Movie Review: ‘Late Night’ Brings Some Diverse Casting, But Not Diverse Storytelling Ideas, to the Workplace Comedy Genre

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CREDIT: Emily Aragones/Amazon Studios

Starring: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott, Hugh Dancy, Max Casella, Amy Ryan, Paul Walter Hauser, John Early, Ike Barinholtz

Director: Nisha Ganatra

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rating: R for Comedy Writers Talking as They Do

Release Date: June 7, 2019 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide June 14, 2019

Late Night stars Mindy Kaling (who also penned the script) as Molly Patel, the new hire at a talk show’s previously all-male, all-white writers’ room. But the real kicker isn’t so much the push for a diversity hire as much as it is Molly’s professional background, or lack thereof. She previously worked as an efficiency expert at a chemical plant and made it into her new gig through the most contrived of circumstances. I could complain about how unlikely Molly’s journey is, but I actually don’t care about the unlikelihood. The most improbable version of this story possible is perfectly fine so long as it is also some combination of funny, unique, and insightful. Alas, it is not really any of those things.

CREDIT: Emily Aragones/Amazon Studios

The setup isn’t the problem. In addition to the Molly angle, there’s also the matter of this show being hosted by a woman, the legendary (i.e., relic) Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson). Late Night tries to say something meaningful about how even a woman can reinforce the good ol’ boy status quo. But Katherine’s mistreatment of her staff transcends gender and race. And ultimately the social commentary amounts to little more than a red herring. This is mainly the story of the odd couple friendship that develops between Katherine and Molly, which is nice enough, but it struggles to be resonant within a rather scattered, shallow approach.

Late Night is Recommended If You Like: Watching old middle-of-the-road late night talk show clips

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Monologue Jokes

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Beautiful Boy’ Captures the Wrenching Agony and Anxiety of Addiction

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CREDIT: Francois Duhamel/Amazon Studios

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Kaitlyn Dever, Andre Royo, Timothy Hutton, Jack Dylan Grazer

Director: Felix Van Groeningen

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: R for Unflinching Drug Injection

Release Date: October 12, 2018 (Limited)

Since becoming the sort of moviegoer who sees as many new releases as possible, I have noticed more and more a certain breed of film that portrays anxiety so unflinchingly that I would never recommend watching it to anyone suffering through their own bouts of anxiety. Perhaps this type of film has been around for decades, and the reason I hadn’t taken notice before was because I would have rarely voluntarily watched them while just hanging out at home, trying to have a good time. But I suspect that it is also true that as a culture we have become more comfortable with portraying mental struggles on screen. Whatever the explanation for this trend, it is time to recognize and codify the Overwhelming Anxiety subgenre for the sake of all moviegoers.

Beautiful Boy might just be the apotheosis of the Overwhelming Anxiety film. It is certainly the most painful example that I can remember. It even features a scene with a doctor examining an MRI scan of an addict’s brain, explaining that the anxiety receptors are essentially screaming out in agony. The addict in question is Nic Sheff, whose mere existence became a constant struggle for his family when he started using methamphetamine as a teenager. Timothée Chalamet plays Nic in a constant state of agony; even in the quieter moments when he seems to be getting by okay, he subtly conveys the black hole in his soul that is impossible to fill except with years of hope and patience. Beautiful Boy is primarily about the destruction that addiction levels against the addict’s loved ones, and bearing the brunt of that is Nic’s father David (Steve Carell). Father and son are like two halves of a whole that cannot possibly disconnect, even when a break seems like it must be the healthiest choice. Carell and Chalamet give performances that are wonders to behold, but just make sure you give your brain a quick health check before you attempt to behold them.

Beautiful Boy is Recommended If You Like: Hoping against hope, Great acting about difficult subject matter

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Addiction

This Is a Movie Review: Monster Trucks

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This review was originally published on News Cult in January 2017.

Starring: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Barry Pepper, Thomas Lennon, Danny Glover, Rob Lowe

Director: Chris Wedge

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG for Mild Supernatural Danger

Release Date: January 13, 2017

Have you guys seen the poster for Monster Trucks? I mean, have you seen it?!

A quiet squid-like creature from the bottom of a lake wanders into a junkyard, where he practically becomes an automobile-fish hybrid as he finds shelter in the monster truck built by high school senior Tripp (Lucas Till). This could very easily be the setup for a horror movie in the vein of Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the character design of the squid-thing (dubbed “Creech” by Tripp) is kind of disturbing: long gooey tentacles and a full set of sharp, ever-present teeth. Plus, he subsists on oil, which suggests a sort of Chekhov’s Flammability that is commented upon but never delivered.

But this is indeed a Nickelodeon movie and not a classic Universal monster movie, and it bears the hallmarks of many a kids movie. There are the adults playing teenagers (Till is 26 and could pass for 30, while his tutor/love interest Jane Levy actually makes for a convincing high schooler even though she’s a year older), which is especially exacerbated by all the age-appropriate extras. There is the evil corporation whose actions set the creature loose in the first place and practically owns the whole town. There is the absentee father, plus an authority figure (Barry Pepper as Sheriff Rick) serving as Mom’s (Amy Ryan) new boyfriend. And of course there is the whole “boy and his pet” vibe between Tripp and Creech, with E.T. as a clear supernatural precedent.

Monster Trucks is worth watching if you ironically or genuinely appreciate all entries in this genre, and this particular example is due to spark unusual enthusiasm because that poster image of CreechTruck is just so striking. Does the film live up to that promise? Yes, but only in fits and starts. This is basically Fast and the Furious, Jr., and thus there are a few transcendently gravity-defying moments of Creech and his crew flying through the air. But there is weirdly little time spent freaking out over how strange this whole situation is. Most characters accept Creech’s existence remarkably quickly, which is frankly a sign of maturity. And in fact this movie is rather adult in a lot of ways. That is true in terms of the good (the acting is strong across the board – Levy is her typical delightful self, half of Thomas Lennon’s career is as a ringer in assembly line crap, and Rob Lowe is perfect, though underutilized, as the face of corporate evil), the bad (Creech has as much of a knack for collateral structural damage as any superhero), and the underwhelming, which this not-bizarre-enough head-scratcher all too often is.

Monster Trucks is Recommended If You Like: The Fast and Furious series but wish it were more kid-friendly, Mac and Me, the Evil Dead remake

Grade: 2.5 out 5 Twentysomethings Playing Teenagers

This Is a (Quickie) Movie Review: Bridge of Spies

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Bridge-of-Spies

Bridge of Spies sneaks up on you. The 20th century conflict between the Americans and the Soviets was not just cold, it was also dry. Accordingly, Bridge of Spies is mostly procedural. Discussions of due process are elucidated, and negotiations are often portrayed as merely functional. This approach is boosted with impassioned integrity and deadpan existentialism (the best running gag is Mark Rylance as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel asking “Would it help?” when told he never worries). Then, the movie brings out its finishing move, throwing down with the scale of all that negotiator James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) achieves, through the power of patience and keeping the faith.