The Florida Project,
directed by Sean Baker
(R, 1 hour, 51 minutes)
Sunny Orlando doesn’t look as idyllic from the rickety balcony of rundown Magic Castle Inn (complete with bedbugs) near luxe Disney World where fractured families experiencing hard times have set up housekeeping under the frazzled eye of its manager and all-purpose handyman (Willem Dafoe, who holds director Sean Baker’s entire fly-on-the-wall style of filmmaking together). What makes this story unique is that it’s told from the viewpoint of a bunch of semi-feral 6-year-olds who run wild, having no idea they’re living a precarious existence.
The boss is Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince), a wildcat of a kid, the daughter of trashy, immature smart-mouth Halley (Bria Vinaite). Moonee calls the shots for a rumpled gang of others in exploits such as spitting on parked cars, trashing others’ property, conning tourists, and endless other exploits that show absolutely no respect or concern for adult authority.
If screeching children behaving badly doesn’t appeal to you, this film will wear you out in short order. But it has a lot to say about the kind of spirit that serves those who thumb their noses at a life of poverty. Thanks to the manager’s mighty machinations to keep a roof over their heads, Moonee, her mom, and her pals are amazingly unburdened by their circumstances. Maybe they’ve found the real magic kingdom.
Mom and Dad (R, 1 hour, 23 minutes) A blue-black comedy, drenched in lurid horror and appalling taste, in which worldwide craziness causes parents to react violently to their own children for 24 hours. Among them are Brent Ryan (Nicolas Cage, who fully embraces his inner madman) and his wife, Kendall Ryan (Selma Blair), with their victims being 10-year-old Josh (Zackary Arthur) and teenage Carly (Anne Winters). Sledgehammers are involved. Is this the future of suburbia? With Lance Henriksen, Rachel Melvin; directed by Brian Taylor.
Same Kind of Different as Me (PG-13, 1 hour, 59 minutes) A curious, less-than-inspiring faith-based study in empathy in which wealthy Texas art dealer and faithless husband Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear) befriends a mystical homeless guy named Denver (Djimon Hounsou) in an attempt to save Ron’s foundering marriage to trophy wife Debbie (Renee Zellweger), who has challenged him to do the right thing. With Jon Voight, Olivia Holt; directed by Michael Carney.
Daddy’s Home 2 (PG-13, 1 hour, 40 minutes) A competent cast struggles mightily — and sometimes succeeds — in making the best of a lackluster screenplay with too many subplots and not enough laughs. The story follows biological father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and stepfather Brad (Will Ferrell) as they try to make Christmas memorable for three kids, the product of Dusty’s former marriage to Sara (Linda Cardellini), who’s now married to Brad. Got all that? If you need more complications, they arrive in the form of Brad’s dad (John Lithgow) and Dusty’s dad (Mel Gibson). It’s a sequel to 2015’s Daddy’s Home. And is marginally better. Directed by Sean Anders.
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