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Movie Review: The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Kitchen is a great late-summer surprise. It’s that perfect blend of familiar formula (gangland drama in 1970’s New York City) with a new twist (a feminist anthem about the women taking over.) Oh, and it’s an adaption of a Vertigo comic from writer and director Andrea Berloff, who previously scripted Strait Outta Compton. Add in a trifecta of some of today’s most interesting working actresses– Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elizabeth Moss— and you have my full attention. Summer 2019 has been a deluge of franchises, sequels, reboots, and remakes. The Kitchen breaks that mold by being something new and original.

And, folks, I am sick and tired of hearing people complain, “Hollywood never makes anything original!” “There aren’t enough female directors!” Well, here’s a chance for you to put your money where your mouth is. The only way to send a signal that you want more of this is to support it with your dollars. Support this with your dollars.

McCarthy plays Kathy, a streetsmart wife of a ne’er-do-well member of the local Irish mob in Hell’s Kitchen. Haddish is Ruby, who married a real piece of work but who is a member of the top Irish family in the neighborhood. And Moss is Claire, abused and cowed by her husband. When their husbands get sent up the river for a botched liquor store robbery, they band together, and then take over and show the lowlifes running their neighborhood how it’s really done.

Moss has the most interesting character arc as she learns to take her agency back — by force if necessary — and also forms a really beautiful Bonnie and Clyde type romance with Domnhall Gleeson, a messed up Vietnam vet who is important as the muscle of their nascent gang.

Haddish brings great energy to the mix, bringing to light her outsider status because of her skin color even though she married into a powerful mob family. As she begins to take her own power, she is a great character study in both what to do and what not to do to take your power back.

McCarthy is one of the most versatile and talented actors working today. Comedy, drama, action, sweet, spicy, salty, dirty, or squeaky clean, she can play anything. As in the best of her roles, she is a giving performer who pushes her costars to shine, even as she shines herself. Berloff’s direction and writing are the right touches here, forging and melding both a textual and metatextual message through McCarthy’s giving performance and the story itself into a powerful, feminist message about how patriarchy tries to divide women and make them compete with each other, but the better way is a femme-forward cooperation that makes everyone profit. McCarthy could’ve hogged the spotlight. Instead, she shares the bill perfectly with Haddish and Moss. Way to go, sisters.

It’s also a smart, cool gangland story that lets these three be badasses. As I09 founder Charlie Jane Anders wrote a few months back, we don’t just need “strong” female characters– we need complex characters “who make mistakes, and screw up, and hurt people, and learn from their disasters.” McCarthy’s portrayal of Kathy is motherly, but she’s also as complex and flawed as Al Pacino in The Godfather, Robert DeNiro in The Godfather II, Denzel Washington in American Gangster.  She gives that same nuanced performance here–although running off a very different kind of energy–and it’s dynamite.

Haddish and Moss do as much wrong as they do right. They’re strong and they’re weak. They are working for something bigger and better, and they also fall prey to their own humanity. These are the complex, strong female characters we need.

And perhaps in a refreshing turn, the only character who feels a little thin is Gleeson’s, whose character is really only motivated as an accessory to the women in the story. Does that make you uncomfortable? It might be a signal for all of these generally underwritten female characters in these male-driven gangland dramas.

All of this adds up to a refreshing late-summer cocktail that’s the perfect blend of sweet, sour, and strong like a spicy frozen margarita.

Some critics have compared this to last year’s Widows, and while that’s not a terrible comparison, it’s also a relatively facile one. The only real comparison is they’re both female-cast-forward films, but Widows is a heist film. The Kitchen is a gangland movie. It’s like comparing Godfather Part II and Heat just because they both have Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in them. But they’re fundamentally different kinds of movies. Widows never felt quite as explicitly feminist, but it did have a more subversive political message about Chicago racial politics. The Kitchen is also far more gritty, thanks to its 1978 Hell’s Kitchen setting compared to 2018 Chicago. Also, I’m not sure on what planet comparing a movie to another good movie is in any way a put-down. “It’s a lot like Goodfellas.” “Oh, ok, then I’ll definitely pass.” What?

