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 ;)

A Star Is Born

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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

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 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 ;) 

 

 

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!

Only the Brave

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The Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters, on whom this true story is based on, represent everything about the title, Only the Brave. True stories, especially ones as sensitive as this, should be made with extreme precision and care. There are many layers to peel back, as well as countless people involved so it’s the writer, director and actors' duty to get it right. 

If you’re a history buff and enjoy true stories, this couldn’t be a better fix. There’s a 50/50 chance you know all about it. Honestly, I didn’t, and am so grateful to writers Ken Nolan (Black Hawk Down) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle) for bringing it to the big screen. Nolan and Singer start at the beginning, in 2005, to show the hoops firefighters have to jump through to get elite status (think Karate, white to black belt). This highlights the evolution of each mans' character (can you say character development?). This all leads to the Yarnell Fire in 2013, the real reason for the film. 

Script, check! Now the pressure is on director Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion) to get it right on screen. Hollywood films are dramatized; it’s just a fact. However, there’s a fine line and Kosinski didn’t cross it. It’s the ideal fix for adrenaline junkies and uh well whatever you call the opposite. Each fire scene is more nerve wracking than the one before it so get ready to cover your eyes. The great thing about Kosinski’s directing here is he lets you catch your breath in between each one, but that's also when the characters come to feel like family. Then all at once, he hits you with the ending. No one will ever know why what happened, happened, so Kosinski made it a point not to stipulate and just present us with the facts. See…fine line.

Now it was up to the actors to clinch the deal. Each one clearly showed how invested they were in their respective characters. Josh Brolin (W.), Miles Teller (Whiplash), Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski), Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind), and Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) all gave Oscar worthy performances that will bring you to tears. They did their best to honor these admirable men and their loving families. That came through the screen clear as day.

Bottom line: Brave yourself, I mean brace yourselves for Only the Brave. It should serve as a reminder to us all how lucky we are that there are men and women who are willing to protect us everyday. You simply must-see this film.