Hustlers

A group of strippers learn to cheat their way into wealth by luring greedy, wealthy Wall street clients and drugging them into spending all their money at their club, in a desperate attempt to take their lives back after the 2008 economic collapse cuts into their profits.

What could’ve easily been a laughable, terrible misfire instead shines at the hands of its two leads and an engaging screenplay boasted by a vibrant style. Jennifer Lopez sticks out as the “mentor” of the gang who I’ve never seen with this much depth on the screen. Lopez’s energy and her chemistry with Constance Wu make the film, with Wu’s turn here being grounded, layered, and far above her work in Crazy Rich Asians. The casting also brings back names that haven’t been prominent on screen before — I was afraid Julia Stiles’ career had died with her Jason Bourne character, and Keke Palmer was last notably seen ten years ago on in her True Jackson role on Nickelodeon, which not many remember either. Lili Reinhart also hasn’t really had a known big-screen role before and was only popular before for her leading role on the teen series Riverdale. One cast member, however, that I was glad we didn’t see a lot of was Cardi B, whose irritating, unbearable presence is only around for one scene, almost as if the studio forced the writers to put her in just to gain more audiences. However the rest of the cast proves you don’t need more than one or two popular names to attract audiences for this kind of concept. The script often hits the same notes as every other scam film, like The Wolf of Wall Street, Catch Me if You Can, War Dogs, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and so on — so it’s not hard to see where the movie will end. But it’s the seemingly ridiculous/over-the-top yet true concept, and the sisterly connection between the two leads, that make Hustlers worthwhile. The flashy, fast-paced style sometimes makes for some strong energy but it also leads to some parts being rushed past or feel undermined, like some scenes that include music in the background that would’ve worked better without the background score. There’s also some inconsistencies in the style, with some distracting handheld cam that thankfully calms down as the film goes. Also, though the film is quite funny, the writers choose to play it safe in the first act with mostly sex jokes or physical humor (“character who throws up often” cliche, characters getting drugged and passing out, etc. I was glad things got especially crazed in the second half where the plot is very engaging and sticks the landing towards the end. Hustlers can be viewed both through the lens of a comedy and a drama, andwhile it soars but occasionally stumbles at both, it’s got a spark of intrigue and excitement at its core that it makes it, while not a must-watch, stand out above other big genre players out right now like Hobbs and Shaw or It Chapter Two.

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It Chapter Two

Twenty-seven years after their first encounter with the terrifying Pennywise, the Losers Club have grown up and moved away, until they must return to Derry and band together once again when their worst fear returns.

The massively hyped duology adapting one of Stephen King’s most beloved and terrifying novels comes to a close with It Chapter Two, following the mighty success of the first It. In the first film, a group of kids banded together and formed the Losers Club, using their camaraderie and their heart to defeat the being that feeds off their fears, but now that same being has returned and summons them back together as adults. The leading cast is great, including James McAvoy who shines as Bill, a fearless kid from the first film who led the group, though his on-and-off stutter make his performance slightly confusing. The standout was certainly Jessica Chastain who blesses the screen with her marvelous presence yet again, with her range, from joy to remorse to terror, all make Bev a standout character once again. But also worth noting is SNL alum Bill Hader in what’s definitely his best film role ever, playing the hilarious Ritchie who also gets more layers as the film progresses. Also impressive is Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, although this time around, he has less moments to strike fear into audiences again.

It Chapter Two‘s main strength definitely lies in its cast, as well as the theme of how being together is what helped these people become their best selves and overcome their fears. However, where Chapter Two stumbles is finding merit outside of what viewers already learned in the first film. There’s a lot of flashbacks to the Losers Club when they were kids, but above that, it seems like Warner Bros. felt like they kept having to remind us what the first movie was about, resulting with the pacing being dragged down with repetitive scenes of Pennywise taking advantage of each individual member through their fears — both through flashbacks and present day scenes. Of course every character needs layer, but extending the runtime so long to the point where they had to bring back nearly every plot point from the predecessor feels unreasonable and tiring. The movie keeps treading this same ground for a while, reminding us for too long about the character relations, arcs and events from the first film, until it ultimately becomes a rehash of that movie. It brings back every character including an irritating side character who we thought was gone for good but wastes screentime here with an awful performance. Above all that, there are less horror scenes that will catch the viewer’s attention, although a very note-worthy scene is a terrifying moment in a mirror maze that I cannot spoil.

