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Chavela (Queer Screen Film Fest)

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Chavela Vargas was an icon in so many ways. She was a pioneering female artist in Mexican Ranchero music; a fierce lesbian who continues to empower the Mexican LGBT+ community; her 70+ year career survived turmoil and heartbreak, and she continued to perform well into her 90s, still selling out shows mere weeks before her death. She was a game-changer in every sense of the word, and though her legacy is enormous in Latin America and parts of Europe, directors Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi are determined to take her complex story to the world in the documentary Chavela.

Beginning with her move to Mexico as a young child from Costa Rica, Chavela chronicles the incredible loneliness of Chavela Vargas, her estrangement from her family and exclusion from public life, because while her sexuality was okay onstage, in Mexican society it was unacceptable. This led not only to her extreme alcoholism during the first half of her career, but also her endless romances and affairs; at one point in the film we discover that Chavela had seduced all of Mexico and half of Hollywood at the height of her career. As we meet some of the women who Chavela loved and lost, we discover how deeply she loved, and the tragedy of being loved by her fans, yet so alone.

Indeed, it is this loneliness that fueled her incredible music; with lyrics full of pain and sorrow, Chavela’s music is raw and soulful. Gund and Kyi weave together her stories and her songs all through the film, and the music paints the best picture of her life, one that you feel inside of you: despite all her heartache, she lived a full life that never slowed down. In fact, it only moved faster, with her triumphant comeback a reminder that Chavela was more than her addictions, and that just like her music, she would continue to inspire.

Throughout Chavela, many of her friends and lovers tell her tumultuous story, such as Jose Alfredo Jimenez Jr, son of Chavela’s legendary collaborator Jose Alfredo Jimenez, and Pedro Almodovar, the director who was instrumental in her comeback (she sang and appeared in The Flower of my Secret); yet the film’s most striking footage is of Chavela herself, in a group interview with fans. Frozen in time in this footage from 1990, her words give insight into the story unfolding around her, and also what was yet to come for her at the time of the interview.

Chavela’s lyrical journey through the emotional rollercoaster of Chavela’s life may take you to the lowest of lows of celebrity addiction and despair, but its redemptive arc is deeply satisfying as Chavela earns the career she always deserved.

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Girls Trip

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Once best friends in college, lifestyle guru Ryan (Regina Hall), gossip columnist Sasha (Queen Latifah), divorced and devoted mother of two Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and loose cannon Dina (Tiffany Haddish) have slowly let their best-friendship decline over the years. But when Ryan is asked to be the keynote speaker at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, she and her Flossy Posse head down for a weekend of booze, guys, and trouble, reconnecting along the way.

 Girls Trip is a loud, sexy, over-the-top romp that grounds outrageous humour in the reality that, with four best friends, on one huge trip, anything can happen. It’s this relatability that guides us through the film’s biggest laughs – flashers, peeing on crowds, and hallucinations – but it’s also what makes the film funny throughout its whole runtime, peppering Girls Trip with one liners and throwaway quips that are belly-busters in themselves. And while Tiffany Haddish does much of the heavy lifting, the entire cast is hilarious: Hall’s career-obsessed Ryan is fed up, Queen Latifah’s Sasha is fun, and Haddish’s outlandish Dina gives Pinkett-Smith’s single mum Lisa the push she needs to get out of her comfort zone. Together they bring an enormous amount of chemistry not only to their comedy, but to the core friendship.

Girls Trip is also a heartfelt comedy, highlighting the strength and importance of female friendships and sisterhood as well as homing in on a lot of other issues facing modern women today. It tackles ideas like retaining your identity as a mother, and the true meaning of success as a woman, as well as the concept of women needing to “have it all”, without becoming too much of a “message movie”, and the overall idea that your friends will always support you is presented warmly and sincerely, something that is relatable for not only women, but men too.

But most of all, Girls Trip is memorable: not only does it land its scandalous humour, but many of the scenes are unforgettable, as are its characters – there are elements to Ryan, Dina, Sasha and Lisa that we can all relate to, yet they are fully formed, complex female characters dealing with real female friendships and issues, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a comedy since Bridesmaids. When Bridesmaids was released, it was hoped that it would usher in a new age of female comedies; hopefully, the success of Girls Trip will actually deliver on this promise, and we can see more women leading amazing comedies like this one.

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Salma Hayek: Double Trouble

The popular actress pops up in two movies in the coming month, as Samuel L. Jackson’s feisty wife in The Hitman’s Bodyguard and as a holistic masseuse and lead in Beatriz at Dinner.
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Amy Schumer fans rejoice, Snatched heralds her long-awaited second feature following 2015’s successful debut, Trainwreck. Teaming up with comedy icon Goldie Hawn, Snatched sees Schumer as Emily Middleton, a New Yorker who’s going through a bit of a tough time, the only good things in her life being her musician boyfriend and their impending Ecuadorian getaway. So, when the boyfriend ditches her right before their “non-refundable” trip, she decides to take her single, homebody mother Linda (Hawn) to South America in an attempt to get her to have fun like she used to when she was younger – of course, that all goes out the window when the two are kidnapped, leading to an impressive series of mishaps as they try to make their way home, reconnecting as mother and daughter along the way.

Hawn and Schumer’s chemistry sizzles as they traverse the South American jungle, with so many jokes flying between them that many are bound to land, even if only for a smile; the film in general hums with a great humorous energy. What makes these two comedic actors so individually funny is also why they work so well together: while most of the bigger antics revolve around Schumer’s awkward Emily, Hawn helps stick the smaller one-liners, enabling everyone around her to be just as funny as she is in the moment. Their dramatic chemistry as mother and daughter is also wonderful; Snatched deals with heartfelt ideas about being a parent and eventually having to let go, and while the script isn’t as adept at this as, say, last year’s Bad Moms, Schumer and Hawn manage to flesh out this great relationship and it really makes them feel like family.

Speaking of family, Snatched is filled out with a hilarious supporting cast that, at some points, even steal the show. Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and her “platonic friend” Barb (a mute Joan Cusack) contribute some of the best antics in the entire movie, and Ike Barinholtz’s agoraphobic Jeffrey and his back-and-forth with government worker Morgan Russell (Bashir Salahuddin) leads to some of the film’s stand-out moments. Whilst not the most complex of comedies, Snatched never stops having fun for its entire runtime, giving us some great Amy Schumer belly laughs and Goldie Hawn’s first film in the last fifteen years. If anything, that’s worth the ticket price alone.