Category: Film Review

How Hustlers Danced Away With America’s Heart—And Box Office

Perhaps the greatest thing about Hustlers is the number of ways it finds to surprise. Yes, Lorene Scafaria’s movie about a pack of scamming strippers led by Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu hits all the expected beats: a pole dance from J. Lo here, a sensuous shower of dollar bills there. But its greatest delights are the moments that defy what audiences are taught to expect from films like these—and from female characters more generally. In fact, one of those delightful tricks happens early on, when Wu’s green dancer character, Destiny, climbs up to the roof of her new place of work to smoke a cigarette and finds Lopez’s intimidatingly talented Ramona already up there, luxuriating in an impossibly voluminous fur coat. Given the competitive environment Destiny has already found inside the club, it’s easy to assume Ramona will give this newbie the cold shoulder—or at least size her up for a moment. Instead she pulls Destiny into the billowy warmth of her coat, wrapping her arms around her in a Madonna-like shot so serene that its warmth almost radiates from the screen.

Hustlers just wrapped up a fantastic weekend at the box office, where it grossed $33.2 million across 3,250 North American theaters. Given the film’s concept—a group of strippers scamming and drugging corrupt Wall Street moguls just after the 2008 recession—it can be easy to see its success as foretold. But that would underrate its artistry. Hollywood has squandered many a genius concept and “sure thing,” and for many a reason. Casting miscalculations, unfocused writing, bad editing… the list of reasons Hustlers could have failed is nearly infinite. Instead every detail of its execution is a triumph. More important, however, is how Hustlers also satisfies a number of cravings that the entertainment industry has been slow to quench—including diverse casting, a subtle and deeply American understanding of money and class, and a distinct examination of female antiheroes.

There’s something distinctly satisfying about watching Lopez and her merry band of scammers do their thing. Hustlers does indeed feature a diverse cast—but more crucially, the women in this group gel seamlessly, and each role feels tailor-made for the person occupying it, from Lopez as a character as underestimated as she has been throughout her acting career (though Hustlers may put an end to that) to Wu, just a few months removed from a Twitter scandal, as a woman with something to prove. Each of these women represents a different kind of female antihero, female Walter Whites who are doing it all for their families…but also, they’re really, really good at it. It’s not often we see a gaggle of female antiheroes traveling as a group and supporting one another as the Hustlers do. Their compassion for one another is almost enough to make you wonder what makes them “anti”heroes—for a moment, until you remember that they make their living drugging people and stealing large sums of money.

These are characters who have spent their lives on the fringes of society, and chose to build a support system all their own, one that includes the families they already have. Ramona frequently beams over her daughter, affectionately describing motherhood as a “mental illness,” while Destiny has an inseparable bond with her grandmother, who gets some of the film’s most unexpected punch lines. What these women seem to find in one another—and in the crimes they commit—is safety. In one of the film’s warmest scenes, all of these women and their various family members gather for Christmas morning, opening lavish presents but also reveling in one another’s company. Yes, Destiny squeals with glee over the chinchilla fur Ramona buys her—a status symbol that also represents just how far Destiny has come. But she seems even more emotional when she sees her grandmother seamlessly blend in with her friends, effectively transforming what was once a small, isolated family unit into one part of a larger supportive whole. Don Draper could never.

The shared communion these women find in one another might be unorthodox; indeed, it literally exists outside the law. But the genius of Hustlers is the number of ways it finds to challenge its audience to think of a better, more legal place its antiheroes could have looked for such connection and stability. Just look at Destiny’s initial struggle to find a job post-recession, as a potential manager scoffs at her GED and previous job experience. In many ways one gets the sense that Destiny is alienated not only from the job market, but from “polite” society as a whole. The film does not judge Destiny’s behavior. Instead it allows her and her friends to express different viewpoints on the untenable situations in which they find themselves. And it seems like no mistake that for all the love she has for Ramona, Destiny can never quite pinpoint exactly how she feels about the criminal outfit they once ran after it comes crashing down. Instead the only thing that’s achingly clear is how much she misses Ramona. Because for all the materialistic euphoria this film contains, its one true love story is between these two women—and it was clear from that first embrace under Ramona’s fur.

