Review: Patti Cake$

It could be said (it has been said, I’m sure) that Sundance Film Festival likes to play favorites. It’s a bit of a clique, and you’re not in until you’re in. Like the cool kids’ table at lunch or the VIP section at the club, you gotta know someone or be in the right place at the right time.

But I don’t think that’s entirely fair. Especially not while Sundance continues to identify and champion emerging talent like Geremy Jasper and his wonderful feature narrative debut, Patti Cake$. A project developed with the help of Sundance’s Screenwriting and Directing Labs, it premiered earlier this year at the 2017 film festival to generally positive reviews and was snapped up by Fox Searchlight for a cool $10.5 million.

Patricia Dombrowski is living paycheck-to-paycheck with her mother and grandmother in suburban New Jersey; the Manhattan skyline is just visible in the distance, but a world away. She dreams up raps between serving boozy regulars at the dive bar where she works, scraping together enough to pay her ailing Nana’s medical bills and cover some time at a recording studio with her best friend and rapping partner, Jheri. She’s got big dreams and talent to back them up, if only she could get a break.

Continue reading “Review: Patti Cake$”

John Cho at Miller House, Columbus

Review(s): Columbus and Menashe

Two quiet independent films slip into theaters soon, and each is worthy of your attention. Both premiered in Chicago earlier this year at the Chicago Critic's Film Festival, a week-long affair that's proving to be a local film staple previewing the year's best fare. It was there I saw A Ghost Story, The Little Hours, Patti Cake$ and more well before their theatrical release.

Columbus (Sept. 8) and Menashe (August 11) couldn't be more different in some ways, and yet they're strikingly similar. Each follows a male (minority) protagonist as he navigates a rocky time in his life. Each is built around a very specific setting, the architectural enclave of Columbus, Indiana (Columbus) and the Hassidic Jewish community of Brooklyn (Menashe). And each brings their respective world to life in crisp fashion, yet without much fanfare. It's the subtle but diligent care the filmmakers take that pays off for both films. Continue reading “Review(s): Columbus and Menashe”

Review: STEP

Founded in 2008, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women is a charter school with a goal of seeing all its graduates succeed in college. Its educators and administrators set high standards and expect greatness from the girls in their charge. Academics are paramount, and failure is not an option.

For the students at BLSYW, though, it’s more than just a school. It’s a haven in a rough neighborhood; a support network often far more dependable than family; and a launch pad for talent, passion and futures so bright these girls’ll need shades.

It’s a glimpse into those trials, tribulations and triumphs that Step delivers in one of the year’s best documentaries, as it follows three young women in the school’s first graduating class. They’ve been together since middle school, the year they started at BLSYW and also founded the school’s step dance team. The film chronicles their lives both on and off the stage as their senior year winds down, through college applications, dicey friendships and one major dance competition. Continue reading “Review: STEP”