“The Florida Project”: how the poor really live near the big theme parks (especially the kids)

The Florida Project”, directed by Sean Baker, confronts the viewer with the “real life” of poor people living in transient motels near the Disney theme parks in Orlando.

In the past, we could have gawked and scorned.  We probably can’t get away with that now.

Halley (Bria Vinnaite) is a single mom raising a seven year old, Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and, as the film opens, taking care of two other kids.  The kids are always annoying other residents and getting into trouble, and Halley becomes combative in trying to defend them when the motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) challenges her and repeatedly threatens to evict her.

Bobby has a tough job, implementing rules demanding by corporate, and uses his people skills to the fullest.  One of the most telling scenes occurs about 40 minutes into the film when he chases an old man off the premises once he suspects the man is a sex offender.

But mischief occurs constantly. The kids somehow get into the power room and turn it off.  Later, they set fire to a nearby vacant motel to watch the fire department come. Toward the end, the police will get involved with CPS as to whether Halley is a fit mother, which means a need for foster care.  But the kids may get to see the Magic Kingdom.

The film shows the quasi-attractions around the parks for low income people pretty well.

Picture: My trip, July 2015  (Pulse would happen in 2016.)

Name:  “The Florida Project”
Director, writer:  Sean Baker
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark West End, 2018/1/3, afternoon show, surprisingly well attended, appears to be young adults from GWU
Length:  115
Rating:  R
Companies:  A24
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, January 3, 2018, at 8 PM EST)

“Lady Bird” is someone else besides LBJ’s spouse

Lady Bird” (directed by Greta Gerwig) does not refer to LBJ’s First Lady, who though everything was “so good”.

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) is a senior in Catholic high school, and is growing up in a working class family in Sacramento, CA.  Dad (Tracy Letts) has lost his job, after the parents took on more mortgage debt to send their kids to Catholic school.  Mom (Laurie Metcalf) chides Christine on leaving her room and clothes a mess after she goes out, saying that potential employers for dad get a bad impression when she is sloppy, even at home.

Sister Sarah (Lois Smith) encourages Christine to get into legitimate school activities, including the school musical (it’s not “The Sunbonnet Girl”) or play (it’s not “Wise Guys”). Improve her chances to get into college, as her grades are mediocre.  She even negotiates with the appealing young male algebra teacher (Jake McDorman) when he loses his grade book (a catastrophe for a teacher).

In drama class, she encounters interesting acting exercises, such as being the first to cry (sounds like “The Ninth Street Center” earlier in my own life  — “did you cry about it?”  “Why not?”  Oct. 18, 1974, a day of confrontation in my own life).  But the she meets the star senior of the class, Danny O’Neill, played by the lanky Lucas Hedges.  O’Neill sounds like a proper Irish Catholic name, but Lucas is, as in a few other films, presented as a kind of Smallville-teen Clark Kent looking for powers, ready to save everybody.  Danny (aka Lucas) dates her, and is so properly respectful when they look up at the stars.  But, as in “The Zero Theorem”, Lucas (who has done juggling on Jimmy Kimmel) is “nobody’s tool”  Christine sees him making out with another young man at a party, and soon confronts him that he is gay, a scene where Danny does cry.  Bur Danny really is better than everyone else (even if, in a way, Shaun Murphy on “The Good Doctor” is likewise.)

So Christine dates the next best boy, Kyle (Timothy Chalamet), who admits he is not a virgin. The intimate scenes with him are intriguing and well done and make Kyle interesting.

Then, Lady Bird starts getting her college application letters.  Rejections, and finally a wait list.  But she finally gets into a college in New York School.  After her tearful sendoff, she meets another (truly heterosexual and less than superman) boy friend and gets into trouble with underage drinking, winding up in the emergency room.  But finally, everything is all right.

The film is not all that impressive technically, being mostly indoors, with a few shots of Sacramento commercial highlights and hangouts. The sound track sounded a little muddy where I saw it.

Sacramento downtown (wiki). I was last there in 1995.  The immediate countryside is flat, as it is part of the San Joaquin Valley.  My own picture is from the Texas Hill Country, maybe not too far from the original Lady Bird’s ranch.

