The Playing — Hustlers; The Lighthouse; Shazam!

hustlers

Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria, 2019). Based on a New York article, Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers is like Magic Mike with a low-level heist drama applied like glittery eye shadow. A group of exotic dancers at a high-end New York club need to make up for the abrupt drop in revenue when Wall Street high rollers are left with less disposable income due to the 2007 financial crisis. They target men who still have well-stocked bank accounts, drugging them and swiping cash off their handy credit cards. Naturally, the criminal scheme escalates and trouble follows. Among the cast, Jennifer Lopez has drawn the most accolades, and she impressively brings depth to the role while maintaining a useful layer of star power. Constance Wu is even more impressive in the true leading role, and there’s a dandy supporting turn by Lili Reinhart as a member of skimpily-clad crew who has a weak stomach, literally. Scarfaria brings immense panache to the directing, driving Hustlers with a vibrant energy that helps it overcome some its clunkier plot points and more tired framing devices.

 

lighthouse

The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019). For his follow-up to The Witch, sticks with horror in the distant past. In the late eighteen-hundreds, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) row out to an isolated island to man a lighthouse for a multi-week stretch. The two are in conflict almost from the beginning, largely because Thomas takes his position as Ephraim’s superior as a mandate to deliver abuse. As their stint in the lighthouse goes on, cogent thinking and emotional checks start to dwindle. Then their relief doesn’t arrive due to a storm, and all hell breaks loose. The tight control of Eggers’s previous feature is also less in evidence, as he gleefully indulges in sordid imagery and bonkers behavior. Dafoe, in particular, is game for the mania, playing his peg-legged former tar as if he’s been asked to use his scenery-chewing abilities to strike the entire set. The Lighthouse is ultimately too unhinged to be fully effective, but the level of commitment from all involved is undeniably impressive.

 

shazam

Shazam! (David F. Sandberg, 2019). Infused with joy and pronounced sense of playfulness, Shazam! should be put on the inspiration board next to Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman to give filmmakers a useful guideline for future screen adaptations of DC comic book stories. When fleeing bullies, young foster child Billy Batson (Asher Angel) stumbles upon the underground home of a wizened wizard (Djimon Hounsou). Judging Billy to be true of heart, the wizard bestows special powers upon him. Speaking the word “Shazam” summons a lightning bolt that transforms Billy into a ludicrously buff costumed superhero. Henry Gayden’s screenplay derives knowing comedy from a child’s goofball innocence being applied to feats of physics-defying derring do, and director David F. Sandberg handles those stretches with a winning deftness. As Billy’s foster brother, a hero-obsessed boy who helps test the limits of the newly bestowed powers, Jack Dylan Grazer brings the same crack comic timing that made him one of the highlights of It. As is the case with most superhero films, the last act of Shazam! is a tedious pile-up of incoherent CGI action, stripping away some of the film’s cheery sheen.