FlixChatter Review: LATE NIGHT (2019)

I watched Dame Emma Thompson on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert where she described this movie as a science-fiction given that her character is a late-night talk show host. Ba da bing! She definitely has a point there, a jab at the establishment she delivered rather stealthily the only way she could.

Thompson’s character, Katherine Newbury, is the only woman ever to have a long-running program on late night in a male-dominated field, just like real life. However, the award-winning late-night talk show host has been losing her mojo. In fact, her ratings is declining so much that her network threatens to replace her with a younger, more hip male host. Portrayed as a sarcastic British icon who’s notoriously principled and detached, she’s also, as her producer points out, has a reputation as a ‘woman who hates women.’ All her writers, which Katherine herself barely even knew, are all white males. Along comes Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), a former quality control expert from a Pennsylvania chemical plan, who’s swiftly hired to fulfill the gender diversity quota.

It’s amazing how timely this film is right now, so much so that you can’t help but cringe at some of the humorous bits. Not cringing because the jokes were bad, but because they feel so true. There’s a scene when Molly came in to an office full of guys who refuse to even give her a chair to sit on that she had to sit on trash bin. Not to mention the blatant male chauvinistic remarks and how they constantly made her feel that she doesn’t belong. I find myself astonished at how Molly seems impervious to those remarks and how she’s able to deflect those harassments. But of course in real life, it’s the kind of thing many people of color have to deal with and I for one, can definitely relate to her.

The fact that Katherine and Molly are from very different backgrounds and have led extremely different lives are played to great effect here. Naturally, culture clashes is always a potent subject for comedies, and in the right hands, they can be poignant, eye-opening as well as hilarious. Thompson is a legend on and off screen and I can’t imagine a more perfect actor for the part (apparently Kaling wrote this character specifically for her). Katherine is quite a difficult person to like at first, but then again, it’s not like she gives a hoot if you actually like her or not (so long as you watch her show), yet she made you care about her journey. Molly on the other hand, is someone you utterly sympathize with from the start, but soon you realize she doesn’t want/need your pity. She doesn’t need a savior, thank you very much. A message that’s delivered brilliantly in the ‘white savior’ bit in Katherine’s show where she basically forces herself to ‘save’ people of color in various circumstances such as hailing a cab. It’s delivered with glee but the message is utterly powerful.

The world of late-night TV feels really believable. Now, I don’t know how it actually works behind the scenes with the writers, etc. but it felt like the filmmakers spent a great deal researching it to present something that felt true. Director Nisha Ganatra keeps the flow at the right pace while balancing the funny bits with genuine emotional moments. The parts between Katherine and her husband Walter is deeply moving. John Lithgow‘s performance elevates him far above the token supportive husband role. Hugh Dancy is quite convincing as the pretty boy home-wrecker, while Reid Scott and Max Casella have some memorable scenes as two of Katherine’s writers.

Kaling and Thompson plays on the the ‘odd couple’ type that you don’t often see on screen. What an intriguing and powerful new dynamic duo who actually displays character resilience and inner strength that’s truly inspiring. It’s also refreshing to see a ‘coming of age’ story about a woman in her 60s for a change. As in real life, it’s never too late to reinvent oneself and it takes courage to admit one’s mistake and own up to it. I also appreciate the ending that offers a subtle nod to the burgeoning relationship between Molly and Scott’s character, without pandering to the fact that the leading lady wouldn’t be complete without a man in her life. We need more movies like Late Night, it proves just how satisfying AND enjoyable a movie can be when women get to be in charge of their own narrative.


Have you seen LATE NIGHT? Let me know what you think!

 

MSPIFF14 Reviews: The Double & The Last of Robin Hood

MSPIFF_Reviews

Review by Josh P.

The-Double-PosterThe Double follows Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg, who plays against type and is award-worthy superb), a meek man unrecognizable to his co-workers, one of whom is the girl of his dreams, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska, terrific). Early in the film, Simon’s bleak life takes two unhappy turns. First, he witnesses a suicide, and then his doppelgänger, James Simon (also Eisenberg, this time playing to type), begins working at the same company, doing a similar job. James is more likable and confident than Simon, meaning he is more successful, despite being less qualified. 

