The Greatest Showman

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Musicals have been few and far between lately. They’re risky, hit or miss with audiences. You’re either a fan or you’re not. There were only two this year. Beauty and the Beast, released in early 2017 was a huge hit. Then Christmas Day, perfect timing might I add, The Greatest Showman hit theaters to close out 2017. If I had to describe it in two words it would hands down be “feel good.” It has it all: it’s a true story for you history buffs and has amazing music and an even better cast. It’ll strike an emotional cord even with the skeptical musical h8ters. It may be corny, but mindless entertainment is good to balance out the other content we consume. That’s exactly what you’ll find in The Greatest Showman, now available to rent.

History remembers P.T. Barnum in many ways – “take the bad with the good” just about sums up one of the greatest showmen of all time. Coming from humble beginnings, Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman (Logan), wanted to make a name for himself, but he did so in questionable ways. Long story short, at the start of his career, he purchased a black woman by the name of Joice Heth for exhibition. She claimed to be George Washington’s former nurse, oh and a minor detail, apparently 161 years old. Gullible much, Mr. Barnum? But like I said, with the bad comes the good. Writers, Jenny Bicks (Rio 2) and Bill Condon (Chicago) decided to focus on the good. Barnum was an incredible businessman and entrepreneur who saw an opportunity to entertain audiences in ways no one had done before. By only focusing on the good, Bicks and Condon sacrificed character development, which the film seriously lacked. They teased each character’s background, but in the end left the low hanging fruit still dangling. It felt like the right decision with so many characters, but that gamble resulted in shallow writing, putting all the pressure on first time director Michael Gracey.

Gracey never leaves you bored. The majority of the film was created through VFX, the manipulation of imagery outside a live action shot, which is where his expertise lies. The action is not like that of superhero films, but is instead creative and artsy, resulting in dazzling imagery. The most noteworthy quality of the film, aside from the music, is the flawless editing. It’s picture perfect, seamlessly transitioning from a normal, or regular shot, to stunning musical scenes with great choreography, costumes and production design. Gracey worked with music composers John Debney (The Jungle Book) and Joseph Trapanese (Straight Outta Compton) to insert the song and dance at the emotional highs and lows in the script. Who came first, the chicken (script) or the egg (music)? The script! Gracey hit his first high note with this modern day musical.

Any film with Jackman, known to be one of the nicest actors in Hollywood, is apparently a blast to work on. What an amazing thing to be known for! His positive and encouraging personality trickles over to the rest of the crew and cast on all of his films. What’s more, he’s no stranger to the musical genre after having killed it in the remake of Les Misérables in 2012. The casting of Zac Efron (High School Musical) and Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) was extremely smart for two reasons: one, boy do they know how to sing and dance, and two, they appeal to a younger demographic, making The Greatest Showman an all around hit with every age group. As for the rest of the cast, including some well-known faces like Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine) and Rebecca Ferguson (Life), well let’s just say they’ll teach you important lessons – acceptance and to be proud of yourself!

Bottom line: Musical cynics don’t shy away from this one. Like I said it’s great for all ages, kid friendly, and you never know, you may jerk a tear or two, especially you hopeless romantics out there. Dance like no ones watching and sing like no ones listening {to the soundtrack}, The Greatest Showman is a musical high! 

Black Panther

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You may be thinking to yourself, “is Black Panther as good as everyone says?” Yes, yes and yes, definitely a must-see. Marvel has yet to disappoint since their first film in 2008, Iron Man. However, Black Panther stands out from the rest with a predominantly black cast AND women portrayed as head-honchos. This reflects the movement in the Entertainment industry to write and produce more films for women. About time! Writer and director Ryan Coogler (Creed) jumped at the opportunity, nailing it. He has proven there's an appetite for stories like this. His success will only propel this movement futher, I’m sure of it. Based on the comic, T’Challa is the newly appointed King of Wakanda, played by Chadwick Boseman (42), but with fresh blood comes envy and jealousy. An outsider, Michael B. Jordan (Creed) challenges his throne with intent to control the African nation. 

