Friday, November 17, 2017

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

“She was a big name in black-and-white films, not doing too well in colour,” we’re told near the start of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. “Always played the tart.” Of course, there was a lot more to Gloria Grahame than that, but film biopics have an unfortunate habit of flattening out the complexities and inconsistencies of a person’s life to fit a familiar, simplistic template.

In the 1940s and ’50s, Gloria Grahame was involved in some of the greatest films of the studio era, winning an Oscar for The Bad and the Beautiful and being nominated for Crossfire. She had four marriages (including a notoriously tumultuous one with Nicholas Ray), and her insecurity about her looks led her to undergo a series of damaging plastic surgery procedures. Paul McGuigan’s film, however, is interested in just two things: her late-in-life romance with a much younger man, and her sad decline as she finally succumbed to cancer.

Read the rest of my review at Little White Lies

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Marjorie Prime

In the opening scene of Marjorie Prime, an elderly woman and a younger man sit across from each other in a plush living room and have a long conversation. If something feels a little off about the way they are interacting, we soon learn why. Marjorie (Lois Smith) is 85 years old and in the early stages of dementia, and the man she’s conversing with isn’t a man at all.

He’s a sophisticated hologram, or a “Prime”, programmed to look and sound exactly like her late husband Walter (Jon Hamm), and to recall memories that Marjorie and her family have fed to him. For example, Walter remembers the time he proposed to her, after they saw My Best Friend’s Wedding. “Julia Roberts, etched forever on our lives,” Marjorie complains. “What if we saw Casablanca instead? Let’s say we saw Casablanca in an old theatre with velvet seats, and then on the way home, you proposed. Then, by the next time we talk, it will be true.”

Read the rest of my review at Little White Lies

Monday, November 06, 2017

The Florida Project in Sight & Sound

On 15 November 15 1965, Walt Disney held a press conference to announce the commencement of 'The Florida Project'. Previously known as 'Project X', this top-secret plan had involved his company quietly purchasing 43 square miles of land in Orlando for the purpose of building his “city of the future”, which would later evolve into Walt Disney World. While Disney’s theme parks remain a fantasy destination for millions of tourists every year, the harsh economic realities of life in 21 st century America have seen many of the surrounding neighbourhoods fall into disrepair.

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project takes place in the colourful but shabby Magic Castle motel in Kissimmee, which is largely populated by residents living from week-to- week. These are the city’s hidden homeless; families who may technically have a roof over their heads, but who know that one missed rental payment could force them on to the streets. It’s a precarious situation, but Baker’s film possesses a bracing sense of humour and optimism, as we are aligned with the perspective of six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who lives in The Magic Castle with her mother Halley (newcomer Bria Vinaite, whom Baker discovered on Instagram). For Moonee and her young friends, living in the shadow of “The Happiest Place on Earth”, every day is an adventure, with their innocence and imagination keeping the bleakness of their poverty-stricken surroundings at bay.

In films such as Take Out (2004), Prince of Broadway (2008) and Tangerine (2015), Baker has been drawn to marginalised characters and communities, but we never feel that we are peering at his chosen subjects from a distance. A director driven by a genuine curiosity and empathy, he immerses us in the world of his characters and allows us to experience events from their point of view. The breakout success of Tangerine has afforded him a bigger budget for The Florida Project and the participation of established stars (Willem Dafoe is wonderful as motel manager Bobby), but he hasn’t abandoned the spirit of his micro-budget past. He still populates his films with first-time actors and he embraces the unexpected occurrences that come from working in a live environment; an approach that gives his films a distinctive, unpredictable energy. In fact, we conducted our interview in the same spirit, inviting Baker's partner Samantha Quan, the film's acting coach and associate producer, to join us when she entered the room halfway through our conversation, and to share her thoughts on working with this inexperienced cast.

Read the rest of my interview in the December 2017 issue of Sight & Sound