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.

A 4K Inception and the Old Soul problem

inc4kLast night I re-watched Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Yeah, another re-watch – I’ve so many discs in my collection that I haven’t watched/re-watched and are just sitting on the shelf, I think I’m coming to the point at which I finally have to put them to some use. That being said, it actually wasn’t my old Blu-ray that I watched this time around- I’d noticed the 4K release of Inception being reduced recently (its been in several offers over the past few months) and gave it a punt; yes the 4K format and double/triple-dipping really does seem to be the Devils work. So what finally got me around to watching the film again was it being the 4K edition, would I have ever re-watched that Blu-ray? 

Regards that 4K… well the HDR as usual proves to be the winner here, adding some considerable depth to the picture, but details etc didn’t seem a pronounced improvement on the Blu-ray, albeit I haven’t actually watched that disc in several years. A curious thing I have noticed is that sometimes 4K discs don’t immediately seem to be much of a difference, until I play the Blu-ray edition out of curiosity and suddenly the improvements become quite surprising (this 4K disc comes with the film and extras on two Blu-ray discs making my old copy absolutely irrelevant). I do like the new/revised cover art over the Blu-ray edition- the slipcase looks really nice (the revised artwork for some 4K releases of catalogue films often seem to improve on earlier editions).

Did I just extol the virtues of a slipcase?

As for Inception, I hadn’t seen the film in several years (it is so strange how time races by, and no that’s not some meta-commentary on Time in Nolan’s films). I was coming back to it assuming I’d remember it and follow it easily, but no, I was floundering for the first thirty minutes or so. I think that’s more to do with Nolan’s obtuse style of storytelling and audio design than any early signs of dementia on my part, at least I hope so. Part of Nolan’s appeal is the complicated, labyrinthine plots of his films; critics love Nolan’s ‘clever’ filmmaking, but its something which has become increasingly tiresome for me, so much so that I keep on wanting to re-watch Tenet if only to try work out what the fudge that thing is actually about: first time around, it made no sense at all, and I suspect I’ll feel the same after watching it again. Interstellar was more silly nonsense than anything profound (but it looks nice), and Dunkirk ruined what could have been a definitive and classic retelling of important British history with three storylines confusingly jumping around in time (but it looks nice). I have the growing suspicion that Nolan’s labyrinthine plotting is just a subterfuge to disguise how silly and empty they really are.

What all Nolan’s films actually do well is the technical side, the production aspects; what he puts up on screen is always impressive and at times jaw-dropping, but they also seem to get bogged down by that – the intellectual and technical aspects of making each project increasingly losing the narrative and characters. He particularly seems fascinated with Time; toying with it in all his films in often novel ways but also at odds with basic storytelling. 2001: A Space Odyssey is probably his favourite movie, he seems to aspire to that film in every film he makes.

I think Inception may remain his best film if only because it better balances his intellectual and technical strengths and validates their excess within its premise. In this case, the dream-worlds the characters go into better excuses all the sophisticated stunts, layers of time and plot-twists without it all distracting from the narrative and collapsing into confusion. God knows Inception confuses but at least there seems a valid reason for it, it feels naturally part of the film and not distracting.

Except really for the ‘Old Souls’ sequence and the whole subplot about Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) trying to get back to his children. This is what largely breaks the film for me. Cobb reveals that he and his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) experimented in ‘deep dives’; going deep into dreams where time passes by more slowly than in the real world- in this case, during an afternoon forty years would go by for them within their dream-world ‘paradise’ where they could be alone and grow old together. But at the same time, this would mean that they would spend forty years away from the same children that Cobb is so obsessed with returning to. I appreciate that, in reality only a few hours would pass, but intellectually and experience-wise, they would live forty years away from their children, family and loved ones. Now, two things spring to mind. First, nobody would ever do that, its selfish and crazy and ridiculous. Secondly, ‘living’ forty years would change someone, as you ‘aged’ in the dream world and time passed, you’d change as a person (and possibly lose your mind living in an essentially empty cage). Cobb didn’t need to plant an idea (an ‘Inception’) into Mal’s mind to drive her crazy about what is Reality, the experience would do that all by itself. At one point, I began to wonder if Cobb’s children were ever ‘real’, that maybe their existence was an Inception of its own, perhaps placed by Mal, but seeing memories of her on the beach with their children would seem to infer they were indeed real, and just make that whole deep dive/grow old together as silly and irresponsible as I stated before. Its an intriguing idea on the surface but like so many Nolan sub-plots that crowd his films, one that doesn’t hold up when examined.

Now, it would make a fascinating movie, just all of its own, to see the two characters spend forty years together and grow old and slowly ‘forget’ the real world (it would essentially become like a distant dream) and then when they woke see them suddenly having to re-adjust to Reality and being young again with their children not seen for forty years. There is, intellectually, a fascinating film in just that idea. Deep-dives into the dream-state essentially is a door to immortality, living tens, hundreds, thousands of years in the virtual worlds of constructed dreams. Or maybe I’m just over-thinking it; its hard to tell when considering Nolan’s films.

Some connections:

Christopher Nolan also directed Tenet and Interstellar.

Leonardo DiCarprio starred in The Revenant, (a sobering reminder that I bought it on 4K and haven’t watched the disc yet).

