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Patti Cake$

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Geremy Jasper

Stars: Bridget Everett, Cathy Moriarty, Danielle Macdonald, Mamoudou Athie, McCaul Lombardi,Patrick Brana, Siddharth Dhananjay, Wass Stevens

Released: Septermber 1st, 2017

Endearing. Endearing is the word to describe what quality and feeling writer/director Geremy Jasper captures in his feature directorial debut after spending the past seven or so years in the world of narrative shorts and music videos (Selena Gomez and Florence + the Machine among his subjects). Unsurprising then is the fact that Jasper’s first feature-length effort, that he’s also the sole writer on, deals heavily with the worlds of music, ambition, and the stark difference in those that live to make music and those who make music for a living. This has always been something of a fascinating area for artists to find themselves in-this kind of gorge where either side seems a steep slope that could easily threaten their ultimate goals in one way or another. On the one hand, there’s fame and all that comes with it including both the many positives and the mountain of sacrifices while on the other hand it’s hard to imagine trying to make a living doing something else while having your true passion be relegated to little more than a hobby. If you’ve ever chased a dream involving music then Patti Cake$ is wholly identifiable no matter the genre specialized in, but even if you have not a single, musically-inclined bone in your body the film still stands as a testament to anyone who has ever had odds stacked against them. I won’t get too hyperbolic here given that, at the end of the day, this is a movie that does well to accomplish what it sets out to, but never comes across as something truly transcendent in what topics it’s touching on or exceptional in how it conveys or delivers those ideas. Patti Cake$ has enough going on in its brain though, and is brought to life through such humbling albeit misguided shells that they do indeed come to be endearing thanks largely in part to the captivating performances from each of the members of this eclectic cast. Through the course of events in which we follow these engaging characters Jasper also begins to explore not only the inner turmoil of the titular Patti (a revelatory Danielle Macdonald), but he also takes on the culture that has bred her, that has groomed her into this personality that, strangely enough, defies the conventions of what a young, poor female would take from societal cues. Jasper addresses this blending of cultures and where the line is drawn or if there is a line at all. Patti Cake$, while charmingly performed, is most notable for digging into these ideas of our present, Instagram-obsessed society that is ironically full of people who don’t seem to know themselves at all.

Macdonald is Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, who is an overweight bartender at a local place in Jersey called Lou’s where the same dozen people hang out every night and where her mother, the equally robust Barb (a poignantly heartbreaking Bridget Everett), sings karaoke every night and drowns away her sorrows in free shots. Patti, who is obviously older than twenty-one but seemingly only by a little still lives at home with her mother who can’t seem to keep a steady job and therefore unreliable sources of income and largely seems to still be tethered to her childhood home for the sake of her ailing Nana (Cathy Moriarty). Nana is sick, but still smokes, drinks, and watches daytime TV to pass the no doubt painful experience she is living. Patti keeps getting calls from debt collectors threatening legal action if she or someone doesn’t start making payments on Nana’s hospital bills. Nana also requires medicine and other kinds of care that require spending a lot of money as clearly Barb doesn’t have any insurance and I’m pretty positive Lou isn’t offering any benefits for his employees either. Still, Patti never sees Nana as a burden-she is more of a partner in crime who at least shows interest and allows Patti to try out new rhymes on her each time she comes up with one. This leads to Patti’s main source of relief which is her music. She may not be able to sing like her mother (who is maybe the biggest burden in Patti’s life), but she has a passion for lyrical configurations and, more importantly, a penchant for putting such configurations together in an effective manner. Down at the pharmacy where she fills her Nana’s prescriptions she’s made friends with Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay) who fancies himself a Nate Dogg sort to Patti’s Foxy Brown. While Patti has the talent it is Hareesh who has the ambition and the ideas to that sets the two of them, along with Nana and a local metalhead/objector of all things mainstream (Mamoudou Athie) to join forces and go on this bonkers quest to find glory in the rap game and get out of their downtrodden reality in New Jersey.

Watching Patti Cake$ the first thing that hits you is the all-encompassing role that music plays in Patti’s life. From the moment she wakes up music is either playing or she’s thinking of rhymes by the time she’s brushing her teeth. There are a million reasons this young lady shouldn’t be able to conjure up the energy she has to delve into the psychology her bars dissect, but in dissecting comes understanding and in painting a bigger picture once gets clarity and that is no doubt what this type of self-reflective art does for Patti-it offers clarity in the form of an escape. The moment Patti steps outside for the first time in the film to head to work we’re led to believe she’s hot-wiring her car, but rather she is simply digging around in that car for a Walkman that is so outdated it’s a wonder her current favorite artist has discs that will play on it. Patti pops in the album, put on her headphones, and begins the trek to work-the music elevating her to a place where her life seems more bearable. Jasper conveys this through symbolism typical of offbeat indies where we see Patti begin to float into the sky as if walking on air as she lets the music in her headphones take over her entire being. It isn’t until a car horn comes screeching up behind her that she’s brought back down to earth and immediately reminded what the whole of society thinks of her. This brings into glimpse the first peculiarity about Patti that we notice; despite Patti being a bigger girl, despite the fact she is white, and despite the fact she is poor Macdonald never conveys a sense of insecurity about who Patti is and who she wants to be. In other words, Patti initially sees no reason as to why the cards would be stacked against her despite what pop culture spews on the cover of magazines and photoshops to unattainable standards. It isn’t until she meets a hero who criticizes her of being a “culture vulture” that there is any semblance of self-doubt. It’s such a small, but key choice in how Jasper wrote the character and how Macdonald ultimately plays Patti that you almost miss it while watching the film. It is something we simply assume is inherent in the character from the beginning and so we go with it which speaks to mine and our own insecurities with the point being that Patti is true in her intent, honorable even, and above all else genuine in how she utilizes what was born out of black culture. By the end of the film this means everything though, and the tracking of this arc by Jasper and his screenplay along with the bringing of it to tangible life by Macdonald is by far the strongest aspect of this rather ambitious piece.

What’s interesting is how Patti’s environment both contributes to who she has become while simultaneously fueling her talent. She has this skill for crafting lethal poetry, but the content of that poetry is largely centered around her everyday life. Whether that be a crush she has on the local weed dealer, Danny (McCaul Lombardi), who also happens to be the local celebrity that gets by more on looks and street cred than actual talent, the struggles of her home life with her mother, or simply the struggle of trying to break out of Jersey to the other side of the river; the nurture is what feeds the substance of what she’s spitting and what allows Patti to consistently cultivate what seems like the only way to escape the inevitable fact life will cycle through just as her Nana and her mother’s lives have before. For Patti, there are seemingly no color lines-Danny is as white as snow, but his rap game has the respect of most of the community-there is just the reality of the situation. And so, when Patti comes face to face with someone who doesn’t know the context of her situation or of how much music means to her and has made up the significance of her life she doesn’t understand how one could think she was doing little more than ripping off black culture when what she knows is literally all she knows. It’s difficult to get into the weeds of examining those who aren’t, but are still fascinated with black culture without potentially becoming offensive especially when coming from a movie that was written and directed by a white guy, but the fact of the matter is that there are those who genuinely love hip-hop and the flavors it offers who are not black. It seems Jasper is one of those people as he has said many times that Patti Cake$ came from little more than his desire to actually write rap music and thus the reason it has been positioned to come from an even more unlikely source such as Patricia. Jasper seems to want to emphasize the fact that anyone, literally anyone, can love rap or any other genre of music not because they understand or are a part of the culture in which it was born or from which it came, but simply because it makes them feel something when it plays through their speakers. Furthermore, if Patti Cake$ proves nothing else it’s that in this world of fake celebrities and fake news, Patti gets down to the grit of who she really is through her music and is therefore probably too good and too real for whatever criticisms widespread fame would bring.

Overall, Patti Cake$ is a movie that screams at the top of its lungs that if you believe in something that you should believe in yourself enough to never let it go. The movie does that thing where it gives Patti just enough self-doubt at the beginning of the third act that she goes into this funk for a bit before realizing she loves music too much for it to ever not be a part of her life and while maybe necessary this does extend the film in ways that feel overly laborious when up until that point the pacing has been as smooth as the movie’s titular character’s flow. Still, it isn’t the plot (you’ve seen this before in 8 Mile) or even the music (it’s an acquired taste, but it’s mostly fun) that makes the story of Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$ so endearing, but more it is the people that populate her world and come to mean to her what her alcoholic mother and absentee father never were…a support system. A family. At the center of this movie about an aspiring rapper we have a white girl, a middle-eastern guy, an elderly white woman, with the only black dude in the mix AKA the groups only hope of coming off somewhat credible based solely on appearance to the remainder of the black community-being a loner who has run away from home and shacked up in the woods to make experimental metal music. It is these people and the performances of Dhananjay as Hareesh, Moriarty as Nana, and especially Athie as a character who will not be named here so as not to ruin the surprisingly soft touch its reveal brings to the movie, but who comes to mean the most to Patti despite the two of them being the definition of polar opposites. I mean, they couldn’t be more different if they tried and yet, somehow, Macdonald and Athie take Jasper’s script and make it work. They form this exemplary instance where everything the film is preaching is illustrated to the point of a perfect understanding and for this, no matter if Patti ever is or not, her movie is a success.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – If Beale Street Could Talk

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Beale Street Movie Marker

Released: 8th February 2019

Directed By: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

In his entrancing and eventual Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’, it was the longing to be authentic. To be accepted in an often volatile environment that powered its narrative.

Clearly in this pitch-perfect adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, director Barry Jenkins is consumed with longing of a different kind that is just as potent. Justice. An eradication of the infuriating systemic abuse of law and power against black people in America, that sees this luminous love story in 1970’s Harlem, strike modern-day parallels with our own divided, morally skewed society.

An incandescent portrayal of young romance. The tenderness, respect and sheer revolve that underpins the relationship between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) will leave you spellbound from the outset, as their lives are soon mired in despair. The rapturous joy of new life as Tish falls pregnant, backed up by the triple threat of mom Sharon (Regina King), dad Joseph (Colman Domingo) and sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris). Quickly cancelled out by the malice of Fonny’s staunchly religious family and a false yet potentially devastating rape allegation made against him, as they scramble to prove his innocence.

Punctuated by Kiki Layne’s wholesome narration and an overwhelmingly beautiful Nicholas Brittell score that i would be content listening to for days on end. Jenkins exchanges the melancholic blues of his previous effort for a broader but no less lush visual palette, with its exquisite interiors and classy costume design almost serving as a rainbow for the tears that have streamed down their faces through such hardship, but their spirit and love continues to illuminate their gritty surroundings. Whether it be lingering close-ups of sweet embrace or deep sorrow. Its director doesn’t flinch for a second in conveying the simmering emotions on display and in doing so, leaves you completely transfixed by his tactful approach to the source material.

There is a raw resilient energy that permeates throughout its central romance. Kiki Layne’s Tish serves as the remarkably understated, calming influence to Stephan James’ broken-hearted prisoner, a slave to a corrupt system with a searing monologue by Fonny’s dear friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) reinforcing the pain inflicted. Through it all, their hopeful adoring looks and stifling intimacy simply captivate. In Regina King’s marvellous mother figure, she peppers the film with considerable candour, armed with dialogue that pierces your soul. Whilst Jenkins leaves enough room for inspired cameos that are best left a secret, which gorgeously represent a sense of community and a progression in attitude, that defies the period.

A steady panning shot as Fonny smokes may seem throwaway. In this case, it is awfully fitting to articulate the finesse of its director. Lose yourself in the mesmeric haze of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’.

A lyrical experience that reminds you of the poetic power cinema can truly possess. His love for the art form brought him here. On this form. Trust Barry Jenkins to go all the way.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Stan & Ollie

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Stan and Ollie Rating Movie Marker

Released: 11th January 2019

Directed By: Jon S Baird

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C.Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Products of classic Hollywood whose superior slapstick routines triggered endless laughter from their legion of fans, propelling them to legendary status. The sheer physicality and comedic prowess displayed by the English/American duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, still puts many modern-day efforts to shame.

But like so many comedians, there is a tragic element to their careers that contradicts their profession. Through this solid biopic by Filth director Jon S. Baird, it looks to give us a poignant insight into the duo’s grueling twilight years.

Their popularity slowly dwindling. Their bones creaking. Whether on the big screen or the stage, Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C.Reilly) are suddenly not the hottest ticket in town in the early 1950’s. Lumbered with Rufus Jones’ Bernard Delfont, a wisecracking promoter who seems more invested in the likes of Norman Wisdom, they look to reignite interest with a lengthy theatre tour and a long-gestating film project. Yet with audiences middling, contract negotiations stalling and the workload far beyond what was expected, it puts a significant strain on the health and friendship of these two towering talents.

Inevitably with its story, you would expect ‘Stan & Ollie’ to be assured in its abilities to make you laugh. However much of the first half feels surprisingly stilted as Coogan and C.Reilly throw themselves into the pair’s much-beloved routines, with regular cutbacks to their adoring audiences. For the uninitiated, it may initially make you wonder what the fuss was about. Thankfully as the film’s supporting players are introduced to spar with our central characters, it finds a more consistent comedic rhythm, neatly intertwining with the film’s simmering emotion.

Whilst it’s undoubtedly a few visual flourishes away from being a formulaic BBC Christmas special. The admiration of S.Baird for Laurel & Hardy certainly shines through in its refined production, beginning with an exquisite tracking shot on a studio lot as he works his way through the duo’s masterful mischief with fondness.

The rapport between John C.Reilly and Steve Coogan anchors proceedings wonderfully, skilfully capturing the mannerisms and effectively articulating how dependent they are of each other, despite their ongoing disputes. In C.Reilly’s Ollie, his fully-fleshed turn pierces through the fat suit he wears, whose willingness to perform despite failing health is soul-stirring. Whilst the relentless nature of Coogan’s Stan, as he looks to churn out the material strong enough to breathe new life into their double act, makes for compelling viewing. The real danger posed however, is that the film’s main attraction are nearly upstaged by their witty wives, with Shirley Henderson’s Lucille and Nina Arianda’s Ida threatening to steal every scene they grace.

Entertaining enough to gently applaud. Yet perhaps not an act that quite raises the roof. ‘Stan and Ollie’ coasts by on its endearing nostalgic charm and committed performances.

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