“You guys, the truth is way more depressing. They are not even smart enough to be as evil as you’re giving them credit for.”
Written pre-pandemic as a satire of human inaction in the face of climate change, Don’t Look Up‘s commentary on scientists and experts being ignored in favour of entertainment and maintaining the status quo feels even more relevant in the COVID era, but relevance does not automatically equate to success. Don’t Look Up is Adam McKay’s bleakest work to date and features fewer creative flourishes, unfolding in a rather straightforward and heavy-handed fashion. Its satirical tone is wry rather than biting, which seems oddly insufficient for its end-of-the-world subject matter; by the end it has shifted more toward farce than insightful social commentary. The failure to skewer its targets more decisively may be necessary to reach the broad audience it desires, its “both sides” approach peaking with the wilful ignorance of a crowd chanting “don’t look up” paralleled with another crowd showering adoration on a pop star singing a vapidly meaningless “just look up” power ballad. The stellar cast produces dramatically and comedically compelling performances, and name-recognition alone should allow the film to meet Netflix’s success metrics, but they are not written with any emotional depth or sympathy. Don’t Look Up is arguably most effective when it broadens its scope to target media obsessed by “engagement” and tech industry billionaires’ self-aggrandisement and control over a political system hopelessly corrupted by wealth and self-interest. Its meandering focus is exacerbated by poor editing that allows the film to run over two and a half hours, when its ideas might have been more effectively communicated in a tighter 90-minute cut. As for reflection on how individuals respond to an apocalyptic crisis, McKay’s perspective is painfully shallow by comparison to existing efforts like Von Trier’s Melancholia or Scafario’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
“Harder to tell the good from the bad, the villains from the heroes these days.”
Typically the Bond films of each actor to take on the role end in a downward trajectory, but the inconsistent films of Daniel Craig’s tenure have culminated in perhaps the best swansong for a Bond actor to date, even if it sits firmly in the middle of the pack when it compared to Craig’s previous outings. Bond is at its best when it reinvents itself and, as I have previously opined, it arguably has less to do with the actor than the direction. Cary Fukunaga’s languid pacing and sombre tone suits the more personal story — even its opening swaps the usual kinetic action for a flashback horror sequence with an endangered child. No Time To Die is considerably too long at 163 minutes, featuring plenty of striking locations but little memorable action (aside from an early car chase and a tense woodland hunt). Ana de Armas brings the most energy to the film, though her presence is sadly restricted to one self-contained sequence. There has been an organic character arc through the Craig era from Bond proving himself in Casino Royale to the seasoned professional in Skyfall and now the introspective retired agent recognising that the politics behind espionage have become increasingly grey. A long-promised and overdue shift in this final outing is the greater depth to the female operatives and to Bond’s relationships. Conversely, Safin is one of the weakest Bond villains to date (through no fault of Rami Malek) and the franchise’s continued reliance on facial disfigurement as a shorthand for “villain” — with three examples in this film alone — is a tired anachronism. No Time To Die may not be Bond at its best, but the franchise continues to mature in a fitting send-off to its most human incarnation.
“When you get a different vantage point, it changes your perspective.”
First Man should not be mistaken for a film about the Apollo programme; as its name suggests the biopic is focused solely on the contribution of Neil Armstrong, sidelining everyone else. The claustrophobic nature of spaceflight is realistically presented through tight shots that leave us gazing into Ryan Gosling’s eyes with a regularity that eventually becomes tedious (although some viewers may disagree with this assessment). This is combined with an interesting decision to shoot the moon landing with IMAX cameras. If seen in that format the larger screen is entirely unused outside of that 15 minute sequence. Although impressive, IMAX viewing for this alone is far from essential. Gosling’s portrayal is deliberately understated whilst Claire Foy delivers the film’s strongest emotional performance as Armstrong’s wife. The most surprising aspect is an effective exploration of traditional masculinity and the burden placed on men who are left unable to share their emotional pain, with resulting impact on their families. Ultimately First Man is overlong but satisfying.