Two Off-Beat Streaming Picks: The Incredible Jessica James and Opening Night

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Not in the mood for superheroes? Two indie picks worth watching premiere this week on streaming services.

“The Incredible Jessica James” (Netflix) is a star-making vehicle for Jessica Williams, “The Daily Show’s” youngest correspondent. She had a small role in the previous film from writer/director Jim Strouse, and he wrote this film for her. As it opens, she does a fierce, funny, and free dance through her apartment and onto the roof and by the time the credits are over, we are completely captivated. The story is nothing new. She’s an aspiring playwright trying to find her way in New York City, with a wall covered in rejection letters and a heart recently broken in a breakup with a guy (Lakeith Stanfield) who is very appealing, so we feel for her. She attends her younger sister’s baby shower. She tries to help a young girl in the drama class she teaches. She goes on a blind date. She has a quirky/quippy best friend (Noel Wells). It’s a pretty standard romantic comedy. But Williams has a nice chemistry with Chris Dowd as her possible new love, there are some funny lines, and she is utterly irresistible. See it. You’ll have fun and you’ll always be able to say that right from the beginning you knew she’d be a star.

“Opening Night” (Amazon) is a backstage story about a dumb jukebox musical and all of the drama and chaos that goes into giving the audience a great show. It’s wildly uneven, as though it was put together by an improv group or maybe its large cast each wrote a premise on a slip of paper and then everyone picked one out of a hat. Topher Grace is appealing, as always, if slumming a bit as the one-time performer turned stage manager, dealing with various crises of love, fear, and various substances. A plotline about male and female dancers competing to seduce the new guy goes on way too long and way too far as does another about the cynical star’s accidental ingestion of drugs. It’s the kind of raunchy that indicates a failure of imagination. What makes it fun is the cast of real theatrical performers who show us that the show really must go on. It kind of makes me wish we were sitting out front to see them do the whole show.

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VOD and Streaming

AWFJ’s MOTW: Best of 2017 So Far

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Instead of a MOTW (Movie of The Week) for the end of July, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists has put together their list of their favorite women-created or women-centered films of 2017 so far. Be sure to take a look and catch up on anything you’ve missed.

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Critics Gender and Diversity

Tribute: Jeanne Moreau

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We mourn the loss of Jeanne Moreau, one of the most enchanting performers in film history, who has died at age 89. The Washington Post’s Adam Bernstein captured her exquisite screen presence, dubbing her “the thinking man’s femme fatale.”

There was the dry, husky voice that hinted at a million smoked Gauloises. There were the dark eyes, carnal and enigmatic. There was the brooding, slightly downward curve of her lips, a sultry pout that could flash capriciously into a beguiling smile. She was playful and dangerous….Critics and audiences found Ms. Moreau spellbinding, particularly in roles in which she embodied liberated sexuality or in which her outward composure masked boundless complexity. Movie scholar David Shipman once described her as the “art-house love goddess.”

She exemplified the French “New Wave” of filmmaking, intimate and provocative. One of her best-remembered performances is in “Jules and Jim,” the story of a love triangle. She enchanted her audience the way her character enchanted her two co-stars.

A.O. Scott talks about the film here, calling Moreau “incomparably alluring.”

May her memory be a blessing.

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Actors Tribute

Tribute: Voice Actress June Foray

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We mourn the passing of June Foray, just shy of her 100th birthday. You might not have heard of her, but I am certain you heard her voice, or, I should say, her voices. She was one of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood history. She provided the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Natasha the spy, and Dudley Do-right’s Nell Fenwick. She played Tweetie Bird’s owner, Granny and Cindy Lou Who. She appeared in “Mulan,” “The Flintstones,” “Scooby-Doo,” “Rugrats,” and “The Twilight Zone” (playing a creepy talking doll). She was also Chatty Cathy, a somewhat less creepy talking doll. She was Jokey Smurf. Animation expert Mark Evanier wrote:

Most of all, she was June Foray, a talented workaholic who for decades, drove into Hollywood every weekday early in the morning and went from recording session to recording session until well after dark. Everyone hired her because she was always on time, always professional and what she did was always good. It was her good friend, director Chuck Jones who said, “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc is the male June Foray.”

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Actors Tribute
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