Movie Review ~ Boiling Point (2021)

The Facts:

Synopsis: Enter the relentless pressure of a restaurant kitchen as a head chef wrangles his team on the busiest day of the year.

Stars: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Alice May Feetham, Hannah Walters, Malachi Kirby, Izuka Hoyle, Taz Skylar, Lauryn Ajufo, Jason Flemyng, Ray Panthaki, Daniel Larkai, Lourdes Faberes

Director: Philip Barantini

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  There are few things on the technical side of movies that get me as excited as one-shot filmmaking because of all the risks that go along with it.  One screw-up by a background actor, one flubbed line by the star going from one location to another, a missing prop, a malfunctioning door…any of these could ruin a take resulting in the entire machine needing to start up again.  Unless it’s a live event, movies can work some magic and seamlessly cut together one take to the next and though several high-profile films have claimed to have been presented in a single take (1917 springs to mind), further investigation shows that isn’t the case.

So an experience like Boiling Point should be a cause to celebrate because it actually is one of those rare instances of a company of actors and crackerjack film crew collaborating on getting through a 90 minute take without any interruption.  While it began life as a 22-minute short film starring many of the same actors, the ante is upped significantly by expanding upon the original short that sets the film in a tightly packed restaurant already fraught with the tension of a busy night during a critical turning point for many of its staff and leadership.  Director Philip Barantini and co-writer James Cummings have etched a rough sketch for the talented cast to operate within and then set them free for four single takes over two evenings in a trendy London restaurant.  Oddly, though there is an earnest aroma of drama that wafts over the hour and a half of real time events, the overall dish has a bland taste where spice was all but promised.

The dinner service at Jones and Sons (a real restaurant in London) hasn’t even started yet and already head chef Andy Jones (Stephen Graham, Venom: Let There Be Carnage) is having a bad night.  Arguing with his ex on the phone as he steps into his kitchen, he’s greeted by a health and safety inspector who informs him the restaurant rating is being reduced by two points due to recent violations.  Issues with front of house manager Beth (Alice Feetham) cause a disconnect between the wait staff and sous chef Carly (Vinette Robinson, Frankie), resulting in an epic blow-up that has a ripple effect through the employees that support one or the other.   Andy also has to make space in his busy night to placate Alastair Skye (Jason Flemyng, Military Wives), a celebrity chef/friend/investor making an unplanned visit to dine along with his guest, a high-profile food critic (Lourdes Faberes, No Time to Die).  This is all in addition to a variety of customers with their own quirks that irk.

All of the crisscrossing storylines that Cummings and Barantini (Villain) have, ahem, cooked up are interesting in the moment but lack the hook to keep you thinking about them after they are out of sight.  The pace is so rapid there’s barely a moment to breathe, let alone get to know the multitude of players that zoom out of our line of sight.  One of the drawbacks of keeping the camera going is that it often trails people doing absolutely nothing just to have something to film.  In a normal movie, the editor would cut from a shot of an actor exiting down a hallway to them entering another room.  In Boiling Point, we just flutter behind like a gnat, without much purpose.  In one shot, we’re following an actor as they go from one end of the restaurant all the way to the other end and then outside, only to turn around and retrace their steps and back out again because they forgot a jacket.  All of that is likely in service of setting up the actors for the next scene but you’d think the writers would have found some intention to these silent walks. 

More than anything, most of the characters are so unlikable that you almost recoil from the screen after a while. Early on in Boiling Point, the cast is just yelling profanities at one another and while that may be an accurate representation of what it’s like during intense moments in restaurant setting like this (hey, I’ve watched Hell’s Kitchen too!), it wastes precious time where characters could be developed instead.  Everyone seems to be in it for themselves and even seemingly kind server Andrea (Lauryn Ajufo) eventually shows how quickly she can develop a deflective skin for a nasty customer.  In the leading role, Graham often comes up weirdly whiny and definitely not the hero of the piece.  Working through his own problems while holding his business up is breaking him down and tonight may be the final straw…but can he make it through this final service before cleaning up his act?

No spoilers, but the ending to the film was a bit of stupefying lame-ness and a cheap way to go out.  Up until then Boiling Point was just overshooting its goal by trying to do too much so I was so surprised when it decided to nosedive as quickly as it did.  That anyone thought this was a worthy ending for the characters or even something meaningful is totally crazy.  I was leaning toward recommending this movie based on the acumen it showed in carrying off its big achievement stunt, but the finale put me squarely on the fence.  Ultimately, I still think it’s worth seeing for some elements but not for that ending.  Put that ending on ice…or fry it off.  Whatever cooking allegory you want to use.

Movie Review ~ Bruised

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A disgraced MMA fighter finds redemption in the cage and the courage to face her demons when the son she had given up as an infant unexpectedly reenters her life.

