Tag Archives: B-

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM

Producer: Stephen Woolley, Elizabeth Karlsen and Joanna Laurie
Director: Juan Carlos Medina
Writer: Jane Goldman
Stars: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Daniel Mays, Sam Reid, Maria Valverde, Henry Goodman, Paul Ritter, Morgan Watkins, Peter Sullivan, Eddie Marsan, Graham Hughes, Amelia Crouch and Henry Goodman
Studio: RLJ Entertainment

B-

There should always be room on your viewing calendar for some gruesomely enjoyable period pulp, and “The Limehouse Golem” will fill the bill. It’s a flamboyant piece of Grand Guignol based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd, and like many of his works it mixes together historical figures (Karl Marx, novelist George Gissing and music hall comic Dan Leno are all on hand) with fictional characters, this time in a Victorian-era serial-killer melodrama redolent of the Jack the Ripper spree, but with a touch of Agatha Christie added to the mix.

The convoluted plot mixes together a variety of threads, most tinged in blood-red. One involves a series of brutal murders in the Limehouse district of fog-shrouded London, with messages left behind by the killer who identifies himself with the clay creature of Jewish legend. (One of the victims, moreover, was a Talmudic scholar.) It’s a hot potato of a case, creating such public outcry that it’s passed along to John Kildare (Bill Nighy), a Scotland Yard inspector whose career has been blighted by rumors of homosexuality and so is disposable.

Paired with Constable Flood (Daniel Mays), an ingratiating fellow eager to help him, Kildare narrows down the suspects to a list that includes Marx (Henry Goodman), Gissing (Morgan Watkins) and Leno (Douglas Booth), as well as playwright John Cree (Sam Reid). Unfortunately Cree has just been found dead in his bed, and his wife Elizabeth (Olivia Cooke) is accused of poisoning him and put on trial for murder. Kildare’s questioning of her reveals, through a succession of flashbacks, a background that makes her as much an outsider as he is.

Elizabeth, it seems, was an abused child who found escape in the music hall run by “Uncle” (Eddie Marsan) and featuring as its lead performer Leno, along with Victor, a lascivious little person (Graham Hughes) and acrobatic dancer Aveline (Maria Valverde). Elizabeth was taken on as a general gofer, but eventually took to the stage and became popular as “Little Lizzie.” She also caught the eye of Cree, who at the time was involved with Aveline, and when they became an item—and married—the dancer became envious and vindictive, especially after Elizabeth took her on as a housemaid. She was instrumental in accusing her rival of Cree’s murder, and is happy to testify about the troubled Cree household and Elizabeth’s habit of preparing John’s bedtime libation.

As he listens to her story, Kildare becomes protective of Lizzie, and works to uncover the identity of the killer to help buttress her claim of innocence. He and Flood plow through the evidence; he even tries to envision how Cree, Marx, Gissing or Leno might have committed the crimes (cue a few nightmarish recreations). As the trial draws toward a close, the detective’s search for the truth becomes more and more desperate.

“The Limehouse Golem” is the modern equivalent of a penny dreadful, but those ghoulish nineteenth-century pamphlets get a bad rap; they entertained a great many readers, and if you give this movie a chance, you might find yourself enjoying it despite your better judgment. Jane Goldman’s adaptation is crammed to the brim with incident, including a couple of final twists that are doozies, and director Juan Carlos Medina obviously had a good time plowing his way energetically through the complicated scenario, aided by Grant Montgomery’s florid production design and Claire Anderson’s colorful costumes as well as the imaginative cinematography by Simon Dennis and editing by Justin Krish; the team handily camouflages the fact that the budget was probably a tight one. John Soderqvist’s score adds to the flavorful quality.

The cast is clearly having a good time as well. Nighy is more restrained than usual, but his natural quirkiness keeps peeking through the underplaying, while Cooke, Booth, Reid, Valverde, Goodman, Hughes and Marsan all sink their teeth greedily into the succulently overripe material.

As its title indicates, “The Limehouse Golem” makes no pretense to being high art (as some other novels by Ackroyd do). It contents itself with being the movie equivalent of a carnival sideshow, complete with some really freakish exhibits. And on that very basic level, it works.

