The Wife

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How the times have changed…

It was given that a woman’s role was to take care of the family, not financially (god forbid), but most importantly to be the main support for her husband. Joan Castleman, played by Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction), is the perfect example of this painful reality bestowed upon women for generations. Close’s character is the wife of a world-renowned writer, played by Jonathan Pryce (Brazil), whose ego is more than one woman should ever have to bear witness to.

Writer Jane Anderson (Mad Men) is sneaky. Anderson paces herself and then suddenly attacks, leaving you in a cloud of emotion that is hard to stomach, let alone digest just when you’ve let your guard down. Director Björn Runge (Daybreak) follows Anderson’s lead by taking his time with his camera work to slowly hone in on Close and the pain behind her seemingly loving eyes. It is Close’s silent, but deadly acting that stings the most. Emphasis on the silent – Close doesn’t have as many lines as you’d think as lead actor, but that’s what’s impressive. It’s the transformation of her character, mainly through facial expressions, that makes this a must-see. This is acting at its finest!

Bottom line: The Wife took 14 years to make and comes at a time when our society needs it most. Times Up! No one should ever feel they’ve lived unfulfilled lives. Close taught us that in her inspiring Golden Globes speech when she won her first ever award for Best Actress in the Motion Picture Drama. Close is no amateur…she’s been acting for 45 years, yet somehow she’s never won an Oscar. Huh?! She’s tied with two other actresses for the most-nominations (6) without a win in Academy history. So Close, yet no cigar…This role, sadly inspired by her grandmother and mother, could be her first win and boy is it well deserved! You go Glen Coco!

The Florida Project

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Miami and Disney are the typical associations with Florida, and maybe Boca for you old folks out there. JK. And for Disney the common connection is ”the happiest place on Earth.” So it’s hard to imagine there’s anything but this magical oasis in Orlando. The Florida Project exposes what lies in many areas outside those gates: poverty, hardship, and serious misfortune. However, in the eyes of six-year-old Moonee, played by newcomer Brooklynn Prince, who knows nothing else, life is pretty great. This film takes a sobering look at a highly underrepresented area of the country in a way that’ll make you appreciate the little things in life.

It’s no surprise Moonee feels she’s living the best possible life. She’s on summer break with nothing to do, but play with her friends. Moonee’s mother, played Bria Vinaite in her first ever role, has no job, prostitutes for money, and doesn’t care that she’s a bad influence. She thinks she’s a great mother because she loves her daughter, but being a “good” parent requires a lot more than just loving your children. Moonee imitates her mother’s potty mouth, runs wild and does anything she wants. Her idea of fun is spitting on cars, looting, terrorizing neighbors, etc. You get the bad picture. It’s not exactly our idea of a “normal” childhood, but that’s exactly what writers Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch (Tangerine) wanted to show. 

Baker is the writer and the director. He uses dead time, or still shots, to let us absorb what is a tough pill to swallow. The cinematography is striking and beautiful with vibrant colors from the bright blue sky and their vivid pink apartment building. Baker uses wide-angle shots to contrast Moonee’s trashy, destitute surroundings with her cheerful, infectious spirit.

With no storyline, the actors serve as a scientific experiment. They aren’t thought provoking and don’t play a “part,” thus there is no dramatic character development. Prince’s first role in a major motion picture was moving (may jerk some tears out of ya) and painful at the same time. Her mother, Vinaite, had genuine loving chemistry with Prince, but to witness her awful behavior from the start is infuriating. Veteran Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man), their landlord, presents Middle America on a less extreme level, and he thus has a soft spot for the situation. There are pieces of his background that are introduced, but went unexplained, which was a missed opportunity to show a different vantage point. Apologies for The Scene Queen’s opinion, but Dafoe’s performance doesn’t compare to Sam Rockwell’s in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri – the two frontrunners in the Oscar race.

Bottom line: It’s odd this is categorized as a “comedy/drama” – it’s no such film. The Florida Project accomplishes its goal, depicting an area rarely shown in film, but would’ve served better as a Documentary, but so goes the indie world. 

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 ;) 

 

 

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?! 

The Lovers

Everything is not always as it appears. There’s no better saying to describe The Lovers, a film about a detached married couple, both cheating, but who somehow find their way back to each other.

Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment) and Tracey Letts (August: Osage County) were perfectly cast. Typically it’s painful to see characters with zero chemistry whatsoever, but here’s your exception. The two of them had such a lack of interest in one another that it became laugh out loud funny to witness their highly awkward interactions. The two of them managed to make the audience feel as off put as they felt by their own marriage. Oftentimes, when characters need to be this void of emotion, the actors interact at a bare minimum on and off set – a tactic many directors use to achieve the best results. A textbook example of this is Foxcatcher. Director Bennett Miller (Moneyball) did not allow Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street) and Steve Carell (The Office) to interact at all so as to not let a friendship develop that may have affected their roles. Alright, back to The Lovers. Even with their apparent loveless marriage, Winger and Letts’ character development alone, with an ending so unexpected, is well worth a watch, one that hopeless romantics with most certainly appreciate.  

