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New Films: Late Night, Shaft, Men in Black: International

Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling in a production still from Late Night

Late Night
Directed by Nisha Ganatra and Written by Mindy Kaling

The most interesting and appealing of the new films this week is “Late Night” starring Emma Thompson as long time talk show host Katherine Newberry who’s lost her edge and her ratings, but not her “Devil Wears Prada” style of (mis)management. She’s the only woman in late night but she’s surrounded by men, including an all male writing staff more talented in nepotism and joke recycling than being effectively topical or able to exploit their employer’s uniqueness.

Mindy Kaling, who wrote the screenplay, co-stars as a young writing hopeful who happens to be in the right place at the time that the lack of women is being noticed and addressed. Nobody wants her except as a statistic. Kaling reportedly drew on her own experiences in the entertainment industry and has written a sharp and witty script that should satisfy those who watched the late night wars and some of the awkward and bitter transitions between hosts. But it’s also a (sadly seemingly perpetually) timely commentary on the trials of being a woman and/or a person of color in many workplaces.

There’s also a well put together sub-plot about faithfulness in marriage, involving Newberry’s and her husband (played wonderfully quietly by John Lithgow), and celebrity scandals – with Newbury in the awkward position of being somebody who has judged so many other fallen idols as she stands on the precipice herself. For fans of David Letterman, it’s difficult to watch and not see the parallels with moments in his career. And the gender reversal keeps it interesting where it might otherwise have been worn out.

All of which adds up to something funny and satisfying for almost all of its generally snappy 1 hour and 42 minute runtime. I just wish I had left before the very last minute or so – which has a tacked on, closure-seeking feel to it. In a film that seems to champion the cause of edginess and punch in writing, at least in the words and actions of the characters we’re given to watch and admire, it’s an ending that seems to lack those things. It’s not enough to ruin a good film, it’s just a little trite and takes something that had seemed grounded in reality and makes it seem a little more like a fairy tale.

Moviebriefs

Shaft” is the latest in one of those franchises that makes it fun to count in movie math: “Shaft,” Shaft’s Big Score!,” “Shaft in Africa,” “Shaft” (TV Series), “Shaft,” and now, creatively, “Shaft.” Although it can’t quite match “First Blood,” “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” “Rambo III,” “Rambo,” “Rambo: Last Blood” (maybe someday, somebody will make “Rambo II”). This new film might have made more sense as “Shaft 3G” or some variation on the theme of three generations of Shafts all ending up on screen together. The youngest John Shaft is, shockingly, a bit of a nerd but also, more shockingly to his father, a pleasant guy who listens to women and even apologizes for his actions. There’s a very light plot here about a friend’s death and drug smuggling, but that largely exists just to string together father-son bonding moments of two men from very different eras. This was less of a Spring action movie and more of a light, crass Father’s Day comedy. That said, it zips along quite pleasantly, with pacing and sudden plot-advancing reveals that feel more like the pilot for a reboot of the TV series than anything weightier.

Men In Black: International” ditches a much more conventional numbering sequence for the earlier franchise films and, simultaneously ditches most of their appeal. There’s seems to be some bid for nostalgia here, but parents of kids who most likely only know the earlier films from dusty DVD collections or streaming services might just as well watch this one the same way. Tessa Thompson plays a woman who, as a young girl, witnessed an alien encounter and who has been trying to find the agency that covered it up ever since. Chris Hemsworth plays an agent credited with saving the world but who seems a little off his game (the agent, not the actor, although the distinction here may have been unnecessary). There’s little buddy chemistry this time around and the plot is so thin and obvious that you could watch the opening flashback scenes and immediately write the critical finale scene. I guess predictable is the new black.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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