Hustlers (2019)

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Based on a 2015 article within New York magazine; ‘Hustlers’ ably exhibits the delight that women can hustle and flow like the best of them. From scooping up paper bills to taking meaty cuts from intoxicated men, this film documents a rise to power and social commentary amongst an enjoyable glam-show.

Dorothy (Constance Wu) begins a new job at a strip club and becomes Destiny; a fated moniker leading her to a destined path of adoration for pro-dancer Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). Together they work out how best to make money without gyrating on stages and, with some friendly help, the women soar with a business model of drugging wealthy suits, taking them to the club and swiping their plastic for thousands of dollars each time.

Director and writer behind ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ is a dual hand once again for this sensational account of female smarts. Lorene Scafaria effortlessly tackles the back and forth narrative of Destiny’s dabble in spiking rich males, and speaking with journalist Elizabeth (Julia Stiles). She also paints the stripper world as something less seedy than expected, the power of the women and their personal lives enrich the environment and with bomb-ass slow motion of the ladies doing their heist thang, Scafaria ensures scantily clad performers are not subjected to the male gaze but are controllers of their own bodies and own path.

Of course the shifting timeline is nothing new and this film doesn’t add anything to the model but it’s worked in well and like the interview asides in ‘I, Tonya’, this comedy/drama mixes equal parts emotion and comedic flair to the journalistic segments. A lot of people are commenting that ‘Hustlers’ resembles a Martin Scorsese pic and you can see the similarities to the extravagance of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ or the dominant surge in ‘Goodfellas’, but this movie greatly retains the slick and gritty beats presented in both those films and nicely shifts the boys’ club behaviour to an engaging floor show of girls running the joint.

The first act is predominately set at Moves; the thriving strip bar where new gal Destiny is taken under the wing of experienced stage act Ramona. The low lights, hot shot clientele and booming DJ playlist combine for a pulsating exploration into the world of dancers and whilst they may be incredibly sexy, they aren’t sexualised. All of them know their worth and want to get back at the guzzling fat cats who ruined America in 2008.

Britney Spears sings ‘Gimme More’, which by the by is exquisitely used in a film that certainly gives you more stripping/dancing scenes than perhaps needed. At first the performances and entrance scenes to bars are cool and empowering but there is a point when the first act feels just a stretch long with slow motion grooving and grinding adding little but minutes to the plot.

Gladly the later scenes spend enough time on both the development of the plan to ‘seduce’ and rip off bankers and portray the women’s home lives, this makes 100% sure you’re on their side because even through the dodgy antics, mostly led by the insatiable thirst of Ramona, it’s not a patch on the crash 11 years ago, fuelled by greedy arrogant guys in power ties and Rolex watches.

‘Hustlers’ is a glitzy and bold movie headlined by the shining star-beam of J-Lo. She grabs the attention not solely by her captivating command of the pole but with an instinct buried in her performance of motherhood, friendship and dogged desire to be on top. The skills of Wu, Lili Reinhart and Keke Palmer with Lopez squad up for a fab foursome that hook you in and have you enjoying the dance.

7.5/10

 

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

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Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is back with his self-claimed 9th feature; a rejigging of a closing curtain to the golden age of cinema. ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ fuses together a host of proficient profiles over a selection of stories set in 1969, but does the director strike gold?

Told from February to August ’69, we follow the lives of TV and struggling movie actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who happen to cross paths with the rising talent of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). As they all traverse the swinging summer of Los Angeles, they may wind up in the cross-hairs of Charles Manson and his family.

The name of this movie speaks volumes for the fairy-tale aspect of Tarantino’s story. In fact the title appears at the very end over a final shot as if posing a what if scenario in the history rewriting manner you come to expect from QT. You can clearly see the time and honour poured into the directors’ love letter to the cinematic and televisual era. It’s a bold movie with the sight and sounds of L.A show business and the hippy scene grooving with a doubtless richness.

The TV and movie landscape are framed like a commentary, with narration sweeping over the very beginning and then returning in the last third to have us grasp the changing career path of Rick Dalton; a man whose ups and downs are perfectly portrayed by DiCaprio. You can see the actor having a solidly good time playing the chain-smoking, semi-stuttering star; someone almost left behind by Hollywood as he hoped to break onto the silver screen.

As to be predicted with any Quentin billing, the dialogue is ever-constant and rife with zings and sensational cool. One moment in particular is when Dalton appears on a show called ”Lancer” opposite Timothy Olyphant’s James Stacy. This scene goes both in front and behind the camera with beautifully laden writing, yet it’s not only the speaking qualities of Tarantino’s screenplay that are glittering, the visual elements that make up the late 60s are glourious. The American pilot season is detailed with excellence, the adoration for classic film theatres and the happening parties jostling with famous faces are all wonderfully encapsulated throughout this picture.

