REVIEW: “THE KITCHEN” (2019) Warner Bros.

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This is not a comedy. Ordinarily a movie review would not begin by telling you what the movie is not, but when the theater marquee flashes “Starring Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish”, most anyone would assume they are in for a 2-hour laugh out loud romp with the promise of some outlandish one-liners to drop at the next party. Instead, the directorial debut from Andrea Berloff is a relatively violent mob movie.

Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) are left isolated when their mob-connected husbands are busted by the FBI, and sent to prison. Survival instincts kick in for the previously un-involved ladies, and they quickly realize that a bit of strategy would allow them to not only run the business their husbands left behind, but also build it into something better. Of course the mobsters left behind are none-too-pleased with the women outperforming them, and so we get a good old fashioned ‘brains vs. brawn’ battle.

The setting is the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. The year is 1978, so the Irish community still has a stronghold on the area. This is basically the same time frame and the same streets that serve as the setting for the classic film ‘TAXI DRIVER.’  We see what happens when a woman’s touch is applied to gangster activities: bonds are built, services are rendered, and payments are made. The illusion of power draws the three women in deeper, and the movie has us believe they are good at it. The issue is, as viewers, we never really buy into these three seizing this power. We are just supposed to sit back and accept that Kathy is an expert community organizer, Ruby gets things done behind the scenes, and timid Claire evolves. Actually, Claire’s transformation is the best part of the film. Seeing her discover new talents and her true persona is as exciting for us as it is for her. However, in total, the 3 characters are little more than caricatures of gritty mobsters.

In addition to the three stars, the cast is deep. The three husbands, Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James), Kevin (James Badge Dale), and Rob (Jeremy Bobb),  all three are criminals and bad husbands who’ve been sent to serve three years in prison for their roles in a robbery.  Domhnall Gleeson as Gabriel,  resumes his chameleon ways in what could have been a more interesting role as he just literally randomly shows up in a scene without explanation and continues on from there, Common in a very small background role, plays a federal agent Gary Silvers, though he does give us the only plot twist ending of the movie.  Annabella Sciorra has a nice turn as the Italian mobster’s Alfonso Coretti’s (Bill Camp) wife Maria, and the great Margo Martindale complete with prop cane and wig, plays by far the best character of this entire film Helen O’Carroll, the only role that completely stands out in of all the respective gangster roles in the film.

The film does a nice job tying in historical elements of the era, including the construction plans for the Javitz Center, where they mention ‘some millionaires son is creating’ i.e., this is none other than Donald Trump.  There are more than a few moments of violence, but the shots aren’t nearly as dramatic as we’ve come to expect in mob movies. It’s simply not as gritty as it pretends to be.  The pretense of ‘just another day at the office’ after each murder committed by these women seems prevalent here.  There are some similarities to some mob movies of past, but if you’re expecting a female version of ‘Goodfellas,’ that’s not happening, though had this been done right, it could have been.   I expect it will be a crowd-pleaser for those along for the ride. Just remember – it’s not a comedy.

Grade: D+

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Media Review Screening: Thursday, August 8, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros. 

“THE KITCHEN” IS IN THEATERS IN THE U.S.A. ON FRIDAY, AUGUST 9, 2019 // FOLLOWING WORLDWIDE LATE AUGUST/SEPT

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REVIEW: “PEANUT BUTTER FALCON” (2019) Roadside Attractions

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I’m a big believer in second chances when it comes to actors who have fallen by the wayside. Shia LeBeouf (Tyler) is one of them I would like to see do well again because the guy can act..and act here he does. Right along with someone who is genuinely trying to make people take her seriously as an actress, Dakota Johnson (Eleanor). Both are going about it in the right way with some good lead roles in indies.

This sweet little gem of a film “Peanut Butter Falcon also boasts a few heavy hitter co-stars in  Bruce Dern and Thomas Haden Church . But the biggest star of all is  Zack Gottsagen who plays Zak, a young man with downs syndrome who is stuck living in an old folks home, and just wants to escape, meet his wrestling idol ‘The Salt Water Redneck‘ take lessons from him and live life.

