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This Hustlers review is about JLo’s 2020 Best Actress Oscar.

I love an anti-hero. I love roles written for women in full control of their sexuality despite the circumstances. I love a movie led by women of color. And I love Jennifer Lopez having her Erin Brockovich moment. Hustlers really is the movie to see this season.

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Jennifer Lopez is going to be nominated for an Oscar and that’s all I want to talk about for the rest of the year.

For awhile there in the late 90s/early 00s, it seemed as if a woman couldn’t win a Best Actress Oscar unless she disguised her beauty somehow. Hillary Swank dropped down to 7% bodyfat and cut all her hair off to play a trans man. Halle Berry filmed the world’s most awkwardly drunk sex scene for her Oscar. Nicole Kidman wore a prosthetic nose and a dry wig as Virginia Woolfe. Charlize Theron was 30 pounds heavier with bad skin and fake teeth in Monster. The only exception to that run was Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich, and coincidentally enough, Jennifer Lopez as Ramona in Hustlers has been compared to that performance.

I’ll be honest: It’s not very popular to be a Jennifer Lopez fan in many of the Black Internet Circles I participate in, largely because she’s a mediocre singer who has built a recording career from discarded or outright stolen tracks from Black women. I get it, I understand it, and I don’t wholly disagree with it, but that’s a conversation for another day.

I’m a fan of the Pop Culture Icon that is Jennifer Lopez. I love that this woman from the Bronx who is not outstanding at any one component of her persona has managed to stay this famous for this long with this much support. There are far better singers than JLo. Far better dancers. Far better actresses. And for all the praise her ass has gotten, there are far better butts. But there really is no better package for all of that than JLo and I’m impressed by people who can succeed based on the strength of their drive, work ethic, and personality. (Yes she’s beautiful with a big budget corporate machine behind her, but there are lots of women who are also beautiful with those same machines trying to push them and they never hit the level that Jennifer Lopez has even once, let alone over and over for twenty years.)

That’s a long lead in for a movie review, but I just want y’all to understand where I was coming from when I went to see Hustlers. I heard the “Oscar buzz” but not even the biggest fan in me would ever put “Jennifer Lopez” and “Academy Award” in the same breath because I know what I’m getting with her — average, yet entertaining.

Nothing about Jennifer Lopez is average in this movie. She doesn’t have a Viola Davis Crying Scene or an Angela Bassett Monologue because that’s not what this movie is and that’s not the actress she is. What she does have is complete authenticity. I believed she was a 35-year-old stripper (at 50!) from New York disgusted with Wall Street and scamming her way to a better life for her and her daughter. I believed she loved Destiny (Constance Wu) like a daughter, so much so that I teared up during the emotional climax. JLo made me almost cry. Jennifer Lopez was emoting through her acting to the point where I had tears in my eyes.

You could still, at this point, knock me over with a feather from that realization.

But alongside that, I want Jennifer Lopez to get an Oscar nomination because she did this.

At one point, JLo wore a silver bathing suit with a 2 inch strip of silver fabric covering her hoohah in a luxurious fur coat smoking a cigar in 8 inch heels with complete ease and not a hint of discomfort. Whereas Hollywood has no problem rewarding beautiful women for getting “ugly” for a “serious” role, there’s really no space for women who go the other route. JLo — unarguably a very beautiful woman — went even further with just six weeks to prepare for this role. There is no other actress in Hollywood who could have been Ramona, let alone a 50 year old mother of twins. Please name a single A-list actress who would have been comfortable in dental floss and bending over for the camera without a hint of self-consciousness. Jennifer Lopez has worked hard at being beautiful. Money and genes help obviously, but for all the praise we heap on women (and men) who change their bodies to be less attractive for their award-winning performances, we should also look at the other side and give props where props are due.

I want to make this plain, because I know the Internet is full of people who half-read and then throw loud opinions back: I’m not saying Jennifer Lopez deserves accolades because she’s beautiful. I’m saying Jennifer Lopez put in a spectacular acting performance (the way Charlize Theron does) while also embodying the role to a level of extreme physicality which is far outside the norm (the way Charlize Theron does) and she should be acknowledged for that the same way we would praise her had she gained 30 pounds and made her self UNattractive (the way Charlize Theron does).

And you can tell this movie was directed by a woman. Martin Scorcese passed on it and thank goddess he did because it would have been great, but it would have been grey. And serious. And sad. It would have been a crime movie about stripping. Instead, in Lorene Scafaria’s deft hands, we got a movie that is full of heart and emotion. It’s a family drama (a family of their own making) about women who happen to be strippers. It’s a movie where you root for the bad guys, but the bad guys are in bikinis and raising daughters instead of leather jackets and speeding away in cars.

I love an anti-hero. I love roles written for women in full control of their sexuality despite the circumstances. I love a movie led by women of color. And I love Jennifer Lopez having her Erin Brockovich moment. Hustlers really is the movie to see this season.

