A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born.jpg

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

panther.jpg

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

freed.png

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 :(

A Bad Moms Christmas

moms.jpg

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.  

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor.jpg

It’s been four long, dreary years since we last saw Chris Hemsworth's (Thor) golden locks, piercing blue eyes and strong physique in a tight bodysuit with a hammer and the voice of an Australian angel. Marvel Studios has been holding out on us, but it was well worth the wait. They brought us Thor 2.0. He’s still everything we dream about, but with a flare and attitude this time that made the film effortlessly laugh out loud funny. Alongside Thor came some new faces who not only complimented him, but also the story to move it into a whole new realm (no pun intended).

The franchise has only gotten better, perhaps because of the change of directors. Marvel’s director of choice this time was an unconventional one; indie director Taika Waititi. His latest and most well known film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, had a $2.5 million budget...Thor: Ragnarok’s was $180 million, so to say Waititi now plays in the big leagues is an understatement. If you’re a superhero fan then you know the formula: huge, blown out fight scenes, heavy CGI, and a dramatic “save the world” tone. But not on Waititi’s watch! His main focus was to add life back into these movies with more relatable characters, humor and spontaneity. Without his indie touch, this would’ve been just another action packed superhero film with no heart.

Waititi wasn’t the only who had his first go. Writers, Craig Kyle, Eric Pearson, and Christopher Yost did as well, Thor: Ragnarok being their first big script. Marvel really put all their money in one inexperienced basket, but turns out it’s their best decision yet.

It wasn’t just the creatives who were new to the project. There’s still the usual suspects: Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston (Avengers), Idris Elba (Luther), Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal), and Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), but some new faces on the scene added a welcomed change of pace. Tessa Thompson (Creed) is Thor’s new potential love interest, replacing the beloved Natalie Portman, for reasons that have yet to be disclosed. She was certainly rougher around the edges than Portman, but her unconventional personality traits made the film all the more entertaining. The most notable addition is Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) who let her villainous character take on a life of its own, arguably overshadowing Hemworth’s performance. Ya…she was that good AND guess what! She’s not overly sexualized – what a novel idea. Marvel always manages to put together the best motley crew.

Bottom line: Thor: Ragnarok is a Marvel fans' dream – delving deeper into the story with all the glitz and glam adrenaline junkies are used to, but with a witty touch that makes this a feel good for everyone, even those who aren’t series faithful.     

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!” 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

It’s no surprise if you saw the first installment of Guardians of the Galaxy that you’re in for one heck of a ride, full of every fix you can think of. Marvel consistently produces solid films. If you ask me, there’s no other company that makes better wannabe superhero films. All of them have a distinct characteristic. Can you guess? …They don’t take themselves too seriously. Let’s compare the Transformers franchise to well, every Marvel film…Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Avengers, Ant-Man and my personal favorite, Guardians. Humorless in comparison. Marvel has managed to create films that add laugh out loud moments, even in the most dramatic of times. Let’s face it, live-action, animated films, are highly unrealistic. Marvel has created parodies of the genre to stand out from the rest.

A successful sequel is hard to come by these days. Franchises milk them for all they’re worth. Cough, Pirates of the Caribbean, cough. I’m not talking about box office success. What I meant was that Vol. 2 was as good, if not better than the first because of its story arc and the VFX capabilities. With a bigger budget, $30 million more than the first, they added more glitz and glam. It couldn’t have been more action packed to satisfy any adrenaline junkie. They hired a new cinematographer, Henry Braham (The Golden Compass), who put the pedal to the mettle. It can be exhausting, but prepare yourself for that. Perhaps don’t drink too much caffeine beforehand, there’s plenty where that came from. 

