BlacKkKlansman

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It’s laugh out loud funny to imagine that the KKK were infiltrated and so easily tricked by two undercover policemen, one African American and the other Jewish…their favorite people. You read that right! Some history stories are too absurd to make up. Writers Charlie Wachtel (The Paperboy), David Rabinowitz (Harmless), Kevin Willmott (Chi-Raq) and director Spike Lee (Malcolm X) recreated this wildly crazy story that is 100% a must-see.

The writers went to town, making total fools of the KKK, and rightfully so. Lee is a brilliant director, always has been. He is very controversial and never holds back. Most recently he’s been very outspoken about He Who Must Not Be Named in the White House. It was no surprise this film would make several parallels to today. The film is “funny” because it’s satirical, but its message is serious and targeted. Because its tone isn’t angry and extreme, it’s digestible and wisely attracts both sides of the aisle. To think this is the first time in his 30+ years of filmmaking Lee has been nominated for Best Director is extraordinary…about damn time!

Bottom line: BlacKkKlansman connects the past and the present through racism and walks a fine line between making light of today’s harsh reality and reminding us the fight is long from over. With the help of John David Washington (Ballers…AND Denzel Washington’s son…mind blown), Adam Driver (Girls), and the rest of the cast’s incredible acting, this film earned a well-deserved Best Picture Oscar nomination. Now available to rent and heads up, the last 2 minutes is a real tearjerker.  

The Favourite

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Period pieces customarily, across the board, depict the life of a well-known figure or historical event, making history buffs out of us. Normally these films are more serious in nature. The Favourite is now amongst the few exceptions. Newcomers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara performed a balancing act by including the traditional characteristics of period films AND making it laugh out loud funny. Based in 18th century England, the story centers around Queen Anne, played by the incomparable Olivia Coleman (Broadchurch), her relationship with close confidant at court, Rachel Weisz (The Lobster) and her servant, Emma Stone (La La Land). The story goes from 0 to 100, getting crazier and crazier by the minute.

Director Yorgos Lanthimo’s (The Lobster) films are offbeat and well, frankly bizarre, certainly requiring a particular taste. The Favourite on the other hand is unexpectedly more accessible to a mainstream audience, but to be clear, it’s still out there, way waaay out there. Lanthimos challenges himself to build on his previous films, adding more and more sophisticated characteristics. He normally works with the same cinematographer, but this time, Robbie Ryan (American Honey) stepped up to the plate. Not knowing the ins and outs of Lanthimo’s previous films, Ryan had to adapt quickly and boy did he ever! The film feels as though you are looking through a GoPro, and for those who haven’t looked through one, it looks like a fish eye and exceptionally wide. The shots are truly marvels, beautiful and unique.

Bottom line: Lanthimos brought together a stellar ensemble cast, showed us a wacky part of history, and sprinkled his artistic vision with stunning sets and costume design. It’s pretty much the full package! Rightfully nominated for several awards, The Favourite is a must-see this season!

Boy Erased

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It’s a tough pill to swallow that there are people who don’t accept and respect others for who they are – gender, skin color, religion, sexual orientation, etc; it shouldn’t matter. Boy Erased highlights this reality in telling the true story about a young boy, played by Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), who comes out to his ultra religious parents, played by Nicole Kidman (The Hours) and Russell Crowe (Gladiator), and is thus sent to a gay conversion program. To know that a young boy has the courage to come out to the people he feels safest with, and ends up being punished both emotionally and physically is painful to see. Writer and first time director Joel Edgerton (Loving), who also plays the brutal program leader, exposes this horrible reality to mainstream audiences, hopefully waking us the F up.

For never having directed a film, Edgerton really knows how to pull on our heartstrings. His slow, methodical camera work honed in on each character, forcing you to feel their pain. The score and beautiful original song, Revelation, will only throw your emotions further into overdrive. Edgerton’s message is clear as day: conversion therapy is nothing shy of disgraceful. Yet Edgerton carefully wrote the parent’s characters, whose religious beliefs are the driving force behind their harmful choices, with consideration and understanding, rather than full on shaming them. An admirable choice and one that didn’t go unnoticed. His thoughtful work in every area of this film will undoubtedly make a huge impact on audiences!

