[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

[Early Review] Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

or “Dora Jones and the Last Crusade”

Director: James Bobin

Cast: Isabella Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Danny Trejo

Screenplay: Matthew Robinson, Nicholas Stoller

102 mins. Rated PG for action and some mild impolite humor.

 

Yes, I braved the long lines at an early screening and sat in front of a kid who kept kicking my seat, but I did it. I saw Dora and the Lost City of Gold. I’m not really sure what I expected going into it. I mostly like James Bobin (The Muppets, Alice Through the Looking Glass) as a director. I’ve really enjoyed actress Isabella Moner’s (Transformers: The Last Knight, Instant Family) work as she develops her skills. But Dora? A live-action Dora? How would that even work? Upon seeing the film, I can honestly say I’m still not sure how it works.

Dora has spent her whole life in the jungle with her parents and her monkey Boots, exploring and adventuring and learning. But when she becomes a teenager, her parents want her to experience normal life in a normal school with other kids while they adventure out to find Parapata, the Lost City of Gold, a quest they have spent years trying to complete. They send her to stay with her cousin Diego. Dora has trouble making friends until a school field trip ends with her, Diego, and a few other students getting kidnapped by treasure hunters who want to use her to find Parapata. The students team up with a professor who knows Dora’s parents, Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez, Instructions Not Included, Overboard), to escape the treasure hunters and find the Lost City of Gold first.

The way the film starts, I expected it to be a very self-aware comedic approach to the silliness of the property without completely lampooning it, much in the same way Land of the Lost and 21 Jump Street went about adapting their properties. Sadly, most of that attitude and humor are swept away early on in the film and it becomes a very simple adventure movie that borrows 98% of its journey from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Seriously, you can nail down large chunks of the plot and characters as being ripped from the Last Crusade. I kept waiting for one of the characters to exclaim “No ticket.”

Isabella Moner is a fabulous actress, and I think she understood what this version of Dora the Explorer needed to be. I think she’s someone who we will be talking about a lot more in years to come. I liked what she did in the Transformers film she was in, even if she didn’t have much to do, and I really liked her performance in Instant Family.

Director James Bobin should have steered more into a tone like The Muppets, but I don’t think he achieved it here, sticking too far into the family-friendly tone and losing some of the flavor that I think he’s capable of hitting. As the film went on (and it went on about 20 minutes too long), I found it becoming far too formulaic and far less fun as it hit all the necessary bits required in an adventure movie. The students that join her and Diego on the adventure could have been eliminated because they provide virtually nothing to the film.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold has some fun elements to it. It isn’t the dumpster fire that one might expect it to be. It makes fun of itself at times and if I had my niece or nephews ask me to watch it, I wouldn’t be upset. It’s just that the film could have been so much more. There’s an aspect of missed potential to it when you see the way Isabella Moner has fun with the character and some of the inherently silly attitude is at times. It’s a fine movie, but it could have been a great one.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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