[Early Review] The Kitchen (2019)

Director: Andrea Berloff

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian D’Arcy James, Margo Martindale, Common, Bill Camp

Screenplay: Andrea Berloff

102 mins. Rated R for violence, language throughout and some sexual content.

 

Andrea Berloff has a pretty solid resume for her writing, but The Kitchen is her directorial debut. The film, a 1970s-set Hell’s Kitchen gangster picture, is a perfect showcase for her talents.

When three New York gangsters are sent to prison in the 1970s, their wives must find a way to make ends meet. They’ve all kept relatively out of the family business, and when the family promises to help them financially, they still can’t afford to pay their bills. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy, The Heat, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip, Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss, The One I Love, TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale) decide to take matters into their own hands and actually provide protection to all the businesses who pay money to the crime family, but their plan creates an internal struggle within the family as the balance of power drastically shifts in Hell’s Kitchen.

I want to start by stating that I’ve not read the comic-book miniseries that the film is based on. I will say that, for a first feature, Berloff jumps a lot of hurdles that could have really been problems in this film. She has three strong actresses leading the film, and each one has a unique take on their situation. Kathy has a loving husband and just wants to survive until she begins to like the power. Ruby has never been loved by mother-in-law and family head Helen (Margo Martindale, August: Osage County, Instant Family) because of her skin color and sees this as an out. Claire has been beaten on a daily basis by her husband and decides that she isn’t going to be a victim when the men all go to jail. Claire develops a bond with the unstable but doting Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Peter Rabbit).

The film has some nice cinematography and the editing keeps everything moving pretty nicely until the final act, which I felt was more stretched out than it needed to be. One of the reasons it’s all the more noticeable is that some of the most surprising story beats in the final 30 minutes are brushed by while some of the more expected plot points are drug out far more than they needed to be.

The only other flaw in the film for me is that certain events play out a little too easily for our main characters. I kept recalling throughout the film that these three wives were never really involved in the family business and yet they took to it so easily that they were able to hold their own against more seasoned gangsters with ease. I would have liked more struggle for them as they make mistakes and learn from them early on. That’s the story that would’ve engaged me more.

The Kitchen is a stylistic pulpy gangster film that sees a pretty standard “rise to power” tale from the point-of-view of characters that don’t normally get to be a part of that type of story. Andrea Berloff keeps a nice mix of tension and comedic relief that kept me guessing, even if the story beats occasionally drifted to tropes. The dialogue is snappy and the performances, especially from McCarthy, Haddish, and Moss, are the true strengths here. It’s an imperfect movie, but it’s one I would gladly see again.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Date Night (2010)

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Director: Shawn Levy

Cast: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Taraji P. Henson, Common, Mark Wahlberg

Screenplay: Josh Klausner

88 mins. Rated PG-13 for sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference.

 

Steve Carell (TV’s The Office, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) and Tina Fey (TV’s Saturday Night Live, This is Where I Leave You) are comedic powerhouses with great chemistry, and in Date Night, from director Shawn Levy (Real Steel, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), they get the chance to play with it, even with the screenplay’s excessive shortcomings.

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Carell and Fey play the Fosters, Phil and Claire, and they need a new spark of romance in their lives. Their friends are getting divorced from a lack of love and they desperately want a date night to change it all, so when the tables are booked at the new restaurant, they take the table reserved for the absent Tripplehorns and enjoy their night. That is, until a case of mistaken identity leads to a seedy underworld of bad cops, worse mobsters, and a missing flash drive containing some very dangerous content and the Fosters have more on their plates than a missing spark.

Carell and Fey have tremendous chemistry and play so well off of each other, while director Levy controls the camera nicely lobbing back and forth between action and comedy. We also get some great cameo work from Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, The Gambler), James Franco, Mila Kunis, and more.

The biggest issue here is from screenwriter Josh Klausner (Shrek Forever After: The Final Chapter, The 4th Floor) and his disappointing script. It has a nice general outline; there are laughs here and action there, but rarely do the two meet on equal ground (the dual-car car chase is an exception) which doesn’t give the leads much to do to flash their creative abilities.

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The leads perform quite admirable and carry the film much better than most others could, which help make Date Night a worthy view of a film, even if it suffers from pitfalls of a less-than-worthy screenplay.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum, click here.

For my review of Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, click here.

[#2015oscardeathrace] Selma (2014)

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Director: Ava DuVernay

Cast: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson, Giovanni Ribisi, Lorraine Toussaint, Stephen James, Wendell Pierce, Common, Alessandro Nivola, Keith Stanfield, Cuba Gooding Jr., Dylan Baker, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey

Screenplay: Paul Webb

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Awards Not Yet Announced]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Glory” by Common, John Legend) [Awards Not Yet Announced]

 

Selma is the story of a key moment in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr (David Oyelowo, Interstellar, A Most Violent Year): the fight for the right to vote. King has tries to get help from President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson, Batman Begins, The Grand Budapest Hotel), but to no avail. His wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo, TV’s Zero Hour, The Purge: Anarchy), would hope to keep him out of harm’s way. But in Selma, Alabama, a woman named Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey, The Color Purple, The Butler) can’t even get registered to vote. King takes his civil rights movement to Selma in hopes of swaying Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth, TV’s Lie to Me, Pulp Fiction) to let them vote.

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While the film Selma isn’t perfect, it does contain some of the more perfect casting and performance work of the past year. David Oyelowo is the spitting visage of the late Dr. King. He has the look, he has the voice, and he has the mannerisms down to a science. Tom Wilkinson plays the former President filled with self-doubt and delusion. Rapper Common (TV’s Hell on Wheels, Smokin’ Aces) gives one of his best roles as James Bevel, as does Wendell Pierce (TV’s The Wire, Parker) in the position of Reverand Hosea Williams. We also get some great turns from some major Hollywood players, like Martin Sheen and Dylan Baker (Spider-Man 2, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), in small roles to elevate the craft of the other actors to something truly great.

Director Ava DuVernay’s camera is more stoic than static, offering what feels more like a live docu-drama than a sweeping picture, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did mess with the flow slightly.

I really enjoyed the song “Glory” from Common and John Legend that plays over the closing credits. It displays a plethora of African-American cultural music from the time of Dr. King to present day.

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Ava DuVernay’s Selma is a film that must be watched, if only for the powerful messages it conveys. I honestly did not know as much about this facet of the Civil Rights Movement, in particular the events in Selma, Alabama, and so I found the film engaging and shocking at times, and definitely worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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