‘The Kitchen’ REVIEW

Since I became a critic on rottentomatoes I have been trying to diversify the films I review. I know if I want to work full-time at this someday I need to be a well-rounded critic that covers more than just family films. In general, pushing myself outside my comfort zone has been a good thing and produced many great experiences. However, occasionally I hit a dud I know was not made for me and then I have to wonder ‘was it made for anyone?’ Such is the case with the new crime drama The Kitchen.

the kitchen

There are positive aspects to The Kitchen but unfortunately they are not put together in an effective way.  It honestly felt like a more brutally violent version of a Lifetime mafia movie (like the recent profile they did of Victoria Gotti called Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter) rather than a gritty organized crime profile. I know I am supposed to champion this film because it stars and is made by women but it is way too problematic for me to do so.

First of all, the film cannot decide on a tone. Of course, 2 of the leads, Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy are known for their comedy, which they try to work into these more serious roles but to no avail. They and Elizabeth Moss play 3 women in the 1970’s running the Irish mafia in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. Oddly, Moss’ character tries to be the funniest, which completely misses the mark coming across as bizarre instead of the intended dark humor. For example, a scene where we are instructed how to dispose of a dead body in the Hudson River is played for laughs while we see her severing limbs and her hands covered in blood. What on earth?

Domhnall Gleeson plays Moss’ boyfriend and is the only thing that seems remotely Irish about this supposed Irish mafia syndicate. Not a single character has an accent and our 3 leading ladies sometimes talk like they are from New York and sometimes use their normal voices, which made the whole thing feel very cheap. The Italian characters are equally lame. Cops in the 70s New York sure wished the mafia was like it was portrayed in this ridiculous movie. So instead of being immersed in a time and place we are waiting for the next brutal murder while the ladies do power walks down the street collecting money. This isn’t good storytelling! (If Don Corleone hit as many people as these women there’d be nobody left to collect the money! Give me a break).

Also the portrayal of Haddish’s character felt like something out of a blaxploitation picture like Shaft instead of a real character. Perhaps that’s what they were going for (which could be fine) but then the movie tries to be real and gritty; thereby, creating a muddled mess. For example, there’s almost no attempt to show any kind of racism against Haddish’s character, outside of her husband, which is the same domestic violence the other 2 women face with their husbands. The same is true for Common as a detective (is he always a cop these days in movies?). The Jewish characters are equally shallow and stupid. The longer the picture went on the more it felt like it had to be violent in order for it to feel relevant and edgy instead of actually having a story that is relevant and edgy.

the-kitchen-movie

The sad part is the production design is nice and all 3 of the women are trying to give good performances. Unfortunately, it is in a failing enterprise with a mess of a tone and an uncompelling story. They all feel miscast, and they don’t have chemistry together, so I wasn’t rooting for any of them. I didn’t care if they got revenge or were kick-butt women in the mafia because they weren’t interesting, funny or compelling in any way. Instead, I was left sitting waiting for the next brutal murder to be over, so that I could be done with it and go home.

I guess you can confidently say this one was not for me, and I do not recommend it to anyone!

3 out of 10

frown

 

 

Advertisements

‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ REVIEW

The Art of Racing in the Rain finishes off the trilogy of dog movies we’ve gotten this year (4 if you consider The Secret Life of Pets 2 as an entry). What a funny little trend! I wonder why man’s best friend was particularly on Hollywood’s mind in 2019? Fortunately, they are ending well as Racing is the best of the lot and a sweet little movie about family and never giving up on your dreams.

racing1Based on the novel by Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain tells the story of Denny (Milo Ventimiglia), a race car driver who adopts a little golden retriever puppy named Enzo at the beginning of the film. Enzo becomes our narrator through the film and is voiced by Kevin Costner. Some of the observations may seem a little simplistic but we have to remember they are coming from a dog, and an adorable dog to boot.

racing3

We then get to see Denny’s life play out as he meets a teacher named Eve (Amanda Seyfriend), and they have a daughter named Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). As his family grows Denny’s dedication to racing is tested, forcing him to make choices between his career and family dreams. Seyfriend and Ventimiglia have nice chemistry and I bought their dynamic as a caring couple trying to make things work.

racing4

A little bit harder to buy is a subplot involving Eve’s parents played by Kathy Baker (who I swear is always playing a stick in the mud in these types of movies) and Martin Donovan. It is funny that Enzo calls them ‘the twins’ but their actions seemed inconsistent with loving, caring parents and grandparents.

