The Kitchen review

For inSing

THE KITCHEN

Director: Andrea Berloff
Cast : Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Camp, Margo Martindale, Common, Brian d’Arcy James, James Badge Dale, Jeremy Bobb
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 1 h 43 mins
Opens : 8 August 2019
Rating : NC16

It is 1978, and the New York underworld will come to know and fear three women.

Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby O’Caroll (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire Walsh (Elisabeth Moss) are the wives of three Irish mobsters who get caught by the FBI and are shipped off to prison. Seeing an opening and left with little choice, they decide to step in, running their own protection racket. This causes them to run afoul of their husbands’ compatriots like Little Jackie (Myk Watford) and Ruby’s mother-in-law, the mob matriarch Helen O’Caroll (Margo Martindale).

Further complicating matters is the return of Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson), an enforcer who escaped to lie low and is now back in town. Claire finds herself falling for Gabriel, while Kathy and Ruby butt heads over how the business is to be run. The ladies eventually find themselves dealing with powerful Italian mafia don Alfonso Coretti (Bill Camp), based out of Brooklyn. While they find success with their burgeoning criminal empire, the bodies start piling up and the women realise they may have bitten off more than they can chew.

The Kitchen is based on the DC/Vertigo graphic novel of the same name, written by Ollie Masters and illustrated by Ming Doyle. The film marks the directorial debut of Andrea Berloff, who was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing Straight Outta Compton. The Kitchen is a brash, stylish film that plays on audiences’ familiarity with gritty gangster movies. The 70s New York portrayed in The Kitchen looks authentically grimy at first but leans into the “I’m walking here!” stereotypes and the movie is beholden to expectations of mob-centric media.

The film lulls viewers into a false sense of security in knowing where everything’s headed, before a final act packed with explosive twists. This is an appropriately bloody, violent movie, but there is some levity sprinkled throughout. The Kitchen seems to face the dilemma of wanting to give us three-dimensional characters while delivering as many recognisable mafia movie elements as possible.

Another dilemma is that the film is presented as being empowering and is fronted by three women, but at the end of the day, they are committing crimes and it can be a bit uncomfortable to find oneself cheering as bodies get sawn up.  It is possible to say “it was a different time” and go along with that, to a point. Perhaps it is a way of reclaiming how movies like The Godfather, Scarface or Goodfellas seemed to model masculinity, but The Kitchen does not dig into its moral greyness as deeply as it could’ve.

A big part of what makes this work as well as it does is the cast, led by Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy’s Kathy is likeable, non-violent and innately decent, but is also ambitious and resourceful. Even though the characters are engaging in criminal activity, McCarthy’s sympathetic performance is often just enough to keep audiences in the protagonists’ corner. She knows there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed, but the women keep barrelling towards – and past – said line.

One of the major changes from the source material is the Ruby O’Carroll character, who is depicted here as a black woman who has married into an Irish mob family and resents her status as an outsider. Haddish brings a fire to the role but can’t quite evince the same depths that McCarthy can and seems ever so slightly more limited as a performer.

Elisabeth Moss’ Claire has the arc of going from the victim of domestic abuse to revelling in practicing violence on anyone who stands in her way. Moss is entertaining when Claire is unhinged, but the character is overall less interesting than the other two, who also have more control of the narrative.

Domhnall Gleeson’s quietly, disconcertingly detached Vietnam veteran hitman character provides some of the film’s more memorable moments, but Gabriel’s romance with Claire seems played more for laughs than for drama.

The film’s supporting cast includes excellent character actors like Margo Martindale and Bill Camp doing fine work, with Common getting not a lot to do as an FBI agent who watches things go down from afar.

