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A24 Double Feature: The Florida Project and The Killing of A Sacred Deer

The Florida Project

What do you do when a film whistles just past you?

The Florida Project, director Sean Baker’s tale of the disaffected and forgotten poor on the outskirts of Orlando, Florida, is by all means a work of raw and honest beauty, something wonderful and deeply humanist in a way that absolutely deserves to be as celebrated as I can imagine this film will be.

Yet I must confess that something didn’t quite hit right for me about this, didn’t take that extra step from being a great made film into be something truly special. The Florida Project is a wonderful movie, yes, but what’s missing?

It’s not the cast, for sure. It’s a largely unknown/non-professional cast minus a few familiar faces, most notably Willem Dafoe playing the manager of the motel our main characters live in.

The story revolves around children, Brooklynn Prince playing a young girl named Moonee is our star, and yet all of them feel only as affected as children do. The performances don’t have that child actor showiness, but they still retain the artificiality that children naturally have, trying to figure out words and posturings they don’t know how to use just yet. Prince is particularly extraordinary, the perfect eyes to a world of wonder.

It revolves around the adults who raise them too. Their actors are all equally extraordinary. Newcomer Bria Vinaite, playing Moonee’s mom, is a powerhouse standing right alongside Willem Dafoe, giving maybe his most likeable performance ever. These are people who feel real in their quiet desperation, in the need to just get by day by day.

All of that is thanks to the filmmaking of Sean Baker, quickly becoming one of our best filmmakers telling stories of the forgotten people. The Florida Project really is a gorgeous-looking film, finding the wonder that children must in these dirty and dilapidated urban places. There’s an honesty to it that never loses a belief in the humanity.

The film is funny and charming and really deeply affecting in how much it loves and believes in the misfits that occupy its frames. Baker knows what it means to actually care about these people like few filmmakers do, never coming down to the level of tourist.

I mean all these nice things, truly. But I want to throw back to the film Sean Baker did right before The Florida Project for a quick point of comparison.

Tangerine, his iPhone-shot film about two transgender prostitutes (Alexandra and Sin-dee) in LA during Christmas, has a moment at the very end of the film where Alexandra takes off her wig and offers it to Sin-dee while she’s cleaning her own. It’s a raw and very vulnerable and beautiful moment, something so specific and such a moment of human kindness that feels like it peels back the layer of film artifice and feels like you’re watching this real moment of kindness.

The Florida Project never really has that. There’s a similarly honest feeling to the whole film, but never the moment that really digs down to be honest and raw. And it leaves the whole film feeling as though it tells an honest story in an artificial way. Never finding that moment where it can get real. Perhaps that’s where it just barely misses my heart.

Grade: B+

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

It’s rare for any year to yield a film as divisive and distancing and engrossing and fascinating and sickening as mother! It’s even rarer for a film to yield two films that you walk out of imagining that there’s a very real chance 95% of the audience hated it. But that’s 2017 for you.

While The Killing of a Sacred Deer is certainly not as jaw-droppingly audacious as Darren Aronofsky’s middle-finger masterpiece, it’s something just as difficult and insane to grapple with, something mythological and terrifying and confusing.

It’s hard to quite grasp what happens. Colin Farrell is Steven, a successful doctor married to Anna (Nicole Kidman), an equally successful doctor, with two children. Steven has also befriended a young boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan). The two have a past that seems to revolve around the death of Martin’s father as Steven operated on him.

Martin seems to blame Steven for it, and for not marrying his mother (Alicia Silverstone) and giving him a family, and chooses to take his revenge. Steven must kill one of his family or they will all succumb to a mysterious illness that may or may not be caused by Martin. It’s unclear.

An off-putting enough premise, but filtered through the Yorgos Lanthimos (director of The Lobster) lens it becomes something truly bizarre. The Killing of a Sacred Deer seems to eschew human belief and action totally, turning them into living embodiment of the avatars of narrative. Lanthimos characters are bizarre and stiff, like a robot pretending to be human, and it makes an off-putting story into something bizarre and hypnotic.

