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 ;) 

 

 

The Disaster Artist

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Have you seen The Room? Have you even heard of The Room? 9/10 times the answer is no. Stop, drop, and roll to your computer. Follow these next instructions verrry carefully: type in the words “buy The Room Tommy Wiseau” into Google; a small website called Amazon will appear at the top; click on the link. Now this is the most important part and not to be questioned: purchase the DVD of The Room for $10.55. Amazon Prime is a thing of beauty; you’ll have that bad boy at your front door step two days later. Watch immediately. It will make The Disaster Artist that much better. Then come back to read the rest…see you then!

Now for those of you who have watched The Room

I think we can all agree it really is the “best worst movie ever made” and that writer, director, producer, and star Tommy Wiseau is well, let’s call him special. He’s fascinating to say the least: odd, mysterious, vain, delusional, but fascinating, truly one-of-a-kind. It’s no surprise someone would want to make a movie about him and who better than James Franco (127 Hours).

Long story short, Franco wasn’t part of The Room obsession until 4 years ago. He read The Disaster Artist, the book of which the film is based on, then saw The Room and jumped on the train. Fast forward to easily one of the best films of the year.

The Disaster Astist is practically perfect in every way (oh Mary Poppins how I still love you so). The plot structure caters to both audiences, those who have seen The Room and those who haven’t (don’t be the latter). Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer) answer your obvious questions of how and why the heck the film was made and in doing so you’ll get to know the peculiar characters, Wiseau in particular. Don’t expect “who is Tommy Wiseau” to be answered though – even Franco couldn’t crack that nut, but he sure did nail the outer shell.

Directing and staring in your own film is no easy feat, but Franco proves he can do anything. Franco gave an award winning performance, seriously though, I’ll be less than thrilled if he doesn’t win an Oscar. Wiseau is not an easy person to impersonate – looks, accent, and mannerisms. Completely and utterly bizarre! That didn’t stop Franco – lots and lots of prosthetics (2 ½ hours everyday), lots and lots of repetition of Wiseau’s voice recordings, and lots and lots of viewings of The Room, that’s dedication. At certain points, you’ll forget its Franco, that’s how spot on his performance is. Just wait until you get to the side-by-side reenactments…

Bottom line: The Disaster Artist doesn’t skip a beat. It’s hard to believe this is a true story, but that’s what makes it all the more hilarious. I’ve never been in a theater with as many people laughing out loud, myself included. I’ll refrain from going on and on about this movie because I can’t say enough great things about it. It’s a must-see and one of my favorite additions in the Queen’s Knight category to date. 

Lady Bird

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Adolescence. We’ve all been there, done that (thank god, amirite?) Let’s be real it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a time in our lives we’ve all gone through so naturally it’s an easy target for screenwriters. Coming of age stories have been told more times than we can count. Yet in an overly crowded, saturated genre, Lady Bird stands out from the rest in the most outstanding way.

Director Greta Gerwig has always been one to watch. Her career is an interesting one; it went up and up, but at a snail's pace. It wasn’t until 2010 that she was cast opposite Ben Stiller in Greenberg that she got her big break. From there she wrote and starred in two indies, Frances Ha and Mistress America. Lady Bird is her directing debut, and it is nothing shy of brilliant. The writing is relatable, quirky, but not tooo quirky, laugh out loud funny, and most importantly, a feel good with an important message. As the writer she had a vision only she knew how to execute. The material was there so the rest came naturally, resulting in a presentation that is simply perfect. When asked what she wants her audience to take away from the film, she answered, “I want them to call their moms.” Mission accomplished: I did exactly that!

She surrounded herself with a familiar face, which I can imagine eased her nerves. Gerwig has worked with cinematographer, Sam Levy (Frances Ha and Mistress America), before. He's defined himself by his deliberate camera placement of characters in each frame and use natural light, that develops plots further. He’s no stranger to low budget films so he works with what he’s got and makes the not so appealing, appealing (who knew Sacramento could look so pretty). The two compliment each other well, here's to hoping they continue to bring us great work. 