Writer/director Richard Ayoade’s film isn’t exactly scary, and might not even qualify as creepy. Nor is it commonly laugh out loud funny or emotionally impacting. Plus, it is at least somewhat derivative, obviously resembling Brazil (1985), amongst other movies. At times, as when Simon says things like, ‘But I used to exist. I mean I exist. I’m standing right here,’ it is even reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s best work. By rights, then, The Double, should fail to register, should fade from memory, should be just another conceptually interesting science fiction movie unable to maximize its potential. 

The-Double-Simon_James

Thankfully, it is more than that, owing mostly to Ayoade’s fantastic production design. The film’s thematic and narrative content is dark, and so is The Double’s color palette. Here we see mostly browns and grays, with some whites mixed in; the retro computers; the televisions; the characters’ costumes; interior and exterior doors; most walls; tables; desks; and so forth. Because much of the imagery is borderline dull, the few times we see bright color (consider James’ unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt), we know something significant will soon happen. Or, at the very least, that the image is meaningful to Simon.

The movie’s retro technology and set pieces are as effective as its color palette. From the box televisions, to the copy machines with dial controls, to the small screen computers, the technology helps solidify The Double’s setting and enhance its atmosphere. Its set pieces do the same: apartments are very small, and bigger rooms are mostly filled by complicated piping connected to aforementioned machines. Before long we begin to understand Simon’s world, to feel his claustrophobia and lack of entertainment, not to mention his social disconnectedness.

The-Double-Stills

Ayoade, in other words, effectively immerses us in Simon’s reality, thereby making us care about the character and causing dread when the protagonist’s life goes horribly wrong. It doesn’t matter, in other words, that the director keeps us at psychological and emotional distance from Simon. We empathize with the character anyway. 

Which is why The Double is thematically resonant and intellectually intriguing, the sort of movie that will keep viewers thinking, even days after seeing it. What does this picture say about an individuals’ place in society? About confidence? Identity? Relationships? And more? 

Thematic power is not The Double’s only strength. The cast is terrific. Moreover, the central characters are developed well, and Ayoade and co-writer Avi Korine’s dialogue is witty. Finally, the film is funny enough to always entertain. Simply put, The Double is very good.

4.5 out of 5 reels

JJamesReviews


The Last of Robin Hood

Review by Ruth M.

TheLastOfRobinHoodposterThough the title refers to the role Errol Flynn’s best known for, this film is more about his last girlfriend, Beverly Aadland. She was only 15 years old when the legendary swashbuckler and reputable lothario made his conquest. He saw her going into Warner Bros studios, looking much older than what she actually was in her form-fitting red dress. The wide-eyed teen starlet inevitably and immediately fell for the Australian actor, but she really didn’t have much choice in the matter, given Flynn’s persistence and her own mother practically pimping her in order to *assist* her career. I can’t remember if the film said something about Flynn still being married to Patrice Wymore, but I found that out after the film.

This is really a sad story, not to mention creepy. Kevin Kline who played Flynn was 67 and Dakota Fanning as Beverly was 19 when they made the film, so the age gap between them is even bigger (47 years apart as opposed to 33). But what’s even creepier is how Beverly’s mother Florence (Susan Sarandon) not only encouraged the affair, but also willingly became the third wheel as they travel together. Her own marriage crumbled as her husband vehemently disagreed with what Florence did to their own daughter, and sensibly, he didn’t think Beverly really had talents for showbiz anyway.

TheLastOfRobinHoodStills

And so, the 90-min film pretty much follow the three of them travel from L.A., New York, Africa, even Cuba where Flynn made a pro-Castro propaganda movie starring Beverly. It’s amusing to get a glimpse how Old Hollywood operated back then, well specifically, how a notorious Golden Age movie star lived. There’s a brief scene where Flynn tried to convince Stanley Kubrick (Max Casella) to cast her alongside him in Lolita. But they soon realize that the affair didn’t really do much for Beverly’s career. The film paints a devastating picture of the ruthless desire for fame and the price people pay to achieve it. It’s not an in-depth biopic, nor a particularly emotional one either, as I barely connect with any of the characters.

All three main characters are such tragic figures in their own right, though I don’t quite have an emotional connection with any of them. I feel for Beverly the most, yet she isn’t exactly blameless in all of this. Though it seemed that Flynn genuinely cared for her, their relationship wasn’t always smooth. It lasted for merely two years when the alcoholic Flynn died suddenly of a heart attack. Seemed that beneath the devil-may-care facade, even Flynn knew that death was looming.