Stars: Halle Berry, Adan Canto, Adriane Lenox, Sheila Atim, Danny Boyd Jr., Shamier Anderson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Denny Dillon, Valentina Shevchenko, Lela Loren, Nikolai Nikolaeff

Director: Halle Berry

Rated: R

Running Length: 132 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  There are few actors working in Hollywood today that I find myself actively rooting for more than Halle Berry.  An actress that had long paid her dues in television and a run of forgettable features in the early ‘90s before becoming the first black woman to win a Best Actress Oscar in 2001 for Monster’s Ball, Berry has a knack for finding herself in terrible projects but coming out smelling like a rose.  I recently watched her in the 1996 stinker The Rich Man’s Wife and, aside from believably pulling off a character named Josie, she managed to elevate what should have been a TV movie of the week to something worthy of a cinematic release. A continuing role in the X-Men franchise has kept her afloat when the big swings don’t pan out, but Berry has never gotten back to that same level of promise she showed around that Oscar era.  I mean, the now 55 year old survived the disaster that was 2004’s Catwoman so she must have nine lives of her own.

One glance at Bruised may give the impression that Berry has found the exact kind of project that could be the significant comeback story she has been looking for.  As the director and star of this gritty story following a retired MMA fighter working her way back into the ring for personal redemption at the same time the son she gave up when he was a baby is left on her doorstep, the film’s logline reads like it was tailor-made for an actress with just the kind of gumption Berry has leagues of.  Even considering that Berry wasn’t the first choice for either role (originally, Nick Cassavetes was signed on to direct Blake Lively), her history as a dedicated MMA fan made her an ideal selection because she understood the sport, athletes, and sacrifice required. It doesn’t quite work out as planned…but, we’ll get to that.

Jackie Justice (Berry, The Call) used to be someone special in the brutal sport of MMA cage fighting until she lost her nerve and walked away from it all.  Years later she’s barely scraping by, working odd jobs she often loses due to her temper.  Living with her boyfriend (Adan Canto, X-Men: Days of Future Past) who wants her to get back into the ring, Jackie simply wants to forget that part of her life, but the past has a way of delivering a right hook when she least expects it.  That sly jab comes when the six-year-old son she abandoned as an infant is dropped off by her pill riddled mother (Adriane Lenox, The United States vs. Billie Holiday) in the middle of the night.  Refusing to speak after seeing his informant father gunned down, Manny (Danny Boyd, Jr.) was told his mother was dead so this woman before him, worked over by life, is difficult to accept.

With the added responsibility of a child to take care of, Jackie begins to clean up her act.  That means ridding her life of several of her addictions, both chemically and personally.  It takes a while for Michelle Rosenfarb’s script to get around to taking care of business and it’s one of Bruised’s drawbacks that the film moves slowly through several situations that should be more incidental than they wind up being.  Basically, it keeps us from meeting Jackie’s new trainer Buddhakan (Sheila Atim) for that much longer and that is just…not acceptable.  As it turns out, this is the most interesting character in the entire film and after we are introduced the viewer spends the rest of the film waiting for them to show up again.  It helps that Atim is such an electric presence onscreen that they could be playing a Bingo card and I’d want to watch them buy groceries.

That a secondary character moves into being the central character the viewer relates to speaks to another problem with Bruised.  Ostensibly the leading character is Jackie but for much of the film she’s so flimsy that it’s hard to find a way into her side of things.  Berry doesn’t help matters with a performance that’s overly earnest in the fight scenes and way too dialed back in the quieter moments.  If it’s worth anything, the scenes with Jackie and Manny or Buddhakan are the best of the best because it allows all three performers to shine the brightest.  There’s no question Berry is a gifted actress and once she has less to contend with in terms of moving pieces around her, she’s right on target. 

Built around a handful of fight sequences and trainings for the fight sequences, I was a little disappointed at how poorly filmed and edited the early scenes were and it didn’t give me a lot of confidence that the final match, what the entirety of the movie was building to, would be much better.  Surprisingly, while I often find these “grand finales” a little overwrought, Berry pulls out all the stops physically and as a director.  You can tell she wanted to get this section, out of all of them, correct and that quest for perfection shows. 

Like the central character, Bruised is often rough around the edges and needs some time to settle down and relax.  Once you get past the some of the scratchier elements that Berry can’t quite smooth out, there’s a fairly decent film to be found with several nicely tuned performances.  It’s not going to be Berry’s new calling card or a golden ticket back to the Oscars, but I think it will continue to open her up to new opportunities like this.  If anything, I was appreciative to be let into Berry’s MMA fandom through this dramatized story that finds occasional emotional resonance through its strongest supporting performances.