Soul

In Pixar’s latest film, which after delays from theaters, is now out on Disney+, Joe Gardner is a music teacher who aspires to make it big as a jazz pianist. However, on a big day where his dreams start to get closer, he gets into an accident that separates his soul from his body, bringing him to the You Seminar, a limbo where souls are prepared to start a life on Earth. He goes on an existential journey through New York with another soul and learns the true purpose of life.

Soul brings no less to the screen than the lively, all-ages-friendly adventures that Pixar has made us used to. Director Pete Docter, who has brought to life Pixar classics like Monsters Inc. and Up, brings the same wondrous animation and spirit to Soul that he brought to Inside Out. The streets of New York are depicted with such realism and beautiful, diverse energy. The You Seminar is also portrayed vividly although not difficult to compare to the animated corners of Riley’s brain in Inside Out. Within the first few seconds, Jamie Foxx proves to be perfectly cast as Joe Gardner, who aspires to become a famous musician while teaching middle school and living up to the expectations of his mother, also perfectly played by Phylicia Rashad (who you may know as the titular character’s mother in Creed and its sequel). Tina Fey delivers a great voice performance as Soul 22, a both unenthusiastic and curious/energetic soul who has her reservations about starting a full life on Earth. Graham Norton, in what I believe is his first film role outside of himself in Eurovision Song Contest, is funny and entertaining in a supporting role. However, an absolute standout for me was Angela Bassett, whose immediately recognizable voice brings ferocity and status, exactly what was needed for her part — Dorothea Williams, a respected jazz musician and sax player whose band Joe hopes to join.

With every following year, I realize more and more how intricately mature Pixar’s films are to not just appeal to kids, but also tug on the heartstrings of adult audiences, and never compromise the entertainment for any age group, even with a film like this that has some physical comedy. Like I said, the lovely animation is hard not to appreciate — even small details like cars passing by feel rhythmic. At first I was surprised by how quickly the story gets going but as the film progresses, it develops Joe even more with his decisions in and out of his body. The plot also manages to play with concepts about life, history, and souls in believable and fun ways. It’s easy to notice borrowed elements from Inside Out and Coco, though, especially the visual tones of the former and the afterlife aspect of the latter. The writing is also a little all over the place in a few moments, but ultimately nails its themes. It’s a film that reminds you to live in the moment and amount life not just to our goals, but to every cherished memory we have with our world, ourselves, and our loved ones. Viewers will be able to connect as the film emphasizes the passions we all chase and can’t live without, and stresses the importance of those things that “bring out the real you”, but reminds you to embrace every minute of life on the way.

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Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman’s next big screen adventure finds her in 1984 facing two all-new foes: Max Lord and The Cheetah. This highly anticipated sequel was finally released simultaneously in theaters and streaming at home on HBOMax.

The first film inspired many viewers with its hopeful messages and the fierce, courageous hero played by Gal Gadot, whose performance became a symbol of female empowerment in thru superhero genre and all around the world. The charm, optimism, and tone that made the first film special are still here, and director Patty Jenkins still does a good job bringing the gigantic action to the screen, with better visual effects than its predecessor. From the exciting opening scene in Themyscira, you are reminded as to why this corner of the DC Extended Universe is one of the most notable. Gadot again brings genuine humanity and morality to Diana, inspiring us all to work together and see the beauty in the world. Her chemistry with Chris Pine is again great, although his death in the previous film makes his appearance here a little less welcoming, as he doesn’t feel as adventurous and memorable. However, the movie handles emotional moments between them really well, and their coupling still helps drive the film forward. Kristen Wiig, beloved for comedies like Bridesmaids and SNL, does really well as Barbara Minerva, who is very humanized through her performance and introduction. However, her character’s drastic transformation is when her writing became insufficient and unbelievable, and feels like a wasted opportunity that deserved much better. Pedro Pascal is now highly popular with TV audiences, not only as the titular Mandalorian but also for fans of Narcos and Game of Thrones, as well as with action movie fans for Kingsman and Triple Frontier. For those reasons, I was very excited about his casting, but his performance is such a huge step down from his famed presence in other franchises — his silly character is made worse with awful dialogue and a villain plot that I can only compare to Jafar from Aladdin. And because the conflict isn’t that great, that really hurts the movie. This makes a lot of the script feel over-the-top, including the objective feeling very cartoonish and the messages becoming muddled.

