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 ~ Venom: Let There Be Carnage

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Eddie Brock tries to reignite his career in journalism by interviewing serial killer Cletus Kasady, who becomes the host of the alien symbiote spawn of Venom, named Carnage.

Stars: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Stephen Graham, Reid Scott, Peggy Lu

Director: Andy Serkis

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  If you’ve been a long-time reader (thank you!) you know that I like to include a small plot synopsis in The Facts section of my review to get some of the nitty gritty details out of the way.  I hate just spending ¾ of the review rehashing the story and, to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, I give it a good scrub first to make sure nothing major is given away.  Usually, it’s easy to find a summary either through an official studio press release or some other internet source and often I must trim it way down.  Only rarely do I run into problems like I did with Venom: Let There Be Carnage.  Try as I might, there was only the briefest description of the sequel to the 2018 film out there, basically saying “This is a sequel where the main character comes back.”  I scrolled through several pages looking, and this was even after the movie had screened for critics. There was no place that had a sliver of a plot description available.

This should give you some idea of the problems inherent in the follow-up film to the surprisingly divisive original which found star Tom Hardy having quite the identity crisis as an investigative reporter infected with an alien from another planet.  Hardy’s performance was the true revelation of Venom, softening an actor known for punishing roles into a more malleable bit of clay.  Thankfully, that sense of fun carries over into this sequel (Hardy is credited as a producer and creating the story, along with Cruella screenwriter Kelly Marcel) but not a lot of it makes much sense, eventually turning into a mishmash of goopy special effects and hammy performances from actors unsuccessfully trying supervillainy on for size.

With his career as a hard-news journalist dwindling, Eddie Brock (Hardy, This Means War) is called to death row by special request of convicted killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson, Now You See Me).  The police hope Kasady is ready to reveal the location of his victims, but Kasady just plans to toy with the media again, hoping a coded message finds its way to his girlfriend Frances Barrison (Naomie Harris, Skyfall) who has been locked away in a sound-proof chamber in the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane.  Brock has Venom on his side, though, and he spots clues in Kasady’s cell which leads Brock to break the story wide open and solve the remainder of his crimes, allowing the state to proceed with executing the serial murderer.  Before they can lethally inject him though, Kasady manages to become infected with his own symbiote after biting Brock in an altercation.  As Kasady becomes Carnage, he quickly frees himself and Barris to begin a murderous rampage through the city and it’s up to Brock and Venom, two sides of the same coin locked in an ever-present battle of the wills, to stop them.

Taking over from previous director Ruben Fleischer, Andy Serkis (Breathe) knows a thing or two about actors conveying a performance through a computer-generated creation so it’s no surprise that the scenes where Brock is fully Venom (and even when the two are simply talking back and forth) land with a greater ease here.  It’s not just a stronger familiarity with the character, there’s a different understanding Hardy seems to have with his relationship with Venom and while the theories of bromance or even real romance are endless, the two are absolutely the yin to each other’s yang.  Harrelson doesn’t succeed as well but, then again, he doesn’t quite feel like he’s as committed to anything in the movie as much as Hardy is.

At 90 minutes, Venom: Let There Be Carnage is 22 minutes shorter than the original and the last fifteen minutes are chock full of action excitement, the kind you buy your popcorn for and get excited to witness.  The rest of the time leading up to that is sort of bewildering and I’m halfway convinced the film lost a huge chunk in the editing process to keep things moving along.  Why else would there be such little character development for the Barrison character apart from her having a profound scream? Harris wouldn’t bounce from being Oscar nominated to a Bond movie to this secondary, cut-rate character.  No, something was definitely omitted, and her role suffered because of that.  Audiences suffer too because Serkis is so concerned about getting to the action that anything that isn’t nailed down gets completely missed. 

I also would be willing to put money down that we hit the accelerator to get to Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World) that much faster.  As it is, Williams fans might be nervously tapping their foot around the 40-minute mark when the previous leading lady hadn’t shown up yet.  Even then, one wonders if she’s there for good or just fulfilling her sequel requirements.  (Have no fear, she’s more than participatory later.)  Aside from Williams absence at the front part of the movie, it’s hampered by some weird technical choices…like dubbing in Harrelson and Harris over the voices of younger actors playing them as teens.  Are we supposed to think a 17-year sounds like 60-year-old Harrelson?  Voices change over time…audiences will track who these characters are.  It’s just another sign of lousy editing that this dubbing occurred.  Someone along the way felt like the film moved too quickly to the adult actors and viewers wouldn’t get the connection and there was no footage that explained it well enough, so the older voices were used. 

As sequels go, Venom: Let There Be Carnage will likely please the fans of the original that craved another round with the wise-cracking, gallows-humor of the titular alien and if you stay through the closing credits, you’ll see why Marvel Studios would want to keep this character going just a tad bit longer.  I’m hoping if there is a third appearance by Hardy and company that it’s does the proverbial job of charming me because so far, it’s just passing muster when it should be slam dunking it.  The star is invested…now get a booster shot and make the rest of the Venom world feel right.

Movie Review ~ Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A romance sparks between a young actor and a Hollywood leading lady.

Stars: Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave, Stephen Graham, Leanne Best

Director: Paul McGuigan

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Though not for lack of trying, it’s getting harder and harder for Annette Bening to get that Oscar she’s been deserving for quite some time now. Turning in stellar performances (and, yes, the occasional clunky one) for nearly thirty years now, Bening (Girl Most Likely) picks the right projects that somehow continue to wind up being lost in the shuffle of higher profile releases. Such is the case with her lovely turn as Oscar winner (oh the irony…) Gloria Graeme in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, her latest close but no Oscar nom performance.

By the time Peter Turner (Jamie Bell, Man on a Ledge) meets Gloria Graeme in a boarding house in the late ‘70s, her days of headlining the silver screen are long behind her. Playing classic roles in regional theaters, she’s heralded for her craft but just as easily forgotten when the show closes. Inviting Turner into her room for an impromptu disco dance, the two connect in that special way that goes beyond getting down with the boogie woogie. Their first date is to (where else?) the movies to see Alien, a movie which Turner squirms through and Graeme gets a royal kick out of. They couldn’t be more different but the bond that forms between them is convincing in an oddball fashion, like a less bleak version of Harold and Maude.

Told in flashbacks by screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh who adapted Turner’s memoir, the film has an interesting structure that finds scenes from the past blending with the present. Director Paul McGuigan (Victor Frankenstein) never tries to hide that we’re watching a movie and that didn’t bother me as much because the cinematography from Urszula Pontikosis so heightened and gossamer. Pontikosis frames each shot like an old time postcard, even Turner’s humble family home is filmed with care. Visuals don’t get more inviting than the do when arriving in Los Angeles for a reunion with Graeme, Turner stares out from her secluded home on wheels to the ocean and a rich amber skyline that’s clearly shot in a studio.

While the movie is centrally focused on Graeme and Turner’s romance, Greenhalgh and McGuigan make sure to open the picture up to include supporting characters. Julie Walters (Paddington) is solid as a rock as Turner’s wise mother, understanding enough to see the troubles in store for the relationship but loving enough to care deeply for her son and his lover. There’s also a dandy of a scene with Vanessa Redgrave (Julia) as Graeme’s mother, another faded actress, and her sister (Frances Barber) in which they give some chilling advice to Turner.

Though he’s come a long way since his breakout role in Billy Elliot (also starring Walters), Bell moves into true leading man territory here. Complimenting Bening in all the right ways while finding moments to shine on his own, Bell is well-cast and it’s not hard to see why Graeme’s vulnerable soul would find a kindred spirit in Turner’s sensitive young man. The film belongs to Bening, though, and darn it if she isn’t dang good as a faded starlet coming to grips with accepting her own mortality. She lilts her voice and sways her hips in true Graeme fashion and eventually totally disappears into the role. McGuigan even makes the bold decision to feature film clips of the actual Graeme and while Bening doesn’t really resemble her, seeing the real person shows you how well studied Bening was in getting her mannerisms down.

While it’s a shame this one is flying so far under the radar it’s practically walking into cinemas, this will be a fun one for people to discover down the road…hopefully when Bening has won her Oscar for a performance equally as well constructed.