By William Wolf

PATTI CAKE$  Send This Review to a Friend

Depending on your capacity for rap, you may find “Patti Cake$,” written and directed by Geremy Jasper, an appealing offbeat film with a magnetic heroine. Danielle Macdonald, seriously overweight, plays Patti, who may lack self-confidence and be ridiculed but, on the other hand, is eager to be a performer. The film, included in the 2017 New Directors/New Films series presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, is now in commercial release.

I had no idea of the busy rap scene in northern New Jersey, to which Jasper, a musician and former music video director from Hillsdale, is attuned. He has been inspired to direct his first feature film, and it is alive with passion and the effective depiction of the scene.

Macdonald makes an impression as a likable young woman with heart, and one is seduced into rooting for her. Siddharth Dhananjay as Hareesh is also effective as her partner, who encourages her, and they acquire as a collaborator, Mamoudou Athie. Another major role is played by Bridget Everett as Patti’s alcoholic mother, a faded singer.

The primary force in the film is leading lady MacDonald, who, in her role seizes he opportunity to warm the hearts of filmgoers. It is a classic situation of a person who is basically shy coming out to strut her stuff and win admirers. And that’s whether or not one takes to the rap that is her passion. The director has pulled it all together effectively. It is Macdonald’s time to shine. Reviewed August 18, 2017.

CALIFORNIA TYPEWRITER  Send This Review to a Friend

It took me a long time to be convinced to get an electric typewriter, then a while to join the computer age. But as a writer, I find computers are a godsend for editing without having to rip out pages from a typewriter and start over, or use large supplies of white-out fluid. But “California Typewriter,” directed by Doug Nichol, celebrates and romanticizes those dedicated to using and collecting the variety of typewriters that have been on the market since their invention in the late 19th century.

You might be surprised at who prize them. The film shows Tom Hanks rhapsodizing about his collection and how much he enjoys typing. He mocks getting thank-you notes via email, but says one typed thank-you letter is something he will keep. The late Sam Shepard talks about how he prefers creating his plays on a typewriter because he finds the process fitting his rhythm. There are others.

The film also shows us a lot of Ken Alexander, who in his California repair shop prides himself on his ability to fix just about any typewriter that he collects or is brought to him. The film makes a point that there are people the world over who adore typewriters, and we are shown various models that have appeared throughout the history of the machine and that are sought by collectors. The film is rich with glorifying information.

However, “California Typewriter” at 104 minutes is oppressively long, going over and over the adoration of the machine that time has basically passed by, except for those who refuse to give up, until one can yearn for the film to end. The director does enhance it with a clever choice of music as background to the dialogue and the surveys. But enough is enough.

Still, the film can hold a measure of interest for anyone who has ever used a typewriter, and it brings back memories for me. In high school I wanted to take a typing course because I had plans to become a journalist. But the teacher in charge said the typing courses were only for those who wanted to be commercial students (all girls in my school). When I argued, she countered that everyone knows newspaper men type with two fingers. Obviously, she had been to the movies.

So I learned to type haphazardly but rapidly with no system. When I went to work for the Associated Press in my first full-time journalism job I tried to learn a proper system, but it was impossible to put to use because I couldn’t type as fast as I had to on the spot and my imrpovised method prevailed and still does as I type this review on my computer.

When I traveled abroad for a year in my youth I took along my portable which was invaluable. Imagine my chagrin when I arrived by ship at the port in Israel and turned briefly away while I had my portable on the deck waiting for me to pick it up and descend, and turned back in time to see a porter pick it up and throw it down the chute like a piece of luggage. The wounded machine never worked well after that. Come to think of it now, I’m sure that Alexander in his California shop could have done wonders with it. Reviewed August 18, 2017.

6 DAYS  Send This Review to a Friend

An intense hostage-taking story, “6 Days” is based on a real event harking back to 1980, when dissident Iranians seized the Iranian Embassy on London. They were making a point about treatment of Arab minorities in Iran, and they threatened to kill hostages if certain prisoners were not freed.

Director Toa Fraser keeps the total situation taut, as the drama unfolds with various characters doing their bit in involvements on both sides. Ben Turner performs with precision as the rebel leader. On the government side is Mark Strong playing a negotiator, who is put in the position of having to stall to resolve the situation but also having to lie against his moral instincts.

The press is represented by Abbie Cornish as an on-the-scene reporter for the BBC. The British Home Secretary, who has his ideas about how things should proceed, is played by the excellent actor Tim Pigott-Smith, who died recently.

The film plays out rather conventionally, with the tension gradually intensified toward the inevitable climax. One can have sympathy for the terrorists who belief in their cause, and also for the predicament into which they have gotten themselves. One also, of course, sympathizes with the terrified hostages afraid of being shot. As we watch, we know that the ending must turn out to be violent. Reviewed August 28, 2017.

AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER  Send This Review to a Friend

If Al Gore had been president, hundreds of thousands of lives would not have been lost in the blunder of invading Iraq, which he never would have done. Now, if the nation and the world listens to him, the devastation of our planet may be slowed. Gore, as a passionately dedicated environmentalist, has followed up his film of ten years ago with “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” a detailed exploration of the battle to forestall climate change by adopting clean energy programs.