ErrolFlynn_KevinKline
The real Erroll Flynn & Kline in the role

I feel like this story is perhaps more suited for a TV movie or something in terms of its production quality. I think the performances are good, both Kline and Fanning are pretty committed to the role, and Kline’s resemblance to the older Flynn is pretty uncanny. Sarandon plays the ruthless and fame-hungry Florence convincingly, up until the end she still sought attention when she spoke to the tabloid about the whole affair. Despite Beverly’s insistence that she dropped the book deal, her book was still published.

If you’re a big fan of Errol Flynn this should be an interesting movie to rent. Even if you aren’t [like me, as I haven’t seen any of his movies], surely you have heard of him. It’s a pretty stylish film by Richard GlatzerWash Westmoreland, I think they managed to capture the era quite well. Just don’t expect anything profound or poignant, it’s merely amusing for me, but falls short from being a truly engaging biopic.

threereels


What do you think of these two films? 

TCFF Day 2: Trust, Greed, Bullets and Bourbon: Review and interview with Director Scott Kawczynski

TCFF_2013CoverageBnr

It’s two for two once again on Day 2!

After watching a well-crafted and eye-opening documentary Gladiators: The Uncertainty of American Football, it’s time to see the heist thriller I’ve been looking forward to. In between films, I caught up with director Scott Kawczynski right after his red carpet interview.

TCFF_ScottKawczynskiConnecting with filmmakers/talents is always a highlight at TCFF, especially someone as gracious as Scott! He flew here right from another film festival in Orlando promoting his film. Best of luck with your film, Scott, thanks so much for coming down to visit us and for making the film!

Now check out the review … and the Q&A questions below:

TrustGreedBulletsBourbon_bnr

Trust, Greed, Bullets and Bourbon: Bourbon not needed

I love a good heist movie. With a stellar cast and smartly written script, “Trust, Greed, Bullets and Bourbon” is sure to be one of my favorites at the Twin Cities Film Fest. Mixing elements of “The Italian Job” with “A Simple Plan,” the story begins five years after the group’s diamond heist and shortly after one of them nabbed in the job has gotten out of jail. They get cryptic invitations to meet at a cabin in the Catskills where they will be given clues as to where to recover the stolen loot. This may be where the “greed” in the title comes in since they all show up.

The movie was very well cast- Max Casella as Tyler, the tough guy in gambling debt (in a “Sopranos” type role…and then I remembered he was in “The Sopranos”), Larisa Polonsky as Samantha, the sassy blonde accomplice, Eric Morris as David, the pretty boy, and Kathryn Merry as Circe, the granddaughter of heist mastermind Franky. I also enjoyed Danny Burstein’s interludes as Hector, the backwoods gun-toting yokel.

TrustGreedBulletsBourbon_pics

At only about 85 minutes writer Scott Kawczynski’s directorial debut moves along crisply with moments of ironic hilarity. When David tells Tyler in front of the crew, “I can’t even trust a word out of your mouth,” Tyler responds with a confused look on his face, “Of course not. You can’t trust any of us…we’re all thieves.” Another time, as they are dragging a body into the woods searching for the hole they dug, one of them says “It seemed closer earlier.” And who doesn’t love a hit man who searches for extra bullets in his car’s glove compartment?

What could have been a tired conclusion is a pleasant surprise cleverly told so I don’t want to give any more away. A note on the “bullets” part of the title: although there are multiple murders in this movie there isn’t any gratuitous violence as the “hits” are designated by red dots streaking on screen. Maybe this was done because it’s cheaper but it appealed to me because as much as I love heist films, I have never understood movies with violence for the sake of violence. Bourbon doesn’t really come into play- maybe “Trust, Greed, Bullets and Bourbon” just sounds better than “Trust, Greed and Bullets.” There is something to be said for alliteration, after all.


4 out of 5 reels

TCFF_reviewer_Sarah


Interview with director Scott Kawczynski

1. What was the inspiration for your film? Have you been interested in doing a heist concept?

I’ve always loved heist films, especially heist films that go awry (ex: Rififi, Reservoir Dogs, Dog Day Afternoon). The exploration of the failed heist and how it effects the characters involved was very intriguing to me. You look at the situation, these people were so close to getting away with it, but one detail collapses the entire endeavor.

