Mr. Movie

Mr. Movie: ‘The Kitchen,’ ‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold,’ and ‘Brian Banks’

‘The Kitchen’

I rarely know anything about movies before I screen them. Some critics want to know everything. I do not. I prefer to not have any influences before seeing a film. With “The Kitchen” I’d caught snippets of the trailer but not enough to know it was produced by DC Comics and based on a series of comic books.

It was a little bit of a surprise.

The kitchen is New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen and the film is set in 1978. Three husbands of three women are part of an organized crime gang. They go out and commit a crime, try to beat up the cops that catch them, get caught and are sentenced to three years in jail.

With their husbands gone up river, the women have no money and end up at the mercy of the gang’s not very sympathetic leader. He does not want to help them at all. So they decide to take over. The women start collecting the shakedown pay he has been getting from businesses and individuals, and keep it for themselves.

At that point, the movie loses all credibility. But I now know it’s based on a DC comic so credibility is not all that necessary.

Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss play the three women. Moss’ Claire learns to enjoy killing and doing away with vicious men. Haddish’s Ruby is all business and uncompromising. She’s a black woman married to an Irish thug. Not a popular thing for him to do and with him in jail, she’s at the mercy of her very nasty and somewhat racist mother-in-law.

McCarthy’s Kathy is a homemaker, a mom, and is not just into grabbling piles of cash. She just wants to survive and do good for the community.

"The Kitchen," featuring, from left, Elisabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy. Warner Brothers TNS

How they end up controlling their — for lack of a better word — “empire” is thrown at you in clumps. They go from helpless to running things too quickly and nothing that happens in the film is all that believable. In real life, about five-minutes after the gang leader learned of their theft of his money, their bodies would have been found floating in the Hudson River.

Then again, I remind myself this is a DC project and DC projects are — being nice here — not usually all that good. This one is no exception. Part of the problem is writer/director Andrea Berloff who cowrote “Straight Outta Compton.”

The Oscar nomination for “Compton’s” screenplay says she obviously has some writing talent. Berloff — however — is not a very good director. She does a great job of casting but her character development and how those characters are used, isn’t that strong.

Then the asterisk pops into my head again. Gary, this is based on a series of DC comic books. Lighten up.

The three ladies and their supporting actors are superb. Who doesn’t love McCarthy? When she’s not doing stupid comedy, McCarthy shows exceptional dramatic chops and does so here. Haddish — who also has mostly done comedy — is quite good in a hardcore dramatic role. And that’s hardcore with a capital H.

But other than Moss’ Claire and her assassin boyfriend — done wonderfully by Star Wars’ Domhnall Gleeson — Berloff’s characters have the two dimensional characteristics of those you’d see on the pages of a comic book. The two actors take full advantage and have fun with them. The other actors do the best they can with what they have.

That said, when you don’t have much to play with, it’s hard to play.

Here’s what it comes down to. Some things cooked in “The Kitchen” are quite tasty.

Cook it a little better and this might have been an A+ movie. However, some things on the menu are like rubbery chicken or undercooked fish. They look good but once served, and after a bite or two, you return the item to the kitchen and order something else.

▪ Rated R for violence, language and mature themes. It’s playing at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12, at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

▪ Rating: 2 out of 5

Isabela Moner in "Dora and the Lost City of Gold." Moner stars in the new live-action film out Friday, Aug. 9, that presents an older but still adventurous version of the popular animated character from the Nickelodeon Jr. series “Dora the Explorer.” Vince Valitutti Associated Press

‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’

Watch the trailer

“Dora the Explorer” started its TV run in 2000. I don’t know that much about her other than knowing she exists. That’s not a surprise since the series wasn’t made for me and neither is her live action movie.

The movie has Dora doing the kind of expected exploring that Dora and her monkey pal Boots have done for years. The twist this time comes with the type of exploration. Dora goes to a new and very dangerous place. High school. No surprise, the overly effervescent Dora doesn’t fit, quickly makes an enemy of her class’s president and totally embarrasses her cousin Diego.

That story ultimately takes Dora to more familiar territory when she, Diego, the class prez and the class geek end up kidnapped and taken to the jungles of Peru where Dora’s explorer parents are missing. They were searching for a legendary Incan city that is packed with treasures.

Isabela Moner is perfectly cast as Dora. She bounces through the movie like Dorothy skipping down the yellow brick road. At times, and as she prances along, I almost expected her to start singing, “we’re off to see the Wizard.”

