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Non-Review Review: Late Night

As the title implies, Late Night is a film about a late night American chat show, a prime-time institution that has lost its edge and finds itself almost at the bottom of a slide into irrelevance.

Katherine Newbury is a British comedian who landed a plum gig on American television and never looked back. Her nightly chat show is a fixture of the cultural landscape; the film opens with Newbury accepting a comedy award, and a late scene takes place in a room in her house that seems to be overflowing with trophies. However, there is also a sense that Late Night with Katherine Newbury has become sloppy in its old age. Ratings have been declining for a decade. The network is eager to replace the veteran broadcaster with somebody younger and fresher.

Talking shop.

Against this backdrop, Molly Patel arrives. A young woman with no direct comedy experience, Molly finds herself drafted into the writers’ room as a cynical “diversity hire.” A former “factory” (“chemical plant,” she repeatedly and insistently clarifies) worker, Molly is a big fan of the show who also understands that it needs a course correction. Indeed, Late Night accepts that the old-fashioned format needs to be updated, and becomes a battle over how best to modernise the template. Network president Caroline Morton and talent agent Billy Kastner suggest radical reinvention, but Molly thinks the basic template is still sound.

To a certain extent, it feels like Late Night is having a conversation with itself about itself. The movie belongs to the familiar tried-and-true template of the “new job or career crisis” comedy, those films about inexperienced characters who find themselves thrown into a new job with no real grounding and forced to adapt to their circumstances; Second Act is the most recent example, but there are plenty to choose from including Morning Glory, The Ugly Truth, 9 to 5, Working Girl. It is a familiar genre, the first-cousin of (and often interwoven with) the romantic comedy.

A bright spot.

The romantic comedy has been having a very public conversation with itself in recent years, playing out through the viral success of Netflix’s love letters to the genre like Set It Up or in more straightforward but more diverse big screen iterations like The Big Sick or Crazy Rich Asians. Indeed, Late Night feels like something of a companion piece to The Big Sick and Crazy Rich Asians, a film that fundamentally understands the sturdiness of the narrative template with which it is working. Like Molly’s approach to the eponymous show, Late Night understands that the basic structure doesn’t need renovation, just the content.

The result is an endearing workplace comedy that plays as a loving homage to the genre, elevated primarily through execution. Late Night understands the importance of new perspectives and reacting to a changing world, but it also understands what fundamentally works in movies like this. Late Night benefits from two fantastic central performances from Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, playing two very well-drawn characters. It is consistently funny, but also consistently well-observed. Late Night demonstrates that the workplace comedy works for a reason, and sets out to demonstrate the genre’s robustness.

Addressing the issues…

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Ed Brubaker’s Run on Detective Comics – Dead Reckoning (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

It remains quite surprising that DC have never capitalised on the work that Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka did on their Batman line during the early years of the twenty-first century. Given the popularity of Batman as a character, and considering the success that has been enjoyed by Brubaker and Rucka in the years since, it seems strange that DC has never made a consistent or concerted effort to package and release high-profile collections of their work on the character.

It is a shame, because the work is very good – both as solo writers on various titles and in collaboration with one another. Ed Brubaker enjoyed a solo run on Batman with artist Scott McDaniel shortly after No Man’s Land and through the end of Bruce Wayne: Fugitive. A few years later, while collaborating with Greg Rucka on the underrated and sorely missed Gotham Central, Brubaker also had a short run on Detective Comics.

Putting on his game face...

Putting on his game face…

He wrote a team-up between Bruce Wayne and Alan Scott in Made of Wood. However, Brubaker also wrote the epic six-part story, Dead Reckoning. On the surface, Dead Reckoning appears quite familiar. It follows a fairly standard set-up. It’s an adventure that features the width and breadth of Batman’s iconic rogues’ gallery, and unearths a terrible secret about the history of Gotham that – in Brubaker’s style – is a clever updating of a classic piece of continuity.

However, underneath the surface, Dead Reckoning is something much more harrowing and unsettling. It’s the story of lives destroyed by calamities and forces outside the normal human experience – it’s about wounds inflicted on ordinary people by monsters playing a very strange game. It feels like a post-9/11 superhero story, treating Batman’s world as something hostile and horrifying.

Snow escape...

Snow escape…

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