Happy Death Day

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October — in my humble opinion — is the most wonderful time of the year. The days become cooler, pumpkin spice gets its 15 minutes of fame, those Pure Michigan commercials dominate the air waves, and the cinema gets a lot spookier.

During the 10th month on our annual ride around the sun, it seems like our buffer between the movies that didn’t make the Summer Blockbuster cut and the For Your Consideration Oscar Bait movies.

And it. is. glorious.

It’s horror movie season! For four years, Blumhouse gifted me a new Paranormal Activity right around my birthday — October 19th — which just happens to be Michael Myers’ birthday, too. Michael Myers, or, The Shape, terrorized babysitters in the horror staple, Halloween which also came out in October.

Yes, it’s a magical and horrifying time of year.

Anyway, Happy Death Day markets itself as a scary movie, and it is, but it takes a step outside of the typical October theater fare, which is refreshing.

When Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on the morning of her birthday in a mystery man’s dorm after a night of what she can only assume was fun, she’s gotta piece the events of the evening together on her walk of shame back to her sorority house.

I was never in a sorority, but movies sure like to portray “sisters” as vile creatures with a propensity for making the rest of the campus feel plebeian at best. At a house meeting during lunchtime, the head sister, Danielle (Rachel Matthews) — not sure what her title is, queen jerk, maybe? — admonishes a fellow sister for eating. At lunch.

That night, a party is to be held for Tree’s birthday. On her way there, she’s followed by a figure in a mask of the school’s mascot — a baby with a single tooth — and regrettably won’t make it to her own soiree after the big baby stabs her to death.

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Fortunately, she’s playing some sort of real life video game and gets to restart the next day. Confused to wake up in the same dorm with the same guy whose same friend bursts in asking if his friend got that, “fine vagine,” Tree finds her way back to the sorority house and is met with the exact same interactions as the day before.

The day plays out the way the previous one had, verbatim. A tiff with Danielle, a homemade cupcake from her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) that she carelessly throws away, the lunchtime dispute, only this time she makes it to her party… before she gets killed again.

Waking to the same birthday morning phone call from her dad and the same guy whose name she finally learns — Carter (Israel Broussard) — Tree feels as though she’s losing her mind. After revealing everything to Carter, he suggests that she has to find out who is killing her to stop the cycle.

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Running out of lives, Tree will need to do some serious detective work to find out who has it out for her. In the process, she might even learn a little something about herself.

I wish people would stop comparing this movie to Groundhog Day. I thought Happy Death Day had a fresh perspective. It’s reminiscent of your late 90s slasher flicks, interjects a healthy dose of comedy, and even does a little gentle heart-string tugging.

Jessica Rothe — who danced alongside Emma Stone in La La Land — is a pleasure to watch. She’s engaging and dynamic. I’m excited to see what’s next for her.

Anyhoo, get out to see this one. Fun and spooky, Happy Death Day is a the perfect October date night movie. Or, if you’re like me, a good one to go to alone, sneak wine into the theater, and get in touch with your inner “I am woman, hear me roar.”

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American Made

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The last time I saw Tom Cruise in a movie and enjoyed his presence more than resenting it was War of the Worlds. Because this is a film review and not a Tom Cruise think piece, I’ll spare you my personal thoughts and feelings about the guy.

In the 1970s, Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) was a pilot for commercial airline TWA. Making your average day trips here and there, it would come as quite a surprise when he would be approached by a CIA agent going by Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). Shafer recruited Barry to run furtive patrol missions in a small plane with cameras installed, taking photos of operative camps while being shot at.

Unable to tell his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), about his new gig, Barry has to maintain the appearance that he’s still shuttling passengers to places like Bakersfield several times a day.

This would become far more difficult when Shafer tells Barry he’ll now be a courier, running guns to Panama. On one of these trips, the Medellin Cartel picks him up while he’s on the ground trying to fuel up. There, he’d team up with the most notorious Columbian Drug Lord of all time, Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia), to fly cocaine into the United States.

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For every two kilos, Barry would be paid handsomely in the form of duffel bags full of what I assume were non-sequential bills. While the CIA would basically ignore Seal’s drug smuggling, the DEA would not. To avoid being found out, Barry picks up his family and moves to a small town called Mena, Arkansas.