There’s also some interesting scenes involving fantasies Enzo has involving a toy zebra that were very strange and often came at inappropriate times. I have a feeling those segments work better in the book because in the movie it felt like Enzo was all of the sudden tripping on acid out of nowhere!

Other than that, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a sweet movie that pulls at the heartstrings with powerful messages of family, dreams and the importance of our canine friends.

7 out of 10

smile worthy

‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ REVIEW

I’ve mentioned before on this site but over the last 2 years an interesting trend in film has been the frequent portrayal of platonic male friendship, usually an unlikely friendship. We saw it with Green Book winning best picture and then films like To Dust, Papi Chulo, Missing Link and even Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Now we can add another entry to this list with the indie film The Peanut Butter Falcon.

pb3

This film is directed and written by the team of Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz and tells the story of Zak (Zack Gottsagen) a young man with down syndrome who while stuck in a nursing home by the state dreams of becoming a professional wrestler. One day he escapes and meets a man named Tyler played by Shia LaBeouf who is on the run and a bit of a vagabond. His case worker Eleanor played by Dakota Johnson wants what’s best for him but doesn’t understand his need to be a free person outside the nursing home. We even get a fun cameo from Bruce Dern as a resident of the nursing home who helps Zak break free.

I don’t know how anyone walks away from this movie unmoved. It’s such a sweet story and the performances are from the heart. I particularly liked the chemistry between LaBeouf and Gottsagen. This is one of the first movies to hire someone with down syndrome in a lead and Gottsagen holds his own. It’s not a movie like I am Sam where the special needs characters are patronized to and treated like they have special magical powers. No, this treats Zak like anyone else to the point where he gets taken seriously as a competitor in the wrestling matches, and I got a little nervous for his safety.

pb

The only part that felt a little unrealistic is some of the choices Johnson’s character makes. I don’t know if she would go along with Tyler and Zak’s plan even with how it is presented to her in the narrative. I also didn’t feel much chemistry between her and LaBeouf or buy their romance. Still, the main thrust of the movie is the relationship between Tyler and Zak and that really worked.

pb2

The Peanut Butter Falcon is also beautifully made with wonderful cinematography from Nigel Bluck. The coast between Georgia and Florida looks stunning and adds to the sense of freedom Zak must be feeling on the open sea. It’s one of those movies that captures a sense of time and place very well and we enjoy spending time with these characters.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is rated PG-13 for some wrestling action, fighting, language and Zak in his underwear for stretches but it feels like a family film. It has a lovely message with big-hearted performances from all involved. You will leave watching it wanting to be a better person and friend, which are the best kind of movies in my book. I definitely recommend hunting it down if you can.

8.5 out of 10

smile worthy

‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw’ [REVIEW]

The Fast & Furious franchise has always been hit and miss for me. They seem to vacillate between an overly serious police drama to insane stunts with people leap-frogging from one building to another in a car. I much prefer the latter.

