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.

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

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! 

The Post

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Honesty is the best policy, but when it comes to politics, a different code seems to apply. The Post is an example of this. In 1971 when President Nixon was in office, The Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers, top-secret intelligence about the Vietnam War, hidden from the public through four U.S. administrations. Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep (Iron Lady), the country’s first female newspaper publisher, made this happen, along with her courageous staff, played by a long list of actors you’re sure to recognize. It's another must-see Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) film, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (Spotlight), who will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

First time writer, Liz Hannah, came up with the idea for this film AND wrote it. Did I mention she’s 33 and now her first screenplay is a Spielberg film? It’s safe to say she’s going to have a killer career. Without the delicacy of Hannah and Singer's writing, the film could’ve felt overwhelming, having spread itself too thin, with too much information. Luckily, it was anything but. The background provided, which covers 12+ years, was both necessary and helpful to understand the magnitude of the real reason for the film, the papers. Hannah and Singer drop the bomb and launch into the who, what, where, when, how and why at full speed ahead. You’ll walk out feeling like an expert. Surprise – you’ll also learn about the newspaper industry and how it functions, bricks, press, print, the whole shebang!

Spielberg, well he’s Spielberg. Dull lighting, with subtle spotlights on the highlighted characters during interior scenes let the audience know who the big man on campus was in the room. In a film where there were oftentimes many characters in one scene, this was certainly helpful to direct our focus. During these scenes, there was heavy dialogue, but they served as a break in the drama where Spielberg gives you time to listen and digest the information thrown at you. In between each of those interior shots, the camera would follow the characters walking briskly or running to get to the next big thing in the story. As the film went on, the stakes naturally got higher. Music composer, John Williams (Star Wars), makes that tension possible. The score is fast and exciting, making your adrenaline levels soar through the roof. Spielberg’s direction, editing, and score make for an exciting and beyond entertaining film with incredible acting by his entire cast.

There’s a whole lot of star power packed into The Post, hello Streep and Tom Hanks (Castaway) alone, wowza. Streep is a badass boss lady, the kind of character we need more of in Hollywood right now. Her character development was shown through the transformation of her clothing. Take notice of her business-like attire, suits, etc at the start, but by the end her outfits are more ladylike, showing she’s a confident woman who's the boss in a room full of men. Hanks, who plays Ben Bradlee, the executive editor, is one of those men who shows her the respect she deserves. He has gumption and authority when around his team, but when in a room with Streep, he noticeably tones that down to show them whose boss, Katharine Graham. Fun fact for all you history buffs: Bradlee and his wife were best friends with John and Jackie Kennedy, but that's a story for another time. Check out The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee on HBO; it's fascinating! In such a dramatic film (in the positive sense), the actors overcame the urge to over act. Bare with me, the list is long, but they all deserve a shout out: Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul), Tracy Letts (Lady Bird), Bradley Whitford (West Wing), Bruce Greenwood (Double Jeopardy), Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Alison Brie (Glow), Carrie Coon (Gone Girl), Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights) and David Cross (Arrested Development). I wasn’t kidding...

Bottom line: The Post is interesting, action packed and well worth your time. Juicy, juicy gossip you’ll want to know – after all it was kept from us for far too long! Be sure to catch it before the Oscars, I smell a Best Picture nomination. 

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!