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.

Film Review: Lincoln (dir. by Steven Spielberg)


I am a history nerd.

If you’ve read my previous reviews here on the Shattered Lens, that’s not necessarily a major revelation.  Still, before I talk about Steven Spielberg’s latest film, the sure-to-be Oscar nominated Lincoln, you should know where I’m coming from as a reviewer.  Cinema may be my number one love but history, and especially political history, runs a close second.  To me, there is nothing more fascinating than learning how those in the past both viewed and dealt with the issues that we still face in the present.  Whereas some people take pride in being able to name every player that’s ever played for the Dallas Cowboys, I take pride in the fact that I can not only name every President and Vice President in order but I can also tell you exactly who they had to defeat in order to serve in those offices.

I love history and therefore, it was hard for me not to feel as if Lincoln was a film that was made specifically for me.  Covering the final four months of the life of the 16th president, this film tells the story of Lincoln’s struggle to pass the 13th Amendment and to bring an end to the U.S. Civil War.  The film also documents Lincoln’s troubled marriage to the unstable Mary and his son’s decision to enlist in the Union Army.  Even though Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner don’t include any vampires*, there’s still a lot going on in Lincoln and it is to their credit that the film remains compelling despite the fact that everyone already knows how the story is going to end.

Daniel Day-Lewis is getting a lot of critical acclaim for his performance in the title role and, for once, I actually have to agree with the critics.  Abraham Lincoln is one of the most iconic figures in American history.  He is such an icon that, at times, it’s hard to believe that this larger-than-life figure, with his stove-pipe hat and his homely face, was an actual human being who lived and breathed and died like any other human being.  It’s easier to think of him in the same way that Jesus Christ used to be represented in films like Ben-Hur, as an inspiring character who is always standing just a little bit off-camera.  The brilliance of Day-Lewis’s performance is that he makes us believe that this legendary figure could actually exist with all the rest of history’s mortals.  For lack of a better term, Day-Lewis humanizes Lincoln.  His performance contains all the bits of the Lincoln legend: the fatalistic melancholy, the steely resolve, the quick humor, and occasional flashes of self-doubt.  The genius of the performance is the way that it takes all the legendary pieces and arranges them to create a portrait of a very believable man.

Though the film is dominated by Day-Lewis’s lead performance, the film’s supporting cast does a good job at bringing to life the people around Lincoln.  Whenever one film can manage to find roles for Hal Holbrook, David Strathairn, Jared Harris, James Spader, John Hawkes, and Jackie Earle Haley, you’ve got good reason to be optimistic about what you’re about to see.  Probably the film’s showiest supporting role goes to Tommy Lee Jones, who plays the firebrand abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.  Admittedly, Tommy Lee Jones gives a standard Tommy Lee Jones performance here but, especially when paired with Day-Lewis’s more internal acting style, the end result is still fun to watch.  Also giving a good performance is Sally Field, who plays Lincoln’s mentally unstable wife.  Historians have rarely been kind (or fair) to Mary Lincoln but Field makes her into a difficult but sympathetic figure.  Finally, even though the role of Lincoln’s son is not a challenging one, I’m always happy whenever Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows up onscreen.

Ultimately, however, Lincoln is a Steven Spielberg film.  Spielberg is a very good director but he’s also a very safe one.  The same can be said of Lincoln as a film.  The film’s cinematography, art design, and costume design are all brilliantly done and award-worthy but it’s still hard not to occasionally wish that Spielberg would have enough faith in his audience that he wouldn’t feel the need to have John Williams provide constant musical cues to let us know what we are supposed to be feeling about what we’re experiencing.  If you’re looking for hints of moral ambiguity, an unflinching examination of the rivers of blood that flowed on the Civil War battlefield, or for an in-depth portrait of Lincoln’s personal demons (and most historians agree that he had a few), you might want to look elsewhere.  This is not Martin Scorsese’s Lincoln.  This is Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.  This is a film that is meant to be inspiring (as opposed to thought-provoking) and, for the most part, it succeeds.

I have to admit that I went into Lincoln expecting to be disappointed.  Ever since the film first went into production in 2011, websites like Awards Daily have been hyping this film to death.  Before many of them had even seen the completed film, online critics were announcing that both the film and Daniel Day-Lewis were the clear front-runners for the Oscars in 2013.  As anyone who has read my previous reviews on this site knows, nothing turns me off more than the bandwagon mentality of the critical establishment.  Often times, when a film is embraced as vehemently and as early as Lincoln has been, I feel almost honor-bound to be a hundred times more critical of it than I would be of a film like Step Up Revolution.

However, Lincoln is a rarity.  It’s a film that, for the most part, actually lives up to all the hype.

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*I imagine that little joke will cause a lot of confusion to anyone who, ten years in the future, happens to stumble across this review.  To you, future reader who has forgotten all about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I can only apologize.