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.

Beautiful Boy

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The title of this movie, Beautiful Boy, is a mixed bag of nuts because every parent has to take the bad with the good, the ugly with the beautiful. For some parents it’s much more complicated. Writers Luke Davies (Lion) and Felix van Groeningen (Belgica), with the help of the real life father/son duo, David and Nic Sheff, showcase this truth through the struggles of addiction and the effects it has on family. We see this from the POV of a devoted father, played by Steve Carell (The Office), to his son, played by Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), whose unwavering love and determination to help his son is, well…beautiful. Carell and Chalamet are an incredible pair with so much chemistry you almost forget they’re not real life father and son. It’s especially heartbreaking knowing it’s a true story and that so many families experience this.

One of the writers, Groeningen, is also the director, and while the final product is tear jerking and stunningly shot, his missteps don’t quite make this an “omg run to the theater” kind of film. He didn’t establish a consistent pattern with his use of flashbacks to be able to discern when Chalamet was younger/older or relapsing/recovering. That’s big when watching a film about addiction with so much back and forth; it’s essential to know when and where we are in the story. Chalamet is a stellar, one-of-a-kind actor, but it’ll take years to age him and that made the film’s storyline hard to follow, as it’s difficult to discern Chalamet’s age throughout. He’s 22, but let’s be real, he could pass as 15!

Bottom line: Beautiful Boy might be imperfect, but it’s worth your time to not only see incredible performances by the two leads and Maura Tierney (The Affair), but also to see how the struggles of addiction affect families as much, if not more so than the addict themselves. Head’s up Beautiful Boy is now available to rent for free on Amazon Prime ;)

Bohemian Rhapsody

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Freddie Mercury was Somebody To Love – I think we can all agree on that! With Freddie comes Queen, one of the most epic bands of all time with hits that include songs like We Are The Champions, Fat Bottomed Girls, and the list goes on and on. So it’s about time someone made a movie about this brilliant, beloved band!

Writer Anthony McCarten is a biopic (a biographical movie) pro, having recently written two films, one about Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and another about Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, both of which respectively won many awards. Therefore, it’s rather perplexing with so much experience in recounting history accurately and portraying those men perfectly that Bohemian Rhapsody fell so far short. It’s one thing to dramatize and embellish minor details for the big screen, after all we want to be entertained, but it’s quite another to tell a false narrative. Now I want to be clear, like I said, audiences want to be entertained and this feel good and at times laugh out loud film will do exactly that, entertain, with a career best performance by Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) that will blow you away. But Mr. McCarten, why couldn’t you entertain us AND tell the truth at the same time? For one, Queen never broke up and Freddie never went solo. Secondly, Queen had been on tour for months before Live Aid, therefore this was not a “reunion” as told by McCarten. Lastly and most importantly, Freddie Mercury didn’t know he had HIV/AIDS until two years after Live Aid. What purpose did it serve to add and edit their history? Queen already had a moving story to tell, so to inaccurately portray their lives and the circumstances around the band does a disservice not only to them, but also to audiences who are left having been entertained, but sadly with no truth behind it. Hey, maybe McCarten played We Will Rock You one too many times and switched the “we” for “I”.

Bottom line: Malek’s incredible depiction of Freddie makes up for McCarten’s mishaps therefore he alone places the film in the history buff category. And yet Another One Bites The Dust in this important category – get it right people!

Side note: In the wake of the #metoo movement, since when should films with any association to this be awarded? Cough, director Bryan Singer (X-Men) who has several sexual misconduct allegations against him including raping a 17-year-old boy and forcing minors to strip naked for his movies. Charming…

The Greatest Showman

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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 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!