When the climax finally arrives, it takes place in the exact same location as the first movie’s final standoff, has the exact same “villain tactics” or obstacles as last time, and ends with the same theme yet an even tackier resolution. There’s also an awful subplot thrown in about a ritual that must be performed, and it goes too deeply into the origins of “It” instead of subtly dropping hints that would leave us guessing. There’s a moment in the film where an old woman tells Bev that her “father joined the circus” — the camera then pans up to a picture of a man in the early 1900s near a sign that says “Pennywise” — this is a perfect example of planting small clues about It’s origin, but it didn’t need to actually reveal the whole deal to us, which slightly undermines the mysteriousness and threat of the entity. What director Andy Muschietti unfortunately did not understand is that less is more, when it comes to storytelling. On the contrary, this film becomes unreasonably long and repetitive without finding as much of a purpose or effect as the first did two years ago. If this one didn’t feel the need to be as long as The Hobbit or Interstellar I could definitely see a slightly more effective story coming out without forcing the audiences through too much of the same thing over and over again.

It Chapter Two feels more like an epilogue to the last movie than a sequel or its own film. There are certainly some touching themes and great cast members — especially the wonderful Jessica Chastain and the hysterical Bill Hader. However, there are definitely less memorable horror moments for the general audiences, but worst of all, Chapter Two fails to justify itself as its own film, rather borrowing all the ideas from the first film and saying, “this is how they deal with this stuff, but this time they’re older!” I was definitely looking forward to this but looking back now, the first It certainly holds up just as well as its own story, and this may just be another case of Hollywood stretching out existing franchises beyond a breaking point. Perhaps this follow-up would have worked better if it was actually released 27 years from now, where relying on nostalgia from the first film to craft another crowd-pleasing success may had actually worked instead of just remaining a myth inside of the Warner Bros executive’s heads that makes a for an often tedious and familiar three hours.

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Blinded by the Light

In England in 1987, a teenager from a Pakistani family named Javed aspires to be a writer but feels learns to live his life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of American rock star Bruce Springsteen.

Blinded by the Light is an urgently needed breath of fresh air from all the big franchise films studios tend to release, so the fact that Warner Bros. picked this film out from Sundance to distribute in a wide release really means a lot. Without much exaggeration or many large Hollywood names, Blinded by the Light has a slightly familiar formula but remains a grounded, touching human story that’s inspiring in just about every way. If I had to describe it in some way, it feels like Yesterday meets Sing Street meets Bend it Like Beckham. It ‘s not only entertaining, funny, and uplifting, but also takes themes such as racial tensions and applies it to a creative and fascinating premise, elevated by a strong cast all around, that doesn’t include many known actors although I’m sure they all will be one day with the talent they deliver here — the one face some viewers may recognize is Captain America‘s Haley Atwell does have a memorable supporting role. But this movie isn’t about seeing the big stars, or the big visual effects, or Oscar worthy acting. This is a film you go to not just to enjoy but to also learn about the importance of passion, dreams, dedication and hard work, but also about family, love, and the bonds that make us who we are. While most these kinds of movies are about following your dreams even when everyone is doubting you or bringing you down, this movie emphasizes pursuing your passion but above that embracing your family and the ones closest to you even when it seems like they’re bringing you down. The great takeaway is that power of dreams, passion, and talent don’t mean the same without familial bonds and togetherness. The movie is also able to add some strong themes about the hardships especially faced by minorities, when the “American dream” seems even more out of reach for this poor immigrant family facing racism, which also connects to today’s time with Islamophobia being a prominent topic in the news. This adds a whole extra layer to the film and makes the themes about dreams and finding your voice even more meaningful. But don’t worry — there’s also lots of humor, musical numbers, and overall positive themes that allow us to have fun while also reflecting on the impact of pop culture on the individual the way Yesterday did. Although it’s currently not shining at the box office, I feel like this is the kind of film that will grow on people over the years and more people will come to watch and love it later on, even if the blockbuster-filled climate of modern cinema prevents audiences from choosing to see it on the big screen. But it’s universal themes will certainly reach out to audiences of all ages and backgrounds — whether or not you’re a fan of The Boss.

Blinded by the Light Movie Poster