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Emma Thompson

Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson in a scene from the movie. Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Fans of Mindy Kaling, best known for “The Office” and “The Mindy Project,” have been flocking to theaters to see her debut as feature writer for “Late Night,” a by-the-numbers comedy that takes on the issue of diversity in the workplace and makes its statement with a connect-the-dots expectation. Directed by Nisha Ganatra, there are no surprises but it still makes for an enjoyable hour and 45 minutes.

Emma Thompson in a scene from ‘Late Night’

Emma Thompson plays legendary late-night talk show host Katherine Newbury whose ratings have been slipping. She has surrounded herself with an all-male, all-white staff and is described as a “woman who hates women.” In response to this, she gives her long-suffering producer Brad (a wonderful Denis O’Hare) the task of hiring a woman. Through slightly unbelievable machinations, he brings on chemical plant worker Molly (Mindy Kaling) to the writing staff.  

Instead of a true examination of hiring practices, what ensues is humorous but contrived as Molly is first ostracized and then embraced by the team. There are occasional edgy moments – including Molly writing a topical and controversial monologue joke – but these risks are few. For the most part, it adheres to traditional comedy tropes, including an ill-fated and unnecessary romantic entanglement that feels incomplete. (There is a sense throughout the film that a good deal ended up on the cutting room floor as certain ideas and conflicts are introduced but not seen to conclusion.)

The first turning point is when Katherine discovers she is going to be replaced by a mainstream and extremely coarse comedian Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz, a subtle performance that avoids caricature). With this impetus, she goes to war with the head of the network Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan, saddled with a two-dimensional character). With Molly’s wide-eyed, aw-shucks guidance, Katherine begins to reinvent herself.

Minday Kaling in a scene from ‘Late Night’

Emma Thompson, one of the greatest and most versatile actors, creates a delightful monster of a boss. She never talks to her writers and doesn’t even bother to learn their names. When forced into a room with them, she gives them numbers. This is not done with cruelty but rather by someone who cannot be bothered with the people beneath her. Of course, in a comedy of this nature, she gradually learns to appreciate them.

Thompson’s depth is best shown when interacting with her ill husband Walter (a touching John Lithgow) and in an impromptu performance at a hole-in-the-wall benefit downtown. In the latter scene, the audience can see her pondering the mortality of her career.

Kaling is Thompson’s co-star and conscience. She is also “Late Night’s” writer and producer, which perhaps explains some of the weaknesses. As an actor, Kaling is a personality performer. There is no genuine complexity in her work but she is comfortable in her persona. She is watchable but, unlike with Thompson, as a presence, she is not transformative.  

The film is bolstered by a cast of strong actors in convincing performances, including Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Max Casella, Paul Hauser and John Early. It is interesting to note that with the exception of Thompson and Kaling, there are no other fully developed female characters.

The second act crisis is clumsily manipulated but, once again, the actors are able to make it work. “Late Night” builds to an expected resolution but, given the nature of the film, it is the one that the audience hopes for and expects.

Rated R, “Late Night” is now playing at local theaters.

Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson star in the latest installment of ‘Men in Black.’ Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

By Heidi Sutton

‘Always remember, the universe has a way of leading you to where you’re supposed to be at the moment you’re supposed to be there.’ – Agent High T

It’s been seven years since Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones teamed up as Agent J and Agent K for the last time in “Men in Black 3.” This past Friday, Sony Pictures delivered the fourth and final installment of the series, “Men in Black: International,” to theaters nationwide.

Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth

Directed by F. Gary Gray (“The Fate of the Furious”) and written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, the sci-fi flick follows the London-based team of Men in Black, a secret police force that monitors and maintains order on the comings and goings of extraterrestrials.

While investigating the murder of the alien Vungus the Ugly (Kayvan Novak), top agent H/Henry (Chris Hemsworth) and probationary agent Molly Wright/Agent M (Tessa Thompson) travel around the globe (hence the title) to Paris, New York City, Naples, Marrakesh and the Sahara, to “protect the Earth from the scum of the universe.”

Along the way, they find (and constantly lose) the Tesseract, a magical, glowing, cube-like object that has the power to control the universe. On top of that, they suspect a mole in the MIB organization, further threatening the fate of planet Earth.

The neuralyzer is back to erase our memory, the comedic lines and sarcasm too. Every method of transportation has a warp-speed option, from a rocket-powered bike, bullet train and a Lexus, and the weapons of choice are bigger, fancier and more powerful than ever before.

Les Twins

Scarier, stranger and cuter aliens lurk in every corner, in particular the shape-shifting extraterrestrial assassins Les Twins (Laurent and Larry Bourgeois) who seek to possess the Tesseract, and Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), a pocket-sized, scene-stealing green alien.

Hemsworth and Thompson (of “Thor: Ragnarok” fame) have great chemistry together but any notion of romance between the two is mute. The film also stars Liam Neeson as High T, the head of MIB UK branch; Rafe Spall as Agent C, Agent H’s nemesis; Emma Thompson as Agent O, the head of MIB; and Rebecca Ferguson as Riza Stavros, an alien intergalactic arms dealer who has three arms.

The movie has been receiving more negative reviews than not, even going as far as to say “it’s a case of the blahs” and “you’ll forget it in a flash,” but fans of the original trilogy should find it enjoyable, action-packed, with visually special effects. And, of course, Chris Hemsworth is very easy on the eyes, so that always a plus.

Running time is 2 hours. Rated PG-13 (for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material), “Men in Black International” is now playing in local theaters.