Tag Archives: Mamoudou Athie

Underwater

It feels like if you live and work at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, literally 10km straight down the belly of the ocean, you’re kind of asking for trouble. Not to blame the victims, but you’ve got to know drilling holes into and beyond the darkest depths of one of the last unexplored corners of the earth is a risky endeavour.

Norah (Kristen Stewart) is brushing her teeth…at some unspecified time. It’s hard to distinguish night from day when the sun and the moon are irrelevant. A small tremor at first, but enough of a shake to make her cautious. And soon: chaos. We don’t know exactly what’s happening but neither does she. Barely ahead of death and destruction, she races the flood and the collapsing quarters to a hub where she meets Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), a colleague whom she’s just now meeting for the first time, and together they slam the hold shut, sealing it from rushing water but also panicking survivors. Tough. When you’re that far beneath the ocean, there’s no room for error or second thoughts. Crawling over squashed bodies and around drowned bodies, they eventually meet up with barely a handful of other survivors: Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel), Paul (T.J. Miller, ugh), Liam (John Gallagher Jr.). and Emily (Jessica Henwick). Which is when they realize that until now, they’ve had it easy. Their station is in ruins, so their only chance is to traverse the ocean floor toward the next one, where hopefully escape pods will still be intact. It’s practically impossible and completely dangerous, but what choice do they have?

Underwater will certainly call to mind other wet movies: The Abyss, perhaps, if not The Meg. It’s nonstop action and nonstop stress. There is tension in every breath. It is awful not to know the cause, and then it’s awful knowing it. Director William Eubank is relentless and it’s hard not to take that personally. My breathing is fast and shallow and I’m not even the one stripping to my underwear, shoving my broken arm into a very uncomfortable diving suit, rationing my oxygen, and taking on the ocean’s meanest predators in the Earth’s most hostile environment because the other threat is so much worse.

It’s a man vs. nature film that doesn’t quite tread any new water (forgive me), but it does stay afloat, buoyed by those that came before it. It’s formulaic and familiar, but it’s also a competent thriller and modestly entertaining.

Uncorked

Another entry into the “dad wants to mould his son into his own image” trope. Dads. Can’t live with them, can’t make life without them (yet). We ask so little of them but so many manage to screw things up anyway.

Louis (Courtney B. Vance) isn’t a bad dad, not exactly. He just assumes that son Elijah will do as he did – subsume his own desires and dreams and follow his father’s path, keeping the family business going. The family business, a barbecue joint, isn’t a huge money maker but that’s not why Elijah (Mamoudou Athie) isn’t interested. The truth is, he’s a wine guy. In his spare time he works in a liquor store just to be near it. He’s mustering up the courage to try sommelier school and while his mother Sylvia (Niecy Nash) doesn’t understand it, she supports him. His father, however, is another story, varying from passive aggression to outright hostility. If even a tiny fraction of him is proud of his son, he doesn’t show it.

This may be a tired trope, but both the setting and the actors perfume it above its normal station. Vance and Athie craft very watchable characters, grounded in sincerity and tenderness.

Between commitments to class and a new relationship, Elijah has less time for the Memphis bbq joint, which Louis of course reads as personal rejection. But children aren’t clones. They’re not meant to be replicas of their parents. And parents are supposed to want better for their kids. Easier said than done, especially for a certain brand, and perhaps generation, of father whose manhood and identity is so tied up in work that they can’t really see around it. Movies like this give them permission to let go, to find new sources of pride, and maybe even a new sense of self. Which is a lot for one little movie to accomplish of course, but even if Uncorked doesn’t quite manage to heal all the father-son bonds of the world, at least it’s got some very charming performances and an honest attempt at connection.

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Patti Cake$

Patricia, aka Patti Cake$, aka Killa P, is a wannabe rapper who’s finding it hard to escape the shitty confines of New Jersey. She’s only 23 but is already feeling like a failure. She works 2 jobs just to keep drowning in debt from her Nan’s medical bills. Her mother, a washed-up, alcoholic, hasbeen singer, is rife with jealousy rather than support. And the local rap community sees her as a non-starter and a bit of a joke. She’s got one friend, a pharmacist named Jheri, who believes in her dreams even as he pursues his own. But it’s only when they meet the mysterious Basterd, master of sick beats, that the music starts to really come together.