August is normally a dumping ground for films studios don’t quite know what to do with or how to market. The only reason people might be concerned about the film is discomfort with its Gloria-Steinem era second-wave feminist ethos, which almost seems quaint 40 years later. Don’t be fooled by the lack of buzz, The Kitchen is worth getting back into.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Vertigo’s The Kitchen Gets Its First Trailer

Based on the Vertigo comic series by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle, The Kitchen stars Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss.

The gritty, female-driven mob drama from New Line Cinema and BRON Creative, was written and directed by Andrea Berloff, who was nominated for an Oscar for the original screenplay for Straight Outta Compton.

The story revolves around three 1978 Hell’s Kitchen housewives whose 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 film also stars Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), James Badge Dale (Only the Brave), Brian d’Arcy James (Spotlight), with Margo Martindale (TV’s The Americans), Oscar winner Common (Selma, Marshall), and Bill Camp (Vice). The cast also includes Jeremy Bobb (Marshall), E.J. Bonilla (TV’s The Long Road Home), Wayne Duvall (Prisoners), Annabella Sciorra (TV’s Daredevil), Myk Watford (HBO’s True Detective).

The Kitchen comes to theaters August 9, 2019.

Movie Review: Life of the Party

Life of the party posterMelissa McCarthy is one of the funniest people working today. But even a cast full of some of the best comedic talent assembled for any film in 2018 can’t save this movie from wearing a little thin on its premise.

McCarthy is Deanna, who, upon dropping her daughter off for her senior year of college, is hit with an ultimatum from her husband (Matt Walsh) for a divorce. He has fallen for the local realtor with her face on all the bus benches (Julie Bowen) and they’re already in the process of selling the house. With nowhere else to go, Deanna decides to re-enroll in college to finish the last year of her archaeology degree, and not enough wackiness ensues.

Maya Rudolph tries to steal the movie as McCarthy’s best friend, as do Stephen Root, Gillian Jacobs, and Heidi Gardner. But the film’s premise ultimately wears thin — it’s a middle aged mom going back to college!! — and it relies more on uncomfortable, cringe-worthy humor of a mom embarrassing herself in front of her daughter.

What is refreshing, however, is that this is exactly the same type of movie we would’ve seen in decades past with male leads — Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield in the 80’s, Billy Madison with Adam Sandler in the 90’s, 21 Jump Street with Channing Tatutm and Jonah Hill — but this presents a female-centric story with a really sweet heart.  Unfortunately, it also falls into some of the same traps and tropes of these older films, too — if the girl just lets down her hair and stops wearing glasses and frumpy sweaters, then suddenly she’s attractive? Ugh.

In fact, it’s the character-driven, more dramatic moments of growth that really work in this movie, such as Deanna hooking up with a much younger college guy who absolutely worships her. McCarthy shows off her dramatic chops a little, which should be no surprise to anyone who knows her from Gilmore Girls or saw her opposite Bill Murray in St. Vincent. There’s also an ongoing storyline about dealing with the campus mean girls and eventually winning them over that is nice. But the film threatens to lose a lot of that goodwill when, during the third act, the girls get high and then crash and ruin a wedding.

It also feels like the film might be holding back a little bit. Obviously going for a PG-13 rating, they never really get dangerous with their comedy.  With McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone getting writing credits (Falcone also directed and shows up in a brief, but perfect, cameo), it’s fairly obvious they wanted to work with a giant group of actors famed for their improv skills.  If there are R-rated outtakes from this movie, I want to see them.

Because otherwise the film is just sort of bland. While not a failure by any means, it just doesn’t go for the comedy jugular the way some other of McCarthy’s previous comedies have. But, at least it’s not as bad as Tammy, which remains the unequivocal nadir of McCarthy/Falcone’s collaborations.

This film gets a genteleman’s C — nay, make that a gentlewoman’s C. It passes, just barely, but it feels like it just sort of showed up despite amazing talent, it could’ve achieved great things if it had applied itself a bit more.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Production Has Begun on the Vertigo Comic Series, The Kitchen

Principal photography has begun on New Line Cinema’s gritty drama The Kitchen. The film is written and directed by Andrea Berloff, who was nominated for an Oscar for the original screenplay for Straight Outta ComptonThe Kitchen is based on the Vertigo comic book series from DC Entertainment, written/created by Ollie Masters, with art/created by Ming Doyle, and covers by Becky Cloonan.

