Late night (15)
Verdict: Worth staying up for – just
Gloria Bell (15)
Verdict: Compelling character study
Some of my all-time favourite movies have been about television — and, specifically, American television.
Network, Broadcast News, Quiz Show, The Truman Show . . . they all, in their different ways, gave us a good hard look, through the prism of the silver screen, at the mysteries of the dear old gogglebox.
Late Night is in the same tradition without, alas, being nearly as good.
On paper, at least, it bursts with promise. The screenplay is by Mindy Kaling, a daughter of Indian immigrants who has ransacked her own recollections of becoming the first female writer on the U.S. version of The Office.
On paper, at least, it bursts with promise. The screenplay is by Mindy Kaling, a daughter of Indian immigrants who has ransacked her own recollections of becoming the first female writer on the U.S. version of The Office
Writers’ rooms on American TV shows can be intimidating places for anyone, let alone when you’re breaking a gender barrier, to say nothing of being ‘a woman of colour’.
In Late Night, Kaling herself plays Molly Patel, who has inveigled her way from a job at a Pennsylvania chemical plant to audition as a writer on Late Night with Katherine Newbury, a talk show that has remained a TV institution without quite moving with the times.
Emma Thompson plays the eponymous host, a hard-as- lacquered-nails Englishwoman who 28 years earlier became the first female presenter of a primetime U.S. talk show and is duly something of a broadcasting legend.
Her hair is dyed unconvincingly blonde and cut mannishly short, in the Ellen DeGeneres style, although this is no reflection of her sexuality. Katherine has been happily married and has (mostly) stayed faithful to a sweet older man (John Lithgow) who is now stricken with Parkinson’s disease.
She has no children. The show has always been her baby, not that she shows any maternal warmth towards those who work for it.
The implication, though nobody articulates it, is that to stay successful in a male-dominated world, she has to be more of a bruiser than any man. Unwilling to learn the writers’ names, she makes them answer to numbers.
You get the picture, but let me colour it in a bit more. Despite being a female pioneer herself, Katherine prefers to be surrounded by men (shades of Margaret Thatcher).
Emma Thompson plays the eponymous host, a hard-as- lacquered-nails Englishwoman who 28 years earlier became the first female presenter of a primetime U.S. talk show and is duly something of a broadcasting legend
There are shades, too, in this scary Englishwoman in New York, of the fashion maven Anna Wintour.
Late Night follows a conspicuously similar trajectory to The Devil Wears Prada (2006), with Thompson in the Meryl Streep role (supposedly inspired by Wintour) as the glacial autocrat who slowly learns, from an eager protegee, the value of empathy.
We are asked to believe that Katherine’s high-handedness is, excusably, in the sustained pursuit of excellence. But ratings are down, a consequence of her reluctance to pander to the lowest common denominator.
Katherine likes to interview women of substance, not 20-year-old popsies with huge Instagram followings. Then her boss, network president Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan), breaks the news that her time is up.
She is to be replaced by a young, male, stand-up comedian (Ike Barinholtz) whose material she abhors.
By now, stung by the accusation that she hates women, Katherine has added Molly to her staff. Kaling parlays some of what might well be her own experiences into some funny moments.
The men have long since commandeered the women’s washroom, for example. And although there is no overt racism, Molly is introduced to her new colleagues, by Katherine’s producer Brad (Denis O’Hare), as Moll-ee. He stresses the second syllable, assuming it to be a Hindu name.
So Molly must overcome all that, and if she can also make Katherine aware of her writing talent, then maybe she, the rookie, can save the show. All of which is a perfectly good premise for a comedy drama, but of all things to let it down, Kaling’s script doesn’t always convince. Even when she’s meant to be slaying the audience with her comic monologues, Katherine’s one-liners are about as funny as shingles.
Maybe part of the problem lies with Dame Emma. She’s a heck of an actress, but even in character, nobody’s idea of a stand-up comic.
Believing in Julianne Moore as the title character in Gloria Bell, by contrast, is no stretch at all. Moore is simply wonderful in Chilean director Sebastian Lelio’s remake of his own acclaimed 2013 Spanish- language film Gloria
Maxine Peake pulled it off in the 2017 film Funny Cow, but she had the inestimable advantage of a Northern accent.
Thompson’s carefully modulated Home Counties vowels work perfectly in a headmistressy despot, but believing in her as a female David Letterman, or even James Corden, is regrettably too much of a stretch.
Believing in Julianne Moore as the title character in Gloria Bell, by contrast, is no stretch at all. Moore is simply wonderful in Chilean director Sebastian Lelio’s remake of his own acclaimed 2013 Spanish- language film Gloria.
Lelio moves the story from Santiago to Los Angeles, but otherwise stays largely faithful to the original.
Gloria is a divorced mother of two grown-up children, who lives alone (but for a neighbour’s cat that annoyingly keeps finding its way into her apartment).
