Friday, August 25, 2017

Fox Searchlight Film Review - Patti Cakes

Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) outside persona is diametrically opposed to her inside one. In her head she's the protege of The Godfather of rap O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah).  In her small New Jersey suburban community she's Dumbo Dumbrowski so nicknamed since junior high daughter of Barb (Bridget Everett) a chronic drunk who lives out her early 20's fantasies as a power rock ballad singer at a dive bar full of bar flies where Patti tends bar. Rounding out her world is her best friend/hype manager Hareesh aka. Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) an East Asian Pharmacy assistant who's the greatest believer in her rapping talents introducing her as; Patricia Dombrowski aka Patti Cake$' aka Killa P. Plus the mysterious experimental punk rocker Bob aka Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) an Anarchist who lives in a shack behind the towns graveyard.

Director Geremy Jasper brings the viewer uncomfortably into Patti's personal space in the first frames of the film. The camera is very tight as she wakes up in her dump of a room, hits the washroom, then sits on the toilet as she works through rhymes. It's not any prettier in her mother's room or out in the living room where her Nana (Cathy Moriarty) is perched in her wheelchair watching her favourite courtroom show. Nana however always has time for her granddaughter giving a warm greeting to her superstar before the latter heads out the door.

Patti and Jheri try all avenues to get her on a stage to show her skills. She battles in parking lots, at gas stations, spitting rhymes as she rolls in her red Cadillac sporting pattiwgn tags. On the street her main battles are with small time pizza maker /drug dealer Danny (Patrick Brana) who she's also crushing on hard. They eventually raid Basterd's shack an occult trinketed recording studio where they mix a track featuring a key drop from Nana birthing the group PBMJ and signaling an uptick in our heroine's fortunes. At the same time she lands lucrative part time work for a prestigious caterer company that brings in much needed funds to assist with the Dombrowksi's debts.

Australian Daniella Macdonald is convincing as the suburban plus sized rap princess from her first utterance of Ma with a sharp Joisey accent. Her timing is spot on using strategic pauses as she plots responses in rap battles or before she launches into a set on stage. Siddharth Dhananjay is perfect as sidekick Hareesh. He owns his ridiculousness sending only positive vibes to his best friend. Mamoudou Athie's Basterd is a soft spoken soul underneath the angry hard man scary outward projection. Needy Mother Barb Bridget Everett an established New York cabaret performer sees her daughter as a sister encouraging her to use her god given weapons to get what she wants spending her time  running up a tab drinking shots of Jaeger ending up too often in a bathroom at the dive bar with her daughter holding her hair.

Patti Cake$' is an indie film that champions a down and out marginalized member of society. A topic that indie films excel at when they get the character right. First time helmer Geremy Jasper does so here supported by the fine acting work of Daniella Macdonald bringing Patti to life. The production is gritty, the sets small but functional allowing the dialogue and story to breathe resulting in what could be the best indie film of the year.

**** Out of 4.

Patti Cake$' | Geremy Jasper | U.S.A. | 2017 |108 Minutes.

Tags: New Jersey, Pharmacy, Rap Battle, Spitting Rhymes, Beats, Demo CD, Karaoke, Cadillac, Bartender, Diner, Catering, Chit Chat, Bulling, Cemetery, Recluse.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Film Review - Detriot

With the current climate in the United States where race relations is front page news, competing factions are fighting in the streets and politicians are obligated to state where they stand. Detroit is a timely film that looks at subject two generations back at the tail end of the sixties. The tension between the black community and the police was a tinderbox waiting to ignite in what was at the time the fifth biggest city in the U.S. That spark was a police raid of a 12th street speakeasy. As the occupants were marched out and lined up the neighbourhood began to circle the area raising the temperature until the last paddywagon filled and left. The police retreat prompted smashing of store windows, looting and days upon days of rioting. The authorities responded with the National Guard, State and local police. Under the declared state of emergency and curfew many liberties were taken culmination with the events at the Algiers hotel that is the centre of the film.

Dismukes (John Boyega) works as a security guard protecting a store. He sets up for the night shift across from the Algiers hotel. Feeling the tension he brings coffee for the guard troops across the street. Into the situation comes the cop trio of Krauss (Will Poulter), Flynn (Ben O'Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor)who are treating the city like the wild west intimidating, strong-arming and abusing citizens with impunity. The members of the Dramatics are disrupted trying to get home. Two of the crew Larry Reed (Algee Smith) and Fred (Jacob Latimore) end up taking a room at the Algiers to hunker down for the night.