The film takes us on a fun, Mark Twain like journey with humor and friendship showing their true colours. Inbetween the main story line is the back-end which tells why Tyler is needing something in his life told in flashbacks pictures with his brother Mark (Jon Berenthal), and what messing with Duncan (John Hawkes) crab-trapping livelihood down in the bayou, where the rules are most definitely different.

While it might be predictable as you know where the relationships between Tyler, Eleanor and Zak are all heading, again it’s the journey that makes it sweet, funny and very charming. If you get a chance to catch this limited release, do so as it is money well spent.

Grade: B-

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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, August 6, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Film Group

‘THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON’ HITS THEATERS IN LIMITED RELEASE FRIDAY, AUGUST 9, 2019

REVIEW: FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: “HOBBS AND SHAW” (2019) Universal

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So “Hobbs and Shaw people…much as I hate to admit it…I thoroughly enjoyed myself throughout most of this film!! Dwayne Johnson as “Hobbs” and Jason Stathom as “Shaw” continue their cantankerous, yet funny bantering relationship in their first foray out alone in spin-off land of the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise.

Let’s face it..we don’t go into these movies for the acting or the story line. We go in it for the action, stunts and for the sheer purpose of being entertained. You get all that plus some great humor schticks courtesy of Ryan Reynolds and Rob Delany, as the two Agents who recruit our lead characters to join the fight to save the world, and Kevin Hart as the Air Marshall who is dying to be part of their team and make the duo a trio. 

Add in Idris Elba as your villain “Brixton” or as he calls himself #TheBlackSuperman and you’ve got yourself a movie worth watching.

Oh and lest we forget the beautiful Vanessa Kirby as Shaw’s sister “Hattie”, who holds her own and makes it believable..and the wonderful Helen Mirren as their mom “Queenie” and we back are a rollin’..rollin’..rollin’.

Now again, we aren’t there for the story as it’s the usual ‘saving the world’ dramatics and the ending is a bit weak, as there is only so much hypocrisy of silly stunting one can handle.  But the soundtrack helps boom this one right along to make it an entertaining and fun time for all. And that’s all it needs to be.

And of course stay for the end credits – because you know you should! 


Grade: B-

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Media Review Screening ~ Tuesday, July 30, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Universal 

“HOBBS AND SHAW” hits  theaters Worldwide starting Friday, August 2, 2019 

REVIEW: “SKIN” (2019) A24

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“SKIN” is a gritty true life tale that started off as a short film by Guy Nattiv and turned into this full length feature film featuring some stellar acting and a story, that while it might seem kind of familiar and possibly a bit formulaic, makes into a solid feature.

Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell) is a long-term member of the Vindlanders Social Club, run by Fred Krager aka ‘Hammer‘ (Bill Camp), who inducts down-on-their-luck young kids into his gang by offering them food and shelter, all the while drip-feeding racist bile into their mindset.  As we first meet Bryon, he’s already beginning to question his membership in the organization, even though he is getting ready to participate in one of their horrible missions to burn up a building with his fellow Neo-Nazi’s.   This self-examination of what he is doing in his life, intensifies when he falls for Julie (Danielle Macdonald), a tough young mother with three kids ranging from 5-13, who has cut her ties with the Nazi ideology.  When he starts to see new recruit Gavin (Russell Posner) go through the same process as he did, he starts to look for ways to get out.

This is where things get tricky.  As Bryon’s journey is inter-cut with intense scenes of his tattoo removal process, which is in and of itself, a hard watch.  We also have to bear witness to him follow through with the mission of hate crimes they commit which then get him put on the Federal most wanted list of criminals. He then himself, has to go underground and work in the same type of situations the people he once so cruelly hurt do.

While the story might fall into traps of it’s own making and be similar to the kinds of movies that deal with this subject matter, i.e., American History X comes mostly to mind, as our main character starts off the movie with strong prejudices and views which throughout the course of the film he starts to question. So why even watch it if we know what’s going to happen I hear you ask? We watch it because we want to see the journey he takes that helps him reach the point of wanting to change, and for me this is where the movie fell down a little, the story felt a little rushed at times. For example I felt that more time could have been spent exploring the family gang-style dynamics because it was that family dynamic that shaped his racial views, but it all felt very glossed over.  I had no idea how large this “gang” was or how much power money influence they had because the movie didn’t tell me.

I thought this film was a credible, true story of what living with the consequences of your actions can be, but also with the hope that there is still time to change. I always have a problem with UK/Aussie actors trying to come in and do strong southern accents as they are extremely difficult and I can usually spot faults with it immediately and here we have not only Bell (British) but Macdonald (Aussie) as leads. That being said, Jamie Bell was phenomenal here and pulled this character off completely, though Vera Farmiga was just criminally underused as Mom.

This film can help change mentalities. I was sucked into seeing the differences of some people whom actually live within this world and make these decisions believing they are doing good in the world.  All in all it’s a good film, I’d say it’s not as powerful as other similar films like the aforementioned ‘American History X’, but then again this a true story and that alone makes it an interesting watch. Not only to see how a real person so entrenched in hate culture can change their lives for the better of not only themselves, but everyone around them as well.

Grade: C+

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, July 10, 2019 ~ Courtesy of 42 West LLC/A24

“SKIN” HITS THEATERS ON FRIDAY, JULY 26, 2019

REVIEW: “STUBER” (2019) 20TH Century Fox

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So I’m sure we’ve all heard the recent comments from Dave Bautista stating how he would never do a Fast & Furious type film noting he would “rather do good films”.   Well Dave, I’ve got a news flash for you. If “STUBER” is what you are bringing to the table instead, then you might want to re-evaluate that comment just a tad.  The past few Fast & Furious films, while by no means great, are Award material in comparison to ‘Stuber’  as at least they are so bad that they are good. And that my friends is not an easy accomplishment.   ‘Stuber’ on the other hand,  is really just brutal, absurd, unfunny, and tasteless, with very few if any, redeeming qualities.

The film centers around a highly aggressive LAPD officer Vic (Dave Bautista), looking for a brutal heroin dealer, Teijo (Iko Uwais).  However, he cannot drive to the locations that he needs to go to due to his recent Lasik surgery affecting his vision. As a result, he gets in an Uber with the mild-mannered Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) who is desperately trying to keep his star rating up, as he needs this second job because he has just invested in his secret crush’s Becca (Betty Gilpin) fitness business.  In one of the most implausable storylines ever written, he instead ends up having to keep going around with Vic to various crime scenes and assisting him no less, to stop the dealer.

Basically – Imagine every cop movie cliche: death of a partner, neglected and resentful daughter, a case that’s being “kicked up to the Feds,” a big score that’s “going down” right when the cop is supposed to be at his daughter Nicole‘s (Natalie Morales) big art show, a crooked cop, and on and on. Then add massive gunfights with plenty of heads spurting blood, a death in the first five minutes of a character meant only to give the cop another reason to be on the case. Give the cop Lasik surgery so he has to stumble around and use Uber. Add “jokes” that are as limp as cooked spaghetti and as dated as The Terminator, plus the ongoing humiliation of Nanjiani’s Uber-driving character as well as of the actor, and you have “Stuber” in a nutshell.

Given the popularity of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, I thought the idea for a buddy comedy about this could be both entertaining and timely.  Unfortunately, this was a dreadful attempt at action comedy that has some surprisingly visceral action scenes, yet fails miserably at virtually every other aspect.  The film’s plot generally consists of going from point A to point B and point C, which is fine, but the story’s narrative never manages to take any structural risks. As a comedy, “Stuber” falls pretty flat.  None of the jokes or “points” of the narrative really add up to much significance.  The more over-the-top moments in the film tend to rely on shock value just for the sake of it, unlike the better R-rated comedies that balance wit, irony, and strong writing with over-the-top content that we’ve seen this year.

Bautista’s acting is so bad that I am embarrassed for him – and while the saving grace of comedy jokes here is by far Nanjiani, he is just not strong enough to carry an entire film.  The only thing worse than Baustista’s acting was hearing so many people in the audience laughing at the violence and not at the jokes. And while Bautista has a huge fan base that I’m sure will love him in this, I can only speak for myself when noting this might be the one that changes their minds.  The film’s supporting characters are also embarrassingly written as their characterization is both paper-thin, most especially our villain Teijo who doesn’t even speak till the very end. You know my motto ‘a good villain can make or break a film’.

While the film’s surprisingly intense and violent action is generally well-choreographed, that is the only thing recommendable about this otherwise disastrous action-comedy. Even though Stu wants to earn a five-star rating in this movie, the film itself is only deserving of 1 star.

Grade: D

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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, July 2, 2019 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

“STUBER” WILL BE IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE FRIDAY, JULY 12, 2019

REVIEW: “YESTERDAY” (2019) Universal

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A world without music from The Beatles? It’s hard to “Imagine” right.  But of course it’s not as simple as never having their classics played on the radio or not being able to find an album or song lyrics, basically any idea of them ever existing. Of course, that’s a bit too much to tackle in a movie, so director Danny Boyle  simplifies things by serving up a 12 second global power outage in which starts the beginning of ‘Yesterday’.

The film tells the story of Jack Malik (Himesh Patel), an amateur musician who is trying to break into the industry with the help of his best friend Ellie Appleton (Lily James), but during that random power outage,  he gets hit by a truck riding his bike home and wakes up in an alternate universe where several things have turned out to have never existed, but most importantly the Beatles and their songs. Jack decides to take advantage of this, and uses the Beatles’ music to launch his career, becoming the most famous pop star in the world.

That premise sounds great, and I was looking forward to a surreal comedy, but to be honest, it doesn’t quite live up to it, instead getting distracted by what the actual main plot turned out to be: a cliche romantic comedy with the childhood friend that is secretly in love with the protagonist, only for him to figure it out for himself later. aka..a generic romcom.

The best moments of this film are to do with the central premise of the alternate universe, where Jack would reference something, only for the people around him to say “what’s that?” I mean, it’s the same joke in different words basically every time, but hey, the way they execute it is pretty good. There are also some decent satirical moments with Jack interacting with the music industry, personified by Jack’s manager Debra (Kate McKinnon), and an extended cameo by Ed Sheeran, who falls victim to some self-deprecating jokes, and Rocky (Joel Fry) his ‘roadie’ who honestly was one of the funniest characters in the film.

Speaking of the Beatles, you’d be surprised by how little they actually contribute to the plot. For a film that is named after one of their more famous songs, you’d think that their music and impact to society would be more than just a plot device for the main character to achieve his success. There’s no real commentary as to why the Beatles music is so great, you’re just told, over and over again, that they’re the greatest band ever, and that a world without them ever existing would suck. Sure, that is something I would agree with, but the film doesn’t really add much of their own perspective to that side of the story, it just takes that idea as fact.

The romance is decent, but cliche and overall unremarkable. Screenwriter Richard Curtist definitely knows how to write romances, having written several well regarded romcoms, like “Love Actually” and “About Time“, but I would say that ‘Yesterday’ isn’t quite up to that standard. Same goes for Danny Boyle and the other films he directed compared to this. The direction isn’t bad, but it’s bland and doesn’t really add much to the story.

I guess if you like romcoms and Beatles music, this movie will definitely be watchable, and truthfully, it is entertaining enough..but just barely enough and it slides through it’s two hour run time, and overall I’m disappointed that they didn’t take full advantage of the great premise and really run with it.

Grade: C+

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Media Review Screening: Monday, June 24, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Universal Studios

‘YESTERDAY’ IS NOW PLAYING IS THEATERS WORLDWIDE

INSTA-REVIEW: “TOY STORY 4” (2019) Disney

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Over the weekend I got to see this fourth incarnation in the Toy Story series. While a fun little jaunt for all our memories..again, I had trouble remembering where the last one left off and this one picks up..oh wait..that’s because the last one ended..with an ending that seemed so final. Ahh well..seems its wasn’t and the gang is all back with a few new friends on a search to get back ‘Forky’ who has been lost by Woody.

Along the way he meets back up with Bo Peep & these crazy scary ventriloquist dummies that honestly got to me..I thought for a moment we had switched to the ‘IT’ movie!! But alas, as with all kids movies there is a message.. that we all grow up and move on and so do our toys.
This movie is perfect for both kids and adults alike as all will find enjoyment in it and no little innuendos that fly over kids heads.

As for favourite characters..Woody is always a safe bet. Buzz didnt have as much to do this time around and our new favourite, Duke Caboom gives for a few good laughs.

Grade: B
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