AMERICAN FICTION – Review by Susan Granger

Based on Percival Everett’s 2001 novel Erasures, Cord Jefferson’s cagey American Fiction has garnered five Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score. The story introduces Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), a serious West Coast university professor/fledgling writer who bristles at the media’s exploitation of Black stereotypes for profit.

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AMERICAN FICTION – Review by Jennifer Merin

One of the year’s very best films, writer/director Cord Jefferson’s American Fiction is a sly, sophisticated and thoroughly engaging put down of America’s propensity for racial stereotyping — in particular in the realm of literature, publishing and academia, but crossing into other turf, as well. It is the subtly told tale of a highly esteemed and brilliant Black author and college professor. Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison, whose current manuscript isn’t selling because it isn’t deemed to be ‘Black’ enough. So, as an anger-based joke, Monk — as he’s known to family, friends and fans — composes a supposedly semi-autobiographical novel that he credits to a completely fictitious author who is reportedly hiding his real identity because he’s ostensibly a criminal on the run. The manuscript is pure in-your-face jive, but — against his will — his agent submits it to a publishing house where they applaud it’s authenticity and buy it for big bucks.

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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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SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE – Review by Susan Granger

Although the mixed-media Pop Art animatronics are dazzling and the superhero saga compelling, watching Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse becomes an exhausting endurance ordeal. At 2 hours, 20 minutes (140 minutes), it’s the longest American animated film. Back in 2018, the Oscar-winning, comic-book adaptation Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse explored the idea of alternate universes, as Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a troubled Black-Latino Brooklyn teenager, discovered countless other web-slingers, variations on a theme. This sequel takes the ground-breaking concept even further.

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SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is an energetic, multifaceted adventure, and not just because its heroes hopscotch through other dimensions. As visually inventive as its 2018 predecessor, Across the Spider-Verse again delivers eye-catching action along with characters of depth and nuance both behind and outside of the mask. It’s a thrilling achievement, even as it leaves viewers dangling by a thread for the final installment.

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THE COASTAL ELITES – Review by Martha K Baker

Anyone who has followed Paul Rudnick’s career and appreciates it knows to keep following, nuisance-close lest missing a word. The Coastal Elites outshines his every other brilliance. It expands upon what it means to manage these agonizing days with heart and soul, laughter and vinegar.

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DARK CITY BENEATH THE BEAT (SXSW)2020 – Review by Nikki Baughan

Baltimore itself is the stage where rappers and poets perform on street corners, dancers hotfoot their way across bridges and through buildings, clubs host sweaty dance-off competitions, where crowds gather to watch those with the best moves crowned King or Queen. And in one poignant sequence, a tulle-clad dancer performs a beautiful mixture of ballet and club moves in the graveyard where Tamika Ray (aka FatGirl), a pioneer of Baltimore dance, lays buried.

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THE PHOTOGRAPH – Review by Leslie Combemale

From its first moments, The Photograph, with its underlying romantic jazz score and winning co-leads, is calling the viewers into an intimate slow dance, maybe with Luther Vandross playing, that feels safe, sexy, and so satisfying you won’t want it to end. It’s the sort of movie that’s rarely made anymore, yet here it is.

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THE HATE U GIVE – Review by Martha K Baker

Everything about The Hate U Give is impressive — the tension throughout, the complexity of the storyline, the acting of the entire cast, the contemporary crises, the heart pumping through. Based on Angie Thomas’ novel for young adults, the film asks the viewer to be alert, thoughtful, and considerate.

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