The pacing isn’t as slow as another lengthy DCEU movie, Batman v Superman, was, but still felt like an issue; the first one at 141 minutes seemed to pace itself well and fly by briskly, but at one point during WW84‘s 151-minute runtime, I was starting to feel like the story should jump to the action quicker. Much of the buildup entertaining, but in some instances I was hoping for the film to pick up and get to the point more speedily. This is by no means a film that’s hard to get through; like I said, the tone is still fun and heartfelt, and the action is really good, with some good set pieces like a mall fight, and other strong settings where the fights take place, as well as Wonder Woman getting to show off some new powers. The set design that reminisces the 80s feels lively and great, although it takes advantage of the time period less than expected (I can’t help but compare that Stranger Things utilized its 80s setting in a more memorable manner). Even though the backdrop for the final act is excellent, it ultimately feels wasted (both Wonder Woman movies have had a villain reciting a terrible evil monologue and I don’t know why the writers felt the need to keep it). There’s also themes about women dealing with catcalling and insecurities about their looks that feel underdeveloped, or needless as not much is done with that. The first movie’s simplicity helped it work better, but the goals and messages here start to feel overcomplicated to the point where I wish the film had stuck to the simple ideas that made the first movie more thoughtful and inspiring. The layout for the hero’s journey is there; Diana has wants that don’t quite coincide with her needs and the greater good, and so a choice must be made. But the film isn’t strongest when dealing with humanity’s greed and desire for self-interests, it’s when it deals with the love, unity, and heroism we should all see in ourselves and others. This sense of inspiration and optimism is the golden strength of both Wonder Woman films, but I wish the road to get there was less long and windy, and a little more fresh. Also, don’t get up quite yet when the credits start; there’s a cameo that will get all generations of audiences to feel excited. In summary, this is a sequel that retains many great elements from its predecessor and will satisfy comic book fans and those who were moved by the first, but the weak conflict and subpar writing hurt the film and make it, while entertaining, less than wonder-ful. The one thing that’s always consistent is Gadot’s acting and the heart she gives to the titular heroine we all love.

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Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

After saving the world in Suicide Squad, and fresh off her break-up with the Joker, Harley Quinn finds herself a target after crossing paths with Roman Sionis, who’s in pursuit of a valuable diamond, and must team up with Dinah Lance (AKA Black Canary), Helena Bertinelli (AKA Huntress), Cassandra Cain, and Renee Montoya, in order to stop him.

Birds of Prey takes some major steps in the right direction after the mess that was Suicide Squad, in which Robbie was really the only relieving aspect. This film is a complete departure from everything its predecessor was — this one’s an irreverent, R-rated crime comedy that looks like a comic book come to life, in the best way. The film feels ready to take risks, go all-out with the humor and raunchiness, tell non-linear stories that don’t progress quickly, and freely create a new mood that doesn’t feel like anything else in the DC Extended Universe. Instead of floating portals and ancient demons, the action is — still cartoonish, yet very street-level, with the villains being your average asshole criminals who want glory, money, and to torture and kill people. Perhaps the villains are the film’s weakest part — Ewan McGregor gets very over-the-top and annoying as Roman Sionis/Black Mask, who does bad things because he’s bad and evil… never seen that before! But he’s more than redeemed for by the heroes. Margot Robbie is perfect as Harley Quinn, she completely owns not only the role but the image of Quinn, not only because she’s the first live-action portrayal of the character but because she’ll be the ideal one for generations to come. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is a breakout here as Dinah Lance, we spend plenty of time with her and are able to feel engaged with her performance and progression throughout. Perhaps we needed more of Mary Elizabeth Winstead… for such a talented actress, she’s barely in the film and her character has plenty of potential that wasn’t utilized as well as Harley and Canary. Perhaps there’ll still be a chance for Huntress to shine soon?

