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.  

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 ;)

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!

A Wrinkle In Time

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It’s been a minute since the novel A Wrinkle In Time was published by author Madeleine L’Engle…56 years to be exact. A film version of the novel has always been thought to be a difficult adaptation, as the novel is incredibly complex, jumps all over the place and has many layers to peel back. Writers Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia) accepted the challenge. Close but no cigar! The writing is drowning in clichés and tries too hard to be inspirational. Luckily, the imagery is picturesque, brought to life by visionary Ava Duvernay (Selma), but she too came up short. Its last hope was the star-studded cast with beloved veteran actors, but even they couldn’t save the film from going up in flames.

A Wrinkle In Time is one of the greatest fantasy novels of all time; there’s a reason why it has been assigned reading for years. Its themes are powerful: the difference between good and evil; the importance of accepting one another; and the power of love to name a few. We’ve seen versions of these themes in countless books, films, television, etc, but it’s the angle from which you attack them that makes all the difference. Take The Lion King for example, another Disney film, of which the writers didn’t make their motives of trying to be inspiring to young moviegoers SO obvious. Instead, the dialogue is indirect and still accomplishes its goal. Lee and Stockwell chose another route. Their writing was painfully obvious, hiding in plain site. They wouldn’t win at hide-and-seek, that’s for sure. Each line was cheesier than the one before, oftentimes cringe worthy. Thankfully there’s still enough substance to prompt meaningful discussions with kids about the critical themes. Give audiences a little more credit to read between the lines, instead of smothering us, and not letting us come up for air.

Hollywood didn’t know what hit them when Ava Duvernay came on the scene with her directorial debut of Selma. She is a force to be reckoned with and an inspiration to female filmmakers. This however was not her best work. She’s the first woman of color to be handed a $100MM+ budget film, groundbreaking to say the least, but there’s a big difference between $20MM (Selma) and $103MM. She had everything at her fingertips, but it may have been too much. Visually it’s stunning. VFX took her vision to a world you can only see in your wildest dreams – take one glance at the trailer and you’ll see what I mean. She had a great partner in crime alongside her, cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (Beauty and the Beast), who helped bring it to life. The problem is it reeked of desperation to go above and beyond. Ok, but it must at least be riveting? Nope! It’s slooooooooow. Warning: you may need resuscitation. To be clear this wasn’t a huge disaster, but the simple fact is Duvernay fell prey to an over budget film that may not even breakeven at the box office, overly hyped and ultimately not up to par.

Speaking of not being up to par, the cast is everything you could ever ask for and more, but just like the rest of the film, they too tried WAY too hard. Duvernay wanted a multi-racial cast. The lead is 14-year-old Storm Reid (12 Years a Slave) who is now the first young girl of color to lead a big-budget, sci-fi fantasy film. Reid is young and has a lot to learn, but she’ll get there in no time. It’s fair to assume a film will be great when you see Chris Pine (Star Trek), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Michael Peña (Crash) and David Oyelowo (Selma), not to mention powerhouses like Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple), Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde) and Mindy Kalig (The Office). I think we can all agree these are ALL incredible actors, but their performances were less than stellar. They had an opportunity to twist the script into something that it wasn’t, but their reenactment of the dialogue was even cornier than the words on paper.

Bottom line: At this point it’s hard to tell where the film went wrong, but it seems its downfall is rooted in the script. No one said this adaptation would be easy – they don’t call it a challenge for nothin. Duvernay stepped up to the plate, but didn’t hit it out of the park. For what it’s worth, there will be plenty of kids who enjoy A Wrinkle In Time and who hopefully internalize the important lessons to be learned from it. As for the adults, expect to be visually impressed, but ultimately disappointed. It’s understandable if you feel compelled to see it on the big screen to get the full effect, but as a whole, it’s a textbook rental

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! 

Mudbound

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I think we can all agree American history is no sweet love story. Fast forward to the present (looking at you Trump), proof that every decade has its own trials and tribulations. Writer and director Dee Rees (Pariah), along with writer Virgil Williams (ER), gave us a snapshot of a time when America was especially tested, at the height of race and gender issues. We’ve long struggled with both throughout history, and these filmmakers managed to wrap it all into one film. This is sure to strike a cord, but your takeaway will be yours and yours alone, unique from one person to the next. 

In a nutshell, two men, Garrett Hedlund (TRON: Legacy) and Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), return home to the same farm after serving in the army during World War II. Nothing has changed, blacks are still oppressed, and still treated disgracefully. Mary J. Blidge (The Help), yes she’s acting now and she’s fantastic, and Carey Mulligan (An Education), the respective women of their families, show that women are treated no differently either. The storyline is nothing we haven't heard before, but Rees and Williams connect all points of view into one messed up pot to show us the perspective of every kind of person in the Jim Crow South. 

Rees is not only a woman, but also black. Why did I point this out? Well because let’s face it, there aren’t many women directors, let alone black women directors. Ava Duvernay (Selma) and Rees, continue to inspire us all, push boundaries, and work towards the much-needed change in Hollywood. Rees, just like Duvernay, made a splash in a BIG way – raw, real, disturbing, sad (tear jerker fo sho), yet visually stunning. This film has it all. The set wasn’t exactly glamorous in a tiny town outside New Orleans. To recreate the look of these hundred-year-old plantations, takes a whole lot of dedication and arduous work from the cast and crew because as we know, conditions were pretty rough back then. Let’s just say Rees made it seem like this wasn’t her first rodeo. Could’ve fooled me! 

