Film Review: THE KITCHEN (USA 2019)

The Kitchen Poster
Trailer

The wives of New York gangsters in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s continue to operate their husbands’ rackets after they’re locked up in prison.

Director:

Andrea Berloff

Writers:

Ollie Masters (comic book series), Ming Doyle (comic book series) | 1 more credit »

THE KITCHEN follows the premise of last year’s Steve McQueen’s WIDOWS where three women take control of their lives after their husbands are put away.  One succeeds and the other doesn’t.  In WIDOWS, the husbands are dead gone while in THE KITCHEN the husbands are put away in prison.  In the WIDOWS, the widows take on a  robbery while in THE KITCHEN the abused wives take  on being mobsters, collecting protection money and protecting businesses for their money.

THE KITCHEN is directed by Andrea Berloff who rose to fame with his STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON where he won the Oscar for Best original screenplay.  The trouble with THE KITCHEN is that it is based on a comic book series which means that it should not be taken too seriously, which it does.  Both Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish are dead serious establishing the fact that they can be credible mobsters.  Are both scary?  Would one pay protection money to these two?  Would other mobster heads give in to these two?  Hardly.  This is the prime reason the film fails.  If the script was to that the material more lightly, then the audience would forgive the credibility factor.  Fortunately the Elisabeth Moss character is more concerned with her lover (Domhnall Gleeson) than anything else.

The story is set in the late 70’s in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen, and hence the film’s title.  It is not a very inviting title – and Sylvester Stallone had to rename his movie PARADISE ALLEY instead of HELL’s KITCHEN in his first non-ROCKY movie.   The three 1978 Hell’s Kitchen housewives have mobster husbands are sent to prison by the FBI.  Left with little but a sharp ax to grind, the ladies take the Irish mafia’s matters into their own hands—proving unexpectedly adept at everything from running the rackets to taking out the competition…literally.

THE KITCHEN is clearly a female oriented movie.  From the very start of the movie, the theme is obvious as the song “It’s a man’s world is heard on the soundtrack.  As in Alfonso Cuaron’s ROMA and the upcoming AFTER THE WEDDING in which the words :  “We women have to stick together”, the words: “They f*** us up every time..” are uttered.  The male roles in THE KITCHEN are written so that they become second-class citizens to their female counterparts.   These are too obvious to be credible.  The film contains too many scenes where the males are speechless at a loss in front of women.  But if taken lightly, it can turn into good fun.

Berloff’s film plays as if it is based on true events.  This is how serious his film gets.  By comparison, McQueen’s WIDOWS knows when to be serious but mainly knows when it need to be fun.

It is good to see McCarthy venture out of comedy with her more serious roles as in this flea and the recent  CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? and likewise for Tiffany Haddish.  Elisabeth Moss succeeds more comfortably in her role having playing similar roles as in THE SQUARE and THE HANDMAID’S TALE.

Could have been better, THE KITCHEN ends up a missed opportunity.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlcyEDZVYkw

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Film Review: HER SMELL (USA 2018) ***

Her Smell Poster
Trailer

A self-destructive punk rocker struggles with sobriety while trying to recapture the creative inspiration that led her band to success.

Director:

Alex Ross Perry

Directed by Alex Ross Perry, who also produced the film with its star Elisabeth Moss, HER SMELL the film could also be re-titled HER STINK as this is a warts and all account (mainly warts, actually) of the lead singer, Beck (played by Moss) of a fictitious female punk group called ‘Something She’ – whatever the name means.  HER SMELL is the name of the club Something She is performing during the film’s opening act.

The members of ‘Something New” are Beck herself, and two others, Marielle (Agyness Deyn) and Ali (Gayle Rankin), who Beck constantly abuses and bullies until they finally freak out and give up on her.  Later, they sign of another 3-girl punk rock band.

If Beck does even show up for her band’s show, she will abuse verbally and occasionally physically all those around-her.  These also include her record label owner, Howard (Eric Stolz), her young daughter, a  toddler who she screams she is playing rocket with, tossing her into the air and at one point even falling to the ground and almost dropping her.  

Her husband or ex-husband, Danny (Dan Stevens) shows up with the daughter but clearly there is no chance of a re-conciliation due to Beck’s awful behaviour.  

Her band members are no angels either – snorting coke or screaming foul language.

The punk songs heard on screen are not half bad, and are originally written.

The film runs long at over 120 minutes, and director Perry seems to have given his star Moss Carte Blanche to do whatever she wants to do.  Moss delivers an uninhibited performance if it not electrifying is definitely unforgettable.  It is an Oscar worthy performance, though one would think the members of the Academy would want to give the award for a role so demented.  Moss is brave enough to show her ugly side.  Moss can be beautiful as at the end of the film or just plain ugly when she is nasty.  The camera reveals Moss ugly side – her sweaty palid skin full of zits and pimples.

The film’s plot is simple.  It shows the self destructiveness of Beck in Something She.  She finally gets the act together and achieves redemption which is largely due to the love of her daughter.  But the film has one main glaring flaw – the turning point.  For someone to make such a radical change from evil to super good, there must be a drastic event to cause the one hundred eighty degree change in behaviour.  This is missing.  One can also not understand the reason Beck’s boyfriend or mother (Virginia Madsen) continues to stay at her.

This is not the first movie about a self-destructive recording star – Bradley Cooper’s A STAR IS BORN, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and VOX LUX with Natalie Portman portraying an almost identical character being recent examples.  The question is whether anyone would want to pay good money to watch another caustic journey of a self-destructive female punk.  But I must admit that I was moved.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7942742/videoplayer/vi1934735897?ref_=tt_ov_vi

Film Review: THE SEAGULL (USA 2018) ***1/2

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The Seagull Poster
Trailer

An aging actress named Irina Arkadina pays summer visits to her brother Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin and her son Konstantin on a country estate. On one occasion, she brings Trigorin, a …See full summary »

Director:

Michael Mayer

Writers:

Anton Chekhov (play), Stephen Karam (screenplay)

 

THE SEAGULL, Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov’s first of 4 plays became one of the greatest plays in the history of Russian Theatre when Konstantin Stanislavsky directed it in 1898 for his Moscow Art Theatre.  I have never read or seen Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL even though there are previous film adaptations of the play including one directed by Sidney Lumet.  So, watching the film unfold, flaws and all, is still an unforgettable experience given the strength of its source material.

The story features four main characters, Irina, her son Konstantin, her lover, Boris and the son’s love, Nina – all torn between love and art.   

An aging actress named Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening) pays summer visits to her brother Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin (Brian Dennehy) and her son Konstantin (Billy Howle) on a country estate.  On one occasion, she brings Boris Trigorin (Corely Stoll) a successful novelist and her lover. Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a free and innocent girl from a neighbouring estate who is in a relationship with Konstantin, falls in love with Boris.

The film begins with the climax of the play and returns to it after the main story folds in flashback, a tactic used by director Mayer for the film.  This is a common tactic in films to grab the audience’s attention at the start while bringing them back to the same state at a later part of the film.  The tactic often works and works in this film as well.   The brother Sorin is ill and dying while Irina visits and engages the guests in a game of ‘lotto’ a kind of bingo while something drastic takes place with her son in a back room that climaxes the story and ends the film.  But quite the drama has occurred prior to this set of affairs with lives and loves being interchanged as well as unrequited love torn away from a poor woman’s heart.  This is the stuff Chekov’s play is born of.  Included in the story is the scene where Konstantine shoot and kills an innocent seagull (the story’s metaphor) which is placed at the feet of his true love, Nina.

There are lots of unrequited love in the story, that of Irina, her son and mostly Marsha’s (Elisabeth Moss).  Irina brings to the estate the successful playwright, Boris Trigorin who falls for actress wannabe, Nina who falls for him.  It is a question of he not able to get what he wants and she not able to get what she wants while each having the quality the oner desires.  There is more irony in the artistic play that Konstantin writes that his mother makes fun of.  Besides all this fantastic Chekov writing that is incredibly brilliant the way he brings it all together, director Mayer occasionally eclipses the brilliance with his touches.  This includes, for example the scene where Konstantin makes silly ‘tweetie-bird’ faces in the mirror while his mother is desperately claiming possession in the next room, or when Kosntatntin plays the piano, the music complementing the activities going on again, in the next room.