For all its attempts at humor, some of the jokes and dialogue will miss, too, like some unsubtle messages, some “funny” or “deep” moments that don’t always land, and some weird soundtrack choices, including an odd Marilyn Monroe reenactment-montage that’s quickly skipped on instead of being utilized as a crazy-fun moment. Other than that, Birds of Prey definitely knows when not to take itself seriously, and the story-driven rather than character driven approach actually works when your characters are supposed to be very over-the-top and morally ambiguous and your style is all out with time jumps, visual humor, insanely fun action, and narration (although there’s certainly a bit much of Harley’s narration over scenes). Maybe it doesn’t feel as fresh as the Deadpool films did, especially when the first film was the first in its genre to be so crude and self-aware, and in such an unapologetic way. However, Birds of Prey utilizes its cast of characters and script in unexpected and welcome ways, and enough of a hilarious, engaging, and refreshing run-time to make up for some weak antagonists and a few minor but certainly forgivable missteps in dialogue and soundtrack choices.

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The Oscars (92nd Academy Awards)

Tonight were the 92nd Oscars! Here are the winners in case you missed it:

Best Picture: Parasite
Best Director: Bong Joon-Ho – Parasite
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Best Actress: Renee Zellweger – Judy
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Best Original Screenplay: Parasite
Best Adapted Screenplay: Jojo Rabbit
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 4
Best Original Score: Joker
Best Original Song: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” (from Rocketman)
Best Cinematography: 1917
Best Film Editing: Ford v Ferrari
Best Production Design: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Bombshell
Best Costume Design: Little Women
Best Animated Short: Hair Love
Best Visual Effects: 1917
Best Sound Editing: Ford v Ferrari
Best Sound Mixing: 1917
Best Foreign Language Film: Parasite (from South Korea)

Overall, these Oscars were some of the best in years — I agree with almost all the winners, I’m just very disappointed that Sam Mendes lost Best Director despite making one of the best directed films in years with 1917. That was the category I was most enthusiastic for, but ultimately most let down by. He won every other directing award this season, like the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, BAFTAs, and Director’s Guild Awards, so it’s odd to me that the Academy thought differently than the majority of people in the industry as well as audience members. Parasite did make history though by becoming the first foreign language film to win Best Picture. It’s a deserving spot in history for an outstanding film. Joaquin Phoenix had the most moving speech of the night about unity and injustice, and won his first Oscar. Taika Waititi also won his first Oscar for Jojo Rabbit which I was very happy about. Little Women was the very safe choice to win Costume Design and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was the only film this year with costumes that were actually memorable. Hildur Guðnadóttir became the first woman to win Best Original Score for composing Joker, making Thomas Newman lose his 14th Oscar for a superior score in 1917 that I thought should’ve won. Still though, history was made tonight.

The 77th Golden Globe Awards

Tonight was the Golden Globes, honoring the best of movies and television of 2019! Here are the winners in the film categories:

Best Picture – Drama: 1917

Best Picture – Musical or Comedy: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Director: Sam Mendes – 1917

Best Actor – Drama: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker

Best Actress – Drama: Renée Zellweger – Judy

Best Actor – Musical or Comedy: Taron Egerton – Rocketman

Best Actress – Musical or Comedy: Awkwafina – The Farewell

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern – Marriage Story

Best Screenplay: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Original Score: Joker

Best Original Song: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” (by Elton John) from Rocketman

Best Animated Feature: Missing Link

Best Foreign Language Film: Parasite (South Korea)

