Danielle MacDonald, Siddharth Dahanajay

“PATTI CAKE$” My rating: B+ 

108 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Think of “Patti Cake$” as a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney teen musical for the new millennia.

As with those old M-G-M productions, the premise is hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show. But the details have changed.  Now the setting is America’s urban wasteland, the “show” is rap, and the language is, well, salty.

“My life is fucking awesome” announces Patricia Dumbrowski (Danielle MacDonald), a 250-pounder  who tends bar and is known around her backwater New Jersey neighborhood as “Dumbo.”

“I’m 23 and I ain’t done shit.”

About all Patricia has going for her is a way with words, spunk, and this vague idea that given half a chance she could be one of the great rappers.

Turns out that’s enough.  This is a movie, after all — probably the crowd-pleasingest movie of the fall.

“Patti Cake$” — that’s Patricia’s rapper moniker — is a winning combination of rude/lewd grit and warm good feelings. Over the course of Geremy Jasper’s feature debut audiences will fall in love not only with Patti but with her weird and weirdly innocent collaborators.

Like the Pakistani-American Jerhi (Siddhartha Dahanajay),  during the day a lab-coated pharmacist’s assistant but at night a high-energy parody of a rapper.  Or Bastard Antichrist (Mamoudzou Athie), a dreadlocked freak with one blue eye, a covert recording studio in a hovel in the woods, and an electric guitar that can etch glass.

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“COLUMBUS” My rating: B 

100 minutes | No MPAA rating

“Columbus” is an art film with all the good and not-so-good that suggests.

This audacious feature debut from Kogonada (the one-named video director who creates special DVD features for many of the Criterion Collection classic film releases) is a visually brilliant experience that sometimes feels as if it’s in no hurry to go anywhere.

It’s been very well acted, but keeps its emotions under wraps.

Set in Columbus, IN, this hard-to-classify effort (not quite drama, certainly not a comedy) centers on Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a recent high school graduate, a volunteer at the local library and an architecture geek.

She’s in the right town, since Columbus is a virtual showcase of buildings by modernist masters like I.M. Pei, Robert A.M. Stern, Eero Saarinen and Richard Meier. Casey knows these structures inside out; she’s even figured out how to sneak into some of them at night so that she can enjoy her own private reveries.

To the extent that “Columbus” has a plot it involves the arrival of Jin (John Cho), who has traveled from Korea to the States because of a developing family tragedy.

Jin’s father, a famous architectural historian, has suffered a stroke on the eve of a lecture at the local university. Now he’s in a coma and Jin, being the dutiful Korean son, is expected to sit at his bedside until the old man either recovers or succumbs.

Except that Jin and his father have long been estranged. Instead of hanging around the hospital, Jin looks for diversion, and he finds it in Casey, from whom he bums a cigarette and with whom he tours the local architectural hot spots.

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Menashe Lustig

“MENASHE” My rating: B

82 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

It takes a while to get a handle on Menashe (Menashe Luskin), the hapless, rotund Hasidic grocery clerk at the center of documentarian Joshua Z. Weinstein’s first foray into fictional filmmaking.

Ruddy cheeked, balding and bearded, Menashe is like a clumsy, disheveled dancing bear. He’s got plenty to do at the tiny shop where he works in Brooklyn’s Borough Park — carrying crates, mopping floors, helping customers — but he’ll ignore his duties in a heartbeat if he spies an opportunity for a philosophical discussion on some obscure point of religious practice. His employer is perennially exasperated.

Menashe wants more than anything to live the life of a good, pious Jew, but fate conspires against him. His wife Leah recently passed after a long illness, and his rabbi has ruled that Menashe’s son Rieven (Ruben Niborski) must live with his holier-than-thou brother-in-law Eizik (Yiel Weisshaus). Tradition maintains that a child must be reared by a mother.

Remarriage isn’t likely. Menashe and his late wife did not get along and he much prefers the life of an ascetic bachelor. A coffee date with an eligible widow is a disaster; it ends with her eye-rolling diss of Hasidic men: “Your mothers spoil you; then your wives take over.”

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Noomi Rapace

“UNLOCKED” My rating: C

98 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Despite a “name” director and an impressive cast of solid B-listers, the spy drama “Unlocked” feels terribly generic.

Viewers may be forgiven for thinking they’ve seen it all before.

CIA interrogator Alice Racine (Noomi Rapace), on the rebound from a disastrous assignment that led to mass civilian casualties, is now posing as a London social worker, collecting evidence on possible terrorist activities within the Islamic community.

When the agency snatches a courier carrying messages between a radical imam and a terrorist developing a biological bomb, Alice is called in to break the captive’s will and get details on the impending attack.

Except that the CIA dudes running the interrogation seem a bit dicey…in fact, Alice finds  herself a pawn in a rogue operation. Marked for death by her own people, she barely escapes and goes on the run.

Among her supposed allies are a CIA bigwig back in the States (John Malkovich) and her agency mentor (Michael Douglas). Unsure who to trust among her own colleagues, Alice turns to a Brit intelligence master (Toni Collette) and at one point teams up with a petty crook (Orlando Bloom) whom she discovers burglarizing an apartment where she has taken refuge.

Peter O’Brien’s screenplay keeps us guessing; almost nobody in this movie is what they first seem.

There is much running around and the bodies pile up, but nothing about “Unlocked” is particularly compelling.  Director Michael Apted (whose impressive resume includes “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Gorillas in the Mist,” lots of first-rate HBO and Showtime offerings  and the brilliant multi-decade “7 Up” documentary series) keeps things moving but never makes us care.

| Robert W. Butler


94 minutes | No MPAA rating

If Harold and Lillian Michelson had been, say, an accountant and a waitress, the story of their long marriage would be compelling enough.

But as fate and luck would have it, these two East Coast natives found their calling in Hollywood. In a town filled with egos and eccentricities, they embodied the sort of rock-solid relationship that set a high bar on Tinseltown matrimony.

This unusual (yet amazingly down to earth) couple emerge as quiet heroes in Daniel Raim’s fascinating, informative and inspiring “Helen and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story.”

Harold was a storyboard artist and later an art director and production designer. Lillian ran her own research library, amassing a vast collection of books on just about everything that could be used by filmmakers to research their projects.

As the years passed they raised three sons (one of them autistic) and became  touchstones of sorts for other movie folk. They were decent, kind, hard-working and unbelievably talented.

“You felt you were with the best of Hollywood as it can be as a lifestyle,” said one colleague. (That explains why the makers of the animated “Shrek” based the characters of the king and queen on the Michelsons.)

Harold went from advertising art to movie storyboarding with Cecille B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.”  In filmed interviews (he died a decade ago) Harold says he never met DeMille. He just looked at the script, made pen and charcoal drawings of what each shot might look like on the screen, and sent them up the chain of command.

Nevertheless, when you compare the finished film with Harold’s drawings you realize that DeMille and Co. were pretty much copying what Harold had given them, right down to the type of camera lens required for a specific shot.

Remember the famous shot in “The Graduate” in which a nervous Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is framed by the triangle of Mrs. Robinson’s (Anne Bancroft) thigh and calf?  That was Harold Michelson’s idea.

“The Graduate”

Also the sequence in which Benjamin dives into a swimming pool and surfaces to throw himself on a floating air mattress…which instantly becomes Mrs. Robinson on a hotel bed.

There’s a reason most movie storyboards go missing, says one Hollywood insider. No director wants to admit the best visual ideas in his film came from the storyboard artist.

Mel Brooks, for whom Harold storyboarded “Spaceballs,” recalled that his ideas were the difference between just OK and terrific. Harold produced “little goodies that made you look like a great filmmaker.”

Danny DeVito, a longtime friend and collaborator (and a producer of this doc), says of the process: “You’re directing through sketches.”

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“BRIGSBY BEAR”  My rating: B+

100 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Describing a film as “sweet” is tantamount to giving it the kiss of death (when it comes to movies we’re a sweet-aversive culture), but there’s no other word to describe the oddball beauty of “Brigsby Bear.”

Balancing lightweight comedy, melancholy undercurrents and an ultimately uplifting message, Dave McCary’s feature directing debut (after several shorts and many segments of “Saturday Night Live”) in some ways resembles such innocents-on-the-loose titles as “Being There” and “Edward Scissorhands.”

Our protagonist is James (“SNL’s” Kyle Mooney), who has spent his entire life in a bomb shelter with his parents (Mark Hamill, Jane Adams) after the outside world has turned toxic. At least he thinks they’re his parents.  Shortly after the film begins he learns that he was kidnapped as a newborn and has been raised in isolated secrecy.

Now the puzzled and perplexed James has been “rescued” and returned to the suburban home of his natural parents (Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins) and spunky younger sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins). They’re eager to make him welcome (well, maybe not Aubrey so much) but there are plenty of adjustment problems.

James has only known two other humans his entire life, and now he’s told they’re criminals of the worse sort. The existence he knew was a total sham. He knows nothing about contemporary society, about pop culture, about the latest trends in language or social behavior.

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Elizabeth Olsen, Aubrey Plaza


87 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Nobody does nuts like Aubrey Plaza.

Oh, she can play “normal” if required (TV’s Parks and Recreation”), but she really shines when the lets her crazy flag fly, as exemplified by her mental inmate in TV’s “Legion,” her suburban zombie in “Life After Beth” and her scary Medieval nun in the recent “The Hours.”

So Plaza is right at home in “Ingrid Goes West,” writer/director Matt Spicer’s very black comedy about an unhinged celebrity stalker.

As the film begins our heroine crashes a wedding and sprays Mace in the bride’s face.  (We later learn that the two women are strangers, but that Ingrid has been following the nuptial preparations on Instagram and is incensed at not being invited.)

When next we see Ingrid she’s being discharged from a mental facility. Shortly thereafter her mother dies, leaving Ingrid with $60,000.  She decides to relocate to Los Angeles so that she can be closer to a woman she has been obsessing over via social media.

Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) is a perky, self-centered cutie who has become a celeb by displaying so much of her life on the Internet.  Like a Kardashian, she’s famous mostly for being famous. She has no discernible talents (she might find a gig as a personal shopper, though everything she bought would reflect her tastes rather than those of a client).

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