Lucy, livid at the fact that she had to pick up and move in the middle of the night to escape a raid, learns of Barry’s new occupation and becomes less and less angry watching him throw rubber-banded stacks of cash around the kitchen where appliances should be. Missing refrigerator? Money. Need a washer? Money. Still mad at me? Money.

Bringing in cash, as he puts it, “faster than he could launder it,” Barry is given new tasks from Shafer. He’s asked to run guns to the Contras — US funded, rightist rebel groups — and even bring them into the United States for training.

Most of them ran as soon as they hit American soil, though.

Everything would soon come crashing down for Barry when he’s caught and arrested. The CIA would halt their ongoing projects with him and when it looked like he’d be going away for a very long time, he would unexpectedly be invited to the White House. He would strike up a deal with them to bring the cartel down. In return, they wouldn’t throw him in prison for the rest of his life.

I truly enjoy biographical films like this one. I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t looking forward to watching Mr. Scientology — sorry, I know I said I wouldn’t — run around for two hours. I’m very pleased — and a little mad at myself — to say that I dug this movie quite a bit.

Cruise shows a side of himself in this movie that is aloof and uncharacteristically goofy and it works out massively in his favor. Sarah Wright was the perfect choice for his other half, as well. She’s no-nonsense and — while she doesn’t have much to work with other than the role of wife and mother — holds her own on-screen beside him.

All in all, I was impressed by how pleased I was leaving the theater. It’s a fascinating story and Doug Liman — who is no stranger to high-octane action flicks and is basically Jason Bourne’s dad — does an excellent job telling it. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if you’re stuck for what to see this weekend, check out American Made. It’s actually really good, and you can quote me on that.

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The Mountain Between Us

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The closest I’ve been to a plane crash was on a flight back to Chicago from LA. We were coming in over Lake Michigan and the turbulence was no joke. While I was thinking about how much the airline would charge me for the fingernail damage I was inflicting on my armrests, I was carefully surveying the flight attendants.

I always assume that if they’re not panicking, I shouldn’t either.

I leaned over to my boyfriend at the time and whispered, “I’m just waiting for the oxygen masks to drop.”

His response, without looking up from his book, was, “The masks won’t drop, we’re too low. We’ll just crash into the water.”

I’m too aware of my own mortality to board a 4-person plane, but Kate Winslet didn’t get that memo.

The Mountain Between Us is the story of two strangers faced with travel dilemmas. Ben (Idris Elba) is a surgeon trying to make it to an important procedure for a young patient. Alex (Kate Winslet) is desperate to make it to her own wedding.

Regrettably, the weather never considers our plans. A looming storm has grounded their flights, but when Alex overhears Ben talking to the staff at the airport, she gets an idea. Fantastically enough, she just happens to know a guy with a plane who is crazy enough to take them where they need to go. Forget that silly old storm.

With his canine co-pilot at his side, Walter the Pilot (Beau Bridges) manages to keep them in the air for what seems like a very short time before going down in the mountains somewhere.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve never been in a plane crash, but I gotta say — this is a pretty tame crash.

Left with bumps and bruises, Ben, Alex, and — best of all — the dog, survive the plane essentially bumping into the mountain. After assessing the situation, tending to Alex’s wounds, building a fire, burying the pilot, and taking inventory of their rations, Ben concludes that they should stay with the wreckage until rescue crews come.

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Alex makes a good point in arguing that their bonehead pilot didn’t make a flight plan, she didn’t tell her fiance, and Ben didn’t call anyone before the flight either. Together, they’ve got to trek down the mountain to the treeline.

With waning assuredness of survival, the pair will have to avoid petty arguments prompted by their less than ideal circumstances and work together to survive the elements.

This movie is equal parts survival/love story. Winslet’s character often talks about her fiance, but her words seem to fall on deaf ears. She gently prods about Ben’s wife, but doesn’t get much out of him. Naturally, she resorts to the equivalent of going through his phone when he steps out of the room and is awkwardly caught.

Her explanation: she wants to get to know the man she might die with.

Sometimes, when I cross the big bridges in downtown Chicago at the same time as a bus, the ground under my feet gives just a bit with the weight of the 12-ton juggernaut beside me and I look around to see the faces of the other people I’m about to die with.

A bridge I’ve been walking hasn’t collapsed yet, but in that moment, I don’t want to know anything about those other faces. Perhaps a snowy mountain setting elicits a more… romantic state of mind. Falling through a bridge into the stinky Chicago River probably isn’t quite the same.

Enough about me. Ben and Alex clearly have some sort of bond, but to the viewer, it feels wholly synthetic. My primary concern throughout was for the dog, naturally. Alex is portrayed as a woman in need of saving. This film does a poor job of fleshing things out. When I say that, I mean that it happily glosses over things that it just doesn’t feel like explaining.

Ben saves Alex so many times that I started a tally sheet. I came up with seven. She comes to his rescue all of one time. Unless you mean that she rescued him in a larger sense. Then it’s two.

Over all, Mountain feels a bit scattered and misinformed. Ben and Alex have a relationship that feels overly saccharine and the story just tries too hard to do too much. At the end of the day, the dog survives. And that’s all I really cared about in the first place.

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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I’ve found, over decades of watching movies, that films boasting non-stop action are often not so exciting once you’ve shelled out your $12. If you promise me explosions, cars somersaulting through the air, or monsters grappling on the streets of a major city, I’m anticipating having my face blown clear off of my head.

Sometimes, trailers like to turn my internet browser into a house of lies. Examples that come to mind: Pacific Rim, Battle L.A., Transformers II and IV, Sucker Punch, and Fifty Shades of Grey.

Then, there are trailers that deliver what they promise. Movies like Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Kingsman: The Secret Service.

Oops! Did I name all Matthew Vaughn movies? Do you know why I did that? Because he and his go-to stunt coordinator, Bradley James Allen, are like the Steven Spielberg and John Williams of the genre. They know how to blow your hair back, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle is no different.

Golden Circle picks up a year after Galahad (Colin Firth) involuntarily and violently retired, with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) taking over his role. When he’s attacked in front of the titular storefront by former Kingsman intern, Charlie (Edward Holcroft), Eggsy narrowly escapes and, in classic Kingsman style, shakes off the ambush in order to make dinner with his girlfriend, Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), and her parents.

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Meanwhile, the world’s most powerful drug lord, Poppy (Julianne Moore) — living on her own 50s movie-style compound complete with its own diner, salon, and theater — has some pretty dreadful plans. Masquerading as a pharmaceuticals company by the name of The Golden Circle, Poppy has the junkies of the world wrapped around her warped, sadistic little finger. After wiping out Kingsman HQ, she’ll have the leverage she needs to make some demands.

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The only surviving members, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) follow Doomsday Protocol, jetting them stateside to a bourbon whiskey distillery called Statesman. After getting rocked by a southern charmer with a big gun who goes by Tequila (Channing Tatum), they learn that Statesman is an American organization much like their own.

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Statesman head, Champagne (Jeff Bridges), briefs the team on the Golden Circle business and pairs them up with agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal). Tequila was supposed to join them, but comes down with something and is left under Ginger Ale’s (Halle Berry) careful watch. While showcasing her prowess in tech support, she remains oppressively behind-the-scenes. The guys will need to reach Poppy’s undisclosed whereabouts to basically save the world. Obviously.

Golden Circle was the most fun I’ve had at the theater since Baby Driver and Free Fire before that. It’s rife with savagery both in combat and dialogue in the best way possible. This installment of Kingsman is impressively witty and comes chockablock with white-knuckle fighting, out-of-nowhere absurdity, and a script that would make any screenwriter swoon.

Based on the characters from The Secret Service comics written by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, Golden Circle gives new life to the Kingsman franchise. I, unlike some other Chicago based critics, understand and appreciate that the movie thrives on outlandish bloodshed and whimsical satire.

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If Golden Circle is any indication of things to come, writers Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman should just never part. The screenplay — coupled with brilliant cinematography, of course — makes a 2 hour and 21 minute runtime feel like half of that and leaves you wanting more.

