Don’t Look Up


Making America late again.

(2021) Disaster Comedy (Netflix) Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Himesh Patel, Melanie Lynskey, Michael Chiklis, Tomer Sisley, Paul Guilfoyle, Robert Joy, Jack Alberts, Ting Lik, Lance A. Williams, Shimali De Silva. Directed by Adam McKay

 

Some of you might remember the competing apocalyptic comet/meteor collision movies Armageddon and Deep Impact, both of which came out in 1998. Both featured American governments that acted decisively upon finding out about the upcoming end of days in an effort to avoid the end of Life as We Know It. But what if such a calamity occurred during the presidency of someone less competent?

Astronomer Dr. Randall Mindy (di Caprio) and the PhD candidate he’s mentoring Kate Diblasky (Lawrence) are by no means the upper echelon in their field, but they do have the advantage of looking in the right place at the right time (or, more to the point, the wrong place at the wrong time). They find a comet heading on a collision course with Earth and it will be here in just six months – time enough to maybe do something about it.

Except that President Orlean (Streep) and her idiot son/Chief of Staff Jason (Hill) are more concerned about the upcoming midterms than they are about a giant rock heading our way. Frustrated by a lack of government action or even interest, the two scientists take their case to the media in the form of the morning news program The Daily Rip. True to form, the talking head anchors Brie (Blanchett) and Jack (Perry) are more concerned with the disintegrating love life of pop star Riley B (Grande) than about their audience being wiped out by an oncoming – and very preventable – disaster.

The characters here are broadly drawn; clearly the President here is meant to be Trump and Jason could be Ivanka. There’s also a billionaire (Rylance) who seems to be cribbed from the Elon Musk book of billionaires. When Randall wonders why people aren’t panicking, we wonder the same thing. Of course, the movie was written to be a satire on the response to climate change (it can also be construed as a satire on the response to the pandemic but it was written years before COVID-19 was even a thing) but don’t that fool you; this is a time capsule of life in These United States circa 2021.

This is also a satire of the State of the Union, as it were. I suspect that even Trump would have reacted with a little bit more alarm had he been faced with an approaching comet, but then again, who knows? I have a feeling that those who really need to see the movie likely won’t; first off, because they’ll see it as another smack in the face from them liberal Hollywood socialists, and secondly won’t recognize themselves in it anyway. As one critic pointed out, how are you supposed to write a vacuous talking head blonde broadcaster when there already is a Laura Ingraham?

There are a few too many moving parts here and some of the big names in the cast are given very little to do, which is only to be expected. The one big sin that the movie commits is trying to do too much; I get that there’s an awful lot to satirize when it comes to our reaction to the climate crisis, but there comes a point where the point gets lost in the noise of all the ancillary points that McKay is making.

And maybe the offense that we’re all guilty of is the same one that this movie makes; we’re too busy talking at people to notice that we’ve stopped talking with people. The latter situation involves listening, and there’s precious little of that going on at this point in time. Maybe that’s the point that McKay is trying to make, but it does get lost in all the points he’s making about social media, broadcast news, the GOP, big business, and our general state of malaise.

REASONS TO SEE: An absolutely stellar cast. A commentary on spin and misinformation, particularly in regards to climate change and the pandemic.
REASONS TO AVOID: Preaches to the choir.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, sexual content, violence and nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The film was nominated for four Oscars at the 2022 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/11/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews; Metacritic: 49/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mars Attacks!
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Catch the Fair One

The Unforgivable


Ruth Slater doesn’t like what she sees in the mirror.

(2021) Drama (Netflix) Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Benthal, Richard Thomas, Linda Emond, Aisling Franciosi, Emma Nelson, Will Pullen, Thomas Guiry, Jessica McLeod, Rob Morgan, Andrew Francis, W. Earl Brown, Neli Kastrinos, Orlando Lucas, Jude Wilson, Paul Moniz de Sa, Craig March, Alistair Abell, Donavon Stinson, Patti Kim, Jessica Charbonneau. Directed by Nora Fingscheidt

 

For most of us, our indiscretions are generally of a minor nature, and we move on from them with a minimum of fuss. However, there are certain actions that we might take that cannot be so easily forgiven and certainly not forgotten.

Ruth Slater (Bullock) has just emerged from prison after twenty years, with time off for good behavior. Her crime? She killed a cop (Brown) who was there to evict her and her five-year-old sister Katie (Kastrinos) from their farmhouse in rural Washington state. Ruth hopes to get back to a relatively normal life, but her unsmiling parole officer (Morgan) disabuses her of that notion immediately. “You’re a cop killer wherever you go,” he informs her and soon he turns out to be right.

But that doesn’t deter Ruth from going on a quest to find her lost little sister, now grown to adulthood and going by the name Katherine Malcolm (Franciosi). She’s a talented pianist, and her well-to-do adoptive parents Michael (Thomas) and Rachel (Emond) couldn’t be prouder. They are aware that Ruth is out, but it’s unlikely that Ruth can find them, so they don’t tell Katherine about it. However, the Sheriff’s sons – Steve (Pullen) and Keith (Guiry) – are also aware of her release, and Keith is none-too-pleased about it either. He doesn’t think 20 years is nearly enough for the murder of his father and wants to take a further pound of flesh. Keith feels more of a live-and-let-live nature, but that mollifies his brother not at all.

