REVIEW: “HUSTLERS” (2019) STX FILMS

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Dear Jennifer Lopez aka JLo aka Jenny from the Block,

Please forgive me my past trespasses of maybe thinking you could not possibly foray from a “Fly Girl’ into a music career, into a film career – minus ‘Selena’ of course.  Forgive me for ever doubting that “HUSTLERS” would be my favourite movie that I’ve seen in 2019 so far.  Forgive me for almost just wanting to skip out on my media screening and thinking, ‘nah this can’t be good’. Forgive me for having a little scoff when I read on the day of my screening a TIFF headline that stated this might be a Oscar nominating performance from you.  And please, most of all, forgive me for EVER thinking you might not possibly be able to pull this off with the cast you helped enlist.

“HUSTLERS” starts us off in 2007 where newcomer stripper Destiny (Constance Wu) is taken under the wing of veteran stripper/popular attraction Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). Ramona teaches Destiny several pole dancing and erotic dancing, along with introducing her to fellow strippers and how to get the most out of the Wall Street types who frequent the club. Destiny not only starts to rake in a lot of money, but she uses her new fortunes to care for her grandmother (Wai Chin Ho) and newborn daughter.  We have some major fun times here in the first half with Diamond (Cardi B) and Liz (Lizzo) giving us some backstage stripper dressing room fun. But dramatically overnight, things come to an abrupt halt at the start of the recession.

Years of the recession cause fewer people coming to the club and puts Destiny out of work. It doesn’t help that her background gives her little chance for other work. She eventually comes across Ramona again where they blame the recession on the same Wall Street guys. To retaliate and to generate an income, they agree to bring in other strippers including Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (Keke Palmer) to take advantage of them and lure them into the clubs, drug them ever so slightly and take everything on their credit cards. All of this becomes chronicled by writer/reporter Elizabeth (Julia Stiles) as yes, this is a true story.

It may be easy to see Hustlers as something as exploitative as Showgirls. But to tell you the truth, I see it more like a cross of Boogie Nights and The Sting, and I ended up loving the movie so much more then I anticipated. I can call it one of the best of 2019, and as of right this moment, my favourite movie of the year so far, as it has so many elements that are phenomenal. Speaking of which, I’ll start by saying that Jennifer Lopez not only shines, but also gives what may be her best performance in a years. She paints a reflection of her eternal youth within a character who’s the prime example of “looks can be deceiving”.  To put it best, Jenny from the Block is kicking ass and taking names.  She is up there with 20 & 30 year old women, and you would not be able to tell the difference in their ages standing side by side.  She is flawless here.

Constance Wu has two goals in this movie; to be the innocent on whose life we are filled in on the and gives us the stories narrative movie’s and to someone the audience can imagine themselves as being in the same position. Hustlers uses this narrative to make their characters interestingly sympathetic, especially the lengths they go to accomplish their goals. Of course like a lot of crime stories, it all has to topple at some point and the movie has that…though it takes some time to get there, you are held in by not only a good story line, but a soundtrack that is phenomenal as well.

The first half might be more fun and exciting than the second.. but it’s in the second half where we see the true story coming to fruition and the con that’s set up, while a good one, the pacing of it causes things to slow down some. A lot of it is because much of the scenes repeat the con over and over. I know it’s to show how much it works, but the movie also has a lot of slow motion edits which heighten moments at the strip club, but can come off as unnecessary during the con. If anything, the best moments from the second half are when the girls get together laugh about what happened and thus, seeing them connect.

I’ll give this nine stripper poles out of ten. Hustlers is a movie that will not only make you laugh more than you thought, but it’s well acted and well written – and is probably going to do some good box-office business and have its eye on certain awards. It’s too early to determine any guarantees, but I’ll remember this; especially for Jennifer Lopez. I do highly recommend it in general as it’s a tantalizing a good watch.

Grade: A-

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Media Screening: Wednesday, September 11, 2019 ~ Courtesy of STX Films

‘HUSTLERS’ IS OUT IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE & U.K ON FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2019 // WORLDWIDE RELEASE FOLLOWING.