It helps that Lanthimos has such an incredible grasp and control of what he wants to do that it keeps all that from spiraling out of control. That bizarre detachment of his character is his whole world, something perfect and pristine in arrangement and design, terrifying in its coldness and threatened by somebody who is all willingness to tear the perfection down.

Farrell and Kidman are great in this film, no surprise. Kidman is having a banner year and Farrell is having a late-career renaissance, Lanthimos’ ability to pull really reserved and mannered and complex characters out of him contributing to that. But the real surprise is Keoghan, playing perhaps the most terrifying villain of the year. He somehow manages to make his very presence unnerving, yet its hard to understand the true nature of his evil. He is something twisted and unknowable, all the scary for what we imagine he must be thinking as what is revealed.

Lanthimos has created something uneasy, something so pitch black that terror and comedy feel intertwined in the sheer ambiguous insanity of a work like this. He leaves no questions answered and seems to revel in making his viewer actively uncomfortable. A slightly-dragging second act notwithstanding, Lanthimos manages to keep such thrall over this bizarre world that you don’t mind how little he does to solve it, you suspect that was never the point.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is perhaps one of the most deeply unsettling things you’ll see this year (besides the aforementioned mother!). Its actual value is certainly going to be evaluated on a personal basis but undeniable is that Lanthimos swings for the fences to create something truly dark, truly disturbing, and truly worth watching.

Grade: A


Oscars Watch 2018: Playing the Fiddle While Rome Burns: Best Picture

Boy, there is a lot of…news out there today. Everything is generally awful and terrible and brutish and nasty.

So, we’re going to go to something that doesn’t matter at all in the hopes of distracting you, me, and everyone else.

That’s right, it’s OSCAR SEASON!!!

Now, I’m gonna preface all this with the reason for the subtitle. To some degree, I’m acknowledging that I’m playing into a lot of the power games that created a lot of the current situation in Hollywood. Weinstein made his name, his money, and his influence off this game.

This is not some grand statement. On the contrary, I’m a F-list blogger with no influence, no reach, and no real ultimate meaning. It’s simply my own personal way of knowing what I’m doing and hoping to wrest some personal control of these narratives from people like that.

I’m looking at the Oscars this year as a post-Moonlight thing. An avenue to now boost smaller and more important movies that may not have gotten the chance. This is a way to celebrate films on a scale that there are few chances to and we deserve to make our own narrative. Yes, there is and always will be needs to be right and there are certain caveats I must always make with these articles. I’m looking to be technically correct, not morally, whether I like it or not.

But there’s narratives to create and I’m going to create them.

So, without further adieu, let’s give last year’s disclaimer:

We’re talking, of course, about the Academy Awards here. The Oscars, if you’re nasty. It may not be for a few months, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it now.

“But Brandon,” you don’t say but I pretend you do, “how can you have a discussion about these movies? Not only have you only seen two, but most of them haven’t even been officially released?”

You sweet summer child.

Fun fact about the Academy Awards: They’re rarely about the actual movies. They’re about how movies are perceived and make the voters feel. As long as the movie has a reasonably strong critical reception (unless you’re Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), the appearance of quality and importance is enough. Plus, thanks to the Festival circuit, we can already see the conversations that are being had around it, so waiting for them to come out isn’t necessary. This is shot-calling, not criticism.

The Awards are also about the quality of the campaign! Did the studio put the movie in front of enough people with a clear enough case?  Does the studio have the connections and the infrastructure to really get their case out there? Being good means nothing if nobody knows it.

And let’s give our categories. Sure Things, Incredibly Likely, Possibly, and No-Go. I also keep the general rule that there has to be something from it out there for me to include it. Reviews or trailers, something to make it possible to keep an eye on things.

The rumors around The Post are enough to make sure I do that.

The big story this year is the lack of any frontrunner and the absolute wealth of possible runners. It’s a year that the Festivals and Studios are producing a lot of very good movies, a lot of stuff that people are really liking even if a good chunk of it is somewhat divisive. But that divisiveness is meaning that there’s nothing universally agreeable.