Marvel likes their star power. There are the obvious ones – Chris Pratt (Jurassic World), Zoe Saldana (Avatar), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), and Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious), but then there are those that pop up around every corner – Sylvester Stallone (Rocky), Kurt Russell (Miracle), and the list goes on and on. The cameos are priceless. Considering how involved the plot is and the amount of characters that needed to be introduced, Vol. 1 didn’t have time to waste on character development. The story was the highest priority to suck you in. By now they expect you’re invested in each of the characters, for those that are series faithful at least. So writer and director, James Gunn (Dawn of the Dead), dug deeper this time. We learn more about each character's background, their deepest, darkest secrets, and most importantly the insecurities that make them vulnerable. It’s the last part that shows you their true self. I’ll warn you, it can be a bit of a tear jerker at times.

Bottom line: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a feel-good, fun ride with a stellar cast, engaging extension of an already exciting story, wild action, and phenomenal music to add the cherry on top of it all. If you’re ready to have a GROOT time, then this is a must-see for you!

Logan

I’ve been a weee bit nervous to write about the latest X-Men installment, Logan, staring, yup you guessed it, Hugh Jackman (The Prestige) as Wolverine.  It’s important to preface this by saying I’m a diehard X-Men fan: series faithful is an understatement. I remember seeing the first film in 2000 like it was yesterday and can’t believe we’re talking about the 10th film now in 2017. It’s definitely not a casual series to pick up. The timelines and plots of each don’t match that of its predecessors, jumping into the future and back, so it definitely takes some patience. Fan or not, we owe a lot to Marvel, the gold standard of all wannabe superhero films. And with Jackman leaving this franchise after 17 years, staring in 9 out of the 10 films (Deadpool being the exception), this film is the end of an era.

I’ll come right out and say it; I didn’t like the film. It’s been made pretty clear by every other X-Men fan that this couldn’t have been a better sendoff to Jackman. For some reason, it just didn’t resonate with me and here’s why:

It was clear from the start that writer and director James Mangold (Walk the Line), along with Scott Frank (The Minority Report) and Michael Green (Green Lantern) intended to differentiate Logan; not only from the X-Men series itself, but also from superhero films in general. Notice anything about their distinguished films? Dark. Dark. Dark. Great, but dark. That was the immediate tone. Wolverine is exhausted – I mean the dude has had a long run with some gnarly injuries…that miraculously heal. Surely wouldn’t be my ideal superpower, but it could come in handy with the occasional paper cut, perhaps even a mosquito bite. Point is, Wolverine would never have wanted that superpower either. He’d prefer a “normal” life, which is problemo numero uno for me – is the wild wild west his idea of a normal life? It just seemed like an unlikely match for a superhero film, and even when I remind myself “this one is intentionally different,” I still can’t get past it.

Anguish, aging, family and mortality are all critical themes in Logan. For a film that is supposed to be so meaningful, why not actually focus on that substance, instead of excessive violence, catering only to adrenaline junkies? That’s where problemo numero dos comes into play: gory, I mean real gory. We’re talking Quentin Terrantino sh** times 100. It’s the first time an X-Men film has been rated R so Mangold really ran with it. First time motion picture actress, Dafne Keen, Wolverine’s sidekick, was the one that forced me to cover my eyes the most. Keen is Eleven on crack (Stranger Things, do it if you haven’t already). Good little actress, but her screaming and wailing the entire time was excessive. I felt like Anchorman Brick Tamland…“WHY ARE WE YELLING?!” Take it down a notch, girl. Mangold, you had me at hello with the first 3 fight scenes. I’m sorry to say, this cast a shadow over the entire film for me and I was unable to recover because it never let up.   

Bottom line: I’m not in the business of bashing films – it’s not in my best interest, or yours because after all, everyone has different tastes. I respect Mangold and the other writers for going out of a superhero film’s comfort zone, but for me personally it went waaay out into no man’s land and as the credits rolled and the audience was clapping, I asked myself, “did I miss something?” As big of a X-Men fan as I am, I was left sad and disappointed. Not because of the films’ dark material, but because for what closed the wound for most fans, left a gaping hole for me, and there’s no chance for redemption. It’s not called final chapter for nothing.  

P.S: There are no blurbs at the end, Marvel’s signature – throw salt into the wound, why don’t cha!