Adam McKay

Don’t Look Up

24/12/21

Netflix

It’s Christmas Eve, so of course we all want something cheery and cuddly to watch… right?

Adam McKay’s Don’t look Up may just qualify as the least likely candidate for a fun Christmas movie in the history of such things, and yet this whip-smart, prescient and funny satire somehow hits all the right buttons to provide an evening of entertaining viewing.

Scientist Doctor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) is initially excited when one of his students, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), discovers a new comet in the solar system, but he’s rather less pleased when their projections suggest that said comet – a massive heavenly projectile – is due to collide with planet earth in something less than six months’ time. This will be an extinction event.

Understandably spooked, they contact an expert, Professor Teddy Oglethorpe (Ron Morgan), with their findings and the three of them alert the White House. Initially, they are treated like a trio of cranks. President Orlean (Meryl Streep) is much more interested in her mid-term prospects, currently on the skids since she’s been found emailing pictures of her ahem… lady parts… to a her boyfriend. Orlean’s son, the Trumpian Jason (Jonah Hill), appears to have the intellect of a sandwich toaster and is more interested on what’s trending on social media than any upcoming real-life calamity.

But the reality slowly dawns. This is actually going to happen…

So who is going to save the world? Could it be the powerful mobile phone entrepreneur, Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), a cross between Elon Musk and Tim Cook? Or maybe the vacuous (but influential) pop star, Riley Bina (Ariana Grande), who can at least compose a saccharine song abut what’s happening? And what about the callous, self-regarding chat show host, Brie Eventree (Cate Blanchett), or her smug co-presenter, Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry)?

Then President Orlean realises that she might be able to manipulate the approaching catastrophe in order to improve her own ratings. As the comet inexorably approaches, nobody seems able to agree on a sensible course of action…

Don’t look Up is played for laughs, but it’s ridiculously easy to spot the real life targets McKay has in his sights and, wild as this all is, it’s scarily believable. Substitute the word ‘comet’ for say, ‘pandemic’ or ‘global warming,’ and you’ll see the same cast of characters strutting their stuff: the scientists, the non-believers, the conspiracy-theorists and the tech billionaires, all determined to turn any disaster to their advantage.

McKay walks a perilous tightrope to a suspenseful conclusion that is both devastating – and, at the same time, devastatingly funny. Okay, like I said, not everybody will want to stomach this Netflix Original production quite so close to Christmas. All that turkey and mincemeat might be enough to swallow right now. But as you head into the New Year, be sure to tune in. It’s simply too good to miss.

And make sure you watch till the very end…

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Vice

16/01/19

Those people who look at the current political landscape in America and despairingly ask themselves, ‘How could this ever have come to pass?’ should pop along to a showing of Vice at their earliest opportunity, where all will be explained. This is the story of how a taciturn bit-player in American politics cleverly advanced himself into a position of unprecedented authority, becoming the power behind the throne in the administration of George W Bush, and ushering in the kind of rampant corruption that would reach its apotheosis under the tiny thumb of one Mr Trump.

When we first meet Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), he’s a hopeless case: a University dropout with a drink problem, taking menial work to make ends meet. After a confrontation with his long-suffering wife, Lynne (Amy Adams), he vows to straighten himself out and enrols in a political internship, where he finds himself assigned to Republican congressman, Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell in his by-now-habitual good form). Largely by nodding his head a lot and saying very little, Cheney’s career progresses in leaps and bounds – and, when he finally has the chance to play Vice President to the very naive George W Bush (Sam Rockwell), he spots an opportunity to seize the kind of power normally reserved for the President himself.

Adam McKay’s film certainly has the potential to be yet another dull political biopic in the mould of The Front Runner, but it’s lifted way above this level by the playful nature of the storytelling. Whenever there’s any danger of events beginning to drag, McKay has a way of enervating proceedings – a Shakespearian parody here, a sly aside to the camera there – and the repeated analogy of Cheney’s skills as a fisherman are brilliantly exploited as we watch him quietly reeling the next sucker into his control. (When the sucker in question is the President of the USA, it’s particularly chilling.)

There’s also an inspired device where everyman narrator Kurt (Jessie Plemons) keeps popping up to offer his insights into what’s happening, informing us that he and Cheney are somehow ‘related,’ a mystery that’s finally explained in a moment so shocking it nearly has me leaping out of my cinema seat.

Of course, I can’t review this film without mentioning Bale’s Oscar-nominated performance in the lead role. We may be a little jaded by his insistence on physically occupying his chosen subjects, but theres no doubting the fact that he has once again achieved a stunning transformation, as shocking in its own way as what he did to his body in The Machinist. But it’s more than just the look. Bale conveys the character’s traits in every shrug, every grimace, every sly glance – and remember, he’s impersonating a character who’s so impassive there’s very little to work with. It’s a superb central performance in a very assured film.

Make sure you don’t leave the cinema too early – there’s an amusing post-credits sequence that brings matters bang up to date. I emerge feeling as though my eyes have been well and truly opened – and uncomfortably aware that the double meaning of the film’s title is all too apparent.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney