SINCE I BEEN DOWN – Review by Leslie Combemale

Since I Been Down is a profoundly emotional experience for those with compassion and concern for where America is in this moment, in terms of the rampant racial inequality and systemic racism continuing to poison the country. Writer/director Gilda Sheppard focuses on Kimonti Carter, who is changing the incarceration environment from the inside of the prison system.

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HELLO, BOOKSTORE – Review by Leslie Combemale

Matt Tannenbaum is all about stories. He loves telling them and living them, and for over 40 years, he has loved selling them through his beloved local institution, The Bookstore, in Lenox Massachusetts. As with many small businesses, the pandemic took a toll. Given that both he and his customers cherished The Bookstore, rather than closing for good, Tannenbaum put a call out for help on GoFundMe. His fans, friends, and customers did not disappoint.

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LUX ÆTERNA – Review by Leslie Combemale

At the end of his experimental film Lux Aeterna, writer/director and provocateur Gaspar Noé plasters the line “Thank God I’m an atheist” onto the screen. As an auteur, cinema should be Noé’s chosen deity, although whether he did it dirty or created a worthy offering to that god with his movie is a matter of opinion. As Gaspar Noé films go, this is the least objectionable, which honestly wouldn’t take much. The whole thing becomes such a chaotic mess and goes so absurdly over the top, it almost becomes fun. Almost. It’s too bad the only way he felt he might bring joy results in a pounding headache and eyestrain.

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WORKHORSE QUEEN – Review by Leslie Combemale

Angela Washko’s film follows drag queen Ed Popil as himself and as Mrs. Kasha Davis, starting from Popil’s closeted life in Scranton, before he discovered drag, sharing his struggle at trying to be straight, married and happy, none of which worked for him. In interviews and voiceovers, Popil takes us through his divorce, acceptance as a gay man, and arrival in Rochester, where he found his tribe with a talented, but largely unsung group of drag queens. For those who find drag entertaining, and those who find diverse voices compelling, Workhorse Queen will create a deep respect for all the drag artists who aren’t in the celebrity spotlight but find their voices anyway.

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THE BAD GUYS – Review by Leslie Combemale

If you take Oceans Eleven and add the sensibilities and style of DreamWorks Animation, you’ll get the new animated feature The Bad Guys. It’s a fun conceit, especially when some of the best comedians and actors in the business are supplying voices for the lead characters. While the amusing concept and the embarrassment of thespian riches does add up to entertaining viewing and a worthy way to spend your movie money, the plot might strike some as one-dimensional, and it does feel like there should be more sparks flying given the impressive cast.

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FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE – Review by Leslie Combemale

Happily, Warner Brothers and the filmmakers behind Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore have openly flouted ‘Don’t Say Gay’ absurdities with the third installment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Right out of the gate, Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Gridelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) talk about the love and devotion they once had for each other. No one is hit over the head with it. It was part of the life they once shared. That’s just one of some very adult, and often understated qualities to appreciate in the new film.

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PETITE MAMAN – Review by Leslie Combemale

Celine Sciamma is the quintessence of female filmmaking. In all her films, she values emotional intelligence, and uses the female lens to examine life and universal truths through stories about women’s experiences and relationships. Her female characters are multidimensional and exist on their own terms, often apart from, or with very little influence from, the men around them. A look here, the touch of a hand there, cooperation in a task together, a verbal exchange where a secret is shared or somehow reveals a character’s fears and hopes, these are her building blocks. With Petite Maman she creates an immersive experience, and one in which most women will see themselves in some way.

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WATCH OUT FOR THE BIG GRRLS – Review by Leslie Combemale

Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrls is unusual in a landscape overrun with reality shows in that there’s not a weekly elimination, or a catchy structure in which the grrls are at risk or safe from episode to episode. All 13 can be admitted to her team, or go home There are no rules. These women are not in competition against each other, they are competing with themselves to become better, stronger, and more of what Lizzo affectionately calls “100% that bitch”.

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Lisa Hurwitz on THE AUTOMAT, Communal Dining and Mel Brooks – Leslie Combemale interviews

Getting a film to any screen is a major undertaking, but finding a loyal, appreciative audience and getting national distribution is a rarity indeed. Lisa Hurwitz, director and producer of the highly acclaimed, perfectly delightful documentary The Automat knows how lucky she is her film is being so well-received and is landing in so many theaters.

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CHARLOTTE – Review by Leslie Combemale

Jewish-German artist Charlotte Salomon lived through Hitler’s rise to power, and was captured and sent to Auschwitz, where she died the day she arrived. This chronicle of her life, which is comprised of 769 paintings created between 1941 and 1943, is one of the most important bodies of work in the 20th century, but much like the art of so many other female artists, it has been all but erased from history.

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