The film stars Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elisabeth Moss as three 1978 Hell’s Kitchen housewives whose 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 also stars Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian d’Arcy James, Margo Martindale, Oscar winner Common, Bill Camp, Jeremy Bobb, Alicia Coppola, John Sharian, and Myk Watford.

Multiple Oscar nominee Michael De Luca and Marcus Viscidi are producing. Berloff’s creative team includes director of photography Maryse Alberti, production designer Shane Valentino, Oscar-nominated editor Christopher Tellefsen, and costume designer Sarah Edwards.

Principal photography will take place primarily in and around the film’s setting, New York City’s famed Hell’s Kitchen.

The Kitchen is currently set for release on September 20, 2019.

Around the Tubes

It’s new comic book day! What’s everyone excited for? What do you plan on reading? Sound off in the comments below. While you wait for shops to open, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web.

The Beat – Announcing the nominees for the 2018 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity – Congrats to all.

Variety – Melissa McCarthy Joins Tiffany Haddish in Mob Drama ‘The Kitchen’ – Interesting addition.

Kotaku – Don’t Expect Much From Lego Marvel 2’s Black Panther DLC – Awe.

 

Reviews

Comic Attack – Swamp Thing Winter Special #1

Talking Comics – The Wicked + The Divine 1923

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

ghostbusters-2016-posterFollowing a ghost invasion of Manhattan, paranormal enthusiasts Erin Gilbert Abby Yates, nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann, and subway worker Patty Tolan band together to stop the otherworldly threat.

I hold the first Ghostbusters film in high regard, being one of my favorite action comedies ever and a film that I can watch over and over. Since 1984, we haven’t had a worthy successor. I’ll straight up say it, Ghostbusters II is an inferior sequel, and I had high hopes, but low expectations, that this Ghostbusters would give us a “sequel” that could breathe new life into the franchise. This film does in some ways and doesn’t in others. It’s a completely uninspired and middling film. Better than I expected, but still not worth the money for a film ticket.

The blame for the film’s issues doesn’t sit on the shoulders of its stars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Chris Hemsworth. The blame for the film’s shortcomings is squarely on Paul Feig for his direction and Feig and Katie Dippold for their script. The film isn’t daring and falls short on laughs. That’s do to the script and the direction. Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon, Jones and Hemsworth make due with what they’re given and create a mildly entertaining film.

WARNING SPOILERS

The plot of the film is fine. Wiig’s Erin and McCarthy’s Abby are long time friends into ghosts but went their own way to pursue their scientific careers. They’re brought together again, with McKinnon’s Holtzmann joining them to explore some ghostly phenomenon that in the age of YouTube sets them on their path. The villain wants to bring about the apocalypse… because he was bullied?!

And that’s the first issue with the film. The three women are scientists who talk about the scientific method a lot but it’s never really shown. Their belief in science, observing, measuring, experimentation, formulation, testing, and hypotheses is thrown out any time someone challenges them, but it’s not practiced on-screen. Then there’s the villain who makes the statement he’s really smart and people don’t like him for it, so he’s going to destroy everything. Add in the emphasis that Hemsworth’s Kevin is a hunk of an idiot, and one of the film’s main themes is the intelligent vs the idiots. And the intelligent ones in the film come off as elitists. That elitism and arrogance to prove one’s intelligence actually gets someone killed!

That elitism extends to how Jones’ Patty Tolan is treated (her character and acting is one of the surprise standouts of the film). She’s the one not a scientist, working as a MTA worker who has an amazing knowledge of New York City’s history. Her not being a scientist is emphasized a few times and at the end of the film she’s praised for having a good idea to which her retort is something like “of course, I’m a Ghostbuster.” As if the smart folks are within the Ghostbusters club and those not just aren’t all that intelligent and should be looked down upon.

That mentality is shown in Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin who is as good-looking as he is dumb. The actual laughs of the film usually involve his character and something idiotic he does or doesn’t do. That along with a running joke about soup are the majority of laughs. Hemsworth’s ability to play dumb, along with Jones’ abilitiy to play the “straight man” character are to be commended and as far as acting are the standouts though too much of the film is at their expense in some way.

The jokes also are paced too far apart. The film feels like there’s dead air (pun intended) while we wait for the next scare or joke, and there’s just too little of everything. The pacing fails again and again.

Ghostbusters-2016The second issue I have is Feig and Dippold’s choice to not go far enough with the humor. This can be seen mostly with McKinnon’s Holtzmann who is a bat-shit insane version of Egon who does and says inappropriate things. It’s a dialed down version of Pitch Perfect‘s Lilly who would quietly say zany things and stole the show with some of the best lines. Here we begin to that point and then things don’t go far enough to really get the laughs. A perfect example is a scene in the Mayo’s office where she’s saying inappropriate things and messing with FBI agents. Instead of having that run throughout the scene, people either don’t react or it’s off-screen so we know something is happening, but not sure what. I’d have had her clearly doing something, and emphasize that through Abby and Erin’s reactions of trying not to watch her. It becomes an ongoing gag that way.

There are some laughs though. Hemsworth’s idiocy is so stupid it’s funny territory. A running gag with a Chinese restaurant is a joke that’s set up throughout the film and pays off in the credits. There’s some great jabs (and well deserved) at the hate thrown at the film before anyone had screened it. Some jokes fall beyond flat. Hemsworth’s handling of troops at the end is a poor joke choice (really, no “Thriller” dance!?). Slimer’s use too goes in the wrong direction (have him steal a car and give us a kicker scene of his still driving).

The third issue is the inconsistency of the “science” of this world. Proton beams now “kill” ghosts I guess? Except when they want to capture them? Ghosts can be punched now and physically fought with? That scientific method (a particular experimentally obtained value being reproducible) doesn’t seem to apply to the ghosts themselves I guess. Things aren’t consistent in this department at all.

But, again there’s some good. Proton bombs are a nice addition. Proton pistols seem cool, though come out of nowhere. A proton chipper and brass knuckles fall into the silly department.

The special fx are a bit mixed as well. I actually DO enjoy the neon look of the ghosts as well as their design. The problem is they look like something out of a Disney ride and there’s a disconnect between them and the real world. Go back and look at Slimer in the original film’s hotel segment. Though the fx are dated, he still feels like he fits in the world, not that you’re stepping into a video game infused ride to fight him.

I did enjoy the 3D. This was a film I expected the 3D to be good and for the most part it actually is! Ghosts and ectoplasm fly off the screen coming at you and for those paying attention ghosts seem to fly off of the screen’s width and height itself to come back on. They literally break the screen’s framing size in a good way that’s unexpected and works really well.

The failure of this film has nothing to do with the fact it’s four women in the lead. The four of them together play off of each other well and are generally funny. The failure of the film is in the script and the direction. I want there to be a sequel. I want these four to headline that sequel. I just want a new director and writer(s).

Overall Rating: 6.5

First Thoughts on the Ghostbusters (2016) Trailer

Ghostbusters is back with a reboot of the original movie. This morning Sony Pictures released their first 2 minute trailer, 17 days after they released their teaser trailer back on February 15, 2016 and that can be seen here. The reboot stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth and will be in theaters on July 15, 2016.

My first reaction is not positive, I know this is just a trailer and it’s not indicative of how the movie is going to be once we finally sit down and see the whole thing. The animation of the ghosts looks too fake and with all the work in CGI and graphics in this day and age they could have made look a little more real and less cheesy.

One thing that I did see that I really liked is that they actually show the crew working on making the equipment which I think will be really cool and something that would have been great to see in the original films.

I also think the film is trying too hard to be funny and to make the audience laugh, but there is no need to make it seemed forced. A movie like this needs to have a balance of serious and funny to be a good film.

Overall I think it will be a decent film and when I do my review of the actual movie I am hoping it that it turns out to be a really great film.

The First Ghostbusters Trailer

Ghostbusters makes its return, rebooted with a brand new cast of characters. Thirty years after the beloved original franchise took the world by storm, director Paul Feig brings his fresh take to the supernatural comedy, joined by some of the funniest actors working today – Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth. This summer, they’re here to save the world!

Ghostbusters Gets an Official Promo Photo

Ghostbusters

Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones in ‘Ghostbusters’ (Sony)

Sony has released the first official photo showing Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones suited up and ready to bust some ghosts in July 2016’s Ghostbusters.

The film is directed by Paul Feig and also features Chris Hemsworth as the team’s receptionist.