It’s obvious that Tarantino is revelling in the idea of splicing Rick Dalton into real life shows and movies whilst coming up with his own concepts and because of this you cannot help but take pleasure in his accomplishment. Creativity isn’t just his Red Apple brand and new addition Wolf’s Tooth as sometimes he can go a smidge too far, so knowing the life of Sharon Tate and her cruel fate at the hands of drug-addled cult members were possible basis for part of the story was of course a worry, especially when Tarantino and his no-holds barred approach to making movies is concerned, but gladly he knows not to tread over the line and in regards to Tate and her friends the film is respectable and showcases her as a glowing ray of goodness, far removed from the sick ideals of the Manson group.

Speaking of, a scene right in the midst of the talkies magnificence provides sheer chills. Spahn Ranch is a dusty backdrop once utilised for movies now taken over by bare foot gals and from time to time, Charles Manson. The vibe that Cliff Booth and we walk into is immediately loaded with suspense, a truly unsettling sequence. The cult collective get their dues in typical QT fashion though, just when you think the auteur has forgotten about his violent overload, you’re bowled over by a final act that will divide some but had me gripped and grinning.

Even with all the glitzy L.A establishments, neon signs and movie sets, ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is not Quentin’s best. Margot Robbie even with her infectious smile has little to do, the cinema making nature can often feel like it’s his most Academy baited outing and it doesn’t enrapture you at every single point. Weirdly, considering the extremity of the last moments, it comes across like a safe bet, one that I loved but still wasn’t swept away by.

A sprawling cast of actors, warmth in its recapturing of a heyday time and a class soundtrack curated by the extensive knowledge of Tarantino do combine to create a captivating film; one with more foot imagery than a chiropodist can match, but it just felt like it was missing that special something.

8/10

 

 

Pulp Fiction (1994)

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So last night I got the chance to see one of my all time favourite movies on the big screen, and this cinematic experience just illustrated further why I love ‘Pulp Fiction’ a hella lot.

Weaving together a collection of stories set in L.A, sees us flit forward and back in time with hit-men Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) claiming a briefcase with mysterious contents for crime boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), a less than ideal date night with Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), a restaurant robbery with Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) and a scramble for a watch with boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis).

The title ‘Pulp Fiction’ derives from pulpy magazines and crime novels that were prone to violence and electric language. Quentin Tarantino’s script perfectly reflects that style, as all the way through his film there smacks a sense of crackling, dynamic dialogue and flashes of blood-soaked drama. The line-up of plots that criss cross and jump in time are exercises in vivid crime story-telling and hilarity, Tarantino sure knows how to juggle all these characters and each one of them through their plot progression, jump off the pulpy pages and cement themselves in film history.

As is commonplace knowledge nowadays, director and writer Tarantino has a handle on character and dialogue and his second feature, after the diamond heist focus of ‘Reservoir Dogs’, sees him step up from a singular location and really break forward with figures that deliver zing after zing, hit after hit and even though this is a movie that owns very little action, you are utterly entranced because the script possesses such animated language.

The very opening is a masterclass in two-way conversing leading to an aggressive slap of credits and fiery music; from this point onward you should know to expect a film that won’t hold back and will utilise on expletives, whip-smart talking, pop-cultural references and an energetic soundtrack. Some will say this 1994 outing is overrated and I get that it is the typical frat-boy movie to drool over, one that has film students plastering the iconic poster on their walls, one that I have in my room to this very day, because depending on your first watch, it is an awakening. The zip and crackle which speeds through the narrative is highly entertaining; it’s just one of those treats which is fresh and riveting from start to finish.

The stellar cast really bury into their roles and it saw a resurgence for Travolta who became cool again thanks to the suited, slick hair styling of Vega, a gangster who may not be intimidating, but in his down to earth delight of discussing Amsterdam and milkshakes there is a man who can hold his own, just as long as he doesn’t head to the toilet, an opportunity for something to go wrong every time. It’s with Vincent on his initially awkward night out with Mia that one of the most seminal scenes in cinema history occurs. Jack Rabbit Slims; a retro diner and location of the coolest, quirkiest twist off between Thurman and Travolta, the Chuck Berry vocals punctuate their movements and seeing the dance on a big screen was like a divine dream come true.

‘Pulp Fiction’ may be simple when broken down; it’s just 3-4 stories that get broken up and shuffled about, but it’s thanks to this non-chronological structure that you feel drawn into seeing how each character gets to each place or how they may join the same path. It’s true to say that a Tarantino product; with it’s sublime songs and own branded product placement is like an event but it’s fair to comment also that his films could always do with a little refinement, a snip here and an edit there but even though this is a long film, it never feels it and there was never a moment upon this re-watch where I felt something could be dropped.

