Thursday, September 19, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 9 September 2019 - 15 September 2019

Let us observe a brief moment of silence for MoviePass, which sputtered and hung on for far longer than was expected (or dignified). Even with the last year or so when I could almost never find a way to use it despite the regular $10/month charge taken into consideration, I contributed to them losing a lot of money.

This Week in Tickets

It was kind of a weird experience going to the Regal at Fenway on Tuesday some developer has turned the empty space where Best Buy used to be into the "TimeOut Market", despite the fact that there is not, as far as I know, I Boston edition of TimeOut, at least not in print. It's all very upscale with every storefront having the same sort of signage and color scheme and uniform, all of them offering some sort of elevated comfort food with two or three more fancy ingredients than a grilled cheese sandwich really needs. I'm sure it's all good, but it seems so calculated.

Then you go into the theater and they've basically got the box office shut down but not yet converted into self-serve stations the way they are at Boston Common, highlighting how these spaces designed around interaction have been automated. It makes me wonder if the new place by North Station will forgot the conventional box office the same way the Showcase SuperLux in Chestnut Hill does. Once I've got my ticket from one of the machines (because I'm old and like to keep stubs), they don't even rip it anymore, just using a hole punch. Once I got into Rezo, it was business as usual aside from the movie itself being an animated autobiographical documentary of a Georgian screenwriter/puppet theater person I'd never heard of, but he's evidently famous enough in the former Soviet Union to have brought out a fair-sized older Slavic crowd for his neat little movie.

With work keeping me late and the very long It: Chapter 2 throwing off showtimes, I didn't catch much the rest of the week, but did finally start in on Too Old to Die Young, the Amazon limited series written by crime-comics ace Ed Brubaker and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Three episodes in, it's asking for a lot of patience - those three episodes take over four hours to watch and often move slowly - but its undeniably as stylish as anything Refn's done and you can start to see some stories emerging. Apologies to the upstairs neighbors, though - those gunshots are loud and come out of nowhere!

Saturday afternoon it was the pretty-good Fagara from Hong Kong, which had a fairly light crowd and that's a shame because it seems like a better movie than a lot of other Chinese-language dramas of a similar sort that make it to North America. There have been a few like that in recent years, and it's a shame that they never seem to last as long as their Chinese analogs, even when shot in Mandarin.

After that, it was down the Green Line to see Billy Joel at Fenway Park, which didn't seem much different from the last time I saw him a decade or two ago. It's an odd sort of concert, where he openly mentions he's got nothing new for us, not having released a new album in 25 years or so, so that even when he's playing things that weren't hits, they've been part of his live-show rotation for so long that they're basically the same thing to the audience. So it's good, but weirdly similar to the studio versions - "My Life" has kind of evolved into something a little different, and "The River of Dreams" is far enough away from his usual that the percussionist and their equipment can reshape it a bit, but by now the audio guys have figured out how to mix the backup singers into something sounding like young Billy Joel for the notes he can't hit.

Fun? Sure. I think the extra years help on a few songs where he can lean into a thicker Long Island tough-guy accent ("Big Shot" and "Big Man on Mulberry Street"), he got to one of my favorites that may or may not be quite so popular ("Vienna") early, and he included "Uptown Girl" in the encore even though you could see from watching him that he's got roughly 4% of the enthusiasm for it that the audience does. Playing the hits.

Sunday finished with Hustlers on the spiffy Dolby Cinema screen at Assembly Row. That is also pretty decent; not great but good enough for an evening's entertainment, and just content with being that, coming in at under two hours and not connected to anything else. It's the sort of contemporary middle-class movie that Hollywood doesn't make enough of, and while I'd like it to be better, I'm glad it did well.

Looks like more good stuff rolls out this coming week, so hopefully my Letterboxd page will reflect that (and hopefully I'll be able to backfill more festival films before that starts as well).


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 September 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #2 (first-run, Dolby Cinema DCP)

Hustlers is a pretty darn decent movie based upon a true story in the "and then this happened" mold, the sort that doesn't necessarily reveal some greater truth or fit together like an intricate puzzle, but has enough of the messy reality that a viewer can identify with its criminal subjects. There's clearly more to the story than this movie gives the audience, but it delivers what's advertised, and is probably especially satisfying for those more interested camaraderie than crime.

It establishes the friendship first as Dorothy (Constance Wu), who has just moved up from stripping as "Destiny" in a roadside Jersey place to a club in Manhattan, makes friends with Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), the star attraction who teaches her how to entertain rather than just strut in her underwear. In 2008, with insane amounts of money flowing through Wall Street and into the clubs as finance bros want to get off the same way they trade, it's highly lucrative, at least until she gets pregnant. When she returns a few years later, after the financial crash and the arrival of a wave of skinny Eastern European girls who will do anything in the champagne room for cheap, not so much. Ramona's new plan is "fishing" - finding guys in bars to bring to the club and maxing out their credit cards once they're passed out. Working in teams with friends Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (Keke Palmer), they're soon making what they used to, but Ramona is ambitious, and soon finds ways to drain the marks more efficiently.

You don't have to squint too hard to see the parallels here: The amorality of Wall Street seems to jump to Ramona and company like a virus, and their schemes in many ways start to resemble those of the people they're ripping off, with the ladies selling a diluted product that, once they've started drugging the guys, contains as little getting wasted with attentive naked girls as their derivatives did top-rated securities. That sort of thing. That's not really what the movie is about, though; writer/director Lorene Scafaria spends relatively little time pondering where the enterprise is delicious revenge or a sign of how far the rot extends - Destiny more or less shrugs when it's brought up later in the movie - as opposed to the more uplifting found-family aspects. There are multiple scenes of women getting new apartments or bonding over their parents' abandonment, and the centerpiece is a Christmas party where Ramona is delighted to meet Destiny's grandmother. That material resonates with the audience well enough - it's a big part of why the film can be easy to embrace - but Scafaria tends to stick with those easy parts and elide over the other sides of them that actually make things in the story happen: The film ultimately turns on what happens when a member of that family gets out of control and endangers everyone, but that's something that isn't examined too closely.

Full review at eFIlmCritic

Billy Joel

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