Bottom line: Sitting in a room full of strangers crying their eyes out is heartbreaking, and while it was obvious it was going to be based on the trailer alone, there’s no way to prepare for this emotional rollercoaster. But don’t be afraid to see Boy Erased – it’s a must-see not only for the beyond moving, award worthy performances, but also because it’s imperative to learn about this widespread method many families turn to as their “gay cure” …simply so wrong. An estimated 700,000 LGBT Americans and counting have undergone this therapy and a significant amount have sadly committed suicide thereafter. Shockingly, only 14 states have banned the practice, but it’s films like these that build more awareness and with any lucky, will help ban this for good.

Beautiful Boy

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The title of this movie, Beautiful Boy, is a mixed bag of nuts because every parent has to take the bad with the good, the ugly with the beautiful. For some parents it’s much more complicated. Writers Luke Davies (Lion) and Felix van Groeningen (Belgica), with the help of the real life father/son duo, David and Nic Sheff, showcase this truth through the struggles of addiction and the effects it has on family. We see this from the POV of a devoted father, played by Steve Carell (The Office), to his son, played by Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), whose unwavering love and determination to help his son is, well…beautiful. Carell and Chalamet are an incredible pair with so much chemistry you almost forget they’re not real life father and son. It’s especially heartbreaking knowing it’s a true story and that so many families experience this.

One of the writers, Groeningen, is also the director, and while the final product is tear jerking and stunningly shot, his missteps don’t quite make this an “omg run to the theater” kind of film. He didn’t establish a consistent pattern with his use of flashbacks to be able to discern when Chalamet was younger/older or relapsing/recovering. That’s big when watching a film about addiction with so much back and forth; it’s essential to know when and where we are in the story. Chalamet is a stellar, one-of-a-kind actor, but it’ll take years to age him and that made the film’s storyline hard to follow, as it’s difficult to discern Chalamet’s age throughout. He’s 22, but let’s be real, he could pass as 15!

Bottom line: Beautiful Boy might be imperfect, but it’s worth your time to not only see incredible performances by the two leads and Maura Tierney (The Affair), but also to see how the struggles of addiction affect families as much, if not more so than the addict themselves. Head’s up Beautiful Boy is now available to rent for free on Amazon Prime ;)

Bohemian Rhapsody

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Freddie Mercury was Somebody To Love – I think we can all agree on that! With Freddie comes Queen, one of the most epic bands of all time with hits that include songs like We Are The Champions, Fat Bottomed Girls, and the list goes on and on. So it’s about time someone made a movie about this brilliant, beloved band!

Writer Anthony McCarten is a biopic (a biographical movie) pro, having recently written two films, one about Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and another about Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, both of which respectively won many awards. Therefore, it’s rather perplexing with so much experience in recounting history accurately and portraying those men perfectly that Bohemian Rhapsody fell so far short. It’s one thing to dramatize and embellish minor details for the big screen, after all we want to be entertained, but it’s quite another to tell a false narrative. Now I want to be clear, like I said, audiences want to be entertained and this feel good and at times laugh out loud film will do exactly that, entertain, with a career best performance by Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) that will blow you away. But Mr. McCarten, why couldn’t you entertain us AND tell the truth at the same time? For one, Queen never broke up and Freddie never went solo. Secondly, Queen had been on tour for months before Live Aid, therefore this was not a “reunion” as told by McCarten. Lastly and most importantly, Freddie Mercury didn’t know he had HIV/AIDS until two years after Live Aid. What purpose did it serve to add and edit their history? Queen already had a moving story to tell, so to inaccurately portray their lives and the circumstances around the band does a disservice not only to them, but also to audiences who are left having been entertained, but sadly with no truth behind it. Hey, maybe McCarten played We Will Rock You one too many times and switched the “we” for “I”.

Bottom line: Malek’s incredible depiction of Freddie makes up for McCarten’s mishaps therefore he alone places the film in the history buff category. And yet Another One Bites The Dust in this important category – get it right people!

