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The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield play Tammy Faye and Jim Baker. Those of us of a certain age will certainly remember them as the founders of the PTL Club (The Jim and Tammy Show) who amassed a fortune in their evangelism ministry and then lost it all quickly in a major corruption scandal (and, of course, infidelity). The best thing about the film is Chastain: She is remarkable as Tammy Faye in the singing voice, all the make-up – she is the reason that you are so drawn into the movie. Andrew Garfield is good as well, but Chastain steals …

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The Hand of God

(Italy) This is a coming-of-age story centered around Fabietto, a young man who is trying to figure out what to do with his life. The film is essentially in two parts. The first is a rather slow and meandering look at Fabietto’s direct and extended family, including an aunt, Patrizia, to whom he has an odd attraction – a clearly physical one, but also one that is sympathetic to her condition. The family is full of characters – some cranky, some loving, and some rather mean-spirited – but they are all a family. A startling event ushers in the second …

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Spencer

The film starts out by stating it is a “fable from a true tragedy”. The director creates a film focused on three-day period around the Christmas holiday with the Royal family. This was after any hope of a marriage between Charles and Diana had ended, and she seemed to be permanently estranged from the royal family. Pablo Larraín imagines what those three days were like for Diana. This is an interesting film, one that I really like, that depends so much on the ability of Stewart to channel Larraín’s imagination of Diana. And she does a remarkable job. I was …

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Becoming the Ricardos

This biopic focuses on one week in the life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as they are filming an upcoming episode of I Love Lucy. Overall, I enjoyed the movie but, for me, it was uneven. It was interesting to see some of the backstories behind the friendships between Lucy, Desi, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley. I also did not know that Ball was the subject of a controversy around her potentially being affiliated with the communist party. I also found that the flashbacks and flash-forwards help provide a richer history of her life and how the show came …

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House of Gucci

This is the story, inspired by true events, of the murder of Maurizio Gucci, heir to the Gucci business. Patrizia (Lady Gaga) marries Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). Patrizia meets Gucci at a bar and seems to recognize an opportunity when she saw one. The film is about their marriage, Patrizia’s orchestrations to consolidate power of the empire in her husband, and their ultimate estrangement. On the plus side, the costuming is great – there are a lot of fabulous dresses donned by Lady Gaga during the movie – giving the film a sense of fashion extravagance. Lady Gaga seems to …

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King Richard

Will Smith plays Richard Williams, who wrote a playbook that guided their daughters, Venus and Serena, to world champion tennis players. Will Smith is great; I don’t find him terribly convincing in many of his roles, but he immerses himself into this role as a father driven to his daughters’ success, both on and off the court. After watching the movie, he plays exactly the right character: Someone who is just as focused on making a name for himself as for his daughters. This supreme focus and self-centeredness, which he plays so well, detracts somewhat from the overall story. Their …

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tick, tick, BOOM!

Lin-Manuel Miranda directed this film based on a one-man show by Jonathan Larson, the playwright who wrote the lyrics and book for the musical Rent. Before he wrote Rent, he wrote a screenplay for a science fiction musical; the process of writing this became the subject for tick, tick Boom!  I loved the film. Andrew Garfield is fantastic as Larson; I didn’t know much about him, but Garfield seems to capture his crazy spirit (and he rather looks like him as well). I didn’t realize that Garfield could sing, but he clearly found a voice in this film. It is …

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Judas and the Black Messiah

This historical drama set in Chicago is stories of Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya), who was chairman of the Black Panther Party in Illinois, and Bill O’Neal (played by Lakeith Stanfield), the Panther and FBI informant who betrayed Hampton. It is interesting watching this film on the heels of several other films this year, including The United States vs Billie Holiday, MLK/FBI, One Night in Miami, and the Small Axe feature film series by Steve McQueen; the FBI’s fear of Black Americans, J Edgar Hoover’s role in creating a national narrative about them, the underlying and systemic racism, and …

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One Night in Miami

Regina King directed this film that provides a fictionalized account of a celebration meeting between four Black men – the singer Sam Cooke, who was at the height of his career; Cassius Clay (aka Muhammed Ali), who that night had become the world heavyweight boxing champion at 22; Malcolm X, who was in the middle of his rift with the Nation of Islam and its leader Elijah Muhammed; and James Brown, the best running back of his time (and now widely viewed as one of the greatest of all time). The film uses the meeting of these four men as …

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

This film is an adaptation of a play of the same name by August Wilson (who also wrote the play Fences that was adapted to the screen in 2016). The subject is Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), a woman considered by many to be the “Mother of the Blues”, and her band over the course of a studio recording session. The plot centers on her trumpeter, Levee (Chadwick Boseman), who is headstrong and wants to play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” his way. I typically find film adaptations of stage plays to be rather hollow; each platform has its strengths that don’t …

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