The film, directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, stars Gore in his campaign to fight for the survival of our planet. It depicts Gore traveling the world to expound his philosophy, dispense information and even train dedicated disciples to work in the field. There is an important section dealing with his efforts in Paris to help gain the international climate agreement and specifically broker a deal leading to holdout India agreeing to sign on.

The film pulls no punches in attacking President Trump for withdrawing the United States from the accord after so much effort had been made to win that agreement.

The film is packed with information, film clips, and graphic illustrations to explain the mounting danger of a warming climate to people in many parts of the world. We are shown the dire results that have already been manifested by floods, heat waves, ice breakups and other evidence of the trend that needs to be halted.

One segment shows a Texas town, the mayor of which led the town to use solar energy. The fact that he is a Republican is emphasized to demonstrate that this should not be a partisan issue.

There is also a folksy element as we see Gore on a personal as well as political basis, as when he leads us through his home and shows off memorabilia, and when he talks to us more intimately. We also see him making his speeches, and getting all wound up to deliver his message with great enthusiasm and accenting the positive, holding out hope that things are already changing. He cites places where solar power is taking hold, and salutes the progress he sees being made.

The film at its conclusion makes an unabashed appeal to viewers to do their utmost to work toward policies aiming at acquiring renewable energy, and he refuses to be cowed by the Trump administration’s determination to reverse the forward movement of President Obama’s administration.

As I watched, I felt a terrible sadness that Gore did not become president, but felt new admiration for him as a concerned citizen and important advocate for humanity in the face of the crisis faced by the world. There is much concrete, easy-to-absorb information that he brings to us in this important sequel. A Paramount Pictures release. Reviewed August 14, 2017.

THE NILE HILTON INCIDENT  Send This Review to a Friend

Murder and intrigue mesh in this convoluted detective story set amidst corruption in Egypt in the days before revolution that burst out in 2011. It is a nasty depiction of that country in terms of rampant corruption by just about everyone whom we meet.

A woman has been murdered in the Hilton Hotel, and the witness who saw the killer is a maid. Needless to say, her life is in danger as a cover-up unfolds to protect a bigwig.

The private eye trying to solve the mystery is police detective Noredin, played by Fares Fares in the tradition of the kind of detectives in noted American films. Noredin’s father is a higher up, and their relationship becomes involved in the quest for justice.

Money changes hands between various characters ever on the take and nobody is to be trusted. Writer-director Tarik Saleh keeps the action spinning as it builds toward a climax that may not surprise you. Put this one in the category of ambitious private eye films, only set in Egypt instead of in America. A Strand Releasing release. Reviewed August 11, 2017.

THE TRIP TO SPAIN  Send This Review to a Friend

Those verbal cut-ups, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, are on the road again, this time through Spain, where they are eating very well and Brydon is gathering material for a newspaper assignment. En route in this film directed by Michael Winterbottom, they engage in their familiar routine of working in impressions of actors such as Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Marlon Brando etc. into their conversations.

Frankly, although the guys can be witty and occasionally very funny, the routine is becoming stale and sometimes tiresome. They monopolize conversation no matter who is around, and at times they become boring.

Yes, there is some amusement, as when they are seen dressed up as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza for a photo shoot. And there is no question that they have a gift for impersonations and using them, often competitively, in their conversations. Personal elements in their lives are shown occasionally, with Coogan obsessing over a problem romance.

Fortunately, and this is a big plus, the scenery we view as they travel is seductive and sometimes spectacular. It makes one want to head for Spain and follow their trail, maybe with Coogan and Brydon along for just a bit of the way. An IFC films release. Reviewed August 11, 2017.

NOCTURAMA  Send This Review to a Friend

There has been much attention in France to “Nocturama,” Bertrand Bonello’s film about a group of young terrorists who blow up buildings in Paris. The first half of the film is suspenseful as we follow the secret movements and meetings carried out to make the coordinated destruction happen. But then instead of scattering to safety, the perpetrators inexplicably gather in a department store after closing. They party in the store while awaiting a certain morning assault by the police. There doesn’t seem to be any philosophical motivation for the terrorists, who just seem to be out to make trouble or prove that they can.

Holing up in the department store seems thoroughly dopy, as it can mean certain death, although when it comes right down to the cops killing the terrorists one by one, it is apparent that they really want to live. The cast members perform well as different types from different backgrounds, but there is a certain craziness in the behavior that is at odds with highly motivated terrorism that poses serious threats to cities and countries.

h The best part of the film is the earliest when in snappy detail the well-coordinated participants set up the ultimate acts through various assignments swiftly carried out. The film goes downhill from there. Reviewed August 11, 2017.

INGRID GOES WEST  Send This Review to a Friend

The central character, Ingrid, in “Ingrid Goes West,” written and directed by Matt Spicer, is so obnoxious and dangerous that it is hard to work up any sympathy for-or interest in—her even when things go terribly wrong in her life. Aubrey Plaza portrays her as apparently written, a psycho badly in need of help.