And, not that it needs to be said, but the cast is an absolute treat. Nobody plays a sociopath quite like Julianne Moore.

Best of all, as your resident score junkie, I was over the moon that Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson came back to compose for this installment. Though they aren’t niche composers, but they do have one helluva a knack.

I’m thrilled that this movie is hitting theaters and everyone can go see it. It’s one of my favorite movies of the year and meant to be seen in Dolby. If you’re heading to the theater to see it this weekend, you might just see me there since I’ll be seeing it at least twice more before it leaves the big screen. I’ll be the girl in the “TARON EGERTON IS A BABE” t-shirt. See you at the movies!

Mother!

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The last Darren Aronofsky film I saw was Black Swan. I remember the movie being a jarring experience above anything else, but that was part of the allure. Aronofsky isn’t exactly known for his tame writing style. In fact, it has been said of this Mother! that he wrote the screenplay “angrily.”

When he introduced the film at the Deauville Film Festival, Aronofsky said, “I just want to apologize for what’s about to happen. Everyone’s laughing and really liking me right now, but you will not remember a word of this in two hours.”

In a beautiful, sort of work-in-progress home in a field somewhere lives a May/December relationship. She (Jennifer Lawrence) spends her days painting, cooking, and wandering around looking for him. He (Javier Bardem) likes to disappear for hours at a time with little to no explanation of what he’s been doing or where he’s been.

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One day, a man (Ed Harris) shows up at their door. He’s a Doctor — maybe a surgeon? — from a hospital not too far away. He’s new and evidently thought they were a Bed & Breakfast. She is wary of their guest, as he is a total stranger, but he takes no issue with housing a newcomer for the night.

After finding her man and the strange man in the bathroom, the strange man hacking up a lung everywhere, she decides to go to bed. I would too. She drinks a nice glass of what I can only assume is Opium and hits the hay.

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The next day, their drifter seems to be feeling much better and — surprise — his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) even shows up! She serves up a nice meal to the strange man, his wife, and Him. The boys decide to go for a walk, leaving the ladies alone to bond. The wife gets schnockered on some boozy lemonade — a family recipe — and begins prying.

It gets real uncomfortable, but not quite as uncomfortable as how rude and disrespectful the husband and wife are to her. They break a priceless heirloom and refuse to leave. If that’s not bad enough, their two sons to show up. Things get heated, accidents happen, and someone is rushed off to the hospital.

While Mother — as the character is billed on iMDB — waits for Him to return from carrying the injured party to get medical attention, she gets to clean up an unholy mess. She does this a few times. When He finally does return, she learns that the four person family who invaded their home is down to three. For whatever reason, he tells them that they can bring their extended kin to the home for a post-funeral feast.

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Now, I would’ve had to plan my husband’s funeral at this point because I would have murdered him for doing something like that without telling me. I’ve had nightmares where people I don’t know come into my home and just hang out. This movie blasted those nightmares right up on the big screen. Thanks, Darren. Get out of my HEAD, Darren.

Oh, I forgot. He’s a poet. Javier Bardem’s character. Not Darren Aronofsky.

Anyway, he writes this Earth-shatteringly brilliant poem and, within minutes of showing the poem to her, fans are knocking down their door to meet him. People are coming in droves.

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From there on out, everything that happens is simply too nonsensical to talk about. Here are some words I would use to describe what happens for the rest of the film:

– Ludicrous
– Insulting
– Unnecessary
– A-Waste-Of-$12
– Timesuck

When Mother! ended, I was angry at myself, I was angry at Darren Aronofsky, I was even angry at the protectionist who isn’t even a person. It’s just the machine that was told to roll that footage.

What’s worse, now, is that every time I tell anyone that I hated it, I get to listen to a diatribe about how I “just didn’t get it” or why I “shouldn’t disagree with it.” I understand the subtext and the context clues and everything in between, I just did not care for this film. Aggressively.

Worst of all, and perhaps most infuriating for me personally, was that they had composer Johann Johannsson on this project and wound up scrapping the score making him the “music and sound consultant”. That is a waste of his time and talent.

