Tag Archives: willem dafoe

“At Eternity’s Gate” may feel like eternity for some

Director Julian Schnabel specializes in slow-moving, intensely focused dramas. His newest film “At Eternity’s Gate” is no exception, his camera focused on Van Gogh’s face and his corresponding paintings and madness. He seems to be literally talking to us. For some, the direct contact brings the questions and moral of the story into sharp focus. For others, it’s a droll exercise.

Willem Dafoe stars as Vincent Van Gogh in the last few years of his life. Never recognized for his artwork, he is constantly rejected by the masses and the artistic world, his only friends fellow painter Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) and brother, Theo (Rupert Friend). As he wanders through France looking for canvases to paint, his depression and anxiety drive him into psychotic episodes. He realizes that his painting is the only thing that gives him joy and solitude from his madness.

No one really knows what Van Gogh suffered from, but today he would probably be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression of some sort. Schnabel is really able to put the audience in that mental headspace through his camera work. Through erratic handheld shots of Van Gogh’s feet to long takes of environment landscapes, the viewer sees the mania, depression and joy of his life.

The film however feels repetitive to a degree with the continuous swing back and forth of Van Gogh’s emotions. In part, this is by design as Van Gogh’s topy-turvy life is balanced in the extreme. But, for the viewer, it can feel a bit been-there, done-that after awhile.

Willem Dafoe does great work as Van Gogh, but at the same time, he is miscast. Van Gogh was a 37-year-old Dutch man. Dafoe is a 63-year-old American. It’s hard to bridge that difference in a convincing way.

People in Van Gogh’s life continually ask him why he paints, especially when so many of them find his work repulsive. He can only answer that he paints because he must. It is the only thing that gives him peace, and he wants people to see the world the way he does, hopefully something that lasts long after he is gone.

The film does a great job of bringing that ideology to life if the viewer is able to give the film enough berth to impress upon them.


“The Florida Project” a portrait of lives too often hidden

Writer-director Sean Baker has always focused on the smaller stories of the smaller people, the underprivileged and often noticed of American society. In “The Florida Project”, his subjects are set against the backdrop of the happiest place on Earth, further illustrating the discrepancies between the haves and the have-nots.

Set over one summer, “The Florida Project” follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) as she courts mischief with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite). They live in a decrepit motel under the management of Bobby (Willem Dafoe), who tries to protect his tenants as best he can.

The film does a good job of building through little moments, illustrating how Moonee copes with a mother who is not fit to care for her. The viewer goes through a swing of emotions wondering if Halley should be allowed to raise her given her anger-fueled, psychotic rants. She clearly cares for Moonee, but is that enough?

Willem Dafoe shines in his Oscar-nominated role as Bobby. He is both caring and stern, almost a Dickensian character for the miscreants in his motel.

It’s often easy to forget or ignore the people like Halley and Moonee, especially in a tourist destination like Orlando. Films like “The Florida Project” do a good job of reminding us that life is far from peachy for many.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is fine but lacks gravitas

Directed and starring Kenneth Branagh, “Murder on the Orient Express” tells the story of Hercule Poirot (Branagh) in one of his most famous cases. When Mr. Ratchet (Johnny Depp) is murdered in the dead of night aboard the Orient Express, everyone in the coach is a suspect. Could it be Miss Debenham (Daisy Ridley)? Or Dr. Arbutnot (Leslie Odom Jr.)? Or perhaps the butler, Edward Masterman (Derek Jacobi)?

The film is a fun, if ultimately forgettable, jaunt into an old time mystery. The movie plays it up hokey at times and it could have done so even more. Keeping things light and campy would have really accentuated the classic sense of the film and harken back to an oldtime era. As it is, the reason behind the movie is more of a mystery. It tries to incorporate modern technique into an old story but comes across as too beholden to the past. Perhaps it is just a vanity project as it is directed, starred in and produced by Branagh.

The cinematography is great and the acting is solid. It’s an enjoyable ride that just glides along the surface. The original 1973 version seems so much more memorable though. It really took time to delve into the characters and the story and focused on the mystery as the driving plot. This film is adequate but lacks muster.