2. Congrats on being picked as Project of the Day by Indiewire and successfully raised your funding goal on Kickstarter. What was the biggest challenge in getting that accomplished?

Winning Indiewire’s Project of the Week was A pretty big deal. It opened lots of doors in terms of potential distribution for the film down the road, as well as a huge amount of traffic from people that might never have heard of the film.

I handled my Kickstarter differently than most, by raising money after the production was done. The money raised on Kickstarter covered the final aspects of post-production, sound mix and color correction, and the overflow money is going toward distribution costs. So the film was completely finished and locked before i even created the Kickstarter campaign. All costs previous to this, pre-production through post production editing were all self-funded. In the end I believe this was one of the smartest choices I made because I could sell the fact that the film was done and that I wasn’t looking for money to make the film – which seemed important to me for a completely unknown writer/director trying to raise funds. The majority of my funders were family, friends and friends of friends. However, my two biggest funders were people I had never met, and I truly think that having a completed project to show was key to them coming on board. My advice to anyone thinking of doing Kickstarter is to have a goal that is realistic and you believe you can raise.

3. How does the title come about? It reminds me a bit of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels which is in similar genre. Speaking of which, who are your film/filmmaker inspirations?

In simplest terms, the title words are the basic themes and vices explored by the characters in the film. The shooting script was actually titled Trust, Greed, Beer & Bourbon, but halfway through production we realized there were more bullets than beer. I like the title because it is like a mixed drink, a smidgen of Trust, a couple shots of Greed, a couple Bullets and a whole lot of Bourbon.

TrustGreedBulletsBourbon

In terms of film inspiration, in addition to the heist films I listed earlier, A Simple Plan, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Rear Window, Rope, 12 Angry, Men, Millers Crossing and Fargo I watched over and over. The Hitchcock films and 12 Angry Men were integral in studying shooting an entire film in primarily a single location.

My list of filmmakers is probably similar to many people interested in similar subject matter: Hitchcock, Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Lumet. Some newer filmmakers I really enjoy are Rian Johnson, Jeff Nichols, Shane Carruth and Duncan Jones.

4. I enjoyed looking at the pics on your blog on the shoots in NYC. What’s the most memorable moments for you in shooting/working on this film?

TrustGreedBulletsBourbon_director
The most memorable moments I had on shooting the film were watching the actors really make the characters their own, and how the characters grew into something better and beyond what was on the page. In general, the production went pretty smoothly, there were no real disasters while filming. It was also really great shaping the story. It was very important to me that the cast and crew be an integral part of making the story as good as possible, so before shooting a scene we would discuss what was about to happen, how it related to the story as a whole and if any adjustments needed to be made.

5. Lastly, you talked briefly about the casting process on your blog, but is there something else you’d like to share about that and how you assemble your crew as well?

TrustGreedBulletsBourbon_cast

First I should mention that this was an insanely low budget film, you’ve heard of Ultra-Low Budget productions, well, this is a mile below that. So because of that, I had to be very, very conscious of what everything cost. My biggest ally was the script I wrote. The actors loved it. That was huge, especially in getting Max Casella and Danny Burstein to sign on. They loved their characters and wanted to be part of the film no matter what. Dara Coleman I knew from working with him on Ed Burns films in the past, and Eric Morris, Larisa Polonsky and Kathryn Merry were found through auditions – which were done at my house (actually Kathryn’s audition was taped and she posted it for me to review).

The crew all started with my DP Rick Siegel. In the past, I had been Production Designer on a couple jobs Rick was cinematographer on. He has around 30 years of experience and has connections galore. He brought in Mike O’Brien, our awesome sound guy, the two grips and lighting assistant. The final piece of the puzzle was Associate Producer Erik Trinidad, who I have known for years from working in Advertising, he was the glue that kept everyone together.

From there it was beg and borrow. Everyone involved in the production was paid (all at a very reduced rate), but lights were provided at a very discounted price, locations were either free or reduced price (we lived in the house we shot at up in the Catskills Mountains) and everyone pitched in whenever needed. It was a complete collaboration and the essence of independent, super low-budget filmmaking. And it was fabulous.


Hope you enjoy the review and interview! If you’re a fan of heist film or who-dunnit type of thriller, check out Trust, Greed, Bullets and Bourbon when it plays in your area!


Thoughts on this film and or the interview? I’d love to hear it!