Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Don’t Look Up (2021)

© Netflix

Don’t Look Up  – Film Review

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi

Director: Adam McKay

Synopsis: When two astronomers discover a deadly comet is directly on a collision course with Earth, they try to sound the alarm to the rest of the world…

Review: It’s one of the most pressing matters that humanity in the 21st century is having to contend with: the future of the planet that we call home.  It’s an issue that has attracted the attention of the world’s media and has prompted figures from all corners of the globe to take a stand and urge those in positions of power to act before it is too late. Yet, in recent years, we have seen some world leaders fail to recognise what is truly at stake for the future of our planet. Having turned his eye on the 2008 Economic crash and the rise and fall of US Vice President Dick Cheney, Adam McKay has now turned his attention to this impending threat facing humanity, the responses of those who wield the power to do something about it, and how various aspects of modern life cover this pressing issue our planet is facing. And he does so, in the smuggest and most pompous manner possible.

Astronomers Dr Randall Mindy (DiCaprio) and Dr Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) make an alarming discovery: a giant comet is set to collide with Earth in around six months time. When it collides, it will cause catastrophic destruction on a global scale. Heading straight to Washington D.C. to inform the President (Streep) of their discovery, they are astounded when the White House doesn’t choose to take immediate action to stop the apocalyptic threat. Left with little option, they resort to other methods in order to inform the rest of the planet, in the hope that their warnings of impending doom will somehow prompt those in charge to take action to avert humanity’s destruction.

It is hard to ignore the fact that the idea for this film feels borne out of a particular world leader and his indifference towards the major issue of the environment, and the challenges that the human race faces over this important topic. This feels only exacerbated by the ongoing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic and the catastrophic failure by the US Government at the time, to deal with this crisis in a swift and efficient manner. These categorical failures of leadership seem to be McKay’s motivations for writing and directing his latest satirical attack on the current state of US politics, as well as numerous aspects of 21st-century life in general. Yet, there is absolutely no subtlety about who and what McKay is targeting. It comes across like he’s trying to say to the audience how funny or witty his satire is. When in reality, it comes across as extremely patronising. There’s an important lesson to be taken from the need to focus on the environment. However, as with both his previous films that were very much from a satirical perspective, there’s something that’s unbearably smug and arrogant about the manner in which he seeks to deliver this message.

Because of the gravity of the topic that’s being “satirised”, there was an opportunity to provide some thought-provoking, social satire that is nuanced and subtle in what it tried to convey, In reality, McKay’s screenplay, much like his previous films, is about as subtle as taking a sledgehammer to someone’s kneecaps. The satirical writing, or lack thereof, opts to beat the audience over the head with its themes so obnoxiously that it begins to actively make you angry that you don’t really care what he or the characters are trying to say, which is not good when there’s an important lesson for humanity to take away from the events being depicted. There’s no denying that McKay has assembled some of the biggest names in Hollywood for this cast, with lots of beloved actors. Yet, McKay’s dialogue is so overbearingly smug and obnoxious that you openly despise each and every single one of the characters, which makes the run time of the film feel two or three times as long.

The best of a bad bunch is easily Leonardo Di Caprio’s Dr Mindy, he tries his best but when he’s given such horrific material to work with, he can only do so much. Meryl Streep does a decent enough job at portraying a President who couldn’t give two shits about the public they’re meant to represent. However, it’s so painfully obvious who she, and her son (Hill) are meant to be a parody of, their characters might as well have been named Trump. Such a serious and important topic deserved a film worthy of this talented cast, and a director who did not take an infuriatingly offensive approach to the topic. You may well almost want the world to come to an end by the time this apocalyptic misfire of a film reaches the credits.

 What credit the film warrants for taking on such an important topic is immediately negated by its extremely condescending approach in how it chooses to approach the topic at hand. As a result, the whole film feels utterly pointless as a satire. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Netflix

The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Film Review

Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Synopsis: In the run up to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the organisers of several protests at the time, who later became known as the Chicago 7, are put on trial by the Government…

Review: It’s hard to get away from the fact that in this most chaotic of years, that the world of politics, especially in the USA, is a very fraught and bitterly divided arena. As politics becoming increasingly partisan in nature, society has been reeling from the riots and civil unrest that has stemmed from senseless brutality from law enforcement, and a fundamentally flawed judicial system that significantly disadvantages ethnic minorities and people of colour. The parallels between the current situation and the unrest of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s are extremely hard to avoid, lending increased relevance to the second directorial effort from seasoned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. To say this is “timely” is practically doing the film a disservice, for the simple reasons that right from the start, there’s a real sense of urgency about the film, with a message that needs to be heard around the world, because as they say in the film: “The whole world is watching.”

With the 1968 Democratic National Convention taking place in Chicago, several different groups of people, with numerous leaders, converge on Chicago to protest the Vietnam War. With the Civil Rights Movement of the time in full swing, a tense atmosphere exists between the protestors and the police/National Guard who quickly arrive on the scene. It doesn’t take long for the situation to escalate into brutality and violence, leading to the arrests of the leaders, who would go on to become known as the Chicago 7. The Government, under President Richard Nixon, is eager to make an example of these protestors. Hence, they appoint a top prosecutor Richard Schultz (Gordon-Levitt) to seek prosecutions and lock these protestors up for allegedly inciting violence. The stage is now set for one of the most politicised trials in the history of the United States.

