Jonah Hill

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

Mid90s

25/03/19

The latest Hollywood actor to take his position on the other side of the camera is Jonah Hill. Mid90s is his first film as director and, it turns out, he wrote the screenplay too. The result is a charming little calling card of a film, with a grungy, indie sensibility and a clear determination to avoid the clichés that have dogged so many earlier attempts to get to grips with the subject of skateboarding.

Thirteen-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives in LA with his single parent mom, Dabney (Katherine Waterston), and his bullying, older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges, working wonders with an almost monosyllabic role). Left mostly to his own devices and clearly fed up with his brother’s constant physical abuse, Stevie chances upon the Motor Avenue Skateshop, run by Ray (Na Kel Smith), a talented skateboarder who has accrued a small coterie of followers. There’s wannabe skate boy, Ruben (Gio Galicia), messed-up rich-kid, Fuckshit (Olan Prenatt) and putative filmmaker, Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin).

Watching the gang interact, Stevie has a kind of epiphany. He buys an old skateboard from Ian and sets about following the other kids around with an almost obsessive zeal, taking every opportunity to get into their good books. Though he can’t ride a skateboard to save his life, his presence is soon accepted and and the others even adopt him as a kind of  mascot, giving him the nickname ‘Sunburn.’  Pretty soon, they are introducing him to the dubious delights of drugs, acts of minor hooliganism and granting him access to their regular parties, where, on one momentous night, he even manages to shrug off his cumbersome virginity.

There’s no great message in Mid90s – it’s a picaresque adventure in which we share Stevie’s growing awareness of who he is and what he wants to be. It’s set against a meticulously researched 90s landscape and is provided with a kicking soundtrack to ease matters along. With a surprisingly brief running time of just one hour twenty-five minutes, the film fairly races by on well-oiled wheels and the performances are uniformly  spot-on. Hill even throws in a few simple visual tricks that hint at the possibility of even better things to come from him.

This surely won’t be for everyone, but it feels like so much more than a Hollywood actor’s vanity project. It’s a genuine delight.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Sausage Party

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08/09/16

In the colourful cartoon world created by Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill (and, it should be said,  a whole bunch of other writers), the edible inhabitants of Shopwell’s supermarket have created a convenient myth for themselves – that when they are ‘chosen’ by shoppers, they embark on a journey to The Great Beyond, a paradise where they will be forever happy with their perfect partners. Frank (Seth Rogen) is one member of a pack of frankfurter sausages who longs to be lustily united with Brenda (Kristen Wiig) a shapely hot dog bun. (You’ll already have gathered that the minds behind this concoction are not reaching for anything too intellectual.) When a jar of honey-mustard is returned by a shopper (because he wasn’t quite honey and he wasn’t quite mustard), he terrorises the other inhabitants of the store  with nightmarish tales of what he has witnessed – food being horribly tortured and mutilated before being devoured by humans – which sets Frank off on a convoluted quest to discover the truth about the Great Beyond.

Okay, so Sausage Party is an allegory about religion and the lies that people are prepared to swallow in order to make their existence tolerable – and, to be fair, there are a few clever scenes dotted throughout this film that hint at just how good it might have been if a little more thought had gone into it; but, unfortunately, such scenes are brutally nixed by the barrage of appalling racial, sexual and gender stereotypes to which the plot continually returns. It’s a case of one step forward, two steps back. No sooner have you enjoyed, for instance, the quite clever parody of Saving Private Ryan, than the script is offering some clumsy interplay between a Jewish bagel and a Middle Eastern lavash (that’s Armenian unleavened flatbread, in case you were wondering) that seems purely designed to offend religious sensibilities with its supposedly funny, lascivious er… climax.

Look, this was never going to be a masterpiece – it’s clearly something that’s been put together based on the ramblings of a couple of stoners (‘Hey man, imagine if this food we’re about to eat could talk!’) and, all things considered, it’s surprising that the end result is as watchable as it is. Those who enjoy their humour rude and obvious will doubtless laugh along with this – but its ambitions rarely take it any higher than a snake’s belly – and what can you honestly expect of a film that features a villain that is… quite literally, a douchebag?

And be warned. The central premise of this movie could easily encourage an eating disorder. This is a public service announcement. You have been warned.

3 stars

Philip Caveney