Film Review: The Kitchen (dir by Andrea Berloff)


Eh.  Who cares?

I mean, seriously, do you understand what I mean?  Sometimes, you just see a film that leaves you feeling so indifferent that it’s a struggle to even think of anything to say about it.  That’s the way I feel about The Kitchen, which is neither bad enough to hatewatch nor good enough to recommend.  It’s a mediocre film, one that would be totally forgettable if not for a few remarkably inept choices made by the director and the cast.

Melissa McCarthy is Kathy Brennan.  Tiffany Haddish is Ruby O’Connell.  Elisabeth Moss is Claire Walsh.  The year is 1978 and all three of them live in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York.  All three of them are also married to men who are involved with the Irish Mob.  When their husbands all get busted by the FBI and the new mob boss refuses to help the three women pay the bills, they team up and take over the neighborhood themselves.  With the help of their number one enforcer, Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson), the women prove that they can be even more ruthless than their husbands and their competitors.

And really, this should have been fun.  I’m all about girl power and I’m half-Irish.  If I was going to join the mob, I would definitely join the Irish Mob.  But, seriously, The Kitchen is not just a mess but it’s a dreadfully heavy-handed mess as well.  I knew that this film was going to suck as soon as James Brown started singing, “This is a man’s world,” over the opening credits because it was just such an obvious choice to go with.  To me, picking the song showed that the filmmakers weren’t really interested in giving too much thought to what the film was about.  Instead, they just said, “Hey, that’s a really on-the-nose choice!  Let’s go with it!”  About an hour later, Clare and Gabriel were making love while Carry On My Wayward Son blasted on the soundtrack and I found myself wondering if this film’s soundtrack was put together by listening to a random classic rock station and just jotting down the names of the first ten songs that were played.

Adding to the disappointing atmosphere of the film is a talented cast, everyone of whom appears to be acting in a different movie from everyone else.  Melissa McCarthy, for instance, gets all of the dramatic scenes but gives a comedic performance, one that feels like it’s been assembled from outtakes of the “awkward humor” bits of Ghostbusters.  Tiffany Haddish is ruthless but it’s a very one-note type of ruthlessness.  It gets boring after a while.  Elisabeth Moss gives the best performance out of the three but her character often seems to be pushed to the side.  Once Claire starts threatening to shoot people, you can tell that the film doesn’t know what to do with her.

You also have to feel bad for the supporting cast, all of whom deserve better than this film.  Annabella Sciorra plays a Mafia wife who walks up to the women in the middle of the street and tells them that they’re just like Gloria Steinem and, when she shows up, you can’t help but think that Sciorra would have been a better pick for the role of Kathy than Melissa McCarthy.  Then Common shows up as an FBI agent because, for some reason, Common always plays a member of law enforcement in films like this.  Margo Matindale gets a few good scenes as an Irish mafia matriarch but her character disappears from the film far too quickly.

It’s a mess of a film.  Kathy, Ruby, and Claire’s rise to power happens too abruptly to be credible and none of the subsequent betrayals make much sense.  Appropriately, for a gangster film, it’s violent but the violence is so repetitive that it gets a little bit dull after a while.  None of the characters are really memorable enough for their subsequent deaths to generate much of a reaction.  An hour into the film, you just find yourself thinking, “Oh, hey, that dude’s dead now.  Yay, I guess.”  Much like Captain Marvel, The Kitchen often seems to only be interested in girl power as a way to disguise the fact that the script kind of sucks.  I kept waiting for one of the male gangsters to shout, “The ancient prophecy said that I will be defeated by no man!,” just so Melissa McCarthy could respond, “Yes …. by no man!” It didn’t happen but maybe they’ll get around to it in the sequel.