Moner has an electric personality and a ton of talent. She totally shined in “Instant Family” and was the only bright spot in the last — awful — Transformers movie. Hopefully, she doesn’t get typecast and stuck doing Dora forever. If not, Moner has a very bright future.

Her supporting cast of young and older talent includes Jeff Wahlberg (Mark’s nephew), Eva Longoria, Michael Pena, Eugenio Derbez, Madeleine Madden and Nicholas Coombe. They — like Moner — have a blast with this sometimes funny script.

“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” isn’t rocket science. It’s packed with CGI and other effects, has a short animated section and is as predictable as you are already predicting.

But it wasn’t made for you, or for me, or for anyone approaching the designation of an adult. We all think of Dora as a little girls thing. It’s actually not. I sat in a theater full of girls and boys of all ages and they all seemed to love it. That led to another surprise. Usually animated fare turned real life action running over 90-minutes has kids squirming.

Though it’s definitely 20-minutes too long, in this case the kids were riveted. So the children begging you to take them, pulling at your pant legs, stomping their feet and crying, will love it. You — interestingly and surprisingly — will likely find Dora adorable, too.

▪ Rated PG for some mature themes. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s, at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

▪ Rating: 4 out of 5

Aldis Hodge, left, as Brian Banks and Greg Kinnear as Justin Brooks in Tom Shadyac's "Brian Banks." Katherine Bomboy/Bleeker Street TNS

‘Brian Banks’

Brian Banks had a very bright future. College fame for sure and probably a career in the National Football League. That was the opinion of scouts who had no doubt that Banks was going to end up doing very, very well.

Life — unfortunately for Banks — had other plans.

In 2002 while at summer school between his junior and senior years of high school Banks was accused of raping a student. He was tried as an adult and sentenced to six-years in prison and five-years of very intense, and very restrictive parole.

Plus, Banks had to register as a sex offender.

Banks was innocent. Poor, black and not all that well-versed in the nation’s often unfair legal system, and given — he says — very bad advice from a public defender, Banks ended up jailed.

Bye, bye football and the potential of a life of fame and luxury.

Unfortunately, a lot of the marketing for the film deals with football so a lot of people are expecting a football movie. While this is about a football player, and a few football shots are needed, director Tom Shadyac and writer Doug Atchison rightfully, and righteously focus on the railroading of a human being by a system that doesn’t listen and often doesn’t care.

Banks is black, automatically guilty and just another number.

“Brian Banks” picks up Banks’ story while he’s on parole and his story unfolds in flashbacks and in real time. Aldis Hodge from TV’s “City on a Hill” and the movie “A Good Day to Die Hard” plays Banks. With makeup and some good CGI, Shadyac manages to almost make him look like a teenager in those all-critical high school scenes.

Most of the time, however, the totally buff Hodge looks like the formidable linebacker that Banks could have become if given a chance. Along with some terrific acting from Hodge, Greg Kinnear — who plays Justin Brooks of the California Innocence Project — and their costars, it is the loss of a chance at a better life that drives the movie.

Banks’ loss and his solo, almost superhuman effort to clear his name is a riveting story.

In real life, Banks was single-minded. That’s how Hodge plays him. He knew he did nothing wrong other than behave like a typical teen. Yet, the legal system — and his own representation — treated him as if he was guilty from the outset. Banks’ quest to get exonerated was made even more difficult by the $1.6 million settlement given to his accuser and her mother.

This kind of movie is a real change of pace for Shadyac. His career is packed with simple — and often stupid — comedy like “Bruce Almighty,” “Evan Almighty” and the first Ace Ventura flick.

Banks’ struggle and his frustration with the system is done perfectly by Shadyac and Atchison. The script is matter-of-fact. It’s not pushy nor overly political. They assume we already know the system is biased against a Brian Banks and that fact doesn’t need to be beaten to death.

To show the bias of the courts and the poor representation of legal council, the two men simply tell Banks’ story. There’s no need to read between the lines, it’s all there. The all there — by the way — is a solid movie that, in the end, shows how the ultra positive Banks was able to take all that misery and turn it into a life that is now, full of hope and very positive.

“Brian Banks” got hosed in real life but his story and this movie scores a touchdown.

▪ Rated PG-13 for mature themes and some language. It’s playing at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12.

▪ Rating: 4 out of 5