When Ruth visits the old farmhouse, she finds it nicely renovated by the couple living there – John (D’Onofrio) and Liz (Davis) Ingram. When Ruth discovers John is a lawyer, she opens up a little to him and he is convinced to help her find her sister, pro bono. Liz does some research of her own and is appalled to discover the truth, and confronts John with it, reminding him (accurately) that if it had been one of his black sons who had murdered the cop, he would never have made it to prison – he’d likely have been shot dead on the spot, and even if he had been tried and convicted, time off for good behavior would have been unlikely at best.

In any case, things boil to a head as John finds Katherine and the adoptive parents express their reluctance and eventual refusal to reunite the sisters. “What good would it do?” muses Michael. And Keith has a change of heart and ends up going after Katherine…but messes up and kidnaps the other daughter of the Malcolms, Emily (Nelson). As events come to a climax, we discover the truth of what really happened to the sheriff and why.

I liked this movie probably a little more than it deserved. A large reason why has to do with Bullock’s performance; it’s unlike anything she’s ever done. It isn’t a movie star performance; it’s the performance of an actress at the top of her game, and it’s not all about her line reading or even her facial expressions. You can see Ruth is a damaged, wounded person by the haunted look in her eyes. It doesn’t hurt that Bullock has a plethora of great actors around her, particularly Viola Davis, an Oscar winner who always seems to turn in an outstanding job no matter how small the role. D’Onofrio, Morgan, Bernthal and Thomas are also effective.

The reason it may not necessarily deserve my love is that the movie has a lot of contrivances; some of the plot points feel like they are there mainly to move the story to the conclusion the writers want, rather than a natural, organic progression from point A to point Z. One of the most egregious examples is the abrupt character turn of Keith. Nothing against the actor playing him, but he turns 180 degrees in attitude; there should have been a hint beforehand of his inner rage. I suppose the filmmakers wanted to make that turn a shock, but they ended up making it unbelievable.

Although set in Washington state, the movie was mainly filmed in British Columbia. The landscapes are suitably bleak and washed out (except, ironically, at the farmhouse). The urban scenes have a gritty, streetwise feel to them and the tough guy demeanor that Bullock adopts for her character feels like something someone who had to survive in prison would have to do once they got out.

This isn’t always an easy movie to watch, nor is it free from flaws. Still, there is a performance here worth checking out and overall, the movie is grim but effective. Not Oscar bait so much, but the kind of movie Scorsese might approve of.

REASONS TO SEE: Bullock gives a haunting performance, with a fine supporting cast. Realistic and gritty. Looks at the repercussions of tragedy.
REASONS TO AVOID: Contrived in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and plenty of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Based on a 2009 British miniseries, the film was originally meant for Angelina Jolie in the lead (although she never officially signed on) and was in on-again, off-again development before being resurrected in 2019.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/2/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 40% positive reviews; Metacritic: 41/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Destroyer
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Jockey

Monsters and Men


Not everything is black and white.

(2018) Drama (NEONJohn David Washington, Anthony Ramos, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Chanté Adams, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Nicole Beharie, Rob Morgan, Cara Buono, Grant Jaeger, Josiah Gabriel, Emilie Allen, Brian Pollock, Joe Tippett, J.W. Cortes, Giuseppe Ardizzone, Steve Cirbus, Samel Edwards, CJ Wallace, Joshua Rivera, Lana Young. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green

 

Timing can be everything in the movie business. Monsters and Men tackles a subject that is near and dear to Hollywood’s heart; police brutality in African-American neighborhoods (in this case, Bed-Stuy in New York City). Family man Manny (Ramos) hears an altercation at a local bodega and chances upon a heated confrontation between white cops and Big D (Edwards), a local neighborhood figure who sells loose cigarettes outside the bodega. When the confrontation turns violent, Manny captures it on his cellphone.

He is torn as to whether to make the video public; he’s just started a new job working security while his wife (Jones) is finishing up her degree. He is arrested on trumped up charges. Dennis (Washington), a cop of African-American heritage, is not to thrilled with the overall situation but is under enormous pressure to keep his opinions to himself. He has a unique viewpoint which surfaces at a dinner party. Then again, there is Zyrick (Harrison), a high school baseball player who has unlimited potential whose father (Morgan) is proudly inviting major league teams to check his kid out. He has a career to think about and every reason to keep quiet but there’s this activist (Adams) who gives him food for thought. Meanwhile, a vigilante incident is fanning the flame, turning Bed-Stuy into a powderkeg ready to explode.

The movie is divided into three chapters and has a curiously unfinished feeling about it; even though there is a climactic moment that essentially brings the narrative to a close, the broken-up narrative doesn’t serve the film well. Although Washington stands out talent-wise and the young, largely unknown cast delivers surprisingly strong performances.

I think the movie also suffered from a timing issue; there had been a number of similarly themed movies released over the past two years and I think that there was a kind of audience fatigue going on for the subject so Monsters and Men fell off the radar a little bit which it may not have deserved, flawed or not.

Green definitely has a good eye and I think his only problem here was in his choice of narrative structure. A more linear means, while less bold, would have served the narrative better. I can’t say that this stands up well with some of the other films of similar subject matter, but I can say that especially for those who haven’t yet burned out on the subject, it is worth checking out just to get an early preview of Denzel’s kid, who will be headlining a Christopher Nolan blockbuster this summer and will likely be a huge star after that.

REASONS TO SEE: Washington has legitimate potential to step out of his dad’s shadow.
REASONS TO AVOID: Dividing the film into three separate chapters gives it a feeling that the story is not being fully told.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third time Washington played a cop in 2018; the other two occasions were BlacKKKlansman and The Old Man and the Gun.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/22/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews: Metacritic: 68/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hate U Give
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
The Times of Bill Cunningham