Hustlers on the take

Hustlers is like a very boring version of Goodfellas. There are good, even great performances, but there’s little to the “true story.”  Look to Comparison Notes below to understand that despite the positives, there’s no way I could recommend Hustlers.

Those performances are among Hustlers’ redeeming attributes, but is it a good time at the movies? Not quite. The Rotten Tomatoes consensus:

Led by a career-best performance from Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers is a uniquely empowering heist drama with depth and intelligence to match its striking visual appeal.

Sometimes I wonder if the critics are watching the same movie. No, it’s not uniquely empowering, there is some depth and intelligence, but not much, and nothing at all striking visually. It’s not even a heist drama, per se. There is something to the relationship building that critics are nuts about, but it’s not enough to overcome a bland, so-what plot. And one more thing — I’ve been reflecting on this Titles MIA thing. Titles here would have told me that the filmmaker understands when her story is underway. 5/10

Comparison Notes: Goodfellas, Widows, Casino, Leaving Las Vegas, The Wrestler, Flashdance, Bound (now that’s a heist film), Donnie Brasco

Sci-Fi Gone Awry: High Life

Perhaps I was too harsh with Pet Sematary.  High Life is even more boring, because little story ever existed.  Worse, it is riddled with logic and execution holes — like a leading actor who looks exactly the same from one scene to the next when you later realize he is, in fact, 15 years older.  I’ve seen this before.  Pro tip for directors: people don’t look exactly the same 15 years later, unless agelessness is part of the Sci Fi at play — which it distinctly is not here.  The logic issues go way beyond that, but it’s not worth the effort to delineate them.

High Life is so idiotic, so insipid it makes a movie like Raw look brilliant by comparison.  It’s an embarrassment to good science fiction, a slap in the face to the entire genre. I think there was a small seed of an interesting idea which had nothing to do with space travel, but boy was it muddled to nothingness.  2/10

Comparison Notes (all much better; most recommended): Cube, Snowpiercer, Moon, Passengers, Ex Machina, The Box, Blindness, Under the Skin, The Skin I Live In, Holy Motors

Film Brief: Disobedience

Disobedience is an unpleasant film, and not the good kind of unpleasant.  Strong performances flesh out the world of orthodox Jewish life in modern London, but there is not nearly enough here story-wise.  Nearly a non-movie.  4/10

Comparison Notes: recommended: Carol, Crazy/Beautiful, House of Sand and Fog; not recommended: the Iranian films The Salesman and About Elly bear a number of similarities

Film Brief: Elle

I though Elle was going to be about a woman who was sexually assaulted, and then took that experience and instead of feeling victimized by it, turned it around, flipped the script and used it to her empowerment.

Instead, we get a muddled take on Basic Instinct-cum-pseudo Hitchcock psychological crime drama.  Operative word is muddled.  The movie held me well enough through the first half or so, but lost its way later on.  A disappointed, marginal no.  5/10

A Double-Splish, A Bigger Splash

Top: “A Bigger Splash” by David Hockney; Bottom: A Bigger Splash, currently in theaters

There will be two “Bigger Splash” movies this year.  One of them is a documentary on David Hockney, the great Los Angeles-based artist.

The movie A Bigger Splash takes on a theme I’ve seen in a few indies lately: that of vacations going south.  Force MajeureThe Two Faces of January, and The Loneliest Planet are examples of this concept in recent years.  Terror flicks like I Spit on Your Grave or Hostel also technically fall under this category, though we’re talking there about a very different type of film, obviously.  It’s a great storytelling tool because it allows ordinary people to be placed out of their element, out of their comfort zone.  Vacations allow ordinary people to face extraordinary circumstances.

A Bigger Splash - text block

 

Force Majeure was the best at this, in the psychological drama side of the bucket.  One of the problems with A Bigger Splash is that it is not completely confident of what it is trying to be.  As a psycho-sexual drama, it had me pretty well gripped for about the first three-quarters, at which point it took the inevitable turn as given away in the trailer — and suddenly became a completely different and much more mundane picture.  Because of this, I was going to render a marginal thumbs-up, but the film did stick around in my head just long enough for a 7/10.

Comparison Notes: besides the films mentioned above, Swimming Pool (2003) — one of those movies I’ll have to see again to post on; La Cérémonie (highly recommended)

Film Brief: The New Girlfriend

The New Girlfriend - poster

Less plot than a 23-minute episode of Dates on the CW: not good for a nearly two-hour long movie.  Even Blue is the Warmest Color was a narrative powerhouse compared to this.  They don’t do much, but the pair of likable characters — and a great cabaret sequence — lift Une Nouvelle Amie to 4/10.

PS – The title translates as A New Girlfriend, so a miss right off the bat.  A minor quibble with the marketing, but it’s one of those things that annoys me.  On the plus side, I like the 1950’s/60’s-esque poster graphics.

The New Girlfriend - text block

Film Brief: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

The Diary of a Teenage Girl - poster

There is a tremendous amount I liked about The Diary of a Teenage Girl, but it left me wanting more.  It was like a train ride — or more appropriately a passage on BART — with 14 stops.  But it takes 16 stops to get me home.

Early in the film, her mother tells Minnie that she has a power she doesn’t realize.  My biggest problem was that this promise is left unfulfilled.  Still, Diary is very fresh, and very good — I just wasn’t over the moon with the product as a whole.  A solid recommendation; 7/10.

Comparison Notes: Welcome to the Dollhouse, Nymphomaniac, Ghost World

UPDATE on MI V: I think I was a little too harsh.  Upon reflection, there were enough good things thrown in to yield a 4/10.  Still thumbs-down, but I didn’t hate it or anything.