Her son (Michael Cera) is a new father. Her daughter (Caren Pistorius) has a new Swedish boyfriend who is a surfer-dude.
Gloria works in motor insurance. In her leisure time she tries yoga, and laughter therapy, and frequents an over-50s club, mainly because she loves to dance.
Music looms large in her life. We keep seeing her in her car singing along to CDs. The tracks are very middle-of-the-road, and so is she.
Where’s the drama in all this, you might ask, and it’s true that the film is more than anything else a character study, a slice of one person’s life. But Lelio somehow keeps us compelled by Gloria’s growing relationship with a man she meets while out dancing.
This is the newly divorced Arnold, exquisitely played by John Turturro, who seems like a perfect match until his personal baggage starts to intrude.
In a way, this is a film about the impossibility of reaching middle-age without emotional baggage. It’s very nicely done. And Moore, in the kind of role that half a generation ago might have been taken by Diane Keaton, is never less than superb.
Peerless: A blueblood among black comedies reaches 70
Kind Hearts and Cornets (PG)
Verdict: A murder most refined
To mark this month’s 70th anniversary of its release, one of the greatest of all Ealing Comedies has had a digital makeover. Even allowing for the dated language and social attitudes, it is as much a joy to watch as it ever was.
Alec Guinness was never better, which is saying a lot, than in his ‘tour de force’ as eight different members of the aristocratic but unlikeable D’Ascoyne family.
But it’s unfair to give him all the plaudits, because Dennis Price is similarly marvellous as Louis Mazzini, a debonair but impoverished kinsman of the D’Ascoynes, who is distantly in line to the dukedom and realises that by bumping off everyone standing between him and the title, he can not only become jolly rich but also avenge his late mother, who was cruelly denied a plot in the family churchyard.
To mark this month’s 70th anniversary of its release, one of the greatest of all Ealing Comedies has had a digital makeover. Even allowing for the dated language and social attitudes, it is as much a joy to watch as it ever was
And so Louis embarks on ‘the most spectacular criminal endeavour of the century’, dispatching his victims — or as he puts it, ‘pruning’ his family tree — in a variety of ingenious ways.
For example, he poses as the Bishop of Matabeleland to poison stuffy Reverend Lord Henry D’Ascoyne, and rudely punctures the hot-air balloon containing suffragette Lady Agatha D’Ascoyne, who is showering Edwardian London with leaflets. ‘I shot an arrow in the air, she fell to earth in Berkeley Square.’
A fine supporting cast includes Joan Greenwood and Valerie Hobson (later to become embroiled in a real-life scandal as Mrs John Profumo). The film also offers us the first credited film appearance of Arthur Lowe, as a reporter for Titbits magazine who cues up the impeccable final-shot twist.
There’s so much to enjoy. It’s gloriously plotted and deliciously scripted by director Robert Hamer and his co-writer John Dighton.
Even the title, from a poem by Tennyson, is perfect. A bona fide treat.
X-Women give boys a kicking
X-men: Dark Phoenix (12A)
Verdict: A spectacular last hurrah
This 12th outing for the X-Men is by all accounts the Marvel mutants’ last hurrah, in the main series of X-Men films at any rate.
If that turns out to be so, then at least they go out with a big bang. Or rather, several big bangs.
The story starts in 1975, with a road accident that makes an orphan of eight-year-old Jean Grey.
On account of her ‘special powers’, she is whisked off by Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to be a pupil at his school for gifted youngsters, and by 1992 is one of the team of crack mutants who are dispatched to save a space mission that has run into trouble.
This 12th outing for the X-Men is by all accounts the Marvel mutants’ last hurrah, in the main series of X-Men films at any rate
In rescuing the stricken astronauts, however, Jean (Sophie Turner) is herself struck by some kind of weird cosmic firebolt, which nearly kills her.
On returning to Earth, where she is feted at the White House and affectionately nicknamed the Phoenix for having risen from the ashes, she finds that her superpowers of telepathy and telekinesis, already not to be messed with, are stronger than ever.
This makes her a target for a sinister group of alien invaders (led by a spooky-looking Jessica Chastain), who need her newly acquired strengths for their own dastardly devices.
So far, so X-Men. But this film, the directorial debut of experienced screenwriter Simon Kinberg, packs a few surprises. Not least in the unexpected fate of one of the gang, though of course you’ll find no spoilers here.
Suffice to say that the X-Men become why-Men. Why is this happening? Why are they falling out with each other? Why are they questioning the motives of Xavier?
And, for that matter, why are they X-Men at all? They really ought to be called X-Women, notes Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), given that the female mutants seem to be the most powerful.
Indeed, as the film thunders loudly towards its denouement, with Phoenix and Chastain’s high-heeled alien seemingly the only two characters strong enough to resolve this increasingly sticky situation, it becomes clear that this is nothing if not a post-MeToo movie.
As Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) all find themselves out-muscled by women, the shadowy ghost of disgraced Harvey Weinstein is, in a funny kind of way, getting a good kicking, too.