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"Hustlers" is a level- headed and even-handed true crime story that is so strongly directed and acted... and smartly written, that you never get a sense that Director Lorene Scofaria (Seeking a Friend fir the End of the World) is expoiting any of the parties involved, or is passing any judgements. The strippers that break bad at the center of this tale are human beings in over their heads, and we care based on a plethora of great performances by the likes of Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, and Julia Stiles, and because Scofaria drops the audience in the fold with a voyeuristic touch. It's all very down to earth and matter of fact. For all the talk of the film's flex as feminist empowerment, I failed to see any agenda being pushed. Instead I saw a very entertaining and well made piece of "based on facts" fiction that while not very original stylistically, was worth telling. I wholeheartedly agree with the film's near unanimous festival buzz. It's pretty great.
For all of the hullabaloo (re: embarrassing media coverage) leading up to the release of "Joker," you'd be forgiven for going into a screening with stilted expectations, preconcieved notions, and a general unease. I myself was a bit guilty on all counts! That just makes what an utter success "Joker" is all the more satisfying. This is an opus. A modern masterwork of performance art and technical film craft. Todd Phillips far exceeds his own filmography with a powerhouse of visual fluidity and intoxicating authenticity. He and Cinematographer Lawrence Sher have crafted a film of great empathy and hellish beauty that's as gorgeous as anything I've seen in a theater this year. Joaquin Phoenix shines once again as the mentally unstable, supervillain to be Arthur Fleck... in what may be his newly minted signature role. He belongs on the same mantel as Heath Ledger, and once again proves to be one of the actors of his generation. An Oscar at this point seems like a no brainer. "Joker" is the great feel bad movie of our time. It doesn't just wallow in misery however; Phillips and co. find the poetry and humanity within. For all of the overpublicized talk regarding brutal and horrific displays of violence (not even close to accurate), it's the emotionally disturbing content and the unbearable suffering of Arthur that have really stuck with me. This is somehow all expertly portrayed under the guise of a DC comicbook film based on one of pop culture's most identifiable assets? "Joker" has what it takes to change the landscape of blockbuster movies. It is the best film of the year.
A somber, slow burn of a space oddity, "Ad Astra" has the visual allure, meticulous technical merrit and central performance of a future extraorbital classic of the sci-fi genre. It's frustrating however that Director James Gray's talents couldn't have better served his muddled narrative, breathtaking albeit disjointed (and honestly tone shattering) action sequences, and an emotionally hallow final act that can't make up for the rocky road prior.