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

Honeyland… far, far away

Ultimately, as much as I may analyze a movie and deconstruct its various elements, the numerical evaluation I reach is achieved by nothing more than how it hits me on an emotional level. It’s a gut-reaction meter to how I felt walking out of the movie theater and driving home. With Honeyland, I walked out feeling it’s a solid 7, good but somehow not great.

Later that evening, my thoughts on the film prevented me from sleeping. I thought about how extraordinary it was to have this documentary play like a nondocumentary. That a narrative without narration could be so convincing. I had read somewhere before seeing Honeyland that it was a documentary, but other than being very authentic, it plays like a normal feature film.  It’s remarkable how all the plot elements were so perfectly captured without actors and a storyboard.  Or at least I assume it was all real and not produced ‘reality TV’ style. So refreshing compared to the last documentary I saw, the dismal Marianne & Leonard.


Whenever a film keeps me tossing and turning at night, its number goes up the next morning.

Now a big negative that I’m sure no one else cares about: No beginning titles whatsoever is more than irksome.  It’s like you’re trying to insult my intelligence. Do you think I don’t know the title of the movie? That it’s some great revelation at the end when you bestow the title upon us, the humble moviegoers? Just put the title up front, a-hole!

Apologize for losing it there a moment.  One more thing: there’s a sense the film takes place in a far-flung, western-Asian place like Georgia, or Uzbekistan, or Afghanistan — but no.  This is Europe.  It turns out the decidedly Asian language is Turkish — though I did not recognize it as such.  But the Asian part I got right. Throwing me off too was the equally Asian vastness of the landscape, which in fact belongs to Europe. I can safely aver that this is the first, and most likely last film I have ever seen made in North Macedonia. I didn’t even know there was a country called North Macedonia. And I definitely learned a thing or two about bees.


Comparison Notes: The Good Earth, Koyaanisqatsi

Film Brief: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

One scary story to tell in the dark would be pure awesomeness, more even better. But there’s nothing particularly scary here. In other words, yawn.  I understand this may be directed towards yungin’s, but that doesn’t mean it has to be such a boring rehash.

What is with no starting titles?  Are you so ashamed of your lead actors?  Of the movie title? 2/10

Comparison Notes: Creepshow, all haunted house movies, Pet Sematary, ItPan’s Labyrinth

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino drifted south [u]

First a note on the film’s title.  Wikipedia incorrectly lists it without the ellipsis, the marketing materials have the ellipsis after the “in” and the film itself displays the title as I have above — ultimately, the correct version. I think. The New York Times briefly addressed this issue, but one thing not mentioned is the space before the ellipsis, a grammatical error. But the space and the placement as I’ve shown seems to be the consensus.

That title is not shown until the end of the movie, though the rest of the standard intro titles are included in the correct location. Followers of my blog know that omitting for no good reason a film’s intro titles annoys the heck out of me — so a partial titles MIA annoyance here. Especially given how much Tarantino loves titles.

All these title issues serve as a signpost which hearkens the weakest Tarantino feature since Reservoir Dogs.  It is quite clear that Tarantino had a clear vision in mind for this film, and executed that vision. The problem is it’s not a very good vision. An elongated story about an aging actor looking at the demise of his career is not exactly groundbreaking, especially not the way it’s portrayed here. The whole ode-to-Hollywood component, ever-present in Time … in, only half-works. And then there’s the Manson story.

Tarantino proved himself an absolute master with fictionalized history in the brilliant Inglourious Basterds; Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight showed he knows how to optimize a period setting. Others have written more about this (e.g. this other Times article), so I’ll just agree that it only half-works here. The grand vision that Tarantino had feels a lot smaller on screen. And, as with Lincoln, there’s an opportunity that was missed. Tarantino didn’t want to make a movie about the Manson murders, but rather a semi washed-up actor and the Hollywood scene of 1969. That’s fine, but a missed opportunity and something very diminutive, even petty compared to the scale I was expecting.

And … the Manson murders still have not had their proper due on film.

* * *

I’ve always said that I welcome filmmakers to take their own, original directions. But this wasn’t that original, or particularly great. There are parts of it that are borderline cheeseville. The scene where he’s kicking himself for missing a line is real amateur-hour, even as the whole acting sequence that precedes it flows with art. On the other-other hand, the movie-within-a-movie has no connection to anything else. So not exactly Hamlet, despite the references to it.

There’s enough genuinely entertaining parts of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, including the mild arc of story presented, that I still offer a recommendation full of the normal caveats.  A missed opportunity, yes.  But there’s fun to be had — probably all Tarantino is going for, and it didn’t drag too much even with the nearly 3-hour running time.  Unlike Lincoln, Good Times in Hollywood earns a pass.  I just hope this doesn’t mark the beginning of a latter Oliver Stone era in which Tarantino can no longer figure out how to make good movies.


Comparison Notes: Hail, Caesar! (a much better take on Hollywood’s past, and a vastly more entertaining film), Lincoln, Café Society

UPDATE: It took one more night’s sleep to crank it up a notch; now 7/10.


Film Brief: Ma

Think of Ma as a cross between a very meek, held-back Cape Fear and Revenge of the Nerds.  It’s got a lot of problems, mainly the meek part.  It definitely does not go for the jugular.  All the more surprising given the Blumhouse stamp.  Titles MIA for no good reason don’t help, and makes one wonder if Blumhouse was so ashamed of this product that it kept its imprimatur hidden.

Despite overall meekness, there were some potent moments, and I was reasonably engaged and mildly entertained — so a marginal thumbs-up.  6/10

Hereditary Encumbrances

You go into Hereditary thinking it’ll be some sort of wonderful all-out creepfest.  There is a definite creepiness factor, but the film morphs into yet another fairly conventional haunted house/haunted spirit flick.  For all of its careful consideration of factors such as visual design, Hereditary pays much less attention to presenting a strong compelling story.

Which is not to say it’s not compelling.  Certainly not boring.  But if you remove the miniatures, I doubt I’d recommend.  An absent starting title for no reason doesn’t help.  At least A24 didn’t revert back to the square frame on this one.

I’ve largely forgotten about this movie already, but in its immediate wake it did get under my skin a bit.  So — a begrudging 7/10.

Comparison Notes: Thelma, Poltergeist, Drag Me to Hell, and others in my Spirit” post, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Psycho, The Ring, Cube, Mother!