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.

Red Sparrow (2018)

redsp1Black Swan meets Tinker. Tailor… or Spies Like Us maybe. An old-fashioned cold-war spy thriller, surprisingly leaning toward the cerebral rather than the OTT fighting or stunts of films like Atomic Blonde or John Wick etc would seem right up my street, but something was wrong here. Maybe it was the strangely farcical plot, which is why I mentioned Spies Like Us. A renowned ballet star, Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), living in a concrete tenement block frozen in snow, is looking after her ill mother in-between ballet performances until during a ballet her leg is hideously broken when her dance partner misjudges a jump. Her career ended and her home and mother’s medical care (both provided by the Ballet company) under threat, she is approached by her uncle, Ivan Vladimirovich Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), who just happens to be a leading Russian intelligence operative, seeking her help with a case, after which he forces her to be recruited into the Sparrow Academy, where beautiful young Russians are trained in the arts of sexual manipulation and…

Okay, I’ll spare you and stop right there. It really is as silly and coincidental and plot-holed as it likely seems from that attempt at a summary. I haven’t even mentioned a good-hearted CIA operative, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) and his Russian Mole (identity secret – a surprise twist later that seems one too many) who is being hunted down by the Russians following a messed-up rendezvous.

It seems well-intentioned and is indeed a return to old-fashioned spy capers but its just hamstrung by a crazy plot and awkward presentation. It just looks and feels wrong and none of the characters really convince- Lawrence’s frustrated Ballerina is just a mystery,  we never know what makes her ‘tick’, her dancing is quickly forgotten and in no time at all she becomes a hardened spy who can second-guess and manipulate and fight her way out of trouble when she needs to. There is a sexual undertone between she and her uncle that suggests a Black Swan-like darkness but its not developed, just hangs there, a plot-thread someone forgot or got embarrassed by or didn’t have the courage to develop.

So a frustrating (you should see the cast list- every few minutes it seems some other major actor appears, frankly the script is beneath all of them) film that I can’t really recommend. Even Jennifer Lawrence, who clearly tries, is found wanting and alarmingly vacuous. Some films are just duds, no matter how fine the cast or how proficient the crew (director Frances Lawrence of three of the Hunger Games movies). If the intention was to launch a new spy franchise for Jennifer Lawrence, then hopefully its failed and this will be consigned to the box for unwise cynical green-lights. Its long, its baffling, its ridiculous. Quite bizarre, and I still haven’t seen Lawrence’s mother! yet (what is happening regards her choice of movies post-Hunger Games?)- I’m wary about that one.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

 

JENNIFER LAWRENCE and BRADLEY COOPER star in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Silver Linings Playbook (Blu-ray)

Whats this? Bob De Niro in decent movie shocker? Shouldn’t that have been on the front pages back in 2012? Goodness. I’m too old for shocks like this.

Seriously though, this is a pretty damn fine film- I suppose it’s a romantic comedy, a feel-good movie, which is a little weird considering its subject matter concerns mental illness. Only in Hollywood, eh? Its funny and warm and yes, very well-acted. Jennifer Lawrence is pretty amazing (didn’t she win an Oscar for this?)  and re-watching this only reinforces how bored she looks in that last Hunger Games film. She’s so much better here. Likewise Bradley Cooper is very good, although I do think he looks (shades of my Childhood’s End casting observations here) a little too good-looking and perfect to really be right-on-the-nose for the role. What the hell though, it’s a Hollywood movie- it’s all make-believe isn’t it, and life-affirming. And yeah, Bob De Niro is great in this and I don’t get to write that very often.

Anyway, this seems to be one of those pleasant movies that can be repeatedly returned to. My wife really likes it so I guess it will be. More than Blade Runner ever will be in my house, unfortunately, but there you go, there’s no accounting for taste in love and marriage.

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 2 (2015)

hungr12016.25: The Hunger Games-Mockingjay Pt.2 (Blu-ray)

Well, I’m glad I watched Pt.1 the night before, because after twelve months I would have been pretty well lost dropping straight into this one as there is no re-cap at all; the viewer is just thrown into it as if having watched Pt.1 immediately prior (which would be a looong double-bill, incidentally). These serial storylines are problematic and just assuming the audience is up to speed could backfire and it certainly hampers the storytelling. The fans will  be fine but casuals like me, well, we need a little consideration. You don’t get a huge multi-million dollar franchise just working to the hardcore crowd, after all (maybe Lucas was on to something with those introductory crawls in the Star Wars films).