Kathryn Bigelow flanked by her regular writing partner Mark Boal focus on the July 25th, 1967 events at the Algiers building the narrative it out from the Dramatics failing to hit the stage at the Apollo for their audition on earlier in the evening to the three renegade cops heading back out on patrol after a reprimand for an earlier incident that day then over to Dismukes heading out to work that double shift to protect a store. The shooting style consists of very long takes that makes the confrontation at the hotel excruciating physiological terror thats hard to watch.

John Boyega takes top line status as Dismukes. His strategy as a security guard is to use kindness and cooperation with the  authorities in order for everyone to go home safe. Will Poulter another Brit playing American is the off the rails racist cop Krauss. His first instinct is to uphold the law but that soon degenerates to a paranoid delusion that he is being disrespected and deadly force is not out of the question to teach someone a lesson. Look for Hannah Murray another other Brit from Game of Thrones and Skins fame as Julie one of the two white women in the hotel that winds up the cops even further as they would apparently rather spend time with African American males then them.

Detroit is the retelling of significant historical event that may have been the start of several seismic shifts. It could have been the signal that started the decline of the City from 5 to 23 where it ranked last year. The riots, looting and confrontation with police would multiply in the time period morphing to police shooting plus left right violent conflicts that are front page news today leading news cycles on cable TV. Bigelow concentrates on a couple of key events to present a story that brings the audience right into the issues, prejudices and feeling of the time. It's a look at social protest from the past that can be a lesson with value to use in today's society.

*** Out of 4

Detroit | Kathryn Bigelow | U.S.A. | 2017 | 143 Minutes.

Tags: Detroit, 12th Street, Riot, Raid, Algiers Hotel, National Guard, State Police, Trial.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Fantasia '17 Film Review - A Taxi Driver

The 1980 Gwangju Uprising is the subject of Jang Hun’s new film A Taxi Driver. At the flim opening Kim Man-Seob (Song Kang-Ho) is a struggling taxi driver in Seoul. He's behind in his rent, his fares often short pay him or beg to pay the next day and his 11 year old daughter has anger issues stemming from the untimely death of her mother.  Mr. Kim tries to maintain a standard keep by keeping his cab in good working condition and returning home to have dinner with his daughter each evening by a reasonable hour. When news circulates at the taxi stand that a German Foreigner Jurgen Hinzpeter (Thomas Kretschmann) is willing to pay W100,000 for a ride from Seoul to Gwanju and back before curfew, Mr. Kim steals the fair to take the reporter on his journey.  

The spring of 1980 was a very turbulent time in South Korea. The military dictator Park Chung- hee  had been killed but the military still had a strong hold on the country ad martial law was in place with a strict curfew being enforced. The worst of the conflicts were in Gwanju where the student opposed the paratroopers and plain clothed army in the streets in alleys often being beaten within an inch of their livers or dodging a hail of bullets as they sought democracy.  Peter got word of the events in Gwanju while working in Tokyo grabbed his passport and video camera hopped on a plane and headed to the scene. The government forces had blocked the roads into and out of the city. Had army units stationed on the secondary roads, censored the newspaper and media reports and cut all of the phone lines. To the rest of South Korea and the world, the students were violent protestors, communists and the instigators of the violence that resulted in minor casualties.

Director Jang Hoon tells a story that is violent authoritarian that inhabits a critical point in South Korean South Korean history. The storyline of army soliders shooting  students in the streets is more what one would expect from the neighbours to the North.  In taxi driver Kim Man-Seob the narrative gives the steps in one individual to parallel the nation realization of the truth of the situation. At first he is completely unaware of the events in Gwangju, then having served on the army himself sympathetic to the solders but as his eyes see what's actually occurring moves firmly on the side of the students knowing that the military has to be stopped. Thomas Kretschmann's journalist is the perfect counter balance to the taxi driver. Hinzpeter speaks few words is calm and cool keeping his eye on the task at hand; record the events and get the story out. 

A Taxi Driver recounts historical events that were suppressed at the time by the South Korean government and media. The two lead actors communicate to the audience and each other the urgency, danger and difficulty of the situation despite a hefty language barrier. Its a story which needed an outlet that director Jang Hoon forcefully provided.

*** 1/2 Out of 4.

A Taxi Driver | Jang Hoon | South Korea | 2017 | 137 Minutes.

Tags: Gwangju Uprising, Martial Law, Democracy, Military Dictatorship, Paratroopers, Foreign Reporter, Germany, NDR.