The film, incidentally, is dedicated to the late Alan Rickman, who was scheduled to play Kildare before he fell ill. It would have been a juicy swan song for him, but Nighy fills in expertly, and Rickman’s last turn in “Eye in the Sky” will serve as a fitting farewell for a fine actor.

PATTI CAKE$

Producer: Michael Gottwald, Noah Stahl, Rodrigo Teixeira, Dan Janvey, Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Chris Columbus
Director: Geremy Jasper
Writer: Geremy Jasper
Stars: Danielle Macdonald, Siddharth Dhananjay, Bridget Everett, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty, Sahr Ngaujah, Patrick Brana, McCaul Lombardi, Waas Stevens and MC Lyte
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures

B-

Though it’s about an overweight white New Jersey girl who wants to be a rapper and is done up in a harsh visual style, Geremy Jasper’s “Patti Cake$” proves, in the end, a surprisingly conventional movie about chasing your dreams—contrived and more than a little unconvincing, but energetic and well-acted. The animated kidflick “Leap!”—which is being released simultaneously—may be tonally very different, but the two pictures carry a similar message, and in neither case is it terribly credible, even when sporadically entertaining as it is here.

The title character is Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald), a chubby devotee of the hip-hop world who lives in lower-class squalor with her slatternly mother Barb (Bridget Everett) and frail but supportive grandma Nana (Cathy Moriarty). Dismissed as Dumbo by her street nemesis Slaz (Patrick Brana), a pizza-guy-drug-dealer with rapper pretensions of his own, she works as a bartender in a run-down place where locals perform, among them her mother, who relives her glory days as a singer whenever she can, even teaming up with a cop who’s put together a cover band.

Patti idolizes O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah), a producer-performer she dreams of becoming her promoter, but her only fan is Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), a pharmacy clerk and guitarist. She has a kind of epiphany, though, when she encounters Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), a brooding singer who calls himself Antichrist and performs a cutting-edge act that leaves everyone at the bar but her cold. She follows him back to his hideaway in a cemetery—a shack filled with recording equipment—where, along with Hareesh, they will eventually lay down tracks for a demo CD for their newly-named group PBNJ (and yes, they are aware that it’s an antiquated means of getting your music out there).

That will lead to a gig Hareesh engineers at a nearby strip club, but it doesn’t turn out terribly well. More successful, at least for a while, is the job that Patti secures at a catering service, where her mixologist expertise pays big dividends—until the outfit is hired to staff a bash at O-Z’s palatial crib. PBNJ’s appearance at a contest where he serves as a judge will bring one of those triumphant moments that, in this genre, turn to ash—until the worm turns again. And what of her mother, who until this moment has been dismissive of her daughter’s ambitions? What she does will come as no surprise, either.

“Patti Cake$” has its heart in the right place, and the cast play it for all it’s worth. Macdonald carries the brunt of the film, and gains audience sympathy for the character’s plight, while Dhananjay and Athie give heft to Hareesh and Basterd even though both come across as walking screenwriter’s inventions rather than authentic human beings. The same can be said of Everett, who resembles one of those kitchen-sink types familiar from a certain sort of British drama but has the ability to take charge of a scene.

The actors’ energy owes a good deal to Jasper, whose background in directing music videos surely came in handy here, giving him tools that help to bring the musical sequences to life. But he handles the dramatic elements decently as well, even though the scenario he’s crafted is a matter of putting old wine in new bottles. The picture certainly looks right, with Meredith Lippincott’s production design and Federico Cesca’s kinetic cinematography combining to create a convincingly gritty, pulsating ambience, while Brad Turner’s edgy editing contributes to the overall on-the-move feel.

Jamie Kennedy once played a rich white boy who wanted to be a rapper. Happily Jasper’s picture is no “Malibu’s Most Wanted.” While far more formulaic than it pretends to be, “Patti Cake$” has enough going for it—including Macdonald—to be worth a look, as long as rap doesn’t completely turn you off.