Anyway, two questions spring to mind. Does this film work as a separate film, and does it work as a conclusion to part one (and the films prior to that)?

Well, as a separate film it’s clearly problematic. Mockingjay Pt.1 has set things up and Pt.2 needs to be immediately up and running and finding a resolution to everything- which would be easy enough had the film only got to last ninety minutes maybe, but this thing is again over two hours long. So just as in the case of Pt.1, there is plenty of padding here, uncomfortable lulls as the film slows things down when it should (or had Mockingjay been one film) be racing to a conclusion, reaching for that resolution.

Just when things seem to be happening it often seems to make a clumsy side-step. A handy foil against finishing everything seems to be the still-unconvincing love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale which repeatedly threatens to bring the film to a stuttering halt (that said, I can’t say I was ever particularly convinced by the romance between Katniss and Peeta in previous films either). I just accept all the romantic drama nonsense as an indication of the original novels being aimed at a teenage female audience and try to ignore it but it’s something of a problem for the films when the central relationship doesn’t convince. By the time the love triangle is resolved it is with a distinct sense of anticlimax anyway.

hungr2These lulls in the plot and problems with pacing also occurred in Pt.1, which does make me wonder if there might somehow be a fan-edit one day assembling Pt.1 and Pt.2 into a workable single film. Even if it were two and a half hours long or more it might work better with superior pacing. There clearly isn’t really enough material in Pt.2 to really justify releasing Mockingjay as two separate films, particularly with all the treading water plot-wise of Pt.1 already. Suspicions that it was a greedy studio trying to crank up some extra box-office from the material seem well-founded. Looking at it the other way, had Mockingjay been released as one film, and then released as two extended cuts as we have them today, would those extended cuts be well-lauded, or contain important scenes that fans were desperate and glad to finally to see? I rather doubt it.

So I have to wonder if  Mockingjay Pt.2 is perhaps stretching things just a film too far.

In anycase, this film concludes the Hunger Games saga of what has become four films. As such, how does Mockingjay Pt.2 fare? Well, its a mixed bag really. I guess the biggest surprise to me is the sense of self-importance the last two films have-it reminds me of what happened with the Matrix films. By the time Mockingjay comes around it’s all very serious and momentous and stodgy. Indeed, is it just me or does Jennifer Lawrence actually look bored throughout this film?

I welcomed the examination of the importance of propaganda, about what is real and fabricated in order to marshall and influence public opinion. How the public seem to instinctively look for a leader, an icon. How the end justifies the means and how leaders hide personal agendas. There’s some very interesting stuff there that I didn’t expect. Unfortunately its all rather an intellectual exercise and lacking in any emotional value. What began as a thrilling dystopian future with people fighting in life and death arenas for public amusement and the status quo has by Mockingjay Pt.2 been completely ditched in favour of a rather dry tale of political skullduggery, of opposing campaigns using Katniss and Peeta to influence the masses and further their own agendas.

There is one sequence in the sewers that feels like something out of Aliens and is one of the highlights of the whole saga, but there isn’t really a lot else that thrills or recaptures the excitement of the first film. Part of it is the self-importance and profundity of Katniss and her cause as she attempts to finally bring President Snow to justice. It just threatens to drag the whole thing down into maudlin melodrama. Or is this is because Katniss seems to have become, incredibly, actually rather irritating, unable to take charge, simply accepting that she is being used as a political weapon. Perhaps she is supposed to be broken and traumatised but there are moments where she seemingly cannot think for herself, or take charge of her own destiny. Hardly the definition of a hero.

As realistic as that may be intellectually, it doesn’t really lend itself to a great heroine in a grand adventure. By the time the final twist occurs it doesn’t really come as a surprise, and the film lacks, shockingly, any real emotional punch at its end. Characters die and we feel very little. For a saga spanning four films this seems to be the biggest sin of all. There is no valediction, no fanfare, as Katniss finally walks into the proverbial sunset in a love affair that didn’t really convince me anyway, so it all felt rather shallow. The ending satisfies on an intellectual level but fails on an emotional one. For a saga aimed at teenage girls that really surprised me.