Patti Cakes

Stories about those for whom music – and rap/hip-hop in particular – have proven an escape from economic and social marginalisation are plentiful and several have already been committed to celluloid via real life re-enactments of the lives of performers such as Eminem (8 Mile), NWA (Straight Outta Compton) and 50 Cent (Get Rich or Die Tryin’). Whilst this first ever feature from writer/director Geremy Jasper follows a very similar narrative trajectory as these other films, it is a significant point of difference that the rapper at the centre of the story is Patricia Dombrowski (aka Patti Cakes), a young, overweight white woman struggling to be taken seriously in what is undeniably the most misogynistic of all music genres.  Although this is a fictional story, there seems little doubt that the treatment dished out to Patti is reflective of the struggles women face in trying to break through the wall of machismo that serves to subjugate female voices. In one scene, when Patti upstages a posturing pretender in an impromptu rap battle, she is dismissed with a head butt and a tirade of vitriolic abuse.

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Played with tremendous gusto by Australian actress Danielle Macdonald, Patti is a hard working and thoroughly likeable young woman who lives in New Jersey with her deadbeat mother Barb (Bridgett Everett) and ailing grandmother (an aged-up Catherine Moriarty). Once on the cusp of her own success as a singer, Barb has now resigned herself to a routine of drunken nights and a struggle to stay one step ahead of debtors. As she necessarily takes on more responsibility in the wake of Barb’s inability to make ends meet, Patti’s rhymes become her only respite from what is an otherwise dismal existence. Trying to have her voice heard (both literally and figuratively), Patti and her sidekick Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) team up with Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), a mysterious and unconventional musician, to produce an album under the somewhat naff moniker of PBNJ. However, in the face of myriad setbacks, Patti struggles under the weight of pressure in trying to balance her work and home responsibilities with her dreams of success. Far from the romanticised renderings of New Jersey that the likes of Bruce Springsteen have invoked in song, Jasper paints New York’s nearest neighbour as a wasteland of decay and despair.

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Macdonald certainly doesn’t wilt under the pressure of taking on the lead in her first feature film role, delivering a wonderfully brazen performance as Patti (who performs as Killa P), handling the determination, vulnerability and despair of her character with equal aplomb. However, pretty much every other character is burdened by cliché, a lack of nuance and, with the exception of Moriarty (Raging Bull, Cop Land), unconvincing performances. Everett struggles to make Barb believable and Jheri is an amalgam of various middle-eastern stereotypes, while a late-in-the-piece character transformation comes across as an exercise in playing it safe rather than any narrative necessity.

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Patti is a victim of the failings of others and her biggest challenge lies in convincing herself that she is good enough to secure a future for herself that offers more than tending bar in a low-rent establishment or waiting on guests at fancy parties. Whilst Patti is desperate to secure the attention of her rap hero O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah), it is a fellow female rapper who ultimately provides her with an opportunity to showcase her talents and, unlike the true life tales that are the basis of other films of this type, we bring no pre-existing knowledge about the trajectory of the characters fortunes to this story, and Jasper doesn’t offer any definitive answers with regard to whether Patti reaches a level of success that enables her to break free from the shackles of social disadvantage. Despite its shortcomings, there is a lot to like about Patti Cakes, not the least of which is a breakout performance from another Australian seemingly on the cusp of big things in Hollywood.


It is hard to imagine anybody other than Todd Haynes bringing this work to the screen and we should be very thankful that he did. Adapted by Brian Selznick from his own book, Wonderstruck is for the birth of museums what Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret (filmed as Hugo by Martin Scorcese) is for the birth of cinema. Haynes has crafted an immaculately exquisite fable about the search for connection; both with other people and the world in which we live. The film features two separate narratives set 50 years apart in New York and each features a 12-year-old deaf character searching for the pieces that they believe will make their lives complete. With previous films such as Carol and Far from Heaven, Haynes has demonstrated a capacity to craft deeply emotional and lusciously luminous films and he has achieved that again here with a movie that rails against convention but should prove as equally appealing to kids as it will to adults.

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It is 1977 in Gunflint Lake, Michigan, where Ben (Oakes Fegley) lives with relatives following the death of his mother Elaine (Michelle Williams). In flashbacks, we learn that, despite his best efforts, he was unable to obtain any information about his father, with Elaine always declaring that she would tell him when the time was right. Of course, that time never came and it is when Ben sneaks back to his mother’s room that he discovers a clue to his father’s identity, only to suffer a freak accident that leaves him unable to hear. As soon as he wakes up in the hospital, Ben hatches a plan to follow his clue and make a break for New York City. Fegley (Pete’s Dragon) seems a little out of sorts in the early scenes, but once he reaches New York, he brings his character to life as he traverses the city with a naivety that proves to be both an asset and a liability, forming a wonderfully naturalistic friendship along with way with Jamie (Jaden Michael), a loner who relishes the opportunity to introduce Ben to the delights of the Museum of Natural History.

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Presented as a silent film in keeping with its 1927 setting, the second narrative arc follows Rose (Millicent Simmonds), a deaf girl who lives with her overbearing father in Hoboken, New Jersey. She spends her time building models of the New York skyline she can see from her window and going to the cinema to see her favourite movie star Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore). Frustrated by her father’s imperiousness, Rose sets off across the Hudson River to Manhattan in search of Mayhew, and one of the many delights to be had in the film is the contrasting depictions of the city. For Rose, her only real danger is the inherent challenge of traversing the hustle and bustle of the city without hearing, while Ben has to negotiate a city mired in tension and urban decay, a sea of ethnic bohemia awash with panhandlers, hustlers and thieves.

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Cinematographer Edward Lachman captures all of the textures of New York and editor Affonso Goncalves gracefully eases back and forth between the dual stories. The connection between the two threads is revealed in the final act, with an animated sequence that harks back to Haynes’ 1988 short film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story and, whilst the revelations that result are somewhat transparent, the sheer charm of this sequence makes for an entirely satisfactory conclusion, both narratively and emotionally. In her fourth collaboration with Haynes, Moore takes on two different characters over the course of the film and is as reliable as ever. Williams, meanwhile, shines once again despite the limited screen time afforded her while Simmonds, who is deaf in real life, is wonderfully expressive in her first ever role. Soul-stirring and unashamedly optimistic, Wonderstruck is an uplifting, visually intoxicating film from a visionary and unconventional filmmaker.


Broken Ghost

Directed by Australian filmmaker Richard Gray (Summer Coda) and shot on location around Livingstone, Montana in the northwest of the United States, Broken Ghost is a mystery drama that combines a lot of interesting elements but ultimately fails to bring them all together in an entirely convincing way.  The screenplay by Abe Pogos, who has extensive experience as a television writer in Australia and also penned Gray’s previous film Sugar Mountain, draws on the familiar premise of a family relocating to the country to escape events of the past, only to find that everything does not quite work out as planned, territory mined by another Australian filmmaker in Sean Byrne with 2014’s The Devil’s Candy.

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Having been forced to flee their previous life for reasons we don’t discover until later in the piece, artist William (Nick Farnell), his pharmacist wife Samantha (Scottie Thompson) and their teenage daughter Imogen (Autry Haydon-Wilson) arrive at their new picturesque rural abode in search of a fresh start. The obligatory strange noises and bumps in the night put the family on edge before William uncovers a mural that alludes to the tragedy that befell the previous occupants of the house. Following a foot-in-mouth moment from Samantha on the very first day at her new school, Imogen immediately finds herself in the sights of Brandon (Devon Bagby), whose subsequent delving serves as the conduit through which we learn of the event that sent the family in search of a fresh start and also sheds light on Imogen’s near-blindness. Whilst Imogen’s condition (which I won’t give away here) is a unique twist, the problem lies with the fact that, whilst the event that triggered their retreat to the country is understandably humiliating for Imogen, it hardly seems serious enough to justify such an upheaval.

