TIFF ’19: ‘Hustlers’ Knows What the F*ck Is Up

As Janet Jackson would say, Hustlers is a story about control. Jackson’s voice literally carries that message over the film’s first scene—her 1986 empowerment hit “Control” bumps through the elite Manhattan strip club where Constance Wu’s Destiny is trying to learn the ropes and take back her life. This pairing of song to scene is brass and unsubtle, but why shouldn’t it be? Hustlers knows it’s brass and unsubtle, and it knows exactly how to blend these elements, otherwise limiting in the wrong hands, into a dangerous concoction too delicious to resist. 

This cocktail of fun and energy and star power might trick you into thinking Lorene Scafaria’s latest film isn’t worth taking seriously, but you’d be dead wrong. Hustlers is big and uproarious, yes, but it’s also a for-fucking-real crime story with enough style, intrigue, and pinpoint emotional accuracy to compete with the films of Soderbergh and his ilk that have thus defined the ensemble heist genre. Thanks to the unique vision of women in control on both sides of the camera, Hustlers is a triumph—and one of the best films of the year.

Continue reading “TIFF ’19: ‘Hustlers’ Knows What the F*ck Is Up”
Advertisements

TIFF ’19: ‘Joker’ Tries and Fails to Hide Its Clownery With a Political Message

With superhero movies raking in the cash despite how much they’ve saturated the market, studios are looking for new and creative ways to tap into their passionate fanbase. One of these ideas includes standalone movies that address individual characters, both heroes and villains. Enter Todd Phillips’ Joker, an attempt to give depth and ethos to a psychopathic killer in a time where that kind of behavior is the last thing that needs to be glorified.

Continue reading “TIFF ’19: ‘Joker’ Tries and Fails to Hide Its Clownery With a Political Message”

TIFF ’19: ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ Reminds Us That We Were All Kids Once

When we’re children, life seems incomprehensible and strange, an amalgamation of emotions that we aren’t sure how to navigate. But as it turns out, that doesn’t change much when we’re adults. We are a mess of traumas and confusion, trying to go through life like we’re fine when we’re very much not. This is where the incomparable Mr. Rogers comes in, a soothing wave of compassion and empathy who wants us all to know it is OK to be angry sometimes. In A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Marielle Heller’s latest film after Can You Ever Forgive Me?, journalist Tom Junrod is a stand-in for all of us, a ball of resentment and fear that learns how to parse those feelings through red-cardigan-clad Fred Rogers. 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Is based on Junrod’s 1998 profile of Rogers that appeared in Esquire magazine. Matthew Rhys plays Junrod, who at the time was a jaded journalist who was desperate to find out the worst things about humanity. He digs at people, writing exposes and long pieces of investigative journalism. So he is shocked when his editor assigns him to a puff piece about Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks), famed children’s TV show host. What Junrod expects to just be a short interview about a joyous old man becomes a transformative process where he learns how to process his trauma and forgive his father.

Continue reading “TIFF ’19: ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ Reminds Us That We Were All Kids Once”

TIFF ’19: Family Epic ‘Waves’ Is a Visual Flood with Shallow Meaning

About halfway through the second spin of the merry-go-round camera that opens Waves, you start to get dizzy enough to look away. Some classic Tame Impala reverb bounces through the background, the blues and whites of the Florida sky glow unnaturally bright, and Euphoria sweetheart Alexa Demie hangs out her boyfriend’s car window, flashing a smile. It’s a 2019 film about teenagers, baby—if you didn’t know, now you know.

Waves writer-director Trey Edward Shultz isn’t afraid to dive headfirst into this bold style, accusations of parody and sameness be damned, and his commitment pays off. With Euphoria and Thunder Road cinematographer Drew Daniels by his side, Shultz delivers over two hours of consistently stunning visual narrative, each sequence challenging and creative, yet perfectly balanced and self-assured. These visuals mesh seamlessly with an electric score by Nine Inch Nails duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as well as an overloaded soundtrack of thumping Kanye and Frank Ocean tracks. It all leads you to believe Waves could be a great movie.