It wasn’t only the actors who achieved this divide. Writer and director Azazel Jacobs (Terri) artfully separated Winger and Letts in each frame, whether it was placing them on opposite sides of a couch or bed, Jacobs’ carefully crafted direction made it possible. He also used cell phones as a symbol to separate them. Naturally, they were able to sneak around in their own affairs, but it was their texting that added to their stomach churning relationship. Jacobs’ writing, along with his direction, made for a quirky film, a pleasant surprise.

Bottom line: The film can feel a bit slow, I’ll give you that, but it’s because of this that we are then able to develop feelings for the characters and understand their inner emotions on a deeper level. This is not your typical couple’s retreat, but that’s what makes it fresh and unique. Indies may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this one is worth going outside of the box for. 

Their Finest

Once in a blue moon, a film comes along that moves you in ways you never predicted. When I attended the screening of Their Finest on a whim at Soho House NYC I didn’t know what to expect. I only knew it was set during World War II, big history buff on the topic, and that it had a great cast, Gemma Arterton (Prince of Persia), Sam Claflin (Me Before You) and Bill Nighy (Love Actually). I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it, also realizing it evoked every motion in the book, laughing out loud and shedding a few tears to name a few.

Being a film fanatic (I mean who makes a film website without being one), it was amazing to learn about the film industry during the 30s and 40s, a medium to convey important messages to widespread audiences. We take this for granted as the accessibility nowadays is night and day by comparison. Arterton and Claflin, the screenwriters, attempt to create a propaganda film about the evacuation of Allied troops in Dunkirk, France. You’ll get the whole picture of what they were up against, both from a male and female perspective. It’s hard out there for a pimp. Arterton's character who is asked to join a production team with little experience has a lot of similarity to director Gaby Chiappe, as this was her first major motion picture as well. Arterton represents a woman's voice in the film, rare in those times. She got a jump on Beyonce – we run the world, girls!  

The film had director, Lone Scherfig (An Education) written all over it. Her films are relatively underrated, the majority being indie films. Her films are authentic – dialogue and costume design that is perfectly adapted to the set periods.  She sure does her due diligence. Simple, yet so sophisticated, her films have the whole package.

Her main actors, Arterton and Claflin, are up and coming and going places…up, up and away. Their chemistry is palpable, but its the character development; not only their characters, but also their relationship that develops in an authentic way, giving the audience the perfect amount of time to get invested. Being a hopeless romantic myself, this is the way to do it #goalsgoalsgoals. Can’t forget Nighy, you’ll remember his as the hysterical playboy, rock star in Love Actually. He’s just as funny is this, always providing some comedic relief even in the most serious of times.

Bottom line: Their Finest is the latest period piece that will leave in awe. It’s perfect for a rainy afternoon – love, history, laughter, tears and everything in between, seriously what could be better?

20th Century Women

Nothing stays the same. “That’s not how we did it in my day” or “you kids these days, I just don’t understand.” Sound familiar? No matter the decade, adults often say these things to the youth of the day. Of course it’s different! After all, isn’t that what makes the future exciting? What does stay the same is the search for oneself, who we want to be and what we’d like to leave behind. 20th Century Women explores this in a thoughtful and complex way.

The writer and director, Mike Mills (Beginners), of this indie film gave history buffs a taste of the 70s. He includes snippets of historical footage, including but not limited to the big cultural thinkers and the bands that changed the face of music. This helps explain how the characters’ cultural surroundings shaped their emotions and actions. Mills could’ve set the film in any decade, but to set it in the 70s, defined as “a party, full of exploration without explanation” made it especially poignant.

The film is centered around three women of very different ages: a teenager, played by Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon), a young adult, played by Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) and an adult and the clear protagonist, played by Annette Bening (American Beauty) who was sensational might I add. Three generations makes for a great family outing, something for everyone. Mills makes you hyper aware of the character development through the use of title breaks to signify a focus on each of the women. Each character proves that everyone has their own set of issues and no matter your age, change is inevitable. It can be difficult, but also a chance to redefine yourself. Billy Crudup (Almost Famous) and Lucas Jade Zumann (Sinister 2) reinforced this idea of change through their character development. The acting was impeccable – award winning even (too bad we can’t give awards to everyone). The tone at is sad at times, but overall a feel good with laugh out loud moments along the way.

Mills made it even more relevant to the 70s through the use of Polaroid. This was a unique approach to his artistic direction. His use of fast forwarding with colors flashing by will make you feel like you’re on a psychedelic trip, very 70s. Wills wraps up each of their lives in the end so as to not leave you hanging. Such a relief as you become so invested in these characters!

Bottom Line: It’s hard to describe the exceptional characteristics of this film, as they’re in a league of their own. It’s well worth seeing, I’ll tell you that much. You’ll walk out having learned a thing or two about yourself – like I said, no matter your age, its for everyone (WAIT! NO YOUNG CHILDREN PLEASE…I don’t want to be held responsible for a weee bit of inappropriate scenes)!