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Meanwhile, as the strange goings-on in the house escalate (lights and televisions turning themselves on and off, noises emanating from the attic) to the point where Samantha and Imogen want to leave, William finds himself awash with creativity and determined to stay. Once the actual source of the disturbances is revealed, it is both surprising and somewhat hard to swallow, resulting in a less than satisfactory conclusion to proceedings. The biggest hurdle to overcome in embracing the film is the fact that the characters are so unlikeable, with all of the male characters in particular presented as decidedly unpleasant. William does not treat Samantha or Imogen particularly well and his resentment towards the latter surfaces in a moment of rage, while Brandon is simply a one-dimensional bully and even Eugene (Brandon Lessard), who initially presents as a somewhat decent guy, has morphed into somebody altogether reprehensible by the end. Throw in the lecherous bartender and a mysterious stranger to whom Samantha finds herself drawn and there is not a good bloke to be found.

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Of the performers, it is the newcomers who fare best with both Haydon-Wilson  and Lessard (to a lesser extent given his lack of screen time) making a good fist of their first ever roles. As the couple whose relationship is straining under the weight of events, Farnell and Thompson lack conviction in their portrayals and several scenes suffer from a lack of emotional resonance, whether in moments of tension or affection; shortcomings that are perhaps more attributable to the screenplay than the performances. However, Gray and cinematographer John Garrett have parlayed the miniscule budget into something that is visually impressive, taking full advantage of the landscape and incorporating some unique camera angles and movement to create a sense of disorientation and menace. Despite such efforts though, ultimately Broken Ghost suffers from the fact that neither the characters nor the circumstances in which they find themselves are convincing enough to keep you invested in their plight.

The Square

I don’t know what the best film might have been at the Cannes Film Festival last year, but it does not surprise me that The Square emerged as the Palme d’Or winner.  This is an audacious, thought provoking, unique and hugely entertaining piece of cinema as social commentary; a sprawling satire that delves into myriad issues surrounding freedom of expression and contemporary art. There is much, much more going on as well in what is a bizarre, bodacious new work from Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund. The film follows Christian (Claes Bang), a contemporary art museum manager whose efforts to build momentum around an upcoming installation are undermined by a series of events that send his life spiralling out of control.

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Intense, handsome and highly-strung but brimming with confidence, Christian possesses charm and charisma in spades, valuable attributes in a world in which hobnobbing with benefactors is becoming more critical than ever as the gallery struggles to remain relevant. While walking down the street, Christian protects a woman from what he believes is an attack, only to find himself the victim of a pick-pocketing racket that has relieved him of his wallet and phone. Whilst part of him sees the incident as a spontaneous performance that provides plenty of fodder for office conversation, it is at the urging of his assistant that Christian sets forth on a mission to retrieve the stolen items. As he becomes caught up in his vigilante mission, Christian starts to lose sight of his responsibilities to the gallery and his managerial neglect results in a disastrous marketing campaign for their latest installation, an exhibit titled The Square, an artwork which serves as a designated ‘safe space’ that is free of judgement and in which “everyone has equal rights and responsibilities.”

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Östlund is unrelenting in his critique of the contemporary art world and the delusional self-regard that possesses both the producers and purveyors of the pretentious art works that fill the gallery spaces. When one installation – which comprises nothing but piles of gravel on the gallery floor – is inadvertently disturbed by cleaners, Christian doesn’t hesitate to simply ‘fix’ the piece, the integrity of the artwork not given a moment’s consideration. When journalist Anne (Elizabeth Moss) asks Christian to explain a somewhat pretentious piece of writing that appears on the gallery website, he struggles to articulate its meaning. There are several hilarious moments to be had, while others are somewhat disturbing and, even though his behaviour is pretty appalling at times – although, to be fair, none of the characters exhibit much moral integrity – Christian somehow remains remarkably likeable through it all, which is a great credit to the incredible performance from Bang in balancing the contradictions of the character to perfection. The inclusion of Moss and Dominic West in the cast seems, on the surface at least, a bid to broaden the international appeal of the film but neither performer possesses the drawing power that is likely to plonk too many additional bums on seats, which is a shame because this really deserves to secure a wide audience. As we have come to expect from her, Moss is terrific as the clingy Anne, while West features in one of the funniest scenes in the film.

