Patti Cake$ (2017)

Never meet your idols.

There’s a certain allure about a underdog story, someone that you can root for. In the case of Patti Cake$ Patricia Dumbrowski is the underdog. Often when films concern rap music and underdogs, their stories usual hail from Los Angeles, Detroit or Chicago.

Patti Cake$ decides to put New Jersey on the map, with the rapping skills provided by Patti ‘Killa P’ Dumbrowski featuring her friend and MC, Jheri. And this is also the feature debut of director Jeremy Gasper and immediately caught my attention with the green glow that Patti finds herself bathed in as she dreams about meeting her idol, but then when she leaves and almost floats down the street listening to her music. Until she is brought back down to the ground by being called Dumbo. A name that continually haunts her.

Usually films with this underdog element are usually centred on the characters biding their time and waiting for their opportunity, but Patti Cake$ used a different formula. The central character, played brilliantly by Danielle Macdonald, struggles to find her voice to begin with, as she finds herself caring for not only her nana, but also her mother as she gets drunk at the bar she tends.

Unfortunately, this is where the fresh take stops, as the film suddenly does fall into the run-of-the-mill waiting for a big break story as the film begins to pick up it’s pace. But don’t get me wrong, I was still enjoying the refreshing stance, as instead of a overly-masculine repressed male, it was a confident-in-her-own-way woman. And Danielle Macdonald lapped this role up every step of the way.

And their opportunity is given to them, when they meet Bastard (Mamoudou Athie) who is able to create mixes for Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and Patti. But instead of just using him, they incorporate him into their master plan of the big time and create PBNJ. Their montage of creating the EP was really enjoyable and fairly believable as they huddle in a shack creating beats and lyrics.

But of course, with these formulas, there is that stage where their dream is shook, but I won’t divulge due to potential spoilers. My only issue with Patti Cake$ is that is it effectively a female 8-Mile. Although it is considerably funnier and has a bigger heart than 8-Mile it doesn’t divert away from the narrative structure all that well.

The comedy is one of the biggest hits in the film, but Jeremy Gasper understands when to add in the perfect amount of comedy. Usually through Jheri as he interjects. Potentially one of the best moments is Jheri’s deadpan boss, stating it is not ‘showtime at the apollo’. Naturally, Patti does take majority for the screen time, but each of the characters use their time perfectly and create genuine characters in a relatively short space of time. Again, Gasper understands this and creates a great environment for these underdogs to thrive in.

I did enjoy the film for the 100+ minute runtime, but that being said, it’s not left a memorable print in my mind. The performances are fun and believable with Patti (Danielle Macdonald) and Barb (Bridget Everett) stealing the show and creating that authentic underdog story that everyone can get on board with. Considering that this is a directorial debut from Jeremy Gasper, it’s quite interesting to see what he can do with bigger stars and bigger budgets. Patti Cake$ isn’t exactly ground breaking for the film, but it is certainly funny with what it achieves over the runtime.

Having an interest in rap music, it was enjoyable listening to soundtrack and the music being produced, but I think the key to this film is not the music, but rather that connection with the characters. The performances really accentuate this element and really help Patti Cake$ a good and enjoyable watch.

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Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)

I remember the Captain Underpants books being one of the more inventive ways to get children into reading, with it’s toilet humour, fun ‘flip-o-ramas’ and of course George and Harold’s endless line of pranks on their principal.

And all I heard about Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie was positive thing, that it still continued this trend of toilet humour and dumb pranks enacted by the elementary schooled-duo. So why not see what Dav Pilkey’s creation looked like on the big screen?

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie does follow the trend of the source material, having the duo cause havoc to their principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helm) and push him to the point where they are threatened with being separated. But what David Soren brilliantly captured, was that for children, this meant the literal end of their friendship. (even though they did live next door to each other).

But whilst rooting through a cabinet of their confiscated stuff, George (Kevin Hart) finds a hypnotising ring from a cereal box. Struggling with how to stop the threat of separation, George tries to hypnotise Mr. Krupp. Somehow, this works. And George and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) tell Mr. Krupp to become their famous comic book creation, the amazing Captain Underpants.

