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: 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”

Review: “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is As Scattered As its Protagonist

A new Richard Linklater comedy starring Cate Blanchett as an agoraphobic misanthrope architect who runs away to the Arctic to attempt reconnecting with her own creativity sounds like a fantasy. While the end result definitely isn’t a nightmare, it is reminiscent of a listless and languid dream, one that you forget a few moments after you wake up.

Continue reading “Review: “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is As Scattered As its Protagonist”

‘Blinded By The Light’: On broken heroes and glory days

When I first mentioned to a friend a few years back that I harboured a deep, timeless love for Bruce Springsteen, her reaction was much the same as those of young Javed’s (Viviek Kalra) are in Gurinder Chadha’s 1980’s-set Blinded By The Light. “Springsteen?!” she sputtered, “isn’t he a bit, you know, old-fashioned?” In a similar fashion, most of Javed’s friends in Chadha’s chaste coming-of-ager scoff at the mention of Boss-worship and dismiss Springsteen as a relic of bygone times; a traditional rocker whose cassettes belong in their dads’ collections. For them, he surely has no place in an era now dominated by synths and colour clashes.

Javed’s family and friends alike wonder, what could a singer from New Jersey concerned with the falsehood of the American dream possibly have to say to a sixteen-year-old Pakistani boy from Luton? What those around Javed fail to realise, however, is that Javed is also a blue-collar poet — a master of detailing the monotony of living out your years in a small town, just like Springsteen. When we first meet Javed, it’s 1987 and Thatcher’s cuts have led to mass unemployment across Britain. Frustration festers in Luton, and he writes tirelessly in the hopes of reaching the kind of ‘promised land’ that The Boss spent song after song mythologizing on Darkness On The Edge of Town. While Javed retreats to his room to let his anguishes and dreams spill onto the page, his father (Kulvinder Ghir — often multi-faceted and wonderfully nuanced) reminds him that words won’t pay the bills, as the National Front storm the streets outside in what Springsteen would call a ‘death waltz.’

5d535211849c8.image

Javed is a mirror of Springsteen in the late sixties and seventies — a disenfranchised, disillusioned young man, haunted by the images of poverty around him and terrified by the possibility of a future confined to the borders of a dying town. Where Springsteen observed and critiqued the needless violence of the Vietnam War and the American imperialism sold to the working-classes as patriotism, Javed laments on the steady rise of the National Front under a Conservative government that scapegoats the marginalised: the trade unionists, Muslims, and Pakistanis alike. Neither the sources of Springsteen’s nor Javed’s anger feel like remnants of the past — simply reminders of times that we have long since progressed from — particularly as Boris Johnson’s government edges further towards being hard right with each passing day. Javed and Bruce are one, along with anyone ignored and maligned by the powers at large. Blinded By The Light is at its best when it makes its social commentary its core focus, such as when ‘Jungleland’ — Springsteen’s epic study of his hometown and all its warts –—plays over the climax of an NF demonstration as Javed watches, while those he loves “wind up wounded, and not even dead.” The scene indeed resembles a street on fire, in parallel with Springsteen’s poor, post-war surroundings.

Where there are sharp addresses of socio-political barriers in Blinded By The Light, there are also insistences of great joy, and Chadha’s film is littered with more than enough moments of sweet-natured comedy to give it charm. Just as Chadha once positioned football as a salvation for Bend It Like Beckham’s Jess, here she presents Springsteen’s music as a balm for Javed. For every period of love, conflict, and heartache that Javed undergoes in his teenage years, Bruce is there. If it’s romantic passion that Javed is having his first taste of, then ‘Thunder Road’ is there to guide him. If the desire to escape the ills of his hometown is greater than ever, then Javed has ‘Born To Run’ ready to remind him that Springsteen, too, hailed from a place that would have ripped “the bones from his back,” had he not broke free. Bruce is omnipresent for Javed; a demigod whose work appears to have been written especially for this one lost boy.

