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Patti Cake$ is a tasty dessert [MOVIE REVIEW]

It’s not only hard out here for a pimp, it’s also tough for a young struggling would-be rapper named Patti (Danielle MacDonald). She’s the primary breadwinner in her household which includes her grandmother whose respiratory system is ravaged by decades of smoking and her mother who also has dreams of singing stardom. Between working a series of low-end jobs, Patti does everything she can to advance her career. And she’s not alone in her visions of fame; there’s Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), an East Indian pharmacy tech who’s just as fascinated with rap as she is.

So you have a chubby blonde girl and her Indian sidekick in hot pursuit of becoming part of rap royalty. They can write and rhyme but their team becomes complete when they come across a black kid, Anti-Christ (Mamoudou Athie) who has a functional recording studio in the remote shack where he lives. They create a demo tape which gives them a product to promote.

Patti Cake$ is a production that has a lot to overcome to make it work. And it does overcome. Patti Cake$ is a See it!

It starts with the film’s writer/director, Geremy Jasper. Patti’s lyrics had to be solid, credible rhymes - with rhythm. They are. There’s a saying: write what you know. Geremy is a video music director. He knows and understands this genre. Next, Danielle MacDonald, a native of Australia, had to master the craft. She does. Her rapping is smooth, natural, and authentic. Her ability and familiarity with rap reflect the universal appeal of black America’s music. Rebel Wilson of the Pitch Perfect film series, who is also Australian, said her favorite song growing up was Jump! by Kris Kross, which reached No. 1 in the land down under. And you should “Believe dat”.

The film features the necessary debate as to Patti’s right to rap. While working as a server at a private party hosted by a rap legend, she bursts into a performance as he sits alone waiting for his guests to arrive. He is thoroughly unimpressed and accuses her of abducting a culture that is not hers. She also gets fired.

Another part of Patti Cake$’s successful recipe is the quirky but perfect performances of costars, Siddharth Dhananjay and Mamoudou Athie. However, Athie’s character keeps very expensive recording equipment in his shack where it could easily be stolen. Coupled with the fact that much equipment requires at least a 440 electrical system, unlikely wiring for that hovel, makes that part of the storyline dubious at best.

This film gets an “A” for cast diversity. The cast reflects both the working class white community Patti lives in and the rap world which has a primarily black following with a substantial number of fans of other races.

Ultimately, Patti Cake$ works because it combines an interesting story, strong acting and absolutely, necessary credibility from a white girl effectively performing what is considered a black art form.

Patti Cake$ is 108 minutes and rated R for strong language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use and a brief nude image. And it gets our highest rating, See It!

Detroit – See it now or visit later. [MOVIE REVIEW]

In 1967 Detroit, an illegal “party” which includes drinking and gambling leads to the mass arrest of the attendees and sets off five days of rioting in Motown. The police raid the riot area. When they hear shots originating from a nearby hotel, they believe the shots are directed at them, so they converge on the lodge with dire consequences for the young black men and the two white women staying there.

Based on a true story, Detroit attempts to tell a sad segment of Motown’s history. Unfortunately, the filmmakers fail to deliver a product worthy of this important event.

First, the screenwriter, Mark Boal, neglected to lay a foundation of the conditions in Detroit that set off the riots. The story begins with the police raid of a party, which is led by a black detective with the support of a black informant. The uniformed cops, who were mainly white, are generally restrained in their dealings with those arrested.

To any filmgoer unaware of the conditions of the City’s black residents in the 1960s, they might reasonably believe that what they saw didn’t merit five days of rioting. Detroit doesn’t fully address the root causes of the riot: high unemployment, governmental neglect of communities of color and the overall sense of hopelessness that many in America’s urban areas felt at the time.

The film does go into painful, exacting details of the brutality – and killing – which the police committed against the hotel guests.

Another flaw is that Boal, and director Kathryn Bigelow, did not authenticate the characters’ dialogue with 60’s lingo. Phrases like the “The Man” which referred to authority figures – white men - who maintained the corporate, legal and political status quo was widely used during the 1960s, even on TV, was not uttered in this film. “Ticked Off” which can still be heard today meaning angry didn’t make the cut. These and other rich and popular 60’s slang were not included in the film, which took away from Detroit’s authenticity.

