Review of reviews: Film
The Florida Project
Directed by Sean Baker (R)
Kids run wild at a low-rent motel.
Sean Baker’s new feature is “one of the most infectious and thrillingly alive portraits of childhood I’ve ever seen,” said Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. In a cut-rate motel outside Disney World, a 6-year-old girl named Moonee uses her mother’s benign neglect to live each day as an adventure. As Moonee cons tourists out of ice cream money and enlists her friends in various mischief, the youngster who fills the role, Brooklynn Prince, “goes so far beyond the precocious mugging that often passes for child acting that it all but defies that classification.” But Baker, who made 2015’s acclaimed Tangerine, has almost too much sympathy for Moonee and her 22-yearold mom, treating the latter’s eventual turn to prostitution as no great threat to Moonee’s “borderline idyllic” experience of poverty, said Richard Brody in NewYorker.com. “For all its careful observation,” The Florida Project proves “as emotionally inauthentic” as Disney World itself. But the audience is forever aware that Moonee is a child at risk, even with a “never better” Willem Dafoe on hand as a surrogate father figure and Baker bent on uplift, said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. “This movie accomplishes something almost miraculous—two things, actually. It casts a spell and tells the truth.”
The Mountain Between Us
Directed by Hany Abu-Assad (PG-13)
Sparks fly in a snowy wilderness.
Idris Elba and Kate Winslet are two of the best actors working today—“so what on earth are they doing in The Mountain Between Us?” asked Bill Goodykoontz in the Phoenix Arizona Republic. The two stars play strangers who decide to share a small charter plane out of Idaho and wind up crawling out of wreckage into an implausible Rockies survival story that includes too-easy escapes from a blizzard, a hungry cougar, and a fall into a frozen lake. “But it doesn’t stop there.” Before help can arrive, a “ridiculous” romance blooms. “What saves The MountainBetween Us”—barely—are the performances, said Katie Walsh in the Chicago Tribune. “Winslet has always been a wonderfully grounded actor,” and Elba is “a spot-on choice” as a handsome neurosurgeon who rescues Winslet’s Alex again and again. Too bad we never buy that the characters are in a true fight for survival. “It’s said you have a choice at a movie like The Mountain Between Us: Laugh at it or go with it,” said David Edelstein in NYMag.com. Myself, “I don’t see those two things as mutually exclusive: I laughed at it and enjoyed the hell out of it.”
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Directed by S. Craig Zahler (Not rated)
A violent convict turns a prison inside out.
Watch out: Veteran comedy actor Vince Vaughn has just transformed himself into “a skull-crushing man-beast,” said Johnny Oleksinski in the New York Post. Pivoting from the facile comedies he’s been making for more than a decade, the 47-year-old actor has shaved his head and assumed a glower to play a menacing inmate who decides to brawl his way into the lowest level of the prison system because the life of his unborn child literally depends on his killing a fellow con. Through all the mayhem, the “still-lovable” actor “gives a psychologically complex performance that neither this brutish genre, nor its intended viewers, really deserve.” It’s “not a movie for most,” said Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. But it is “a sort of sicko exploitation masterpiece”—“as good a film as a film like this can be.” Vaughn has remade himself so completely that he’s like an actor reaching for Oscar glory, said Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. Except that he’s after “something much more endearing: He wants to become the new Charles Bronson.” Brawl in Cell Block 99 could well get him there. It’s “the kind of vicious, no-nonsense prison drama that dads dream about when the TV is finally theirs to command.”