Overall I really enjoyed this year’s Golden Globes ceremony. Not only was Ricky Gervais a hilarious host who dared to make raunchy jokes in a world where humor is taken very sensitively, and it’s refreshing to see him not care and deliver a more shocking taste in his humor. I also thought the winners were far better than last year’s, especially considering Bohemian Rhapsody won Best Drama last year, even though it was the least interesting nominee in its category and got mixed reception from critics and audiences. I have yet to see 1917 but from the trailers I’ve seen, it seems amazing. I was most excited about Brad Pitt’s win for playing one of the greatest film characters of the decade, Cliff Booth, in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which won the most awards of the night. I’m also very happy with Awkwafina’s win for her terrific The Farewell performance. Although I liked Taron Egerton’s performance as Elton John, I am very disappointed that Leonardo DiCaprio did not win for his terrific performance as Rick Dalton. I hope he’s at least nominated for the Oscar. I loved Joaquin Phoenix for his complex role in Joker and think he’s a deserving winner too, but I still think Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson should be in strong consideration for their magnificent turns in Marriage Story. Speaking of which, I am very disappointed that Johansson did not win, though I still haven’t seen Judy. I am also disappointed that Missing Link won Best Animated Feature over How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and Toy Story 4. Other than that, I’m happy with how the winners turned out (as well as some great TV getting awarded, like Chernobyl and Fleabag) — but the highlights of the night were the lifetime achievement awards given to two of modern entertainment’s faces — Tom Hanks and Ellen DeGenres for their lifetime achievements in film and teleivison, respectively. Hanks, who’s been in more treasured films than I can count, has influenced Hollywood with his incredible performances but also his positivity and impact towards those around him. Ellen is most famous for continuously giving back to the community and for continuing to fight for justice, risking her career to come out and pave the way for future LGBT stars, as described in an emotional introduction from SNL star Kate McKinnon. Hanks is my favorite actor and Ellen is one of the greatest TV personalities there ever is, so together they made the most notable honors in a long time from the Globes.

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Little Women (2019)

This re-imagining of the classic tale tells the story of the March sisters – four young women each determined to live life on their own terms. This story has been adapted plenty before, but be careful before you can pass on it just for that. Greta Gerwig, who made her transition to the director’s chair with the universally beloved Lady Bird, once again proves her directing skills and breathes energy and light into the screen. The gorgeous production value always stands out, as the costumes and sets are colorful, but the cinematography enhances the beauty to the eye, and this visual appeal combined with Alexandre Desplat’s ambient score makes for an engaging theater experience. However, what truly makes this film resonate is its cast of characters, played by A-list names including some who have worked with Gerwig in the past. Saoirse Ronan, beautifully embodying the soul that is Jo March in every moment on the screen, graps the film and the audiences in her hands with a charming, humane, and poignant performance, rivaling her terrific turn in Gerwig’s previous film, as well as being deserving of awards buzz. The camera beautifully captures every expression of hers and it’s hard not to fall in love with Jo’s ambition, playfulness, and spirit. But she’s not the only performer who steals the screen. It really has been the year of Florence Pugh — this his her third role in 2019 in which she’s really shone as a leading part, and although it’s not as excellent as her gut-punching role in Midsommar, her performance as Amy packs plenty of dimension and ferocity, and every instance with her on screen belongs to her. Amy is sweet and vengeful, tough and vulnerable, and realistically human above all — often she longs to be independent yet sometimes her emotions get in the way of that. Laura Dern also stands out as Marmee, the selfless and loving mother of the girls, in a touching and later heartbreaking performance that’s even more hard-hitting than her much-talked about Marriage Story role. Marmee continuously displays endurance through hardships and role model-like behavior to her daughters on how to behave towards others and themselves. A few actors, like Emma Watson and Timothee Chalamet, just feel like themselves for the majority, but Chalamet has an excellent scene in the latter half of the film in which he really impresses. Meryl Streep also makes the best of her appearance as a judgmental and scene-stealing Aunt March, and Chris Cooper also shows up as a more likable and lighthearted character than his typical role.

