‘Hustlers’ REVIEW

Hustlers

When I was preparing for the Fall Movie Preview podcast I do with David Healy I kept getting the new film Hustlers confused with the recent film The Kitchen. The connection is understandable with both movies being about groups of women who turn the system on its head and commit crimes together. Frankly I wish both movies were stronger, but I definitely prefer Hustlers of the two. It at least has a consistent tone and characters with some depth to them.

Hustlers tells the true story of a group of exotic dancers who band together to steal from the Wall Street clients who frequent their establishment. Obviously this film has a lot of very sexy dancing so it will not be for everyone. However, most of the R rated content is confined to the club scenes and it is kept rather clinical in feel rather than erotic (because it is being told from the women’s perspective and it is not an erotic activity for them, just a job).

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Anyway, the first half of the movie sets up our characters particularly Constance Wu as Destiny and Jennifer Lopez as Ramona. At first things are going great with everyone helping everyone else to make a lot of money. Unfortunately the stock market crash happens in 2008 and the dancers become more desperate as the stock brokers have less money.

The first half of Hustlers looked impressive with some good performances from Wu and Lopez but it was very repetitive with not enough story. We didn’t need to see scene after scene of the way things were before 2008. I wish they had done more to flesh out the characters of both Ramona and Destiny away from the club. They both end up having daughters, but we hardly get to know anything about them as mothers or how they balance work with raising their children. Just anything other than party, dance, rinse, repeat.

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However, in the second half the plot to drug and swindle the Wall Street men starts and it can be quite compelling and funny. It’s the kind of movie that feels like it should have been a 44 minute television show instead of a feature film. Unfortunately, even in the more compelling sections it is very repetitive. Girl meets man in bar, take man to club, steal from him and then move on. There’s a Christmas scene, which is the best part of the movie, where we get to see their personalities and what actual joy means to them but so often the script is very repetitive.

While I don’t know about Oscar-worthy, Wu and Lopez are good in their roles (the Academy loves giving Oscars to actors who play strippers/prostitutes for some reason). They have a nice chemistry together and feel like a natural fit for their characters (with the exception of Wu’s terrible wig!). Some of the other characters are perhaps made to look more significant in the trailer than they actually are. Cardi B and Lizzo, for example, are really just glorified cameos. Still Destiny and Ramona are flawed interesting characters and there are some really great moments with the two of them.

A movie like Hustlers is where the rottentomatoes dichotomy fails me as a critic. It was ok. The performances are good and it looks nice. The story is interesting, but I wasn’t crazy about the narrative device of Julia Stiles’ interviewing Wu, and the script is very repetitive. It’s a real mixed bag, but I certainly didn’t hate it. If you are someone who thinks capitalism is evil than you will probably enjoy it as a revenge piece more than I did. But even so, I want more than just seeing Wall Street men getting drugged. I want more of these women’s story!!

Still I’d say it is worth seeing for the good performances but manage your expectations. It’s no disaster like The Kitchen but no masterpiece of female empowerment either.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy (barely)

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‘Ad Astra’ REVIEW

Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.

If you are a regular reader of this site you know I can be a bit of a tough sale when it comes to the scifi genre. Still, I try to have an open mind when I go to see any film. Thus, was my attitude going into to seeing the latest space epic Ad Astra. This film is directed by the always ambitious James Gray and stars Brad Pitt as an astronaut of the future trying to find his father (Tommy Lee Jones) in space.

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The first thing I have to say about Ad Astra is it is beautiful. Cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema has done a stunning job creating both the vistas of space and the futuristic imagery of the space stations on various planets. The way he uses color is quite mesmerizing. I was particularly awestruck by a sequence at the planet Mercury where the blue was so bright it could have been made out of candy. It really feels like you are in space while watching the film and that they actually went to Mercury during filming. Amazing.

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The story for Ad Astra I’d say is serviceable while you are watching it. I was curious the entire time to find out what was going to happen and how Brad Pitt’s character was going to deal with all of the challenges along the way. There are also some surprising elements that I won’t spoil for you but they brought in some fun unexpected action.

