on the entire concept of cinema; Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942), and The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972), all of which are virtual perfections of script, acting, technical finesse, and explorations of American self-understandings?  After all, accomplishments like these are the essence of what I find 5-star-films to be when reviewing, so does this oil-painting-immersion-experience fit in such hallowed company?

 Well, yes, I do have confidence Loving Vincent will stand up to such scrutiny because I see that much potential in this unique film, with its extraordinary visuals (offering a presence that far transcends mere fascination with their production processes), effective structure as a mystery story about the circumstances of van Gogh’s death kept active by the interplay of past and present narrative episodes, as well as conveying the deep loss of Vincent van Gogh, dead at 37, for those who admired him (despite his difficulties) within his lifetime as well as future generations who’ll never know what further contributions his exuberant energies and unique visions could've made to the evolving world of modern art (just as we’ve been robbed by the far-too-early-deaths of other artists such as French filmmaker Jean Vigo [died in 1934, age 29], actor James Dean [died in 1955, age 24], musician John Lennon [died in 1980, age 40]).  That tragic sense of loss was captured marvelously by a musician who's still with us (fortunately, I finally got a chance to see him in concert a couple of years ago), Don McLean, with “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” (from his 1971 American Pie album) which you can find at (accompanied by a flowing wealth of van Gogh images, compiled for this video by Anthony DiFatta who suffers from mental illness himself but works with patients at the Mississippi State Hospital), so I’ll use it as an obvious Musical Metaphor (my regular tactic for review-closure) to finish off these comments (but from the perspective of an aural artform) on Loving Vincent (although you might also enjoy the version by Lianne La Havas used under the end credits of the film), which, in its own way, gets to the heart of … Vincent’s fascinating presence with these melancholy lines: “Now I understand What you tried to say to me And how you suffered for your sanity And how you tried to set them free They would not listen, they did not know how Perhaps they’ll listen now.”  Plaintively, I can only hope so.
                            The Florida Project (Sean Baker)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): In dumpy-motels so-close-but-oh-so-far from Florida’s Disney World complex we find welfare recipients struggling to get by, many of them on almost nothing, with their young kids idling away the hot summer months out of school trying to stay occupied but usually just getting into trouble in the process; this isn’t an easy story to watch but a necessary one nevertheless.  To say any more here, beyond what’s shown to you in the trailer just below, would easily get into spoiler territory because this is based in reality (without saying so at the beginning, as it’s not as specific a docudrama as Loving Vincent but instead is inspired by the near-homeless living near a wealthy-tourists’-paradise with little hope of ever getting any closer to that world than being able to watch the nightly fireworks from the “other” side of the fence) so anything I’d say might come across as revealing too much.  All I can offer now, despite the downer-vibe of this story, is there’s also a sense of resilience by at least some of the depicted characters to not get swallowed up by the left-behind-circumstances they’ve found themselves in, despite the obvious difficulties of transcending personal or larger social conditions that have come to define them.  However, after 3 weeks in release The Florida Project’s still just in 112 domestic theaters having grossed a very limited $1.3 million so you might not be able to find it, but I doubt it’d lose much impact on a smaller video screen at a later date so be aware when it does become available.

Here's the trailer:

