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The Florida Project (Blu-ray Review)

Director Sean Baker had himself a nice little breakout with the acclaimed film Tangerine a few years ago. Here he returns with his follow up, The Florida Project. I thin this one expected a little more love at the Academy Awards this year, but has wound up touting a Willem DaFoe Best Supporting Actor nomination as its big mark. Regardless, another thing that struck me about this film’s Blu-ray release was how quickly it went from being announced to release. It was literally “Here it is and its coming in 2 weeks”. I know some of the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray catalog titles have been quick to the snap, but a brand new movie on standard Blu-ray is pretty rare when it has that fast of a turnaround, especially on a quality project. Alas, you’ll be able to grab it for yourself on February 20th.

Film 

On a stretch of highway just outside the most magical place on earth, six-year-old Moonee and her ragtag band of playmates spend an unforgettable summer at The Magic Castle, a budget motel managed by Bobby. Bobby’s stern exterior hides a deep reservoir of kindness and compassion as he watches over the kids’ adventures, protecting them from some of the harsher realities of life.

The Florida Project is an incredibly engaging experience while at the same time being quite a tough watch.  What starts as a bit of a shock to the system as we are introduced to the very raunchy and real characters and the equally very environment with which they live in, we then are on board as the film takes much more challenging and darker directions. This is definitely one of those films that has a fantastic impact on you, but you’re probably not going to revisit it for a good long while as it does well enough to implant itself in your head. And in the end, its a film that will make you truly appreciate what you have and where you are in life.

Sean Baker’s film is much more a very grounded drama than it is comedy, it moreso uses the shock comedy as your “in” with these characters. But, stylistically, it plays and works very much as a modern day Clerks or Slackers. You feel right there, the place is super real and the characters honestly feel more like you’re watching a documentary on them than actors playing a role. If it was accompanied by some sort of Werner Herzog narration during some of the transitions and quieter moments, it may not even feel out of place. This kind of realism is incredibly hard to pull off, especially with known faces like Willem Dafoe and Caleb Landry Jones in the mix, but Baker seems to do it like its nothing.

Willem Dafoe has been recognized for this film, giving the film its only Academy Awards notch, but it really could have had much more. In an odd turn, its one of Dafoe’s most endearing and warming characters he’s ever played (And he’s played Jesus!). Overlooked may be newcomer Bria Vinaite, who is out-freaking-standing in the film and maybe didn’t get the recognition because her performance is so lifelike and feels like a full on real person. Of note as well, the cinematography produces some absolutely brilliant and gorgeous shots at times to add to the great bit of making the audience feel a part of the action throughout.

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is not only an engaging, emotional trip of a film, its actually a real honest story about something true that is going on at this very time in our country. This tale of the “hidden homeless” is one that will tug at you, making you sad, depressed, angry but also will have you laugh a time or two and find some heartwarming charm in intervals. A whirlwind of the emotion, it succeeds wildly in bringing them out while also having a great vision and very strong performances.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Sunny Florida works well for a more vivid and strong image in The Florida Project’s Blu-ray debut. The image is a crisp and sharp one featuring some really strong detail. Paints strokes, grime on walls, bedding patterns/texture and more come through with a nice natural look to them.

Depth:  Some solid depth of field with spacing in a lot of the set shots. The camera wanders around with some good smoothness and clarity. Motion blurring/jitter is very minimal.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and rich, saturating very well and holding on to a lot of detail when intended. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Can we talk about purple? There is a lot of it in this film and it looks absolutely lovely. There are nice moments of pop with cigarette cherries in the dark as well as a scene with the Disney World fireworks  in the film. Many of the colors are very thick and strong.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial features bring on some terrific detail depicting facials scars, wrinkles, freckles, lip texture, blemishes, bruising, makeup and more from medium and closeup shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: The Florida Project comes with a 5.1 mix that gives the real feeling of being there. It definitely adds that whole “real” feel the movie delivers. Sounds are very natural and lifelike whether they are in the hotel room or hanging out by the pool. Its a nice mix with layered sounds balanced perfectly with the vocals.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Not much of this movie demands the bump, but car doors, engines and some glass smashing are instances of the subwoofer adding to the experience.

Surround Sound Presentation: They aren’t heavily used more than ambiance, but the rear speakers are used to great effect when they are called upon. Environments really feel natural with this blend and motion and placement of sound is very accurate to what’s on screen.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp.

Extras 

The Florida Project comes with a digital copy of the film.

Under The Rainbow: Making The Florida Project (HD, 22:01) – Behind the Scenes footage that has Willem Dafoe’s birthday, meetings, on set footage, rehearsals and more from the motel building. Its all just sort of loosely put together with no interviews or weaving narrative.

Cast and Crew Interviews (HD, 49:46) – Features press junket interviews with Sean Baker, Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Mela Murder, Valeria Cotto and Chris Bergoch. There’s a lot of focus on how they wanted the kids to feel like “The Little Rascals” in the film.

Bloopers and Outtakes (HD, 2:46)

Trailers – Lady Bird, Woodshock, A Ghost Story, The Disaster Artist, GoodTime

Summary 

The Florida Project may be a tough watch, but its an engaging one and a “must watch”.  Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release for the film includes a terrific presentation and some really solid and educational extras. I’m not sure if this one is a blind buy or one that people gotta rush to get, but if you’re down, then this one really is a solid package for your buck.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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