Late Night

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Late Night

At last, a good one: “Late Night.” Emma Thompson becomes our guide to contemporary workplace politics and she does it in a fast, light comedy that makes fun of it all. Her character, Katherine Newbury, has been the major star of a late-night talk show that has begun to sink after more than a decade in the spotlight. Thompson injects Katherine with a slew of emotions from arrogance to sadness to wounded pride. Suddenly, she is about to be fired for being old-fashioned in the new culture. Her material is dated, and she is old.

As a first rank TV star, Katherine got away with being arrogant off screen as she delivered her demands like gunshots. Now it’s all downhill as her boss and the writers she has ignored turn nasty. Against her better judgement, Katherine hires Molly (Mindy Kaling), an earnest young woman who is both a passionate fan of the show and a product of the culture of the moment. Molly plants the comical seeds of change in the routine of her reluctant boss.

As Katherine sinks emotionally, she goes home at night to Walter, a lovely, gentle husband who never criticizes his powerhouse wife but is there for her always. This is a fine performance by John Lithgow who makes it completely believable that his love and support for his wife remain strong and uncritical even in her downfall.

Though Emma Thompson is the atomic explosion that ignites all the fun, the whole cast works in comic tune with the plot. Mindy Kaling’s Molly lights all the contemporary emotional sparks that make us laugh as the story reflects the mood of today. She fuels the chemistry that turns the nightmare around.

As we watch the turnaround, we realize what we have heard before: that comedy is the toughest of all performing assignments. Katherine, whose successful comedian had been an arrogant success, is still a tough nut as she learns the culture of today, but she opens her character – if not herself – to change. The result? We root for her when she remodels her humor for the next generation.

The strength of this movie is that it is built around one character who is outrageous and smart as she demands loyalty from everyone else. If that sounds grim, it isn’t. Everyone around the star has a stake in her success and they jump on board to help bring her into the future. Today’s comedians must be rooted in the new culture. It’s a time for age to evaporate as a bar to success. This whole comedy is rooted right there and is delivered in a contemporary script by a cast that gets it. It’s a comedy that hits its target.

There aren’t many actors who could carry this off with the humor and grace Emma Thompson wraps around this character. She’s terrific. This is a bright spark in a dull movie season. Grab it.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Late Night
Word Count : 493
Running Time : 1:42
Rating : R
Date : June 16, 2019

This review was posted on June 16, 2019, in Comedy, Drama.

The Souvenir and Rocketman

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Rocketman

Though The Souvenir and Rocketman are polar opposites, perhaps one of the two will appeal to some of you in this strange movie summer.

Rocketman features a shy man who suffers the effects of fame as he learns to live with his success. He is beautifully acted by Taron Egerton who takes Elton John on the journey of a shy man trying hard to adjust to his new success as a singer through a bad period of alcohol, cocaine, sex, drugs, and anger. There is an air of inevitability about all this. He grew up with two nasty, selfish parents while music kept bursting out of him. He had no emotional support. His friend Bernie (Jamie Bell) sustains him in adulthood.

The early scenes of the boy’s magical music ability in that grim house are very moving and make us care deeply about this boy/teen/adult as the story unfolds in bars while he becomes famous through his ability with rock, soul, country and western. The boy becomes Elton John singing to crowds and sinking into alcohol, fame, and aloneness.

Though alcohol trouble usually weakens movies, this one’s central character is played with such extraordinary musical talent by Taron Egerton that the story soars whenever he is onscreen – drunk or sober. Egerton delivers the singer’s talent and his innate decency so well that we are held by him throughout. He captured us in the early scenes as a boy prodigy with no one in his home to encourage him. As the strength we saw in him as a boy resurfaces, the audience grins in pleasure and most are dancing in their seats. Be sure to stay for the credits that update the audience on Elton John’s several decades of sobriety and musical success.

In rare unanimity, The Souvenir won the first-place crown at Sundance and has received ten reviews of 100% from top critics. What fun, I thought, to see a winner. On that day, my eagerness gave way to deep disappointment. All but a handful of us had walked out. The movie was made by real pros and that’s exactly how it felt – a handful of experienced, talented original filmmakers and actors rooted in the assumption that their audiences would understand their experimental movie.

A young film student named Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) picks as her lover a complicated mess of a man. That would be Anthony (Tom Burke). The fine actor Tilda Swinton appears infrequently with her real life relative. The movie needs more of her. What we get is a fractured story of an inexperienced Julie trying to make both a film and her own love affair work.

The whole movie is a string of scenes that begin and end without letting us in on what’s going on. Yes, Tom Burke delivers the rapid decay of a man and Honor Swinton Byrne gives us a fractured young filmmaker but nothing they do captures our interest or our hearts.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : The Souvenir and Rocketman
Word Count : 496
Running Time : 1:54
Rating : R
Date : June 9, 2019