With this year being the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 manned moon landing, it’s not surprising that movies about astronauts are coming out. First Man, a biopic about Neil Armstrong being the first man on the moon, premiered at the Venice Film Festival in August 2018 and went into general release in October 2018. First Man was a controversial movie because conservative politicians claimed that it didn’t show the astronauts planting the American flag on the moon. Never mind that the movie had plenty of flags, and the flag planting scene wasn’t relevant to the inner space of Neil Armstrong as an astronaut, husband and father. Another astronaut movie, Lucy in The Sky, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival this year, and coming out in general release this month. Although the movie poster features the moon looming large in the background, the moon has nothing to do with the real-life event of a female astronaut losing her POOP on earth. While this made-for-TV movie is loosely based on the “astronaut love triangle” of 2007, the diaper scene was left on the cutting room floor.
Last week I saw a preview showing of Late Night, an R-rated movie about late night television, opening in limited release this weekend and wide release next weekend. Emma Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, a white, middle-aged English talk show host who never had a female writer on her all-male writing staff. Mindy Kaling, the writer and producer for Late Night, plays Molly Patel, a woman of color who becomes the first female writer for the show. What could possibly go wrong in this comedy-drama? Quite a bit.
The first thing you may notice when watching Late Night is that Amazon Studios is behind this movie. They bought the distribution rights for $13 million USD after Late Night premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Late Night is the first of ten titles that Amazon Studios will bring out to theaters in 2019. I’ve seen one reviewer mistakenly refer to Late Night as an Amazon Prime video. Then again, who knew that Amazon was in the film distribution business?
Late Night opens and closes with Katherine Newbury walking up to the studio camera to deliver her monologue. Craig Ferguson did that for his monologue on The Late Late Show on CBS, getting up close to his audience and talking in front of the studio camera. Every other late-night host does the long-distance camera shot of walking out to the middle of the stage for their monologue.
You can tell that this movie was made on a budget since the distance from curtain to studio camera is short, the musicians are standing up against a nearby wall, and the studio audience is always the same people.
The head of the television network informs Katherine that she is being replace after the season with a younger white male comedian whose material is edgier. Changing the host of a late-night television show can be a source of great drama in real life. The most notable example was Johnny Carson retiring from The Tonight Show after 30 years in 1992. Carson wanted David Letterman from Late Night to replace him. But NBC signed up Jay Leno instead, and Letterman moved to CBS to start The Late Show in the same time slot as The Tonight Show.
As panic settles in, Katherine meets with her writing team to jump start her show. She fires several writers out of hand for disagreeing with her and assigns numbers to the rest since she doesn’t know their names. If that wasn’t bad enough to put the writers on edge, Molly joins as the first female writer and becomes writer number eight.
Molly’s previous job was in quality control at a chemical plant. She won a contest to meet any executive in the company and used that opportunity to meet a network executive at the parent corporation to arrange for an interview at The Katherine Newbury Show. That’s like someone at a chemical plant owned by Comcast asking to see a NBC executive to arrange an interview at The Tonight Show.
The writing staff tries a lot of different ideas to see what sticks. One idea was to show off old and new media by interviewing an up-and-coming YouTuber, Zoe Martlin, played by Halston Sage of The Orville, who made her claim to fame by doing dog videos. That goes downhill in hurry when Katherine asks Zoe why she didn’t make cat videos. YouTube in the early days was well known for cat videos. Zoe unleashes a lecture on why old media needed new media before walking off the stage, leaving Katherine perplexed by the sudden change in attitude.
After Katherine revives her show by embracing her white privilege for edgier comedy, she sabotages her future replacement from getting her job. Not surprisingly, hacked emails from a male writer whom she had an affair with appears in the press. That writer leaves the show and leaves the other writers uncertain how to proceed. She believes that the scandal would doom her chances of saving her career and her marriage, sending her off on an emotional roller coaster. With forgiveness from her husband, played by John Lithgow, who is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, she makes a confession in the monologue of her show. The scandal becomes a minor speed bump to successfully reviving the show.
I found this part of the movie very interesting, as David Letterman went through a similar episode ten years ago. He confessed his affairs with female staffers on the air after a CBS employee tried to blackmail him for $2 million USD. The studio audience thought he was joking until it became clear that he was being serious. He went to the district attorney’s office, the police set up a sting operation, and the person was arrested and later sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation. I don’t think Letterman suffered any long-term consequences after his public confession. If he made that confession in the era of #metoo, he probably wouldn’t have a job.
Late Night is the kind of movie where I listen to the audience to see what they laugh at. Most romantic comedies, or chick flicks, are usually hit and miss when it comes to audience laughter. A bad movie would have 25% of the audience laughing, and an average movie would be 50%. The audience laughter in Late Night was consistent throughout the whole movie. The last movie that I saw with that much audience laughter was Julie & Julia with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in 2009.
This blog post is not a paid promotion even though AMC and Gofobo provided two free tickets for a friend and I to see Late Night before it opens to the general public. Gofobo is a website that offers free tickets by invitation to see preview screenings of the newest movies. I’m under no obligation to make this video and Gofobo provided no editorial guidance for this video.
