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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Wass Stevens

Patti Cake$ (2017)

Give us all a beat. We can rap over it.

Patty (Danielle Macdonald) is just like any other young kid living in New Jersey: She dreams of a much better, richer, and happier life outside of the one she currently has. Instead, in her case, she hopes to one day be one of the biggest, best rappers around. It’s a dream that most people around her to just give up on already, but it’s one that she wants to achieve and alongside her best-friend, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), she thinks it could happen. All she needs to do is get her name out there, which in turn, means getting a record-deal, getting on a stage, and achieving enough noteriety for her rapping-skills. In order to do this, though, she’s also got to bunker down and start saving up money, which as a result, keeps her away from her family who are already having a bit of a problem as it is, with her grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) near-death, and her mother (Bridgett Everett) always drinking and going home with random guys.

Watch that glow.

Patti Cake$ is a sweet movie that I wish I liked more. It’s like a much funnier, much nicer version of 8 Mile, what with the rapping and all, but it just never takes off or really goes beyond being formulaic. Sure, it’s another one of those interchangeable rags-to-riches stories, with a woman in the lead-role, but it’s still a conventional story that follows every line, beat by by (pun intended), and doesn’t really seem to have anything smart or interesting to say about these kinds of stories.

It’s just diverse and a little weird, which is fine too, I guess?

I mean, that’s why the movie’s still okay enough for me to recommend; it’s just different and charming enough to work. It’s the kind of crowd-pleaser that doesn’t ask much of the audience, except to have a certain understanding of hip-hop music and a general belief that dreams can still come true, even in today’s dark and cynical times. Which, once again, is fine, but it doesn’t really do much else beside that; it’s just a little weird, a little odd, a little funny, a little dramatic, and a little bit of all these different things, rolled-up into one.

And does that really equal something altogether compelling? Not totally. And it’s why Patti Cake$, try as it might, never fully congeals to something particularly ground-breaking, not that it really needed to, either. Writer/director Geremy Jasper seems to have an interesting idea on his hands and seems to take this material seriously enough to have us care for the characters, but also seems to really not be putting much other thought into the story itself.

Like Chuck D and Flavor Flav.

But man, those characters. At least they save the day.

As the titular Patty, Danielle Macdonald is pretty great because she’s chock full of sass and attitude, but also feels like a young kid. She’s confused, interested, and a little annoyed, but she’s always hopeful of what the future may be able to bring and it’s nice that the character treats her with a great deal of love, humanity and respect. Her rapping-skills are quite good, too, which helps give her character an air of authenticity, even if the songs that she ends up making are absolute and total garbage, but hey, that’s neither here, nor there.

However, the real stand-out is Siddharth Dhananjay as Jheri, Patty’s best-friend/hype-man. Jheri’s a bit of a goofy character, in that he’s essentially a sidekick, who’s always there to push Patty forward and to continue on with her dream, but he’s also much more endearing, too. He’s genuinely looking out for her and wants the best her that she can be; the fact that he’s not in it for personal-gain, gives us one of the movie’s only real surprises. He’s charming and funny, but also kind of sweet, and he’s basically the heart of the movie.

Just why wasn’t it better?

Consensus: Even if it’s charming, Patti Cake$ is also a rags-to-riches, inspirational story with barely any shocks or surprises, that utilizes a good cast to its only real great strength.

5 / 10

There’s the mixtape’s cover.

Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight

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Demolition (2016)

DemolitionposterSometimes, you literally just have to destroy your life.

After the tragic death of his wife, Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) shuts down. Everything in his life has been so calculated and planned for so long – from the time he wakes up, to who he talks to on the train, etc. – that when it seems like he has nothing holding him back or together, he just loses all control. He starts slacking off at work, stops shaving, begins saying inappropriate things in public situations, working for free at construction sites, and seems to be channeling all of his sadness and insecurity through countless letters he sends to a local vending-machine company. Why? Well because, when his wife is in the hospital, he tried to get a pack of M&M’s and it didn’t budge. Regardless, an employee at the vending-machine company, Karen (Naomi Watts), finds these letters touching, which leads her to reaching out to Davis. Even though they’re both a bit awkward with one another at first, eventually, the two start to hit it off, with Davis hanging around the house more often, getting to know Karen’s son (Judah Lewis) who’s going through his own identity crisis of sorts. Together, the two figure out life and where to go next.

Jake is sad.

Jake is sad.

As with mostly every movie, there’s three-acts in Demolition; two are pretty good, but one is quite awfully terrible. The first and last act both work well, balancing a fine line between comedy and tragedy that never plays one hand too much, nor does it seem to overstay its welcome. There’s actual sadness to the drama and a heart to the comedy, as dark as it may sometimes get.

But in between the first and last act is the middle, and man oh man, it’s pretty crummy.