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Mini-Reviews: Amy, Gloria, Pitch Perfect 2, Sisters, Spy, Trainwreck


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Amy (dir by Asif Kapadia)

Amy opens with brilliant and, in its way, heartbreaking footage of a 14 year-old Amy Winehouse and a friend singing Happy Birthday at a party.  Even though she’s singing deliberately off-key and going over-the-top (as we all tend to do when we sing Happy Birthday), you can tell that Amy was a star from the beginning.  She’s obviously enjoying performing and being the center of attention and, try as you might, it’s impossible not to contrast the joy of her Happy Birthday with the sadness of her later life.

A star whose music touched millions (including me), Amy Winehouse was ultimately betrayed by a world that both wanted to take advantage of her talent and to revel in her subsequent notoriety.  It’s often said the Amy was self-destructive but, if anything, the world conspired to destroy her.  By focusing on footage of Amy both in public and private and eschewing the usual “talking head” format of most documentaries, Amy pays tribute to both Amy Winehouse and reminds us of what a great talent we all lost in 2011.

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Gloria (dir by Christian Keller)

The Mexican film Gloria is a musical biopic of Gloria Trevi (played by Sofia Espinosa), a singer whose subversive songs and sexual image made her a superstar in Latin America and challenged the conventional morality of Catholic-dominated establishment.  Her manager and lover was the controversial Sergio Andrade (Marco Perez).  The movie follows Gloria from her first audition for the manipulative Sergio to her arrest (along with Sergio) on charges of corrupting minors.  It’s an interesting and still controversial story and Gloria tells it well, with Espinosa and Perez both giving excellent performances.

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Pitch Perfect 2 (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

The Bellas are back!  As I think I’ve mentioned a few times on this site, I really loved the first Pitch Perfect.  In fact, I loved it so much that I was a bit concerned about the sequel.  After all, sequels are never as good as the original and I was dreading the idea of the legacy of the first film being tarnished.

But the sequel actually works pretty well.  It’s a bit more cartoonish than the first film.  After three years at reigning ICCA champions, the Bellas are expelled from competition after Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally flashes the President.  The only way for the Bellas to get the suspension lifted is to win the World Championship of A Capella.  The plot, to be honest, really isn’t that important.  You’re watching the film for the music and the interplay of the Bellas and, on those two counts, the film totally delivers.

It should be noted that Elizabeth Banks had a great 2015.  Not only did she give a great performance in Love & Mercy but she also made a respectable feature directing debut with Pitch Perfect 2.

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Sisters (dir by Jason Moore)

It’s interesting how opinions can change.  For the longest time, I really liked Tina Fey and I thought that Amy Poehler was kind of overrated.  But, over the past two years, I’ve changed my opinion.  Now, I like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey kind of gets on my nerves.  The best way that I can explain it is to say that Tina Fey just seems like the type who would judge me for wearing a short skirt and that would get old quickly, seeing as how I happen to like showing off my legs.

Anyway, in Sisters, Tina and Amy play sisters!  (Shocking, I know.)  Amy is the responsible one who has just gotten a divorce and who wants to make everyone’s life better.  Tina is the irresponsible one who refuses to accept that she’s no longer a teenager.  When their parents announce that they’re selling the house where they grew up, Amy and Tina decide to throw one last party.  Complications ensue.

I actually had two very different reactions to Sisters.  On the one hand, as a self-declared film critic, it was easy for me to spot the obvious flaw with Sisters.  Tina and Amy should have switched roles because Tina Fey is simply not believable as someone who lives to have fun.  Sometimes, it’s smart to cast against type but it really doesn’t work here.

However, as the youngest of four sisters, there was a lot of Sisters that I related to.  I saw Sisters with my sister, the Dazzling Erin, and even if the film did not work overall, there were still a lot of little scenes that made us smile and go, “That’s just like us.”  In fact, I think they should remake Sisters and they should let me and Erin star in it.

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Spy (dir by Paul Feig)

There were a lot of very good spy films released in 2015 and SPECTRE was not one of them.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am with the latest Bond film.  It’s not so much that SPECTRE was terrible as there just wasn’t anything particular memorable about it.  When we watch a film about secret agents saving the world, we expect at least a few memorable lines and performances.

Now, if you want to see a memorable spy movie, I suggest seeing Spy.  Not only is Spy one of the funniest movies of the year, it’s also a pretty good espionage film.  Director Paul Feig manages to strike the perfect balance between humor and action.  One of the joys of seeing CIA employee Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) finally get to enter the field and do spy stuff is the fact that there are real stakes involved.  Susan is not only saving the world but, in the film’s best scenes, she’s having a lot of fun doing it and, for that matter, McCarthy is obviously having a lot of fun playing Susan and those of us in the audience are having a lot of fun watching as well.

Spy also features Jason Statham as a more traditional action hero.  Statham is hilarious as he sends up his own macho image.  Seriously, who would have guessed that he could such a funny actor?  Here’s hoping that he, McCarthy, and Feig will all return for the inevitable sequel.

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Trainwreck (dir by Judd Apatow)

There’s a lot of great things that can be said about Trainwreck.  Not only was it the funniest film of 2015 but it also announced to the world that Amy Schumer’s a star.  It was a romantic comedy for the 21st Century, one that defied all of the conventional BS about what has to happen in a romcom.  This a film for all of us because, let’s just be honest here, we’ve all been a trainwreck at some point in our life.

But for me, the heart of the film was truly to be found in the relationship between Amy and her younger sister, Kim (Brie Larson).  Whether fighting over what to do with their irresponsible father (Colin Quinn) or insulting each other’s life choices, their relationship is the strongest part of the film.  If Brie Larson wasn’t already guaranteed an Oscar nomination for Room, I’d demand that she get one for Trainwreck.  For that matter, Amy Schumer deserves one as well.

Seriously, it’s about time the trainwrecks of the world had a film that we could truly call our own.

Playing Catch-Up: Spotlight (dir by Tom McCarthy)


Spotlight

Earlier today, I finally got to see Spotlight, the film that is currently the front-runner to win the Oscar for best picture.  Spotlight tells the story of how the Spotlight team, a group of journalists working for the Boston Globe, investigated the shameful history of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Boston.  Starting with charges against one priest, the Spotlight team eventually uncovered sexual abuse by at least 70 priests and also revealed that the revered Cardinal Law was involved in covering up the crimes.

Having now seen Spotlight, I can say it’s a good film.  It’s well-made.  It’s well-acted.  The script contains some memorable lines.  I’ve talked to a few friends of mine who have actually worked as journalists and they have all assured me that Spotlight gets the details of their profession correct and that it’s pretty much an authentic look at what it’s like to be a reporter at a major newspaper.  There’s a lot of good things that can be said about Spotlight.

And yet, I’m not particularly enthusiastic about it.  I think my main issue with the film is that it’s just such an old-fashioned and rather conventional film.  It’s a throw back of sorts, an earnest exploration of a real-life outrage.  (Even the fact that the heroes are journalists makes the film feel as if it was made a decade or two in the past.)  On the one hand, you have to respect that director Tom McCarthy had the guts to tell his story in the least flashy way possible.  But, occasionally, his by-the-book approach is not as compelling as you want or need it to be.  Spotlight is a good film but it’s not a particularly challenging film and it’s the films that challenge us that truly stay with us after the final credits conclude.

Yes, it’s a good film but some are declaring that Spotlight is the best film of the year and I’m afraid that I just don’t see it.  There are a lot of 2015 films that will probably still be fondly remembered 5 years from now: Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out, Sicario, and others.  When compared to those films, Spotlight feels more like an admirable made-for-TV movie.  It feels more like something that should sweep the Emmys than the Oscars.

That said, Spotlight does feature some excellent performances.  In fact, the entire cast does such a good job that it’s difficult to really single anyone out.  They come together as a nearly perfect ensemble.  (That said, I’m a bit torn on whether Mark Ruffalo came across as being passionate or merely mannered.)  Michael Keaton, especially, does a good job, embodying everyone’s ideal image of a journalist with integrity.

Spotlight‘s a good film but my favorite Tom McCarthy movie remains Win Win.