Earlier this week I saw a preview showing of Disney’s Aladdin, the live action version of the 1992 animated version. Will Smith replaces Robin Williams as the blue-skinned Genie, providing not only the voice but also the physical presence on the big screen. I had my doubts on whether he could pull that off. Robin Williams was a legendary comedian and the Genie was one of his most iconic roles. Never mind that I’ve never seen the animated version of Disney’s Aladdin.
The new Aladdin starts off on a boat with a father played by Will Smith, a little boy and a little girl, and a mother we hear but won’t see until the end of the movie. The father tells the children about Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, kicking off the first song called Arabian Nights. Arabian Nights is the English name for a collection of Middle Eastern folktales called One Thousand and One Nights. This collection featured the original story, “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves,” and “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad.”
The premise of Aladdin should be familiar to most people who grew up on the original folktales. An evil sorcerer sends a young thief to steal the lamp from the magic cave, and the thief uses his three wishes to escape the cave, becomes a prince and overcome the evil sorcerer. Throw in a Disney princess and a soundtrack, you got a whole new family classic that is better than the original folktale.
Since this is a Disney movie, I’m going to skip the plot highlights and focus on the main characters.
- Marwan Kenzari plays Jafar the evil sorcerer, who seems too squeaky clean to come across as evil until he kills a servant who reminded him that he was still the second most powerful man after the sultan in the kingdom.
- Mena Massoud plays Aladdin the thief, and later Prince Ali, who stays one step ahead of the guards while stealing for a living and running freely throughout the city.
- Naomi Scott plays Princess Jasmine, who can really sing the new theme song, “Speechless,” and pushes back against the conventions that others try to push on to her.
- Will Smith, of course, plays Genie, who really surprised me by his ability to sing and play a very over the top character that is quite different than past roles.
I’ve read some complaints about why Genie doesn’t free himself from the lamp if he is so powerful. Pay very close attention to what Genie says to Aladdin about the limitations of his power after they first meet. Will Smith does a very good job at expressing the nuances in what Genie can and cannot do with his powers.
While I haven’t seen the animated version, I thoroughly enjoyed this live action version.
This blog post is not a paid promotion even though See It First provided two free tickets for a friend and I to see Aladdin three days before it opened to the general public. See It First is a website that offers free tickets by invitation to see preview screenings of the newest movies. I’m under no obligation to write this blog post and See It First provided no editorial guidance for this video.
A new trailer for “Spider-Man: Far From Home” came this week. One of the big surprises was Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. replacing Tony Stark in the father figure role to a young Peter Parker. Since the story line for the new Spider-Man movie takes place just minutes after the ending of “The Avengers: Endgame,” that raises an interesting question. Who is the better spider-daddy, Tony Stark or Nick Fury?
One of the nice things about “Spider-Man: Homecoming” when Sony rebooted the franchise with Tom Holland, the origin story of Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man and the death of Uncle Ben was not rehashed all over again.
Seriously, how many times does Uncle Ben have to die?
Uncle Ben’s famous quote, “great power comes great responsibility,” was ruthlessly mocked by Peter B. Parker, an older and more cynical version of Spider-Man’s alter ego, as it came up repeatedly in “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.”
In order to tie in Sony’s “Homecoming” into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., was brought in as a father figure to a young Peter Parker. Tony Stark as a father figure is somewhat problematic. If the movies were faithful to the comic books, Tony Stark would be more at home inside a bottle of booze than the Iron Man suit. And no kid wants a drunken father.
While the movies has kept Tony Stark away from the booze, he has his own daddy issues. His father was too busy saving the world to pay attention to him when he was younger. Something that Peter Parker picked up right away, struggled with in “Homecoming” and died for in “The Avengers: Infinity War.”
With Sony bringing out “Far From Home” in July and stepping on the advertising for “The Avengers: Endgame” in April, we know that the timeline was reset for Peter Parker to have a different adventure for his summer school trip than running off with the Avengers to fight Thanos.
As for Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, replacing Tony Stark as the father figure, it could be that he was in the neighborhood and staying on top of an emerging situation. Would Nick Fury make a better spider-daddy to a young Peter Parker? That is hard to say since so much about Nick Fury is unknown. Being a soldier and a leader of people, Fury knows how to inspire those around him to rise up and do the impossible under trying circumstances.
Here are two examples from “The Avengers.”
Nick Fury practically pulled Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans, out of the mid-20th century into the early 21st century at the end of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” gaining the trust of a young man out of time to lead the Avengers.
While Agent Phil Coulson’s death unified the Avengers, Nick Fury bringing him back to life for the TV series, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” strained their relationship. Agent Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, stayed faithful to Nick Fury after S.H.I.E.L.D. was taken over by Hydra in“Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
“Captain Marvel” in March will feature a young Nick Fury and a younger Agent Coulson, showing us how much of a father figure that Nick Fury can be to Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel), played by Brie Larson.
Spoiler alert: Nick Fury is a cat person.