Writers Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s (American Crime Story) writing structure introduced this exciting new Marvel superhero story very successfully. It’s sophisticated in that every character has extraordinary powers, and yet are also every day people, in other words humanized. It’s not often you see an African nation shown as technologically advanced with smarts and capabilities other countries can only dream of. What’s more, women lead the army and protect the citizens, and all the remarkable innovations are created by yup, women. It’s great that the film is kid friendly so that younger generations are exposed to these notions and come to see this as the norm. Coogler and Cole have the power to influence young moviegoers' perspectives in strong ways, and this is only the start. Besides these serious undertones, the film is fun and entertaining.

The laugh out loud moments are well timed and hit the right tone. Marvel’s films intertwine comedic relief in between the adrenaline inducing action. They don’t take themselves so seriously unlike other superhero films…cough DC Comics. Newcomer Letitia Wright (The Commuter) and Boseman couldn’t have been a better dynamic brother-sister duo, each one playing off of the other’s wit. There was a 50/50 split between serious star power and newcomers. The familiar faces include Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us), and Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland). The new kid (I mean girl) on the block was standout badass Danai Gurira (All Eyez On Me). The cast looked like they had a blast making this film, which in turn sets the mood for the audience. It was contagious!

The film is pretty much perfect and I haven’t even gotten to Coogler’s phenomenal directing alongside cinematographer Rachel Morrison. Morrison was recently nominated for an Oscar for Mudbound as the first female ever. With heavy CGI and VFX the film was visually stunning and eye catching, shockingly predominately filmed in Atlanta and South Korea. Fun fact: most every Marvel film is shot in Atlanta. Who’da thunk it?!

Bottom line: The hype is real. You won’t be disappointed. See it in theaters, undoubtedly worth your time and money.  It’s ideal for any occasion – a fun night out for a couple’s retreat, a girls' night out, or an outing with the family. Already counting down the days to the sequel (always series faithful). Remember to stay until the very end of the credits to get a sneak preview of what’s to come. I hope you enjoy the best film of 2018 thus far! 

Call Me By Your Name

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As the most creative credits came to an end, I felt like I had been hit like a ton of bricks. That sensation hasn’t diminished, if anything it’s only gotten stronger. Call Me By Your Name is easily the best movie of the year (Ellen Degeneres said the same, just saying) AND the best movie I’ve ever seen. Whoop there it is. I know The Scene Queen isn’t about me, but selfishly I’m excited to be able to finally answer that question. This film covers all categories: couple’s retreat, feel good, girl’s night out, hopeless romantic, indie, laugh out loud, must-see, Queen’s Knight of all knights, tear jerker, etc. Ok, ok maybe not all, but perhaps that’s because it’s in a league of its own. In this collaborative effort, director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash), screenwriter James Ivory (A Room With a View), actors Armie Hammer (The Social Network), Timothée Chalamet (Lady Bird), and Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) made a perfect film, based on the novel written by André Aciman.

In a little Northern Italian town, seventeen year old, Elio, develops a bond with visiting graduate student, Oliver, who comes to stay with his family. Over the course of the summer, their bond grows stronger. On the surface it sounds similar to Brokeback Mountain (2005) or Moonlight (2016), both incredible films. However, this film isn't about a gay couple, instead it transcends sexual orientation. It represents first love and the true meaning of love itself. It's relatable and strike a chord with all. 

The production quality is impeccable. The vibrant colors jump off the screen. Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, this being his first major motion picture, hones in on the town, the house, the orchards, even the fruits, making you feel as though they too are characters. The focus on the microscopic details in every shot was apparent. The panning shots of the Italian countryside will make you want to pack your bags and jump on a plane. There were no sudden movements, nothing overly dramatic. Guadagnino's first cut was 4 ½ hours, and after careful editing, putting all the pieces of the puzzle together, he created a supremely magical, serene film. 