Remember that by this point last year Moonlight was already out and La La Land was tearing it up over in festival land. The tea leaves were there for those two to read, but nothing is so big right now. Nothing is tearing up festivals the same way something usually does and it’s likely going to come down to the compromise candidate that everyone is reasonably positive about.

Sure Things

The Shape of Water
Call Me By Your Name
Three Billboards Outside, Ebbing Missouri
Darkest Hour
Get Out

Dunkirk and Darkest Hour may hold the rare distinction of being the first pair of movies about the same event ever nominated in the same year. There’s a few years with pairs of WW2 movies or pairs of movies set in the same era (1998 had a pair of each) but Dunkirk and Darkest Hour are both set during the Battle of Dunkirk, just from different ends.

Nolan is with the soldiers in a film that is heart-stoppingly realistic and jaw-droppingly shot. Wright takes the fight back to Parliament with Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill battling for his place of power and the rallying of his nation. Darkest Hour is classic Oscar material, a chamber piece about a great man, and Dunkirk is functionally a Robert Bresson film by way of Nolan’s tech-wizardry, by no means an Oscar piece. But the sheer scale and skill at play here makes both a lock with Nolan’s Dunkirk more seizing of the imagination than anyone expected.

The Shape of Water is honestly an unexpected success. Del Toro’s recent adoption of his Spanish language style into his English language output yielded the great Crimson Peak but seemed doomed to alienate all but the critical audience. But The Shape of Water is apparently a warm, romantic/sexy story that seems to be connecting with every audience that sees it as an impressive American fairytale. As a longtime fan, I’m thrilled.

Call Me By Your Name was always kind of destined to look like this year’s Moonlight, a story of queer desire and longing with lush and gorgeous filmmaking. But that’s a flattening that doesn’t quite go into Moonlight and apparently doesn’t quite go into Call Me By Your Name with its parental dynamics and the Armie Hammer factor (the most underrated actor working). This film has had its praises sung since January and there seems to be no stopping on this train. And hey, any film with a Sufjan Stevens soundtrack is worthy of an Oscar in my opinion.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri joins Call Me By Your Name and The Shape of Water in making this year the year of finally recognizing people who’ve done great work and have had no Awards success until now. Martin McDonagh’s foul-mouthed and darkly hilarious films have been an underseen delight for years and Three Billboards seems to be the film that’ll finally get him some attention. His dynamite actors, his profanely brilliant dialogue, and his steady portrayal of place seems to all come to the forefront here and have gotten this movie the attention he’s always deserved.

Get Out is perhaps the film of the year. No film passed into popular refrain quicker, no film became a bigger hit culturally (and few financially), and no film feels more desperately of its moment. No film has felt like it so tapped into the conversation around race, class, and culture so quickly. Peele’s Get Out is a vital and visceral piece of filmmaking that absolutely can and should be in the awards conversation. Best Picture must include movies like this.

Incredibly Likely

Lady Bird
The Florida Project
Phantom Thread
Battle of the Sexes
The Big Sick

A24 is riding hot after winning for Moonlight last year. A young studio turning the little movie that could into the little movie that did. They’re now an official player and they’ve come out 2017 with a few runners now that they’ve got the connections to run an actual field this time around.

Their two best players are Lady Bird and The Florida Project. Lady Bird is the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, a somewhat autobiographical picture about a teen girl in the early 90s. The film is one of the big darlings of the critical set right now and Gerwig is a Hollywood favorite that could definitely get this film the early attention. The Florida Project is from Sean Baker, director of the wonderful Tangerine, about the lives of the poor and displaced in a Florida hotel. Willem Dafoe’s against-type performance and the great leading performance of child actress Brooklynn Prince got this thing the attention, but Baker’s very humanistic eye got this thing the love. I didn’t necessarily fall head-over-heels for it, but this is certainly the kind of movie that deserves the Awards talk.