The film, which looks fantastic (cinematography by Matthew J. Lloyd) was shot on 

location at a New York State manor, using almost all natural light.  In the nighttime scenes, 95 % of what you see is actually from candle light. 

THE SEAGULL benefits greatly again from its actors, particularly its 3 main actresses Benign, Moss and Ronan.  Relative newcomer British Billy Howle proves his acting chops as well in quite the major role.  There are many reasons to see THE SEAGULL – the performances, the currently relevant tale of art and romance but especially if you are unfamiliar with this Chekhov play.

Director Mayer, who is a Tony Award Winning theatre director (SPRING AWAKENING) should do Chekhov proud with this film adaptation of THE SEAGULL.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Gc6Orz5XtI

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Full Review: THE SQUARE (Sweden 2017) ***** Top 10

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The Square Poster

Trailer

The Square is a poignant satirical drama reflecting our times – about the sense of community, moral courage and the affluent person’s need for egocentricity in an increasingly uncertain world.

Director:

Ruben Östlund

Writer:

Ruben Östlund

 

What is THE SQUARE?  In director Östlund’s (FORCE MAJEURE) new film THE SQUARE, the square is a place of trust and caring where everyone shares equality and obligations.  It is also the name of the newest project of Museum Director Christian (Claes Bang) which he hopes will bring in money for the cutting edge art museum in Sweden he represents.  Christian hires two young TV publicists to spread the word on social media.

The film is made of a number of cinematic set-pieces.  If this method of filmmaking sounds familiar, it is used by Swedish director Roy Andersson (A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE, SONGS FROM THE SECOD FLOOR) who happens to be director Östlund’s mentor.  Though these set-pieces appear unconnected on the surface, they upon close examination all tie into the greater scheme of Östlund’s universe.

These set pieces include:

the film’s most brilliantly executed segment set during the museum charity dinner where a wild man (a very scary Terry Notary) is let loose among the guests.  If the guests show any sign of fear or make any sudden moves, the wild animal will turn on the hunter after sensing his/her fear.  This art act ends up going out of control.

the post sex scene in when Christian and Anne (Elizabeth Moss) argue on who will take hold of the filled condom for disposal

the poor kid that confronts Christian on his act of accusing him of being a thief

the museum display of separating visitors into two sections; one that trust and the other that mistrust people.  In the trust section, the guests are supposed to leave their cell phones and wallets behind.

a TV interview gone terribly and embarrassingly wrong

the confrontational scene between Christian and Anne when Anne accuses Christian of using his position of power to attract women, a segment that seems to serve as a prophecy to the current Weinstein sex scandal.

One observable thing is that what happens to Christian after his downfall from museum director.  He is still questioned to no end, and not allowed to at least go into disgrace in peace.  When he decides to seek forgiveness from the boy he wronged, it turns out that he is unable to do so as the boy and family has moved.

One of the film’s best jokes in the film is the scene of the exhibit with the mounds of gravel that goes terribly wrong when the cleaner on the vacuum machine accidentally sucks up the dirt. 

The film is also not without arresting images, courtesy of cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel.  The two most striking ones include the shot of Christian building with escalators and star is rising above him like a maze (see trailer in link below) and the other with Christian in a heap of garbage as he searches for the piece of paper containing an important telephone number.

As in most successful satires on film (Terry Giliam’s BRAZIL), the story follows the downfall of the protagonist.  In THE SQUARE, Christian almost gets his chance to prove himself worthy of being a good human being by apologizing to the boy he has wronged.  But Östlund removes this opportunity in a twist of fate when he discovers the boy has moved with nor forwarding address.

The film deservedly won this year’s Palme d’or Prize. The film is as wicked a wicked satire can be as well as sexy, brilliant, complex and bitingly hilarious.  It is a cruel, absurd and unforgiving world we live in and Östlund has captured it masterfully in his minor-masterpiece.  Clearly the best film I have seen this year – hands down.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u77vsmBya2w

 

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TIFF 2017 Movie Review: THE SQUARE (Norway 2017) ***** Top 10

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

THE SQUARE.jpgThe Square is a poignant satirical drama reflecting our times – about the sense of community, moral courage and the affluent person’s need for egocentricity in an increasingly uncertain world.

