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Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

There are a number of noteworthy and unusual things about Everything Everywhere All At Once, directed by ‘Daniels’ (this is the working name for the duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert); the film has apparently done unexpectedly well across a long and carefully-managed release, it is an (almost unprecedented) star vehicle for a leading lady a quarter-century on from her turn as a Bond girl; and there is the simple fact that the film is so damn weird. What is not so noteworthy or unusual is the film’s theme, which concerns an infinite multiplicity of closely connected parallel worlds and the main character’s perception of them. This is pretty standard story material at the moment, as we have already noted.

Michelle Yeoh, whose star has waxed impressively in the last five or six years despite her appearing in some (to my mind) decidedly iffy projects, plays Evelyn, a Chinese immigrant to America who has devoted her life to running a not especially successful laundrette with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, making what is surely one of the most impressive comebacks in recent years). But her relationship with her daughter (Stephanie Hsu) and father (James Hong, a veteran actor with a remarkable CV) is not good.

Worst of all, the business is being audited by the IRS, requiring all of them to go to the local tax office and contend with a not entirely sympathetic official (Jamie Lee Curtis). But strange things begin to occur as they arrive: Waymond in particular starts acting very oddly, writing strange notes to Evelyn giving her rather peculiar instructions. When she eventually follows them, she finds her consciousness transported into the janitor’s closet, which contains another version of her from a parallel universe. Or is the whole closet in another parallel universe? (It’s probably best not to worry too much about this kind of minor detail – and the thing about Everything Everywhere All At Once is that which universe the characters are in at any given moment really does constitute a minor detail.)

Well, it turns out that a parallel-universe version of Waymond is looking for Evelyn; or, to be exact, looking for an iteration of her with the potential to defeat a tyrannical multiversal despot named Jobu Tupaki (‘You’re just making up noises,’ complains Evelyn when told of this, not unreasonably). Jobu Tupaki has created a bagel with the potential to destroy the infinity of the multiverse (I promise you that this really is the plot), which interested parties are obviously keen to stop.

Fairly soon parallel-universe minions of Jobu Tupaki and members of other factions are possessing the bodies of their counterparts in Evelyn’s universe, intent on causing her some mischief, and so it falls to her to borrow the skills of some of her other iterations in order to fend them off (given Yeoh’s pedigree in Hong Kong action cinema you can probably imagine how this turns out). But what is the secret of Jobu Tupaki and can the apocalyptic bagel be neutralised before the whole of creation suffers?

Having just read that back I am aware that Everything Everywhere All At Once sounds like one of the stupidest, or at least most bloody-mindedly whimsical films ever made – and it does contain many moments which are finely-crafted pieces of absurdism and surrealism: quite apart from doomsday baked goods, there are transcendental paper cuts, dialogue scenes between rocks, and people doing things with trophies that defy genteel description. Not for the first time, the essentially cautious nature of the Marvel project is thrown into sharp relief by a smaller movie – the Dr Strange sequel suddenly looks very restrained indeed compared to the relentless frantic daftness of this film, both of them of course playing the idea of a multiplicity of parallel worlds. (What briefly resembled a spat between the two films on Twitter is rather peculiar given that talent both behind and in front of the camera on Everything Everywhere All At Once has been involved in Marvel Studios projects.)

It’s not quite as arbitrarily silly as it sounds, for there are rules and reasons for nearly everything that happens. What it really feels like, and I’m aware I don’t usually like this kind of reductionist comparison, is The Matrix blended with an offbeat indie comedy-drama: the kung fu stuff is great, even if it is quite daft, there’s a fairly solid rationale behind it all (though you do have to hang on really tight to keep track of all of the plot), and – somehow – underpinning everything is a relatively serious story about a woman coming to terms with her life and her relationships with her family.

It takes a while to get here, naturally, and one of the criticisms I’d make is that the endless possibilities that the film explores turn out to be just a bit too endless: I’d say it was about 15-20% too long, with most of the fat coming in the second and third acts. There are still some good jokes and inspired ideas, but I found myself flagging as the film bounced through yet another new take on its characters and concepts without much going on in the way of forward motion.

This being, at least in part, a film about the Chinese-American experience, it’s not entirely surprising that it eventually resolves as a kind of family saga – this is one of those films where colossal mayhem and an apocalyptic threat proves to be mainly a pretext for the protagonist to sort out their domestic relationships. But it’s a bit deeper than that – rather as with the TV series Life After Life, it eventually tackles concepts of existentialism and nihilism – if you can have or be everything, then ultimately you reach a point where nothing means anything. I’m not entirely convinced by the film’s solution to this particular philosophical quandary, but it at least does present some kind of answer to it.

