Posted in Movie Review


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


I walked out of the theater extremely high on this film. I think I even leaned over to my wife and said, “I’ve never seen a female stripper movie that strives to portray authentic characters. This may do a lot to destigmatize stripping as a profession.” But a week later I find that little from this movie actually stayed with me.

Exactly like “The Wolf of Wall Street”, I believe “Hustlers” works primarily because of its direction. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (adapted from a 2015 magazine article written by Jessica Pressler) “Hustlers” is a true crime drama about a group of female strippers who (post-financial crisis, circa 2007-2008), devise a plan to steal money from their Wall Street clients.

The directional choices in “Hustlers” will be the only reason anyone remembers this movie in five years. From the opening long-take which moves us from the dressing room to the strip club stage, to every sequence in the club and bars, to the decision to modify and even cut the audio during crucial moments in the film, it all screams of a great big Martin Scorsese homage. She also does a great job of portraying an authentic strip club experience, mostly by accentuating the three dimensional supporting cast, played by Keke Palmer, Cardi B, Lili Reinhart and even Lizzo. And while most of these supporting characters don’t stick around for longer than an hour, this touch really helped create a bond between the audience and a fictitious group of stigmatized women.

Other than the direction, the standouts here were the leads, Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez (both for entirely different reasons). Wu’s performance is the strongest. She definitely has to cover more ground, beginning as someone who (naive to the aggressive world of city strip clubs) takes a job in a strip club in order to support her grandmother, and evolving into a “hustler” (not a spoiler. You know where this story is going the entire time. It’s in the damn title). Wu is particularly strong here, taking advantage of her arc and showing off her versatility as an actress. Lopez on the other hand simply solidifies herself as a triple-threat. For an actress who hasn’t done anything on the big screen that anybody has cared about in nearly a decade (and that’s being generous) she walks on screen and instantly takes over. Not to say that Lopez is a great actress, but it is quite undeniable that she has the ability to walk into a room and command attention.

Final Thought: “Magic Mike” is still the best stripper movie ever made, by a long shot. But unlike “Striptease” or “Showgirls”, at the very least “Hustlers will reignite a conversation that was long thought of to be a joke. Non-exploitative movies about female and/or male strippers can be done.

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Posted in Movie Review

It: Chapter Two

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

it chapter 2

“It: Chapter Two” can only be described as nearly three hours of mostly entertaining horror nonsense…well, it could and has been described as much worse, but for the sake of this relatively positive review, “nonsense” is about as negative as I’m going to get.

In this review I’m not really going to touch on “It”, chapter one from 2017, other than to say that I wasn’t really a fan. I felt as though the plot was pushed aside in order to focus on cheap scares and really over-the-top CGI gore. That said, I find myself at a crossroads contradicting myself when I tell you that I mostly enjoyed the lengthier “Chapter Two” because the plot is completely pushed aside in order to focus on cheap scares and over-the-top CGI gore/gross-out effects.

This is the part of the review where I attempt to defend this film.

While not lacking for dutch angles, the story itself doesn’t seem to be important at all to director Andy Muschietti. As I stated earlier, Muschietti has totally thrown the plot aside for “Chapter Two”. That is not to say that he doesn’t tell a story. There is one and it’s as follows: Taking place twenty-seven years after defeating Pennywise the child-eating clown, the titular “It” has come back and has begun to feed again. And with this, most of the group (The Losers Club) gets back together to kill the thing once and for all.

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game) playing grown-up Beverly Marsh, James McAvoy (Split) playing grown-up Bill Denbrough and the real star of the show, Bill Hader (Barry) playing grown-up Richie Tozier, and of course Bill Skarsgard returning as Pennywise, all star in this tonally erratic story which fluctuates between drama, comedy and horror at will. Also, with the exceptions of Hader and Skarsgard, all of the big names were horribly miscast; or at the very least, boring to watch. Am I doing a good job defending it so far?

Anyway, the plot then goes on to involve a Native American tribe and some orbs and blah, blah, blah, who cares? Let’s get to the the point. This chapter sees Muschietti laying out a finale that (again) really doesn’t concern itself with telling a story. But furthermore I don’t think he expects people to pay attention to the story or even attempt to follow it. It’s apparent early on that the “story” is nothing more than connective tissue holding around fifteen bizarre horror sequences together. These sequences seem to be the point of the movie. As for the sequences themselves, they also fluctuate. Some are not really that inventive and frankly poor quality horror, while others work in a way which resembled something like “The Evil Dead” (blasphemy, I know) visually repulsive with a hint of humor. And still others (although only three or four) were very much nightmare fuel; visually striking in a way that mimics the unsettling atmosphere felt in a lucid dream.

