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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: Night School

night school posterWe’ve all seen Night School before, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. While the new Kevin Hart film feels a little bit paint by numbers, it still delivers laughs and highlights the comedic talents of it’s amazing cast, chief among whom is Tiffany Haddish who owns every scene she is in.

Our story centers around Teddy Walker (who should just be named Kevin Hart), an extremely successful BBQ salesman in Atlanta. He’s about to propose to his girlfriend, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke who you may recognize from the CW’s Arrowverse shows as Vixen) but he has a major secret — he is a high school dropout who is living paycheck-to-paycheck in order to impress her with money that he doesn’t have. When hijinks eventually ensue, he finds himself in need of a new job and his best option is to go back to school pursue his GED at night school at his previous high school to get a job in finance with his best friend Marvin (Ben Schwartz — yes! Jean Ralphio!).

However in a bit of irony, the school’s principal is now the kid who he bullied in high school (Taran Killam), who looks to return the favor with some humiliation of his own. Luckily for him the night Schools teacher is the unorthodox but strict Carrie (Tiffany Haddish), who won’t give up on either him or any of the other misfits in his night school class. Oh, and those miscreants? Rob Riggle, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Al Madrigal, Romany Malco, and Fat Joe— who joins class via Skype from prison.

This movie has a lot of jokes, and most of them are funny. The the script seems to take a shotgun approach of trying to pack as many little jokes in as possible and hope that some of them hit. Luckily a number of them do, mostly because of grade A comedic talent, especially Haddish, who may be one of the most underrated comedic talents in Hollywood right now.

Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t know exactly where it’s trying to go. There’s an extended dance break where they go to the school’s prom, because I guess why not? There’s also a side plot involving Hart working at a Christian themed chicken joint which, while funny, doesn’t really fit anywhere else into the film. But oh well. It’s mostly funny.

Hart also does something really smart here which is allow himself to be the fast-talking flim-flam artist, but he still mostly a straight man. This allows Haddish to take the lead and his supporting actors to do most of the heavy lifting.

The film almost takes a turn as a sort of  heist film in a strange Act II break when they decide to rob the principal’s office to get the answers to their midterm test. Even though this mostly works, it’s still just a very strange turn for the movie which doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to do.

Speaking of not knowing what it wants to do, the opening of the film very clearly sets up a sibling rivalry with a twin sister for Hart to deal with, and then drops her the entire rest of the film.

The plot is fairly thin, the character arcs are fairly thin, and you can see where everything is going from miles away. But at least the jokes are mostly funny along the way.

However, it sometimes devolves into more shocking or simple gross-out gags and humor, which just doesn’t work. Like at all. In their attempts to justify their R-rating, they really don’t do anything good with it.

What is truly unfortunate is that films like this will unfortunately be marketed as “Urban” (read: black only) films. It’s incredibly troubling that more and more often films are only marketed to a certain segment of the population, even though there’s nothing inherently racial about the film.

There are a few incredibly funny jokes about being “woke” that somehow involve robots. There’s also a very funny call out of Principal Stewart using “black voice” which makes an excellent counterpoint to this summer’s breakout hit Sorry to Bother You and their use of “white voice.” Though nowhere near as brilliant, they’re talking about some of the same things, but drawing attention to the fact that when white people “code switch” they do it to pretend to be “cool” rather than it being a matter of survival and identity for others. It’s an issue much better dealt with in the upcoming The Hate U Give, but it’s nice to see a comedy trying at broader social comedy.

The biggest problem is we’ve seen this movie dozens of times before. However if you are a fan of Kevin Hart and this cast, you will get some laughs out of this. But if there’s one reason to see this, it’s Haddish. Hopefully this will be another crossover success for her like Girls Trip and we will get to see more of her– at least as much as we do of Kevin Hart.

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

Justice League is out in the theaters! Who has already seen it? Who’s planning on seeing it? Sound off in the comments below! While you contemplate all of that, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.

Newsarama – Marvel Cancels Powers and United States OF Murder Inc. – Is anyone surprised?

The Beat – Liam Sharp to revive The Brave and the Bold for DC in February – Nice. That’s a series a lot of folks wanted to see return.

Engadget – Hollywood strikes back against illegal streaming Kodi add-ons – And the battle continues.

CBR – Christopher Tolkien Resigns as Tolkien Estate Director – This is a pretty big deal.

The Outhouse – Film Adaptation Of Vertigo’s The Kitchen Gets Tiffany Haddish – Great comic if you’ve never read it.

 

Reviews

CBR – Coyotes #1

The Beat – Imaginary Friends #1

Talking Comics – Moon Knight #188

Comic Attack – Ninja-K #1