No matter how hard I get on Demolition, there’s no denying that Jake Gyllenhaal is great throughout it all. Over the past few years, we’ve really seen Gyllenhaal come into his element as one of our more solidly interesting actors who isn’t afraid to screw around with his image, just for the sake of taking on a role that challenges him to go deeper and further than ever before. Here, as Davis, Gyllenhaal doesn’t really stretch his wings nearly as much as he’s done in say something, like, Prisoners, or most especially, Nightcrawler, but he still does an effective job. Because Davis is, essentially, sleepwalking through his life when we first meet him, the transformation he goes through and makes from being a sad, relatively repressed person, to letting loose, having fun and acting wild, is believable, if only because of Gyllenhaal’s talents as an actor. We shouldn’t totally care for Davis, but because Gyllenhaal gives us an actual, bleeding heart to the character, we feel a lot closer to him and understand the pain and sadness he’s feeling.

But sadly, the movie isn’t always up to Gyllenhaal’s talents. For example, it has a very odd tone that doesn’t always know what it wants to be, do, or say. At first, what Demolition seems to be is a tragic-comedy that deals with certain serious issues like death and depression, but also wants to look at them with a witty eye. At first, the mix and mash between humor, heart and sadness, actually works; the jokes poke fun at the idea of being sad, while also not insulting the characters all that much to where it feels or seems inappropriate. There’s a fine line that’s tread here in Demolition, and director Jean-Marc Vallée, for awhile at least, doesn’t overstep.

Until, of course, he does.

What happens in the middle-act is that the movie gets rid of its serious and sometimes depressing tone, and instead, just totally go for the comedy. This can sometimes be fine, as ling as your comedy is funny, effective, relatable, and most importantly, not annoying. Issue is, the comedy in Demolition, without any sort of dramatic or serious context, can be unfunny, ineffective, unrelatable, and incredibly annoying.

Obviously, this is a problem for the characters, as well as the plot. Gyllenhaal’s Davis begins to act out so erratically, whether he’s dancing through the busy streets of New York City, or getting nails stuck in his foot without getting tetanus shots, which are all played up for har-har laughs, that you never for a second believe it. Sure, the character is sad and needs some sort of release to get his spirit out, but there comes a point when you overdo it and you’re just trying to make as many laughs as you can happen, without ever retaining any of your original sense of heart or drama.

But the movie introduces Naomi Watts’ and Judah Lewis’ characters and, yes, it gets a tad bit worse. Watts’ character almost doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things and because her chemistry with Gyllenhaal is so weak, it sort of feels like she doesn’t even need to be here. Granted, it’s nice to see Watts play with a lighter, more fun role for a change, but her character is so ham-fisted into the plot that she almost doesn’t feel like a real person, despite saying that she’s sad and heartbroken just like Gyllenhaal’s Davis.

Naomi is happy.

Naomi is happy.

And Judah Lewis’ character, despite seeming very well-intentioned, does not work in this movie.

Nothing against Lewis, or his acting abilities, but the character is the typical, conventional angsty teen who is having a bit of an identity crisis, clearly has daddy issues, curses a lot, thinks he’s a lot smarter than he actually is, and doesn’t always know how to handle his emotions. While the scenes between him and Gyllenhaal are supposed to be sweet and endearing, they somehow feel oddly off, where it seems like every scene could lead to Lewis’ character either trying to kiss, or kill Gyllenhaal’s. It even gets to a point where the characters go out into the middle of the woods to shoot a pistol and I couldn’t help but think someone was going to take a dirt nap by the end of the scene.

But thankfully, as bad as it gets, eventually, the movie does pick itself back up in the last act, ending on a sweet, somewhat heartfelt note. The comedy starts to fall back a bit more, the heart starts to get bigger, and the acting gets toned down a tad bit. Oh, and Chris Cooper starts to show up more and remind us why he’s everyone’s favorite father-figure. If anything, Demolition feels like the kind of movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, but at the end of the day, still has enough to say to where it works.

Just not nearly as much as it should have.

Consensus: An odd, mostly uneven tone and weak middle-act keep Demolition from really hitting as hard as it wants to, even if the cast does try and there are some small moments of pure joy and sweetness.

5.5 / 10

But Jake is still sad, and with a saw. So look out!

But Jake is still sad, and with a saw. So look out!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

She Hate Me (2004)

She hate me, she hate me not.

Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie) is a young, brash hotshot at a large biotech company that’s on the verge of creating a vaccine for AIDS. However, a whole swirl of controversy surrounds him and the company for supposed wrongdoings, when he’s the one who blows the whistle. Obviously, Jack’s bosses aren’t too happy about him opening his mouth, so they make him the one to take the fall, which the leads the government to look further and further into Jack’s life and freezing all of his accounts. This wouldn’t be much of a problem, however, Jack leads the life of a young, New York bachelor. So now, Jack needs some way to make any bit of cash he can find – that’s why when his ex-girlfriend (Kerry Washington), comes by with her girlfriend (Dania Ramirez), in desperate need of a sperm donor, he’s more than willing to accept the offer. But because Jack is so good at what he does, word has spread about him and now, every lesbian who wants to have a baby are hitting Jack up for sex. Of course, they give him money and all that, but really, what Jack wants, is a love in his life and some meaning.

Is this love?

Is this love?

Deep down inside the dark, fiery hells of She Hate Me, lies, believe it or not, a funny movie from Spike Lee. What with all the impregnating of lesbians and such, Lee finds a certain bit of energy that he’s utilized in practically every film, but actually seems to be having fun. There are some small points he seems to make about gender-politics and homosexuality, but really, none are too preachy to where they take over what Lee’s trying to do – basically, he’s setting out to make us laugh. It’s not the kind of Spike Lee we’re used to seeing, which is why She Hate Me, for a meager amount of time, feels like Lee’s funniest flick where, he doesn’t care about preaching or yelling at the audience, but instead, having them chuckle.

Then, it’s all downhill from there.

See, while a good portion of She Hate Me is about this young guy having sex and impregnating lesbians, there’s also another good portion of the movie that concerns itself with being about AIDS, about Congress, about big, Enron-like corporations that swallow-up the middleman and don’t take the blame, about the mafia, about sexuality, about Italians, about African Americans, about Caucasians, about racism, and well, so much more. Really, She Hate Me is packed to the gills with numerous subplots, ideas, themes, statements, and viewpoints that, after awhile, it all becomes tiring.

But I sort of liked that.

Spike Lee hasn’t always been known as the easiest director to follow or like; most of his films are preachy and one-sided, but are still, for the most part, compelling to watch and be apart of. While some may not agree with his general viewpoints on certain issues like race, sex, or class, there’s no denying that his movies are entertaining and get you thinking harder than most other film-makers. So what if Spike Lee creates a mess? If the mess is, at the very least, interesting and seems to want to say something, no matter how muddled it may be, then so let it be!

That’s why, no matter where She Hate Me goes, tries to say, or ends up, I wasn’t pissed. I was confused and a little befuddled, but I was never bored and there’s something to be happy about with that. While Lee could have made a drag of a movie that goes from sexuality-to-politics at the snap of his finger and not really done much with it, he does, at the very least, push it to its extreme limits where we can see where he’s going – we may not know why he’s going there, but hey, at least he’s keeping us watching. Once again, it may just be me who feels this way about She Hate Me, but I don’t care: A mess is a mess, no matter what.

Or this?

Or this?

But sometimes, it’s all a matter of just how well you dress that mess up to appear like something extraordinary or, better yet, smart.

And in the midst of all this havoc that Lee creates, Anthony Mackie does a great job as Jack Armstrong. Now, Mackie’s a force to be reckoned with and constantly shines in everything he shows up in; however, back in 2004, he wasn’t known for much (except for getting chewed the ‘eff out by B-Rabbit), but here, for what appears the first time, he gets a chance to show his range and just how well he can handle and adapt to Lee’s idiosyncratic style. Because there’s so many different flicks going on at once during She Hate Me, Mackie has to handle each and everyone with a certain level of believeability, as if this is in fact, the same character, going through all these sorts of different transformations and situations – all of which, Mackie does quite well with and actually comes out on top. Of course, there’s a very interesting movie to be made about what Jack’s life and romance, but Lee is less concerned with that at times.

This allows for the rest of the ensemble to show up and, in some ways, light the screen up just as much as Mackie, even if it seems like they may be showing up from the sets of other flicks. Kerry Washington is sexy and dangerous, both at the same time, but also has a nice bit of chemistry with Mackie; Dania Ramirez is sympathetic as her girlfriend who, despite wanting a baby and being a lesbian, is willing to have sex with a man, even if she doesn’t really want to; Ellen Barkin and Woody Harrelson are, oddly enough, hammy and over-the-top as Jack’s former bosses who get rid of him and seem every bit as detestable as Lee wants them to appear to be; John Turturro shows up as an Italian mob boss that has an interesting scene, but once again, appears literally out of nowhere and doesn’t seem to add much to the final product; and yeah, there’s plenty more where they come from. Everybody’s fine and trying to do what they can do, but really, they’re stuck trying to work within Spike Lee’s mind.

And what a crazy, but watchable one it is.

Consensus: Jumbled, odd, sometimes confusing, and always interesting, She Hate Me is the kind of mess we expect to see from Spike Lee, even if it does occasionally lapse into being one too many films for one movie.

6.5 / 10

Oh, no. This definitely is. Thanks for the info, Spike!

Oh, no. This definitely is. Thanks for the info, Spike!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz