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

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

For F*** Magazine

13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI 

Director : Michael Bay
Cast : John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Matt Letscher, Toby Stephens, Alexa Barlier, David Costabile
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2 hrs 25 mins
Opens : 18 February 2016
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)

It is 2012, the year after Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed in the Libyan Civil War. Idealistic ambassador Chris Stevens (Letscher), who is stationed in the Libyan city of Tripoli, makes a visit to Benghazi. On the evening of September 11th, a group of Islamic militants stages an attack on the American diplomatic compound where the ambassador is staying and the CIA “Annex” building situated nearby. A team of six Global Response Staff (GRS) security contractors hired by the CIA undertakes a desperate defence of the grounds as all hell breaks loose. This team comprises Tyrone S. “Rone” Woods (Dale), Jack Silva (Krasinski), Mark “Oz” Geist (Martini), John “Tig” Tiegen (Fumusa), Kris “Tanto” Paronto (Schreiber) and Glen “Bub” Doherty (Stephens). These men, veterans of the Navy SEALS, Marine Force Recon and Army Special Forces, defy the orders of their Chief (Costabile) to stand down as they repel the scores of attackers in a last-ditch attempt.

            A series of title cards begin the movie, the last one before the title itself declaring “this is a true story”. Not “based on” or “inspired by”, but a definitive “is”. Any time a film depicting an actual event is made, debates on its accuracy are bound to ensue. Given how relatively recent the Benghazi attacks were and the impact the incident still has on the American political landscape, what with this being an election year and all, the firestorm around 13 Hours is fiercer than usual, even if Hillary Clinton isn’t even mentioned in the film.

Furthermore, the man at the helm of the film is Michael Bay, who famously dismissed film critics’ opinions of him by saying “I make movies for teenage boys”. While there obviously aren’t any clanging robot testicles to be found in this film, it’s still abundantly clear that the director lacks the nuance and finesse to fashion a gripping, thought-provoking depiction of the Benghazi attack. Bay has proudly, gleefully put military hardware on display in many of his previous films, boasting that he was the first to film certain aircraft or types of weaponry for the big screen. Therefore, it seems less likely that he’s motivated by noble intentions and more likely that he’s motivated by a desire to play with big, loud, shiny toys.

            Screenwriter Chuck Hogan adapted Mitchell Zuckhoff’s book 13 Hours for the screen. Zuckhoff, who wrote the book with the surviving members of the security team, stands by their version of events and has fired back at the CIA officials who claim the movie contains multiple major inaccuracies. A key plot point, that the team was ordered to stand down by the CIA station chief in Benghazi, has been denied by the CIA. Bay has claimed that the film has no political agenda, but the marketing campaign aimed squarely at conservative audiences says otherwise. Bay made an appearance on The O’Reilly Factorand trailers were scheduled to run during the live broadcast of Republican debates. 13 Hours is couched as a celebration of courageous unsung heroes and is dedicated to the memory of the two security contractors who died fighting the attackers. This comes off as disingenuous and while this reviewer certainly cannot vouch one way or the other, it’s hard to shake the sense that a true story has been squeezed into the mould of a generic action movie.


            The film clocks in at 144 minutes, with the actual attack not happening until around the 45-minute mark. It stands to reason that all this time spent with the characters before the chaos ensues will help us get to know them better. Not quite. The men are shown having Skype conversations with their family back home and there’s a flashback set to a sappy piano score in which Jack’s wife pleads with him to quit his private military contractor job. We even get a burning family photo fluttering to the ground later on. Bay and Hogan resort to reductive shorthand: we’re supposed to cheer for the muscle-bound, gun-toting bearded dudes and jeer at the paunchy, bespectacled bureaucrat. The lesson here is that in the end, all the Yale and Harvard-educated intelligence agents in the world cannot compare to good old-fashioned action heroes blasting the bad guys to bits. Yee haw!


            The most worthwhile element of the film is Krasinski’s performance. Somewhat following in the footsteps of Chris Pratt and Paul Rudd, Krasinski is an actor known primarily for comedic roles who has completely transformed himself into an action hero. The difference between Krasinski and those two is that Jack Silva isn’t a wise-cracking rogue and some serious acting chops are called upon in addition to the running and gunning. Whatever faint glimmers of sincerity the film possesses are courtesy of Krasinski.

            There is possibly a hint of self-awareness here: earlier on in the film when the team are relaxing, they’re watching Tropic Thunder, a satirical comedy about clueless Hollywood types making a war movie and getting caught in actual danger. Typically, action movies are escapist entertainment and yes, it is certainly possible to imbue an action movie with deeper meaning, but Bay has not accomplished that here. With Bay, it’s clear who the victor in the war between flash and substance always will be.

Summary: A subject as complicated as the Benghazi attacks needs a defter directorial touch and doesn’t need to be as stuffed with action movie clichés as 13 Hours is. There are attempts at deeper meaning, but viewers who will come away most satisfied are fans of vehicles exploding and flipping over.

RATING: 2out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

             

The Walk

For F*** Magazine

THE WALK

Director : Robert Zemeckis
Cast : Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Clément Sibony, César Domboy, Ben Schwartz, Steve Valentine
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 123 mins
Opens : 22 October 2015
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences)
Keep those Dramamine pills handy, because director Robert Zemeckis and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt are taking us on a particularly dizzying walk. In this biopic, Gordon-Levitt plays Philippe Petit, the French high-wire artist with, quite literally, a lofty ambition: to walk a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. The moment he first glimpses the structures in a magazine, Petit cannot take his mind off conquering the void between them. He seeks the tutelage of Papa Rudy (Kingsley), the patriarch of a famous clan of high-wire circus performers, and goes about assembling a team of accomplices who will help him break into the South Tower. Street musician Annie (Le Bon), who becomes Petit’s girlfriend, is the first. She is soon joined by photographer Jean-Louis (Sibony), math teacher Jeff (Domboy) and in New York itself, electronics salesman J.P. (Dale) and insurance agent Barry (Valentine), whose office. in the World Trade Centre. Battling doubts, their better judgement and logistical difficulties all the while evading the authorities, Petit and his crew go about preparing for this illegal, dangerous but ultimately breath-taking feat of derring-do. 
The Walk is based on Petit’s autobiography To Reach the Clouds, which earlier served as the basis for the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire. After making his acceptance speech, Petit famously balanced the Oscar statuette on his chin. Awards contender biopics, branded as “important movies”, can sometimes be inaccessible and a bit of a chore for the average moviegoer to sit through. The Walk is very far away from that, a straightforward, heartfelt account of one guy’s crazy quest and the lengths he and his friends went to in order to make his dream a reality. There’s an undeniable appeal to the simplicity of the premise which papers over the slightly phony Hollywood sheen the film sometimes has. There are moments that can be twee and cloying, particularly during the nostalgia-heavy scenes set in Paris, but perhaps it adds to the film’s old-school charm in its own way. 
Typically, awards movie season biopics don’t exactly seem like they must be witnessed on the big screen. The Walk’s primary selling point is its spectacle, and the exhilarating sequences of Petit doing his thing 110 storeys up in the air are what Zemeckis and co. hope will convince those who watched the documentary to experience the story again. There have been reports of audiences at screenings actually throwing up from vertigo. We don’t mean to sound insensitive to those viewers, but incidents like that are great publicity indeed, indicating that the film has achieved a sense of immersion for the audience. It’s a little like when horror movies like Last House on the Left proudly proclaimed on their posters that audience members fainted from fright. 
Known for helming effects-heavy films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Back to the Future and Forrest Gump, in addition to motion capture movies like The Polar Express and Beowulf, Zemeckis has never been one to shy away from gimmicks. Surprisingly, 3D hasn’t been used to accomplish the effect of vertigo as often as one would think. The twin towers themselves and the surrounding New York cityscape circa 1974 are faithfully, stunningly realised by visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie and the artists from effects houses Atomic Fiction, UPP, Rodeo FX and Legend 3D. This is a “based on a true story” affair that isn’t afraid to have lots of fun, and the theme park thrill ride aspect is complementary rather than distracting. 
Gordon-Levitt turns up the charm, bringing lithe athleticism and a mischievous twinkle in his eye to the part of Petit. Yes, his French accent is pretty cringe-inducing and is even more jarring given that Gordon-Levitt is acting opposite actual French actors, but it’s relatively easy to overlook after a while. It’s no mean feat to make obsession endearing, and while there are the expected dramatic beats where we see the toll that Petit’s unceasing drive takes on him and his friends, the film is largely upbeat and free-spirited. His stunt double is former Cirque du Soleil high-wire walker Jade Kindar-Martin. Gordon-Levitt’s take on Petit is almost an imp from another dimension who has materialised on this plane to simply live his dream. Sure, his exploits may seem crazy to the man in the street, but high above that street, Petit seems perfectly at home, and in his projection of this, Gordon-Levitt is irresistible. 
French-Canadian actress Le Bon shares palpable chemistry with Gordon-Levitt. While her introductory scene in which Annie gets upset with Petit for stealing her thunder with his tightrope juggling routine is corny, we do come to buy these two as a couple. Annie definitely has ideas and goals of her own, so her support of Petit is all the more endearing. As the mentor figure Papa Rudy, Kingsley does seem like he’s lived his whole life in a circus, bringing enough personality to the “paternal/authoritarian” archetype. Sibony, Domboy, Dale and Valentine are a likeable bunch and the camaraderie that Petit’s team shares is heart-warming and rousing. Jeff willingly assists Petit on the roof of the South Tower in spite of his own crippling fear of heights. “Squad goals,” as the kids say these days. There is a stoner character who comes off more as inauthentic, unnecessary comic relief than anything else, though. 
The Walk isn’t about a troubled chess champion, a schizophrenic mathematician, a code-breaking genius or women fighting for their right to vote. It’s not particularly weighty, but especially during awards movie season, this reviewer is fine with that. The twin towers stand no more and the film acknowledges this tastefully with a final frame that is wont to give many New Yorkers a lump in their throats. It is occasionally overly schmaltzy, and as Alan Silvestri’s score swells and characters give impassioned speeches about chasing their dreams, one might roll one’s eyes and say “I see what you’re trying to do, movie”. However, the earnestness with which Zemeckis and crew go about things overrides that feeling. A celebration of passion, conviction and artistic expression, The Walk is a thrilling, entertaining and moving journey.  
Summary: While it might give acrophobics pause, The Walk is a heartfelt tale that is easy to get into thanks to its star’s innate likeability and its thrilling spectacle is something to behold. 

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars 
Jedd Jong