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May 2019

Fake It Till You Make It

Allen Fraser/BFI Flare 2019

J. T. LeRoy (2019)

Finally, Kristen Stewart gets a part that makes her happy. Ms. Stewart is notorious for her discomfort with the fame that has been the result of her acting talent – look at the photos of her barely hiding her misery on any red carpet. This feeling is the entire point of her character, Savannah, in “J. T. Leroy,” an inspired-by-true-events story of a famous literary hoax that captivated America last decade. The hoax is revealed right at the start. What the movie explores is why the characters needed to do it.

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Out, of Africa

Film Movement

Rafiki (2019)

In the apocryphal past, movies were made locally and shown locally, so the makers could make assumptions about what the audience would understand – or not. Cultural relevance was a given and issues of representation were not as fraught as they are currently becoming, so characters onscreen were designed to be coathangers for the audience to hang their own personalities onto. Smaller movies can be much more widely seen these days but now the marketplace is global, there are so many options it’s almost impossible to decide. Even as the market widens – and it’s possible to make a movie on your phone and upload it to the Internet for the world to enjoy – the stories which tend to achieve the greatest success tend to center the same pale, male and stale characters as ever. There’s backlash, of course. Marvel is finally being called out for making blockbusters for over a decade without yet acknowledging that gay people exist, for example. Luckily, in other parts of the cinematic galaxy, we still have movies about regular heroes, just about. “Rafiki” is about two of them. The incredible story of two Kenyan girls in love as a superhero film, I hear you say? That’s right. Being gay is illegal in Kenya, and therefore the mere idea of making a movie about a lesbian relationship is an impossible act. But director Wanuri Kahiu did it, and so we have to ask ourselves, was all this courage worth it?

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The Grand Ole Opry Ain't So Grand

2019 Tribeca Film Festival

Wild Rose (2019)

Concerning a Scot with country music aspirations, “Wild Rose” is predictable and just as predictably crowd-pleasing. Drug-trafficking ex-con? Check. Unemployable? Check. Broke? Check. Irresponsible single parent? Check. Long-suffering grandmother (played by Julie Walters)? Check. Resentful kids? Check. Mamas and prison and getting drunk? Check. Impossible dream? Check. Talent? Check. By merely connecting the dots, the screenplay practically writes itself.

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Charlie's Angels of Death

IFC Films

Charlie Says (2019)

Director Mary Harron and screenwriter Guinevere Turner explore the Manson family lore through a couple of literary entry points, namely “The Family” by Ed Sanders and “The Long Prison Journey of Leslie Van Houten” by Karlene Faith, who as a graduate student worked in the California Institute for Women with Manson women Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Ms. Van Houten. Having grown up in a cult herself, Ms. Turner’s firsthand experience also promises to imbue the film with insight.

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Much Ink Spilled


Skin (2019)

Guy Nattiv made a live-action short film called “Skin” that went on to win an Academy Award despite its reprehensible take on white supremacy and racial injustice. Then after pouting with his wife-producer Jamie Ray Newman at the press call backstage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Mr. Nattiv went on to make a feature, also titled “Skin,” which deals with the same subject matter. Fortunately, that is where most of the similarities end.

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