Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Thompson saves an underwhelming Late Night

Late Night, directed by Nisha Ganatra (a Canuck from Vancouver, by the way) is not as funny as the trailer would have you believe. The best laughs come in the first 20 minutes or so, with pokes at late night TV host Katherine Newbury’s (Emma Thompson) stale monologues and uptightness, along with idiot employees and political correctness. But then the movie turns into a quasi-comedy as we start feeling Newbury’s pain after being told by new network president Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan) that she’s being replaced by a vulgar YouTube by way of comedy club comedian (in 2019 is there any other kind, I ask sarcastically), played by Daniel Tennant. Mindy Kaling as Molly Patel, and a real-life TV and movie star of the moment who wrote this movie’s screenplay, arrives on the scene. In Late Night, she has no TV background but wins a contest to choose a company she admires to try out a work assignment at. From the trailer, I’d expected an outspoken off the wall acerbic personality. Instead Kaling’s Patel is as serious as studying in the library on a Saturday night. But her earnestness is her redeeming feature and she doesn’t hold back telling Newbury what’s wrong with her show. The problem, in a nutshell, is Newbury’s WASPish superiority and highbrow demeanor and how her program is so out of touch with average people (kind of like a PBS or CBC program – ha ha - as opposed to what you’d find on a mainstream network). Newbury is so above it all she hasn’t even met her writers, nor have they ever been on her stage. This seems rather far-fetched; in fact, how could someone like Newbury even keep a show in private television for as long as she has? Patel pointedly tells her she has to loosen up, invite popular culture guests that are anathema to the show host, and get “political.” One of her first new jokes is about Republican male politicians wanting to ban abortion. (Why is it always Republicans who are the target of jokes?) And Newbury gets out on the street interviewing black people who can’t hail a cab because of their skin color. The best part of the movie is Thompson, very much a complete actress with naturalness, verve and indeed humor. What did I wish for and didn’t get from Late Night? More frequent one liners and sight gags and general send ups of the culture of late-night TV and network programming. For a comedy this is a tad serious. 

Murder Mystery (Netflix) directed by Kyle Newacheck, starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. We’ve seen this kind of plot before. Average US couple – this time from Brooklyn – goes on delayed Honeymoon to Europe, only to be caught up with rogues and be the centre of a murder mystery. Like Murder on the Orient Express only on a yacht. There are the predictable jokes with the ordinary American couple matching wits with Euro sophistos. But the script, directing and acting just doesn’t quite deliver.

Performance (Criterion Channel). Hard to believe I’d never seen this 1970 film by Nicolas Roeg starring Mick Jagger, though I’ve heard the songs from the soundtrack dozens of times. But what a mess the movie turns out to be. The story centers around Chas/Johnny Dean (James Fox), a vicious gang banger who seeks refuge in an apartment owned by Turner (Jagger, who plays an obscure rock star). Fox is so good he put the chills in me and Jagger isn’t bad at all in his acting debut; calm and collected just like ‘ol Mick always is. But the plot is convoluted with all kinds of needless cul de sacs and arcane references. Then again it was 1970.

Career Girls (Criterion Channel). Mike Leigh’s 1997 film about female friends takes place in the present and the past, constantly switching between the two. The past is the 1980s when roommates Annie (Lynda Steadman) and Hannah (Katrin Cartlidge) are rather thrown together in a student apartment. Both have weird tics and behavioral issues. Annie is nervous and seems to have Tourette’s; she keeps jerking her head around. Hannah is uber aggressive. A decade later they have settled down and their behavior is more subdued. The plot is strictly stream of consciousness or cinéma verité as they go about their daily lives. But it still made me ask: why do I care? Kudos, however, to both actors for having put on extremely natural performances.

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