Due to the intended audience of the film, the narrative was never going to be complex, but keeping it this simplistic works and creates that perfect structure for the hour and a half runtime. There is enough in between the narrative from comedic gestures and the toilet gags, that the film runs smoothly.

There was a stage, where I thought the gags had run dry as it was often very cut-and-paste for the humour, but the introduction of Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) just created a barrel of laughs. The antagonist introduction was brilliant, as it does get the film into and over the final third of the film.

I think one of the biggest joys about the film is the deliverance of George and Harold. They continually break the fourth wall throughout the film, with their freeze-frames and catch-ups, but it isn’t an annoyance, if anything it keeps the film fresh and fun. They even poke fun at budget restrictions and include a animated version of the flip-o-ramas that are lifted from the novels.

Between all the toilet humour and the slapstick comedy that is one screen, Captain Underpants is layered with other comedic gestures, especially the students moving into the mandatory Invention Convention. And the comedy is just easy to get along with and because there is no thought to it, it becomes really enjoyable.

Of course, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie was never going to be stealing awards for best film, but it is perhaps one of the better films for children in recent memory. It’s not exactly the worst way to spend 90 or so minutes, because it is full of laughs and animated brilliantly. It’s narrative works with clear direction and doesn’t get tangled up in itself, but then again you do have to remember it is a kids film.

Unless you have the humour of Melvin, I’d be amazed if you didn’t laugh at least twice during this film.

Detroit (2017)

Hate only breeds hate.

One of the tensest I’ve been in the cinema was earlier this year with Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is a close second, and she places you dead centre in the 12th Street Riots in Detroit, amongst the police brutality and racist tension that was rife in 1960s America.

Before becoming swept up in this 1967 time period, Bigelow chose to use an illustration that gave the film it’s legs to stand on, using the Great Migration as it’s launching point. This illustration is incredibly poignant and showcases the tensions although on a relatively small scale.

And Detroit is told around the centrepiece of an event at the Algiers motel that occurred during the riots. Mark Boal’s ability to interplay that with enough background to really amp up the tension on screen is integral to the middle section becoming one of the most terrifyingly shocking events throughout the film.

I was transfixed with Detroit, as a retaliation prank becomes incredibly volatile and tense. But it demands your attention every step of the way, as so much is going on, but told perfectly. Bigelow’s choice to splice archive footage into the film only exemplified the believable set that was to recreate the destruction that of property that occurred during the riots.

I believe with a film like Detroit it would have been easy to slip into the telling of one side, but I think that Bigelow managed to get the correct balance and show that the riots not only had a huge impact on the black communities in Detroit but also everyone else caught up in it, from the national guard to the local police force.

Not only this, but the nuanced movements of each character was crucial in Detroit from the shaking, stuttering hand of Aubrey, to Larry Reed’s (Algee Smith) performance to the empty Fox Theatre as the lights are shut off around him. But also the looks of terror, not only placed on the faces of the those forced to face the wall, but also the deputy to Krauss as he seemingly questions his actions during a key scene.

The tension definitely emanated through the screen, especially as the Detroit Police Department begin to essentially bully the suspects in the Algiers Motel. But this event is seen all the way through, which only helps build the tension, through the actions of Krauss and the Detroit Police Department and the effective use of set by Bigelow.

The casting of Will Poulter was interesting as one of the leads, but he was playing Krauss to perfection, as you become to loathe the character that is unveiled at the Algiers. But the rest of the casting was absolutely superb and kept me transfixed throughout the film from John Boyega’s Melvin Dismukes to Jacob Latimore’s Fred Temple. They all played their parts to perfection.

Kathryn Bigelow had this film nailed on every step of the way. I believe Detroit is going to be staying with me for a long time and for all the right reasons. It’s important to have films like this, as it’s incredibly poignant for today and suggests that we haven’t moved far from these attitudes at all.

I was honestly left stunned by this film, and it’s not often that this happens. This comes to the believability of the performances from the cast, but also how the narrative was told. It was incredibly compelling and I was gripped for the entirety of the 140-odd minute runtime. Although it was slow to get off the ground, once it started running, Detroit took me with it. It’s an incredibly harrowing tale, but one that is also incredibly important at the same time.

A Ghost Story (2017)

This is not a horror film.  

Before you think it is, A Ghost Story is not a horror film, it is anything but. Although Ghost appears in the title, it’s rather a comic ghost that situates itself throughout the best part of this film.

