Film Reviews: Happy Death Day & The Florida Project

These two films are vastly different to one another, but I’m putting them together because they highlight two sides of the film taste spectrum.  Hopefully these short reviews will give you an indicator whether they are the sort of films you’d like to see.

 

Happy Death Day

Jessica Rothe

This movie tells the tale of Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe)  – a classic sorority college girl who is caught in a loop of being murdered then waking up to relive the day again.  The concept of this film is not original, but certainly an interesting spin on Groundhog Day.  Going in, I was expecting a horror or slasher experience, however it ended up being more of a Mean Girls – esque college movie with a murder plot added on.  There was little to no scares and certainly no tension in the murder scenes.  The violence was pretty weak and take a few things out of this film and it probably could have passed for a 12A.  Despite this the murder moments weren’t totally boring thanks to some obvious humour and nods to comic cinema.  The plot moves quickly and overall the runtime went by fairly quickly, with maybe a few minutes in the middle feeling like excess material.  A lot of the film is cliché and obvious, though Rothe does well in the lead to keep you engaged.  The rest of the cast are fine, though not all that interesting.  There are mostly cheap thrills here and the ending left me sort of disappointed.  It felt as though they missed out on a chance to do something intriguing with the concept, and in the end they played it very safe.  Not a terrible 96 minutes, but definitely not something I’ll be rushing to see again.  It’s perhaps good for a date movie, or a group of friends?  If you’re expecting horror though or weird existential themes I wouldn’t bother.

Presentation (look of the movie – cinematography, mise-en-scene etc): 2/3

Performances (the acting): 1.5/3

Narrative (plot & story points): 1.5/3

Effect (Did this film impact me in any way?): 0/1

Final score: 5/10

 

The Florida Project

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Set at a low rent motel in the shadows of Disney-Land, this film follows a troubled young mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) as they live recklessly and struggle to get by.  Let me first start of by saying that American poverty fascinates me.  There is something so unsettling and sickly about it.  This film is unsettling in that way, but also has a lot of heart.  On the basic level it reminds me of last year’s American Honey, yet it is far more focused and far more connectable.  The film is gorgeously shot and meanders a long keeping track of a group of young kids just aimlessly having fun in and around the motel.  It spends time with the struggling parents, who are certainly not instantly likeable.  The film bounces around from moment to moment with no real rules about time or scenes.  Director Sean Baker stays on things when he wants to and this gives the film a natural feel.  At its foundations though it has a solid performance from Willem Dafoe, who plays the manager of the motel.  He figuratively and literally pulls the film together to keep it tangent and watchable.  There is no hero in the film, but he has heroic moments, and I think without him the film would drift away into the abstract.  Alongside him is a mesmerising, and often very funny, performance by Brooklynn Prince who is just 7.  She has more personality than your average adult and is the star of the film.  Her mother is a desperate character and you have to realise that there is little redemption for her, so Bria Vinaite does well in a tricky role.  Everything that happens in the film is totally believable, and every scene feels necessary.  It certainly has its moments of boredom like any independent drama and the ending will certainly leave a few people a bit confused.  The film touches on poverty, and capitalist abandonment, yet it is mostly a human film.  It has more love than tragedy and I would recommend this film to anyone who can stand looking at those in society that America has forgotten about.

Presentation: 3/3

Performances: 3/3

Narrative: 2/3

Effect: 1/1

Final score: 9/10

 

Are both films worth your ticket price? The Florida Project – 100%.  Happy Death Day – maybe if it’s a cheaper ticket.

Defusing the Tension in Drama

Everything that I write on here is completely opinionated and backed up with the smallest amount of substance, but sometimes I think that what I have to say has enough knowledge behind it to be sort of valid.  This could be one of those times, because the art of ruining or ‘defusing’ drama is a part of storytelling that I have been noticing more and more recently. And by this I mean that in a film or a TV show (a Netflix show will become my prime example), where there is a sudden break in the drama.  In which you are quickly disengaged with the details on screen and you return back to the real world.

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My main case study for this will be the Netflix programme The Crown, which I have recently started watching.  Now, some things to get out of the way:  I am only 3 episodes in, so far I’m really enjoying it and this is a tiny critique from a small segment of episode 2.  The segment being the part where a young Queen Elizabeth (then Princess) and Prince Phillip are on a Commonwealth tour in Kenya.  Before this scene there has been a tension brewing, because the Kings death is drawing closer, meaning of course that Elizabeth will soon take the throne. The series is in its early stages so it is delicately spinning the narrative web and carefully introducing its characters.  It is richly shot, with a high density of field (I use this phrase to describe that there is a lot to be drawn visually from each scene).  Then, the defusing comes, and in the shape of an Elephant.

If you have seen the show you will know instantly what I mean, but there is effectively a few minutes in the episode where Phillip and Elizabeth have to evade an Elephant. Firstly, I don’t quite understand the point of this scene, is it to foreshadow dangers to come?  Is it to show Prince Phillip as some sort of hero for Elizabeth to rely on?  It’s certainly not to show the wonder of the animal because they pretty much play that out later in the episode.  Whatever it was there for, it felt completely out of place.  There was no colouring in of the characters gained from this scene, nor a real sense of suspense or danger.  It did not work for me on any level, and I found it all a bit silly.  The CGI was not particularly well done and I’m uneasy about the movements taken by the actors present in the scene. So, from this, all the drama had been killed.  I was taken out of the world and thrown into some weird voyeuristic safari park.  Hence, a massive defuse drama.

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I’m afraid that this has made me come across as some angry broadsheet film critic, but it really highlights what I mean when I’m taken out of the drama.  It is the main reason I can never get fully invested in a superhero or big budget movie, because they are usually full of these moments.  They are put in there as either time fillers, or a feeling that they have to put in some form of action scene at certain time stamps.  Yet, scenes of action or heightened situations can work well in drama.  For example, in the 2014 film A Most Violent Year pretty much nothing happens in its entire run time.  The drama and intrigue comes, like in The Crown, with its interesting characters and dense scenery.  However, when the small parts of excitement come, they blend rhythmically with the rest of the drama.  There is a chase scene in the film that is equally gripping as it is dramatic, because it feels like it is meant to be there. It is clearly hard to balance those moments in, but when it doesn’t work, it is so so obvious.

Side-note:  This is probably the most stupid thing I have ever written because it is nitpicking at the highest degree.  The Crown so far is really great and I bet if I went through some of my favourite things of all time they would all have little things that really annoyed me.  Mostly I think it is like in my mind every filmmaker has to play by my own sick rules.  Though I guess that’s what an opinion is.

ALSO, the director of A Most Violent Year (J. C. Chandor) directed Margin Call, where again nothing happens, but it’s still so bloody tense.