       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
What Happens: In Kissimmee, FL (butted against Orlando, about 10 miles from the fantasy-escapes and luxury-hotels of Walt Disney World Resort and many other local attractions) we’re introduced to welfare-families living in run-down-accommodations such as the purple-painted Magic Castle—managed by hard-working-but-ever-frustrated Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe)—and its neighboring Futureland Inn, wherein dwell our other chief characters (helpful, because their pay-by-the-week-homes have long since lost any character they might ever have had): Halley (Bria Vinaite), a just-barely-past-her-teens-single-mom with a prison record, a wealth of tattoos, little hope for employment (except as a clandestine prostitute), a consistently foul mouth to match her negative attitude, along with a dearth of parenting skills; Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), her 6-year-old already acting like a rebellious teenager although she loves her mother, even while creating trouble by engaging in a spitting contest with her friends on a neighbor’s car or encouraging one of her buddies to set fire to a mattress in an abandoned townhouse, giving everyone in the motels some low-key-entertainment; Ashley (Mela Murder), Halley’s downstairs neighbor, a waitress at a local diner (smuggling free food out the back door to Moonee) and her son, Scooty (Christopher Rivera) who’s usually Moonee’s partner-in-crime (he’s the one who lit up the mattress in the abandoned house at her urging, sending the whole place up in flames [not easy to watch for those of us in the SF area where thousands of acres, hundreds of homes, dozens of lives have recently been lost in what’s being called the Wine Country fires]); Jancey (Valeria Cotto), an equally-young-girl living in Futureland with her grandmother (Josie Olivo) and at least 1 toddler sibling (interior shots are dark in these places, hard to always see what’s going on) who becomes Moonee’s best friend, although Grandma’s more stern socialization keeps her kid at a bit of a distance at first from Moonie’s tactics (begging money from patrons at a nearby ice-cream-stand, etc.) but by the end of the story she’s become just as independent (within the limits of a constrained world that all these people inhabit).

 Most of the meandering plot just follows: the exploits of the kids (mostly recounted above) in short vignettes with lots of quick cuts; the difficulties Halley has bringing in any money (she attempts to sell cut-rate-perfume just outside the more-upscale-hotels in the area until she’s chased off; ultimately we learn she’s somehow being a hooker, even in the meager bedroom-bathroom-site she shares with her daughter); the constant Hell-on-Earth problems Bobby has trying to keep his tenants in line (including Gloria [Sandy Kane] who likes to sunbathe topless by the pool, as well as the rambunctious kids who sneak into the electrical room, throwing the switch that temporarily shuts down everyone’s power) plus the appearance of a likely pedophile from New Jersey, Charlie Coachman (Carl Bradfield), whom Bobby has to roughly escort off the propertythen there are the squabbling honeymooners who’ve mistakenly arrived here rather than at their intended Disney Magic Kingdom, along with the estranged-relationship Bobby has with his adult son, Jack (Caleb Landry Jones);⇒Halley’s escalating problems when she steals some expensive amusement-park-entry-bracelets from one of her tricks (Macon Blair), sells them at a discount to another tourist (Jason Blackwater), then has to deal with the angry first guy demanding his property back until Bobby forces him to leave, but things get worse when Ashley discovers her friend on an escort site leading to concerns about Scotty (and Moonie) being exposed to Halley’s secret work, so soon there’s no more free food nor allowance for the kids to play together, followed by snitching to Social Services (Halley retaliates with a beat-down on Ashley) then the cops, with this part of the story ending as Mom’s being taken away for questioning, daughter’s supposed to be off to a foster home, while Bobby’s quietly distraught as to how the whole situation’s deteriorated, both because he truly cares about the well-being of these people (despite how verbally abusive Halley often is to him) and the threat to his own meager job given Halley's undercover crime happening at the Magic Castle.

 The conclusion of The Florida Project takes an unexpected sharp turn when Moonee is able to break free, runs over to the Futureland motel to offer an extended-tearful-goodbye to Jancey who surprises both Moonee and us by suddenly racing away with her friend in pixilated-fast-motion through the surrounding neighborhood until they’re in the Magic Kingdom itself, almost flying down Main Street, USA to the magical Cinderella castle where the film quickly comes to an abrupt end.⇐

