3 posts categorized "American Independent"

September 22, 2017



Although the editing could be tighter on Sean Baker’s dramatically infused [ethnographic] study of poverty in Kissimmee, “The Florida Project” remains a moving encapsulation of an escalating human crisis in America.

More neo-realistic than forcefully dramatic, the episodic narrative follows the daily travails of residents of the Magic Castle, a purple week-to-week three floor motel catering to people living on society’s margins. Willem Dafoe underplays his role as Bobby, the motel’s seen-it-all manager with a heart of gold. Dafoe’s character anchors the film with a responsible adult who looks after the community he oversees with personal investment. 

Four all-access wristbands to the nearby Walt Disney World looms as a distant fantasy in the nearby background where the ramshackle remains of a failed suburban housing development mocks the amusement park’s [unshared] financial success.

Four all-access Walt Disney World wristbands will run you $1,7000. Weekly rent at the Magic Castle is $38. Paradise is a toxic place. Here is a cultural dead zone that oddly mirrors the sterility of Disney World. The local culture is car shops and reduced price tourist item stores.  

After losing her stripper job, tough-as-nails Halley (Bria Vinaite) hawks cheap perfume in upscale hotel parking lots with her six-year-old daughter Moonie (Brooklynn Prince) in tow. Moonie is tough too. She runs free around the suburban area, stirring up troubles big and small with her similarly aged pals Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera).

These little roustabouts give as good as they get when it comes to cursing out authority figures. The filmmakers let the realism fly during wryly funny outbursts of blue insults from the mouths of babes. This is how kids in these circumstances talk because it gives them a sense of control over their precarious realities.

The kids stop by a local diner every day to receive a free food handout from Halley’s downstairs neighbor, Ashley (Mela Murder). They effortlessly commit criminal acts with the potential to endanger the community.


So it is that Baker and co-screenwriter Chris Bergoch peel back the layers of creeping social conditions that corner Halley into more desperate choices. “The Florida Project” is far from a perfect film, but it functions well on a visceral level via its fearless ensemble of child and adult actors. The ending is appropriately upbeat in the face of such repressive social conditions. There is something to be said for fantasy realities.  

Not Rated. 115 mins. (B+) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

What to Watch at the 55th New York Film Festival from Cole Smithey on Vimeo.

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January 21, 2015


Loitering-with-intentNewbie filmmakers (director Adam Rapp and screenwriter-actors Michael Godere and Ivan Martin) flail toward making a cohesive movie about a couple of New York City actors on an upstate retreat to crank out a screenplay in 10 days.

Barely a cut above the thankfully defunct Mumblecore movement, “Loitering With Intent” does plenty of loitering but doesn’t exhibit much commitment. At 80 minutes, the movie is at least thankfully short, even if the abbreviated running time from standard feature films is a surefire sign that a lot of things are missing.


Marisa Tomei and Sam Rockwell bring a dose of star power as a couple of confused lovers whose on-again-off-again relationship impacts Ivan Martin’s character. At best a guilty pleasure for young New York centric audiences, “Loitering With Intent” doesn’t so much as make a ripple even in the shallow dramatic waters that it treads. Skip it.

Not Rated. 80 mins. (C-) (One Star - out of five/no halves)


March 26, 2012


Slacker_posterWriter/director/actor Richard Linklater’s Cassavetes-inspired independent expose of American underground culture follows an episodic philosophical terrain. The milieu is the hyper-articulate but economically impoverished youth culture of Austin, Texas. An interconnecting web of personal acquaintances transfer the story’s transitional baton of narrative movement. Slice-of-life vignettes allow characters to give voice to exultant monologues about fundamentally existential issues.

“The underlying order is chaos.” “Time doesn’t exist.” Such bon mots flow like a waterfall. Attitude meets social consciousness in a bold observational character study.

Linklater’s 1991 cinema vérité explosion presents a quietly dystopian prophecy derived from thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and questions that are, if not expressly radical, then firmly outside the mainstream. Although seemingly small in scale, “Slacker” comprises an Altman-like whirlwind of characters.


Linklater acts in the film’s opening scene. His mop-haired hippie passenger goes on at length about dream realities to an unresponsive taxi driver. Our preliminary “slacker” exits the cab only to witnesses a woman being run over by a car. Without missing a beat our temporary protagonist makes off with the dead woman’s purse. Survival of the fittest prevails. We never see the character again.

Linklater creates a lush thematic fabric of challenging political and social discourse. Eccentric characters obsess over things like what was then called the greenhouse effect.

“It’s getting hotter, don’t you think”?

“When the polar ice caps begin to melt, it’s not going to take a certified genius to understand we’re in serious global confusion. I mean really, we’re in mainline ecological chaos. Anyway, it’s happening, even as we speak.”

A variety of film and video stock, and camera types, contribute to the film’s unique docudrama look.

A JFK conspiracy nerd is a walking encyclopedia on the subject. He’s writing his own book about the day John Kennedy died.


A video diarist leaves his collection of televisions on all the time. He even wears one on his back. He informs us, “A video image is much more powerful and useful than an actual event.”

He passes along to a pal an underground videotape of a troubled high school student railing against society while threatening with his collection of guns. The teen gunman states, “Every action is a positive action even if it has a negative result.”

A hippy chic astrologer offers “oblique strategies.” “Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy."

By definition, Linklater’s Generation X slackers represent a specific generation of people. That many of the observations foreshadowed events such as Columbine and the global warming catastrophe only add to Linklater’s visionary ability to conjure a timeless satire on an ambitious scale. “Slacker” is a hallmark of American independent cinema because it is so thoroughly original in its concepts and execution.

Rated R. 97 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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