Hustlers’ Trailer: Cardi B Helps J. Lo and Constance Wu Get Revenge

“These Wall Street guys, you see what they did to this country? They stole from everybody. Hard-working people lost everything.” And that’s not all. “The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.”

No, that’s not an excerpt from Bernie Sanders’s latest stump speech. Rather, it’s spoken by Jennifer Lopez as a New York City stripper who turns the tables on some of her biggest-money customers in the flashy, just-released trailer for her forthcoming film, “Hustlers.”

The real-life revenge tale — it’s based on a New York magazine article by Jessica Pressler — co-stars Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians”) as a single mom whom Lopez’s character teaches how to pole-dance. The impressive ensemble also includes the music divas Cardi B and Lizzo as well as Lili Reinhart, best known as Betty Cooper on CW’s Archie Comics adaptation “Riverdale.”

Unlike earlier stripper-centric movies like “Showgirls” and “Striptease,” this one was adapted and directed by a woman, Lorene Scafaria (“The Meddler”). Lopez produced the film with her business partner, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, and manager, Benny Medina, along with Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Jessica Elbaum of Gloria Sanchez Productions.

“Hustlers” hits theaters on Sept. 13.

25th Annual SAG Award Nominees

MOTION PICTURE

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

  • “A Star Is Born”
  • “Black Panther”
  • “BlacKkKlansman”
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • “Crazy Rich Asians”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

  • Emily Blunt, “Mary Poppins Returns”
  • Glenn Close, “The Wife”
  • Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
  • Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
  • Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
https://www.tntdrama.com/shows/sag-awards/clips/25th-annual-sag-awards-nominations-ceremony

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

  • Christian Bale, “Vice”
  • Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
  • Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”
  • John David Washington, “BlacKkKlansman”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Amy Adams, “Vice”
  • Emily Blunt, “A Quiet Place”
  • Margot Robbie, “Mary Queen of Scots”
  • Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
  • Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
  • Timothee Chalamet, “Beautiful Boy”
  • Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
  • Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
  • Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

TELEVISION

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

  • “The Americans”
  • “Better Call Saul”
  • “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  • “Ozark”
  • “This Is Us”

Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy Series 

  • “Atlanta”
  • “Barry”
  • “GLOW”
  • “The Kominsky Method”
  • “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series 

  • Amy Adams, “Sharp Objects”
  • Patricia Arquette, “Escape at Dannemora”
  • Patricia Clarkson, “Sharp Objects”
  • Penelope Cruz, “Assassination of Gianni Versace”
  • Emma Stone, “Maniac”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series

  • Antonio Banderas, “Genius: Picasso”
  • Darren Criss, “Assassination of Gianni Versace”
  • Hugh Grant, “A Very English Scandal”
  • Anthony Hopkins, “King Lear”
  • Bill Pullman, “The Sinner” 

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series

  • Julia Garner, “Ozark”
  • Laura Linney, “Ozark”
  • Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  • Sandra Oh, “Killing Eve”
  • Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series

  • Jason Bateman, “Ozark”
  • Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
  • Joseph Fiennes, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  • John Krasinski, “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”
  • Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Alex Borstein, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
  • Alison Brie, “GLOW”
  • Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
  • Jane Fonda, “Grace and Frankie”
  • Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Alan Arkin, “The Kominsky Method”
  • Michael Douglas, “The Kominsky Method”
  • Bill Hader, “Barry”
  • Henry Winkler, “Barry”

STUNT

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture

  • “Ant-Man and the Wasp”
  • “Avengers: Infinity War”
  • “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
  • “Black Panther”
  • “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”

Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama

  • “Glow”
  • “Marvel’s: Daredevil”
  • “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”
  • “The Walking Dead”
  • “Westworld”

Film Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight is an adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel. It confirms the director as one of the most talented working today, writes Caryn James.

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After Moonlight won best picture at the 2017 Academy Awards, director Barry Jenkins used his leverage to bring a long-standing dream of his to life: to adapt James Baldwin’s emotionally potent 1974 novel, If Beale Street Could Talk.