So What? I’m going to turn to Mr. LaSalle again because regarding his review of The Florida Project he’s generally complimentary (As it stands, there’s a greatness in it, but also stretches of emptiness. Still, this is an original piece of work, and no one who sees it will forget it.*) but notes that after a solid 45-min.-opening the middle 40 min. of this 115-min.-film bogs down before regaining its momentum at the end; during my viewing of … Project I sensed agreement with that, because once the situation and the characters were established it just seemed all we were getting were repetitions of the same situations: Halley’s angry over her limited life choices but she’s obviously been dealt a rotten hand, with little hope of betterment even before the cops haul her off; Moonee’s alternately adorably-precocious or a conniving brat, just trying to find a thrill wherever she can; Bobby’s probably in the worst job imaginable (made worse by machines that don’t work, bedbugs in a mattress that has to be hauled to the dumpster, a spilled can of paint from high on a ladder that almost hits one of his tenants when Bobby’s surprised by the pedophile’s appearance), with the only saving grace being he has a job at all, although it’s still landed him in the same place as his almost-homeless-motel-neighbors (but at least he’s not living from week to week, as are Halley and Moonee who, at one point, have to store most of their belongings in an empty Magic Castle room—due to Bobby’s generosity—while they bunk in across the way with Grandma Stacy and her kids until Halley can come up with more rent money).  I empathized with the left-behind-plight of these folks (the same nationwide miseries that helped in getting Trump elected), but I just felt like I’d gotten the point, needing something else to give some direction to this film (essentially feeling like LaSalle did about Loving Vincent: "[…] narrative becomes more important than concept or technique or wit or brilliance") which had just stopped happening for me with The Florida Project.

*LaSalle gave this film a high rating (the Chronicle uses a “Little Man”-quality-graphic from the guy jumping out of his chair applauding down to the 5th level of just an empty chair; for The Florida Project he used his 2nd-from-the-top-image of the man sitting up in his chair clapping despite those previously-noted-reservations).  Other comments from him indicate he sees the “Little Man” system as essentially a 4-step-possibility with the empty chair icon indicating zero interest in the film—complete dismissal as if there’s no rating at all—so essentially his response here is 3 of 4 whereas my 4 of 5 is more complex, in that if (God forbid!) I ever saw something of ½- or 0-stars-caliber (take a look at the Summary of Two Guys reviews in the Related Links section below to see what’s pulled me down to my lowest level so far of 1½ stars), I’d still consider that rating to be something that carried a numerical equivalent, even as I resist going above 4 stars except for the exceptional few (with that rare 5 this week, an equally rare 4½ for Lucky [John Carroll Lynch] in our October 19, 2017 posting), so while LaSalle’s essentially pondering something on a 1-4 scale so am I, with my 4 topping what turns out to be his 3 (as if any of this matters all that much, except to the nearby angels dancing on the head of a pen, looking over my shoulder while I write all of this drivel).

 However, luckily for me I've long had a wife (the always-caring-and-willing-to-heart-connect Nina Kindblad; see my tribute to her at almost the very end of this posting) who's able to empathize even better than me with the plight of these downtrodden women—and, by extension, their on-the-edge-of-loss-children—pointing out how we needed all of these examples of desperation, boredom, uncertainty to hammer home the reality of the unstable existences these people are living, one step away from shelter in a tent city under a freeway overpass where the narratives of their lives are this meandering, unresolved, repetitious, uncertain, giving me reason to rethink my initial response (which I always have the luxury of doing, unlike LaSalle and other paid-reviewer-guns-for-hire who usually have to get their thoughts into print within a day or 2 of seeing a preview screening [with the further constraint of working around plot reveals] while I can take a extra time to not only ruminate on what I’ve seen before taking a stand but also have the benefit of reading other reviews before I write, giving me a more general-consensus-perspective [or lack thereof, when opinions are divergent] to weigh my thoughts against, even when I do travel on a contrarian-road).  Further, after that afternoon screening of The Florida Project, later that night I got to re-watch 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957—another 5-star-winner for me if I ever choose to write a review of it) on my local PBS station, with its messages of not rushing to judgment—especially where the socially-outcast are concerned—not being put off by someone even if they’re an off-putting, obscenity-spouting, child-neglecting mother personified by Halley or the kind of liar/hustler/potential-juvenile-delinquent Moonie’s turning into, even at her tender age.  With those influences softening my initial response to … Project, along with watching the interview of director Baker (2nd item in the Related Links for this movie below) to see his sincere concern for bringing the plight of these forgotten folks to light, even as they scrape by next door to the extravagance of vacation parks for the well-to-do, I began to better appreciate what I’d seen, to the level of finally choosing to highly recommend it despite difficulties you might have in watching the daily miseries which this film barely fictionalizes.

