September 18, 2019

Servants and Strippers: This Week on the Big Screen

Movie Dope

HUSTLERS: I just asked for change for a twenty.

Downton Abbey is finally here! Most of the original cast returns to greet the king and queen. I cannot wait to hear that beloved theme song blared in Dolby Digital. Also this week, Sylvester Stallone returns one more time as Vietnam vet John Rambo in Rambo: Last Blood (yeah, right). Acclaimed filmmaker James Gray (he last helmed The Lost City of Z) sends Brad Pitt into space to find Tommy Lee Jones, who may or may not be about to destroy the universe, in Ad Astra. Rob Zombie brings back Baby and Otis Firefly (Sherri Moon Zombie and Bill Moseley) in 3 From Hell, a sequel to The Devil’s Rejects. Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding appears briefly due to Haig’s health; his replacement, Richard Brake’s Foxy, has some big clown shoes to fill. Fathom Events is only screening this one in theaters Sept. 17–19.

Lots of other movies are joining Downton Abbey at Ciné. On Sept. 18, Ciné celebrates Art House Theater Day with In Fabric, the new horror film from Peter Strickland of Berberian Sound Studio. James Preston’s follow-up to Athens Rising, Athens Rising 2: Transmittance, premieres on Sept. 20. In the sequel, Preston examines Athens’ creative class, including ATHICA, Avid Bookshop, Canopy Studio, the Lyndon House, Nuçi's Space, the Wild Rumpus, chef Peter Dale and the work of Mokah and Knowa Johnson. On Sept. 21, a discussion panel titled “Running a House Show in Athens” will follow a screening of Athens Rising: The Sicyon Project. Loads is happening at Ciné on Sept. 24. Some of it is highbrow—Margaret Atwood: Live in Cinemas features the author discussing her recently released sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, and Los Ojos Del Camino is a visual poem describing a spiritual master in the Andes Mountains. Then there is Bad Movie Night featuring The Master Demon.

On Sept. 18, Flicker’s Rudy Ray Moore Month continues with Petey Wheatstraw. A screening of Lillian Smith: Breaking the Silence is accompanied by a discussion panel on Sept. 19 at the Richard B. Russell Special Collections Libraries, where Smith’s papers can be found in the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Catch the IndieFlix social media documentary Like at Athens Academy on Sept. 24. Lastly, Tate Center is screening Arrival and The Favourite around UGA’s Saturday date with Notre Dame.

HUSTLERS (R) All the pre-release buzz about Hustlers has focused on Jennifer Lopez and an Oscar nomination. While Lopez owns every scene as Ramona, the veteran stripper who devises a scheme to rip off willing Wall Street dirtbags for a percentage of the money they spend at the club, she is often matched by Constance Wu as Destiny, the young woman Ramona mentors prior to enlisting her in the felonious plan. The duo’s training sequence, where J-Lo shows off her pole dancing skills, possesses more friendly chemistry than many a forced buddy movie. 

Cinema has the power to change the way we view groups of people and professions. Hustlers, as written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, speaks to the human dignity of strippers. The voyeurism of the few, early scenes of Destiny navigating the new club feel appropriately dirty without sullying her. Once she starts running with Lopez’s Ramona, Destiny discovers the power that belongs to her despite outward appearances. 

The glittery stunt casting of high-profile names like Cardi B, who hilariously earns her part, and Lizzo fades away after the 2008 financial crisis tanks the strip club business, too. The film’s weakest link is the unnecessary frame of Julia Stiles’ reporter interviewing Destiny. I would have rather had more scenes of Ramona and Destiny living it up like powerful, independent women can in New York City. 

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON (R) Based on the true story of first-time feature director Paul Downs Collaizo’s roommate, Sundance fave Brittany Runs a Marathon overcomes self-inflicted adversity to retain its core identity as a bitterly inspirational movie. Brittany (Jillian Bell) is a hard-partying slacker who decides to get healthy after an unpleasant visit to the doctor. One day, Brittany runs a block; the next, she runs a mile. Eventually, she sets a goal to run the New York Marathon. While training, the 28-year-old also gets her life together. Still, she struggles to let people in, a point the movie sharpens so harshly it nearly stabs itself with it. 

It is fortunate Bell is so funny, even when she is being mean. The “Workaholics” actress goes full-on Christian Bale, losing 40 pounds just like Brittany does, though the dramatic transformation is aided by makeup and a fat suit. Hopefully, you will like Brittany Runs a Marathon as much as I did. It makes it easier to forgive it for making marathon training and weight loss look ridiculously easy.