All the "characters" above play an integral part in making this visually stunning, dynamic, and distinct. Then there's Chalamet, Hammer, and Stuhlbarg. The spark between Chalamet and Hammer is shocking. The actors chose to go to Italy together before the shoot, a decision that clearly built their chemistry, which is nothing shy of enchanting. Guadagnino helped develop this relationship on screen too by choosing to film in chronological order, a brilliant directorial choice and extremely uncommon. But wait until you get to the end when Stuhlbarg, who plays Elio's father, delivers one of the best cinematic monologues. Mic drop. 

Fun fact: Hammer found his dancing scenes to be the hardest part, more than the intimate scenes with Chalamet if you can believe it. You try dancing to no music in front of hundreds of extras, the cast and crew. Hey, at least he was dancing in the moonlight. It was such a fine and natural sight...   

Bottom line: Call Me By Your Name is winning awards left and right, and the nominations are pouring in. This is just the start. The hype is real so get to the theaters before it’s too late, then buy the book ;) 

 

 

Atomic Blonde

It was so hot in, hot in there (the theater). I’m serious the screen was on fire with a film so electrifying that you won’t want your adrenaline rush to stop. Simply not your typical spy movie; although there’s nothing groundbreaking about the plot (a MI6 agent is tasked with finding her fellow agent’s murderer and tracking down a missing list of double agents), but it’s the execution that makes it stand apart from the rest. Atomic Blonde is Jason Bourne meets V for Vendetta meets Fight Club. That’s a whole lot to process right there, but let’s break it down.

You probably know by now that Jason Bourne is a CIA assassin, known for his impeccable combat skills and ability to stay hidden at all costs. Atomic Blonde is that, but with drum roll please…a female lead, played by Charlize Theron (Monster). The title says it all – Theron is white hot. Theron is known for doing all it takes to bring her characters on paper to life. Remember that time she gained a whopping 35 pounds for her award-winning performance in Monster? You’d never know by the looks of her now with an impeccably athletic looking body. She performed 98% of her stunts! Crazy fact: she chipped two teeth during filming. Kickass if you ask me, but that's not all. She also speaks with a flawless British accent. Theron’s impressive down to the very last detail, oh and did I mention hot? Men, suggest this one as your next couple’s retreat, you won ‘t regret it.

First time director and previous stuntman David Leitch, and cinematographer Jonathan Sela (John Wick) used lighting and camera angles to expand our understanding of the characters and the plot. I found this to be the case in V for Vendetta as well, hence the comparison. The neon, bright lighting is not only meant to look sick, but to also highlight the characters and expose their vulnerabilities. Close up shots let us see deeper into their psyches, developing the plot further to anticipate the next move.

Just like Fight Club, you’ll find yourself laughing out loud in the middle of an action sequence. Odd but so fitting, showing writer Kurt Johnstad (300) didn’t take himself too seriously. He clearly knew more often than not, audiences find action films laughably unrealistic. Cough Tom Cruise films so he poked some fun at it. That goes for the soundtrack and sound editing too. Who better than Tyler Bates, famously known for composing Guardians of the Galaxy, fun and often random music – really doesn’t get much better than this!

Bottom line: From the twists and turns to the costume design (give me that clothing pleeease) to the acting to the visuals and the music, Atomic Blonde has the full package. Not too long, not too short, it’s juuust right! Girls (Night Out) go get inspired by this badass woman. It's everything you’d need all in one so make sure to catch it in theaters for the big screen effects! 

Baby Driver

Boom goes the dynamite. Writer and director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) brings us an action movie unlike any other with all the characteristics of a true action film, but with a twist. It’s laugh out loud funny, romantic, and down right enjoyable from start to finish with a timeless soundtrack. It’s shocking that with such a basic premise, no one’s made a film like it before.