Blinded By The Light often pedals an unabashed belief in the restorative power of music but is never naïve enough to suggest that it can totally heal the wounds left by the kind of racism, economic inequality, and familial tensions that Javed faces. Chadha knows, music — not even Springsteen’s transcendent lyricism — cannot solve everything. To find a voice that appears to have felt everything that you have, though, and that seems to have listened to your every thought is sometimes all the reassurance that one needs to remind themselves that escape doesn’t lie too far away. Bruce will be there until Javed, at least, walks in the sun.

Bizarre Rom-Com ‘Yesterday’ Takes The Beatles’ Legacy Hostage

Pending the inevitable collapse of global society and destruction of all recorded music as a result of oil wars and climate disaster, people will always love The Beatles. On the metaphorical Titanic that is this planet, the orchestra will play “Let It Be” as we sink. The end of the world as we know it is truly the only viable threat to the band’s legacy. But boy, does Yesterday give doomsday a run for its money.

A threateningly saccharine ransom letter of a movie, Yesterday takes the Fab Four hostage and asks us to imagine a world in which they never existed, except in the mind of one struggling musician. This premise is as silly and navel-gazing as a dorm room thought experiment, but silliness and experimentation alone never stopped anyone from making a good movie. In the hands of Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis, however, these elements have combined in their very worst forms, yielding a final product that is both odd and formulaic, sickly sweet and mean-spirited, drenched in pop culture yet utterly tasteless. By completely separating the music of The Beatles from the charisma, energy, and politics of the band itself, Yesterday fails to replicate even a hint of the magic that makes them so beloved.

Continue reading “Bizarre Rom-Com ‘Yesterday’ Takes The Beatles’ Legacy Hostage”

‘Toy Story 4’ Finds Closure in Unexpected Places

Pixar’s sequelitis phase comes to an end with Toy Story 4, possibly the most worrisome sequel of all. Not only do you have the pressure of following up Toy Story 3, the most respected bookend to a nearly-perfect animated trilogy, but it is the newest sequel in a chain of “generally enjoyed but lacking long term impact” sequels from a studio that is lauded for its originality. It also marks the feature-length debut of director Josh Cooley. Greenlighting this film was like opening Pandora’s box, for once you create another addition to this story, the reputation and concept of creative integrity of the brand hangs in the film’s response. It’s a scary, extremely tall order to fill. Luckily, while Toy Story 4 will never quite shake off the label of “the sequel we never asked for,” it still manages to charm, delight, but most importantly, find a way to take its concept to infinity and beyond. And in this summer movie slump, I’ll gladly accept it as a knockout.

null

Toy Story 4 kicks off with a cold open: the formerly off-screen separation of Woody (Tom Hanks) and Bo-Peep (Annie Potts) right before moving onto where we left off at the last film—Bonnie and the toys playing throughout the years until her student orientation at kindergarten. Woody, feeling not as relevant with his new owner as he did with Andy, decides to keep a watch on Bonnie on her first day. She creates Forky, a spork with googly eyes and a young mind haunted with existential terror, and Woody is determined to keep him safe through Bonnie’s summer road-trip. When a stop is made in a small town with a carnival and an old antique store, some old friends and flames come back to offer a new perspective of the past, of toy responsibilities, and when to move on. The Toy Story franchise has never been a stranger to themes of identity, but this is a deeper and even bigger step in interrogating what greater purpose toys (and/or, we) have in life.

Continue reading “‘Toy Story 4’ Finds Closure in Unexpected Places”

Cinepocalypse Review: ‘The Mute’ is Pagan Horror with a Heavy Dose of Atmosphere

We’re all familiar with the white savior narrative, especially in stories about colonialism. These stories usually center on a white man traveling to a strange land to somehow save its natives. In the case of The Mute, its Christian knights who wish to save the pagans from their god-less religion. While it is a film with a rather predictable and common story, and frankly not much new to say about colonialism or forced religious conversion, The Mute utilizes gorgeous cinematography and set pieces to make it stand out in a crowd.

Continue reading “Cinepocalypse Review: ‘The Mute’ is Pagan Horror with a Heavy Dose of Atmosphere”