Phantom Thread has a lot going for it. It’s Paul Thomas Anderson, in the conversation for our best living director. It’s Daniel Day-Lewis, in the conversation for our best living actor. It’s a surprisingly respectable looking period piece about high-fashion and passion in 50’s London, which could help people make a connection with PTA’s increasingly difficult films. The only reason it’s not assured is a late release date and a lot of secrecy around it (combined with a dynamo filmmaker and a difficult potential subject makes me think Silence) and the rumors that this may be a real high-class 50 Shades. This is a surprisingly sex-heavy year, but still not sure how that goes over.

Battle of the Sexes is the kind of big-swing crowd pleaser that could absolutely find a way to wriggle in easily, especially with its stars and its performances and its 2016-election parallels that can and will be played up. I don’t really care for this one overall, but it’s easy to understand how this one will move into the race.

The Big Sick is another big-swing crowd pleaser that could make it in for all the reasons that Battle of the Sexes could, minus its direct political relevance and adding the true story behind it. This one I’ll admit that I have much more attachment to, given my admiration for Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, and the sweetness and skill with which this story is told means it should absolutely get a shot at the Oscars.


I, Tonya
The Disaster Artist
Logan/Wonder Woman
Molly’s Game

I, Tonya is definitely a late-game and somewhat surprising addition to this race. It really exploded out of TIFF and landed in the lap of young distributor NEON. While it’s going to remain to be seen how NEON gets a handle on Oscar campaigns, a big and flashy movie like this with starpower and star performances certainly holds the chance of giving some hooks in.

Mudbound certainly stacks up as the prime sort of Oscar contender. A film about race in post-war America from Dee Rees, whose film Pariah you should absolutely see, that should end up having some resonance, especially after raves out of Sundance. But Netflix is a biq q-mark. Hollywood is no fan of the upstart challenger and there’s a lot of legitimate issues with the way Netflix promotes and throws up the middle finger to theaters. Will the business side overcome the movie?

The Disaster Artist is my personal pick for this year’s dark horse. A Hollywood tale about the love of filmmaking running a surprisingly smart campaign (that billboard) with apparently a career-best performance out of James Franco. I could see this one doing surprisingly well if A24 plays their cards right.

Every year we have the conversation about when/if one of these big superhero blockbusters is going to make it into the Best Picture race. This year has maybe presented the two best shots at it with Logan and Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is the one that feels of its moment and of its time and its critical success has been a surprise for the otherwise-reviled DC Film universe. Logan is a much darker/weightier film than Wonder Woman which may give it the edge in the “respectability” race, though it certainly wasn’t the smash hit that a superhero film is going to need to be to break in here.

Molly’s Game is just here because with a Best Actress/Supporting Actor/Screenplay line-up possible, it certainly needs to be in the conversation. The Academy loves Sorkin.


Wind River
Wonder Wheel
All The Money in the World

Weinstein. Allen. (as of today) Spacey. These names are gonna poison these movies.

mother!/The Killing of A Sacred Deer
The Greatest Showman

I adored mother! and am fairly certain I have positive feelings about The Killing of A Sacred Deer, but these are two movies for which the word “divisive” was made. mother! got an F Cinemascore for a reason. I can’t see enough people wanting to vote for these.

Breathe is the kind of tear-jerker that tried for the attention but it pretty much fell flat on its face. No box office, no critical love, nothin’.

The Greatest Showman is trying for a little of that La La Land but my god it looks and sounds embarrassing for everyone involved. I hope I’m wrong, but…

Current Category Guess:

The Shape of Water
Call Me By Your Name
Three Billboards Outside, Ebbing Missouri
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Florida Project
Phantom Thread
The Big Sick

Oscars Watch 2018 (Preview): What To Keep An Eye On This Year

Yes, this is probably too early.

But to be fair, this isn’t really a set of predictions. We don’t even begin to know what’s for sure getting released this year, much less what’s getting pushed and what will be successful outside of the festivals where these things live and even less what the political atmosphere will be surrounding this.

Think of this more as a trend piece. What should you be keeping an eye out for? If you want to keep up on what’s hot in the film world, what should you be grabbing tickets for? Basically, it’s a Fall preview, but only for the “respectable stuff.” You already know about Blade Runner 2049 (which actually does stand a good chance of getting technical nominations), Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Justice League. What else?

