Hustle & Flow

Hustle & Flow begins with a soliloquy about the nature of man, a discourse on our tragic gift of time, a pimp’s pep talk to his whore, but also a stark admission of a man stuck in time.
DJay (Terrence Howard) is no street poet, but there’s something compelling in his urge to transform the urban wasteland around him into language and beat, something almost noble in his primitive desire to make a lasting monument of the hard-boiled nothingness around him. The film is a tug-at-war between grand themes and the dirty, unpleasant reality of a mostly unpleasant middle-aged pimp, but its unflinching and uncompromising vision makes Hustle & Flow a true work of art. 
DJay lives in a Memphis that has all the charm of a barroom ashtray at four in the morning. It’s a city of rust and faded graffiti, a place where time has collapsed on top of itself, where people continue to live only out of habit and sex, lust and sin have become so common that they have no power whatsoever. Selling his whores to johns under industrial bridges or making rounds in the all-night convenience stores to score a dime bag of pot, he is a man feeding off the remains of the city. 
Like DJay himself, Memphis is stuck in the 1970s and early eighties. The rap that grew from the urban realities of that time has turned stale, rehearsed, contrived, and the city that once shook in novelty and fear has undergone a terrible stasis, and DJay embodies that paralysis perfectly.
DJay’s complacent world is disrupted when infamous rap star Skinny Black (Ludacris) – a local hero – schedules a visit to the city on the Fourth of July. Back in the 1970s DJay and Skinny Black deejayed at two local high schools, and the small-time hustler becomes obsessed with becoming a rap star when he happens to meet an old friend, Key (Anthony Anderson), a sound engineer. 
The two join a friend of Key’s – a white church keyboardist named Shelby (DJ Qualls) – and the crew begin making music in DJay’s dumpy house. DJay’s lyrics are forceful, but the movie doesn’t shy away from the mechanics of the process and we see how beats are layered, manipulated and changed during the recording process. The reality of the music as it’s played live in the hot, backroom of a second-rate whorehouse, is sanded clean, transformed into a commercial product. 
The music comes fast and furious, drawn from a life of hard sells and ungrateful hookers, but it also feels oddly illegitimate. When one of DJay’s girls gets surly she calls him her driver, mere arm candy, and there’s a bit of truth in her words: He’s less the bad-ass pimp he pretends to be than just another parasite in the rotten world, less a gangsta in the hood than a small-time pot dealer.
The film plays with the idea that this newest incarnation of DJay might just be another hustle -- albeit a little more desperate than those he’s pulled off in the past -- not a break from the endless stream of lies that’s made up his life. He doesn’t rage against phoniness when a golden-hearted whore buys him a lava lamp because she’s seen them in rap videos or buys him a ridiculous necklace because he’s constantly trying to remake himself in the image of the rap star.
The idea that Hustle & Flow is the story of redemption is preposterous, the work of hacks who make trailers appetizing to idiots. DJay is a despicable egoist from beginning to end, the sort of creep who would kick an infant out of his home because his whore mother isn’t turning enough tricks, a loser who would invent a past to meet his current needs, a petty monster like most of us.
It’s the filmmakers’ dedication to this ugly process that should be applauded, not the gross commercial spin intended to win over simple minds.


Wedding Crashers

The best comedies make us laugh at what we fear.
Wedding Crashers is about two grown men stuck between middle age and childhood, aging Peter Pans who have made an adolescent gag – crashing weddings to meet women – into a lifestyle.
John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn) are fast-talking divorce mediators, lawyers who can lay it on thick to sell a deal between warring ex-lovers. When they aren’t trying to make peace between couples who have fallen out of love they crash weddings, hamming it up to get the attention of women who are already in a matrimonially aroused state and ready for love.
Their elaborate system of deceit includes back-stories, gimmicky parlor tricks to amuse children and other acts of subtle seduction. They’re masters of the discourse of weddings, know all the religious rituals by heart, and can spot vulnerable women from a mile away. Less cruel scoundrels than likable rascals, John and Jeremy seem at least as interested in the convention of weddings – their familiar games, food, and familial associations – as bedding hot women.
After an unsatisfying encounter with one of his trophies, John confides to Jeremy that the game has gotten stale, crashing wedding to seduce women just doesn’t seem as exciting as it once did. Jeremy disagrees, saying that when they get older they’ll appreciate the bravado and nerve of these youthful acts. “Yeah, but we’re really not so young anymore,” John says.
It’s revealing moments like these that makes Wedding Crashers such a sweet and heartfelt comedy, even when it veers slightly off course and flirts with the absurd. The inevitable, irresistible pull of the plot is also kept in line by great performances by Wilson and Vaughn, who shine as lifelong friends who discover almost against their wills that they’ve grown-up.
When the boys crash the wedding of the daughter of Treasury Secretary William Cleary (Christopher Walken), John falls for a bridesmaid, Claire (Rachel McAdams), Cleary’s other daughter. Using familiar techniques to seduce Claire, John begins feeling the depth of his betrayal. Just when he feels closest to her she introduces him to her jerk fiancé Sack (Bradley Cooper), an Ivy League asshole of the worst order. 
Meanwhile Jeremy has set his sights on the secretary’s youngest daughter, Gloria (Isla Fisher), winning her before the last song at the reception. Gloria, however, proves hotter to handle than Jeremy expected, and he begs John to cut out early. John needs more time with Claire, either to really work the sham or to come clean, it’s not entirely certain which he’s choose.
John reluctantly agrees and the boys head to the Cleary family mansion for the weekend, where they get close with the rest of the family, including a cranky grandmother and a creepy homosexual brother who fancies himself a tortured artist. A game of touch football turns ugly when Sack lets his competitiveness collide with Jeremy’s six-foot-five frame over and over again, but Claire and John’s romance blossoms on the sidelines.                                                                                                       
On a beach walk he almost gives himself away to her, tells her he’s been living an inauthentic life and he hopes that there’s greatness inside of him. It’s a revealing moment, and only Wilson could pull it off with his odd mixture of sincerity and blinking stupidity.
At times Wedding Crashers comes dangerously close to being crass in a Something About Mary way, but even these moments come around in the end. We forgive the weird brother, the horny mother, the off-color and sometimes unfunny humor, even the ridiculous semi-nude portrait of Vaughn because we know these characters, see them in our own lives, and they allow us license to laugh at ourselves.
Wedding Crashers is really about social alienation and the improbability of connecting to one another, even at weddings (occasionally even between those getting married), and we know that feeling too well in ourselves not to need to laugh it away.

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