Like I said, the plot is nothing special. A crime boss, played by Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) forces a young boy, played by Ansel Elgort (Fault in Our Stars), to pay a debt by joining his crew as a getaway driver, but his final heist turns bad. DUN-DUN-DUUUN! Pretty straightforward, huh? What’s more, there isn’t much dialogue. Wright made each line count, but it's not the dialogue that makes this film unique. It's the execution and most importantly the soundtrack!

Baby. Yes that’s his name. B-A-B-Y doesn’t say much. Elgort’s acting does all the talking. He flows with each song, hits every note with a purpose and has the moves to go along with them. That white boy can dance! Soundtracks tell a story in one way or another and in the case of this film the songs told a story about his personality, much needed considering we only get a brief explanation about why he is the way he is; the music tells the rest. The editing matched up not only to his moves, but also to what was going on in the background. That’s where the criminals came in as the perfect compliments to Elgort’s award worthy acting. Oh yeah, you didn’t misread that, I mean it, this is award worthy acting.

Racecar drivers are only as good as their team. Luckily, Elgort had an All-Star team to support him. Spacey, Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Lily James (Downton Abbey), Jamie Foxx (Ray) and newcomer Eiza Gonzalez made Elgort’s ride fairly smooth. There are some bumps along the road, making it the perfect fix for adrenaline junkies, and all that more fun. His team spoke on his behalf, adding all the drama and laughs an audience could ask for.

Bottom line: This is a must-see on the big screen to get the full sound and visual effects of which you may get car sick, but don't be a backseat driver...let Elgort do his thing. I promise you're in for one hell of a ride! Perfect for a couple’s retreat and really any situation. Baby Driver drives it home way past the finish line! 

The Big Sick

Nothing I say will do The Big Sick justice. It’s that good! Maybe we too will find love in a hopeless place (if RiRi can, we all can)! Yes I’m single, heeey men DM me…only kidding. Or am I? The story centers around a couple from different cultural backgrounds, causing rifts with their families, making them question whether the relationship is worth pursuing, a sacrifice to say the least. This is happening more nowadays, as millennials start to question the expectations bestowed upon them by their parents. Comedian, actor and writer Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) plays a Pakistani-American (he is in fact Pakistani btw) and Zoe Kazan (It’s Complicated), who yes you guessed it, is not Pakistani. There you have it – the root of the issue.

Nanjiani’s and Emily V. Gordon’s writing and jokes are bold, charming, and what I liked most of all, NOT crass and dirty (you know who you are, cough Schumer). You know those people who are funny, but are not trying to be? That’s the definition of Nanjiani. He doesn’t take life seriously, not in a lazy, deadbeat kind of way, but in a happy-go-lucky, chill dude kind of way. The jokes packed a punch in the most natural way because he wasn’t trying to force anything. Couple’s who come from different ethnicities or political backgrounds (no politics in this one I promise) have been the focus of many films in the past, but few in a laugh out loud way. The Big Sick is a fresh take on a romantic comedy, something I hope we will see much more of in the future.

Since I can’t seem to shut up about how good the film is you can only imagine what I think about the acting. Kazan was effortlessly adorable. For all you hopeless romantics out there, her romance with Nanjiani is something to be in awe of. If you’re looking for The Notebook, look elsewhere because this is realistic, unlike, hate to break it to you, the dream world that is the latter. Their chemistry will make you smile and feel good from start to finish, and long after. Their parents Holly Hunter (The Incredibles), Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond), Anupam Kher (Silver Linings Playbook) and Zenobia Shroff (Little Zizou) perfectly compliment the couple, each adding their own touch of comedy.

Bottom line: There’s no doubt in my mind this is my next Queen’s Knight – it truly is a must-see. It’s the ideal couple’s retreat for those newly dating or seasoned. And I’ve purposefully waited until the end to tell you the twist: (it doesn’t ruin anything) this is the real-life story of the writers, Nanjiani and Gordon. Now you tell me – doesn’t that give you even greater hope?! 