I know I’m biased and definitely a fan boy but ‘Pulp Fiction’ is as close to perfection as humanely possible. The film holds up, it screams cool and is a movie absolutely rammed with quotable delights. Tarantino’s follow up feature is not the difficult second album, it’s his platinum picture.

9.5/10

 

Late Night (2019)

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Celebrities getting interviewed by men in suits is a huge part of both American and British TV programming; so it’s only fitting that this comedy shuffles the pack and puts a woman in the spotlight but does ‘Late Night’ drop the mic or drop the ball?

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) has been leader of the late night pack for over 20 years and has scooped up numerous Emmy’s, but with online buzz non-existent and a threat of her removal, she realises things need to be shaken up. Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) is hired who helps bring some new life into the show but is it too late?

The spoofing of late night TV is often comical throughout this film and Kaling, who writes the screenplay, brings an interesting and timely response to the white male system presently in place. This ruling of the roost where not a single woman hosts a late night gig is upturned by the wonderfully believable figure of Newbury; a character brimming with wit, teeming with intellect and somewhat Cruella like in her prim and offish stature.

‘Late Night’ can often be a script which goes all in on the topics of diversity, inclusion and the keeping-on-trend trend. The near constant commentary surrounding the #metoo atmosphere is understandable but Kaling runs away with it and the comedy suffers, leaving a solid brick wall of heavy handed Times Up building. It’s absolutely a necessary action to give women and people of colour more work but this plot does play that card at every turn, feeling more like a look-at-us-we’re-being-inclusive feature than a clever comedy which happens to revolve around diversity.

Some later scenes where we see the British presenter try and tackle more viral-inducing moments are dumb but brilliantly funny and on point with the likes of what we see entertaining millions online nowadays. The writing room scenes are a fairly hilarious collection of ideas, throwing in some lazy personalities spiced up by the arrival of Molly who helps but winds up by looking in from the outside, but I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed the film as a whole. ’30 Rock’ is a product lampooning the stuffy, masculine writers environment with a much better zap of hilarity.

Kaling brings a kindly and earnest quality to the chemical plant/factory persona and shares wonderful chemistry with Emma Thompson; who is the perfect straight-laced, well heeled host with a lack of compassion and a need/hope to change. She is an utterly convincing presence who you could easily picture as a real talk show presenter, the more profound and orderly chats mixed with sillier segments would rival the fame-hungry ideals of Fallon and Corden.

‘Late Night’ is a so-so film with a gentle layer of humour and specific SNL-esque humour broadened with the current empowering era, it has cliches and slathers on ideas too thickly but thanks to Thompson and her talent, the film does spark.

6/10

 

Booksmart (2019)

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Graduating from actor to director, with her first time debut feature is Olivia Wilde, for a joyful and transcendent entry to the coming-of-age genre. The combined efforts of Wilde, a unit of four superb writers and the leading ladies make for a feel good film with great diversity and some originality.

Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are extremely intelligent seniors in high school and seem to have their whole adult lives mapped out. After they realise that their sole focus on studies might have been for nought, they decide to finally mix play with work at the last hurdle as they embark on a route to an end of year house party.

Olivia Wilde steps up to the plate and behind the camera with effortless ease, in such a way you’d believe she’d made multiple movies beforehand. The knack in which she creates such a comfortable atmosphere throughout the film and ensures the depth of the central females comes to the fore, is exquisite quality control. The narrative may tread familiar beats to other coming-of-age features but Wilde directs in a way that breaths new life into the world.

Unlike a lot of American comedies, which try too hard to cram in pop-culture references and lose themselves in smutty humour, ‘Booksmart’ banks on the friendship between the girls and is that ever a successful bet because the two leads are a sensation. Dever and Feldstein break the scales of chemistry and through hyped up facial expressions and wonderful timing they fill the film with perfect amounts of nighttime revelry, self-learning and awkwardness.

It is not just the gals who triumph, as this is a film which pools together an excellent array of electrically charged zany folk. The background cast are interesting to watch, funny and play a suitable part in the antics of Molly and Amy’s night. The diverse range of characters make you truly feel as if you’re immersed in a world of high school cliques.

A lit soundtrack punctuates the teen angst and laughter with a fire punch of soul-happy energy. The lighting and neon lights of their house party hopping gives ‘Booksmart’ a starry wash of shiny exploration which works in their actual physical journey but their own inner understanding of themselves, each other and the students around them. This is no more felt than in a third act which sees the hopeful party pair reach dramatic levels.

Granted, there are some predictable moments and not every joke lands but these are minuscule blips in an otherwise note-perfect comedy. ‘Booksmart’ is a breath of fresh air with Olivia Wilde, Feldstein, Dever and the writers doing wonderful things to have you instantly feeling in safe hands to sit back and wallow in the non-stop delight of their work.

8/10

Mid90s (2019)

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This 1990’s set coming-of-age film is made by first time director Jonah Hill. You can definitely sense his comedic style influencing the way the characters speak but as a debut role behind the camera, does Hill give us something Superbad or is it an example of a Megamind to keep watch of?

13 year old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives at home with his bully big brother Ian (Lucas Hedges) and mum Dabney (Katherine Waterston). After witnessing some older teenagers having fun skateboarding, Stevie decides to try his hand at the activity and in turn he makes friends with the crew, even if it does mean he starts skating down some dodgy roads.

The transition from indoor gamer Stevie to hanging out outside and christened ‘Sunburn’ is a swift yet glorious watch. He does the thing most youths did when they felt a phase was too babyish for them; he removes posters and adds up more grown up memorabilia and tries adult things in the hope of fitting in. What Jonah Hill does as writer/director is ensure the rite of passage is lovingly documented and the 90’s setting is pretty much the perfect, grungy backdrop to tell the story.

As if on its own wheels, this film shuttles by and with Nick Houy’s editing you really feel as if his life is injected with a dangerous spurt of energy. There is a party scene which opens with funky fresh cuts that snap along to the beat of the music and it isn’t just this which shows some sharp snips, the film has a few other, somewhat brutally effective edits enhanced by blasts of sound, which clatter in a shocking way.

‘Mid90s’ isn’t all fast paced masculinity though, there are a couple of touching moments portrayed in the bond between Sunburn and group leader and hopeful skater pro Ray. The way that Ray cares for and likes to see their new member get up and try again is great and they have a well written connection, especially in a silent and sunlit exchange where Ray fixes Stevie up with a new board.

It is a mostly solid bolt out of the gates from Hill, aside from one iffy scene at a house party that sees the li’l lead getting hit on by an older gal. Their age difference and following bases he ticks off are met with applause but it’s a tonally weird feeling scene, and if things were the other way around, with an older lad sexually advancing on a younger female then it’d be torn apart, but here it’s treated as a celebration and something a kid should go through to be deemed ‘cool’. Some may view it as harmless and a mildly amusing scene but it didn’t sit right with me.

Suljic is a fantastic actor with his youth shining through in the desired places and this childlike wonder adds flavour to his more grown up language and actions. He has this puppy dog loyalty that he acts wonderfully as he plays in a new gang. These sunnier parts are contrasted by some darker elements of his personal life which he attacks with no reserve.

Even if skateboarding was never your scene, Jonah Hill writes and directs a film with a neat focus on angst, awkwardness, puberty, brotherly fights and trying to fit in, without ever really messing any of those qualities up. ‘Mid90s’ is a coming-of-age movie rife with skater-boi law breaking and growing pains, which thoroughly reflect male childhood.

7/10

The Sisters Brothers (2019)

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On horseback, from Oregon to San Francisco comes this dark-comedy Western which may not exactly spring out the saloon doors but has enough cinematic artistry to prevent it blowing like some yawn-some tumbleweed in the breeze.

Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) are the Sisters Brothers; a pair of assassins who are hired by a wealthy gent to track down and violently extract information from a man named Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed), who may have a formula to aid finding gold.

It has to be said first of all, that the cast on display in this film are a magnificent bunch. The four main characters are extremely talented and put on a satisfying show, to really lure you into this well-worn world of Western dramatics. It’s a shame then that the film has multiple points where it attempts conflict and humour but doesn’t quite succeed on either.

Co-writers Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, who worked together on ‘A Prophet’, manage to drop in some nice flourishes though. Be it Eli’s bedtime routine with a red shawl to the weakening state of his horse, it’s the character based details that triumph more than the whole. It’s a finely tuned exploration of connection and strife but the entire film does not quite echo that sentiment.

Glows of orange and yellows in the beautiful cinematography of a country landscape not only add wonder but it provides dusty intrigue to a tale about family. The film is strongest in the contemplative moments and self-reflection from the brothers. Eli and Charlie are a great representation of sibling life; they bicker, fight, laugh and ultimately they support each other. The gorgeous deserts, hills, streams and towns appear almost like painted backdrops for the pair to play in front of.

Even if the film doesn’t hold court from beginning to end, the final short scene is perhaps the most delightful and saves the long wait to get there. We witness a lovely, homely set-up which perfectly demonstrates the relationship of the Sisters Brothers. A use of a near un-edited tracking shot, flowing through this last sequence adds to the calm denouement.

Phoenix is energetic and feels like the Joker of the duo, he is blissfully happy to follow orders, drink and kill whereas Reilly does well in the more thoughtful role, Eli is a man of aspiration and love. Together, the actors provide splendid yin and yang.

Gold shimmers, guns crackle and horses gallop in a story which strides down a much beaten Western trail but thanks to a brotherly bond, the film however long in its journey, is an interesting one.

6.5/10