Side note: In the wake of the #metoo movement, since when should films with any association to this be awarded? Cough, director Bryan Singer (X-Men) who has several sexual misconduct allegations against him including raping a 17-year-old boy and forcing minors to strip naked for his movies. Charming…

The Wife

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How the times have changed…

It was given that a woman’s role was to take care of the family, not financially (god forbid), but most importantly to be the main support for her husband. Joan Castleman, played by Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction), is the perfect example of this painful reality bestowed upon women for generations. Close’s character is the wife of a world-renowned writer, played by Jonathan Pryce (Brazil), whose ego is more than one woman should ever have to bear witness to.

Writer Jane Anderson (Mad Men) is sneaky. Anderson paces herself and then suddenly attacks, leaving you in a cloud of emotion that is hard to stomach, let alone digest just when you’ve let your guard down. Director Björn Runge (Daybreak) follows Anderson’s lead by taking his time with his camera work to slowly hone in on Close and the pain behind her seemingly loving eyes. It is Close’s silent, but deadly acting that stings the most. Emphasis on the silent – Close doesn’t have as many lines as you’d think as lead actor, but that’s what’s impressive. It’s the transformation of her character, mainly through facial expressions, that makes this a must-see. This is acting at its finest!

Bottom line: The Wife took 14 years to make and comes at a time when our society needs it most. Times Up! No one should ever feel they’ve lived unfulfilled lives. Close taught us that in her inspiring Golden Globes speech when she won her first ever award for Best Actress in the Motion Picture Drama. Close is no amateur…she’s been acting for 45 years, yet somehow she’s never won an Oscar. Huh?! She’s tied with two other actresses for the most-nominations (6) without a win in Academy history. So Close, yet no cigar…This role, sadly inspired by her grandmother and mother, could be her first win and boy is it well deserved! You go Glen Coco!

A Star Is Born

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There’s always at least one movie that rocks your world each awards season. As I look back on 2018, there were so many amazing movies, but A Star Is Born stood out from the rest as the only Queen’s Knight this year. It was a huge risk to remake this beloved classic with not just one, but three before it, the 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor (The Wife) and Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), the 1954 film with Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz) and James Mason (Lolita), and last but certainly not least, the Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl) and Kris Kristofferson (Heaven’s Gate) film from 1976. Needless to say, those are tough acts to follow, but that didn’t faze Bradley Cooper (The Hangover). Not only did he accept the challenge to act as the lead, but also decided to take a stab at writing, directing and producing it. OH and singing, playing guitar and writing songs too. Eh what the heck, might as well do it all! Casual. The sheer talent alone makes this a must-see and I haven’t even gotten to Lady Gaga…

There are endless amounts of back-stories (see article links below) behind the making of this film, but there’s one that stands out…Cooper’s pursuit of Lady Gaga. Determined to have her star alongside him, they made a pact: “If you teach me how to act, I’ll teach you how to sing.” Safe to say, they both fulfilled their promises! Gaga is now amongst the most sought after actresses in the industry, earning her first Oscar nomination for this role, and Bradley Cooper is now even dreamier than ever with the voice of an angel and guitar skills of a rock star. Who knew?! Gaga, Cooper, musician Mark Ronson, and team had one goal in mind: sing live. Not a single song is pre-recorded or played back and edited in a studio…that’s what sets this film apart from its predecessors with original music you’ll play on repeat. Each film’s soundtrack has adapted adeptly to the times. This 2018 iteration combines soulful rock and pop music, with a strong message behind it that applies not just to music, but also to life…never loose your voice (no pun intended).

Bottom line: If you’re a fan of the series and have a hard time accepting this one, just remember this isn’t a competition. They are each stand alone films with their own take on a heartbreaking love story, unnecessary to compare. Cooper makes a tribute to all of them in such meaningful special ways, and continues to do so off screen on the red carpet...i.e. Gaga’s blue gown at the Golden Globes. Together they modernized a classic with songs that’ll bring you to tears, banter that’ll make you laugh out loud, and chemistry so palpable you’ll become a hopeless romantic (you’ve been warned). The Scene Queen is cray cray and saw it 4 times, but all it takes is just once to fall in love with A Star Is Born…and Bradley Cooper’s dog, the real MVP of the film!