Wonder Woman

History has been made folks. The highest-ever U.S. opening weekend for a film directed by a woman, let alone with a female lead, is Wonder Woman. Now that’s something to talk about! The past has proven it’s difficult to be a woman in this industry, but boy have we come a long way. Director Patty Jenkins is no stranger to success, Monster being an incredible film she directed back in 2003 that even won an Oscar for Best Actress. But every director has his or her passion project. Jenkins’ has always been to make a superhero film with a female lead – what better choice than Wonder Woman.

The story is thoughtful and downright deep; the message being key to this film's success. Without giving too much away, Jenkins, as well as writers, Allan Heinberg (Grey’s Anatomy), Zack Snyder (300), and Jason Fuchs (Pan) had a clear vision in mind. They wanted to make a superhero film universal to all. Many might assume it’s just for women, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, hence the suggestion for a couple’s retreat (and of course a girl's night out). Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot (Fast Five), is warm, loving, honorable and strong (a badass is more like it), with nothing but great intentions. She stands for something so pure and good, always prioritizing love, justice and kindness above all else. You tell me – does that sound like that’s a message just for women? No, that’s meant for everyone…or so we’d hope. You’ll still get your adrenaline fix, but more importantly you’ll walk out with some life lessons, hard to come by in these action packed films that focus only on the visual effects. My point being Wonder Woman has the whole package.

Gadot is a relatively unknown actress, but that’s going to change real quick. It’s easy to see she took this role seriously, knowing this was the opportunity of a lifetime, especially in a male dominated genre. She embodied everything and more to play a woman who was not only strong and powerful, but also one with virtue, charisma, and charm. Nailed it! It’s no surprise Gadot had a love interest, played by Chris Pine (Star Trek). Their chemistry had a flair with witty banter ping ponging back and forth – a welcomed change from the purely physical relationships in most superhero films with overly sexualized female characters. 

Bottom line: Wonder Woman is well worth your time and money. Don’t judge a book by its cover boys, there’s plenty in it for you. And like I said before, women are breaking barriers left and right, but we still have a long way to go (hint hint, the ending). Expect a sequel so if this film tickles your fancy, you’ll be able to proudly say, “I’m series faithful!” 

The Lovers

Everything is not always as it appears. There’s no better saying to describe The Lovers, a film about a detached married couple, both cheating, but who somehow find their way back to each other.

Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment) and Tracey Letts (August: Osage County) were perfectly cast. Typically it’s painful to see characters with zero chemistry whatsoever, but here’s your exception. The two of them had such a lack of interest in one another that it became laugh out loud funny to witness their highly awkward interactions. The two of them managed to make the audience feel as off put as they felt by their own marriage. Oftentimes, when characters need to be this void of emotion, the actors interact at a bare minimum on and off set – a tactic many directors use to achieve the best results. A textbook example of this is Foxcatcher. Director Bennett Miller (Moneyball) did not allow Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street) and Steve Carell (The Office) to interact at all so as to not let a friendship develop that may have affected their roles. Alright, back to The Lovers. Even with their apparent loveless marriage, Winger and Letts’ character development alone, with an ending so unexpected, is well worth a watch, one that hopeless romantics with most certainly appreciate.  

It wasn’t only the actors who achieved this divide. Writer and director Azazel Jacobs (Terri) artfully separated Winger and Letts in each frame, whether it was placing them on opposite sides of a couch or bed, Jacobs’ carefully crafted direction made it possible. He also used cell phones as a symbol to separate them. Naturally, they were able to sneak around in their own affairs, but it was their texting that added to their stomach churning relationship. Jacobs’ writing, along with his direction, made for a quirky film, a pleasant surprise.

Bottom line: The film can feel a bit slow, I’ll give you that, but it’s because of this that we are then able to develop feelings for the characters and understand their inner emotions on a deeper level. This is not your typical couple’s retreat, but that’s what makes it fresh and unique. Indies may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this one is worth going outside of the box for.