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Baiting for Tonight

Hustlers-movie-review-constance-wu-jennifer-lopez
STX Financing, LLC

MOVIE REVIEW
Hustlers (2019)

What an entrance. About 10 minutes into “Hustlers,” Jennifer Lopez does a pole-dance routine that will go down in cinematic history as one of the most unforgettable character introductions since Rita Hayworth in “Gilda.” And this time it’s to no less of a song than “Criminal” by Fiona Apple. Constance Wu has nothing to do but stare in shock, and man, do we agree with her. The next scene is of Ms. Lopez in that outfit and a fur coat on a rooftop, smoking and looking so unbelievably beautiful that you almost forget you’re watching a based-on-a-true-story movie about a gang of strippers who drug and rob a bunch of men. As bait to get us on a hook, “Hustlers” uses the power of Ms. Lopez’s body very, very effectively. But it doesn’t reel us in as far as we should.

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Fake It Till You Make It

J-t-leroy-movie-review-kristen-stewart-laura-dern
Allen Fraser/BFI Flare 2019

MOVIE REVIEW
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

Rafiki-movie-review-samantha-mugatsia-sheila-munyiva
Film Movement

MOVIE REVIEW
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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Lifting the Iron Curtain

The-white-crow-movie-review-oleg-ivenko-mar-sodupe
Sony Pictures Classics

MOVIE REVIEW
The White Crow (2019)

I blame John C. Reilly. “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” had such fun with the clichéd template of the artistic biopic that the genre still hasn’t recovered. Now biopics have to have an angle. For example, the Alberto Giacometti biopic, “Final Portrait,” focused on one specific sculpture of his. “The White Crow” similarly tries to have its cake and eat it: to focus both on the month Rudolf Nureyev spent in Paris before his famous defection in 1961, but also on the development of his talent as a child and as a young man. It doesn't quite succeed, but it’s such a Murderers’ Row of little known international dancing and acting talent that it's well worth seeing regardless.

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Little Trouble in Big China

The-crossing-movie-review-guo-chun-tian-huang-yao
Berlin International Film Festival

MOVIE REVIEW
The Crossing (2019)

Peipei (Huang Yao) turns 16 the day “The Crossing” starts. She lives in Shenzhen, a port city in southern China, but goes to school in Hong Kong. This means morning and night she must cross – by herself - the international border. Her father (Liu Kai Chi) lives in the shipyard where he works, and her mother (Ni Hongjie) is a party girl who only pays attention to her hangovers and her friends. But, in spite of all that, Peipei is a good kid. Since this is the instant she’s old enough, after school she gets a job as a waitress; but when a customer complains that’s the end of that. She’s desperate for independence, not least because her wealthy best friend Jo (Carmen Soup) has been planning for them to take a trip to some hot springs in Japan for some time.

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Getting His Irish Up

Black-47-movie-review-james-frecheville
IFC Films

MOVIE REVIEW
Black ’47 (2018)

“Revenge is a dish best served cold” should have been the tagline for this movie. Instead, we got “In Ireland’s darkest hour, vengeance shines a light.” That doesn’t make much sense, and is pretentious to boot. But it does rather sum up precisely where “Black ’47” doesn’t quite succeed as much as it wanted to, or should have. Of course, the political moment being what it is, that doesn’t much matter.

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Come and Knock on Our Cabin Door

Anchor-and-hope-movie-review-natalia-tena-oona-chaplin-david-verdaguer
Wolfe Video

MOVIE REVIEW
Anchor and Hope (2018)

Eva (Oona Chaplin, a k a the first to die at the Red Wedding of “Game of Thrones”) is English; Kat (Natalia Tena, aka Tonks from the Harry Potters) is Spanish. They are a happy couple living on Kat’s canal boat in east London. We meet them at the funeral for their beloved cat, which takes place right before Kat’s old friend Roger (David Verdaguer) comes from Barcelona, Spain, for a long visit. And bam! Suddenly a pair of firmly committed lesbians decides to embark upon something as heteronormative as motherhood without having a single sober conversation about it. Before we examine what goes wrong with that choice, let’s discuss what goes right.

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Miss Me Deadly

State-like-sleep-movie-review-katherine-waterston
Sabrina Lantos/2018 Tribeca Film Festival

MOVIE REVIEW
State Like Sleep (2019)

Writer-director Meredith Danluck attempts to put a feminine spin on the tired noir genre with “State Like Sleep,” with Katherine Waterston’s character, Katherine, obsessing over the mysterious death of her celebrity ex husband (Michael Huisman) and getting tangled in a dangerous web of secrets.

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Moonlite

We-the-animals-movie-reviews-evan-rosado-raúl-castillo
Tayarisha Poe/2018 Tribeca Film Festival

MOVIE REVIEW
We the Animals (2018)

Based on Justin Torres’s eponymous novel, “We the Animals” recounts the coming-of-age of a Puerto Rican child amid his parents’ turbulent relationship and his own budding (homo)sexuality.

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Residential Evil

The-night-eats-the-world-movie-review-anders-danielsen-lie
Haut et Court

MOVIE REVIEW
The Night Eats the World (2018)

Based on a novel by Martin Page under the nom de plume Pit Agarmen, “The Night Eats the World” imagines a zombiepocalypse as akin to one hundred days of solitude.

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