Now, how could I recommend a nearly three hour movie where the story is not worth paying attention to, and what we’re left with is a highlight reel of horror sequences; horror sequences that don’t all work? Well, the answer is a majority of the horror stuff here does work. It’s nonsense, but it works and is only enhanced by how sloppily this thing is put together. I would venture to say that “It: Chapter Two” is entertaining in the same way a sketch comedy show would be. Also, there is a high dosage of comedy injected into this installment. Not to say it all works. If you can’t tell by now, nothing in this movie completely works. But, the comedy really makes the run-time more palatable. In fact, I would go so far as to say Muschietti may have a future directing straight comedies.

Final Thought: The math works out like this: The movie is nearly three hours long. The sections which include Bill Hader and Pennywise (75% of the movie) are entertaining. This leaves 25%. All of that stuff is forgettable filler garbage. Thus the movie could have been 25% shorter (EASILY). But if you are able to push the plot aside, you may find yourself enjoying the cheap scares and over-the-top CGI gore.

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Posted in Movie Review


Rating: 5 out of 5.


My favorite protagonists are highly flawed, my favorite book is “The Stranger” and my favorite movie of the year so far is “Luce”. Speaking as a Black American, “Luce” is everything I want in a movie.

Directed by Julius Onah (The Cloverfrield Paradox) and co-written by J.C. Lee (adapted from his own play) this slow-burn thriller (which makes it sound more simplistic than it is) tells the story of Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) an honor student, originally from war-torn Eritrea and adopted at age ten by white American parents (played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth). One day a teacher (Octavia Spencer) becomes suspicious that Luce’s calm and affable exterior may be hiding something a bit more sinister. In the end it leaves you asking one question: How does one go from directing “The Cloverfield Paradox” to this thought provoking masterpiece?

Visually the film comes across as a thriller, meaning the tension is high throughout. It is the story and its characters which serve as the intrigue.

It’s quite fascinating to see all of the dynamics at play. From the white American parents who struggle with how much to trust their black child, to the black teacher whose ideology comes in direct conflict with Luce’s. And Luce, a character that struggles with his identity as an immigrant person of color, going to a predominately white school, where he is praised for his eloquence and ability to basically make the white people around him feel good about themselves, is a revelation of a character. Harrison Jr.’s performance is quite disturbing, as I spent the entire movie trying to read his eyes but couldn’t.

Final Thought: The beauty of a film like this is that ten different people could watch it and come out with ten differing takeaways. To me this isn’t a story about a sociopath or a star student, but rather a commentary on being black in America; how as a permanent immigrant (based on skin color alone) there is a dichotomy within the community and individual, which causes a schism in mentality and social norms. What does it mean to be a Black American? Is it Obama? Is it a rapper on BET? Is it a Mammy? Is it even an American? Or is it all of these things and none of them at the same time? “Luce” asks all of these questions, while making the bold statement that the Black American is culturally schizophrenic and as James Baldwin once said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” To me, “Luce” is an example of how one perfectly tells the story of what it’s like to be black in America.

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Posted in Movie Review

Blinded by the Light

Rating: 3 out of 5.

blinded by the light

Coming from a working class family that idolizes Bruce Springsteen, I wanted to love this movie. Based on a true story of a Pakistani teenager who falls in love with the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, while living in a mostly white community in 1987 England, I really really wanted to love this movie.

Knowing where this feel-good story is going and how it’s all going to end is not particularity a flaw, since it’s literally impossible not to enjoy the heart of this movie. With Durinder Chadha’s direction there is a kindness and attempt at sincerity, which touches every aspect of the film. She even puts a majority of Springsteen’s lyrics up on the screen, just in case you are one who has always had a hard time understanding The Boss. I mean, how kind is that?

That said, it’s this same “kindness” which really makes this film cringy at times. When attempting to discuss the heavy theme of violent racism, which plays a a large role in this movie, “Blinded by the Light” seems to be too nice to go there; when “going there” would’ve been not only interesting, but appropriate.

The following is a list of everything “Blinded by the Light” attempts to do:

  • Touch on the racial tension of 1980’s Britain and reflect on how relevant these issues still are throughout the world.

  • Hypothesize that Bruce Springsteen’s music transcends culture.

  • Create an immigrant Pakistani story, that translates well for any immigrant family.

  • Give audiences a sincere look at what it’s like to be a brown outsider in a white community.

  • Portray an accurate Asian father/son relationship.

And while it checks all of these boxes, it does so with all of the gusto of an after school special. All of this is the underlying problem. “Blinded by the Light” is kind. It has heart. It’s funny at times. The premise is intriguing, the movie simply is not.

The acting from our protagonist played by Viveik Kalra, is fine. He has a face that relays distress, which is a good thing. This film’s additional flaws stem more so from the script and how poorly the supporting characters were written and how jumpy the timeline gets near the end.

Final Thought: The few times it becomes a pure musical, it works exceptionally well. But the other 70% is a mix of levity, a glossy look at the second rise of skinheads in 1980’s United Kingdom and connective tissue that comes down to amateurish editing. “Blinded by the Light” is harmless and might be enjoyed by Springsteen fans, but it never really reaches its full potential.

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