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!

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…

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

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 :(

Molly's Game

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There were high stakes on the table for Aaron Sorkin’s (The Social Network) directorial debut, his reputation as a renowned writer was on the line. It was well worth the risk, as Molly’s Game, is definitely a must-see. It’s skillfully crafted for those familiar or not with poker, compelling, adrenaline inducing, and with no less than the best, Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) who is just as badass as the character she plays, Molly Bloom. 

Sorkin is hit or miss for some. His scripts are dialogue heavy, which if taken at face value are brilliant considering what a great writer he is, but can be feel preachy. The dialogue is always fast paced and thorough, requiring your eyes and ears to be wide open or else you’re sure to miss a thing or two. Molly’s Game has the same game plan, different story. Sorkin tells Molly Bloom’s story, Olympic skier gone “Poker Princess,” known for running the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game in the early 2000’s. At one point the buy in was $250,000 to put it into perspective so this woman didn’t f*** around. The rest is history.

The film doesn’t skip a beat. Sorkin structured the film such that we learned along with Chastain, about poker and how to run a game. Now don’t think for a second you’ll walk out an expert, but point is, the film is very informational, even though your brain might explode. Sorkin gives your brain a break once she begins to run her own game, only to attack your heart next. You do the math on how you’ll feel when men lose $100 million a night. While this fact is true, there are certain parts of the film that aren’t exactly true to life, but it’s understandable why Sorkin felt the need to fudge the facts for dramatic purposes. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed, especially with a certain someone’s performance.

It’s hard to picture anyone but Chastain playing this role. She’s Molly’s doppelganger, looks, speech, and the whole nine yards. Her character development is phenomenal: obedient athlete to sly assistant to confident independent businesswoman. She’s a whole different animal by the end. These transformations felt like their own characters – Chastain played each so well so when there’s a sudden flip of a switch on to the next one, it feels invigorating and exciting. It wasn’t just her personality that altered over time, but also her fashion, essential to her character, ultimately becoming a convincing woman with all the chips. Her counterpart, Idris Elba (Luther), who plays her lawyer (another Sorkin fictional character), brought laughs to the party and had just as much of a presence as Chastain on screen. The same goes for Michael Cera (Superbad) who plays one of the high stakes players. Fun fact: Cera plays Tobey McGuire (Spider-Man), renamed “Player X” for privacy purposes, one of many Hollywood stars who joined in on the fun. Molly had quite the line up: Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Ben Affleck (Argo), as well as athletes Pete Sampras, and Alex Rodriguez.

Bottom line: For diehard poker sports fans and non gamblers alike, Molly’s Game is entertaining as hell – story, pace, and needless to say, killer acting all around. Sorkin played the long game as a writer, joined when the table was hot, went all in, and boom full house…officially able to call himself a director, and a good one at that! 

The Shape of Water

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There’s someone out there for everyone, even you hopeless romantics. I can imagine you’ve heard this many times. Personally, I believe it to be true – love comes in all forms, shapes, and sizes. Beautifully crafted, as all love should be, The Shape of Water takes this idea and runs with it. The story of an unlikely relationship between a mute janitor, played by Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), and an amphibious creature (no previous credits), is Guillermo Del Toro’s (Pans Labyrinth) latest stunning success that may or may not tickle your fancy.

Del Toro does it all – directs, writes, and produces. This story was thought up by him, and with a little help from my (oops his) friend, Vanessa Taylor (Divergent), a screenplay way waaay out there was created. It’s nothing new at first glance – a love story. Peel back a few more layers and it’s a love story set in the Cold War era. Peel back another and another and another, and you have a love story between a creature locked up in a secret research facility and a woman whose voice has never been heard. Common thread? Yes, they’re both “different,” outcasts from society who’ve found each other. Tada! Yet it’s a story that’s surprisingly rather underdeveloped. It only scratches the surface of its broader theme, and leaves you with many unanswered questions about the characters themselves.

It’s not the screenplay that did the trick to get Del Toro even more critical acclaim than he already has. It’s his direction. When Del Toro writes he already sees the final product. His brilliant mind comes up with ideas (from god knows where) and thus manipulates them into the most detail oriented films. He's a perfectionist and it's worth it. His films are always visually stunning and thought through down to the very last scratch on the floor. Del Toro, along with Cinematographer Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak) and Production Designer Paul D. Austerberry (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), all joined forces to connect every image back to one common subject, water. Don’t be fooled, none of this is in your face, but it’s there, all seamlessly put together by the man we should trust by now to create dazzling films.

It’s hard to relate to these characters – they feel very far from reality, hello one is a monster, but the actors do a good job of expressing themselves enough for the audience to feel for each of them. Hawkins’ actions speak WAY louder than words. The rest of the cast, Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), who will make you laugh out loud at times, Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals), Octavia Spencer (The Help), and Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name), all had strong, stand alone performances. And believe it or not there’s someone behind the very real, almost too real, creature, actor Dough Jones (Hellboy). Round of applause for the makeup department!

Bottom line: The Scene Queen has very tactfully waited until the end to say The Shape of Water in fact did not tickle her fancy, as I was hoping for more. Although I fully understand how and why it has and will for so many (you should see it for sure), but I just can’t get onboard. It’s a feel good, but one that takes a great deal of patience (it’s slow as molasses). The devil is in Del Toro’s details, which may or may not let him bring home some bright and shiny statues this year.