One of the first things I noticed about A Ghost Story was the ratio setting of the screen, as David Lowery encloses the screen in a box awash with a vintage-esque filter. This was actually really effective and almost became a window in the relationship of C (Casey Affleck) and M. (Rooney Mara)

Through this lens, we see C and M living in their quaint suburban house, but what unfolds is a strange devoid between the two of them for some unspoken reason. Suddenly the idyllic relationship between C and M is thrown into the abyss as C is killed in a car crash. But this is when the Ghost comes into the story.

At the morgue, M identifies the body and leaves. But Lowery holds the scene for an extraordinary amount of time with the body and it rises becoming the titular ghost. He returns the house C and M lived in and watches M as she tries to deal with the passing of her husband. Lowery has a tendency to hold his shots for a significant amount of time and he continues this trend, holding the shot where M eats the pie. The stillness of this shot is incredibly, especially as the Ghost watches on mere metres away.

Instead of becoming a terrifying story about the ghost, it rather begins to transcend time as the ghost watches M leave the house and the new residents that move in after him. These moments pass by like seconds, as the Ghost watches them through piano lessons, Christmas and mealtimes.

Throughout the 90ish minutes of film, the film is mostly devoid of speech, but it rather about the movements of C as the Ghost. Lowery does lace the screen with beautiful and picturesque shots, including the shot where the house is torn down and the Ghost is stood there amongst the rubble, almost contemplating the destruction around him.

As well as being almost devoid of speech, A Ghost Story contains the perfect blend for the score, between the natural sounds of suburban life to the soundtrack and score becoming increasingly enchanting as the Ghost passes through the future in a matter of seconds.

During one of the new tenants, Lowery chose to have a lengthy nihilistic speech interjected into the film, which worked perfectly. Considering the Ghost glides through these peoples lives, almost as though nothing matters when all is said and done.

A Ghost Story isn’t packed to the gills with narrative, but it’s not about the narrative completely, but rather the interesting premise of this time-travelling ghost and essentially the message that time does continue when we are gone, regardless of what we can try to do to stop it. The performances displayed by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck are brilliant, because it’s not about the speech and over-egged performance, but the nuanced movements that are displayed by the duo that makes the distance in the relationship believable.

A Ghost Story on a large scale worked, but I doubt it will be challenging for a spot of top film come the end of the year. But through the subtle performances and lengthy shots, David Lowery has really created a window into this relationship and the perception of time. Although A Ghost Story slipped into the realms of Interstellar towards the end, it managed to keep it’s footing. With the picturesque scenes throughout and enchanting music, A Ghost Story will definitely be a more memorable picture than most I’ve seen recently.

Blast From The Past: Batman Returns (1992)

Before Christopher Nolan all but completed the Batman franchise with his reimagining of the legendary comic book figure, there was the gothic interpretation, with Tim Burton directing and Michael Keaton returning as the Caped Crusader, after the 1989 Batman film.

One of my local cinemas occasionally puts on films of yesteryear, usually cult classics, so I’ve started a new segment called ‘Blast From The Past’ and this is the first one I’ve caught. Batman Returns was probably my favourite Batman from the 90s, but all I remember was that featured the grotesque-looking Penguin villain.

I forgot how dark the opening is, as a young Cobblepot is born but discarded into a river on Christmas. Fast-forward 33 years, and there are rumours floating around, that a Penguin-Man has been sighted and living in the sewers. And in true Tim Burton style, the film is filled with gothic stylisation and shadows aplenty. From the opening scene with costumes the Cobblepots are wearing, to the tall shadowy buildings that surround Gotham City, Burton has really dressed the screen in his gothic imagining.

Michael Keaton continues his role as Batman and protecting Gotham City, but doesn’t actually show up until the Red Triangle Gang cause havoc during the annual turning on the Christmas tree lights, with a speech by Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). Shreck is kidnapped and blackmailed by The Penguin (Danny Devito) in the aftermath, to make sure he becomes an up-standing citizen of Gotham City after being cast away by his unknown parents.