This is also by NO means a comprehensive list. This’ll be missing stuff like Wonderstruck, Logan, The Greatest Showman, Molly’s Game, Wonder, Last Flag Flying, Professor Marston & The Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman, A Ghost Story, and all the potential nominees for Foreign/Animated/Documentary.

So, right now, we’ll divide the fall festival films/Oscar hopefuls (insofar as they have a good chance, not all prestige bait necessarily) into three categories: Great Guesses, Don’t Count Them Out, and Count Them Out.

Also, I’m gonna use my standard rule for previews that I’m only gonna talk about movies we actually have seen something from, anywhere from a release to reviews out of a film festival. So sorry Phantom Thread and The Post, you’ll have to wait until later. The films here are the ones that are gonna play big roles. Best Picture is kind of the assumption, but there may be other awards I’m expecting, which I’ll note below.

Great Guesses

Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name seems to be the most direct response to last year’s surprise victory in Moonlight. A queer story, though one that seems to revolve much more around its romance, Call Me By Your Name is walking the path that Moonlight really blazed for it, a space that seemed unfriendly to a previously much more conservative Academy.

But even beyond that, Call Me By Your Name has received almost universal raves since its debut at Sundance. Luca Guadagnino (a long time critical favorite) has been called a beautifully written, gorgeously shot, and masterfully acted story that’s specific and universally relatable. With an apparent breakout performance for Armie Hammer as young star Timothee Chalamet and a score from Sufjan Stevens, there’s a lot to get excited about here and a lot for voters to latch onto.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score/Best Original Song

Dunkirk/Darkest Hour

Is there another year we’ve had two films functionally about the same event that have both attracted as much attention as these two have? Two films about the Evacuation of Dunkirk, one on the ground and one back in London making the decisions, both attracting huge Oscar attention. Dunkirk for Nolan’s visceral, “You Are There” filmmaking and sheer towering technical achievement, Darkest Hour as a more traditional chamber prestige drama rotating around its dialogue and the huge, flashy lead performance from Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill.

Maybe (Both)?: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score
Maybe (Dunkirk)?: Just name a technical award
Maybe (Darkest Hour)?: Best Actor (Gary Oldman), Best Original Screenplay

The Shape of Water

With its Golden Lion win at Venice Film Festival, The Shape of Water technically becomes the first “Oscar season” picture to put some points on the board. Guillermo del Toro’s Cold War fairy tale of the love between a mute woman and a fish man has been getting gushing love throughout the critical spectrum. So far, the film has been praised for its sensuality and sensitivity as well as performances from lead Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones as well as supporting work from Richard Jenkins. That the design and directorial work is also extremely strong should surprise no one.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Sally Hawkins), Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins), Best Original Screenplay, All Technical Awards

Battle of the Sexes

The kind of film that will play like gangbusters for Hollywood and the critical audience (given every piece was “This is the election, but not the election”), it will be no surprise when Battle of the Sexes gets to be a huge crowd-pleaser coasting on that love to plenty of safe nominations. The sitting Best Actress winner apparently turns out another exceptional performance, so it’ll be interesting to see if she can pull it off again.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Actress (Emma Stone), Best Actor (Steve Carrell), Best Original Screenplay


Netflix’s attempt to get Oscar prestige has been, at least for me, the most quietly fascinating story in Hollywood. Not content being at this point synonymous with watching things on streaming and not content with being a player in just the TV awards, Netflix has been buying up prestige pics and projects right and left. Dee Rees’ post-WWII story of race and family has attracted a lot of attention and seems well up the Academy’s alley as one of the few Black films this year getting any attention.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Jason Mitchell), Best Supporting Actor (Garret Hedlund), Best Supporting Actress (Carey Mulligan), Best Original Screenplay

Don’t Count Them Out

The Films of A24

A24, having won last year’s Best Picture in one of the most dramatic Oscar moments ever, shows no intention on slowing down. While none of the three below are sure things, A24 has a really solid marketing and schmoozing department and the attention and love these have been getting mean that you absolutely shouldn’t count any out. Plus, the fact that these are three of the films that are getting very little division in a divisive year should be worth paying attention to.