I won’t tell you not to see Mother!. I think if you have money to throw away on a ticket to a horrible film that will likely leave you feeling as though you’ve got a hair at the back of your throat that you can’t seem to extract, you should see it. It’s certainly an experience. Just not a good one.

 

IT

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I’m not one of those coulrophobiacs, afraid of people wearing face paint and red noses. No, I’m not talking about the GOP when they pull and all-nighter and get a little weird. I most definitely am afraid of those guys. I, of course, am talking about clowns. Fear of clowns has been around for ages, dating back to the 1500s. Studies say that it stems from a fear of the unreal, as clowns have overdone, unrealistic features.

Recently, within the last decade or so, there have been reports every few years of jokesters — or, jesters, if you like — dressed as clowns just… standing roadside as cars pass by. Why, only a couple of years ago, a man dressed in clown garb was seen in one of the larger cemeteries by me — Rosehill — long after the grounds had closed for the day, waving at anyone whose headlights caught him.

With the lackadaisical gun control in this country, that, my friends, is a great way to see who’s packin’.

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Stephen King’s 1986 novel IT was to those who fear clowns what Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was to those who fear sharks. IT is widely regarding as one of King’s most popular works, leaving the reader frequently breathless while running up their electric bill with every light in the house on. Essentially, a killer clown by the name of Pennywise comes around every 27 years to terrorize y’alls’ neighborhoods.

In the newest adaptation to screen, we begin our story in Derry, Maine, 1988. Little 7-year-old Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is helping his big brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) finish up a paper boat that he can go play with in the rain-soaked streets. Iconically, Georgie places the S.S. Georgie into the gutter and it’s quickly washed into one of the sewers.

Peering into the darkness, out comes Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). He entices Georgie with a red balloon, but ultimately gets his prey using the S. S. Georgie as bait.

After his brother’s disappearance, Bill relies on his friends, Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and Bev (Sophia Lillis) for both distraction and support. Together, they make up “The Losers”; a group of outcasts who band together to survive life in Derry. 

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It would seem that all of the kids in Derry have both had a run in with and can’t resist a good red balloon. Like a siren calling sailors ashore only to dismember them, the red balloon is impossibly enticing and most certainly will spell the end of one’s beautiful life if succumbed to.

Hiding behind every red balloon is a nefarious, monstrous, shape-shifting clown with a killer smile — Pennywise, the Dancing Clown. I’m fairly certain he’s hiding in my basement as well, and one of these times when I’m switching my laundry, he’ll present himself in the form of a gigantic centipede.

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In a town flanked by missing children flyers, there are bound to be occurrences of a strange nature, but Derry is the “hold my beer” of curious goings on. When Bill can’t get Georgie out of his mind, The Losers — while each struggling with their own demons — are determined to help him find closure. Ben — the resident Derry aficionado — has an extensive history of the town plastered on the walls of his bedroom. You might say, he’s got the right stuff.

Narrowing it down to the sewer system and one wholly sinister-looking house — the Neibolt house — The Losers know what they need to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t involve not going into that house. Once inside, Pennywise makes quick work of invading each one’s psyche to create the ultimate personalized haunted house experience that no one asked for.

It’s a harrowing ordeal, and — possibly most unfortunately — we do get to see Pennywise dance. I’ll leave the rest for you to see for yourself.

Having read the book, I enjoyed seeing a more contemporary spin on this reconstruction. Set in the late 80s gives the film liberties that being set in the 50s wouldn’t have. This is an exceptional illustration of a horror movie done right. While the original IT mini-series wasn’t as scary as everyone seems to remember it being, this movie absolutely gives us something to think about at 2a.

As much excitement as there was surrounding “that kid from Stranger Things” landing a role in the movie, it turns out that casting was superb all around. While Finn Wolfhard did an adorably crass Richie — sadly, minus the “beep beep, Richie,” a term used in place of “shut up” in the miniseries when he’d say something over-the-top — the rest of the kid cast was out of this world.

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All of the actors who make up the younger demographic are on-screen treasures; each with a promising future in film. Jack Dylan Grazer’s massively hypochondriacal “Eddie”, Sophia Lillis’ “Bev”, Jackson Robert Scott’s “Ben”, and Jackson Robert Scott’s “Georgie” need special mentions.

Additionally, it must be said that Bill Skarsgard — a man who typically maintains a rather stoic demeanor — was positively horrifying as Pennywise. But also kind of charming. Figure that one out.

Director Andy Muschietti must feel like he won the lottery. His previous feature, Mama, was a box office flop and a flop in my living room. However, he stuck the hell out of the landing on IT.

To round it all out, my favorite part of any movie — the score — was composed by the always lovely Benjamin Wallfisch. This music felt like he reached right into my brain, pulled out my anxiety, and set it to music.

The sequel, IT: Chapter Two is slated for 2019 and I can’t wait. For now, IT is playing in a theater near you and Pennywise is likely under my bed at home. It’s well written and acted. Funny, scary, and even heartfelt at times. Enjoy! And if anyone asks you to go somewhere and promises you’ll float too, take a hard pass.

 

Patti Cake$

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One of the cornerstones of great filmmaking is creating relatability. Nothing is quite as engaging as feeling like we may never achieve our ambitions. The crushing fear of failure that puts us on the brink of constant existential crisis is often the only thing that propels us as well.

As an aspiring comedian, I understand the struggle intimately. When I get on stage and make a joke about killing a spider in my bedroom with a string cheese wrapper because I don’t need no man and people don’t laugh, that fear doubles down. But that’s a story for another time. Or never. I digress.

Growing up in “dirty Jersey”, Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) is suspended between her reality — a crap bartending job where she serves her mother shots nightly — and her intended reality — spitting bars with rap royalty O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah). 

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Her mom, Barb (Bridget Everett), is the kind of woman who dresses like she’s a teenager and behaves like she just scored a fake ID. Together, they care for Patti’s ailing Nana (Cathy Moriarty) who lives with them and spends most of her time chain-smoking in a  Lay-Z-Boy and bingeing daytime television.  

As dire as her day-to-day may seem, Patti finds solace in her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). Together, they are Bitch Cassidy and the Lap Dance Kid. Just as motivated as his rhyming partner in crime, Patti AKA Killa P, Jheri wants to get the hell out of Jersey, too. Motivation only goes so far, especially when discouragement abounds.

Patti and Jheri find themselves at a show where they see an enigmatic and generously pierced gentleman by the name of Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) rapping over metal, much to the chagrin of the rest of the crowd. Patti takes a shine to him, but Basterd barely gives her the time of day.

Feeling stuck, Patti takes Nana out for a stroll in her wheelchair to visit her late grandfather at the cemetery. Spotting Basterd visiting someone as well, Patti rolls a dozing Nana his way, but he skitters off through a tunnel aptly named the Gates of Hell. She calls Jheri and tells him to meet her there and, against her better judgement, enters the drippy, dark underpass. Sleeping Nana and all.

Upon discovering Basterd’s pad — a dilapidated shack in the woods — Patti enters to find that he’s got an anomalous recording studio setup. It takes some coercing — with Basterd and a now awakened and alarmed Nana — but something magic happens in that shitty little shed and PBNJ is born.

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Barb learns that Patti is an aspiring rapper and immediately shuts it down, but Killa P knows she’s got something special going. Taking on odd jobs to make extra money — both for the PBNJ fund and for Nana’s medical bills — Patti works herself to the bone. Her fraught relationship with her mother will soon come to a head and leaving Jersey becomes an insurmountable feat.

Despite her best efforts, everything falls apart; Nana’s health declines further, she and Jheri have a falling out, and she manages to alienate Basterd. All in about 24 hours.

But, where there’s a will, there is a way, as they say. Look at that! I can spit a hot sixteen, too. (I’m sorry.)

Patti isn’t the kind to sit idly by and let things fall to pieces and, in the face of what seems like inevitable failure, she will pull off something totally remarkable. Because she’s a bo$$ bitch.

This is one of my favorite movies of the year, you guys. Writer/Director — who also wrote the music for the film — Geremy Jasper has something truly exceptional in Patti Cake$. It’s an underdog story without the saccharine, wrapped-up-in-a-neat-package finish. It is thoroughly uplifting and good to its audience from start to finish.

