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Knight at the Movies: Absolutely Fabulous; Star Trek Beyond; The Witness
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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Sweetie sweetie darlings

Patsy and Edina—those two narcissistic, hard-partying London-based "sweetie darlings" who took the world ( and just about every gay bar's TV set ) by storm—are back, 25 years after the Britcom debuted in the early '90s. In Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, their first on-screen romp, Jennifer Saunders returns as Eddy, the trend-chasing publicist whose most renowned client is '60s pop singer Lulu, and Joanna Lumley is right beside her as Patsy, Eddy's fun-loving best friend who works as a sometime fashion editor.

The immediate questions hanging over the movie—"Are they still relevant?" and, more importantly, "Are they still funny?"—are quickly answered: yes and yes. The expected wisecracks, zingers and sight gags flow faster than the "champers" as the duo do everything they can to satisfy their unending craving for attention and illicit pleasures. They seem to have been hermetically sealed, a bit longer in the tooth, a bit wider ( "I think I am now officially fatter sideways than I am front on," Eddy whines mournfully ) but just as outrageously self-centered.

The plot focuses on the accidental drowning by Eddy of supermodel Kate Moss in the Thames. Hounded by the paparazzi and the authorities, the divine duo, with Eddy's granddaughter Lola in tow, head to the French Riviera in search of one of Patsy's old loves, a rich roue she hopes to ensnare in exchange for financial security for the both of them. When that doesn't work, Patsy dresses in man drag and weds one of the world's wealthiest women. Naturally, the cops and the press are hot on their trail amidst all these shenanigans. Director Mandie Fletcher, who helmed the most recent AbFab incarnations and has overseen years of British comedy television, keeps things moving at a brisk pace.

Saunders, who created and wrote the TV show, has also penned the film script, tossing in cameos for everyone from Jon Hamm to Rebel Wilson to Dame Edna to Graham Norton to Joan Collins—more than 60 celebs in all. All the favorite characters from the show—Edina's conservative daughter Saffy, her ex-husband Marshall ( who has now gone trans ), Eddy's dimwitted assistant Bubble, her dotty but insightful mother, and Patsy's speed-talking fashion editor Magda—are all back and garner their share of the laughs. ( One of my favorite scenes takes place in a drag queen-packed lesbian bar where Saffy ( the ever-patient Julia Sawalha ) sings a mournful karaoke version of Janis Ian's "At Seventeen." ) Several new characters—Eddy's uber-gay hairstylist ( a very funny Chris Colfer ) and the aforementioned granddaughter ( Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness )—have been added to the line-up, bringing new laughs.

Best of all, of course, are those two incorrigibles Edina and Patsy—as endearingly, hilariously awful as ever.

Sulu is gay!

The Star Trek movie franchise reboot returns with Star Trek Beyond, a third edition that looks to be pretty darn snazzy. ( The film wasn't screened in time for WCT deadlines. ) Captain Kirk ( Chris Pine ) and his logical No. 2 Spock ( out actor Zachary Quinto ), along with the rest of the crew of the SS Enterprise ( including Anton Yelchin, the young actor who was killed recently in a tragic accident, as Chekov the engineer ) find themselves facing a deadly alien threat when they are stranded on a hostile planet.

The big news for the LGBT community is, of course, that the character of Sulu ( played by Harold & Kumar's John Cho ) is not only gay but he's got a husband and a child, presumably awaiting back on Earth. Although LGBT rights activist/actor George Takei, the original Sulu, has gone on record that he would have preferred a new character of the queer persuasion, Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the screenplay ( and returns as crewmember Scotty ), respectfully disagrees. Either way, I'm more psyched now than ever to go Trekking.

Editor's note: Read an interview with Saunders and Lumley on page 20.

Kitty lives

James Solomon's documentary The Witness focuses on the horrific 1964 incident in which 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside a Queens, New York, apartment building while 38 witnesses sat by and did nothing. But were there really 38 witnesses? Was the New York Times story reporting that number and other details, taken as fact and embroidered into our culture ever since, entirely accurate? Kitty's young brother Bill, a child at the time, has admittedly never found closure and digs deep into the story, determined to bring to light not only a more complex version of what happened, but also to free his sister from her identity as just a victim of a terrible crime.

This he does. As Bill tracks down surviving witnesses and pieces together other forgotten details of the crime, the lively, feisty young woman—a lesbian—that was his sister Kitty, fairly leaps off the screen through vivid memories ( including those of her girlfriend ), rare photographs and brief vintage footage. The result is both a loving homage and a truly thought-provoking redress of history. The film plays at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., beginning Friday, July 22.

Upcoming movie calendar

Highlights from films ( alphabetized by date ) opening in Chicago, July 22 and 29 ( with some descriptions coming from studio press materials ):

—Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie ( July 22 ): See details above.

—Café Society ( July 22 ): The latest from Woody Allen, set in New York in the '30s, stars Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Blake Lively, Steve Carell and Corey Stoll.

—Equals ( July 22 ): Two Kristen Stewart movies in one week! In this one, Nia ( Kristen Stewart ) and Silas ( played by super-hottie Nicholas Hoult ) begin a forbidden and passionate romance in a futuristic society where emotions have been outlawed, leading them to attempt a dangerous escape.

—Star Trek Beyond ( July 22 ): See details above.

—The Witness ( July 22 ): See details above.

—Looking: The Movie ( July 23 ): The end is here for out writer/director Andrew Haigh's HBO series focused on a group of gay men in San Francisco. The include the sweet but commitment-shy Patrick ( the criminally talented gay actor Jonathan Groff ); his drug-addled best friend Augustin ( Frankie J. Alvarez ); and Dom ( Murray Bartlett ), the muscular, bearish elder statesman of the trio.

Haigh's naturalistic approach—which found critical favor in his sublime gay romantic film Weekend—caught the fancy of many viewers ( this one included ) but bored many more to tears, hence the series cancellation after two seasons. So now, with the film, all the loose ends are going to be wrapped up in this 85-minute film finale.

—Nerve ( July 27 ): Partnered with a mysterious stranger ( Dave Franco, brother of James, and who played gay in Neighbors 2 ), a high school senior ( Emma Roberts of Scream Queens and American Horror Story ) plays a popular online game that starts to take a sinister turn.

—Jason Bourne ( July 29 ): Former CIA operative Jason Bourne ( Matt Damon ) starts to remember his past. How's that for a short synopsis? Damon reunites with director Paul Greenglass for what promises to be an action-packed thriller that will find Damon's Bourne outsmarting the entire CIA and, no doubt, everyone he encounters.

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