REVIEW: “THE GOLDFINCH” (2019) Warner Bros.

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Having been a huge fan of the book  “THE GOLDFINCH”, I was excited to see what they could do with the film as how does one adapt an almost 800 page Pulitzer Prize winning novel.
The short story is they don’t..and while I will acknowledge the effort made..they just don’t get it right.

We start with the beginning as a young Theo (Oakes Fegley) , is recovering in the art museum in the aftermath of the bombing that kills his mom. We are suddenly flipped to adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) in a hotel in Amsterdam, scrubbing blood out of his clothes.

And so continues the story of Theo and the magical painting of The Goldfinch that he took after being told by a dying old man Welty (Robert Joy)  and his young granddaughter Pippa played by (Aimee Lawrence) as a child, and (Ashleigh Cummings) as an adult, in the museum. He followed her into this room because of a fleeting crush moment, that will change his life forever.

And on we go, back n forth between adult Theo’s life and young Theo’s life..following what happens to him and the painting along the way. He is taken in by the Barbour family who don’t really know him or what to do with him. Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Barbour, is good later in the film when she ages..In between we meet his dad Larry (Luke Wilson) a compulsive gambler and drunk, and his girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) and his new best friend Boris, a Russian kid (Finn Wolfhard) is young Boris,  (Aneurin Barnard) is older Boris) who is seemingly his only friend after his dad drags him to Vegas.

The films is disjointed and all over the place. The book was a page-turner that kept you in suspense every step of the way. The film completely misses the mark on this. It’s blah, boring and terribly mis-cast in almost every role but young Theo. The accents they try to pull off are horrible and draw attention to the bad acting done by the two actors portraying Boris.  And while it is visually beautiful to look at, it’s mish-mash of story never comes together or makes sense enough for you to truly figure out what & why this is all happening.  The elements were all there as again, as the book keeps you on the edge of suspense to where you don’t want to put it down, whereas I just wanted this film to end as it was exceedingly long.

In the end, the film just could not deliver what the book could and did.

Grade: C-

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Media review screening: Tuesday, September 10, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

‘THE GOLDFINCH” IS OUT IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE THIS FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2019 // WORLDWIDE RELEASE FOLLOWING.

REVIEW: “ANGEL HAS FALLEN” (2019) Lionsgate

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First Olympus fell, then London, and now we have the third in the ‘has fallen’ series with “ANGEL HAS FALLEN”.  First wave of thought – did we need really need another?  Apparently so, though don’t hold your breath for something completely different than the first two as this one certainly isn’t going to raise that bar any.

Naturally as with all films in this series, this one starts with our man Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) in a violent body crashing, training session with his buddy Wade Jennings (Danny Huston).  Changing up the beat a bit from the first two films to the tune of making Banning seem less superhero here by adding a bit of humility to his character, as during the session we see a pill-popping Banning seemingly having a lot of issues with blacking out, suffering migraines etc., from previous acquired concussions and thinking of taking a more desk type position.  As it turns out, his buddy Jennings is actually serving under Vice President Kirby (Tim Blake Nelson) to plot a mutiny against new President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), by framing Banning and spoiler alert –  they give us the audience, this pertinent fact quite early on basically taking away any mystery about the movie at all.  As a full scale drone attack ensues when Banning is supervised to watch over the President while on a fishing trip, and the entire detail is killed minus Banning, who is subsequently arrested by FBI Agent Helen Thompson (Jada Pinkett-Smith).  Trumbull has slipped into a coma during said attack and VP Kirby comes into play by trying to start a war with Russia whom he is pretending to place all the blame on.

While all this plays out during the attack gone wrong on the President, Banning becomes the most wanted man in the country as to the surprise of possibly no one ever, he escapes and goes on the run out in the middle of nowhere West Virginia.  But just when you think he won’t be able to clear his good name and get out of this mess, he leaves a message in a truck for a man, whom turns out to be (again to the surprise of no one) his father Clay Banning (Nick Nolte), who left him years ago and has been living off the grid in these exact mountains!! Wow.. how convenient you say. But actually, this is where the film starts ramping up.  Nolte is a splendor to watch here as he steals many of the scenes in which he’s in and provides the only real wild card comic relief and action to the film.  As in possibly the best set piece of the entire film is when they are at the point of being found, and Clay it turns out, has had his entire cabin compound rigged to blow.  It’s a fun, fantastic portion of the film that definitely livens it up.  He also goes on to have some rewarding scenes with Banning’s wife Leah (Piper Perabo), when meeting her and his grandchild for the first time as well

Despite all this, the whole time the audience well knows what’s going to happen next as the predictability factor of this film is off the charts, even without all the help provided by director Ric Roman Waugh.  Seriously, everything from the set up of Banning to the who is setting him up, to when the President will realize what is happening and put the kibosh on it.  This is what really lets film and the whole plot/story down, as had this reveal been kept secret say until the 3rd act of the film instead of the way-to-early-reveal, took away any tension points the film might have had going for it. Instead of keeping the audience engaged and on the edge of their seat wondering who did what, they give it all away and that is why the story and film fail to deliver.

Grade: C-

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Media Review Screening: Monday, August 19, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Lionsgate

“ANGEL HAS FALLEN” HITS THEATERS THIS FRIDAY, AUGUST 23, 2019

REVIEW: “WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE” (2019) Annapurna Pictures

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Imagine my surprise sitting five minutes into this movie and realizing it all seems so familiar somehow.  Unfortunately that is the fate of being an avid reader as well as film goer, I realized I’d read Maria Semple’s wonderful 2012 novel “WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE” (no ? mark by the way) maybe a year or more ago.  And the bad thing about doing so, is it takes you into that dreaded  “spoiler alert” zone which we all try to avoid.

As director Richard Linklater has nabbed this one up and added Cate Blanchett in the lead role of Bernadette Fox, Billy Crudup as her husband Elgin, and rounding out the lead family roles with newcomer Emma Nelson as their daughter Bee.  He takes this rather dark comic tale of a highly creative, yet completely unhappy woman, who’s suppressed her creative talent for a few decades and finally seems to rediscover it through an unlikely journey.  The book is also, as the title suggests, a mystery, though the film seems to leave this portion by the wayside.  The story told comes mostly from two viewpoints. The first part which let’s us get to know the character we are dealing with, comes from Bernadette herself in emails to ‘Mangula’ her India based ‘virtual assistant’ and really have her coming off like a rich woman, who does nothing but bitch and moan about the other women in the picture, neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig) and Soo Lin (Zoe Chao). All this whilst living in a decaying mansion meant to have be re-done for years, and did we mention the loads of wealth thanks to husband Elgin having accrued it as a tech titan.

The other half is mostly woven together by Bee, who’s become the sole focus in her mother’s stuck in neutral life. It soon becomes clear that Bee’s also the only person in Bernadette’s orbit who truly understands and accepts her and her ridiculous bad behaviour towards pretty much anyone within shouting distance.  The endless seams being put together here a lot of Bernadette’s misery, the odd way she defects from the community she lives in as they shun her. Yet even though she practically destroys neighbor Audrey’s house, oddly she is also the one to help her escape from the realities she can no longer face and helps her embark on a new journey of adventure and discovery.

Linklater’s undertaking of this book was maybe as task he wasn’t quite up for as while he does great by casting Blanchette who relishes this type of character and can play this persona in her sleep, but he also misses some very pertinent portions of the book that makes the film seem almost uneven.  It’s like he left the best parts of the book on the cutting room floor. Wiig is wonderful as well, and some cameos by Lawrence Fishburne, Megan Mullally, and Steve Zahn are fun, and newcomer Nelson does well on her first go round her being in such stellar company, she definitely holds her own.   While the cinematography is wonderful once they get into the Antarctica portion of the film – it’s almost piecemealed together with what the purpose is of her leaving, what she is trying to do out there, how she gets there, how her husband and daughter try to find her is just given to you here, and it’s lines are not well connected, whereas as the book makes you really understand and feel the panic of not knowing where her mother is or why. Again, major plot portions are skimmed over when they are integral to the story.  Linklater just took to long to help us understand the complexity of Bernadette and her real struggles in skips and starts rather than with the flow that was needed.

While the film has it’s quirky, funny moments, I feel like a lot of this was a swing and a miss for Linklater who is always trying to challenge himself. There are things to appreciate, like the musical score and performances but not a whole lot else in this rather uneventful and non memorable film.  In other words I’m telling you to read the book and do so after you’ve seen the film. It will make much more sense then.

Grade: C

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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, August 13, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Film group.

“WHERE’D YA GO BERNADETTE” IS IN U.S. THEATERS NOW 

REVIEW: “GOOD BOYS” (2019) Universal

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Imagine my surprise at seeing this film was actually getting some positive hype on it as I really didn’t know what I was going into to see..and that’s how I like to do it.
Unfortunately “Good Boys” is not as smartly written as I had hope for. It’s funny to a point, but the film seems to be so smitten by the sixth-grade boys poking around adult themes that it rarely tries to go beyond being raunchy and crass. Sadly, those are the times it’s actually good.

The jokes here almost feel too easy and too shallow. Part of the problem is here is that the film wants to convey the feeling of films we’ve seen before, but with sixth graders instead. Think Superbad or  American Pie with 12 yr olds though I will say it does also take the time to focus on some slightly more innocent things as well, like going to their first ‘kissing party’ and realizing they don’t know how. But essentially things could be more witty than boiling it down to the parents porn paraphernalia and ‘what are anal beads’ and the ‘swing’ in the parents room.

The kids here do a decent job at acting Jacob Tremblay playing the lead Max is pretty much an every man type role who wants the girl and goes to great exaggerated lengths to get her, over & over again you see all the break ups played out rather humourously.  Brady Noon is the drama kid Thor, who wants to be cool, tries to hard, but he can really sing well, so of course ends up as the lead in the school play. And Keith L. Williams as Lucas, is the nice, honest guy almost to a fault.  Again, these are all archetypes we saw in American Pie shrunk down to pint-sized levels. The main problem with that is this films wants to apply the same standards of those comedies to this one.

On paper, it probably seems like a great idea that just didn’t hit it’s well-intended mark. Don’t get me wrong as while you do laugh at parts, it just doesn’t feel witty enough to make you genuinely laugh out loud. Sure, it was cute and amusing, but as a comedy, it left a lot to be desired.

Grade: C+

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Media Screening: Monday, August 12, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures

“GOOD BOYS” HITS THEATERS WORLDWIDE FRIDAY, AUGUST 16, 2019

REVIEW: “THE NIGHTINGALE” (2019) IFC FILMS

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Has a film ever shook you to your core, I mean really shook you to the point where even months later, it still resonates with you when thinking of it?  Only a few films have done that for me, and the latest from the director who brought us ‘The Babadook’Jennifer Kent does exactly that.  She steps away from horror genre here with ‘THE NIGHTINGALE’ to give us almost a different type of terror. The real life kind, and with that she has created a film that will haunt you in a very different way. The only thing holding it back is the historical subject matter and the no-holds-barred approach that will surely limit its audience. From an emotional aspect, the film is extraordinarily uncomfortable and disturbing to watch; however, from a film making perspective, it’s a thing of beauty, with both sides of my brain being at war with it the entire time.

The film takes place in Tasmania in 1825, where an Irish convict Clare (Aisling Franciosi), is raped while her husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) and infant child are murdered by corrupt and sadistic British officers Hawkins (Sam Clafin), Ruse (Damon Herriman) & Jago (Harry Greenwood), who pillage and plunder whomever and whatever they like.  Claire goes on a journey of vengeance to bring bloodshed to those responsible. She enlists the help of an Aboriginal man Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), who knows how to track in the wilderness. Together, the pair go through a tale of survival in the hopes of revenge and bringing justice to the men who have left a day prior.

The film is definitely going to split viewers due to its violent nature. There are a few scenes of detailed rape in it and murder that will be uncomfortable for some viewers as they are an extremely difficult to sit thru.  Otherwise the film is quite an engorging watch. Franciosi is a terrific lead, as well as Ganambarr is downright amazing in his performance.  Right after her rape, you see the strength in her character develop and the lengths she would go to bring justice. Her development is rapid but unwavering.

The film comes from a different time and place that we really know nothing about and its interesting to see a film depicting these events. It’s a gripping tale focused on the reaction to the deepest of personal loss. The reward is there for those brave enough to give it a watch.

Grade: B

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Media Review Screening ~ Courtesy of 42 West PR.

“THE NIGHTINGALE” IS OUT IN LIMITED RELEASE IN THE U.S.  // INTERNATIONAL RELEASE FOLLOWING

REVIEW: “THE KITCHEN” (2019) Warner Bros.

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This is not a comedy. Ordinarily a movie review would not begin by telling you what the movie is not, but when the theater marquee flashes “Starring Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish”, most anyone would assume they are in for a 2-hour laugh out loud romp with the promise of some outlandish one-liners to drop at the next party. Instead, the directorial debut from Andrea Berloff is a relatively violent mob movie.

Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) are left isolated when their mob-connected husbands are busted by the FBI, and sent to prison. Survival instincts kick in for the previously un-involved ladies, and they quickly realize that a bit of strategy would allow them to not only run the business their husbands left behind, but also build it into something better. Of course the mobsters left behind are none-too-pleased with the women outperforming them, and so we get a good old fashioned ‘brains vs. brawn’ battle.

The setting is the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. The year is 1978, so the Irish community still has a stronghold on the area. This is basically the same time frame and the same streets that serve as the setting for the classic film ‘TAXI DRIVER.’  We see what happens when a woman’s touch is applied to gangster activities: bonds are built, services are rendered, and payments are made. The illusion of power draws the three women in deeper, and the movie has us believe they are good at it. The issue is, as viewers, we never really buy into these three seizing this power. We are just supposed to sit back and accept that Kathy is an expert community organizer, Ruby gets things done behind the scenes, and timid Claire evolves. Actually, Claire’s transformation is the best part of the film. Seeing her discover new talents and her true persona is as exciting for us as it is for her. However, in total, the 3 characters are little more than caricatures of gritty mobsters.

In addition to the three stars, the cast is deep. The three husbands, Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James), Kevin (James Badge Dale), and Rob (Jeremy Bobb),  all three are criminals and bad husbands who’ve been sent to serve three years in prison for their roles in a robbery.  Domhnall Gleeson as Gabriel,  resumes his chameleon ways in what could have been a more interesting role as he just literally randomly shows up in a scene without explanation and continues on from there, Common in a very small background role, plays a federal agent Gary Silvers, though he does give us the only plot twist ending of the movie.  Annabella Sciorra has a nice turn as the Italian mobster’s Alfonso Coretti’s (Bill Camp) wife Maria, and the great Margo Martindale complete with prop cane and wig, plays by far the best character of this entire film Helen O’Carroll, the only role that completely stands out in of all the respective gangster roles in the film.

The film does a nice job tying in historical elements of the era, including the construction plans for the Javitz Center, where they mention ‘some millionaires son is creating’ i.e., this is none other than Donald Trump.  There are more than a few moments of violence, but the shots aren’t nearly as dramatic as we’ve come to expect in mob movies. It’s simply not as gritty as it pretends to be.  The pretense of ‘just another day at the office’ after each murder committed by these women seems prevalent here.  There are some similarities to some mob movies of past, but if you’re expecting a female version of ‘Goodfellas,’ that’s not happening, though had this been done right, it could have been.   I expect it will be a crowd-pleaser for those along for the ride. Just remember – it’s not a comedy.

Grade: D+

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Media Review Screening: Thursday, August 8, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros. 

“THE KITCHEN” IS IN THEATERS IN THE U.S.A. ON FRIDAY, AUGUST 9, 2019 // FOLLOWING WORLDWIDE LATE AUGUST/SEPT