Director:

Ruben Östlund

Stars:

Claes BangElisabeth MossDominic West

In director Östlund’s (FORCE MAJEURE) film, the square is a place of trust and caring where everyone shares equality and obligations. It is also the name of the newest project of curator Christian (Claes Bang) which he hopes will bring in money for the cutting edge art museum in Sweden he represents.

Christian hires two young TV publicists to spread the word on social media. The film is made of a number of cinematic set-pieces. Though these set-pieces appear unconnected on the surface, they upon close examination all tie into the great scheme of Östlund’s universe.

The film is also not without arresting images, courtesy of cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel. The two most striking ones include the shot of Christian building with escalators and star is rising above him like a maze (see trailer in link below) and the other with Christian in a heap of garbage as he searches for the piece of paper containing an important address.

The film deservedly won this year’s Palme d’or Prize. The film is as wicked a wicked satire can be as well as sexy, brilliant, complex and bitingly hilarious. It is a cruel, absurd and unforgiving world we live in and Östlund has captured it masterfully in his minor-masterpiece. Clearly the best film I have seen this year – hands down.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u77vsmBya2w

THE BLEEDER (former title: CHUCK) (USA 2016) ***

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chuckA drama inspired by the life of heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner.

Director: Philippe Falardeau
Writers: Jeff Feuerzeig, Jerry Stahl
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, Liev Schreiber

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Quebec director Falardeau has made some excellent Quebec films like CONGORAMA, MONSIEUR LAZHAR (his most famous and critical acclaimed film) and MY INTERNSHIP IN CANADA. THE BLEEDER with all its good points, however, is unable to reach the director’s high point, probably due to its depressing subject matter, though based on a true story.

The film is based on the life of Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber). It traces the rise to fall to redemption of Chuck, the man concentrating on his personal life rather than his boxing. It is tough to see a man from the Bronx, go down after gaining fame. The life of fame and riches seduced the man, resulting in him leaving his wife, doing drugs like cocaine and flirting around.

The atmosphere of the 70’s where the story takes place is authentically created. There are 70’s period films that do not look as if they were made in the 70’s, The BLEEDER looks as if it was made in the 70’s. Everything from props, dialogue, hair, music and sets is perfect.

This is the life of Chuck Wepner, best known for his 1975 fight with the heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali. The film is called THE BLEEDER because Chuck is able to take punishment, which allowed him to stay that many rounds in the ring with Muhammad Ali.

Live Schreiber plays Chuck the loser that he is. He is not too bright either. When he learns that Stallone stole his life story, he calls United Artists and asks to speak to directly to Stallone. When Chuck finally meets Stallone, he does not even ask him for royalties. One problem with the film is that Chuck is not a likeable human being. Worse, is that he is a loser with few redeeming qualities. It is hard to feel sorry for a man who was married three times who keeps cheating on his wives. His daughter is understandably upset with him. Everyone would be, including the teacher at a PTA meeting who walks away disgusted. Unlike the film ROCKY, which is based on Chuck’s life a film that became so popular because ROCKY was about a winner, THE BLEEDER is about a loser.

The boxing scenes are violent and necessarily so, as the film has to show the character living up to the name of Bleeder. The main match, the one between Muhammad Ali and Chuck is convincing enough to look like the real thing.
Schreiber is excellent in his role as Elizabeth Moss is as his second wife. The film does not really explain how Sylvester Stallone learned about Chuck’s life to portray him so accurately in his Oscar Winning film. The actor, Morgan Spector playing Stallone is totally laughable in his look – looking like a skinny though toned version of the Stallion.

THE BLEEDER is not a bad film. But a depressing film about a loser is going to be a tough sell to attract audiences.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AQXwOOqNNw

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Happy Birthday: Elisabeth Moss

elizabethmoss.jpgElisabeth Moss

Born: July 24, 1982 in Los Angeles, California, USA

Married to:
Fred Armisen (25 October 2009 – 13 May 2011) (divorced)

 

 

 

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