Little Women packs a strong punch with its actors and its glamorous prestige, but occasionally loses itself along the journey. This is due to the fact that the movie has many themes going for it, but a few important ones feel too underutilized and weren’t focused on enough. The movie is about female independence (expectations of women vs. their own desires), “owning your story” — literally so in the case of Jo wanting to publish her book yet continuously being asked to make changes to the female character’s journey (making the plot feel very meta in that way), and sisterhood and familial love. Regrettably, these themes didn’t really get the strong focus they deserve, instead only addresses in throwaway lines that are powerfully acted but sometimes out of place in the context of a scene. There’s even a few plot instances that contradict the moving messages the film may have been trying to say — most notably, I found the film in its core to actually be about life and the flow of time, as the movie depicts its protagonists growing up into “little women” (hence the title), and adjusting to change, including travel, passion, and heartbreak. So how ironic that even the center force of the script gets undercut by Gerwig’s choice to tell the story in non-linear fashion, and ultimately the jumps in time feel unnecessary and take away from what could’ve been a beautiful Boyhood-like “lifelike flow” to the runtime. This is why, in the first act of the film, a couple of moments just feel like a compilation of sequences rather than one overarching premise. Thankfully, the second half is especially emotional and memorable in the delivery of its messages and dialogue, but often it feels like the actors and director empowering the script which would’ve felt unpolished on its own.

Little Women would’ve been even more fantastic if not for its nonlinear narrative and a few script choices that feel rushed or untrue to the bigger picture, yet still resonates because of the characters, who so magically embody the hearts of what feel like real people, so sensibly livened by the ensemble cast. The visual appeal’s only there to accompany this already vigorous premise, proving that some stories may really be timeless, even though the runtime drags in the beginning and a few major themes are muddled by a few decisions Gerwig makes. Still though, if this is where Gerwig is after only two directorial works, then I solemnly request that she never stop making films.

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Lloyd Vogel is an investigative journalist who receives an assignment to profile Fred Rogers, aka Mr. Rogers. Fred’s empathy, kindness and decency soon chips away at Vogel’s jaded outlook on life, forcing him to reconcile with his painful past.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is one of those films every human should go see, not because it’s one of the most quintessential films — but because it’s one of the most moving and inspiring. Mr. Rogers’ words and messages shine to an audience in a world that now more than ever should remember the ways of this childhood television icon, who aspired not to be an icon to all, but rather a friend. The movie begins and ends like an episode out of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, with Rogers, played wonderfully by Tom Hanks, singing his signature songs and introducing the protagonist, an excellent foil to Rogers who has a tragic past, leaving tension and anger inside of him towards his family. Rhys hits the right marks from emotion to the rude cynicism of his character, while Hanks captures Rogers’ calm and slow speech, and moreover, the strength and presence of an inspiration and a hero to so many viewers over multiple generations. Director Marielle Heller establishes a strong style after her mediocre Can You Ever Forgive Me? which was released last year and nobody seems to remember anymore. Yet here every scene seems integral to the feel of the film and not a single scene feels uninteresting. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a mix of heartwarming, impactful, and poignant yet hopeful about everyone’s capabilities as their own special individual. Rogers’ ideas of love, kindness, inclusivity, forgiveness, openness, and optimism translate perfectly to a big screen audience (that even kids could probably enjoy), that will be left moved, and probably clapping by the end, and certainly want to be Mr. Rogers’ neighbor, or even more so, aspire to be like him someday.

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Ford v Ferrari

American car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken Miles must battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to build a revolutionary race car for Ford and challenge Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966.

This film could have easily ended up being a disposable, formulaic biopic if it weren’t for the directing talents of James Mangold and the incredible pairing of Matt Damon and Christian Bale, two of the most multi-talented performers around. Their talent shines with every moment they’re on the screen, and it’s hard to imagine the film without them. Bale, especially, brings so much energy to his cocky, rebellious persona, which is converted into life breathed onto the screen and joy watching him perform. Although it may be underwhelming for those who still have his transformation in Vice fresh in their minds, it’s hard to criticize the show-stealing skills he brings to every role, including this one. The racing scenes are loud and exciting, pulling you to Le Mans ’66 with top-notch production design, costumes, cinematography, and sound design. The dialogue is witty and engaging, with great tastes of humor throughout but also moments of drive, passion, and endurance to the finish line, both mentally and literally. There’s also a good amount of grounded material for Bale’s role, and a little less for Damon’s though he does get his moments to shine, especially in the opening and final scenes. The movie’s 152 minutes but you don’t feel the length at all — however, I would’ve omitted maybe 5 or 10 minutes as one plot point basically repeated itself at one point in the film. The one more thing I wish we got is a little more stakes — if Ford doesn’t win this race, what do the characters lose? Does Ferrari have anything to lose either? We don’t see much of this perspective, which could’ve added a bit more tension to the race against time to build and race the greatest car in the world. It overall does follow the basic racing/biopic/sports film formula, yet its the performers and behind-the-screen craftsman that make the film stand out over similar films such as Ron Howard’s Rush, another great racing film from the decade. There’s also plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, like I said, as well as a few somber moments, all of which hit home and blend together strongly.

