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Movies (and TV Series) Review: Hustlers, Last and First Men, Long Shot, Looking for Alaska (TV), Minari

Hustlers - Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star as high payed exotic dancers on Wall Street who drug and steal from the executives that visit their clubs, justifying their actions by assuming that all of their victims are probably wealthy and criminals themselves. Based on a true story, they recruit other women to their gang. They eventually rob someone who desperately needs the money they stole. He goes to the police and, eventually, the police have them arrested.

I generally don't like movies that sympathize with bad people, so I took some umbrage at the sympathy that the filmmaker gives to these women's endeavors. Too much time is spent "humanizing" and justifying these women's activities by showing their struggles and families, and not in a scary Godfather-like manner. Stripping is portrayed as well-paying and glamorous; I believe that the reality might be less so for many women and men. But the characters are appealing, and some moral sense is maintained by the end of the movie. Certainly it is well-acted and shot, full of sound and energy. I mostly enjoyed it but was left with a bad taste in my mouth.

Last and First Men - This is not a movie, it's literally one person (Tilda Swinton) reading an essay about a far future version of humanity sending a message back in time to us, with a description of the future history of human evolution. The visuals are shots of black and white brutalist WWII Yugoslavian sculptures, there is a musical score, but no characters or motion. It could be an audio book or a radio play from the 1930s. It is based on a 1930 book by Olaf Stapledon.

It's pleasant enough, but you really have to be in the mood for it. I suspect it will attract a midnight college crowd of stoners.

Long Shot - Seth Rogen plays Fred, a passionate populist journalist who gets involved with Charlotte (Charlize Theron), a left-wing but pragmatic politician. Charlotte was once Fred's babysitter (she was 16, he was 13), but now Fred is a decent guy but a shlub, ala Seth Rogen, while Charlotte is high class, on her way to the presidency. Charlotte hires Fred as a speechwriter, despite his reservations about some of her policies. They fall in love, but politics gets in the way.

It's dorky guy gets hot girl, exactly how you think, but a little better: these kinds of misogynistic "bro" movies, especially Seth Rogen movies, are not my cup of tea, but this one is passable, in the way that Zach and Miri Make a Porno was passable.

So what do we have? It's sometimes funny, sometimes sweet, sometimes grating, predictable, and annoying, but not memorable or important. A supreme male fantasy, but the two lads have some chemistry. An okay watch if you want to pass the time.

Looking for Alaska (TV series) - This very sweet, never boring miniseries is based on John Green's first novel. If you know Green's other works - The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns - then you know the theme: teenagers looking for meaning and some manic-pixie dream girl or guy trope, and then a subversion of that trope. I liked this miniseries more than I liked either of the two above movies.

Miles (Charlie Plummer) moves to Florida to attend Culver Creek Academy, which seems move like a summer camp than a school. He meets and befriends Chip (Denny Love), who is on the outs with most of the other students, Alaska (Kristine Froseth), Chip's friend and fellow prankster, and a few other oddballs. They have interactions and scrapes with other students, teachers, the headmaster, and so on. Meanwhile, the mysterious Alaska has secrets and might be in some kind of trouble. Alaska sets Miles up with Lara (Sofia Vassilieva), whom he likes, but he probably loves Alaska. I cringe a little at scenes of bullying, but luckily they were few and short.

Eight bittersweet episodes allow us to see a multitude of characters fully fleshed out in a way that a 130 minute movie does not. Everyone does a great job.Mostly it is about friendship, integrity, loyalty, and secrets, and how all of these conflict. The cinematography and soundtrack are also great. Worth watching.

Minari - This is a sweet, quiet movie about a South Korean immigrant family trying to get by in America. In 1983, the parents, Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Yeri Han), work as chicken sexers. Jacob initiates their move to Arkansas, with their children David and Anne, where Jacob hopes to grow Korean vegetables for the underserved Korean and curious American populations. In the meantime, Jacob's non-English speaking mother comes to live with them. She and David have to share a room.

Contrast this movie with First Cow, a similarly quiet tale that utterly failed for me. First Cow was boring and unengaging; it looked great and was acted well, but I didn't care what was happening. This movie is similarly quiet, looks great and is acted well, but the script is smart, he characters are sweet and/or funny, and the conflicts - the mother wants to move back to California, the farm is harder to run than it looks - work well.

It is always worth gaining insight into other cultures, especially ones that have enough overlap to make the differences stand out. The grandmother and kids are especially captivating. This is worth watching.

This post first appeared on Yehuda, please read the originial post: here

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Movies (and TV Series) Review: Hustlers, Last and First Men, Long Shot, Looking for Alaska (TV), Minari


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