Don’t Look Up (2021)

don'tlookup1Hollywood has taught us that, come the threat of a planetary extinction event, we’ve simply nothing to worry about- humanity will clearly do the right thing, either the best of NASA saving us (Deep Impact) or NASA instead enlisting brave deep-core drillers to do what needs to be done (Armageddon). Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up, a not-so festive treat from Netflix, suggests the opposite- that humanity won’t be interested, unable to turn its attention from its social media, mobile phones and televisions long enough to even notice Doomsday is near.

Its an interesting conceit, and one born of the apparent grudging public and political interest over the last few decades in climate change and environmental disaster. Scientists and eco-warriors have been shouting for years about melting glaciers and extreme weather events, but few seemed to notice and politicians were more concerned with, well, more pressing concerns like being popular and getting re-elected. Even now, with the Doomsday Writing apparently up on the wall and all over our television news and documentaries, the world seems slow to change tack. The added dominance of social media’s distractions, and contrary ‘experts’ keen to bestow their personal wisdoms on Twitter and YouTube (never mind lobbyists with their own agendas/interests) has clouded the issue no end. McKay seems to suggest that humanity is doomed; we are simply incapable of waking up and smelling the coffee, whether it be environmental disaster or a 9-kilometre rock hurtling at us through space.

The idea is fine, and its a pretty decent premise for a particularly dark comedy, one with a decent and timely message regards the dangers of social media, celebrity culture, the extremely rich and powerful elite, and who we choose to listen to. Unfortunately though it goes rather astray in this bloated, overlong film that is so filled with star turns that it seems rather the Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of disaster movies.  Indeed, it could just as easily have been titled It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad End of the World– Stanley Kramer’s road-chase comedy filled with comedy star celebs of its day transposed to a disaster flick filled with so many stars of our own that it threatens to sink under the weight of slumming egos. I only thank God that it inexplicably doesn’t include Will Ferrell. How was he too busy?

Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Ariana Grande, Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, the puppets of Sesame Street and several other notable thespians feature in a film stuffed with A-list talent like a veritable Netflix Christmas Turkey. Its well-intentioned and not all of the cast make fools of themselves, but like the 1963 madcap comedy that it reminded me of, its just too much, too bloated….it lacks the focus to really land its message, its ‘jokes’. DiCaprio is excellent as astronomer Dr Mindy whose assistant Kate Dibliasky brings to his attention her discovery of a giant comet hurtling towards Earth, and the film would probably have been all the better for dropping the majority of the supporting cast to instead focus on the scientists misadventures trying to warn the world. Their story is indeed the central plotline but it gets blurred by all the attention given to Meryl Streep’s career-politician President, more concerned with her own re-election and a brewing political scandal, and Mark Rylance’s tech guru who dooms the world with his own agenda (power/wealth/empty promises). 

This film lacks the deft touch of someone like Douglas Adams, whose Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in its various forms, pretty much delivered the same message with much more skill and humour, and without spending $75 million to do it. I did quite enjoy Don’t Look Up, indeed far more than I had expected to from what I gather has been a pretty poor critical reception. It just wasn’t as funny or as dramatic as it should have been- its sunk by the attention-grabbing casting, the feeling of elite celebs doing their bit for a good cause before jumping back into their private jets to fly to their huge mansions of endless bathrooms, gigantic television screens and garages full of luxury, gas-guzzling sports cars, ignorant that their elite lifestyles and own social media accounts might actually be part of the problem the film is essentially rallying against. Maybe that’s the meta-joke that slips past every-ones heads. Maybe I’m taking it all too seriously, but honestly, with this film the jokes on everyone.

Cinderella (2015)

cindyKenneth Branagh. Well, paint me the colour of a pumpkin and find me a glass slipper. Kenneth Branagh directed this- couldn’t believe it, when his name came up at the end. Not exactly sure why, the film was competent enough, perhaps overly saccharin as you might expect, and endlessly manipulative, but yeah, turned out that Branagh directed it. I did a double-take, suddenly reconsidering the film as if his involvement offered a new perspective. Funny thing really; why should a directors name suddenly change anything at all? Maybe it was just me, but after a fairly enjoyable, undemanding piece of hokum drew to a close, Branagh’s name came up after the fade out like a big ‘Surprise!’ shouted from the tv screen.

The film was enjoyable enough- I hesitate to call it routine, it’s just a pretty faithful live-action version of the traditional fairy tale (not a whiff of Into the Woods here). Cate Blanchett was a great evil stepmother and Lily James a fairly definitive (pretty and wholesome) Cinderella; I could have perhaps done without Helena Bonham-Carter doing a fairy godmother by way of Johnny Depp (was that intentional?). The film offered few surprises but was none the worse for that – my only dislike was for some intrusive cgi, particularly in the landscapes and  scene-setting shots, which looked, surprisingly,  of pretty poor quality really, not helped by the usual swooping camera moves that don’t at all match the fairly steady live-action material. I could have done well without all that cgi stuff, it just kept on pulling me out of it and the sub-par quality would have been just more reason to ditch it, in my eyes. But perhaps these days studios just think audiences expect that kind of spectacle for good or ill and feel obliged to chuck it in.

Another of the festive recordings on my Tivo (Christmas doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon here at Ghost Manor), I believe this was aired on Christmas Day. I’d imagine it was a pretty perfect Christmas movie. Kudos to the BBC scheduling team.

Blue Jasmine (2013)

jas12016.53: Blue Jasmine (Amazon VOD)

Blue Jasmine is a very good Woody Allen film (okay, maybe not up there with his ‘greats’ but damn good nonetheless and proving his continuing his validity as a film-maker even after so many years/films), that is graced by a powerhouse performance by Cate Blanchett as the title character.

Penniless and post-mental breakdown from her failed marriage to high-flying financial New York businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), Jasmine has flown to San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and her two young boys, giving up a wealthy socialite existence in New York for a crowded apartment above a shop. Jasmine, who is clearly already fragile emotionally and mentally, has to start a new life in a world she considered far beneath her, seeking menial employment and fending off men with little or no prospects.

It’s a fish out of water/culture-shock film, quite funny in places but also rather affecting, chiefly due to Blanchett’s remarkable performance. Jasmine isn’t necessarily a likeable character- certainly there’s more opportunity to laugh at her predicament than share her pain at the film’s outset, but Blanchett’s genius is that she opens up and displays a vulnerability and warmth as the film progresses. A series of flashbacks, that are quite jarring and awkward at first, start to unravel the true story she would rather keep to herself. By films end (and mild spoiler warning here) we are left caring very much for Jasmine and it’s a sobering, not particularly positive conclusion, the end of her road (or at least where the film leaves her) not a welcome one. It feels a perfect ending, a real ending, just not the kind Hollywood usually delivers.

The cast as a whole are excellent, as usual for a Woody Allen film. Sally Hawkins is fantastic as Ginger, a divorced woman struggling to make ends meet and find some happiness for herself. Its a great performance unfortunately overshadowed by Blanchett’s brilliant, mesmerizing turn-  I hadn’t realised that she had won both a BAFTA and OScar for the role, but I don’t find the awards surprising at all (whatever awards mean, anyway) and they are well deserved.

Blue Jasmine is a fine enough film, but it certainly deserves watching if only for that central performance.  Actresses don’t get many meaty roles such as this in films these days, and you can tell that Blanchett is playing the part for all she is worth, conscious the role is a rarity. Great stuff and a real pleasure to watch.