BOB MARLEY: ONE LOVE – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

When he died of cancer in 1981 at age thirty-six, Jamaican reggae singer, songwriter, and guitarist Bob Marley was a worldwide sensation. The new drama One Love, which spotlights a brief period in his too-short life, treats Marley and his work with affectionate reverence yet fails to dive deep into the life of the man behind the music. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, One Love centers on the 1977 recording of Exodus, the ninth studio album by Marley and the Wailers shortly after Marley survived an assassination attempt at his home in Jamaica. How Marley handles certain events in his life are shown so subtly as to feel unexplored.

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MADAME WEB – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Madame Web, Sony’s latest entry in its ongoing Spider-Man universe, is a tangled mess. Not winkingly fun enough to be camp, it’s an embarrassment of dull action, sloppy plotting, and a protagonist who seems like she wishes she were anywhere else. The context of Madame Web as a film is more interesting than anything onscreen. Sony legally must churn out something related to Spider-Man every few years or lose the movie rights to the friendly neighborhood web-slinger. Sometimes that generates pop culture magic, but Madame Web essentially kicks the rights issue down the road until another project like this year’s Kraven the Hunter arrives, further enmeshing Spider-Man within Sony’s clutches. Although Spidey can’t legally untangle himself, viewers at least can tap out—and should.

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PLAYERS – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Players stars Gina Rodriguez as Mack, who writes about local sports for a Brooklyn-based newspaper. Her three loyal guy friends love her for coming up with plays to score them one-night stands There’s no harm, no foul to these antics, she says, since everyone who falls for these enjoys a fantasy. The script by Whit Anderson has some raunchy dialogue but little humor, and Mack’s machinations become tedious, along with the pacing, which might send some viewers looking for the seventh inning stretch. Overall, while it’s refreshing to see a female protagonist who enjoys sex, Players strikes out.

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POPULAR THEORY – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Twelve-year-old Erwin doesn’t mind being the youngest and smartest person at her high school. A proud science nerd, she notes—usually when talking to a poster of her namesake, physicist Erwin Schrodinger—how survival of the fittest rules the halls and she’s “blissfully alone in a bubble of my own creation.” But a new classmate who is a chemistry whiz ignites her competitive side, and the fun begins. Popular Theory mixes laughter with heart.

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ARGYLLE – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

With director Matthew Vaughn, best known for Kick-Ass and the Kingsman films, one expects foolishness. This isn’t Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy—or even The Spy Who Loved Me. Argylle is preposterous and messy, but I’ve seen worse, and without the good cheer of Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell. It’s pitched at a heightened reality with cartoonish stunts, over-the-top action, zany dance choreography, and disco music. I doubt I’ll see another sequence this year with someone on jerry-rigged knife-blade ice skates slaying enemies in a sit-spin, or people twirling in a gunfight among smoke canisters that bloom into technicolor hearts.

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RACIST TREES – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

The sixty-foot-tall tamarisk trees bordering a golf course look lush from one side of Palm Springs—but from the other, they’re a barrier blocking picturesque mountain views and high-end property values. The modest community in the shadow of these behemoths has a majority of Black homeowners, something that comes as no surprise watching the documentary Racist Trees—except to some White residents and city officials here patting themselves on the back for their progressiveness.

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MEAN GIRLS – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

The new Mean Girls follows the same general narrative beats as the 2004 film, but it’s more an adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical adaptation of the original film. While it has some enjoyable performances, it’s also more of an ensemble, a self-described cautionary tale with a “just be nice” message that feels more rushed than organic. This might appeal to fans of the musical, but having rewatched the original film recently, I found that one way more fetch.

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YOUR FAT FRIEND – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

At 350 pounds, Aubrey Gordon doesn’t mind the word fat. She finds the euphemisms worse. Curvy. Husky. More to love. The focus of the documentary Your Fat Friend, Gordon just might cause you to reevaluate how you view fatness, thanks to her frank talk and engaging personality. Enjoyably thought-provoking, the film covers her rise from an anonymous blogger to best-selling author and podcaster (Maintenance Phase, with co-host Michael Hobbes) while demonstrating how essential her attitude and advocacy are.

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COMMON GROUND – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

In the once-barren grasslands of Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert, a rancher explains how changing his grazing practices brought the arid land back to life. Cattle’s hooves broke up the soil. Manure fertilized it, returning much-needed microorganisms. Eventually, the ground turned rich again, dark and moist like what one person likened to chocolate cake—and yielding a reward that’s also sweet. Tall grasses. Butterflies and other insects—even rain. “We are the rainmakers of the desert,” he says.

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AMERICAN FICTION – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Hearing Black artists’ work described as “raw” and “real” grates on Thelonious “Monk” Ellison. It’s not that Monk (Jeffrey Wright), a professor and author, doesn’t find some writing transportive. He just considers a lot of what catapults onto best-seller lists and movie screens featuring Black characters pandering: stories of drugs, deadbeat dads, pregnant teens, and police shootings. Those circumstances might be some people’s realities, but writer/director Cord Jefferson’s debut feature film argues there are other stories we’re not seeing. A blistering indictment of giving the public what it thinks it wants, it criticizes the publishing industry—and some films—for “elevating” Black voices yet perpetuating stereotypes.

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