But man oh man; the cast couldn’t have been more on the nose. This is Saoirse Ronan’s third coming of age film (Atonement and Brooklyn being the other two). She slid into this role effortlessly with impeccable timing in each scene, and looked the part, acne and all. Ronan showed us that no one at that age knows who he or she truly is, but that it doesn’t matter; it’ll all work itself out. The whole film wouldn’t be what it is without Ronan’s mother in the film, Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne). Smart, judgmental, sensitive and emotional – she played all of our moms wrapped into one. Their love for each other was palpable, the key to the story’s authenticity. Tracy Letts (The Lovers), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Beanie Feldstein (Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising), and the rest of the dynamic cast nailed their characters, incredible performances by all.

Bottom line: Five minutes in I knew this would be at the top of the Queen’s Knight fix, and sure enough that’s exactly where you’ll find it. I can’t say enough good things about Gerwig’s film – truly a must-see and arguably the best film of the year. Watch out Oscars, Lady Bird is coming for ya! 

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?! 

La La Land

Love is in the air this holiday season with the release of La La Land. My oh my, does it feel good to walk out of a film smiling and blushing with stars in your eyes. It’ll make you fall in love with love all over again, in other words, snap to it hopeless romantics. As my main man Biggie always said, “it was all a dream.”

Let’s slow clap for Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), writer and director of the film. Talk about opening with a bang – Chazelle sets the tone and whether you like it or not, you’re in it for the long haul, but let me tell you, it’s well worth your time. Set in present day, but with the feel of a 50s or 60s film – now that’s the way to grab an audience’s attention. He filmed in CinemaScope, an anamorphic lens series used from 1953 to 1967, intended for widescreen films, giving the illusion that the screen is concave. He also closed most, if not all, chapters of the film, with a “vignette” filter (go to Instagram to see this firsthand if you don’t already know what it is). These aren’t the only techniques that give off an aged vibe. There’s also the font used for the chapter breaks, Ryan Gosling’s (Drive) car, the costume design and the theme of love and all it entails (basically anything but what us millennials experience these days). Instead of “oh to be young again,” it should be “oh to be old again.” Chazelle knew he also needed to appeal to a younger audience as the Casablanca’s and Singin’ in the Rain’s of the world are long gone. The juxtaposition of present day with cell phones and all to a period film feeling is a must-see in and of itself.

Gosling and Emma Stone (Easy A) exceeded expectations – they just have that presence; they command a room without even trying. Their Crazy Stupid Chemistry (oops I mean Love) was next level; palpable with every smile, every look, and every word spoken. It makes you want to melt. Not only was their singing and dancing shockingly good, but also their acting. It was so natural, almost making fun of themselves with such ease, so as to not take themselves so seriously. This is something that allows us to laugh out loud, not at them, but with them. Chazelle literally set the stage each time they went into song and dance by drowning out all the background noise and blacking out everyone in the background to make them the sole focal point with a spotlight. It’s shocking they’re not together in real life – could’ve fooled me! Time to take a lesson from these two if you’re seeing this as a couple’s retreat; or dream big on a girl’s night out.

Bottom Line: Queen’s Knight (my wacky way of saying it’s out of this world) is an understatement. For those that have high expectations and have been dying to see this for quite some time, you wont be disappointed. For you skeptics out there, whether it’s because of the musical aspect or bizzaro vibe you sensed from the previews, give it a chance, you’ll be happy you did, I promise. This will rack up quite a few awards, deservedly so, another reason among the many to go see La La Land

Arrival

There are very few films that leave you sitting once the credits roll, in awe and completely perplexed by what you just witnessed. Personally, I love films that keep you thinking well after you walk out of the theater and this was one of them. Arrival exemplifies this to the max with a unique and thought-provoking plot, incredible visuals and the right cast for the job. 

I decided it was best to sensor plot related discussion in the hopes of it being as much of a surprise for you as it was for me. All I will say is that you’ll learn a great deal about a topic most are unfamiliar with: the study of linguistics and all of its inner workings. Only thing I will say is let the story sink in before you jump to conclusions, it’s far more complex than you think if you really dig deep. Arrival isn’t your average alien film; it’s meaning is far beyond anything you could imagine.

The visuals alone are worth seeing. It’s obvious from the previews the special effects would be nothing short of jaw dropping. The sheer size and scale of each object and structure is in a league of its own. The director, Denis Villenevue (Sicario), is known for long, drawn out panning shots with an ominous score playing in the background that builds suspense until he finally hits the subject – always worth waiting for and ideal adrenaline junkies. Like I said his technique not only gives you an idea of the scale in which he’s working, but it also gives you the lay of the land.  

There were only three well-known actors, shocking considering the magnitude of this film. Amy Adams (American Hustle) proved herself long ago with consistent exemplary performances, but Arrival takes the cake. Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) was a perfect counterpart for Adams. Both managed to remain cool, calm and collected, while still managing to get your blood pumping. Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) was an odd choice, dull and hard to understand at times, but nothing that will dramatically change your perception of the film.

Bottom Line: Arrival will take you on a trip to another world, while still keeping you grounded here on Earth. It’s definitely a must-see and even more exciting, my third queen’s knight. It really can satisfy any fix – for you and everyone and their mother. Just do it, aliens await you. 

Moonlight

Ladies and gents – welcome to the second Queen’s Knight, The Revenant being the first! I’m sure there will be many more to come over the course of the next few months as we head deeper and deeper into awards season. Moonlight is one of those special films, unlike anything you’ve seen before, that only comes around once in a blue moon (no pun intended). It follows the life of a black boy in Miami, 305 represent (my hometown), through three chapters of his life: as a young boy; as a teenager; and all grown up as an adult. What is unprecedented is there’s never been a film written that follows the life of a black boy and in particular a gay black boy. Everything was on point – the writing was not only unique, but also spectacular in and of itself; the casting, especially as he got older, couldn’t have been more convincing; and last but certainly not least, the directing was out of this world.

Let’s dive right into the writing, written and directed by Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney, this being their first feature film. To experience a story that greatly resonates with you personally – the events, emotions and actions of the character, without being of the same sexual orientation or socio-economic background is unusual to say the least. I want you to experience this for yourself and see if you feel the same way so I’ll keep this explanation to a minimum. As a young boy, he was confused and impressionable, difficult to find his place amongst his peers. Once a teenager, he continued to struggle to adapt to the many changes that comes with growing up. On top of all of that, he’s gay and persecuted for being so. Sadly, this changes who you as you become an adult. The plot presented the true meaning of character development and should be a blueprint for successful films.

The casting was practically perfect in every way. Quick, what movie is that from? Mary Poppins, come on! To find three actors who transition through three life stages flawlessly is an impressive feat. You never questioned how he’d age. Check out the film’s poster – it shows it all. And while it'd be hard to choose one of those actors to nominate, Naomi Harris (Money Penny from Skyfall) should pick up a nom for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

You know it’s an indie when the film has a low budget, thus the directing is so simple. Even so, it still manages to blow you away. It was gritty, real and in your face. It was as though each scene was a photograph, transitioning into a still, each more picturesque than the image before. It felt incredibly authentic, especially when the characters would break the “fourth wall,” looking into the camera, as though you were looking into their soul and feeling for them in a profound sense. The transitions from scene to scene were incredibly well done. But what was most impressive was how they managed to have the film come full circle; you’ll notice the slightest of details from start to finish. Pay close attention – it’s truly astounding.

Bottom Line: Must-see is an understatement. Be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster – frustration, sadness, and a deep connection as though these characters apart of your family, all wrapped up into one tightly bound package. I will leave you with this one last thought: we never change at heart, even if we appear so on the exterior. Even with all the people who come in and out of our lives, after many years have past, things somehow feel the same. Put yourself in this boy’s shoes and I guarantee in one way or another you will have an “ah-ha” moment. 

The Revenant

I’ll start by telling you this movie is the sole reason for the Queen’s Knight. You will not come across this often, only being assigned to those that are truly worthy. And, The Revenant is just that.

Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman), director of the film, is a genius. Fun fact: he was a DJ before becoming a director. I’ve seen every film he’s made and let me tell you, they are all worth seeing. He is known for his camera movement, intricate staging, choreography, and especially his attention to detail. This focus on detail can be seen for example in the creative use of dead time (long shots of cinematography). This made the film for me. It allows for a break from the story with visuals that build tension and suspense with the music. I don’t like to use the term “favorite.” With so many movies, directors, and actors out there, it makes it very difficult to compare one to another. However, if I had to choose, Iñárritu would be my favorite.

In his latest masterpiece, The Revenant, he challenged the cast tremendously, something he is commonly known for. I can’t stop talking about it. I am still in awe!

The freezing conditions alone were shocking. Set in Alberta, Canada, temperatures rarely made it above -22 degrees Fahrenheit. At one point, temperatures dropped to -40 degrees Fahrenheit (um no comment), forcing Iñárritu to suspend production for five weeks. I lived in Michigan for five years and only once experienced a -20 degree day. To be honest, I didn’t leave the house that day. In other words, I can’t imagine what the crew felt in these excruciating temperatures.

I haven’t even gotten to the great Leonardo DiCaprio yet. He ate a raw bison liver for goodness sakes people! Iñárritu originally promised a fake liver prop, but of course, it didn’t look real enough for him. So for the first time since 1992, DiCaprio ate meat. First time since 1992 – what do you mean? Oh, you didn’t know DiCaprio has been a vegetarian since then…ya, neither did I before this film. This wasn’t just your average piece of meat, but rather, according to Leo, when he “bit into the membrane, the worst part of it, it was like biting into a balloon, it bursts into your mouth.” He only had to do this scene once, thankfully. The utter disgust that came across his face, and subsequent gag reflex was good enough for Iñárritu (phew).

DiCaprio didn’t stop there. It was hard to miss his scars, and what was obviously damn good makeup. Interesting fact, he had to wake up at 3am every morning to get his makeup done for 4-5 hours, covering him in 47 individual prosthetic pieces BEFORE driving 2 hours to the film set. Once fully in his character’s role, Hugh Glass, DiCaprio had to wear the character’s bearskin that repeatedly became drenched and thus frozen solid. In the scene where he escapes down the freezing river, hitting every rock humanly possible, his bearskin soaked up just about 50 pounds of water and again became frozen solid. He got several viral infections, trying to avoid hypothermia at all costs. Thankfully he did!  

Many people argue this is not Leo’s best film and are confused why he earned his first Academy Award for this role and not his others. I get where you’re coming from, but I respectfully disagree. The conditions and sacrifices he made for 9 months were remarkable. Some might say, he lived in -40 degree temperatures and ate a raw liver, who cares; he didn’t act because he barely said a word throughout the film. Come on, say that out loud and listen to yourself. Do you really believe the lack of dialogue means he didn’t act?

I’ll challenge you by saying, The Artist, the first silent film in a long time, released in 2011, won the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Film and Best Director. Jean Dujardin, the lead actor, won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and there wasn’t dialogue. I hope I have convinced you. Without dialogue, DiCaprio had to act through his emotions and reactions to his surroundings, preparing for each scene more than any other movie he’s made. If anything, the lack of dialogue was one of the biggest challenges in his career. Personally, I think he’s never made a bad film, something I can’t say for any other actor. We all love his other movies, but this one stands out above the rest.

I haven’t forgotten about Tom Hardy (Mad Max), who could? His performance was chilling and well executed. Hardy, John Fitzgerald in the film, should’ve won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, as his performance can easily be compared to DiCaprio’s. The biggest surprise of all was Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina and Brooklyn) who played the Captain. Acting well in four big films in 2015, you should keep your eye out for him. I predict he will soon become a familiar name, associated with other top actors.

Bottom Line: This wasn’t just another film for Iñárritu and DiCaprio. It was “the hardest chapter in their lives.” I think it’s safe to say a bear attack, horse tent, and don’t forget the raw liver meal, the list goes on and on, are enough for him to remain a vegetarian for life. I know it’s a long film, but it’s worth every second. Alright, alright, I’ll stop because I really could go on forever. You MUST-SEE it!