By Brendan Nagle
The Florida Project
“The Florida Project” focuses on the residents of a place called the Magic Castle — but the fantastical name and vibrant pink paint job belie a much darker world. The Magic Castle is actually a motel on a touristy strip located in the shadow of Walt Disney World. Everything is bright and colorful, but underneath the facade is a grim world of poverty and strife. This film lets us into the world of this not-so-magical kingdom through the eyes of young Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who lives at the motel with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). To Moonee and her friends, the motel is magical. Largely unsupervised, they gallivant around, scamming tourists and annoying motel residents (one of them being the warm patriarchal figure Bobby, played by Willem Dafoe in one of the best performances of his career). Prince’s performance is one for the child acting pantheon. As the charming troublemaker, she is so natural that it leads one to suspect she may not even be acting.
Films that deal with impoverished or underprivileged people so often condescend to or exploit their character’s situations, but director Sean Baker does neither. For those who’ve seen “Tangerine,” Baker’s 2015 film about a day in the life of two transgender sex workers, this should come as no surprise. The adults in “The Florida Project” are not perfect. Some might be taken aback by the way Halley acts in front of Moonee: she swears constantly, does drugs and even involves Moonee in some of her criminal schemes. But Baker empathizes with the impossibility of her situation, and also recognizes the deep love she has for her daughter. “The Florida Project” is ultimately about the dissolution of fantasy and innocence, a dissolution that, via the cycle of poverty, comes much earlier for Moonee than it should. “The Florida Project” is without a doubt one of the best films of the year.
Dubbed one of the worst films of the year by many critics, “The Snowman” is a mess. The biggest issue is in the narrative. I am not someone who likes to nitpick movie logic — I prefer to give movies the benefit of the doubt when I can — but plot holes aren’t even really the issue here. It’s hard to follow from the get-go. The story takes place in snowy Oslo, Norway. A serial killer is on the loose, and it’s up to detective Harry Hole (that is his real name), an alcoholic loner played by Michael Fassbender, to put the clues together and solve the case. The killer has been targeting mothers of young children and leaves eerie little snowmen at the scene of each of his crimes. The story that ensues is muddled and confusing. Hardly any of the plot points resolve and we understand little of the character’s motivations. When the killer is finally revealed, it’s hard to tell whether or not it is a twist because it’s unclear who we’re supposed to be suspecting.
What is especially disappointing is the fact that this movie should be good. Or at least passable. The film has seemingly adaptable source material from the chilling novel of the same name by Jo Nesbø, an extremely talented cast (Fassbender, J.K. Simmons, Chloë Sevigny, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, Rebecca Ferguson) and a director, Tomas Alfredson, who seems perfect for the job (he’s responsible for 2008’s universally acclaimed vampire thriller “Let The Right One In” and 2011’s underrated spy flick “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”). It was even edited by the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker, a seven-time Academy Award nominee — but none of that matters. Alfredson claimed in an interview shortly after the release that they did not have time to shoot nearly 15 percent of the script. This actually makes sense given how incomplete the movie feels. But regardless, “The Snowman” isn’t worth your time.
In an age dominated by superhero franchises and endless remakes, the original sci-fi blockbuster seems to be a thing of the past. With the commercial and critical failure of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” — Luc Besson’s $200 million passion project — many sci-fi fans are still looking for a savior, a break from the endless onslaught of “Spiderman” and “King Kong” reboots. Unfortunately, “Geostorm” is not that savior.
Unlike “Valerian,” which, though not perfect, is a visual marvel of a movie and interesting in spite of its flaws, “Geostorm” is rather bland. The film is set only a few years in the future in a world where scientists have been forced to build a network of weather-controlling satellites in order to keep climate-change induced natural disasters from destroying humanity. The premise is actually somewhat topical, as climate change is an increasingly troubling subject in our day and age, but, oddly, “Geostorm” isn’t really concerned with environmentalism. It’s more concerned with bureaucratic corruption and the problems between genius engineer Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) and his politician brother, Max (Jim Sturgess). While the premise seems like it could be interesting, the film plays everything as safe as possible. Despite being an original story, the film feels more in line with something out of the Marvel cinematic universe. There’s nothing ambitious, or even moderately interesting about its structure, visuals or characters. Unlike the Marvel movies, which are bolstered by the magnetism of stars like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, “Geostorm” is anchored by the decidedly un-magnetic Butler. “Geostorm” isn’t abhorrent by any means — it’s just unremarkable.