Everything Everywhere All At Once is the kind of film which looks brilliant and inspired in the trailer; the challenge is how to take such a soaringly high concept and turn it into a functional and satisfying narrative. The Daniels do a pretty good job with it, in the end, although this is not a film which is especially strong on coherence. Nevertheless, there are so many good individual bits to enjoy that I am very happy to overlook the flaws in the overall story. It’s a mad and challenging film, but I mean that in the most positive way.

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A £194 million return on a £20 million budget, when combined with a built-in audience and established name recognition, means only one thing: guaranteed sequel! So here we are with Downton Abbey: A New Era, directed by Simon Curtis, written by Julian Fellowes (the creator of the TV show) and starring all the usual suspects.

I find myself sort of wondering about what it is exactly that makes this a ‘new era’, as to me it all looks very similar to the old era, or at least the first film. I was taken along to see this by the family when it came out in 2019, and – to save you the bother of going back and re-reading the original review – found it rather perplexing. This is mainly because I’ve never seen an episode of the TV show, which is obviously a disadvantage when it comes to a film series which is essentially a direct continuation of it.

The general sense of bemusement persisted as the new film got underway. It opens with a wedding which basically the entire principal cast attend – with a few exceptions (genial peer Hugh Bonneville, demonic matriarch Maggie Smith, redoubtable butler Jim Carter) I had no recollection of who any of them were. But the thing to remember about Downton is that all you really need to understand is the key division between the toffs upstairs and the plebs downstairs. The toffs are delighted being waited on hand and foot; the plebs seem equally delighted to be doing the waiting, though the reasons why are more obscure.

Paying close attention to the details of the film reveals we are in the year 1928, where the two main plotlines are jolted into motion by a letter from a French lawyer, revealing that Maggie Smith has inherited a villa within spitting distance of the Riviera from a mysterious man from her past, and a request from the film company British Lion to make a movie on location at the mansion itself. (Dearie me, from producing and distributing films of the calibre of The Third Man and The Wicker Man to providing background verisimilitude in a Downton Abbey movie – sic transit gloria mundi.)

Well, mainly because the mansion needs a new roof, they agree to let all the ghastly film-making people move in for a month, but only because many of the characters will be off in France discussing the new property with its former owners, not all of whom are particularly inclined to honour the bequest. Needless to say all the below-stairs plebs get tremendously excited by the prospect of mixing with film stars (Dominic West and Laura Haddock do the honours) and even sensible-but-quietly-naughty Lady Something-or-Other lets herself get dragged into helping the production out. Meanwhile, the visitors to France struggle to cope with their alien continental ways while revelations about Maggie Smith’s past threaten to bring on an existential crisis for the earl himself…

It’s possible that the makers of the first Downton Abbey movie got a bit stung by criticisms that it was not really a film after all, but basically a double-length episode of the TV show released into cinemas. Certainly one of the trailers for the new one banged on at great length about how ‘cinematic’ it is, and how it cries out for the big screen experience. Well, there’s certainly something you could describe as cinematic about Downton Abbey: The New Era, even if it’s just the fact that it cheerfully knocks off elements from a bona fide movie like Singin’ in the Rain – there’s a plotline about an actress who looks fabulous but doesn’t have the voice for a career in talkies which feels awfully familiar. The everyone-goes-on-a-foreign-holiday storyline, on the other hand, is more of a staple of less distinguished fare like the big-screen versions of Are You Being Served? and The Inbetweeners (which Laura Haddock was also in, funnily enough).

Comparisons to the ignoble tradition of the big-screen sitcom spin-off movie seem to me to be justified, as one of the odd things about Downton Abbey: The New Era is the general tone of the thing. We’re talking, essentially, about a soap opera, which in theory should have a mixture of tones – lighter storylines mixed with more serious material. And in theory this is happening here too. But the strange thing is that everything feels like it’s being pitched as comedy: broad, knockabout comedy in the case of the plebs, something marginally more refined and sophisticated in the case of the toffs. At one point a character is given cause to doubt their parentage, their heritage, their very identity, a moment of absolute shock. And (at the screening we went to) it got a laugh. Someone dies, and – despite a bizarre, bathos-laden moment where someone performs a soliloquy from King Lear – their death scene is built around a series of zingy one-liners.

Some of the cast members are good enough to make this stuff work, but a lot of the time I think the film is trading on the existing affection the audience is presumed to have for these characters: there is, needless to say, a degree of sentimentality going on throughout. Not much effort is made to keep things accessible for newcomers, anyway – beautiful scenery and architecture only goes so far, and the structure of the film feels odd. I expected the film to start wrapping up when everyone came back from France, but it continues for a good half-hour longer wrapping up various plot elements and dealing with a whole new development that, again, won’t necessarily mean much to new viewers.