Patti (Danielle Macdonald) is an interesting character; her complexity means it takes a little convincing, but hanging in there pays off. Macdonald fills the character up the way MV5BZjc5YzhkOTQtZWY1ZS00OTJkLWE2MTctMmU4NTdlM2YyNmQwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk1Njg5NTA@._V1_Beyonce fills out a bodysuit. She’s just spectacular in this: spectacular, spectacular. You can’t make a movie like this without the perfect lead, and Danielle Macdonald is this movie’s soul mate, its one and only. But the rest of the cast falls into place perfectly too. Siddharth Dhananjay as Jheri is Patti’s perfect partner; perhaps an unlikely duo, but if the rap game is going to turn a cold shoulder on a white girl from Jersey, so too will it be tough for a brown boy pharmacist. But disenfranchised is disenfranchised and director Geremy Jasper paints an unflinching portrait. Meanwhile, Mamoudou Athie had already won my heart in Unicorn Store, so seeing him again here as Basterd solidifies his probable and swift rise to fame. Bridget Everett, Amy Schumer’s right hand man of comedy, rounds out the cast of Patti’s desperate mother, and strikes the right, harsh notes.

This is a classic underdog story that works its way through some familiar turns of plot. And sometimes it’s trying too hard. AndĀ  yet I found there was very little I could not forgive this film. That’s how much it spoke to me, how very enchanted I was by Patti and her world. And if you like slightly offbeat films with offbeat characters, this is a fun indulgence.

TIFF: Unicorn Store

Full disclosure: I own a unicorn named Mindy. She’s magical. She’s a goddamned magical creature. She’s also inflatable but don’t you DARE call her a pool toy. You can, however, call her the centre of attention, which is exactly what she was when I threw a goddamned magical unicorn party earlier this summer. I sent unicorn invitations. I had unicorn party hats, a unicorn pinata, and unicorn names for all the guests. I even made a unicorn cake. No, that’s not true. I actually made TWO unicorn cakes because Sean smashed the first one about 30 seconds after I finished it. And when you throw a unicorn party, people bring you unicorn presents, which is why I own unicorn slippers and a unicorn tape dispenser named Stuart and briefly had unicorn-coloured hair. This either makes me uniquely qualified to review this film, or I should recuse myself for the glaring conflict of interest.

I’m not actually obsessed with unicorns, but you know who is? Kit. Kit (Brie Larson) has literally been obsessed with unicorns her whole entire life. And after painting yet another unicorn-as-self-portrait, she’s unceremoniously flunked out of art school and returns home to mope in her parents’ basement (Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford). In an effort to Not Be A Disappointment to them, she takes an uninspired job with a temp agency and just when it seems the world might be ready to beat the whimsy right out of her, the universe sends her a pop-up store that only sells unicorns, and only to her, run by a tinsel-afroed Samuel L. Jackson, of naturally. Turns out that owning a unicorn is something you have to earn, so Kit sets about getting her life unicorn-ready, and that’s going to take some major changes. But is unicorn ownership really the cure to what ails a directionless, fully grown woman who seems stuck in a perpetual unicorn phase? Isn’t there more to life than glitter and rainbows?

Samantha McIntyre’s script is winkingly funny. For some odd reason neither Sean nor I had gone into this expecting it to be funny, and yet the audience was in stitches. McIntyre has a very quirky style that endeared itself to me immediately. She creates sparks in the smallest little details. I also have to send a shout-out to costumerĀ Mirren Gordon-Crozier who must have combed the known universe to find THE most fanciful pieces of clothing ever produced. Kit wears her personality on her body. Her shirt collection is all blue skies and rainbows. It reminded me of Kimmy Schmidt in that way, who is always seen in sunshine yellows and bright fuchsias. Their clothing is a reflection of who they are. That said, it might be Samuel L. Jackson’s suits that make the biggest and brightest wardrobe impression in this movie.

But the real rock star here is Brie Larson, who makes her directorial debut. She’s just finding her voice as a director so her style isn’t quite as quirky as the tone of the movie, but considering how much it shifts around, I think she handles it well, and I already can’t wait to see what other stories she’ll tell. She assembles a really great cast who are a lot of fun to watch. Cusack and Whitford are everyone’s embarrassing parents, and Mamoudou Athie as The Guy Who Will Build a Unicorn Stable Even Though He’s Not A Carpenter is a particular stand-out.

I really enjoyed Unicorn Store; it’s a sweet reminder that growing up doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on childhood dreams. Underneath the glitter there’s a message about conformity and how women are told to pull away from “girlish” things in order to fall into one of two male-approved categories: the drab, grim businesswoman, or the oversexualized dreamgirl. Anything seen as overtly feminine is assumed to be less serious, and even women themselves can internalize this notion. Not Kit. Brie Larson flexes her comedic chops by playing her as earnest but not naive. In a world where every man’s inner child is constantly catered to with movies about super heroes, robots, pirates, and zombies, this one, finally, is just for us.