Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody.jpg

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…

The Greatest Showman

showman.jpg

Musicals have been few and far between lately. They’re risky, hit or miss with audiences. You’re either a fan or you’re not. There were only two this year. Beauty and the Beast, released in early 2017 was a huge hit. Then Christmas Day, perfect timing might I add, The Greatest Showman hit theaters to close out 2017. If I had to describe it in two words it would hands down be “feel good.” It has it all: it’s a true story for you history buffs and has amazing music and an even better cast. It’ll strike an emotional cord even with the skeptical musical h8ters. It may be corny, but mindless entertainment is good to balance out the other content we consume. That’s exactly what you’ll find in The Greatest Showman, now available to rent.

History remembers P.T. Barnum in many ways – “take the bad with the good” just about sums up one of the greatest showmen of all time. Coming from humble beginnings, Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman (Logan), wanted to make a name for himself, but he did so in questionable ways. Long story short, at the start of his career, he purchased a black woman by the name of Joice Heth for exhibition. She claimed to be George Washington’s former nurse, oh and a minor detail, apparently 161 years old. Gullible much, Mr. Barnum? But like I said, with the bad comes the good. Writers, Jenny Bicks (Rio 2) and Bill Condon (Chicago) decided to focus on the good. Barnum was an incredible businessman and entrepreneur who saw an opportunity to entertain audiences in ways no one had done before. By only focusing on the good, Bicks and Condon sacrificed character development, which the film seriously lacked. They teased each character’s background, but in the end left the low hanging fruit still dangling. It felt like the right decision with so many characters, but that gamble resulted in shallow writing, putting all the pressure on first time director Michael Gracey.

Gracey never leaves you bored. The majority of the film was created through VFX, the manipulation of imagery outside a live action shot, which is where his expertise lies. The action is not like that of superhero films, but is instead creative and artsy, resulting in dazzling imagery. The most noteworthy quality of the film, aside from the music, is the flawless editing. It’s picture perfect, seamlessly transitioning from a normal, or regular shot, to stunning musical scenes with great choreography, costumes and production design. Gracey worked with music composers John Debney (The Jungle Book) and Joseph Trapanese (Straight Outta Compton) to insert the song and dance at the emotional highs and lows in the script. Who came first, the chicken (script) or the egg (music)? The script! Gracey hit his first high note with this modern day musical.

Any film with Jackman, known to be one of the nicest actors in Hollywood, is apparently a blast to work on. What an amazing thing to be known for! His positive and encouraging personality trickles over to the rest of the crew and cast on all of his films. What’s more, he’s no stranger to the musical genre after having killed it in the remake of Les Misérables in 2012. The casting of Zac Efron (High School Musical) and Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) was extremely smart for two reasons: one, boy do they know how to sing and dance, and two, they appeal to a younger demographic, making The Greatest Showman an all around hit with every age group. As for the rest of the cast, including some well-known faces like Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine) and Rebecca Ferguson (Life), well let’s just say they’ll teach you important lessons – acceptance and to be proud of yourself!

Bottom line: Musical cynics don’t shy away from this one. Like I said it’s great for all ages, kid friendly, and you never know, you may jerk a tear or two, especially you hopeless romantics out there. Dance like no ones watching and sing like no ones listening {to the soundtrack}, The Greatest Showman is a musical high! 

The Shape of Water

shape.jpg

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.  

Call Me By Your Name

callmebyyourname.jpg

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 ;) 

 

 

Lady Bird

lady bird.jpg

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! 

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.     

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?! 

Megan Leavey

Dogs are a man’s best friend. This couldn’t ring truer when you see Megan Leavey. This film is uniquely not just for history buffs, but also for anyone with a heart. It’s based on the true-life story of a young Marine Corporal Dog Handler, played by Kate Mara (House of Cards), who saved numbers of lives with her best friend and dog Rex during their deployment in Iraq. The film was recounted in the most straightforward way, no fluff, just as real as can be. Mara, along with the other cast members played their roles with integrity, honoring those who have served, especially Leavey’s character to whom so many owe their lives.

There are so many true stories to be told of these men and women, but screenwriters, Pamela Gray (Conviction) and Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids) chose a unique one in that the hero and protagonist is a dog. It was a nice change to hear about these unsung heroes who sniff out bombs and thus save countless lives. But what I appreciated most was how they wrote the screenplay, showing a steady progression of the strong bond between the dogs and their handlers. You’ll become so invested in the characters that you won't want the film to end. That’s the sign of a good movie.

It’s a sensitive topic for many, therefore first time director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite (that’s a mouthful right there), treaded lightly and did an incredible job at that. She used dead time to show what these Marines are up against and how daunting the job truly is with so much land to cover in so little time. Choosing to use minimal special effects, she devoted the majority of the film to the story itself, instead of distracting the audience. Most war movies use heavy CGI, which tends to glorify war and make the job seem “cool,” but not Cowperthwaite. She simply portrayed the gritty side of war.

Mara represented the men and women who honorably serve our country. Her performance is so great you’ll forget she’s not actually the real Megan Leavey. There are lots of familiar faces in the film – Common (Selma), Edie Falco (The Sopranos), Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), and the coach from Remember the Titans, Will Patton. Oh and MALFOY! He left Hogwarts and joined the muggle world. Welcome. But the real star of the film was Rex. Beware – he’ll make your emotions run wild.

Bottom line: Megan Leavey has all the characteristics of a war movie – adrenaline spikes and tears just to name a few. What’s a nice relief is that animals most always make you feel good. Thank you Rex, you’ll never be forgotten.