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 ~ Frankie


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Three generations grappling with a life-changing experience during one day of a vacation in Sintra, Portugal, a historic town known for its dense gardens and fairy-tale villas and palaces.

Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear, Ariyon Bakare, Vinette Robinson, Pascal Greggory, Jérémie Renier

Director: Ira Sachs

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  Maybe it’s an only child thing.  Movies that revolve around family conflict tend to just zoom on by me with little effect, rarely landing with any kind of weight.  I’ve discussed this with those that come from large families with siblings and been told that it’s because as an only child I haven’t had that experience dealing with the kind of dynamics that exist when there are other personalities to take into account.  In my family, it was just the three of us so there was little room for gambit when you wanted something or were frustrated – everything was always out in the open.  So it’s tough for me to watch “family drama” films whether they’re good (August: Osage County) or bad (This is Where I Leave You) and find a thread to grab onto. That could be why I found it almost impossible to engage with Frankie, even though I’m a fan of the director and the majority of the cast.

At this point, I’m interested in anything Isabelle Huppert (Greta) shows up in, with the actress finding her ways to intriguing roles if not fully satisfying films.  Her Oscar-nomination for Elle was a deserved turning point in recognition of a long career of bold choices and she’s continuing to show up in curious places.  Then there’s Marisa Tomei (Love the Coopers), Brendan Gleeson (Paddington 2), and Greg Kinnear (I Don’t Know How She Does It), three more actors who have amassed an impressive list of credits on IMDb with both mainstream films and indie flicks.  With writer/director Ira Sachs guiding them all, this seemed like a pleasant gathering of talents; however like the titular character it’s a movie that keeps you at arm’s length and rarely allows you to see underneath its hard shell.

Set over the course of one day, Frankie centers around the family and close friends of celebrated actress Françoise “Frankie” Crémont (Huppert) who are gathered in a picturesque town in Portugal.  Even though they are in paradise, emotional baggage is being unpacked as the movie opens.  Frankie’s daughter (Vinette Robinson) is grappling with a marriage that may have run its course and her son (Jérémie Renier) has once again fallen in love with the wrong woman and is despondent.  Her ex-husband (Pascal Greggory) has stayed in the picture, though he hasn’t quite given up wanting to care for his former spouse.  That extra attention doesn’t seem to bother her current husband (Gleeson) because nothing seems to truly turn him askew.  Things get more complicated with the arrival of Frankie’s former make-up artist Ilene (Tomei) who has invited her friend Gary (Kinnear) along which throws a wrench (delicately) into a grand scheme Frankie has been working on.

Frankie is really just a series of conversations between characters, rarely more than two people at a time.  While this allows for some freely interesting insight at first (and blessedly Huppert is allowed to speak in French to those that communicate likewise), by the time the movie is half over you find yourself longing for something of import to happen or be revealed out of these exchanges.  Many of these dialogues are inward musings spoken aloud that another person just happens to be there for, they rarely are as revealing or revelatory as they may have been intended to be and, honestly, it often comes across as shallow whining from the privileged upper class.  That would be fine, if only there was a balance to show the movie understood it was commenting on that position of opportunity.  It becomes obvious early on why Frankie has gathered these people together so there’s not some big awful secret waiting to be revealed, but the slow turning of the wheels feels overly laborious for the usually smooth sailing writing of Sachs and his co-writer Mauricio Zacharias.

As a writer and director, Sachs has shown in his previous work to have a finely tuned ear for how real people speak and, flawed though they may be, has presented them with some wholeness to them.  When I interviewed him in 2014 for the release of his wonderful movie Love is Strange, he spoke of wanting to present characters with a certain humility about them that reflects their class and age and I can see some of that intention present in the outlines of the characters in Frankie.  What I didn’t find was anything more than those outlines underneath it all.  It’s a curious circumstance, to be in this beautiful setting with such an appealing cast but not be able to generate any kind of emotional resonance from anything you’re hearing.  It doesn’t help the actors don’t seem to know quite how to sell it either, with Huppert appearing distant and not in the way I think Sachs intends her to be.  Only Tomei feels like she’s at peace and she brings a noted warmth to all of her scenes.  It’s a mixed bag from everyone else, especially out of sync with everything else are scenes with Frankie’s granddaughter and a local boy that catches her eye.

There’s a shot in Frankie where all the characters trek to look out on the edge of a cliff into the vast openeness of the sea.  With so much to admire, so much to think about, and so much to take in, they barely stay for a moment before turning back and walking back from where they came and where they are comfortable.  That’s a lot like Frankie the film.  A lot of effort is spent getting to a place that should be a thing of beauty, only to turn around and head back without taking time to think about what we’re looking at.