If you don’t watch many mob movies, there’s enough to like about The Kitchen, with director Berloff showing plenty of panache. The cast seem to enjoy making the film, and McCarthy is especially outstanding. However, the film doesn’t attain the level of complexity it seems to be shooting for and is sometimes torn between serving up visceral thrills and shocks and being a compelling character study. Still, it is a good change of pace from the typically male-driven 70s mob movie.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

John Wick: Chapter 2

For F*** Magazine

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 

Director : Chad Stahelski
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Common, Riccardo Scamarcio, Laurence Fishburne, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Claudia Gerini, Bridget Moynahan, Peter Stormare, Franco Nero
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 2min
Opens : 16 February 2017
Rating : M18 (Violence)

john-wick-chapter-2-posterMuch like Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, John Wick (Reeves) is a man who just can’t retire. After avenging the death of his puppy, the final gift from his late wife Helen (Moynahan), John thinks his hitman days are finally over. However, his former associate Santino D’Antonio (Scamarcio) comes calling to collect on a blood oath Santino and John made years earlier. Santino tasks John with killing Santino’s sister Gianna (Gerini), so Santino can take her place on a high council of assassins. John reluctantly travels to Rome, facing off against scores of skilled hired guns. These include Gianna’s bodyguard Cassian (Common) and Santino’s security chief Ares (Rose). Back in New York, John seeks the assistance of old allies Winston (McShane), who runs the Continental Hotel, and Charon (Reddick), the hotel’s concierge. John also reunites with the Bowery King (Fishburne), a crime lord with whom John has had a tempestuous professional relationship. With a large bounty put on his head, it’s open season on John Wick.

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2014’s John Wick is hailed as a minor masterpiece in contemporary action cinema. While it contained many familiar tropes of the hitman movie subgenre, it boasted exceedingly stylish action and established an intriguing mini-mythology. Chad Stahelski, who directed the first film with fellow stunt coordinator/second unit director David Leitch, helms this outing solo. John Wick: Chapter 2 contains everything that worked the first time around. It’s largely more of the same, but it’s good. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad expands on the heightened world, introducing more elements central to the apparently global assassin subculture. Not only are there hitmen decked out in expensive suits who hang out in plush hotels, there are homeless assassins now. Much like the first go-round, this is a tonally assured work: there are dry winks and nods at the more absurd aspects of the premise, while steering clear of all-out self-parody.

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Aided by veteran stunt coordinators Darrin Prescott and J.J. Perry, Stahelski serves up a surfeit of fluidly orchestrated violence. The body count here far exceeds the first film, and there are plenty of messy headshots along the way. All the fights, shootouts and chases hit that sweet spot of being stylised and designed while retaining visceral impact. John is a one-man army and because of his nigh-superhuman prowess, the audience never really feels that he’s in grave danger from his opponents. However, the proceedings are never boring and always eye-catching. A showdown in the ancient catacombs beneath Rome is contrasted with a game of cat-and-mouse set in a maze of mirrors. The latter is at once disorienting and mesmerizing, and is also a technical feat seeing how a set comprised entirely of mirrors would make it difficult to hide cameras and crew.
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It’s been repeatedly noted that Reeves is not an actor with staggering emotional range, but just as in the first John Wick, he makes for a compelling force of nature. Even pretending to be an expert marksman or hand-to-hand combatant is tricky, but Reeves makes it all look so effortless. Deep beneath his unyielding surface, John is a sorrowful figure. Even though John should be no less fantastical a character than any action hero played by Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, Reeves gives him a vital grounding.

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Many of the supporting players from the first film, including McShane, Reddick and Leguizamo, return, giving this a strong sense of continuity. Italian actor Scamarcio exudes the sliminess one would expect of a mafia heir without turning the character into a caricature. Gerini’s Gianna has a confrontation with John that is as sexy as it ominous. The film’s detour to Rome seems a little too brief, but the location and the D’Antonio siblings do expand the story’s scope. Iconic Italian actor Franco Nero makes a cameo as the manager of The Continental Rome.

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Common gets to grapple with Reeves in an intense fight, but is ultimately little more than a generic henchman. Rose gets a slightly more interesting role as the mute Ares. She cuts an elegant figure in a suit and is entrancing as she signs her “dialogue”. It’s fun to see Reeves reunite with Fishburne, his co-star from the Matrix films. Fishburne’s Bowery King is cheery and exuberant, but we get the sense that this belies an uncompromising ruthlessness. Peter Stormare, who has long been on speed-dial for Hollywood casting directors in search of scenery-chomping European villains, shows up too.

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John Wick: Chapter 2 contains equal measures of muscularity and finesse, an action movie carved from polished obsidian. As the middle instalment in a planned trilogy, the film’s conclusion is open-ended, but its cliff-hanger is tantalising rather than howl-inducing. On top of that, the pit bull that John adopted at the end of the first film is adorably obedient.

