Catching Up With The Films of 2019: Late Night (dir by Nisha Ganatra)


Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) has just gotten a new job.  A struggling comedienne who, up until now, has been forced to test out her best material on her coworkers at a chemical plant, Molly is hired to join the writing staff of late night talk show host, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson).  Even though Molly knows that she was largely hired so that the show could claim to have a diverse writing staff (all of the other writers are white males), she is still thrilled to be working for Katherine.  Why wouldn’t she be?  Katherine is a notoriously difficult boss who can’t even be bothered to learn the names of most of the people working for her but Katherine is also a legend, one of the first women to ever host her own late night talk show.

Of course, all legends have to come to an end and Katherine’s career as a late night talk show host appears to be in its final days.  Katherine’s rating have been in a steep decline for several years and her nonthreatening monologues and habit of booking guests like Doris Kearns Goodwin are not doing much to reverse the trend.  Safely hidden away in her mansion and continually worried about the health of her Parkinson’s-stricken husband, Walter (John Lithgrow), Katherine has grown out of touch.  Making matters even worse, the president of the network (played by Mindy Kaling’s Office co-star, Amy Ryan) hates Katherine and is eager to replace her with an obnoxious, Dane Cook-style comedian named Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz).

Molly’s new job is a struggle at first.  The other writers dismiss Molly as merely being a “diversity hire” while Katherine often seems to be put off by Molly’s cheerful earnestness.  Over time, Molly proves herself and soon, she’s inspiring Katherine to refuse to leave her show without a fight.  Gone are bland monologues and boring presidential historians, replaced by politically charged humor and YouTube stars.

Late Night, as you may remember, was a huge hit at Sundance back in January.  Amazon Studios paid 13 million for the distribution rights.  The film was released in June to generally positive reviews and …. well, it made very little money.  Despite an extensive advertising campaign and a deluge of think pieces that literally begged audiences to see the film, Late Night flopped at the box office and it is estimated that, taking into account the film’s ad campaign, Amazon lost about 40 million dollars on the film.

Why wasn’t Late Night a bigger success at the box office?  At the time, the popular answer was misogyny.  While one should never discount that, I think that the film’s failure had more to do with the fact that the ad campaign made Late Night look more like the latest Netflix series than an actual cinematic experience.  Like a lot of movies about TV, Late Night was a film that seemed like it could wait for television.  I mean, I am the film’s target audience and even I waited to watch the film on Prime.

As for the film itself, it’s flawed but likable.  Along with co-starring in the film, Mindy Kaling wrote the script and the dialogue is consistently witty, even if the plot occasionally struggles to keep up.  At its best, this is a fun movie to listen to.  Visually, the film’s a bit flat and there’s a big third act development that feels a bit forced but, for the most part, the film works.  Not surprisingly, Emma Thompson is perfectly cast as Katherine and she delivers her razor sharp lines with the right mix of scorn and pathos.  Mindy Kaling effortlessly holds her own opposite Thompson and even John Lithgow, who can usually be counted upon to chew every piece of scenery available to him, is effective in his small but important role.  In the end, it’s kind of a sweet film and there’s something touchingly naive about the film’s steadfast belief that a late night talk show can actually be worth all the trouble.

Late Night is available on Prime so check it out.

 

Trash TV Guru : “Hannibal,” Episode 1 : “Aperitif”


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Okay, here’s the deal — if you follow my “writing” (am I being too generous already?) either here on TTSL, on my own site,  http://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com, or on other places where my “byline” (again with the generosity!) occasionally appears such as dailygrindhouse.com, geekyuniverse.com, or what have you, it’s probably become apparent to you by this point that I don’t talk TV that much. Movies? Sure, all the time. Comics? Yeah, what the hell, I opine on those plenty, as well. But TV? This is, to my knowledge, a first. A new frontier. A new era. A new beginning. A bold, vast, wide-open, new horizon.

Okay, now I know I’m being far too generous. And grandiose. So I’ll cut it the fuck out right now.

Seriously, though, there’s a reason I don’t talk TV that much — I don’t watch TV that much. Alright, fair enough — I more or less never miss a Wolves or Wild game, so what I mean to say is that I don’t watch series TV that much. It’s just not my bag. Even with DVR and cable on demand, both of which negate the need to be in front of your screen at a set time every week,  it’s fair to say that continuing, serialized television just ain’t my thang for the most part. I’m a die-hard Doctor Who fan and have been since age, I dunno, six or seven, but my absolute, long-standing love for that show precludes me from saying what I really think about its current, depressing, lowest-common-denominator iteration too publicly. And I watch The Walking Dead and Bates Motel but Arleigh and Lisa Marie, respectively, have got those bases covered around these parts already. I’d been kind of wanting to dip my toes into the metaphorical waters of TV criticism on this site for awhile now, but there just didn’t seem much to be much point.

