The Florida Project

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Florida Project

What if I say “Don’t go to The Florida Project because the acting is so good it will take a long time for you to recover from the sadness”? Or I can say “Just go, it’s that good.” You will go straight to The Magic Castle, a bare bones motel that lies nearly in the dark shadow of Orlando’s Disney World. At $30 per night, its appeal is limited. Many rooms are empty, and the ones that aren’t are occupied by unemployed people scraping by. The place is surrounded night and day by awful sounds – the roaring traffic from the adjacent thruway, the deafening noise of leaf blowers and helicopters passing low as they carry affluent tourists to nearby Disney World. These people are hurting.

Several women live here alone with their children as they struggle to come up with money for food and shelter every day. One of these is a young mother named Halley (Bria Vinaite). Covered with complex tattoos and long hair dyed with turquoise streaks, she smokes through the day while her six year old daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) plays outside with neighbors Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto). As those three children become friends, they spend their days playing together, pretending, and exploring the neighborhood. We learn that Halley turns tricks in her room to pay the rent, and is not just poor, but lazy.

It’s at this point that my mind began to look for solutions for the mothers and their children. That’s what we do, isn’t it, when watching people who need help? What’s going to save them? We want this young mother to figure out a way to care for Moonee and herself other than by scamming passers-by.

Our sympathy stirred, we wonder how writer/director Sean Baker and co-screenwriter Chris Bergoch will put the requisite smiles on the faces of these lost people. That won’t happen. They continue to follow the children who create their world from the things around them – making a game of everything they see – like celebrating a birthday by sitting on the sidewalk under the fireworks exploding over nearby Disney World. Moonee carries on a running conversation with herself and plays with her doll in imaginary worlds. She leads her two friends through all kinds of mischief and bad deeds in the actual world that surrounds them.

Sunk in the darkness of the unfolding story, we begin to marvel at the acting. As the motel manager, Willem Dafoe creates a deeply decent man with little ability to change things, and Bria Vinaite stuns us as Moonee’s wasted mother. But it is 6-year-old Brooklynn Prince who stops us cold as Moonee while we follow her through her world of incurable despair with a smile on her face and mischief in her heart. Writer/Director Sean Baker created a powerhouse little character and found a six year old actor to create her in a way that makes her absolutely unforgettable.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Florida Project
Word Count : 495
Running Time: 1:55
Rating : R
Date : October 22, 2017


This review was posted on October 22, 2017, in Drama.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

Mark Felt is a beautifully crafted movie about the role of secret agent Deep Throat in the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon. It can be hard to follow for people who were very young at the time. If you were uninterested back then, you may be bored. If you were, as I was, riveted by the unfolding story, you may be fascinated by a superbly controlled performance by Liam Neeson. This is an absorbing piece of American history.

For nearly fifty years as head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover kept deeply personal files on public figures to the point where presidents, movie stars, and businessmen dared not cross him for fear of exposure. When Hoover died in 1972, Deputy Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) expected to be promoted to the job after his own thirty years in the bureau.

His hopes were crushed when Richard Nixon became president and appointed his own loyalist, L. Patrick Gray as chief of the FBI. When the multiple crimes of the Nixon administration began to leak out, Gray did all he could to discover who in the bureau was passing the facts to the Washington Post. It was, of course, Mark Felt, labelled Deep Throat by Bob Woodward of the Post. Felt passed information to Woodward in absolute secrecy that was maintained until he revealed his identity in 2005.

Nixon and his White House staff were running burglaries, illegal wiretaps, and money laundering. Mark Felt passed the proof to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward who published it as he assembled evidence. Few will forget the day Richard Nixon resigned and boarded a plane in shame with the same wave of his arm he had always used in victory.

The strength of this movie is the genuinely interesting picture of Felt’s values and character as he brought down a presidential administration that was awash in multiple crimes. Liam Neeson captures the sadness of a loyal, smart man denied his promotion by the very people he was investigating. The actor has a compelling grasp of Mark Felt, the loyal FBI man who was watching the White House puncture the system.

Neeson shows Felt’s anger through a determination to discover and to end White House corruption. Honest to the core, he suffers not just from losing the head job at the FBI but from having his new boss be a Nixon loyalist. Neeson paints a portrait of a man loyal to country and to his organization, a husband and father capable of tenderness but locked in the fight to expose Richard Nixon’s crimes. As Felt’s wife Audrey, Diane Lane paints a woman who lives in isolation in the same house as her preoccupied husband.

This is an intricate story – often hard to follow – of complex personalities and rivalries with an honorable man at its center. If you were alive and interested in its unfolding in the ‘70s, you’ll be fascinated; if not it’s one valuable history lesson.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Mark Felt
Word Count : 497
Running Time: 1:43
Rating : PG-13
Date : October 15, 2017