Bottom Line Final Comments: However, other reviewers weren’t so jaded as me, with the Tomato Tossers offering a superbly-supportive-level of 97% positive reviews, the Metacritics chiming in with one of their highest scores of the year so far at 92%.  (Of films both MC and I have reviewed in 2017, the only other ones to get such superlatives from them have been Dunkirk [Christopher Nolan; our review in the July 17, 2017 posting] at 94% [another instance where I had to rethink my initial hesitation before becoming solidly convinced of its impact] and Columbus [Kogonada; our review in the August 16, 2017 posting] at 91% [this one I had no problem with, except wrestling with myself over whether to go to the coveted {in my mind at least} 4½-stars-level {which I decided against}]; in fact, their only higher scores this year have gone to films I haven’t even seen yet: A Fantastic Woman [Sebastián Lelio, due for release on November 17, 2017] at 96 [but based only on 8 reviews], Faces Places [Agnès Varda, JR] also at 96 [a travelogue documentary], Call Me by Your Name [Luca Guadagnino, due for release on November 24, 2017] at 95 [based on 15 reviews]—all of which seem to be foreign-language-offerings.)  ⇒Nevertheless, I was right about one thing I assumed immediately upon viewing, Baker had no permission to shoot that last scene in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, so he did it clandestinely on an iPhone* (just like how he shot his entire previous feature, Tangerine [2015, review in our July 31, 2015 posting; no qualms about giving it 4 stars]), having no concern about a lawsuit because he knew the Disney company has sympathy for the downtrodden living close to their fences previously giving $500,000 to homeless organizations in the Orlando area and likely recognizing Baker’s showing of the irony of so many destitute folks living so close to fabulous tourist destinations is not intended as a knock on Disney, just a commentary on the reality of how wealth and poverty so often exist side-by-side in our complex culture—with the constant reminder of it in the nearby street, Seven Dwarfs Lane.⇐   

*The rest of it was shot on 35mm filmstock, possibly the reason its colors are so richly saturated, reminding me of how I’ve shot so many slides (before changing to a digital camera), achieving similar results with wide-angle-lenses and the color-enriching-properties of a polarizing filter—a more welcome presence than the polarizing politics so rampant in our culture now, regarding such relevant topics to this film as income disparities, the causes of such gaps, potential solutions to the increasing problems of unemployment, underemployment, stagnant wages, homelessness, and related issues implied in The Florida Project without these crises as the imposing-focus of the film.

 While The Florida Project (the title's a nice pun on the “project” of the filmmakers to expose the generally-unseen-poverty that exists right next to strip malls and amusement parks, with the only clue to the outside—largely unaware—world being the kids playing in motel parking lots or creek banks next to highways because these are the places they call home, with few unsuspecting tourists [except those misdirected honeymooners] checking in to join them, as well as how these pastel-colored-motels serve as the “projects” for this neighborhood instead of the grim-looking-public-housing-clusters more familiar in the ghetto neighborhoods of large urban areas) offers an insight into a world not seen enough, not seriously addressed enough in terms of finding solutions to its problems in a society where wealth continues to flow upward rather than “trickling down” to those increasingly moving into Bob Dylan’s "Desolation Row"*; but we'll find there are no answers forthcoming to the problems revealed, just like in The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” (a 1968 single, now on various compilation albums beginning with Hey Jude [1970])—a song I’ll pick as my official … Florida Project Musical Metaphor (see below)—wherein we seem to be asking a composite of the parents in this film about the “children at your feet [who] Wonder how you manage to make ends meet  Who finds the money when you pay the rent  Did you think that money was heaven sent?”