The character of The Penguin reminds of Nolan’s interpretation of The Scarecrow, being a character that has a dark persona hidden by the public figure, especially as he discovers his true name of Oswald Cobblepot. Shreck in an effort to get his dodgy power planet authorised pushes Penguin to run for mayor so they can aid and abet each other. And Danny DeVito and Walken play these characters to perfection, as you become to dislike them as people and their slimy exterior.

And of course Tim Burton continues to dress the screen in dark colours throughout the 2 hours+ running time, otherwise would it even be a Tim Burton film? But some of the sequences included within Batman Returns are incredibly dark and strange. I mentioned the opening scene, where the child is abandoned to the sewers, but also Selina Kyle’s (Michelle Pfeiffer) transformation into Catwoman, but as Hello There transforms into the statement Hell Here is just brilliant imagery by the director.

Selina Kyle does becomes integral in this story, as she discovers why Shreck is a dodgy dealer when it comes to the power plant, but also the transformation becomes one of the key turning points in the struggle for Gotham City. And that’s what happens, you become wrapped up in this film and feels like you’ve been there for hours, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because of the enjoyment from watching a nostalgic classic on the silver screen.

That being said though, Tim Burton loves to drag out an ending doesn’t he? The climax of this film feels like it does drag on for a good half hour, but this is probably down to the three narrative interjections coming to a close. There are some cringey moments within Batman Returns from it’s one-liners, to the tight clothing of the Princess. But these issues do not necessarily overshadow the film as a whole.

The choreographed action sequences are what you would expect from the early nineties, but they are fun, especially the aerial efforts from the Red Triangle Gang. It was fun to see this film up on the big screen after all those years of not watching it, and it’s richness in texture and laced with the gothic imagery that Tim Burton just adores.

The film is not one of the classics, it’s fair to say. It’s just not. It hasn’t aged well at all. But it doesn’t matter, because the enjoyment trumps that completely. It’s two hours of over-egged performances from the star-studded cast, but it’s a fun way to spend two hours. And it’s not just Christian Bale that seems to be a moody Batman, Michael Keaton does his best at this as well.

6.9 Bats out of 11.

The Big Sick (2017)

Having Judd Apatow’s name appear next to a comedy, the likelihood is that it’s going to be quite good. His name features against some of the better comedies in recent memory, including Anchorman, Superbad and Step Brothers to name a few. Some of these films are a hive for intriguing, but genuine characters.

The Big Sick is the latest film to be attached with the Apatow name, but what I did not anticipate was the true story that revolved about the leading mans love life. Kumail Nanjiana wrote the romantic comedy story and told the story about him and his wife.

Kumail is a stand up comic, but survives day-to-day by being an Über driver around Chicago. As I mentioned, Apatow films often have genuine characters and that what Kumail is. As usual with this sort of comedy, it’s more wit than situation or slapstick comedy, and Kumail is the perfect vehicle for this as he is incredibly deadpan throughout the film.

Regardless of the situation he finds himself in, Kumail remains incredibly deadpan. His first meeting with Emily (Zoe Kazan) is brilliant as they have instant chemistry, which just emits from the screen. Of course, in true romantic comedic style, the newly-formed couple manage to enchant the screen and fill us with the joy of Kumail and Emily enjoying each others company.

But further to a classic romantic comedy trope, what goes up, must come down. They become infuriated with each other and break up, citing that they cannot do it anymore. They both abide, until Emily is placed in a medically induced coma to try and fight a strange infection and Kumail never leaves her side after learning this.

It’s not often that I am caught watching Romantic Comedies, truthfully because they are not my cup of tea, but The Big Sick has proved that there are still new avenues that can be explored in romantic comedies. Michael Showalter chose to explore the culture clash between Pakistani culture and a modern westernised culture that Kumail finds himself being pulled to and from.

Kumail consistently defies his parents wishes, from not praying to playing coy with the meetings with potential brides to appease his parents. This is all the whilst he keeps falling for Emily and their chemistry continues to light up the screen. The believability of this situation comes down to the acting that is on display from Kumail, Zoe and the rest of the cast.

And The Big Sick is incredibly honest for a romantic comedy, majority of the romantic comedies I have seen often fall into a certain farfetched approach to the story, but this one doesn’t. It has Emily acting skittish because she’s got to take a shit and doesn’t want to in Kumail’s house in an incredibly funny scene. But not only this, but the approach to Pakistani culture and recognising that there are people within those families that do not necessarily want to live that way.

