Tag Archives: deadly women

Head Bitches in Charge: THE KITCHEN Puts the Women Up Front in This Uneven Crime Drama.

THE KITCHEN. Country, USA. Director, Andrea Berloff. Screenwriters, Andrea Berloff, Ollie Masters, and Ming Doyle, based on the comic book by Masters and Doyle. Cast: Melissa Mccarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domnhall Gleeson, James Badge Dale, Brian D’Arcy James, Common, Margo Martindale, Bill Camp, Jeremy Bobb. Runtime, 102 minutes. Venue, AMC Village 7. Mostly Indies rating, C+

You would think that stepping off her excellent portrayal of greed and miserabilism in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Melissa McCarthy would continue the trend into more dramatic fare. Her current entry, Andrea Berloff’s flat The Kitchen, places McCarthy in a dramatic limbo, sandwiched between Tiffany Haddish — who actually fares better considering her latest outings have been comedies — and Elisabeth Moss, who does wonders with a part that has next to no lines. McCarthy’ part, we understand, is meant to evoke sympathy, a woman who discovers empowerment and her own place in the world even if that world is the underbelly of society and dominated by men who aren’t ready to let go of that power just yet.

It’s not that McCarthy is bad in the movie; she’s quite good, as usual, and sports truly beautiful 70s hair. It’s the movie itself that doesn’t quite know, it seems, how to fully develop her character, or if she understands the repercussions that come with her choice as her character moves from situation to situation and stakes get higher.

But before I get there, here is the synopsis: three abused wives of mob men who’ve been arrested in Ann FBI sting find themselves without a penny to their name. An opportunity arises to collect some back-owed money, and this soon morphs into greater chances to acquire footing by running their husbands affairs. Things don’t quite bode well with the men in the business, who decide to retaliate, and it’s only time before the husbands themselves get out. In the interim, the women start to acquire power within the settings of the City, going as far as to lay claim to neighborhoods and accomplish serious dealings with a major monster played by Bill Camp. Rifts start to appear between Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Kathy (McCarthy) over the use of money and power. As it turns out, and with good reason, Ruby will turn out to be more power-hungry than she first presented herself. That will pose a problem neither Kathy nor anyone could see coming.

So far, so good: the movie in concept does have a solid ground to stand on. There will be the inevitable comparison to last year’s Widows (itself an equally pulpy, silly story of crosses and double crosses that force the widows of mobsters to stand their own). I think that it’s mainly the presentation itself. For so much story, paring it does to a mere 100 minutes makes it feel rushed and superficial. For the most part we don’t really get to know who these women truly are. There is really no major build up to any showdown so any conflict resolution seems almost cardboard—okay, but nothing more. Other than Elisabeth Moss’ Claire — single handedly the movie’s highlight and the one with the most character development and the one the movie’s plot treats most shabbily — we only experience them as three women transitioning into power and eliminating anything that stands between them and control.

Perhaps that is all the movie wanted to say. Men may have led the path in gangster films, but now it’s the women’s turn. If only it could have made that a bit more memorable.

LADY MACBETH

LADY MACBETH

USA
Director: William Oldroyd
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ grading:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Disregard the tight, binding corsets and the crinolines, the gloomy Victorian setting that echoes the works of the Bronte sisters and Thomas Hardy. William Oldroyd’s minimal story of a woman’s climb to dominance is as old as the ages,and as new as anything coming out of the sexual revolution and Women’s Lib. Inspired on the character created by William Shakespeare and based on the novella Lady Macbeth of Miensk District, Lady Macbeth tells the story of Katherine (Florence Pugh), a young woman who has been bought into marriage to a ill-tempered asshole of a man, Alexander Lester (Paul Hilton). Lester takes her to reside at his father’s estate, where from the word go, they make it known she will have no more presence than a mute wife, keeping house, and nothing more. The first night she spends at the Lester house is as chilling as anything, and ends with a note of uncertainty, and the following scene, where she sits in dead silence, staring at nothing, awaiting Lester’s and Boris’ arrival, is as tense and uncomfortable as anything that comes later.

When Boris and Lester leave the estate to take care of some business, Katherine is left on her own in the house. and stumbles onto a scene in a barn. Several men, workers, are having a little sexual fun with some of the maids. One of the men, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) catches her attention, and she makes a point to get close to him. It’s clear there is an attraction between the two, and it doesn’t take long for Sebastian to make his way into her room in a scene that starts as an invasion of privacy teetering on rape and ends with her taking charge in the long run, having him over, seeing him every chance she gets. Anna, the maid she saw in a tryst with Sebastian, disapproves, and takes matters into her own hands to notify the priest of what is happening. Her actions eventually reach Lester and Boris, who returns to the house and confronts Katherine. What happens next is something I won’t say, because it is contingent to the transformation that Katherine receives as she begins to assert her power and cross the line from proto-feminist to monster.

If there ever was a movie that relied only on a mounting sense of dread to announce in hints of the violence that is to come, it would be Lady Macbeth, a movie filled with moments of silence, glances, and a minimal story line that moves, with deliberate fury, to its horrifying conclusion. Florence Pugh is a lightning bolt, igniting an entire film on her presence alone — in her physicality is the symbol for the triumph of ambition and drive taken to its extremes (and reader, I really do mean extremes). The movie almost always has her in blue, which is a color associated with masculine strength, and this exactly personifies the type of woman she is — one who negates her femininity, her passivity, and goes for the jugular. You might say the movie takes a step too far in the last third, but this is a story named after one of Shakespeare’s darkest female characters, after all. You will not find Austen’s females anywhere here






DANCING WITH THE ENEMY

MY COUSIN RACHEL
UK
Director: Roger MIchell
Runtime: 105 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies grading:

1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

Does anyone remember those haunting opening lines of Rebecca? Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It’s enough to send shivers down your back whether you’ve read the Daphne DuMaurier novel, allegedly plagiarized from Carolina Nabucco’s 1934 novel A Sucessora, or seen the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece in Gothic suspense. It also shows that perhaps this dreamy ambiguity was good for only one novel and nothing else; as a writer, DuMaurier may have had her inspirations, but she was not exactly what I would call a good writer.