Name: “Lady Bird”
Director, writer:  Greta Gerwig
Released:  2017/11
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/11/21, fair crowd, late evening
Length:  94
Rating:  R
Companies:  A24
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 at 2:45 PM EST)

“Fire from the Heartland: The Awakening of the Conservative Woman”: this turns out to be more about social conservatism than Bannon’s other docs

Fire from the Heartland: The Awakening of the Conservative Woman” is another Citizens United Production directed by Stephen K. Bannon in 2010, to years into the Obama presidency.

The list of prominent female speakers is long.  Michele Bachmann (MN) leads the pack, along with Ann Coulter (who, like Milo Yiannopoulos, has been banned from Berkeley), Michelle Malkin, S. E. Cupp, Dana Lesch, Michelle Easton, Sonnie Johnson, Jenny Beth Martin, Michelle Moore, Jamie Radtke, Deneen Borelli, and  Jamie Turner.  And besides (former) GOP representative Bachmann, the film presents congresswomen Cynthia Lummis and Jean Schmidt.

The speech in the film, as in all of Bannon’s CU films, seems rushed (to fit into 84 minutes), but this film lays out the philosophy of social conservatism more explicitly than any of the other Bannon films.

The film, like Bannon’s others, is divided into progressive segments.  “Salt of the Earth” comprises “The Personal”, :The Constitution”, and “The Pioneers” (like a 5th grade diorama project). “The American Crisis” breaks into “The Political”, “The Financial”, and “The Fire”, which becomes the Tea Party. Then “The Fire” itself becomes “Mama Grizzlies”, like in Yellowstone Park (you don’t approach grizzly bears protecting their cubs).

The basic message, of course, is that If government gets out of the way (particularly the federal government), people are free to build and innovate better lives for themselves and their families and immediate communities.  That leads to Ayn Rand like material about self-reliance and hard work.  But that also presumes a personal moral compass.  The problem is that others, particularly immediate family (starting with parents) need to implement this moral system.  So people do have to grow up learning behavior and obedience, first, and leaning to carry their own weight and do their chores, and sometimes share in common risks.  Someone in a position of local authority still needs to be in control.  Indeed, it’s apparent that “rules” may be necessary for a community to sustain itself indefinitely, especially in a world that can be hostile.  But the rules can become self-reinforcing, a source of gratification on its own.  All of this is well known in the Gospels (“Man for the Sabbath”, etc).

The women do give plenty of testimonies of their own hard work.  Bachman talks about doing babysitting when there was no other money around.  (I am reminded of the 2001 Minnesota-produced comedy film “I Hate Babysitting” by Tara Spartz, which I doubt Bachmann has seen.) That leads to a  corollary observation, that everyone needs to learn to take care of children (even the childless for now, because you never know when you have to step into a situation).  She gives an example of an immigrant farmer who arrived with nothing and built up a major food company in Winona, MN.  Another speaker talks about going door-to-door to offer lawn work and home repairs.  But that presumes a world in which people are willing to answer knocks on the door from strangers.  In the security-conscious world of today (with home invasions), people are much less hospitable to solicitation.

Later the film gets into gender matters, as if performing according to birth gender were a self-evident moral responsibility (contradicting a message of personal freedom and individualism).  The film shoots down the attempt to pass an Equal Rights Amendment during the 80s, and one speaker speaks against requiring women to register for the draft.  That implies that conscription of males and demanding their sacrifice is OK.  You may believe that men have an intrinsic duty to protect women and children, but that is somewhat counter to libertarian ideas of freedom, and is even contradictory to an absolute pro-life position.  Bachman also mentions a duty to get married and start a family, as if the single life is childish and prolongs dependence (she says this after criticizing Obama’s including adult children to age 26 on parents’ health insurance.  But of course that presumes that initiatory sexual performance, from men, always occurs naturally and is itself a moral duty. Even George Gilder (“Men and Marriage”, 1986) has admitted this.

There are other statements, like “women transmit morality” and “women feel” while “men see” presume a loyalty to a very binary gender world. There is also the morsel, “Liberty is not for pansies”.

One is left with wondering, in a world where people will not be of equal circumstance or even biological endowment, how do we treat those who “can’t”?  (I really started processing this after a scene where a boy who can’t hit a pitched baseball gets to user a T-ball, and then I thought about kickball.) After all, we are to treasure all human life.  Carlson and Mero, in their 2009 book “The Natural Family: A Manifesto”, claimed that this is what “the natural family” does:  it allocates based on needs and takes based on a ability, but only on a very local level.  This seems to be a matter of faith and heart, and belonging.  Otherwise, the self-replicating cycle favoring political authoritarianism builds up quickly.