Meanwhile, obsessed with social media and her own failure at having friends, she throws liquid into the face of a bride at a wedding, and after this unforgivable act, takes off for Los Angeles, where she has a plan for recognition. She schemes to become friends with high-profile Taylor Sloane a vacuous social media success played accordingly by Elisabeth Olsen.

Meanwhile, she takes advantage of her very decent landlord, played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr., who tries to be sympathetic but is given a hard time by the manipulative sicko. At first Taylor is fooled, but when her obnoxious brother gets into the scene, he discovers how fraudulent the stalker is and Ingrid’s new-found milieu is about to evaporate for her.

If this is meant to satirize the extent to which social media now rules the world, it fails because its leading character is so menacing. And the social targets she wants to emulate are not worth caring about either. In short, this is an unpleasant film with few redeeming features. A Neon release. Reviewed August 11, 2017.

AFTER LOVE  Send This Review to a Friend

Breaking up after 15 years together can be difficult, especially when children are involved. The situation is further complicated in director Joachim Lafosse’s Belgian film “After Love,” as the combating husband and wife still live in the same home. Man the battle stations.

The film is carried by the strong performances of the two stars, Marie, played by excellent actress Bérénice Bejo, and Boris, portrayed impressively by Cédric Kahn. Boris is somewhat of a loser, and having trouble getting jobs as a handyman, he can’t afford another place to live (Marie, who is from a substantial financial background, pays the mortgage on their home) and thus Borus refuses to move out. He also holds out hopes of Marie wanting to stay with him.

But Marie wants to be rid of him. Naturally, there are economic issues to settle, and there is the problem of Boris wanting to keep up a relationship with their two young daughters, played sympathetically by actual sisters, Jade and Margaux Soentjens.

How does the couple split up the property if it is sold? Boris insists that his renovations have added to the value. Marie is faced with her mother, Christine, played well by Marthe Keller, who rather likes Boris and wants to hire him to do work on her home. He inflates his credentials into the status of an architect, which Marie mocks.

One particularly ugly scene takes place when Marie has invited her friends to dinner outdoors, and Boris comes home and tries to crash it. He behaves rudely when Marie insists he leave.

There is a flicker of the old spark, when Marie and Boris dance together at home one night after a happy time with the children, and they wind up making love. But the spark quickly is extinguished afterward.

When the two argue intensively over finances in the screenplay by Mazarine Pingeot, Fanny Burdino and Lafosse, one may wonder why all of this isn’t in the hands of lawyers, as would be likely in the U.S. (Eventually a notary is involved.)

The quality of the acting mitigates the gradual annoyance one may feel as the continuous war plays out. It is easy to lose patience with these two, as neither is likable, but if one has to take sides, Boris comes across as the more unreasonable and manipulative one. Yet, if one can be generous as an impatient bystander, both are to be pitied. A Distrib Films release. Reviewed August 9, 2017.

IT'S NOT YET DARK  Send This Review to a Friend

Frankie Fenton’s documentary “It’s Not Yet Dark” is both sadly tragic and warmly inspirational. It tells the amazing story of Irish director Simon Fitzmaurice’s physical descent as a result of acquiring Lou Gehrig’s disease. Known here as ALS and in Ireland as MND, the incurable illness, formally known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is crippling, and we observe how Fitzmaurice, totally immobile and needing aid to breathe, swallow and speak, courageously battles his state with the help of computer technology that enables him to use his eyes to record speech that enables him not only to communicate but to direct his movie, “My Name is Emily. “(See Search for its review.)

Colin Farrell narrates Fitzmaurice’s thoughts as we follow the story of his life. Fenton uses an array of photos and home movies to show Fitzmaurice before he was hit with gradual debilitation. One extremely uplifting aspect of the film is the loving relationship he found with his wife Ruth. She is extremely candid in expressing her feelings for him, and talking about their life together. She speaks of her role as helper, and how that is relieved by acquiring an assistant to do the nursing, which frees her to be wife and mother. Ruth is beautiful, charming and intelligent, and the film shows these qualities that earn our admiration. In effect, the documentary becomes a tribute to her as well as to her husband.

Another important boon for the couple is having five children together. The film doesn’t go into methodology, but we see their offspring and feel family completion and love even in the face of such a monumental challenge.

The film generates an air of triumph, especially when we watch the process of eye-operated speaking. Fenton follows the method by which Fitzmaurice directs his movie, with actors and crew responsive to him and talking about the smoothness in the way they work together.

Don’t be scared off by the subject. You will be fascinated by this remarkable journey of a remarkable man, and it is so very satisfying to watch how he refuses to be defeated by what life has dealt him.

I confess to personal reasons to be particularly moved. I have lost two step-sisters and a step-brother to Lou Gehrig’s disease, and am convinced it had to be genetic in that side of the family. I watch Fitzmaurice’s battle with familiarity and awe, and I find solace in the fact that he continues to live, love and work with amazing determination. Reviewed August 4, 2017.

  

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