However, one exchange was amusing. When a white cop asked one of the white women what she was doing in a hotel room with a black guy, she responds: “Wake up Man! It’s 1967!”

The cast, diversity-wise, reflects Detroit in the 1960s when almost 100% of the city was black and white.

Ultimately, you should see Detroit. I’ll leave it to you to decide to See It now or Rent It later.

Detroit is two hours and 23 minutes – which is much too long, particularly when the film doesn’t take the time to describe the socio-economic-political climate of Detroit in the 1960s and provide nuance through language.

Detroit is rated R for extreme violence.

Kidnap will grab you and not let you go. [MOVIE REVIEW]

Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) tries to make the best of a difficult day. She’s working as a waitress in a coffee shop dealing with rude and other times, confused customers, while her son, Frankie (Sage Correa) waits for her to take him to a carnival. On the ride over, she talks to Frankie about his father, who is her estranged husband, and his new girlfriend. They arrive at their destination and while watching some of the activities, Karla gets a call from her lawyer and learns that her husband seeks full custody of Frankie. So she can talk more freely, Karla moves to a quieter location leaving Frankie alone to continue viewing the performances. When Karla comes back, her son is missing. As she looks for son, she sees a woman dragging him into a Ford Mustang. The car drives away. Karla gets into her van and takes off in hot pursuit and her valiant efforts to save her son begins.

Kidnap is a thrilling, nerve wrecking, and cinematic adventure. It is unpredictable while also being highly implausible with a TV drama feel about it. Nevertheless, Halle Berry is amazing. She’s strong, but not in an inauthentic way that Hollywood often portrays its heroes. Although Berry’s character, Karla has a lot of self-doubt, she remains laser-focused on getting her son back.

Kidnap’s casting is excellent. Chris McGinn and Lew Temple, who play the husband and wife backwoods kidnappers, are beyond despicable. I have always said you cannot have a truly great hero, without a truly evil villain, and they are evil.

However, much of the film stretches credibility. For example, when Karla goes to speak to her lawyer and leaves Frankie seated watching the show. Frankie’s surrounded by people but amazingly no one sees where he went. And, the scene where Karla wrestles with the kidnappers in the carnival parking lot full of cars, but there are no people or no law enforcement around.

Without giving away too much of the story, there are just too many events in Kidnap that seem highly unlikely.

Set in Louisiana, the cast of Kidnap reflects the makeup of that state which is primarily black and white, but with a growing Hispanic population. So, Kidnap gets an “A” for cast diversity.

Kidnap is 90 minutes and rated R, for violence and peril. You won’t be bored with the story but there’s no compelling reason to see it during its opening weekend. Kidnap gets a Rent It rating.

Atomic Blonde, you’ve seen it all before [MOVIE REVIEW]

A British undercover agent is murdered in East Berlin. But to Western governments, it’s not the spy’s life that matters but instead the secret files embedded in his watch, recovered by his killer, which puts their nations at risk. M16 (British Intelligence) sends in Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) to recover the lost timepiece.

If Atomic Blonde’s entertainment value was placed on one scale and its filmmaking flaws placed on a counter balancing scale, they would be equal to each other.

On one hand, Broughton’s goals are clear: find the watch and also locate a traitor among the spy network she encounters in Germany. There’s violence in epic proportions and the movie advances the notice that women can play the lead in an action film.

But on the other hand, the title of the film, Atomic Blonde, sounds like the name of a cartoon character. And this movie is so formulaic: one spy investigating the death of another and locating lost and invaluable secret files. Then there’s the constant guessing game of who can she trust among the various contacts and intermediaries involved. However, I give a nod to the screenwriters; while spies in passionate love making screens are run of the mill, Atomic Blonde gives that practice a new twist with the two participants being women.

There’s Hollywood’s usual stretches of credibility. Like a female undercover agent who is already 6 foot tall but then decides the best way to blend in and be non-conspicuous is be a platinum blond. And if these characters really received this many crushing blows to the head from their numerous fist fights, they’d be nuttier than a veteran NFL running back.

