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! 

Fifty Shades Freed

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By now, we’re all familiar with the Fifty Shades trilogy, based on the best-selling novels written by E. L. James. If you haven’t read them, someone you know has, or at the very least you’ve seen a woman or two glued to it on your morning commute. It’s been 7 years since the series was published and 3 years since the first film was released. Since then the films have evolved to let’s put it this way…a raunchier level. The story is absurd, unsophisticated and certainly far-fetched. If you put all that past you and don’t take it so seriously, they’re fun and one hell of a guilty pleasure. All you have to do is show up and director James Foley (House of Cards), and actors Dakota Johnson (How to Be Single) and Jamie Dornan (The Fall) will do all the work for you.

Fun fact: the screenwriter, Niall Leonard (Fifty Shades Darker), is married to E. L. James so her precious babies were on a tight leash. Fans of the novels say Leonard uses everything from the source material, a reader's dream. If you’re looking for a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, keep walking. It’s no secret these are poorly written and laugh out loud funny, but E. L. James and Leonard have figured out what women want. For those of us who haven’t read the novels, the first film introduces the couple, the second dives deeper into Mr. Grey’s complicated history and how it affects their relationship. The final installment shows what happens after Mrs. Grey gets her happy ending. Add some drama like a sexy realtor, an obsessive ex, and a boss turned stalker turned murderer and you’ve got yourself a cookie cutter formula.

Go big or go home. This time Foley went bigger than big. He doesn’t waste any time, jumping right in, leaving little to the imagination. He gets up close and personal in every sex scene of which there are plenty. This one went from 0 to 100 with more nudity than the others. Just like the novels, this won’t be an Oscar nominated film. Foley’s transitions are choppy, forced and rushed. It’s as though he felt pressed for time. However, the music is SO good and matches the vibe perfectly thanks to music composer Danny Elfman (Spider-Man). Foley tugs on our emotions, taking us down memory lane with a montage of the most memorable moments from the series. It’s okay to giggle, blush, and smile from ear to ear hopeless romantics. It’s a heartthrob, sure to spike your adrenaline

Speaking of heartthrobs, Mr. and Mrs. Grey, Dornan and Johnson respectively, were on fire. Dornan must be eating his wheaties every morning and pumpin’ some serious iron because the man looks very, and I mean VERY, good. Johnson isn’t too shabby herself, looking stunning per usual. Their chemistry is better than ever, each scene wilder than the one before it. Rumor has it they don’t get along in real life. Could’ve fooled me! Best friends or not, these can’t be easy to film. They’ve both reached their climax, and now it’s time to move on. TBD on what roles they land next. Films like these have tendencies to pigeon hole you…

Bottom line: If you're embarrassed to admit that you’ve read the books or seen the films, let it go. Get on board, become series faithful, and grab your friends for a girl’s night out. Aren’t you in the least bit curious how it ends? Parting is such sweet sorrow :(

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 ;) 

 

 

A Bad Moms Christmas

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Christmas came early and I ain’t mad about it. It’s that time of year again…girls' night out! Does squeezing into your tightest body suit and throwing back shots sound familiar? No need to put yourself through that misery. This year all you need is your girlfriends (preferably ones with a sense of humor), your comfy groutfit so that you can relax with a big ol’ bag of popcorn. If this sounds appealing, then A Bad Moms Christmas is for you.

If you saw the first in 2016, I suggest being series faithful because this one is twice as fun with double the laugh out loud moments. Writer and directors, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, most known for The Hangover, cranked this script out in less than a year. It’s the same premise, but set during Christmas, with the same players and some new recruits. The jokes are raunchier and uh well a tad over the top at times…forced is the word I’d use. But hey you know what you’re getting yourself into. Might as well go big or go home and that’s exactly what they did. Yet even through the out of control moments, Lucas and Moore tugged on your emotions with themes that resonates with us all, a pleasant surprise.  

Mila Kunis (Friends With Benefits), Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Kathryn Hahn (How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days) are the perfect trio, definitely the right women for the job. They don’t typically play overly vulgar roles, which makes the film even funnier. Adding in their “moms” to the mix gave way to their character development. This isn’t Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), Cheryl Hines (The Ugly Truth) and Susan Sarandon’s (Thelma & Louise) first rodeo. It was so apparent they were all genuinely having fun, which makes the film all the more enjoyable. This seasoned cast is enough to make this film worth your time.

Bottom line: Be the first one to suggest it for your girls’ night – your bank account and body will thank you, and so will your friends! It’s a win, win.  

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! 

Rough Night

A girl can dream and hope that Rough Night would be another Bridesmaids. I realized early on that dream would have to wait. While both films have incredible sets of leading women, the biggest difference is the absurdity of this plot, translating into unsophisticated writing and sloppy directing.

There’s no shortage of star power in Rough Night. You’ll quickly recognize the two major comedians: Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live) and Ilana Glazer (Broad City). Add Jillian Bell (22 Jump Street), Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) and Zoe Kravitz (Divergent) and you’ve got yourself a promising comedy right there. Each girl brought something unique to the table: childish, sexual, politically correct, raunchy, and smart humor. Can you guess who fits each description? It would be hard to imagine a world in which these women didn’t make you laugh out loud so there’s nothing to worry about on that front. It almost makes this film worth seeing, but sadly once the storyline spirals out of control, the girls couldn’t hold it together. So close, yet so far…

It just so happens Lucia Aniello, Glazer’s (Broad City) writer and director, also wrote and directed this film. It’s no secret that writing and directing films are a whole other ball game than that of television episodes. This is Aniello’s first time directing a major motion picture so the only excuse I can think of for this hiccup is that she struggled to stay organized in the hour and 40 minutes she had versus what she’s used to…22-minute television episodes.  However, I can’t think of any reason why the jokes didn’t have the same punch as Broad City, arguably one of the most successful tv comedies to date. You’d think she’d be an expert by now. But nope, she fell back on the most cliché topics in the book – death, violence, binge drinking, drugs, bizarre sexual occurrences, and not to mention excessive amounts of cursing – all of which cheapened the humor. Should we give her a pass?? I think so, all things considered; she has all the tools, but just needs some practice putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Bottom line: There are countless “everything goes wrong” comedies with all male casts so it’s nice to see the roles reversed for a change AND to top it all off with a female writer and director. Although Rough Night missed some key opportunities to make this a homerun, it’s a step in the right direction for women in Hollywood. It’s perfect for a girl’s night out, and even better as a rental, paired with some wine, but try not to have a rough night ;)

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!”