Tag Archives: Mamoudou Athie

Memory Motel

Black Box

by George Wolf

Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) needs Post-It Notes to get through the day. A car crash took his wife and his memory, and the colorful little squares give Nolan useful info while his young daughter Ava (Amanda Christine) is often forced to assume a parental role.

But there is some hope…of the experimental kind.

Dr. Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad) thinks she can help Nolan regain his memory and reclaim his life through her “black box” therapy. Worn like a high-tech VR headset, it allows the patient to wander through their own subconscious, re-living past experiences until they manifest in the conscious world.

Wow, that’s amazing! What could go wrong?

Director and co-writer Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour anchors his feature debut with some recognizable inspirations, crafting another sci-fi ode to identity that flirts with horror tropes while struggling to find a unique voice.

Athie (The Get Down, Underwater) carries the load here with admirable range. The Nolan we come to know early on is not one found in his own subconscious. And as Nolan comes to fear that he is not the man he thought he was, Athie deftly balances the dual roles fighting for control.

And memories aren’t the only area full of mystery. Nolan’s friend Gary (Tosin Morohunfola), a Dr. himself, follows some suspicions to uncover disturbing information about the night of his buddy’s tragic car accident.

The note-posting and body-writing may totally recall Memento, but Black Box also swims in waters populated by iconic J-horror visuals and a touch of Get Out‘s “sunken place.”

The wonders of technology can hide a dark, malevolent side, and we can lose ourselves believing we are always in control.

It’s not a new idea, and Black Box doesn’t blaze any new trails revisiting it. But it is committed to the viability of the journey, and finds its greatest success in engagement rather than surprise.

Tale of Two Spitters

Patti Cake$

by George Wolf

Glamorous dreams in a hardscrabble town. Local rappers “spitting” in free-style battles, gunning for the neighborhood respect they that can’t get at home or work. A rousing hip-hop anthem showcasing star making talent.

Sure, Patti Cake$ often smells what 8 Mile was cooking, but writer/director Geremy Jasper’s feature debut is loaded with enough exuberant sincerity and earnest button-pushing to succeed on more levels than it probably should.

And since somebody mentioned star making, just try to turn your eyes away from Danielle Macdonald’s lead performance as Patti Dombrowski, a twenty-something bartender in New Jersey who stares across the river and dreams of NYC stardom.

While the kids still call her “Dumbo,” Patti calls herself “Killa P,” rapping her original rhymes with constant support from her pharmacist friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and no support from her drunky mom Barb (Inside Amy Schumer’s Bridget Everett).

But when scary new musician friend “Antichrist” (Mamoudou Athie, The Get Down‘s Grandmaster Flash) turns out to be pretty handy with the beat boxes and recording equipment, a homemade CD just might punch Patti’s ticket out of Jersey poverty.

Macdonald, a television vet plenty worthy of this move to features, keeps the entire film grounded in authenticity, which is good, because this entire film needs some grounding in authenticity.

While contrived events and manipulative strings may be pulled around her, Patti’s daily struggles never feel false. The ways she deals with drunks at her bar, a potential new boss at a job interview, or the failing health or her grandmother (Cathy Moriarty, nice to see despite being too young for the role) are filled with a mix of exhausted resignation and cautious optimism well known to countless Americans just trying to get ahead.

Jasper throws in enough stylish dream sequences and weirdly awkward close ups to expose both his inexperience and potential. What Patti Cake$ lacks in originality is made up in creative spirit, because like Patti, Jasper is a talent dreaming big.

With Macdonald as a perfect muse, he’s making sure his own homemade CD has too much fairy tale pixie dust to ignore, with a final track too proudly shameless to resist.