And for the first time ever, I am giving a film an “F” for cast diversity. Set in Eastern Berlin in the late 80s, as in any large European city at that time, even under communist rule, there would have been people of color, likely African and Asian. There is not a person of color to be found in this film, none of the stars and not one individual in background scenes.

The verdict for Atomic Blonde is, do not rush to see it. Enjoy your summer activities instead. And if you get a chance, Rent It, sometime in the future.

Atomic Blonde is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity. It is 115 minutes which could have been edited down to 100 minutes.

Girls Trip - Avoid This Nasty Adventure! [MOVIE REVIEW]

In Girls Trip, the decades have passed and four college friends Ryan (Regina Hall), Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), Dina (Tiffany Haddish), and Sasha (Queen Latifah) travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival. They are determined to have a GOOOD time and unleash all inhibitions.

Girls Trip is a Trip. It’s vulgar, crass and disappointing. This barrage of crudeness is ultimately the film’s undoing. There is a constant referencing to women as the “B word”. And, the “N word” and MFs are flying everywhere. There’s nothing funny about someone suspended in air urinating on the people below. This happened twice! Dina is sexually tempted by a filthy, old, homeless man who exposes himself to the group.

The characters are stereotypes fitting comfortably into pigeon holes. Tiffany Haddish, who I have to admit I had never heard of before, as Dina, is loud, crude, damn near a nympho. On the other hand, Lisa is matronly, prim and proper, and blindly devoted to motherhood. Sasha is the struggling one who’s trying to keep up a façade of financial and career success while things are crumbling. And then there’s the highly successful Ryan whose fairy tale marriage to former football star, Stewart (Mike Colter), is marketed as an example a woman who’s having it all.

The storyline involving Ryan and her husband is substantive and interesting. His ability to smoothly rationalize his misgivings is nothing short of amazing. Unfortunately, his talent and the film’s attention to worthy scenes are lost in a bombardment of B.S.

I am embarrassed for Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, and Jada Pinkett Smith because they are all talented actresses. And I understand that there’s a paucity of quality roles for black women in Hollywood. But, Girls Trip?

Further, I don’t know where they got the “guy” who’s hairless, lotioned, lady legs are featured in the film’s poster. Real men don’t shave their legs – unless they’re swimmers.

Girls Trip is written by Kenya Barris who penned Barbershop: The Next Cut. That film featured black men of dignity and character. I wonder why he chose to write such trash for women.

Girls Trip also trips up when it comes to casting diversity, earning a C-. We have to be fair in discussing diversity. Other than Kate Walsh who plays Ryan’s agent, Lara Grice, a TV exec, and a few minor roles, this cast is all black including individuals in the background.

Directed by Malcolm Lee and produced by Will Packer, Girls Trip has a modest budget for films today, $28 million. It’s rated R for crude (you can say that again), sexual content throughout, pervasive language, brief graphic nudity, and drug material. Girls Trip is 122 minutes too long.

Sorry girls but your trip is Dead on Arrival!

War for the Planet of the Apes is a Big Loser. [MOVIE REVIEW]

Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his fellow primate followers are pushed to the point of conflict after suffering unimaginable losses - including Caesar’s wife and son – at the hands of humans. Caesar and his forces leave their camp to confront their attackers, eventually finding the humans at their military post. They also find apes enslaved there. A ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson) is in charge. The past atrocities combined with the sight of his species being so badly mistreated leads Caesar to realize that a peaceful resolution of the human-ape conflict is no longer possible.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a dreary, violent movie, and totally lacking in entertainment value. With Caesar being one of the few talking simians, there are a lot of subtitles. And the exchanges between the animals is symbolically bland and representative of the tone of this entire film. This film might have worked if it was based on a true story or some great classical of work whose depressiveness was necessary to tell the tale. But sadly this story is just someone’s idea of entertainment.

During their travels, the Apes adopt a little blond girl that is orphaned when Caesar kills her father in a gun battle. This is an absurd development in the film and apparently was intended to soften viewers’ attitude towards the Apes.

Woody Harrelson is effective as the Nazi-type leader of the human military group. Andy Serkis as Caesar embodies a dignity and even charm despite being dressed in a monkey costume. Their efforts do little to improve this mess.

The suffering viewers endure is intensified by the fact the film is over two hours and 20 minutes long.

The 1970’s classic hit song, War, asks and answers the question: War, what is good for? Absolutely Nothing! That also describes the movie: War for the Planet of the Apes. It’s worth absolutely nothing! It’s rated PG-13 and it is dead, dead, on arrival!!

Rough Night is a fun night [MOVIE REVIEW]

The four coeds were the best of friends during the college days (Jess) Scarlett Johansson, (Alice) Jillian Bell, (Frankie) Ilana Glazer, and (Blair) Zoë Kravitz. Frankie and Blair even had a “past” together. Ten years after graduation they meet in Miami for a bachelorette weekend to celebrate Jess’ pending nuptials. Pippa, played by Kate McKinnon, a more recent friend of Jess’ from the land down under, joins the group as well. The ladies are pumped for a weekend of, well, everything. They rent a beautiful beach house and invite a male entertainer over. Tragically, he doesn’t survive the evening. Realizing that they could end up in the slammer, their enthusiasm gives way to panic. It’s a matter of simply figuring out what to do next.

Rough Night is another in a long line of crazy night out movies where the characters always end up asking, how did we get into this mess?! The stories are always a bit implausible. Like in this film, Jess is supposedly in a tight race to win a state senate seat. No serious politician would take off for a long weekend at a pivotal point in the campaign to party it up with friends. These movies also have more strange and unlikely occurrences in one night than most people have in a 100-year lifetime: multiple people conveniently show up at the rental house, as necessary, to help carry out the plot.

However, in the end, Rough Night does what it should do; it entertains. The cast combines the right mix of comedy and drama. There are serious scenes when the characters revisit and debate old intragroup wounds.

The film is greatly enhanced by the performances of Demi Moore and Ty Burrell as the horny neighbors who set lustful eyes on Blair. And there are other bits of humor like when the friends meet at the airport, Alice opens a bottle of champagne to celebrate the moment only to have the sound of the cork popping send other traveler scurrying from what they believe to have been a gunshot.

With Rough Night, you’ll find yourself wondering what is going happen next.

As to cast diversity, it gets a B+ for performers from all racial groups. And it is refreshing to see the one black woman in the group, be the thinnest – and not heaviest. She is arguably the most sophisticated and not the crassest in the group. Zoe is stunning; Lenny, Lisa, you do good work!

Rough Night, is rated R (for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use, and brief bloody images) and it is 101 minutes in length. Rough Night fights its way to our top rating; it’s a See It!

The Mummy should have stayed in her tomb [MOVIE REVIEW]

Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient and ruthless Egyptian queen, lays entombed deep in the earth’s recesses until an evacuation crew led by Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) awakes her. Ahmanet is determined to dominate in the new world, the way she attempted to in her previous life. In addition to his ongoing battle with Ahmanet, Morton has recurring “exchanges” with the ghost of a comrade he had killed earlier in the film. Annabelle Wallis plays Morton’s partner in this adventure and is the stereotypical blonde eye candy.

The Mummy, whose production price tag was reported to be $125,000,000, is a visually stimulating 3-D extravaganza. However, The Mummy stumbles because of the filmmakers, as is too often the case in movies today, try to show how smart and creative they can be. The creativity is evident in the special effects, however, the story itself is not entertaining and there is no mystery. And, a plot like this one, that flops around like a fish on deck, soon like that fish, begins to smell.

There are no complaints about the performers. Tom Cruise has now passed the half-century mark, age wise, and remains very credible as the leading man in an action-adventure film. Cruise is fit and to prove it, he has scenes shirtless and at one point, he’s almost nude.

The Mummy gets a “B” for cast diversity. I especially liked Sofia Boutella, who is Algerian, in the role of the Egyptian queen. Courtney B. Vance costars as Colonel Greenway, along with other actors of color in smaller parts to round out a diverse cast.

Save yourself from buyer’s remorse and don’t get wrapped up in all the hype around The Mummy, this is a film you should wait to Rent It.

The Mummy is rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, suggestive content and partial nudity. It's 110 minutes in length.

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