Other Hot Takes:

Cardi B. is magnetic. For all y’all who said she wasn’t in the trailer because she must have sucked in the movie…you could not be more wrong. And I’m very much looking forward to seeing more of Belcalis on the big screen (as long as she’s playing a round-the-way girl from the Bronx because that accent ain’t goin NOWHERE anytime soon).

THREE JANET JACKSON SONGS! Give them a Best Picture nomination just for that.

Lorene deserves a writing nomination for adapted screenplay and a directing nomination. She hit all the correct notes. It never dragged. Never moved too fast. Her pacing is fantastic and for a movie about strippers, it never felt exploitative (I’m never watching another movie with boobs in it unless it’s directed by a woman). ((I definitely just lied about that, but y’all feel the sentiment.))

When y’all say movies are too white, they aren’t suddenly multi-cultural just because there’s a Black lead. America is a melting pot. It’s not just white or Black. Hustlers is truly a multicultural cast. It stars four women: one Latina, one East Asian, one Black, and one white. That’s the Hollywood I want to see.

There are no men in this movie who matter. It’s really refreshing.

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Hot Takes: Malignant

Malignant is the funniest movie of the year, and that’s not really a criticism.

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1. This movie is so dumb. I strained an eyeball rolling them so hard. I’ve never groaned so much in my life.

2. This movie knows its dumb! I truly feel like every single person involved in the making of this movie, especially director James Wan, is winking at us and expecting us to wink back. From the awful dialogue to the awkward placement of dramatic music to the predictably stupid actions of the characters, anytime something stupid happened, I felt like Wan was looking dead at me giggling.

3. And I mean STUPID actions of the characters. Why would you go to an abandoned mental hospital on a cliff at night by yourself with no weapon? That’s not a spoiler, because that sentence will make no sense to you until you watch her almost drive off the cliff. But stuff like that felt like, “Yes, people behave in stupid ways in horror movies, so let’s make it super stupid.”

4. I’m quite sure the women’s holding cell at any local jail in the Pacific Northwest does not look like that. Those women were all prostitutes from the 1970s.

5. I went with a friend (who didn’t like it as much as I did and gave the movie a 6) and we both agreed that we didn’t accurately predict the killer. In some ways we were right, and in some ways we were wrong, but when the story is pieced together in the last act, it’s very much a groan/eyeroll/how didn’t I see that coming. I was hollering at the inventiveness though! I personally have never seen this kind of killer.

6. Speaking of inventive, the killer fights backwards. The massacre at the precinct is so much fun and I was howling the entire time. I think that’s where they spent all their money because the whole movie looks like a Cinemax production from 1994.

7. The commitment to bangs is admirable.

8. There are some genuinely shocking and frightening scares in Malignant, which I loved, but for the most part I was laughing the entire time at how ridiculous the whole thing was. I’m not sure who this horror movie is for actually. It’s polarizing, but not in the way a horror movie would typically be, where horror fans are of one mind and causal fans are of another. I’ve seen horror fans love this movie and horror fans hate it. I’m a casual viewer and I thought it was so much fun and so stupidly creative but my friend was “meh” on it. So I don’t know whether to recommend it or not because I don’t see any consistent trends for who likes it and who doesn’t.

9. So here are the PROS: the villain is a new take on an old trope, which I love.
The action scenes are excellent. They’re done very well and this fight choreographer really thought about how people move.
It’s fun! It’s a “talk to the screen” kind of horror movie. “Why are you doing that? Don’t go in there! Turn around!!”

10. Here are the CONS:
The dialogue is clunky! (which I found fun, because it made it feel that much more low-budget 90s B Movie)
The acting is clunky! (which I also found fun, because I felt like they were doing it on purpose)
The music is awful and almost always terribly misplaced! (which, again, I found fun! I laughed every time)
The twist ending leaves a VERY LARGE PLOT HOLE from the first act and I need somebody to explain that fight to me.

11. Bonus for Black Millennials and Gen X:

Michole Briana White plays the lead detective! I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything other than commercials since the 90s.

Score: 8/10

 

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Watch: Passing (Trailer)

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Netflix has another great story on their hands and we will definitely be talking about it when it comes out in a couple of weeks.

Rebecca Hall has made her directorial debut with Passing, a novel from a few years ago about two mixed girls who were friends as children and become reacquainted as adults. Tessa Thompson’s character still identifies as Black, while Ruth Negga is passing as white and is married to a racist.

I love it. I’m all in. I’m a little skeptical of a British white woman tackling a novel about Black people in America in 1929, but at the heart, I think Passing will be more of a character study than a treatise on race. And since it needs nuanced acting to pull it off, I’m ready to suspend belief for two hours and go with Ruth Negga being able to pass, because obviously she could not, but she’s a fantastic actress.

When I think of women who would be considered colored in 1929 if people knew her parentage but have the phenotype to pass for white with a little makeup and possibly a peroxide blonde hairdo, Ruth Negga isn’t on the list. Meghan Markle is.

Troian Bellisario would absolutely pass, even without going blonde.

Most people don’t realize Halsey has any Black heritage at all.

Sofia Richie barely has a trace of Lionel in her on first glance.

And Mariah wouldn’t have been nearly as big right out the gate if she hadn’t been assumed to be the white Whitney Houston.

But that’s the thing about movies. If the actor is right, we forget what they look like until the movie is over. The trailer is only two minutes, but if we just  acknowledge now that nobody would assume this was a white woman, we can all go ahead and get over it so we can settle into the performance when the time comes. Passing has Oscar-bait written all over it.

Edit 5:59pm.

I was so focused on Ruth Negga not being able to pass that I completely forgot Rebecca Hall is the daughter of a mixed-race opera singer. Rebecca herself would’ve been considered colored in 1929 and would’ve been a much better person for the role.

 

 

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Hot Takes: Black Widow

This isn’t Natasha’s story the way most origin stories would be.

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I don’t want to give spoilers in case you don’t want them, so we got three parts here.

The Good / Random (No Spoilers)

1. This is a good ass origin story! They’re so formulaic in superhero movies, but this isn’t that.
Captain Marvel  – accidentally gets superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Spiderman  – accidentally gets superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Captain America – intentionally gets superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Iron Man – spends a bunch of money making superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Black Widow – a child trafficker gets tracked down by two of his former slaves/spies/assassins.

2. Where do spies be getting all this money? Natasha is an orphan. Did she just steal a few billion dollars and stash it somewhere to be spending on identities and jets and whatnot? It’s not like the Avengers draw a paycheck. Falcon could barely keep his little fishing boat in business.

3. Florence Pugh is hilarious and, no shade but shade, a better Black Widow than Scarlett. I’m so excited for her.

4. I want smaller Marvel movies. We have consistently leveled up the danger from saving a city to saving a country to saving a planet to saving the universe to now probably saving all of the dimensions of the universe. Where do you go after that? Let’s make it small. Black Widow is an exercise in taking the stakes down and I hope they keep moving in that direction. Every Marvel movie doesn’t need a huge scene culminating in hundreds of explosions where the universe is saved for another day. Let’s get the Marvel road trip buddy comedy, the Marvel bank heist, the Marvel family drama. Black Widow is a mashup of all three, and it’s done really well.

5. There are only like three men in the whole movie who have more than a minute of screentime and you love to see it.

6. For me, action scenes have a heightened sense of danger when it’s a bunch of regular people chasing each other in cars and kicking ass without flying through the sky or blasting out neon projectiles. In that way, Black Widow feels more like a Bond movie or a Bourne movie than a Marvel movie and I’m very much here for all of that.

The Annoying (Mild Spoilers)

7. Because these are real people who can DIE and those are my favorite kinds of action movies, it really takes me out of the film when these real, non-enhanced humans survive ridiculous things or put themselves in absolutely fatal situations with no regard to their own safety. If you can’t survive a gunshot, you’re not going to squat in the open door of a helicopter while it’s being sprayed with bullets — two bullet holes appeared on Yelena’s left and then three appeared on her right, but she’s right in the doorway getting hit by nothing? How many car crashes can Natasha not only walk away from but also fight an adversary immediately after? My dad has ten broken bones from a car crash he was in a couple of weeks ago, but she walking away from cars that rolled over? I don’t like that.

8. Atomic Blonde has some of the most realistic fight scenes I’ve ever seen in a female action movie and the fight choreographer talked about how they designed those scenes to accurately portray how a woman (or anyone with less muscle mass) would take advantage of their surroundings. Black Widow cannot pummel someone the way Captain America can because she’s not as strong. It doesn’t really matter though. It’s Marvel. We didn’t watch it for accuracy, and the fight scenes are all the same. However, when Natasha fights Yelena, they both utilize everything around them from dishes to curtains and it just made me wonder why they don’t always have Natasha fight that way.

9. Neither of these things would matter as much if the writers hadn’t made Yelena (hilariously) point out that Black Widow is a regular person compared to the other Avengers. If you’re going to highlight the fact that your cast is just humans who get shot, get broken bones, and then get ibuprofen, then you shouldn’t write action scenes for invincible heroes.

The Response to “It’s Too Late” Criticism (Mild Spoilers)

10. We watch movies about actual dead people all the time, so I don’t get what the big deal is. Tammy Faye Baker is so ridiculous she might as well have been written by Marvel and I’m gonna see that movie on opening night.

11. It’s right on time, but the marketing sucks, because it’s too focused on Natasha. Marvel has incorrectly assumed the public cares enough about Natasha to want this movie even though she’s dead, or that we like Scarlett enough to see this movie even though we know the resolution of the character. But Natasha and Yelena have the same origin story — it’s just as much Florence Pugh’s movie as it is Scarlett Johansson’s. This is the new Black Widow’s origin story, not the dead one’s.

Score: 7/10 

 

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