Tag Archives: life-affirming

THE FLORIDA PROJECT

“Bewitching, hugely rewarding, and far more Minnie masterpiece than Mickey Mouse…”

Wayward Wolf.

It’s hard to impress upon you just how mesmerising a piece Sean Baker’s The Florida Project truly is.

With a fairly free and easy approach to scripted dialogue, it’s shot in a quasi-documentary style predominantly from the perspective of a six-year-old girl and her mischievous young scallywag friends, observing the various ins, outs and general goings-on at a budget motel during one hot Florida summer.

Just a short hop from Disney’s Magic Kingdom stands the Magic Castle motel. Inexplicably purple in colour and clearly cashing in on its neighbouring Disney namesake – as one unfortunate honeymooning couple will discover, much to the bride’s horror – this motel, partially suited to folk who are just passing through and priced out of staying in the main Disney resort area itself, but more pertinently, offering no-frills temporary housing to some of the very poorest families in the Kissimmee area.

One such ‘family’ is single mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), and her precocious, ‘smart-mouthed’ daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince).

Financially-speaking, neither Halley nor any of the kids’ parents are able to even contemplate caving in to the considerable allure of nearby Disney World. Instead, the children swap Magic Kingdom for Magic Castle and the plethora of garish, vulgar eateries and stores that constitute its immediate surrounds, creating whole worlds of adventure for themselves in the process – the way kids do.

Very much left to their own devices each day by parents that are either unable or too busy to spend time with them, the kids have become cocky and a little feral, roaming about at will, causing havoc with the locals with their own line in bare-faced, yet rather endearing cheek. And if they’re not antagonising the locals, they’re bothering Bobby (Willem Dafoe), whose job it is to perform the daily fire-fighting act that is managing The Magic Castle motel.

A real little madam she may be, but Moonee is really the least of Bobby’s daily problems. From illegal soliciting, theft and violent altercations to predatory paedophiles, The Magic Castle is something of a magnet for society’s wrong ‘uns and their unsavoury behaviour. And though his guests may not always be fully aware of it, Bobby ensures all such potential crimes and misdemeanours are dealt with, but more importantly, that the little tearaway terrors – so often the bain of his life – are kept safe from harm; a fact that guests are quick to forget amidst the yelling and general ‘ball-busting’ that inevitably ensues when Bobby comes a-knockin’ on rent payment day.

The Florida Project illustrates not only the stark contrast between the haves and the have-nots, but also between the hardships experienced by parents living on the breadline, and the carefree innocence of their offspring. Most crushing of all, however, are the moments when these two disparate states of being unavoidably collide; when fantasy must make way for harsh reality. Such predicaments are sadly never far away.

With Willem Dafoe as good as he’s been in years, and young Brooklynn Prince producing a performance of such joyful natural exuberance, Baker’s film positively brims with life-affirming goodness.

Bewitching, hugely rewarding, and far more Minnie masterpiece than Mickey Mouse, The Florida Project is as poignant and wonderful an observational slice-of-life tale as you’re ever likely to see.

Unmissable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FILM REVIEW: Alive Inside

The sight of Henry scatting along to the music of Cab Calloway, eyes bulging, alert and animated, is in stark contrast to the same Henry, head bowed and totally unresponsive to a set of simple questions, not two minutes earlier.

Music has the power to do that.

It’s particularly remarkable considering Henry is in a very advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease and so far as we can make out, can barely tell whether it’s night or day.

In Alive Inside, time and again, patients of a similar condition are ‘revived’ through the music of their choice, providing strong evidence that the area of the brain that processes ‘music’ is one of the very last to be affected by the ravages of progressive memory loss.

It’s a documentary focusing on Dan Cohen, a man who whilst volunteering to work in a U.S care home, attempted to ascertain the therapeutic powers and benefits of music on its inhabitants.

This in turn led to the creation of ‘Music & Memory,’ a movement attempting to convince the powers that be that for a small financial outlay, a simple iPod and headphones could be allocated to those affected by Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and other serious, degenerative brain conditions and make a real difference to their lives.

The film takes us on an interesting journey through the history of the care home from their inception when they were more like actual homes through to their present day incarnations, sanitised medical facilities, full of overly-medicated patients, who, suppressed by this medication and their clinical surroundings, retreat into their shells, no longer able to express themselves or indeed have their voices heard.

I suppose that’s probably the point though?

Predictably, an archaic, inward-looking American healthcare system, so dominated by the synthetic world of pharmaceuticals and pill popping and the various vested interests that go with it, failed to grasp the true value of Cohen’s work which was consequently shunned. Pleasingly, through perseverance, Cohen has made notable strides and inroads since.

Interspersed by snippets of the wonderful Bobby McFerrin, demonstrating the innate musical ability that lies within each and every one of us, and the remarkable powers and healing properties of music therapy, Alive Inside is a truly powerful piece.

There are strong parallels with the film Awakenings and the work of Doctor Oliver Sacks (although admittedly his most notable work was based more upon the administering of experimental drugs than therapy), as we watch stuporous patients suddenly regain both their agility and joix de vivre. It is though perhaps the heartfelt reactions of family and friends witnessing the loved ones they thought they had lost forever, return to this world once again, albeit briefly, albeit temporarily, that lives longest in the memory.

With a little luck, many more unfortunate souls will benefit from the exposure that Alive Inside could and should get from this cinematic release.

An important and life affirming piece.

FILM REVIEW: TRACKS

A 1,700 mile trek across some of Western Australia’s deserts may not sound like everyone’s idea of fun, but ‘Tracks’ is the true story of one lady, Robyn Davidson and her attempt to do just that, with an entourage of four camels and Diggity the dog in tow.

Whilst Mia Wasikowska seems excellently cast as Robyn, the film’s success is every bit as much due to our emotional investment in and  attachment to the five animals that make the journey with her. It soon becomes apparent as the terrain becomes more inhospitable  and unforgiving that it’s the animals’ reactions and instinctive behaviour under such conditions that are just as important to the adventure as the physiological and psychological issues that unfold for Robyn herself.

It’s not so much a story of wanderlust, but of the need to get away from everything and more importantly everyone, but there’s a gradual realisation for Robyn that although her journey is indeed about removing herself from the company of other people and the many negatives that they represent in her mind, it’s this intense, extended period of relative isolation, as well as chance encounters with both native Aboriginals and well meaning folk along the way, that ultimately reaffirms her need for people too.

‘Tracks’ is a beautiful film in many ways, not least for the majestic cinematography and the engaging animal scenes throughout; a visually exquisite, life-affirming, beautiful film.