February 3, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Sundance Film Festival Reviews: “Late Night” & “Paradise Hills”


LATE NIGHT (Amazon):  It’s legitimate to note that the thoroughly mainstream and commercial Late Night belonged at Sundance just about as much as The Devil Wears Prada would have, since to a large extent it transposes Prada from fashion to the world of late-night talk shows.  The festival’s decision to host Late Night (which paid off for the producers, since Amazon paid $13M for the rights) may be debatable, but it doesn’t detract from the pleasures of the film, a sprightly comedy directed by Nisha Ganatra and written by co-star Mindy Kaling.  She takes the Anne Hathaway role as Molly Patel, a comedy nerd with no practical experience who finds herself hired for diversity optics onto the writing staff of Katherine Newbury’s (Emma Thompson) long-running show.  Katherine is the queen of her genre, but as a middle-aged woman she’s vulnerable, and she hasn’t helped herself by refusing to play the social media game or modernize her format (and also failing to have any involvement at all with her staff).  Molly, needless to say, is over-eager but exactly the fresh eye the show needs, and after some initial hostility, Katherine comes to bond with her.  Even on its own predictable terms, Late Night isn’t quite as good as Prada, partly because Molly is an unending font of positivity and good advice, lacking even the mild complications of Hathaway’s character, and also because Late Night doesn’t have anything much to say about a genuinely complicated moment in the world of television, other than that it’s a good idea to be a combination of Fallon (sketches that can go viral) and Colbert (being overtly political).  Nevertheless, Late Night is tremendous fun most of the time because of Kaling’s skill with one-liners, and especially due to Thompson, who’s hilarious and touching, and whose presence serves as a reminder of how many starring roles she should have had over the past years.  The cast also features fine work from John Lithgow as Thompson’s husband, Ike Barenholtz as her competition, as well as Denis O’Hare and Reid Scott as members of her staff, and Thompson’s deliciously poisonous chemistry with Amy Ryan, as the head of the network, makes one wish more of the script was about the two of them.  Late Night is a good couple of hours at the movies, and while that isn’t necessarily a film festival goal, it will work fine for audiences.

PARADISE HILLS (no distrib):  Alice Waddington almost pulls off her extraordinarily ambitious first feature (written by Brian DeLeeuw and Nacho Vigalondo from her story).  It wants nothing less than to create a new, female-based fairy tale mythology, founded on equal parts classic fantasy and futuristic sci-fi, and to do it all on a minimal budget.  That it even approaches its goals is admirable.  Our heroine is Uma (Emma Roberts), who’s rejected the arranged marriage set up by her mother to wed Son (Arnaud Valois), the tycoon who drove her beloved father to suicide.  Uma wakes up on a mysterious island, where she finds herself in a group of fellow misfits, Amama (Eiza Gonzalez), Yu (Awkwafina) and Chloe (Danielle Macdonald), in what appears to be a luxurious rehab clinic under the direction of the smoothly sinister Duchess (Milla Jovovich).  Things, however, are strange:  the women have to wear bizarre garments that are part-Victorian, part-bondage, and one aspect of the treatment requires them to mount a merry-go-round horse which then rises up to the ceiling so they can watch videos urging them to change their uncooperative behavior.  And what’s with the Duchess and her roses?  Eventually, the secret of the island is revealed, more or less satisfyingly, and the story resolves on both its fantasy and sci-fi modes.  Waddington didn’t have the resources that would have been necessary for this to fully work, although production designer Laia Colet and costume designer Alberto Valcarcel certainly try, and some of the writing is tinny.  It may or may not even be a worthy objective to combine the politics of The Handmaid’s Tale with the campy visuals of Flash Gordon.  In any case, Waddington and her team deserve lots of credit for committing fully to this weird mix of stylization and heartfelt storytelling, and Waddington is certainly a filmmaker worth watching in the future.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."