On top of this, the film is incredibly funny. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents are excellent with their brashness toward Kumail, but also Kumail’s deadpan jokes. (his response to the 9/11 question had me in stitches I must admit). Showalter was very unapologetic it seemed as the film progressed, but that’s great because it’s opened up fresher avenues for the film to explore through the genre.

For a fresh approach to the romantic comedy genre, you’ll not find a better film than The Big Sick. It’s use of comedy throughout is brilliant, because it relies on wit, rather than situational/slapstick comedy, but the characters at the heart of this film are the winners. It’s because you genuinely want these characters to get together by the end of the film and as always with Apatow films they are genuine characters.

The Big Sick is probably not going to be the best film I have seen this year, but it’ll be the best romantic comedy for sure. It’ll probably include some of the best laughs and characters from films this year and it just shows that Apatow knows his comedies and characters. I still find myself chuckling occasionally at the jokes.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Cor. What a title. 

The ability to build worlds within film has advanced an incredible amount, especially since the days of James Cameron’s Avatar. Luc Besson has had his hand in the Valerian pie for a long time, and recently thought that the technology was there for him to create Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Besson worked to adapt the French comic book series for the screen, but the title sticks out like a sore thumb considering the comic series is called Valerian and Laureline. I had a certain sense of apprehension for this as the last Besson film I had the ‘pleasure’ of watching was Lucy, and I absolutely loathed that film. But the trailer managed to lure me in with the visuals and the science-fiction element to the film.

Valerian (yeah, I’m just going to call it that from now on) hooked me from the opening sequence as the space station expands and welcomes other nations on-board. As it expands, alien life begins to join and the station grows exponentially into Alpha. As it reaches critical mass, it is pushed out of Earth’s orbit to travel by itself.

Besson apparently sat on this film for some time, and it’s clear to see why as world building that is undertook in Valerian is exceptional, from the market to the whistle-stop tour of the Alpha station is incredibly vibrant. Unfortunately for Besson and Valerian the enjoyment for the film slowly begins to fade when you look past the pretty visuals in the opening thirty or so minutes.

Generally speaking the scripting was just downright awful. And especially cringe worthy when agent Valerian (Dane DeHaan) was trying to woo? his partner agent Laureline (Cara Delevingne) by saying the most inane things. Some of the lines had me shaking my head in disbelief that they had made the final cut. Dane and Cara themselves were good in the role, but Cara’s character does fall into the standard damsel in distress character although Laureline as a character seems to be better than that.

But I don’t think the scripting was helped by the narrative, as it seemed to be jumping all over the place as Besson tried to mash together the love story between Valerian and Laureline and this mysterious element that they have found themselves pulled into. Often it felt as though it wasn’t sure which direction the film wanted to be pulled in.

The film does stand at over two hours, but unfortunately does feel like it’s over three hours as it slogs its way between the narrative, scripting and the indulgent visuals. I don’t think this could have been helped as Besson took the time to dress the screen in the incredible visuals, which were incredible to watch unfold on the screen.

I did enjoy the pairing of Dane DaHaan and Cara Delevingne as they bounce off each other, and do seem to have an interesting chemistry on-screen. Cara was the better off the two regardless of her damsel in distress characterisation, and Dane plays the cocky, arrogant character to perfection, regardless of the script-vomit that tumbles out of his mouth.

It has to be said though, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets only has one true winner, and that lies in the visuals. Besson builds incredible worlds, from the inter-dimensional market to the Thousand City Planet of Alpha and it’s incredulous atmosphere. I mean water, a fully submerged water section on a space station. Really?

However, between the scripting and the narrative being all over the place it’s not something that makes me want to rush back to see it all over again. Aside from the dazzling visuals and Cara’s performance as Agent Laureline, there is little to enjoy about this film. Even the score pulled me out of the film, by sounding reminiscent of Star Wars. As I try to recount the film, I have come to realise that it is less-than-memorable, with only a few glimpses sticking out, including the marketplace sequence being one of better in the film.

If you find yourself going to see it, see it on the biggest screen possible, but other than that, I wouldn’t rush out to see it, which is a shame as I wanted to like Valerian more.