Unfortunately much of the enticing questions of the plot were not answered in a very clear or satisfying way. Perhaps I need to see it again but there’s a lot of nonsensical randomness in Ad Astra. Scenes looked cool but what their purpose in the story was felt unclear. The movie also uses women very poorly. Both Ruth Negga and Liv Tyler are there only to be objects of hope for Brad Pitt’s character. Like literally they have no other character than to stare profoundly at Pitt and fill him with regret/hope.

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Also, I feel like any good scifi films should have something to say: a metaphor for what the world is coming to if we don’t shape up. For example, Blade Runner is all about what gives a human their humanity. Wrath of Khan has themes of death, vengeance, and friendship. I have no idea what Ad Astra is trying to say. There are illusions of mental health and forgiveness but it’s unclear.

In the end, I feel very mixed on Ad Astra. I did enjoy watching it but left frustrated. It has so many good pieces that it easily could have been a masterpiece but it falls short. Still, if you like space movies and the visuals look appealing I can recommend it. It’s not perfect but I’d say the good outweighs the bad. It’s so pretty!

6 out of 10

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Best Movies of the Decade

A few weeks ago I saw a video or article about the best movies of the last decade. Most of the choices were hipster indie choices, which is fine, but they definitely didn’t capture my favorites of the decade. It gave me the idea to make a video of my list but that felt boring. On a whim I decided to reach out to my fellow youtubers on twitter and see if anyone else wanted to contribute. I asked each person to make a 1-2 minute video about their favorite movie and to my shock the response was massive. I ended up with 14 contributors and it made for a video I really love. I love how different everyone’s picks are and how heartfelt their explanations behind their picks. It’s definitely one of my favorite videos I’ve ever done on my channel so check it out.

My favorite can be no surprise to all of you: 2016’s anime masterpiece Your Name. However, I thought I would give you the rest of my top 10 for here on the blog. I am not going to include a pick from this year because they haven’t had a chance to sit long enough but if I did I would probably pick Avengers: End Game, which is a film I love.

1. Your Name– beautiful in every facet with a layered story about what happens when we understand the humanity of the people around us

2. Wonder Woman– not just a superhero story but a story about why God loves us mortals despite us being pretty awful towards each other. I loved Diana. I loved the message. I loved everything about it

3. Perks of Being a Wallflower– my favorite coming of age movie. I love the message. I related strongly to the group of teens and its not about finding love but believing we deserve love in the first place

4. Inside Out– brilliant metaphysical film that has the guts to teach us all that sadness matters. It’s funny, sweet, with devastating yet effective endings for 3 of its characters- Joy, Riley and Bing Bong

5. Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse– I loved the animation. It still blows me away on each watch. I loved the character of Miles. I loved the meta story with the different Spider-man. I loved how funny it is. Perfection!

6. Tangled- Disney’s first romantic comedy and done so well. I love the witty banter between Flynn and Rapunzel. I love how indecisive she is and how he grows and changes. I love Mother Gothel as a true dishy villain and I love the songs.

7. Sing Street– Speaking of songs few films filled me with more musical-enhanced joy than Sing Street. What a lovely film about growing up, making music and finding love. The original songs are super catchy and the relationship between the brothers feels so authentic

8. Paddington 1 and 2Paddington and Paddington 2 are near perfect family films. They both have humor, huge hearts and characters that are so charming. I wish we could get one each year.

9. Song of the SeaSong of the Sea is the film I cried the most in the theater. What a touching film about grief and how little Ben can learn to forgive his Mother for dying and his sister for being the cause. The animation and music are stunning. So lovely.

10. Arthur Christmas– For my money the best holiday film of the last decade is Arthur Christmas. Such a sweet, heartfelt movie that captures the innocence and kindness of Christmas. Even the “villain” brother is just trying to run things well. It’s perfect to watch at Christmas

Honorable Mentions- Mary Poppins Returns, Crazy Rich Asians, STEP, Hacksaw Ridge, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Lean on Pete, Boyhood, Frozen, Moana, The Avengers, Paranorman, Mud, The Martian, Hidden Figures, The Lego Movie, Harry Potter 7 pt 2, Toy Story 3, Gravity, Edge of Tomorrow, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor Ragnarok, XMen Days of Future Past, Interstellar, American Sniper, Pitch Perfect, Brooklyn, 45 Years, Creed, Cinderella, and many more.

What would be your favorites?