As he demonstrated with his slick and stylish debut feature Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s proved himself to be a confident director to combine perfectly with his skill as a master screenwriter. It’s to his great credit that he made stories about about numbers and baseball, and the social media company that would change the world, extremely compelling watches. It raises the possibility that Sorkin could craft something extremely riveting based on the most ordinary of tasks. Though, the events being depicted here are given extra significance by the politically charged nature of this story. There’s no holding back when it comes to its subject matter, and how these events that are being depicted over fifty years ago, are starkly relevant in today’s society. A society where those in positions of power seek to use the political and justice systems as weapons to punish those who dare to have a dissenting opinion. The dialogue, as you would expect from Sorkin, is sharp and engaging throughout, and he effortlessly blends the urgent and important drama, with some brilliant humour.

With a massively stacked cast, there’s always a risk that not everyone will get their moment in the spotlight, and while Sorkin does his level best to give each of the Chicago 7 a moment, some use their opportunity better than others. One of the brightest spots by far is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman. On first glance he might seem like nothing more than an eccentric hippie, but don’t let that fool you, for he is a man with razor sharp wit, with his finger on the pulse. While his accent wobbles in a few places, Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden is another who uses his screen time effectively. He might seem like a more quiet and reserved individual, but he has his moments where he exhibits fierce passion for the cause that all of the defendants stand for. While there are clashes within the ranks of the Chicago 7, they remain committed to their goal of exposing this trial for what it is, a sham and politicised trial.

On the other side of the courtroom, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Richard Schultz is a little concerned about the Government’s position, but is determined to do his job to the best of his abilities. By contrast, Frank Langella’s Judge Hoffman is one character who will infuriate every time he’s on screen. The sheer contempt he exhibits for the defendants, their legal representatives, and the fact he fails to be impartial throughout illustrates how he’s unequivocally unfit to be a judge in this situation. Through his clear disdain for the defendants, it makes for some fiery (and sometimes entertaining) clashes between the Judge and the Chicago 7, as well as their legal counsel William Kunstler (a truly excellent Mark Rylance). Additionally, while they’re not in the film for sufficiently long enough, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Leader of the Black Panther Party Bobby Searle and Michael Keaton’s, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, both leave lasting impressions with their performances.

In this politically charged era that we’re currently living in, battlegrounds are being drawn between those on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Furthermore, as they were in 1968/69, those in power today are using the flawed justice system and the courts as a means of achieving their own ends. This powerful and urgent drama is an important reminder of the power of protest, and how people should use their voice to speak out and should not let government intimidation bully them into silence. Like they were fifty years ago, the whole world is watching, and it is essential to stand up for democracy, and ensure that people make themselves be counted.

Signature sharp Sorkin dialogue throughout, this urgent drama is a sharp and stinging look at social, legal and political issues that even after a generation, continue to be deep-rooted thorns in today’s society.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Dunkirk (2017)

Image is property of Warner Bros and Syncopy

Dunkirk – Film Review

Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles

Directors: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: With the enemy surrounding them and closing in, the Allied forces are stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, and their hopes of survival appear completely remote, barring an astonishing miracle…

Review: As a director, Christopher Nolan’s films have explored a variety of genres and topics, from deep space exploration, to dreams within dreams, within dreams, to a man who dresses up as a bat to clean up his city from crime. So for his next project, Nolan clearly fancied straying into new waters by making a war movie, one that specifically focuses on one small week in the heart of the Second World War, focusing on what has become known as the Miracle of Dunkirk. It was naturally intriguing to see what a director who has become so revered could do with this topic. With any project he directs, Nolan manages to leave a lasting impression on the audience, and with his latest, it’s another masterclass from Nolan.

It is May 1940, and with a total of around 400,000 men stranded on this beach, with boats to rescue them in scarce supply, their situation looks bleaker and bleaker with every hour that passes. Nolan chooses to tell this story from three different perspectives: Air, sea and land. And through what is what a remarkably short running time for a Nolan film (106 minutes) we watch as these three differing story-lines witness what is a defining moment in British history. Through sparse dialogue, Nolan takes his audience on an intense gripping journey as we watch these characters either battling for survival, doing whatever they can to save as many lives as possible, or flying a plane trying to down enemy planes.

CGI has become very prominent in modern day movie making, but Nolan here uses practical effects as much as he can, and it really adds so much authenticity to the story he is trying to tell. The planes, the boats and the like are all ones that were used in World War II, and filming in practical locations, including Dunkirk itself only adds so much more to the authenticity. The cinematography from Hoyte van Hoyetma, re-teaming with Nolan after Interstellar is flawless once again. The film’s editing is also terrific, it heightens the tension. And of course the score provided by Hans Zimmer is of the superb standard that one would expect from one of the world’s greatest film composers.

The extensive research that Nolan made on the operation ensures historical accuracy up to a point, but as the characters are not based on any real life people. Yet the characters that Nolan does use to tell this story are not as well utilised as they could have been. With such talented actors such as Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy among others, the development on these characters is kept to a minimum, which is undeniably frustrating, but for the sake of the story, it does make sense. Though having said that, Fionn Whitehead has the most development, and for all the intrigue and raised eyebrows that followed when he was cast, Harry Styles demonstrated that he could definitely have a future in acting, with a very impressive debut performance.

Above all though, Nolan really demonstrates what is meant by the term “Dunkirk Spirit,” fierce determination in the face of very long odds. The story is perhaps not as thorough on the specifics of the evacuation but it certainly provides you with enough detail that will make you eager to go home and do some research. The lack of character development is frustrating, and the acting is not on par with say an Imitation Game. However, for nail biting intense war scenes, Nolan certainly gives such other WW2 films like Hacksaw Ridge and Saving Private Ryan a damn good run for their money, with an important history lesson thrown in for good measure.

Telling a story that needs to be told, and telling it with real authenticity that is gripping throughout, whilst conveying important themes, and a great attention to historical detail.