Continue reading “TIFF ’19: Family Epic ‘Waves’ Is a Visual Flood with Shallow Meaning”

TIFF ’19: ‘Portrait Of A Lady On Fire’ Is A Perfect Example of the Female Gaze

The male gaze is a term often used to address and critique how male directors use the camera to portray the female body as a site/sight of desire. The term, coined by Laura Mulvey, has grown and changed over the decades to address shifting genres, new mediums, and the growth of female directors. But, the question then emerges, what about the female gaze? Is there such a thing if hegemonic ideas of film are governed by patriarchy? Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady On Fire answers that question with a loud, resounding yes.

Continue reading “TIFF ’19: ‘Portrait Of A Lady On Fire’ Is A Perfect Example of the Female Gaze”

Female Director Spotlight: Desiree Akhavan Tackles Sexuality with Refreshing Honesty

Often semi-autobiographical in nature, Desiree Akhavan’s work unabashedly celebrates what it means to be an Iranian-American bisexual woman. As an openly bisexual filmmaker who centers her experience of bisexuality in most of her works, Akhavan has had to frequently deal with critics expecting her to deliver a “taboo-breaking drama on bisexuality.” To this, Akhavan responded in an interview for the Independent that she is merely trying “to figure shit out for [her]self” rather than put forth a “taboo-breaking” narrative on the matters of gender and sexuality. Indeed, it is worth questioning why gay artists are expected to deliver ground-breaking work when the film industry persistently denies funding, access, and support for gay artists. When gay people are still fighting for their right to simply exist, ground-breaking becomes a luxury reserved for the most privileged. 

Continue reading “Female Director Spotlight: Desiree Akhavan Tackles Sexuality with Refreshing Honesty”

Beyoncé’s ‘Rocket’ and the Pleasures of Artistic Freedom

When Beyoncé first met with Miguel to discuss what eventually became “Rocket,” the longest track on BEYONCÉ (2013), she’d only recently given birth to Blue Ivy. It would have been mid-2012 or so; Miguel recalls that “she was looking beautiful; her skin was glowing and she was ready to create.” Beyoncé was feeling more sexually empowered than ever as a new mom—she says as much in a behind-the-scenes doc released with the album—and wanted to record something D’Angelo-esque in that spirit. “I’ll never forget the conversation I had with Beyoncé and her insisting that nothing was off-limits,” Miguel told VIBE in 2014.

Given Beyoncé’s green light, Miguel imagined himself in her lover’s shoes to come up with “Rocket”: “What’s the first thing I would want Beyoncé to say to me as a man? What have I not heard her say?” Miguel, Justin Timberlake, and Beyoncé then co-wrote the song, working with producers J-Roc and Timbaland. On paper, the gender dynamic here is weird: we’re looking at a female sexual empowerment track made by a team of mostly men, one where the lyrics originate in what Miguel would want Beyoncé to say in a sexual setting. The album doc also suggests that, aside from music executive Teresa LaBarbera Whites, Beyoncé was the only woman in the room while recording “Rocket.” My goal here isn’t to undermine the song, but to contextualize its production. As I’ll argue, the fact that Beyoncé worked on it—and later, its visual accompaniment—surrounded by male creators didn’t ultimately prevent either from being subversive.  

Albums are generally titled eponymously to introduce a new act to the world—Queen made its debut with Queen (1973), Christina Aguilera with Christina Aguilera (1999), and so on. But self-titled albums can also debut a new sound or phase of an established artist’s career. Cher (1987) did this, as did Britney (2001). BEYONCÉ doesn’t fall neatly into one category or the other. When it surprise-dropped in 2013, the world had already known Beyoncé for a decade and a half. Still, it practically relaunched both Beyoncé the entertainer and Beyoncé the brand. 

Continue reading “Beyoncé’s ‘Rocket’ and the Pleasures of Artistic Freedom”