Then, I heard that the network suits at NBC had become either adventurous or desperate enough to green-light a series based around Hannibal Lecter, and furthermore that said new series was actually good, so I figured here’s my chance. Fair enough, the new show, simply (and unimaginatively) called Hannibal, shared a title with Ridley Scott’s genuinely atrocious entry into the Lecter cinematic canon, but why hold that against it? Especially since the territory it was going to mine, the backstory set before both the very best (Michael Mann’s Manhunter) and very worst (Brett Rattner’s Red Dragon) of the cannibal shrink’s celluloid exploits, seemed ripe for mining. Plus, rumor had it that the first episode was going to be directed by David Slade, who gave us 30 Days Of Night  and Hard Candy, two films I absolutely loved (we won’t hold the Twilight flick he did against him).

So, I figured, here it was — a show I could get in on the ground floor of and review every week for the edification of you, dear Through The Shattered Lens reader, whoever you are.

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Confession time — I still missed the first episode anyway, despite my best intentions. The Wild were playing that night, so sue me. But I dutifully watched it on Comcast On Demand the next evening, and went in with pretty high hopes. It seemed that pretty much everyone liked this thing, from the most cynical corners of the internet to the most pompous and self-important to the most populist to, frankly, the dumbest (Entertainment Weekly, for instance, raved about it). Yup, everybody seemed to be in agreement — TV is bad bad for you, except for Hannibal.

So, yeah — maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I just don’t “get” how series TV works. Maybe I stupidly wanted it to look and feel like Manhunter on, probably, a fraction of that film’s budget. And maybe — just maybe — I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, but I thought that episode one of Hannibal, titled (again rather unimaginatively) “Aperitif,” sucked.

The setup, developed/dumbed down for television by series semi-creator Bryan Fuller (Thomas Harris should still get the lion’s share of the credit in my book) probably should work (and maybe on paper it does) — FBI special agent Will Graham, here played by Hugh Dancy (he of the bloodied glasses in the photo below) is paired with noted psychoanalyst Dr. Hannibal Lecter , here played by Mads Mikkelsen (he of the refined table manners pictured above) by Bureau big-shot Jack Crawford, here played by Laurence Fishburne (he  of the admittedly rather uptight appearance pictured far below). Yup, Graham and Lecter are, for all intents and purposes, partners.

Cool, right? And let’s just for the time being leave aside the fact that Dancy is no William Petersen circa the mid-1980s and that Mikkelsen is no Bryan Cox (still the best screen Lecter, I don’t care what anybody says) or Anthony Hopkins. This is TV, we gotta set our sights lower. But even making allowances for all of that, this was still a thoroughly lifeless, clinical, dull affair. Mikkelsen’s Lecter is closer to the version seen (by those who actually did bother to see it) in Hannibal Rising, which I guess makes sense given that he’s still in the early stages of his cannibalistic career here, and by that I don’t just mean that his vaguely eastern European accent is still present. I mean he’s not the older, accomplished, seen-it-and-done-it-all super-genius criminal of the Cox and Hopkins variety — he’s still, for lack of a better way of putting it, nothing but a pompous ass who happens to eat people. Which I guess makes him more interesting than a pompous ass who doesn’t eat people, but only marginally so.

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As far as Dancy’s interpretation of Graham goes, he probably does a better job in the role than Ed Norton did in Red Dragon, but the ultra-trendy twists Fuller gives the character — placing him somewhere in the autistic disorder spectrum, making him single so he can apparently spark up a love interest a few episodes down the line with co-star Caroline Dhavernas — are both unnecessary and, frankly, kinda patronizing. A lot of people seem to love the the way that this show has Graham mentally “re-live” the murders he’s investigating (all of which in this opening episode supposedly take place in my home state of Minnesota — probably by way of either rural California or Vancouver) by re-casting himself in the role of the killer, but I found it to be pretty gimmicky, to be honest, and already thoroughly predictable by the second time the conceit was employed.  I’ll take William Petersen’s anguished-and-angry version of the character from Manhunter any day of the week, even if I did promise not to hold the series to the same standards as the films.

And, since I opened that door anyway — one thing that both Michael Mann and Jonathan Demme understood about Hannibal Lecter that, frankly and depressingly, no one else has seemed to be able to figure out is that, underneath his civilized and erudite trappings, this is essentially a blackly comic character.  The greatest flaw of Hannibal the TV series — even greater than the lame-as-hell, wrapped-up-way-too-quickly-and-conveniently murder “mystery” here in episode one — is  its insistence on continuing the humorless, morose trend previously established by Ridley Scott, Brett Rattner, and whoever the hell it was who directed Hannibal Rising. Fuller and Slade just plain don’t seem to get this guy at anything beyond the most surface level, and that’s a shame, because apparently we’re in for 12 more weeks of this shallow, thoroughly unsatisfying interpretation of the character.

Serie 'CSI'

Or, should I say, you are. My days as an armchair TV critic are over (at least for now). Hannibal had a few good things going for it, I suppose — particularly Laurence Fishburne’s spot-on take on Jack Crawford and the nifty little scene where Lecter feeds human meat to Graham (unbeknownst to him, of course) — but not enough to get me to tune in for more.  I’m going back to what I know best. CSI with a cannibal just doesn’t do it for me. Now, Cannibal Holocaust on the other hand —

Film Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (directed by Sean Durkin)


Martha Marcy May Marlene was, for me, one of the most surprising films of 2011.  I wasn’t expecting much when I went to see it because so much of the film’s publicity centered on the fact that it starred Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of the Olsen Twins.  Needless to say, we don’t usually associate the Olsen Twins with challenging and mature filmmaking and, even though they had nothing to do with Martha Marcy May Marlene, it was impossible to read or hear about the film without them being mentioned.  For a lot of people, this led to Martha Marcy May Marlene being dismissed by association.  That’s really not fair to the film or Elizabeth Olsen (or the Olsen Twins, for that matter).  Martha Marcy May Marlene is a haunting and disturbing little psychological thriller and one of the best films of 2011.

Olsen plays Martha, a young woman who, one day, shows up at the home of her older sister and her husband (played by Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy).  Though the film never gets into the specific details, it becomes apparent that Paulson and Olsen are the products of a dysfunctional background.  Olsen escaped by running away from home while Paulson found her exit by marrying the rather arrogant Dancy.  Hoping to repair their own strained relationship, Paulson agrees to let Olsen stay with them, despite both the objections of Dancy and Olsen’s refusal to say where she’s been.  No sooner has Olsen moved in then it starts to become apparent that she’s not the same person that Paulson remembers. When Paulson asks Olsen if she wants to take a swim in the nearby lake, Olsen responds by stripping off her clothes in front of Dancy and when Paulson and Dancy are trying to conceive their first child, Olsen sees nothing wrong with casually walking into the room and laying down on the bed beside them.  More ominously, Olsen soon reveals herself to be paranoid of strangers.  As Paulson struggles to understand her sister, we see flashbacks of a much more open (and trusting) Olsen joining a cult-like group, led by a magnetic John Hawkes.

Director Sean Durkin makes an assured debut with this film, subtly shifting between the present and the past and filling the screen with beautifully placid images that somehow manage to leave the audience with an unshakeable sense of menace and foreboding.  As a storyteller, Durkin keeps the audience guessing and wondering about both who Martha once was, who she eventually became, and who she’s going to be in the future.  Wisely Durkin doesn’t provide any easy solutions as much as he poses questions and then suggests a possible answer. 

If you’re like and you’re a true crime and/or exploitation junkie (I’m both), you’ll realize immediately that the character played by John Hawkes is pretty blatantly based on Charles Manson and his followers are the equivalent of Manson’s “family.”  What’s interesting is how Hawkes manages to keep his character both threatening and intriguing even after this become apparent.  Hawkes radiates such charisma in the beginning of the film that the scenes where he eventually reveals his true colors are shocking, despite the fact that you know they’re coming.  It’s a performance that proves that Hawkes is one of the best character actors working today and Durkin skillfully contrasts Hawkes’s more subtle form of domination with Hugh Dancy’s more obvious technique with the film ultimately suggesting that both of these patriarchal characters are just two sides of the same coin.

Ultimately, though, the film is dominated by Elizabeth Olsen who gives a performance that is simply brilliant.  Alternatively innocent and calculating, Martha is a fascinating character and Olsen brings her to haunting life.  As a result of Olsen’s brave performance, Martha Marcy May Marlene joins with Hanna and Shame as a great modern film about the search for identity.  This has been a year full of strong female performances and Olsen gives one of the strongest.  The next time some shyster tries to sell you on the idea that Rooney Mara is the actress of the future, tell them to go see Martha Marcy May Marlene.