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Indie Focus: ‘Hustlers’ takes the stage

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

The Toronto International Film Festival is winding down, and our team from the LAT is steadily making its way back to Los Angeles. We will have lots more material from TIFF dropping over the weeks and months ahead.

Photographer Jay Clendenin was there to capture actors and filmmakers as they came through the LAT studio, including a series of portraits taken with a vintage Polaroid camera. There is also a gallery of female filmmakers who came through the studio.

Critic Justin Chang filed regular notebooks on the films of the fest. He paired “Waves” and “Just Mercy,” as well as “Knives Out” and “Jojo Rabbit,” plus “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and “Uncut Gems.”

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Lots of talent sat for video interviews, including teams from “Hustlers,” “Knives Out,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Harriet,” “Waves,” “Uncut Gems” and many more.

Amy Kaufman interviewed Noah Hawley about “Lucy in the Sky,” his feature debut as writer and director following his successes on TV with “Fargo” and “Legion.”

And I sat down for our podcast “The Reel” with Amy, Justin, Jen Yamato and Glenn Whipp to discuss what we liked and what we didn’t at the festival and what sort of impact the films of TIFF might have on the awards race.

We will have more screening events and Q&As soon. For updates, go to events.latimes.com.

Jennifer Lopez, left in a fur coat, and Constance Wu in “Hustlers.”
Jennifer Lopez, left, and Constance Wu in “Hustlers.”
(STXfilms)

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‘Hustlers’

Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, “Hustlers” is adapted from a 2015 magazine article about a group of strippers who begin scamming their customers in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, the ringleaders of the group, the movie packs a bold wallop.

Reviewing the film for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “As a movie about the seductions of the flesh and the satisfactions of a well-executed con, ‘Hustlers’ is brassy and invigorating, its pleasures obvious and right there on the surface. As a portrait of women at work, bickering and bonding and doing whatever it takes to get some measure of their own back, it’s smarter and more grounded than Hollywood has given us reason to expect, and told with a welcome matter-of-factness that can melt without warning into tenderness.”

Jen Yamato spoke to Scafaria, Lopez and Wu for a look at the long road to getting the story to the screen. “As [my character] says in the movie, ‘This whole country is a strip club. You’ve got people throwing the money and you’ve got people doing the dance,’ ” said Lopez. “‘Hustlers’ is, in part, a reflection on the socioeconomic inequities in America and shines a light on how we are all just trying to get by with this system of hurdles in place.”

I also spoke to Scafaria for “The Reel” about how the struggle to get the film made reflected many of the same themes it depicts.

For Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson said the film contains some of the best acting work of Lopez’s career and that Scafaria had “a larger vision” in making it. “‘Hustlers’ is a movie about work, and women, and economy, neither forgiving of its protagonists’ crimes nor those of the people they preyed upon. It’s a bright stiletto stab toward equity, and, in the process, one of the best movies about American money in recent memory.”

For Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote, “In some ways, being charming is harder than being great, or at least more elusive. Acting is a skill, while charm is a quality; you can’t will it into being any more than you can stuff lightning into a jar … As an actor and overall performer, Jennifer Lopez has always been charming. In ‘Hustlers,’ she’s also great — as if two translucent hues spontaneously overlapped to make a new color.”

A scene from “Monos.”
A scene from “Monos.”
(Neon)

‘Monos’

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Directed by Colombian filmmaker Alejandro Landes, who co-wrote the screenplay with Alexis Dos Santos, “Monos” is the story of a ragtag revolutionary faction of young people living in a remote mountain encampment. What they are fighting for, exactly, remains an enigma, as they care for a prisoner (Julianne Nicholson) and a precious milk cow. With a score by Mica Levi, the film takes on a disorienting, overwhelming tone.

Carlos Aguilar declared it “a towering filmic achievement” in his review for The Times. “Viscerally philosophic, this sensorial barrage cuts into the viewer’s psyche like a knife through flesh in that its artful rawness transcends the limits of the screen.”

Writing for The Wrap, Monica Castillo called it “a movie I’ve grown to admire more than I enjoy. Landes’ and [cinematographer Jaspar] Wolf’s imagery is stunning to watch even if his script with Dos Santos leaves off much of the text. As Landes explores the psychology and dynamics of a group of kids being asked to grow up too fast and too violently, he redirects some of our sympathy for the doctor to the kids who are swept up in something they (and by extension, the audience) may not fully understand.”

For rogerebert.com, Sheila O’Malley wrote, “This is the story of what happens to kids in war, what happens to the mind under a kind of brainwashing, especially a susceptible teenage mind. If ‘mercy’ is seen as weak, if the group decides ‘mercy’ is bad, it’s very difficult to go against that grain, to maintain your sense of humanity. This is how ‘peer pressure’ works in its most sinister state.”

Sasheer Zamata in a scene from “The Weekend.”
Sasheer Zamata in a scene from “The Weekend.”
(Lionsgate)

‘The Weekend’

Written and directed by Stella Meghie, the rom-com “The Weekend” stars Sasheer Zamata as a stand-up comic who reluctantly goes to on a weekend trip that finds her entangled with her ex (Tone Bell), his new girlfriend (DeWanda Wise) and a promising stranger (Y’Lan Noel).

Reviewing for The Times, Kimber Myers wrote that “‘The Weekend’ shines in its small, specific moments. Its humor is particular to its characters and its setting in today’s dating world … Gibes about STIs aside, ‘The Weekend’ is as easygoing as its title implies, a loose, lovely complement to Meghie’s more polished studio film ‘Everything Everything.’ It drags a bit at times, especially as it winds down, but it remains a film you want to spend more time with.”

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter: @IndieFocus.


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