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There is so much going on in The Square that it would be folly to try and cover everything here. Besides, there are some things that are just so wonderfully odd, unexpected and quite thought-provoking that you really need to experience them with as little prior knowledge as possible. In addition to taking great delight in attacking the artifice and self-importance within the art world specifically, the film also explores the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots in European society; the Tesla-driving Christian and his art cronies juxtaposed against the plight of the homeless people that seem to populate the streets of Stockholm in large numbers. Following up his critically well-received Force Majeure, Östlund has produced something quite unique that is big on ideas and executed with considerable flair. Difficult to pigeonhole, The Square is many things all at once and all of them are damn good.



Quietly commanding and utterly compelling, this finely layered drama from Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev is an immensely powerful examination of regret and the consequences of compromise. Sustained by its performances and tone, the movie is a bleak, haunting experience that remains absorbing even when there seems, on the surface at least, to be very little happening. This is a film that will no doubt engender myriad emotional responses during the course of its running time, from anger to empathy and everything in between. Having been responsible for some of the most well received films of recent times with the likes of Elena and Leviathan, Zvyagintsev has produced yet another powerfully perceptive examination of contemporary Russia, this time via a recently divorced couple for whom resentment and hatred are the core of their daily existence in the small apartment they share with their young son for whom neither wants to take any responsibility.


After a mesmeric opening shot that captures the brutal beauty of a Russian winter, we meet 12-year-old Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) as he exits school for the day with a smile on his face, taking his time to explore the creek and surrounds as he makes his way home. Although they are divorced, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) continue to live together whilst waiting for their apartment to sell, incessantly bickering whilst each is trying to palm responsibility for Alyosha on to the other. Both are involved in new relationships and neither sees their son as anything more than a hindrance to their future happiness. There are heartbreaking moments as Alyosha, unable to avoid overhearing the tensions on the other side of the wall as his parents try desperately to abdicate their parental responsibilities, sobs quietly in his room, all the while trying to make sure they don’t hear him crying for fear it will only strengthen their resolve. In these opening scenes, both parents present as reprehensible self-absorbed individuals, however when Alyosha disappears without a trace, Zvyagintsev slowly probes beneath the surface to reveal the circumstances – both at a personal and societal level – that has led to the disintegration of their relationship.

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As we spend more time with Zhenya and Boris and their respective new partners, we develop considerable more insight into them both as the script, written by Zvyagintsev in collaboration with Oleg Negin, delivers both dignity and complexity to the pair and the two performers are outstanding in bringing considerable nuance to their characters. Zhenya has found herself a stylish older new partner in Anton (Andris Keishs), while Boris seems to be punching above his weight with his heavily-pregnant girlfriend (Yanina Hope), although the mystery of Alyosha’s disappearance proves a significant test to the strength of both relationships. As the various authorities set about trying to find Alyosha, much of what transpires is reminiscent of the type of scenes we would see here in Australia or other parts of the world in such circumstances; teams of volunteers undertaking carefully orchestrated searches through abandoned buildings and bushland in search of anything that could shed some light onto his disappearance. The audience is never afforded any more information than those undertaking the search with regard to what may have happened to Alyosha and the narrative alternates between the efforts of those trying to locate Alyosha and the intricacies that both Zhenya and Boris face in trying to negotiate the new relationships in which they are both ensconced.

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What seems a small story on the surface, Loveless delivers a not-too-subtle critique on Russia at large; radio and television news programs emphasise the deep financial, geographical and generational divisions that have fractured Russian society. Set in a modern Russia that seems devoid of hope, and populated by characters who are swathed in sadness and emotional failure, Loveless is powerful, prophetic and perfectly performed; a remarkable achievement from a modern master.