The story itself gives so much to the viewer and tests our emotions throughout. It allows the audience time to feel for these characters deeply and makes it easy to understand them in a profound way. Even Barb’s erratic and destructive behavior comes from a place that is easy to see in oneself and, therefore, allows us to love her even though we’re kind of mad at her.

Comedian Bridget Everett’s role as Patti’s mother is a considerable departure from anything she’s done previously and she rocks it flawlessly. Her on-screen daughter, played by Danielle Macdonald is — unbelievably —  an Australian native! I was lucky enough to participate in a Q&A after the screening I attended featuring Jasper, Everett, and Macdonald. Macdonald even rapped for us a little!

Evidently she’d never rapped once before this film and you wouldn’t know it. This young woman is a tremendous talent. The movie was expertly cast, pairing some relatively unknowns — Macdonald, Athie, and Dhananjay — with legends (yeah, I said legends) Everett and Moriarty.

If you’ve ever felt like you’re not going anywhere or you’re lost or it’s too late, see this movie. SEE THIS MOVIE. Even if you’ve never felt that way and you’re doing great and everybody hates you because everything always works out for you, just see this movie. All of you. Find the Patti Cake$ in you, get inspired, and get out there and be somebody!

 

Crown Heights

MV5BMjAwMjY2NTEwMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDc3ODA5MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,676,1000_AL_Open Facebook on your phone, turn on the television to just about any channel, crack a newspaper;  it would seem that every morning, while we sip our preferred AM beverage, we hear about another incident of police brutality in the African American community. It is a pyroclastic flow that’s only picking up speed.

Remarkably — and sickeningly — our abysmal penal system hasn’t grown out of its racially charged temper tantrums through decades of progressive movements and promising developments.

Crown Heights is the story of an immigrant from Trinidad living in New York when he is wrongfully accused of and incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield) was just 18-years-old when he was detained by police.

Incredulous and panic-stricken, Colin told everyone willing to listen — and even those who weren’t — that he was innocent. Meanwhile, in the maelstrom of his duress, his best friend, Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha), spent every waking hour tracking down potential witnesses and mostly unhelpful police and legal support — putting tremendous strain on his own personal life.

Everyone needs a friend like Carl. Not even fully aware of the abhorrent treatment Colin was receiving in prison, Carl poured his heart and soul into finding the justice that his friend deserved.

Unsure of where else to turn, Carl meets with Antoinette (Natalie Paul), a childhood friend who may have helpful information to assist in the case. Carl takes her to see Colin and — though he’s falling apart — sometimes we just need something or someone to come along at just the right time, brush us off, and tell us everything is going to be alright.

In the years after being locked up, Colin would face a maddening trial and what seemed to be nothing but dead ends disguised as sovereignty. Flanked by middle-aged white men who would stand before a judge and bully confessions out of kids — now adults — who may or may not have seen what actually happened, he was running out of options and — worst of all — hope.

It isn’t difficult — even for a moment — to believe that this film is based on true events. That said, it is quite trying to watch at times with that rolling around the back of your mind.

The film, written and directed by Matt Ruskin, and adapted from a This American Life podcast — while set in the 80s and 90s — is a startling revelation of what the legal proceedings were then, and what they are now; strikingly similar. The ensemble cast gives a transcendent performance while Ruskin captures the delicacy of human nature.

This film is necessary and pure of heart. The story is magnificently told and charactarizes violence not only between law enforcement and prisoners, but also, the malaise that breeds among the accused.

Colin Warner didn’t receive the fair treatment one is promised and owed in this country until Carl put previously ignored information into the right hands. It was taken from there to an even bigger platform — the media. It wasn’t until important men in suits were going to get in trouble for treating an innocent man like a convicted criminal that justice was served.

We’re staring down the barrel of lifetimes — Colin’s, ours, our children’s — subject to the same news reports, outrage, and lives lost, day in and day out, if we don’t do something. The state of our nation can’t improve until the people in charge do better. I realize I’m on the brink of a diatribe and I don’t want to take you down that rabbit hole.

Crown Heights is a testament to our unwavering and crooked legal system. It is a powerful and critical illustration of what was happening behind closed doors nearly 40 years ago, some of which still goes on today.