Bottom line: It’s a bitter pill to swallow that race and gender divides aren’t a thing of the past. Rees confronts that fact and brings us along with her; Hedlund, Mitchell, Blidge, Mulligan and seasoned actors, Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad) no different. Warning: looks can be deceiving. The trailer makes the film appear fast paced and exciting, ehhh, I’d describe it more as meticulous and thoughtful. Here’s an added bonus, you don’t have to go to the theaters to see it. Mudbound is brought to you by Netflix. Streaming movies…the wave of the future!

mother!

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I never thought I'd see the day when I’d walk out of a Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) film and say, “why, just why?!” There’s no question Lawrence is one of the best actors of our time. You don’t win Best Actress and get four Oscar nominations in seven years for nothing. Yet her past two roles have been questionable: Passengers and now Mother!  The rumors are true; this film is bat shit crazy. It’s truly indescribable unless you see it with your own eyes, and while it’s certainly not for everyone, dark and disturbing on so many levels, it’s worth renting. Aren’t you just a little bit curious?

Fans of Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) know his films are darker than dark. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his work, I’m here to tell you they’re NOT for the faint of heart. That’s not to say he isn’t brilliant because he most certainly is. However, each time he comes out with a new film, I get more and more concerned for his wellbeing. Seriously though, are you okay? Mother! takes it to a whole other level, hard to say after Requiem for a Dream. A married couple, Lawrence and Javier Bardem (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), lives in a secluded home in the countryside when strange guests arrive out of the blue, and it all goes downhill from there. At face value, the story sounds simple, and shows potential to be psychologically compelling. It was, but as you go deeper into the rabbit hole that is Aronosky’s brain it takes a sudden turn that is so bizarre and appalling. Some could argue it is art. For mainstream moviegoers, WTF seems more fitting.

Lawrence, Bardem and the visitors, Michelle Pfeiffer (Scarface) and Ed Harris (A Beautiful Mind), were just as wacky as the film, but they played their parts brilliantly. All of them were silent, but deadly. There wasn’t an abundance of dialogue, but their facial expressions and demeanor spoke louder than words. Aronofsky demanded the actors be just as shocking as his screenplay and directorial style. My recommendation if the plot becomes too much to handle, focus on their astonishing performances, and it’ll start to ease the adrenaline pumping through your blood.

Bottom line: Mother! is unlike any film you’ve ever seen, for better or for worse. Outrageous as it may be, curiosity will not kill the cat, I mean you. Go for it, what’s the worst that can happen? 

Murder on the Orient Express

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Who done it? I’ll never tell. But here’s the thing, I’m not really sure it’s worth finding out. If you’ve read Agatha Christie’s novel, published way before our time in 1934, you know the outcome. Then there are the majority of us who haven’t read the source material – you’re my main focus. Do not waste your time. What went wrong? Well it was a perfect storm – the directing, screenplay, and most shocking of all, the acting.

While Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie) no doubt is multi-faceted and talented, his directing style has become predictable and forced. There’s a fine line between being ambitious and overly ambitious, Branagh falls into the latter. Directing and acting in your own film works for many, but not in his case. Staring in this as the most complex character distracted him from what should’ve been his main priority, directing. It showed Sir Branagh. He resorted to the obvious techniques used in every other crime, mystery film to create an ominous, mysterious feeling. First and foremost, the lighting with dark hues that glowed with CGI effects made the shots look fake. Next, he panned the camera in several shots slowly from the front of the train to the end with an actor in each window looking scared and concerned. Cheesy much? Let’s not forget the melodramatic music. Less is more…

I can’t speak to Agatha Christie’s classic crime novel, but I can say for sure, he butchered it. Murder mysteries are supposed to be suspenseful with twists and turns around every corner, providing clues that keep you guessing. Don’t hold your breathe, you’ll be waiting a long time if that is what you’re looking for. ‘Twas predictable, not thrilling, and highly anticlimactic. It’s the worst to sit through a film for two hours, only to walk out feeling no sense of closure after the big reveal. Needless to say, this is NOT for adrenaline junkies.

The biggest disappointment of all was the star-studded cast including, but not limited to Branagh, Penélope Cruz (Vanilla Sky), Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man), Judi Dench (Skyfall), Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean), Michelle Pfeiffer (Scarface), and Josh Gad (Frozen). This film proved that ensemble casts aren’t always the greatest idea. Each one tried to out act the other, resulting in unconvincing, over exaggerated, unimpressive performances – not a good look. The previews say it all with their Zoolander-esk, seductive gone wrong faces look at you through the windows as described above, but hey ya can’t win ‘em all!

Bottom line: There’s nothing better than a good crime mystery that’s gets your heart rate pumping and your stomach churning. Sadly, you will find no such sensations during Murder on the Orient Express. It’s a quick ride with no climax – you do the math.