The Florida Project

On the outskirts of Disney's Magic Kingdom, Bobby (Willem Dafoe) manages the Magic Castle motel, one of several in the area housing the poor. Single mom Halley (newcomer Bria Vinaite) is struggling to afford the $35 a night room charge, helped by another resident, waitress Ashley (Mela Murder), who gives Halley's daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) bags of food from her diner's back door. Halley isn't the best parent, but her love for Moonee knows no bounds and the six year-old only sees wonder and adventure in her life in "The Florida Project."

Laura's Review: A-

Cowriter (with "Tangerine's" Chris Bergoch)/editor/director Sean Baker famously shot his second film, "Tangerine," on an iPhone. One might think that was a gimmick, but the film, an unconventional Christmas dramedy about two transgender prostitutes, was the real deal. Once again Baker gives voice to those living in the margins, challenging snap judgements, creating a magical yet heart breaking world. Much to Bobby's amused irritation, Moonee and her buddy Scooty (Christopher Rivera), Ashley's son, have the run of his multi-storied motel. When the duo take turns lobbing spit from the balcony of a neighboring business onto a resident's car, Bobby deals with the complaint. Stacy (Josie Olivo) tries to prevent her granddaughter Jancey (Valeria Cotto) from aiding in the disciplinary cleanup, but the kids are having too much fun and Halley's carefree nature wears Stacy down, another connection formed. Moonee leads her new best friend on a hilarious tour of the Magic Castle, each of its residents reduced to a succinct but provocative description. The kids' environment is one of candy colored tourist stops and open fields, but one adventure proves a bridge too far for Ashley, who snubs Halley and forbids Scooty from playing with Moonee. Cut off from their food supply, Halley's situation grows increasingly desperate, but Ashley's vengeance takes a far worse turn. Brooklynn Prince is an irrepressible force of nature who delights even when she's cadging money from strangers for ice cream. When Bobby tells off Halley for her slack child rearing, Moonee cackles 'You're a disgrace, mom!,' her rebellious fun making disarming tension. But although the film presents mostly a child's point of view, it is Bria Vinaite who breaks our hearts with her perceptive, multi-shaded performance. The young unknown, who resembles a cross between Elizabeth Moss and a young Milla Jovovich if they had sea green colored hair, tats and piercings, gives touching inner life to the people we pass every day, those on the margins trying to earn a living selling goods illegally on the streets. Her Halley is a child herself, looking for a good time yet never ducking her child's needs. Moonee gets her joie de vivre from her mom and it is Vinaite's work that enables us to see this, especially through her continual run ins with Dafoe's Bobby. His far quieter performance runs deep with compassion, yet he's no push over, as evidenced in Bobby's handling of pedophile who stops where the kids are playing. Bergoch came up with the story after traveling around the area and his and Baker's script is admirable in not spelling everything out for the audience. We can guess at Bobby's back story through his brief interactions with his son Jack (Caleb Landry Jones, "American Made") and the purple motel's owner, but we never learn how Halley became one of his tenants. As in "Tangerine," color plays a big role, cinematographer Alexis Zabe ("Silent Light") and production designer Stephonik Youth presenting an idealized version of Moonee's world. There are some subtle cues to adults, like the Disney Gift Outlet that marks the area's lesser economic status or Jancey's birthday celebration, held with a back view of the Magic Kingdom's fireworks display. The film ends on a fantastical note that is jarring in its change in tone, yet provocative in what it has to say. "The Florida Project" is a humanistic work of art that lingers. Grade:

Robin's Review: C+

“The Flat” starts out simply as a family, videoed by documaking member Goldfinger, delves into their grandmother’s possessions that have accumulated since she and husband Kurt arrived in then-Palestine before the Nazi oppression began against the Jews in Germany in the early 1930s. Everything seems normal as they go through Gerta’s huge collections of gloves, jewelry, handbags and shoes, it is a coin that has a Star of David on one side and a Nazi swastika on the other that garners their attention. Soon, they come upon a Nazi propaganda newspaper, Der Angriff (The Assault) and an article, A Nazi in Palestine, that has a story about a German Fascist official traveling in Palestine before the war. The account includes a photo of the Nazi, Baron von Mildenstein, and two other people – Gerda and her husband Kurt Tuchler. This begins Arnon Goldfinger’s video chronicle of the lives of his grandparents and his search to find the truth about them and their relationship with von Mildenstein. Goldfinger uncovers a whole lot of potential skeletons in the Tuchler family closet. His grandparents, though living in Palestine and then Israel for 70 years, have embraced the old country, Germany, and its ways. This includes a long time friendship with the von Mildensteins that went on before and after the war. This collaboration continued despite the fact that Gerda’s mother was a victim of the Holocaust who died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. “The Flat” loses steam when Goldfinger contacts von Mildenstein’s daughter Edda, and his own sister Hannah, and confronts them with the revelation that the Baron was a high-ranking Nazi officer in the Bureau of Jewish Affairs (responsible for implementing Hitler’s Final Solution for the Jews in Germany) and his grandparents were Nazi sympathizers. Both Edda and Hannah vehemently deny that possibility. This ambush style of documentary making felt like an attack, a la Michael Moore, instead of an honest seeking of truth. Arnon Goldfinger starts off his project with a fascinating dilemma for his family. Suddenly, the second and third generations of the Tuchlers have to face the fact that their nice old grandparents had a direct connection to a Nazi official – and they were friends, not enemies! “The Flat” could have been much shorter and tighter. Instead, the director inserts himself into the family controversy and muddies the waters.