*I’ll include this song here as well because it has relevance to the overall attitude of The Florida Project (and I always love to hear it), but as I’ve learned with Dylan over the years once you get past his recordings of roughly the 1970s it’s always a bit of a gamble trying to translate what he’s singing so I’m trying to help by using this particular live performance (I don’t know the where and when of it, though—plus he leaves out a few original verses, his tendency of recent years with “Desolation Row”) complete with subtitles (in both English and Spanish so you can enhance your bilinguality, another advantage of getting all your insights from reading Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark, your 1-stop-source for holistic-betterment).  Now I’ve enlightened you (and clarified "... Row"'s lyrics) here’s some personal nostalgia: Dylan performing it at the Desert Trip festival roughly a year ago (on Friday, October 14, 2016, the day after he'd won the Nobel Prize for Literature; look closely in the grandstand crowd, you’ll probably see Nina and me) in Indio, CA, a once-in-a-lifetime-event we were ecstatic to attend (detailed in this blog's October 27, 2016 posting), so this video carries a wealth of memories for me, probably more than anyone in The Florida Project ever got a chance to enjoy in their lives—and if you’d like to enjoy Dylan where you can clearly understand what’s he’s singing, here’s one last version,** a live 1966 performance (location unknown) not quite like the original recording from the 1965 Highway 61 Revisited album but a more stripped-down-version, although including the 3 verses (about Ophelia, Einstein, and Nero’s Neptune) missing from the 2 "Desolation Row"s just above (see, I told you I love this song, even when playing it multiple times).

**10/30/2017 Within 3 days after this posting I was informed by a reader this Dylan performance had already been removed from YouTube so I've found another one to replace it, apparently from a 1966 live concert in Sydney, Australia (but with distracting speeded-up-footage of a peaceful protest in Melbourne, March of 2014, a no-confidence statement against their federal government, so you may eventually want to look at something else while listening).  If this happens again, all I can do is refer you to the song's full lyrics at the official Bob Dylan site so you can sing it yourself.

 As with most Beatles songs after they became available at iTunes, they've largely disappeared from sites such as YouTube (except for "ancient" performance footage) so the version I’m offering at is simply a video of a record played directly on a turntable, The Beatles 1967-1970 (“The Blue Album”) from 1973.  You might also enjoy this version from the Cirque du Soleil Love soundtrack (with bits of other Beatles songs mixed in; so very glad I got to see this performance in Las Vegas in 2015, although Nina and I managed to also somehow pick up salmonella while we were there, but that’s still a breeze compared to the tragedy for those involved in the recent mass shooting).  That’s all for me now so I’ll just leave you with Halley (if you prefer) “lying on the bed [… where you can] Listen to the music playing in your head.”
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys film reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about Loving Vincent: (8:21 BBC news report on the making of this film [audio a bit low])

Here’s more information about The Florida Project: (42:51 interview with director/co-writer/producer/editor Sean Baker, co-writer/producer Chris Bergoch, and Samantha Quan acting coach for the kids) 

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*YouTube keeps deleting links to this Eagles performance so I keep putting a newer version back in but you’ll just find dead links in our previous postings prior to October 19, 2017, so don’t be confused.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.


Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 23,182; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:


  1. Loving Vincent: Really good film, I would give it a 4 star and, at minimum, an award for technical achievement. Maybe Oscars for Best Animated Feature or Visual Effects. My wife was on the fence, arguing the weak narrative viewpoint. They probably should do a documentary on the making of the film which would then drive more views. It may warrant a second viewing on my part; a rare occurence.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks as always for your comments, although it seems your wife agrees more with Mick LaSalle than with us. I agree on strong Oscar consideration for the categories you've noted, as well as a doc on the process which wold also be a useful enhancement to the presence of this marvelous film. Ken

  3. I caught the Florida Project today and knew you must of had a good time reviewing it. Which was confirmed as I read the review above. It seems to be one of those films critics like but otherwise is doomed to a small arthouse clientele. I found it grew on me as I watched and agree that it was almost too realistic to be comfortable. Finally, as I understand it, "Florida Project" was the original name for Walt Disney World while it was in the early planning stages.

  4. Hi again, Thanks for The Florida Project comments, especially the bit about the background name for Walt Disney World, adding another aspect of irony to this film. Ken