The most recent entry Fate of the Furious was a disappointment with far too little fun and too many boring scenes of people staring at screens (my greatest action movie gripe!). Now we are getting the franchise’s first spin-off film with the unwieldy title Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. This is no doubt meant to perpetuate the franchise into new avenues but also allow feuding cast-members to make their movies in peace. So what’s the result of this new Jason Statham/The Rock vehicle? I’d say it is as unwieldy as its title but mostly a good silly time at the theater.

hobbs-and-shaw-1

I’ll spare you much of a plot summary. Basically there’s a convoluted reason that Luke Hobbs (The Rock) and Deckard Shaw (Statham) have to work together to fight a mutanized Idris Elba and help Shaw’s sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) clear her name and save her life. Along the way we go to London, Moscow, and Samoa with over-the-top action and lots of witty banter between the charming cast. I was particularly impressed with Kirby who holds her own in both departments.

hobbs and shaw4

The film does a great job surprising the audience in ways that really paid off and had me smiling (no spoilers from me!). I also liked there wasn’t much standing around staring at screens, which is very boring. For the most part it moved effortlessly from one action set piece to the next and that kept it fun.

hobbs and shaw2

Unfortunately on the downside the movie is way too long at 136 minutes and especially the extended portion in Samoa wares out its welcome. There are some major exposition dumps and the attempts to become sentimental didn’t work. Even though I know appeals to family are part of this franchise the Samoan warrior scenes came off as patronizing rather than heart-warming.

hobbs and shaw3

There’s some impressive sequences in Hobbs & Shaw but also some I have seen before in other movies and the special effects were hit and miss. Sometimes within the same action scene there would be edits that looked like a tv budget and then the next edit would be really impressive. For example, there were definite moments within a fighting sequence I could tell The Rock wasn’t in Samoa but in front of a green screen. It’s harder to have fun when these type of distractions take me out of the movie.

However, I still walked away from Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw with a smile on my face, having had a good time. It’s not going to change your life but if you are looking for a silly, over-the-top entertainment with very likable leads than there is more than enough to enjoy here.

6.5 out of 10

smile worthy

‘SHADOW’ REVIEW

One fact about me that might surprise people is I actually enjoy a good martial arts movie. While I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in the genre, I enjoy Jackie Chan movies like The Drunken Master, or other films like The Grandmaster or IP Man. I know these movies can be very violent but it’s so stylized and part of the choreography that it doesn’t bother me as much as other violence. The skill and craft that comes into making your body a weapon is beautiful and fascinating.

Naturally when I heard that director Zhang Yimou had a new film called Shadow, I knew I needed to see it as soon as I got the chance. Fortunately, it premiered today at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City so I had to see it! It’s not the biggest screen in the world but it’s better than nothing! So I went to see Shadow today and to my relief the film lived up to the hype.

shadow7

Shadow tells the story of an ancient land with 2 feuding kingdoms. One is ruled by a man named Pei (Zheng Kai) and the other by a man named Yang Cang (Hu Jun). They both have generals, sisters, wives and followers to muddy the waters and bring their kingdoms into conflict. Pei, in particular, has a general named Ziyu (Deng Chao) who we learn is actually a look alike named Jingzhou (also Deng Chao), with the actual Ziyu being hidden away in a cave. Jingzhou has been trained to be Ziyu’s shadow hence the name of the movie.

I won’t give any more spoilers but there’s magnificent training sequences that take place on a giant yin/yang symbol. The cinematography of the film is incredible with a monochromatic aesthetic where sometimes the only color you see is the bright red of the blood.

shadow5

There is also a surprisingly effective love triangle between Jingzhou, Ziyu and his wife Xiao Ai (Sun Li). Most of this is done through looks and dialogue-free scenes that the actors pull off very well. In fact, it makes Shadow approachable for Western audiences because it’s all about the emotion more than the words spoken with each other. So if you are turned off by subtitles you might still want to give Shadow a try.

shadow2

The martial arts fighting is like none I’ve ever seen before (except maybe in Kungfu Panda 2 oddly enough). They use a metal umbrella made of spears in their fighting and all of these circles help reinforce the theme of yin/yang and combined with the monochromatic cinematography are quite mesmerizing. Honestly Shadow is the closest to watching a modern Kurosawa film that I’ve recently seen. It’s quiet and contemplative like his films. It’s striking like his films, and it has Shakespearean themes like his films. If you are a fan of visually dazzling films with heart than you will leave the theater awestruck by it.

shadow3

The only downside to Shadow is it can be uneven in its pacing. Particularly the first 30 minutes are a bit laborious. It gets too caught up in the diplomacy between Pei, Yang and Ziyu for its own good. Also it will take me a couple rounds to understand everything going on with the plot. Sometimes I decided to just enjoy the visuals because I wasn’t entirely clear on what was happening.

All that said, Shadow is a tremendous achievement for Zhang Yimou and a film I heartily recommend to film lovers and anyone who can tolerate a rather bloody martial arts action film. You won’t regret hunting this one down

8.5 out of 10

smile worthy

‘The Fighting Preacher’ REVIEW

For many years filmmaker T.C. Christensen has made a career out of making sweet and inspirational, faith-based films for Latter-day Saint audiences. Many of these are set in the past and seek to tell part of Church history like The Cokeville Miracle or 17 Miracles. These movies are definitely not for everyone but if you like programs like When Calls the Heart or Little House on the Prairie than you will enjoy them. His latest effort, The Fighting Preacher, is a bit uneven but overall it succeeds in telling a sentimental true story about tolerance, kindness and how a Christian spirit will win over hate every time.

fighting preacher2

The film is based on the experiences of Willard Bean (David McConnell); a boxing champion who in 1905 is called by the Church to move to the town of Palmyra, New York and make a home for himself and his family in the recently purchased Joseph Smith Farm. As the name implies, the home was once owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint prophet and founder Joseph Smith. Nearby is the Hill Cumorah which is where the prophet claimed to find (by the guidance of an angel) the gold plates he translated into ‘The Book of Mormon’. Unfortunately, the Saints were eventually pushed out of Palmyra by residents who feared the new religion and the fervor of its followers and after 85 years the town had remained free from all ‘Mormons’ as they were known at the time.

One would think after such a long time away from each other, the anger against the Latter-day Saints would have dissipated in Palmyra but this proved to not be the case for the Beans. They faced opposition and challenges trying to do normal things like purchase everyday necessities, get medical care and even helping their daughter get an education.

At first Willard is tempted to use his boxing skills to retaliate against the people but eventually he learns such problems are better solved by an offering of homemade pie rather than a fist to the face (if that description sounds too saccharine, than trust me. This is not the movie for you!).

fighting preacher3

The casting goes a long way in making The Fighting Preacher work. McConnell is easy to relate to and has nice chemistry with Cassidy Hubert who plays his wife Rebecca (my only nitpick with her is she had very modern lipstick on). The little girl, Scarlett Hazen, who plays their daughter Palmyra is also adorable. She did a great job!

The rest of the cast is fine but there isn’t a huge attempt to flesh out people beyond a slamming of the door with a ‘get out of here you Mormons’ rebuke. As a former missionary, I have no doubt this was a reality, but as a movie, it comes across as forced. The script as a whole is clunky with dialogue that doesn’t feel natural or human.

For a better example of a similar plot with a much better script I recommend last year’s Jane and Emma. That film took the time to flesh out the characters and give authentic nuanced dialogue.

Even with its flaws, however, I still recommend The Fighting Preacher. It knows its audience and unlike some faith-based films, the message is very positive. It tells the viewer to accept people of all beliefs, and to be kind and loving to all men and women (even when it is not reciprocated). The performances are also strong enough to forgive a script I wish was better.

6 out of 10

smile worthy

‘Wild Rose’ REVIEW

The last few years have been a lot of fun for those of us that love movie musicals. Whether they are musical biopics or traditional musicals there have been a lot of fun entries lately. I wasn’t a big fan of Bohemian Rhapsody because of its terrible script but others I have loved like Sing Street, Rocketman, Mary Poppins Returns, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, A Star is Born, The Greatest Showman and even Disney Channel’s Zombies! Fortunately, I have another indie musical darling to tell you about called Wild Rose that fans of musicals and just good storytelling will love.

Wild Rose tells the story of girl named Rose-Lynn Harlan played by Jessie Buckley. She is from Glasgow, Scotland but she dreams of going to Nashville and becoming a country music singer (not country/western as she corrects people). Unfortunately, she had 2 children before she was 18 and then got involved in some drug shenanigans which sent her to jail for a year. Meanwhile, her mother Marion, played by the incredible Julie Walters, is tired of holding down the fort for her daughter and worries her dreams are robbing her from living in the moment with her children.

film wild rose with Julie walters

Evidently Jessie Buckley is famous for being on an American Idol type show in Scotland, and I believe it, because she has an incredible voice. I hope the original songs get remembered come Oscar season because they certainly deserve to be. Sometimes her speaking voice is hard to understand with that thick Scottish accent but it’s all worth it when she sings.

The story in Wild Rose isn’t the most original but the characters are layered and interesting. At first I didn’t like Rose as she is very selfish, but her character’s journey worked on me, until I was rooting for her. They also don’t muddy her story with much of a romance, which I appreciated. It’s just a woman trying to decide between her children and her dreams and how much sacrifice is too much.

wild rose4

Julie Walters deserves all the awards for her performance as Rose’s mother. I felt for her even more than Rose (it is kind of like Lady Bird in that regard). She is a mixture of worry, fear, love, hope, kindness and frustration. It’s easy to make parental characters in these films one-note, judgemental types, but that’s not the case here. There’s such humanity in Walters’ performance anyone should be able to connect with her and her struggles.

wild rose5

Like I said, the only major weakness in Wild Rose is that sometimes the dialogue can be tough to understand. I will be grateful when I can watch it with subtitles at home and can pick up on a few scenes I might have missed! It also has some predictable moments but nothing that bothered me personally. It’s a real hidden gem of the year, which I hope you seek out.

Wild Rose earns its R rating for language and a little sexuality but it should be fine for mature teens.

If you love music and human stories check out Wild Rose!

8.5 out of 10

smile worthy

 

‘Crawl’ REVIEW

I bet I will be the only critic that compares the new creature scares movie Crawl to a good Hallmark movie but that’s just what I’m going to do. I spend many hours watching Hallmark movies for my podcast The Hallmarkies Podcast and I’ve learned that the good ones know what they are and execute it well. They don’t try to be anything other than a sweet romcom, with nice chemistry between the leads, and a warm holiday message.

It’s the same idea in Crawl. It absolutely knows what it is and executes it well. It doesn’t try to be campy or silly. It doesn’t add annoying characters or convoluted subplots. Crawl knows it is a creature scares movie with 2 people dealing with gators and it executes that concept very well. It’s as simple as that.

crawl

Crawl stars Kaya Scodelario who starts out the film trying to rescue her father from the basement crawl space of his Florida home. Unfortunately when she gets there she learns he is stuck with 2 gators in the basement (behind some large pipes). Getting out is then the main plot of the movie. Unfortunately, this task is made more difficult by a huge hurricane that threatens to drown them before the gators can eat them.

crawl3

Director Alexandre Aja does a great job moving the characters around enough within the small space to create different set pieces by which to fight the gators. They also keep the movie a lean 87 minutes so you never have time to get bored. It feels relatively grounded and realistic and for a small budget film the gators/special effects look great.

CRAWL

Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario do great work as a father and daughter and the film gives us just enough of their backstory and relationship to attach us to them without becoming boring. As they are basically the only characters on screen, their chemistry also adds a ton to the film’s success. It kind of reminds me of 10 Cloverfield Lane in that respect. I was rooting for both of them throughout the entire movie which made the scenes with the gators more intense and fun.

crawl5

I suppose if there are negatives to Crawl, there are some moments where we must suspend disbelief. In particular the injuries the 2 lead characters have seem to ebb and flow depending on the needs of the script. However, I was invested enough in the story and characters to not care. There are also definitely side characters introduced to be kill candy for the gators, which gets a little predictable.

All that said, I had a great time watching Crawl. It’d be a wonderful choice to go with all your friends and have a good tense time at the movies. Nobody will be too traumatized, and they will all have fun.

Go see it! It’s a blast

8 out of 10

smile worthy

‘The Lion King’ (2019) REVIEW

Recently director Jon Favreau defended his remake of the animated classic, The Lion King, to USA Today saying it is ‘not completely a shot for shot remake‘. Upon hearing this, I became hopeful that this remake might be similar to his version of The Jungle Book, which had its flaws but took a new approach to Mowgli and to the ending that I appreciated. Now having seen new remake, I am quite baffled by Favreau’s words because aside from the visuals, I saw no noticeable story differences between it and the animated classic. It’s as close to a shot-for-shot remake of a film as I’ve ever seen (Critic David Ehrlich compared it to the remake of Psycho by Gus Van Sant, and he’s absolutely correct.) Of course, the new version of The Lion King will make boat-loads of money but if you are asking for this critic’s advice I would give it a definite skip.

lion king3

Let’s start off talking about the film’s greatest strength, the visuals. Despite Disney’s reticence to use the term, they are an incredible achievement in ANIMATION! (The reason I believe they haven’t wanted to use the word is because it is one thing to remake an animated film with live action but to remake an animated film with another animated film feels like even more of a copycat than all the others!). Particularly in wide shots the photorealism is impressive. It seems hard to believe that everything down to the smallest blade of grass is fabricated on a computer and yet that is the reality. If people want to see this film for the visuals alone I wouldn’t fault them, but I guess I was hoping to have more to recommend given the original film is such a favorite of mine.

There are other positives like the voicecast is all competent and the music/songs are well executed. However, I was a little disappointed only one song from the Broadway musical is included as a song over the credits and the one original song ‘Spirit’ is just an accompaniment to a transitional scene when the characters are walking. I was hoping it would be part of a new narrative for Nala but that is not the case.

The only song I did not like was their rendition of ‘Be Prepared’, which felt like such an after-thought. It’s one of my all-time favorite Disney villain songs and it came and went without making any impact. There was no spectacle or gravitas, which made Scar a much less interesting villain.

lion king7

The best part of the film character-wise is Timon and Pumba (Billy Eichner, Seth Rogen). Their scenes, while identical to the original, have the most energy and life to them. They are also the closest to being believable as actually talking and singing animals. With the lions and other characters, their mouth movements never quite worked, with their faces not matching the words/lyrics in a natural easy way (maybe because real animals make individuals sounds like a purr or a roar rather than formulating whole words).

There’s also a problem with the photo-realistic character’s inability to emote in the way a 2D animated character can. Little Simba in the original can have big tears well up in his eyes, and his whole face can be full with the emotion of losing his Dad. That’s not possible with a photo-realistic lion; thereby, rendering the scenes one note and flat.

lion king6

Coming out of the film I felt it might actually be a better choice for young children (under 5) than the original for this very reason. The tense scenes feel more clinical when realistic; therefore, they aren’t as devastating to the viewer. If a child can handle a nature documentary where animals are in peril, they should be able to handle what they see in this remake.

I know when my brother used to watch the original he would get very upset at the dramatic scenes, and I don’t think that would be the case here. (My friend disagreed with me and felt it might be scarier to young kids because it is more realistic so I suppose it depends on the child). It is less emotionally manipulative than the original but that also means it is less impactful.

Unfortunately this lack of emotional investment strips The Lion King of what makes it special. It becomes an exercise in checking off boxes for the story we know and love instead of anything remotely memorable. The recent version of Dumbo had lots of problems but at least there was some attempt to offer a new take, with different visions for the characters. This is just bland. There are no two ways around it. It’s bland, bland, bland.

My advice is save your money. Stay home and watch the original classic film!

frown