[Early Review] Late Night (2019)

Director: Nisha Ganatra

Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Max Casella, Hugh Dancy, Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan

Screenplay: Mindy Kaling

102 mins. Rated R for language throughout and some sexual references.

 

Late Night had a lot of strong buzz coming out of Sundance earlier this year, most of it focused around Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Missing Link) and the screenplay from co-star Mindy Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time, TV’s The Office). I was able to catch the film last night at an early screening, and the buzz is absolutely correct.

Katherine Newbury (Thompson) has been the host of a late night talk-show for decades, but she comes to realize under the ownership of new network president Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan, Birdman, Beautiful Boy) that she has lost her passion, and she learns that she is soon to be replaced. Challenged by this fact, she hires a woman, Molly Patel (Kaling) to her writing staff with no writing experience. Molly’s equally challenged by the entirely male-dominated writing staff. She buts heads with Monologue Writer Tom (Reid Scott, Venom, TV’s Veep) and starts up a fling with the handsome Charlie (Hugh Dancy, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, TV’s Hannibal). But Molly quickly learns that she is in the lion’s den, and the leader is Katherine, a host who has never brought her personality, beliefs, or background, into the show, and the two women slowly find that they can learn a lot from each other, if they can survive each other.

This is Thompson’s movie, hands down, and it’s one of her most surprising and charismatic performances in a long and varied career. Her take on Newbury is interesting and nuanced. She says early in the film that she only ever really cared about two things: the first being her husband Walter (John Lithgow, Pet Sematary, TV’s 3rd Rock from the Sun) and the other being her show. It’s sad to hear her say it because of how she is frequently on the edge of losing both, Walter to his illness and the show to a younger, dumber host. At the same time, she fails to understand that she is self-sabotaging herself. It is only in her struggle to find an understanding of Molly’s feedback that she is able to grow, if she decides to listen to it.

Molly’s an interesting character. For the most part, her character’s inclusion in the film is a bit of a conceit, and not very realistic, but I was able to push past it for the needs of the narrative. Her character and Kaling’s performance shine in the ways that Molly is so much like Newbury. She knows not to hook up with the handsome writer she now works with, and she states that this is her dream job, and then she too self-sabotages.

The writer’s room cast of characters are all quite funny here. It’s great to see Paul Walter Hauser show up; he’s an absolute delight in everything. I think we get a nice crew of writer/showbiz archetypes that never feel flat because of the diverse collection of performers placed in the roles. Kaling’s screenplay gives most of them something to do without resorting to grouping them all together.

Director Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn, Pete’s Christmas) capably handles the film, and while her style here is nothing flashy, it is her focus on the characters and relationships that keep the whole thing afloat and moving, and the film just flies by thanks to some strong editing and tight storytelling.

Late Night showcases another powerhouse acting performance for Emma Thompson, one I expect that will be talked about in the next few months as we tick closer to the awards season. Kaling’s screenplay doesn’t provide as many laughs as I had expected, but there’s so much heart to it, and some of the funnier bits come out of the real situations she places her characters. It’s a sweet and occasionally funny trip to a part of our entertainment process not so often looked at. This comes highly recommended.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 10th Birthday!] Alexander (2004)

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Director: Oliver Stone

Cast: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Hopkins

Screenplay: Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis

175 mins. Rated R for violence and some sexuality/nudity.

 

Ten years ago today, silver screens everywhere were graced with the presence of Oliver Stone’s newest film, a bold epic about Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, Winter’s Tale). Audiences and critics alike were in agreement. This was one of the worst films ever. I myself hadn’t seen Alexander until I heard that the 10th anniversary was coming, so I took it upon myself to see if the film has aged well or if perhaps the rest of the world was wrong.

As it turns out, they weren’t.

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This movie is dreck. The plot is unbearably convoluted to sift through, but essentially tells the entire life story of one of the greatest rulers in existence through the word of his general Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal, Noah). We get to see his uncomfortably sensual relationship with his mother (Angelina Jolie, Maleficent, Kung Fu Panda 2), his constant need to kill his father (Val Kilmer, Heat, Palo Alto), his undersensualized sexual relationship with friend Hephaistion (Jared Leto, Requiem for a Dream, Dallas Buyers Club), and his animalistic relationship with first wife Roxane (Rosario Dawson, Sin City, Cesar Chavez). Seriously, I had no idea what was going on throughout this movie. It jumps around so damn much that I couldn’t quite remember where we were in time, which wasn’t helped with the horrible makeup that showed us that in ancient times, no one actually aged; apparently Angelina Jolie is hot no matter what age she is and Anthony Hopkins was actually born an aged bearded old man (that being said, at least a younger actor was cast to play Hopkins’ role in his flashbacks, that’s about it). I feel like this film should have been released with a light up timeline that people could check off events in the movie as they happen so we knew exactly what the hell was going on.

Colin Farrell kills it in this movie. Wait, I meant to say he killed this movie. If nothing else, I was so pissed to find that he absolutely tried his hardest not to act for the entirety of this three-hour tour. Oh, I didn’t know that Alexander was Irish. Hmmm, interesting.

I also didn’t know that somehow Alexander’s mother Olympias was Russian. It certainly seemed that way from the broken accent work given by Angelina Jolie.

Val Kilmer actually gives a nice enough performance were it not for the atrocious makeup work on his eye. You can literally see the prosthetic piece’s edge. Totally takes away what he could put down.

I actually like Jared Leto’s work as well as that of Rosario Dawson, but I felt like both roles were wasted by having nothing to do (again, I’m not complaining about Rosario’s nude scene, perhaps the only scene in the film worth keeping in the finished film).

And what was going on with Anthony Hopkins in this movie? Was his performance work based on a Roomba, because it seemed to me like he was walking all around his little balcony for 175 minutes bopping back and forth like a screensaver on a DVD player. I kept waiting to see if he would bump into a corner ‘cause I just wanted to see what would happen.

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Honestly, I have never seen a more wasted group of talent. This was one of those films that marked the end of Stone’s career; it really hasn’t moved much in a good direction since. From the opening overlong and boring prologue to the ending that seems to discredit any actual fact in the film, Alexander is a pointless film not worth the three different cuts the film had. Good movies are supposed to have multiple cuts, like Blade Runner, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Lord of the Rings films. It seemed like maybe if they kept recutting the picture, maybe they’d find a version that worked (ultimately, they did not). Avoid at all costs.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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