Fun Fact Articles:

1. https://www.thisisinsider.com/a-star-is-born-cool-facts-2018-10#allys-best-friend-is-played-by-an-original-hamilton-cast-member-15

2. http://collider.com/a-star-is-born-versions-differences-explained/#2018

3. https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/10/a-star-is-born-original-lady-gaga-bradley-cooper-easter-eggs

Annihilation

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Writer and director Alex Garland has proved he knows how to make a good Sci-Fi. Primarily known for his writing, Garland took a shot at directing his first film, Ex Machina, in 2014. With its huge success, he chose to direct his next precious baby, Annihilation. The short form of what’s in store for you is Arrival meets Alien meets Prometheus. You’ll find a lot of crossover in films…”wait where have I seen this before?!” Borrowing isn’t a bad thing – think of it instead as a sounding board to new, bigger and better ideas. Its key similarity to Arrival is the overall plot, and comparable to Alien in the developing revelations, and aesthetically like Prometheus in that it’s next level visually impressive.

The majority of Garland’s films fall into the Sci-Fi genre. His scripts have been unique since Day 1…The Beach, a classic Leo DiCaprio film. Annihilation is no different – a strange, unfamiliar region materializes on Earth and appears to be spreading. A group of female scientists volunteer to head into “the shimmer” in the hopes of finding out what lies within. The expedition is no walk in the park. Shocker! The twists and turns will cause spikes of adrenaline, not always in welcomed ways so expect to cover your eyes. Be warned: this ain’t for the faint of heart. The writing takes unusual turns, developing into an incredibly complex story that’ll have you scratching your head for days.

Directing your own script, thus knowing the story inside and out gives Garland the freedom to bring his vision to life exactly how he originally intended it to be. From the start he sets the tone with dark frames and creepy POVs of the characters, sometimes up close and personal, to instigate an uneasy feeling. Mission accomplished dude. The feeling was palpable in the theater – everyone on edge, shakin in our boots (seriously winter, times up). He’ll have you questioning where we’re headed next, all the while teasing bits and pieces of the future where the questions are answered, but never shows enough to make it predictable. This tactic will have you guessing up until the very end. Once their mission begins, those dark frames transition into a gorgeous, vibrant, almost Avatar like setting. He juxtaposed the peculiar and evil personality traits of the women in contrast to the deceptively gorgeous environment within. The stark difference between the outside and the inside only further adds to the fear of what’s to come.

Garland worked with a lot of the same experts from Ex Machina, seeming to be a well-oiled team. Cinematographer Rob Hardy’s camera movements are steady, letting you observe and digest the surroundings and get to know the characters. Music composers are largely to blame for our tense emotions during creepy and eerie films. Just as they did in Ex Machina, music composers Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow did exactly that.

Although not a lead, Garland also cast a familiar face, Oscar Isaac, from you guessed it, Ex Machina. Annoyed yet of hearing that name? If you haven’t seen it, I’m sure you’re curious now, huh? Isaac’s creepy facial expressions and mannerisms hinted from the first second that the film was going headed in a sinister direction real quick. Lead actress, Natalie Portman who clearly knows the true meaning of a disturbing role after winning an Oscar in 2011 for Black Swan only further demonstrated her depth as a phenomenal actor. She led the pack of her badass girl scouts comprised of Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) and Tessa Thompson (Creed). These ladies were all chilling in their own right, embodying their characters both physically and mentally to no end. Here we see a film led by women, but not just any women, but SCIENTISTS. Look at that – we’re being shown as smart too. Wow look at you Hollywood!

Bottom line: If you’re not down to feel anxious and on edge, stay away. If you can stomach it, it’s worth it, as Annihilation has it all: thought provoking story, striking graphics, and one kickass cast. Here’s the only caveat – you’re highly likely to have some graphic, bizarre and perhaps even disturbing dreams, but it’s worth a sleepless night.