Perhaps then this is the reason that Roger MIchell’s version manages to colossally misfire and land in a puddle of mud before it even has time to tell its tale. Picture this, a story in which another ambiguous line starts the wheels of the plot in motion– “Did she? Didn’t she?” — reeks of phoning in a sense of dread, the kind that by its presence and atmosphere alone should grab a hold of your stomach and apply some unsavory pressure little by little until you can’t even breathe. The person who utters that question is our hero Philip (Sam Claflin, previously seen in Their Finest), who plays the male version of Rebecca‘s X — basically a non person who tells of a childhood living wile and free with his cousin Ambrose, who then went off to Italy, and while there met and fell in love with the titular Rachel only to suddenly fall ill and die soon after the two of them were married.

So much build up is placed on these events that we feel that after Ambrose kicks the bucket, Philip will turn into some kind of raving Byronic hero of the kind fo leave even Heathcliff in the dust. He does vow revenge on Rachel, whom he suspects of murdering Ambrose, but once she arrives at Plymouth all that falls by the wayside and Philip is practically giving Rachel the benefits of the doubt and the keys to his entire estate faster than you can see 45 tweet covfefe. Once I saw this happen with frightening speed my eyebrow arched, and I went “What just happened? Can we refresh this scene, please, and play it slowly? No? Okay. ” That, my friends,  just doesn’t quite gel in a story that should be less about what is said, shown, or spoken, and more about insinuations, side glances, and especially emotions just waiting to be released, at least, for a little. It doesn’t help that Rachel Weisz is completely wrong for this film — an actress who could be more enigmatic could have been a better choice — and Sam Claflin, like I said earlier, is written rather blandly. It’s hard to care for any of this movie’s people when they themselves don’t give their own moments on screen any life. My Cousin Rachel isn’t deadly; shes just plain dullsville. Perhaps I’ll wait for Lady Macbeth — that looks like it’s got teeth.

My Cousin Rachel is still playing in theaters and arrives on DVD at the end of August.

MOKA
France / Switzerland
Director: Frederic Mermoud
Runtime:  85 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Emmanuelle Devos is a French actress that I’ve been seeing on film for the past 15 years now, and while she’s a good performer for the most part, that little girl voice of hers and that look of perpetually helpless wait begging to be rescued somewhat puts me off. It’s the sole reason I didn’t go to see Moka at the Film Forum when it premiered and waited a couple of days until it was extended for a third and final week there. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to sit in a theater listening to a woman just over 50 talking like a sex-kitten filled with angst and vulnerabilities plod her way through an intellectual thriller that someone like Isabelle Huppert could handle in her sleep without the slightest effort.

Well, dear reader, I have to say I was blown away with Devos in this little Swiss-French thriller that also paired her with acting giant Nathalie Baye. [As an interesting little note, Baye’s previous role was another barely seen French thriller in which she played the Devos role.] Moka starts with the image of Devos (who plays a woman named Diane) silently banging her head against a window. We don’t know where she is, until the camera pans away and we realize she’s in some sort of mental facility. And then the cards that plant the seeds of the plot get revealed: Diane has lost her son Luc in a freak accident where he was fatally involved in a hit-and-run. Since then, time and basically everything has stopped for Diane. Because the perpetrators were never brought to justice, Diane has hired a private investigator to find out about the vehicle that killed her son. She learns that it was a mocha-colored car registered to a woman who lives in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The woman happens to be Marlene (Baye). Marlene is the owner of a beauty salon, and from the moment both women meet there is a sense of uneasiness in the air. But Diane has other plans, and so does the story: while she is befriending (and getting to know Marlene), she’s also flirting with Marlene’s boyfriend Michel who is selling the mocha vehicle, and at the same time, she also establishes a tentative friendship with Marlene’s daughter from a previous relationship.  To add to the whole situation, Diane has met a guy who does deals on the darkside and produces a gun for her, and as a final nail, Diane’s husband eventually appears on stage wondering what has happened to her. Sounds complicated? It’s because it is, and director Mermoud wastes no time in getting into the meat of the action while allowing it to breathe and develop on its own. We wonder where is all this going and how long can Diane keep her charade alive without recurring to cheap solutions. Devos plays Diane as a relentless avenger, but with enough frailty and vulnerability that we wonder if she will carry out her affairs in Lausanne until the end. Baye, her hair bleached a cheap, older woman peroxide blonde, is prickly, suspicious from the get-go, but all reception. She’s a beautician, so she hears stories from her clients, and Diane’s doesn’t ring totally true. Even so, she lets her slowly in and we wonder if there isn’t some agenda . . . or is she being set up for something terrible.

It’s not often that movies feature strong women in leading roles playing complicated characters that dance around each other like samurais waiting to strike. Moka is a complex psycho drama that touches on the topics of grief and loss and the need to mete out personal justice without turning it into exploitation and offers enough twists and turns and even an emotional finale to out-guess aficionados of the thriller genre and leave them satisfied.