Summary: Fans of the first film will be transfixed by John Wick: Chapter 2’s brutal, balletic action. The fascinating hitman subculture lore also gets built upon.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Run All Night

For F*** Magazine

RUN ALL NIGHT

Director : Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast : Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Ed Harris, Vincent D’Onofrio, Boyd Holbrook, Genesis Rodriguez, Common, Bruce McGill, Holt McCallany
Genre : Action/Crime
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 12 March 2015
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)
Liam Neeson goes from training the Dark Knight to running all night in this crime thriller. Neeson plays Jimmy Conlon, an aging hitman who used to work for crime boss Shawn Maguire (Harris). Shawn has supposedly reformed, and refuses to do business with drug dealers who are brought to him by his son Danny (Holbrook). It just so happens that Jimmy’s son Mike (Kinnaman), a limousine driver, is hired by Danny and witnesses a deal go horribly awry. Jimmy ends up killing Danny to save Mike, which leads to Shawn ordering that both father and son be killed in retaliation. Mike resents his father for the strain that being a hitman put on their relationship, but the duo have to stick together if they want to survive this long, brutal night.  



            Run All Night marks the third collaboration between Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra, who also helmed Unknown and Non-Stop. Neeson claims that this will be his last action-centric leading role in a while. As cool as the actor always is, he is very much in danger of being a caricature of himself, if the Taken memes still all over the internet are anything to go by. Unfortunately, even though it’s meant to be more dramatic and character-driven than the Takenmovies, Run All Night is still a let-down. Collet-Serra intends for it to be a gritty 70s-style crime flick, set in a grimy, misty New York City during the Christmas season over 16 hours. However, the scene transitions are Google Maps-style CGI camera moves, swooping out of one street, up over the city, and right into another. This comes off as nothing more than a jarring stylistic flourish, supposedly to disguise how surprisingly boring the film ends up being.

            The story is a predictable one – an ex-hitman must wade back into the muddy waters of his former life when things get personal. That logline can also be used to describe last year’s John Wick. Where that movie was surprisingly inventive, original and stylish, Run All Night is, well, a more run of the mill affair. The two relationships at its core are the personal connection between an enforcer and his old boss/long-time friend and between said enforcer and his estranged son. Brad Ingelsby’s screenplay strains to make this more than your typical father-son action movie team-up – the relationship isn’t amusingly dysfunctional, it’s downright toxic. And yet, it’s just not sufficiently compelling, some moments unintentionally funny rather than dark and dramatic. During the first half of the film, when Jimmy and Shawn wistfully reminisce about their youth, it’s meant to set up this deep bond that will inevitably be shattered over the course of the film, but it feels more like filler than anything else.

                Liam Neeson grimaces, wields a gun and talks tough through gritted teeth – daring, uncharted territory for the actor. We all love Liam Neeson but especially coming on the heels of the dismal Taken 3, it’s very easy to see why audiences are getting tired of this character type. Joel Kinnaman is good here as a clean-cut family man who wants nothing to do with the dangerous, seedy world which his father was a part of. He’s certainly less annoying than Jai Courtney’s Jack McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard. Alas, the clash of titans that is Liam Neeson vs. Ed Harris is something of a let-down. When all is said and done, it feels like Harris hasn’t really done all that much throughout the film, even though he has a substantial role. Harris is an unsung old-school cinematic badass, so seeing him go toe to toe with the old-school cinematic badass du jour should be more of an event. The macho friends-turned-enemies plot is undercut by what can be interpreted as homoerotic undertones between the two characters. Common shows up as an ice-cold bespectacled assassin; his night-vision eyepiece and high-powered pistol equipped with a laser sight likely referencing the first Terminator movie. He provides the best thrills of the film.  

            Run All Night is too predictable and contrived to work as an engrossing crime drama but also lacks the over-the-top action spectacle required to make it successful as a piece of escapist entertainment, falling into an uncomfortable no man’s land. It’s sturdily-constructed, shot well and solidly acted all around, but it has nothing to distinguish it from every other New York-set crime thriller out there.

Summary:Nowhere near as exciting as its title makes it sound, Run All Night never goes off the beaten crime thriller path. Its central trio do turn in strong performances, but even then the film can’t outrun the realm of the generic.
RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong