Thursday 23 May 2019

Film of the Week: The Hustle

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Show me the money... Penny (Rebel Wilson) and Josephine (Anne Hathaway) in ‘The Hustle’
Show me the money... Penny (Rebel Wilson) and Josephine (Anne Hathaway) in ‘The Hustle’

The official synopsis and trailer for this comedy pitches it as a tale of two female scam artists "who team up to take down the dirty rotten men who have wronged them".

Well isn't that great - a sassy reboot of 1988 classic Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that has the added bonus of seeing two female protagonists stick a boot in to lousy blokedom on behalf of the sisterhood.

Only this is not what happens in The Hustle.

Perhaps the marketing team decided that pandering to the feminist dollar might bring a bit of identity or zeitgeist relevance to Chris Addison's near-facsimile.

In truth, the template established by the original - penned all those years ago by Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning and Dale Launer - does most of the heavy lifting, with screenwriter Jac Schaeffer reconfiguring things for a female-led adaptation.

Anne Hathaway goes hyper-plummy as Josephine, a scam artist preying on lonely loaded types whom she cosies up to at her local Riviera casino. Josephine's turf is under threat, however, when Penny (Rebel Wilson) rocks up looking to bring her unique brand of con-artistry to the wealthy strangers holidaying in the area. When they spot Alex Sharp's callow tech billionaire, a gentlewoman's bet is agreed upon whereby whoever seduces half a million out of him gets to stay. Make no mistake - this is war.

Hathaway and Wilson (who has a production credit here) put their backs into it, but outside the rich source material, they bring only one new joke to the table, and not a very lasting one at that - Penny's belly-flopping Aussie crudeness clashing with Josephine's prim glamour.

When that gag's been exhausted (the end of Act 1, pretty much), there are one or two worthwhile scenes of women-behaving-badly rivalry where the ingredients combine to good effect. Sadly, the overall effect is to make you hanker for the original. That film, you may recall, didn't need any cynical political angles airbrushed on after the fact.

★★★ Hilary A White


High Life

Cert: 18; Selected cinemas

What strikes you about the setting for Claire Denis's foray into science fiction is the grubbiness of it all. The Gallic auteur's cast of characters float towards a black hole in a rectangular box whose interior resembles an institutional clinic of a poorly funded government department.

Denis, a leading light of European cinema, uses a crew of death row inmates interned on a space mission as a Petri dish to examine human psychology, knowing there is nothing like space (here, a smothering starless blackness) to amplify dark sides of human nature.

Monte (Robert Pattinson) is at home in the ship's vegetable garden and has no interest in using "The Box", a private cubicle where crew members can masturbate. The only non-prisoner on board is Dr Dibs (Juliette Binoche), a libidinous scientist studying the effects on sexuality and reproduction of space travel. Her ideas begin to warp, as do crew tensions as they near the black hole.

Denis's first English-speaking project confirms her as a filmmaker of unique vision. Those averse to art-house indulgence should tread carefully, though, such are the wild tonal shifts and ponderous pace of things.

★★★ Hilary A White

Pokemon  Detective Pikachu

Cert: PG; Now showing

Pokemon, the Japanese phenomenon that took over the world 20 years ago, is the first of three game-inspired films to land this year. Unfortunately, despite the voice talents of Ryan Reynolds, it is a predictable piece of work.

Pokemon are small creatures, each with different powers which humans traditionally caught and used as pets for battle. However billionaire Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy) created a more symbiotic relationship in Ryme City.

Following the death of his estranged father, 21-year-old Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) reluctantly links up with his father's Pokemon partner Pikachu (Reynolds) and rookie reporter Lucy (Kathryn Newton) because something rotten is afoot. Fans will enjoy the nostalgia and youngish kids will enjoy the movie too. The occasional slightly risque joke will go over their heads.

★★ Aine O'Connor

Float Like  a Butterfly

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Carmel Winters has said she believes that "Patriarchy not only bitterly fails its daughters, it fails its fathers too", and this is very much a central theme in her latest film. Deceptively romantic and bucolic looking, as per the Muhammad Ali reference that makes the title, it packs a quiet punch regarding gender.

Ten years after her mother is killed and her father imprisoned, 15-year-old Frances (an excellent Hazel Doupe) eagerly awaits the return of the daddy she has idolised (Dara Devaney). Set in the early 1970s, Frances has been raised in an old-style Traveller encampment by her grandmother (Hilda Fay) and grandfather (Lalor Roddy).

Her father's return, however, is less glorious than Frances imagines; he refuses to let her be the woman she is and tries to insist her younger brother (Jamie Kierans) become a man he is not.

It's nice to see the Traveller setting, it is positive but it has hard edges, and the messages - about gender, about strength, about family, are universal.

It's not flawless by any means but it is mostly well-acted, thought-provoking and engaging.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Amazing Grace

Cert: G; Now showing

Aretha Franklin, in a career that spanned more than six decades, was widely considered the Queen of Soul. One of her most popular albums, however, was Amazing Grace, a return to her Gospel roots.The live recording was also filmed by Sydney Pollack but for technical reasons that film has not been able to be seen, until now.

In 1971 Franklin was just 29 but was already a huge star. That year she took her backing singers and the Atlantic Records rhythm section to a Baptist church in LA and the film of those two nights is a must-see for fans of Franklin and Gospel.

It is interesting to watch the strangely passive Franklin allow the men, the Rev James Cleveland and her very charismatic father Clarence, do almost all of the talking.

Her expression is channelled instead into the effortless power and passion of her voice.

★★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Sunday Independent

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