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood


The mutt steals the picture. Sure, Brad may be the coolest actor on the planet, the sense of calm, old-school cool that he just exudes in this film is just a wonder to behold, frankly, how effortless it seems to be… (and how that compares with the more introverted lead in Ad Astra) and Leo again shows how he can still surprise as he gets older…  but those guys can’t stop pit bull Sayuri (who plays Brandy, Brad’s pet dog in the film) from stealing the film from them. They should have put her name above the credits, it would have been an in-joke worthy of the director.

Somehow I managed to avoid any spoilers for this film- other than knowing that it was set in Hollywood and involved the murder of actress Sharon Tate, I knew nothing. Turned out I knew less than I thought. This really wasn’t the film I’d expected it to be. Is it even a film? With all due respect to Mr Tarantino, I feel the need to describe this as more as an experience than a film. For much of its running time hardly anything, dramatically at least, seems to be happening- certainly anything like a plot or the traditional three-act structure films usually have seems to be missing. And yet I can’t say I noticed, except about just over an hour in when I glanced at the digital counter on the dash of my Blu-ray player and wondered when something was going to happen. Turned out I had to wait for another hour for that.

I’m exaggerating of course. Or am I? Not that I minded, because I found it all pretty enthralling nonetheless. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an incredibly evocative film, creating an amazingly convincing sense of time and place through a combination of superb art direction, cinematography and sound design (typically of Tarantino, it boasts a wonderful soundtrack of songs). Its so atmospheric that I can’t help but allude to Blade Runner, and how over the years part of the pleasure of watching that film was just being immersed in this incredibly convincing future world- in the case of this film, its a sense of being thrown back to 1969 and its long-lost Hollywood. I’m pretty certain that I’ll re-watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood not for the jokes or the (sparse but powerful) action, or even the great performances, but rather just to soak it all up again, wallow in that sense of a time and place. Its an escape, just as it was when visiting the LA of 2019 envisioned by Ridley all those years ago. LA 2019, and LA 1969- the more things stay the same.

once1It may, of course, alienate those in the audience who prefer, say, Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, the high-octane, in-your-face, twist-and-turns and shocks and surprises that his past films are so famous for. This slow, rather sad and reflective film is unmistakably Tarantino- there’s still plenty of the ornate dialogue and self-knowing humour, but it all seems balanced by some new, maturer perspective. Its more a film about movie myths, the power of them, the nostalgia of pop-culture and how fragile fame and fortune can be. The relentless march of time and change and sensing your best years are behind you.

It turns out that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a Golden Age fairy tale, leaving the real world behind as it turns towards its finale. It leaves us finally revealed to be less a film, more some strange otherworldly dream, tricking us through the power of nostalgia and what we have grown to expect from a Tarantino picture. Its quite a sleight of hand by Tarantino, and really quite magical. I was really quite enthralled by the whole thing. I’m not sure it was actually a proper film, at least in the conventional sense. More a love letter for movie lovers and fans of the old television Western era then, and none the worse for that.

The Revenant (2015)

rev22016.7: The Revenant (Cinema)

Extraordinary. An Arthouse epic that displays nature as both breathtakingly beautiful and horribly terrifying. Impossibly spectacular landscapes juxtaposed with butchered bodies, heart-stopping moments of natural beauty juxtaposed with moments of brutal ugliness. Moments of kindness and moments of banal hatred. Its one hell of an experience. One for the ages.

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki  has lensed some pretty amazing-looking films (Gravity, The Tree of Life, Children of Men)  but this may be his masterpiece; the only tragedy of him walking away with the Oscar next month is that it previously seemed a dead-cert for the also truly deserving work by Roger Deakins on Sicario. Deakins must feel like he’s just been mugged again- will he ever get that long-overdue Oscar?  And while Leonardo DiCaprio is also surely the safest bet for his own Oscar, I’d actually suggest that Tom Hardy damn near steals the film from him in one of his typically understated performances; a Supporting Actor nod maybe?

Away from all the Awards  talk that dominates the headlines at this time of year, The Revenant remains a remarkable film and contender already for Film of the Year. As usual with my reviews of ‘new’ films, I won’t progress into spoiler territory and will leave an in-depth summation of this film for its blu-ray release, but goodness me, what a film. I can well imagine this film being in my all-time top ten, its that good. I’m sure the film will have its critics, it won’t be for everyone, and it’s two and a half-hour running time will be too much by far for some, but this film was so up my street it could have been three hours long, I’d have loved it.

It almost feels like a film made for me You know how it feels when a film just clicks?  If a film that feels like The Grey mixed with The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford mixed with The Thin Red Line rocks your boat then be assured, you’ll adore this film, simply adore it. Its Pure Cinema, a film for the senses, and one that surely needs to be seen on the largest screen you can. Don’t wait for that blu-ray unless you really have to.


One more thing; the haunting soundtrack (by Ryûichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto) is so odd it actually sounds like Vangelis’ Beaubourg at one point, and even his Blade Runner at another, and sometimes Wendy Carlos’ The Shining too. Thats just crazy. And yet it works brilliantly, even though it damn near killed the speakers at the multiplex here. I’ve got to get that soundtrack…

Anyway, excuse all this gushing, but I just got in from seeing a pretty great film. Its a lovely rare buzz these days.