Greta Gerwig making a story about women by women that apparently features an incredibly strong performance from lead Saiorse Ronan (already an Oscar darling). Melting everyone’s hearts.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Saiorse Ronan)

Director of Tangerine makes a working class comedy with a confident directorial style. Amazing Willem Dafoe, great child performances, tapping into stories about the poor and working class.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Willem Dafoe), Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, Best Cinematography

And here’s my “Dark Horse” pick. Almost universally well-reviewed right now, a film about the passion and love of filmmaking from a director and star who can apparently surprise with a story that has a huge amount of appeal to the newly young Academy. A story about Hollywood anchored by a performance digging into the heart of someone that seems larger than life. I think we should prepare for a lot from The Disaster Artist.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Actor (James Franco), Best Adapted Screenplay

Get Out

One of this year’s bonafide cultural phenomenons, Get Out is the kind of populist blockbuster hit that also has a serious brain, its ideas quickly passing into the cultural aether. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut tapped a vein that a smart studio could easily turn into legitimate Oscar gold. And, given how great this movie is, it really does deserve it and the recognition that we need more stories like this could be good for the industry.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Actor (Daniel Kaluuya), Best Supporting Actress (Lil Rel Howery), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay

The Big Sick

Another romantic and bonafide crowd pleaser, the success of The Big Sick seems primed to wedge its way into the Oscar race. Amazon showed off its Oscar prowess with Manchester by The Sea last year and the industry seems to have absolutely fallen for the story of how writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, already cult favorites, fell in love.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay

I, Tonya


A very recent entry into the consideration category, this one really just comes down to whether it’s released this year or not. Just picked up by NEON, they could choose to hold it for a 2018 release. If they don’t, the true story of one of the most bizarre stories in sports, apparently told with a 4th-wall breaking Coen-esque flair. Plus, Margot Robbie is just about at the point in her career where it’s time for her to win an Oscar and Allison Janney is apparently stealing the show at every turn.

Maybe?: Best Picture, Best Actress (Margot Robbie), Best Supporting Actress (Allison Janney), Best Original Screenplay

3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh has never exactly been one for a lot of prestige success, his seriously sweary scripts attract a lot of niche and critical love but are rarely going past recognition for screenplays. But between Frances McDormand’s tornado performance and an incredibly stacked cast in a film that seems to have a little heart alongside its caustic nature might go well for this film.

Maybe?: Best Actress (Frances McDormand), Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell)

Count Them Out


Boy, George Clooney sure can whiff ’em. Reactions seem to be generally negative on this one, a film too divided between a dark comedy and an attempt at a social issues picture to work at either. If no one likes it, nothing is gonna stick.


What’s the opposite of a crowd pleaser? Darren Aronofsky’s psycho-horror mother! is getting a lot of great reviews and I’m dying to see it, but even the most positive word has cautioned that this movie will absolutely not be for everyone with one of the most verifiably insane third acts. The kind of movie that promises to “Mess. You. Up.” is gonna have a really difficult time getting its claws into an Academy Award.

Roman J. Israel, Esq

A chance for Denzel to win another award, but early word seems way too divided on this movie, mostly saying that it just doesn’t ever end up coming together, a lot of raw material that doesn’t quite work. Denzel could rise above, but if no one likes the movie, that’ll be hard. Nightcrawler didn’t exactly light up the Academy either.


While early word out of Venice was positive, this mostly seems to be getting slammed once it gets to American shores. A premise that mostly feels wasted and Payne maybe over-extending his reach a little bit. The word about the Vietnamese refugee character really doesn’t seem to help.

The Current War

The honorary winner of the trailer with the SINGLE LOUDEST CAMERA I’VE EVER SEEN, the constant bag of tricks apparently didn’t mean anything for this film. Reviews say that this is the same bland prestige biopic that always stars Benedict Cumberbatch…just with the camera spinning basically everywhere.