Logan Lucky

Making his inevitable return to feature film directing despite his 2013 ‘retirement’ announcement that followed a particularly prolific period of three releases in quick succession (Magic Mike, Side Effects and Behind the Candelabra), Steven Soderbergh has opted for a low-brow version of his 2001 heist film Ocean’s 11 to mark his return to the big screen. In this instance though, it is a racetrack, rather than a casino, that is the target for a bold robbery; a plan hatched and executed by a decidedly different collective than that which populated Ocean’s 11 and its subsequent sequels. The biggest challenge in deciding how you feel about Logan Lucky might lie in trying to understand exactly what Soderbergh is hoping to achieve. Is he delivering respect or ridicule to the redneck world in which the film is set? It is really hard to tell whether Soderbergh wants us to see the southern hicks who populate the narrative as being underdog heroes or bumbling buffoons. Perhaps they are both and maybe that is the whole point, but it is hard to be sure.

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Certainly, Soderbergh has mined every aspect of redneck culture – motor racing (and NASCAR in particular), country music, southern accents, child pageants – in creating the world in which the various members of the crew assembled by Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) are entrenched. Furthermore, all of the characters are clichéd to the hilt; the school football star whose chance at the big time was cruelled by injury and the younger brother who joined the military to make his own mark, only to return minus his left hand; the sister who is all cleavage and mini-skirts and, of course, works in a beauty salon; the ex-wife who has found herself a new, richer husband; and the cute-as-a-button daughter over whom they all fawn, plus an imprisoned explosives ‘expert’ and his hillbilly brothers. It could be argued that Soderbergh is using these characters to challenge stereotypes and cultural elitism (after all, the robbery itself is quite a sophisticated operation that is every bit as improbable as any other film heist) and that is certainly something for which he should be commended. Of course, whether that message gets through to the audience is another question entirely and that is perhaps the biggest challenge the movie faces. Are viewers simply going to laugh at the slow-talking yokels and their crazy get-rich-quick scheme and remain oblivious to the social commentary regarding the way in which our perceptions of people are so often based how they dress or speak, or where they live?


As a result of the knee blowout that ended his NFL aspirations, Jimmy is burdened with a permanent limp that serves as the catalyst for him being fired from his job with a construction company for liability reasons. Embittered and frustrated with his lot in life, he convinces his brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) of the potential windfall that awaits them in the underground vault at the famed Charlotte Motor Speedway. A plan is hatched – which includes the need to bust Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) out of jail for the day to assist – and soon enough the elaborate operation is underway on the biggest day of the year at the track. Sure, the planning and implementation of the robbery is quite ingenious, but so much of what transpires is so beyond the realms of reality that you are both impressed and incredulous in equal measure. Whilst the quality of the core cast, which includes Katie Holmes as Jimmy’s ex-wife, goes a long way to overcoming any shortcomings in the screenplay (credited to a fictional Rebecca Blunt but likely to have been written by Soderbergh, who also served as cinematographer and editor here, as he has done previously), there is nothing that could mask the sheer ridiculousness of Seth McFarlane as race team owner Max Chilblain, with both the character and the performance ludicrous in the extreme and totally out of place in what is an otherwise subdued, but wryly funny piece of work. Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier in The Avengers films) fares little better as Chilblain’s new age team driver Dayton White and Dwight Yoakim’s inept prison warden is a convenient construct in service to a convoluted course of events, while Katherine Waterston’s smitten nurse Sylvia seems as though she has lobbed on set from another movie altogether.

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Hilary Swank turns up in the final act as a federal agent investigating the robbery, while eagle-eyed NASCAR fans might spot several drivers in cameos as police officers and the like. For all the good things about Logan Lucky, there are oddities and absences aplenty that prevent it from emerging as amongst Soderbergh’s very best. After all, this is the man also responsible for the likes of The Limey, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Contagion and Traffic, for which he picked up an Academy Award. Humorous rather than hilarious, Logan Lucky marks a welcome, if not entirely satisfying, return for one of the most interesting and accomplished contemporary filmmakers.