Bachmann’s family, by the way, is reported to have been involved in gay “conversion therapy” in the past (link).   She also spoke out against raising the debt ceiling in 2011, which could have led the federal government’s defaulting on obligations it had already incurred.

(Posted: Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

“Fatima”: A Muslim single mom in France helps her daughters assimilate without learning French

Fatima” was the name of an apparition that appeared in Portugal (I visited the site in 2001), but it’s also the name of a film (2015 79 minutes), and of its central matronly character, directed by Morroco-born Philippe Faucon.

Fatima (Soria Zeroual) works as a housekeeper for various rich clients, and has raised her two daughters Souad (Kenza Noah Aiiche) and Nesrine (Zita Nanrot), after emigrating from Algeria and then losing her husband (Chawki Amari) to another woman.  Fatima speeks Arabic but little French, as her work keeps her from having time to learn.  The two daughters have learned French but remember little Arabic.  Souad, 15, is somewhat spoiled, but Nesrine is struggling through her first year of med school.  Much of the film works up toward a climax where she takes a final multiple-choice exam.

At a critical point of no return (55 minutes), Fatima slips and falls down a stairway.  She recovers physically but doesn’t want to go back to work.  She writes a diary in Arabic (I thought of the poems in “Paterson”) where she explains how the well-off depend on “some Fatima” to keep their lives together.  This is all about karma, which Islam (at its best) can become very concerned with.

The DVD has a 22-minute interview with the director, who also mentions his 2011 film “The Disintegration”, about the inability of three young Muslim men to assimilate into French society and their drifting toward terrorism – all years before the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels.

The music score contains some excerpt from the Schubert F# Minor sonata.

Name:  “Fatima
Director, writer:  Philippe Faucon
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1    in French and Arabic, subtitles
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD
Length:  79 (22 minute director’s interview)
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Kino Lorber
Link:  official

Also: Our Lady of Fatima site in Portgual, wiki.

Anti-terror demonstration in Paris after Charlie Hebdo attack, wiki.

(Posted: Saturday, April 1, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“The Last Word”: a journalist is prodded to tell an aging woman’s story favorably, and looks deeper

The Last Word” (directed by Mark Pellington, written by Stuart Ross Frank) attracted my attention because if invokes the theme as a writer as a hired hand to convey somebody else’s message.

Anne (Amanda Seyfried) is the obituary writer for a smaller Los Angeles area newspaper.  I was a little surprised it could afford such a position, and he keeping her job is an issue.  One day her not too cis boss, Ron Odom (Tom Everett Scott) calls her in to meet with the paper’s largest advertising supporter, Harriet (Shirley MacLaine), now a rich retired businessman living alone, her husband (Philip Baker Hall) having left her.  Harriet wants Anne to write a favorable obit while Harriet is alive.

Truth is the territory of journalists, and pretty soon Anne finds out that nobody likes Harriet who, to be sure, is slowly dying of congestive heart failure (you can live a long time with it – my own mother did).  Here a journalist is forced to deal with the issue of writing what other people want (or what others want them to say).  That sounds a little Donald Trump-like.

But Harriet’s side of the story has some justification.  She talks about living your dreams and taking risks.  It seems as though she sneers at ordinary, conventional people who speak through a lens of victimization. She is sort of like an elderly female Milo  Yiannopoulos (who probably will become the subject of indie film).


She tries some mentoring, and that episode (with AnnJewel Lee Jackson) left me a little aghast.  It seemed a bit pimpy.  But she has already admitted that the journalist is going to help her get one last act with interpersonal relationships and with helping people, so she will indeed have the right legacy when she goes.

Slowly, Anne befriends Harriet, going on a road trip (the motel looks familiar).

Harriet does get a nice memorial at the end, and Anne goes on to a great life, having reinvented herself.  It all seemed a bit artificial too me.

My own writing has generally focused on my own narrative.   I might have been hired to write someone else’s story, particularly with the gays-in-the-military issue.  But I never had the time to leave my own world. So much for those whose sign is Cancer (no pun).

Name:  “The Last Word
Director, writer:  Mark Pellington
Released:  2017/3/9
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/3/9, late, small audience
Length:  104
Rating:  R
Companies:  Bleecker Street
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, March 10, 2017 at 6:45 PM EST)

“Things to Come”: a philosophy professor faces “real life”

(note: use direct Amazon link and third party sellers if necessary until image above resolves as film becomes available in US)

Things to Come” is an engaging French (“L’avenir”) drama about an aging philosophy professor, directed  and written by Mia-Hansen Love.  At the first glance, I would wonder if professor Nathalie Chazeaux (Isaeblle Huppert) is a dilettante polymath sophist from the conclusion of H.G. Wells’s book “The Shape of Things to Come”.

Nathalie appears to be teaching college freshman, at a time when there are campus protests and professors who come to work are derided as “scabs”. There is talk of 1968, and of the setting of Bernado Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” (2003), where Michael Pitt’s character Matthew “gets it” in one scene, and has to resist crotch shaving by a quirky couple in a late scene.

This movie, however, will stay on only a slightly kinder and gentler course.  Nathalie is publishing a revised philosophy text, but her publisher is giving her a hard time about selling books, wants to make a lot of jazzy changes, and threatens to drop her later, which could jeopardize her teaching job. There is some suggestion that the book is self-published.

She also has to deal with her mother (Anna Chancellor), sinking into dementia and Alzheimer’s, with the early symptoms of depression and manipulation of others.  She winds up putting mom into assisted living, and then mom starves herself to get attention.  On top of all of this, her obese, undesirable husband  (Robin Renucci) leaves her for another woman, despite their having two good sons, one grown, and one a mature teen. The family also has a huge tabby charismatic cat, Pandora, who seems to be trying to hold the family together.  This feline becomes the star of the movie.

That cat really loved mom (the way a dog would) and sensed something was wrong (don’t think cats don’t love their owners). But Pandora gradually gets used to the rest of the family and traveling with Chazeaux, in a cat box, by train, to a new hideaway with her own new boyfriend, two decades younger, one of her own former students Theo (Louis Garrel), in the Alps in the southeast, in an egalitarian, intentional community. They sit around and read somewhat Marxist poems and are supposed to be living off the grid – but their cell phones work when they need them.  Pandora runs out into the mountains, and returns for her human companions, offering them a mouse as a trophy.

Name:  “Things to Come
Director, writer:  Mia Hansen-Love
Released:  2016/12
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Cinema Arts, Fairfax VA, 2017/1/2, fair audience
Length:  100
Rating:  R
Companies:  Sundance Selects, IFC
Link:  official site

Wikipedia image of Mont Blanc.

(Posted: Tuesday, June 3, 2017 at 2:15 PM EST)

“In the Name of Honor” provides surprising (and tragic) examples of how honor killings of young women happen


Name: In the Name of Honor
Director, writer:  Pawel Gura
Released:  2015
Format:  HD
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant Play
Length 73
Rating NA
Companies: Rat-Pac
Link: Think Progress

In the Name of Honor”, by Pawel Gula, probably dispels the most superficial idea of honor killing, that it primarily happens to women who are victims of rape in primitive societies.  That happens, and it certainly sounds like “blaming the victim”.

Gula’s film presents three episodes, the first in his native India.  Couples may not marry among different castes, and may not marry within the same village or gotras, as that is viewed as incest.  Police back off if the family of the murdered daughter doesn’t want to intervene. The fathers are said to have chosen “pride” over “life”.  Still, you can wonder what is behind these longstanding “customs” that seem to define the individuals only in terms of the group to which they are forced to belong.

The second part presents a woman in Jordan who lost her leg in a shootout after she tried to refuse an arranged marriage. The journalist Lima Nabeed supplements the tragic story.  She finally winds up in a kind of protective custody for a while, and police prosecution is difficult, even in this more modern Muslim country.

The third portion takes place in the occupied West Bank of Palestine.  A Christian father explains why he murdered (now with regret) his 23-year-old daughter. The narrative seems to move in and out of a stage play in which the daughter had acted.  There is controversy in Palestine as to whether drama should deal with real issues, or ignore them in a kind of sterile comedy.  Somehow the acting out went viral, led to real world consequences, which then recycled back into the drama.  This is a bit parallel with something that happened with one of my “screenplays” when I was substitute teaching (link ).

It seems that the film is also known as “The Price of Honor”.

The film has an epilogue in a “Protection House” back in India.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Jericho
By Tamar Hayardeni (Tamarah) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23024414

(Published: Tuesday, August 2, 2016 at 10:30 PM EDT)