Usually sports biopics like these focus on nothing other than to pull in lots of audiences with mainstream tropes, but in the case of Ford v Ferrari, “crowd-pleaser” is actually a term I’d use to compliment it — it caters to the wide audiences with excitement and humor, yet never sacrifices intellect or humanity for the loudness and prestige. Sure, it’s familiar at times, but the two names on the poster should be enough to get you excited — and if that’s not enough to convince you, it’s got adrenaline, spirit, and soul — This is the kind of film that was made to bring people together.

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Joker

Imagine a film based on a popular comic book property that’s been adapted before into billion-dollar successes, but this time has no action, no CGI, and focuses solely on character development and delivering dark themes about our society. That’s exactly what Joker is. It’s no Dark Knight — the Joker never robs banks or blows up buildings, and it’s certainly no Suicide Squad — no gang wars, alien armies, or apocalypse-level stakes. Joker aligns more with the likes of Scorsese — certain scenes reminded me very much of The King of Comedy, as well as the filmmaker’s darkest classic Taxi Driver. It always sticks to a very old-fashioned, noir-like style, gracefully shot with every prop feeling like it belongs in a frame of a painting. The roaring music feels perfectly done for a haunting and tense crime thriller that focuses deeply on the protagonist’s descent into darkness. Joaquin Phoenix has always had a spot on my favorite actors list, but he manages to own the show in a completely new way here — different than Ledger’s spectacular take on the character in 2008’s The Dark Knight, but equally worthy of praise. He disappears into Arthur Fleck, a man living in poverty with mental illness who feels like an outcast in society and is soon pushed over the edge. Phoenix’s speech, menacing laugh, and weight loss all contribute to how impressive his performance is, and I seriously think he deserves an Oscar nomination. Also outstanding is Robert De Niro as a talk show host whom Arthur idolizes, resembling Jerry Lewis’ character in The King of Comedy whom Robert De Niro’s character in that film develops an obsession over. Joker does occasionally tie-in to characters or events from the Batman universe which may feel slightly forced, but for the most part it stands on its own as a deep and unpredictable story. For such a large studio to adapt such a large property but then include such little action in the film is a huge risk which completely pays off. It’s a character study and a drama with meaningful social commentary, such as the marginalization of those with mental illnesses by the rest of society, or how the less privileged or fortunate are looked down on and ridiculed by the elites. Even though it takes place in the early ’80s, it asks difficult questions like how our modern society could be taking part in creating criminals like the Joker. It’s more unsettling, resonant, and inventive than any comic book film I’ve seen in recent years, to the point where it could also speak to non-superhero-fan audiences like those who are only expecting a dark crime film. In terms of the concerns about the film’s violence, there isn’t much graphic content (definitely not as much as other R-rated superhero films like Deadpool and Logan) but the implications the violence has are more disturbing, serious, and grounded, but hence the R-rating.

Joker is a finely acted, thought-provoking chcracter piece that takes place in a world of gloomy uncertainty and takes more risks than almost any other franchise film recently. It’s not focused on the big fights, or post-credits scenes teasing another film, instead being a brilliant stand-alone piece that leaves you thinking for a long time, and hopefully paves the way for more variety in blockbuster filmmaking, as well as likely remaining one of the films that will be discussed until the end of the year for its strong filmmaking and top-notch writing and themes.

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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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