It’s easy to see why Jenkins was so drawn to the story, of a young black couple whose romantic dreams come crashing up again the powerful reality of white society. Jenkins’ approach, here as in Moonlight, mirrors Baldwin’s own, using a poetic style to reveal harsh social truths. His film is lush and ambitious, its theme of racial bias as relevant now as it was when Baldwin’s novel first appeared. The film is also too pretty for its own good at times, and more compelling in parts than as a whole. But at its best it confirms Jenkins as one of the most talented film-makers working today.\He sets up the contrasts in his story at the start. Set in the 1970s in New York’s Harlem and Greenwich Village neighbourhoods, Beale Street introduces its main characters in a lyrical scene, as an overhead shot views them walking in a park on a beautiful autumn day. Tish (KiKi Layne) is 19 and Fonny (Stephan James) is 22. Both are fresh-faced innocents who gaze into each other’s eyes and say they are ready to face the world together. From this swoony, idyllic flashback we cut to a scene of Tish looking at Fonny through the glass of a prison visiting room, telling him she is pregnant.

Tish is the narrator, her brief voiceover recurring now and then. Flashbacks reveal the earlier days of their romance, and the story moves fluidly ahead, as Tish talks to a lawyer and tries to get Fonny out of prison. James Laxton, the cinematographer who created the cool, deep blue palette for Moonlight, presents a warmer look in Beale Street, infusing the film with glowing colours against a darker background. Like those rich colours, Fonny and Tish’s relationship remains strong even as they lose their innocence.

We eventually learn why Fonny is in prison. A belligerent white policeman, whom we have seen threaten him, later arrests him for raping a white woman, although Fonny was nowhere near the attack. Historically, the accusation resonates with more than a century of such wrongful charges against black men, particularly in the US South.

At the start and again at the end of the film, Jenkins includes photos of black men being arrested, beaten and forced to their knees by white police officers. “The system has been rigged and the courts see it through,” Tish says near the end. Jenkins lets these moments land without overplaying their social purpose. The contemporary resonance and allusion to the Black Lives Matter movement are so apparent, he doesn’t need to make them explicit.

Jenkins has not created a message film, but one about love and family that also conveys a message. Tish’s mother, Sharon (Regina King), her father (Colman Domingo) and her older sister (Teyonah Parris) are unfailing in their support. King is especially poignant, her face capturing quiet strength and compassion. When Tish confides that she is pregnant – the last thing any of them needs under the circumstances – Sharon gathers the family for a toast. “We are drinking to new life,” she says, an embrace of the future that in no way denies her awareness of the difficulties her daughter will face.

All the actors are convincing, even in the close-ups that Jenkins often turns to and that require such honesty for the camera. King is the most heartbreaking, because her performance reveals complexities even beyond the layered character Jenkins’ script has given her.

Adding to the story’s contrasts, Fonny’s mother (Aunjanue Ellis) is a shrew who tells Tish, “I always knew you’d be the destruction of my son.” His father (Michael Beach) and Tish’s are old neighbourhood friends who commiserate, at times too bluntly, as if for the film’s viewers and not themselves, about how difficult it is to be a black man trying to get ahead. And with just a couple of scenes, Brian Tyree Henry adds to his list of terrific supporting roles (including one in Steve McQueen’s latest, Widows) as a friend of Fonny’s just released from prison.

Despite the close-ups and the sympathetic characters, a distant, cerebral beauty underlies the film. The camerawork and production design are so lovely they can be distracting. In the scene that introduces Tish and Fonny, the mustard yellow in Fonny’s shirt is echoed in Tish’s coat and in the turning leaves on the trees, all captured in the overhead shot. The romantic look feels a bit too calculated, just as the strings that sometimes soar on the soundtrack are a few levels over the top. Impassioned moments stand out – Fonny yelling at Tish from behind the prison glass that he is going to die there – yet overall there is an almost austere tone, unlike the emotional pull of Baldwin’s novel.

Whatever its weaknesses, If Beale Street Could Talk, only Jenkins’ third film, is a strong addition to a distinctive body of work. Anyone who became aware of him with Moonlight might want to catch up with his first film, 2008’s Medicine for Melancholy, a lyrical little gem about a night-long date in gentrifying San Francisco. It was evident from the start that Jenkins’ commanding voice and graceful style are like no other director’s.

★★★★