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Non-Review Review: Hustlers

Hustlers wears its influences on its sleeve, which no small accomplishment for a movie about a bunch of criminal strippers.

Hustlers is adapted from Jessica Pressler’s 2015 New York Magazine article, covering a post-recession swindle orchestrated by a group of enterprising strippers. The film is a tale of greed and commercialism, of opulence and corruption. The premise practically writes itself. Hustler is a story that is just lurid enough and just timely enough and just charged enough that it all comes together perfectly. The film’s narrative exists at an intersection of money and sex and drugs, but is anchored in a broader cultural and social context that uses this seemingly trashy set-up to say something seemingly profound about the American condition.

Given the premise and themes, it is no surprise that Hustlers should take so many of its cues from the films of Martin Scorsese. Joker has dominated a lot of the autumnal discussion about Scorsese’s influence on contemporary cinema with its obvious debts to films like Taxi Driver or King of Comedy, but Hustlers is just as transparent in the debts that it owes to Goodfellas, Casino and The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese’s influence is felt on every inch of the film, from the film-making to the narrative structure to the awkward articulation of the central theme in the closing scene. It is both a strength and a weakness for Hustlers.

While Hustlers occasionally feels a little too indebted to the work of Scorsese to stand on its own two feet, the film largely works. Part of this is down to the skill and playfulness with which director Lorene Scafaria acknowledges her influence. Part of this is down to the film’s engaging charm and sense of humour, belying a compelling moral sophistication befitting the films that it is so obviously evoking. A lot of it comes down to the strong casting, including a compelling central dynamic and a powerhouse performance from Jennifer Lopez.

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Non-Review Review: Second Act

In structural terms, Second Act is effectively a romantic comedy. It just hits upon the novelty of stripping out a secondary lead.

Second Act is the story of Maya Vargas, as played by Jennifer Lopez. Maya works as a manager at a local supermarket, where she has found a way to turn the business into a local institution due to her quick-thinking and her understanding of what customers actually want. Maya is grounded, smart and reasonably successful in her chosen field. However, she is also fundamentally unsatisfied. She aspires to something greater than the life that she currently lives, and fate conspires to elevate her through a case of mistaken (or at least obscured) identity.

Streets ahead.

Second Act is a familiar aspiration fantasy, anchored in the idea that personal reinvention is possible through a combination of imagination and insight, that people are capable of transcending their circumstances or their bad luck through a combination of intelligence and commitment. Although Maya only has a single love interest over the course of the film, the boyfriend with which she starts the adventure and who is promptly sidelined, the beats and rhythms of Second Act are taken wholesale from the romantic comedy template.

Perhaps the love affair at the heart of Second Act is Maya learning to properly love herself.

Milo’s to go.

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Non-Review Review: Anaconda

Anaconda is a B-movie. It’s not a homage to a B-movie, or a love letter to that type of film. It’s not a nostalgic throwback, or an attempt to capture some of the elements of those old cheesy productions. It actually is a B-movie. There’s no real attempt to execute the film in a manner that rises above those, or even captures that type of filmmaking at its best, it’s just a solid example of what a B-movie might look like, were it produced today. It’s hard to argue that Anaconda is a good film – and I’ll readily concede that it’s actively a badone – but there is some charm to be found it, if only from the way that all the hyper-trashy elements seem to come together in what appears to be a perfect storm of creature feature cheese.

I always had a crush on Jennifer Lopez...

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