Although you do wonder what the target audience for this film actually is. I watched it with someone who has requested their identity be kept a secret, and their view – and I feel the need to stress that they really liked this film a lot more than me – was that it was ‘like a film made for people with dementia’. I know exactly what they meant – time after time, once a scene has concluded the next scene features a bunch of the supporting characters convening as a kind of Greek chorus to tell each other, in considerable detail, what has just happened in the previous scene, discuss the significance of it, and wonder about what’s going to happen next. ‘On-the-nose’ barely begins to do justice to the kind of dialogue involved in these interludes, and it’s not as if the plot is even that complicated in the first place.

Then again, as I suggested when writing about the first film, this is all an exercise in comfortable familiarity and more-of-the-same. It’s a Downton Abbey movie, and the Downton Abbey part of that formulation is vastly more important than the movie part. I thought this film was interestingly weird, but it would be a stretch to say that I honestly enjoyed any of it. Then again, I’m not sure I was ever really supposed to.

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Every once in a while a film comes along which you can tell that the usual channels of publicity and distribution are struggling to cope with – it’s a bit left-field, in other words, possibly doing something weird with genres, and it’s not at all clear who the actual target audience is. One pretty reliable sign of this is that the trailer for it starts showing up in all sorts of odd places, as the result of a ‘enough mud sticks’ advertising strategy.

The current case in point for this sort of thing is Tom Gormican’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. The title itself is perhaps a bit indicative as it sounds like it might be a reference to something else, but it’s not clear exactly what – The Unbearable Lightness of Being? Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close? Something else entirely?

Things start off conventionally enough, as a young woman is kidnapped at gunpoint. The film pays an unusual level of attention to the film she’s watching at the time, however (it is the rather good 1997 action movie Con Air), particularly its star, Nicolas Cage. However, we are soon off into the strange netherworld where The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent takes place.

We find ourselves at a meeting between film director David Gordon Green (David Gordon Green) and actor and movie star Nick Cage (Nicolas Cage). Cage is, it seems, an insecure, self-obsessed, and almost pathologically needy egomaniac, who insists on performing selections from Green’s latest script in the restaurant where they are having lunch. (Nick Cage is haunted by the spectral figure of his own uninhibited younger self; the actor credited in this role is ‘Nicolas Kim Coppola’.) Barely credibly, he does not get the part, which has an unfortunate influence on Cage’s contribution to his teenage daughter’s birthday party. His latest ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) throws him out as a result, sending him into a bit of a slump. (I feel the need to make it clear that Nicolas Cage and Sharon Horgan have never actually been married in what is generally agreed to be real life.)

Salvation, financially at least, comes when Cage is invited to Mallorca for the birthday party of an immensely rich super-fan, Javi (Pedro Pascal) – basically a paid personal appearance. It doesn’t do much for his mood, however, and Javi is appalled to discover that Cage is considering giving up acting – especially as he hasn’t even read the screenplay Javi has written for him yet.

But Nick Cage finds he has bigger problems, when he is picked up off the street by the CIA. Lead agent Tiffany Haddish reveals that Javi isn’t just an innocuous multi-millionaire, but the head of an international criminal cartel which has recently kidnapped the daughter of an influential politician. The CIA needs someone on the inside of Javi’s compound to locate and free the missing girl – could this be the role that Cage has been waiting for?

Well. Deciding whether this film is for you or not is a fairly straightforward question, and that question is ‘Do you want to spend one-hundred-and-seven minutes watching Nicolas Cage send himself up?’ Clearly someone believes there is a large enough audience that does, although this same someone may also have spent too much time on the internet and listening to the dozens of podcasts which concern themselves with the actor and his career. It is quite hard to imagine this film being made with any other actor in the lead role, mainly because Cage has become such an outlandish and mockable figure over the few years or so – stories abound about his ‘nouveau shamanic’ acting method, while his career trajectory over the last few decades (from Oscar-winning Hollywood A-lister to a string of DTV movies with titles like Jiu Jitsu and Kill Chain) would also indicate a career experiencing a degree of crisis. (I should perhaps mention that a Cage renaissance may well be in progress: Cage’s most recent movies have received favourable reviews and – perhaps more importantly – played in theatres.)

Whatever else this film has going for it, it is built around an immensely game and extremely funny performance by Cage himself, although of course it’s hard to be sure just how much of a stretch it is for Nicolas Cage to play Nick Cage. (Fictional-Cage’s personal history is slightly different from real-Cage’s.) It’s probably also worth mentioning that this is an essentially generous film, with no sign of any desire to really mock or deride its star (it’s doubtful whether Cage himself would have been dumb enough to sign up for such a role.

Beyond that, it’s a little unclear exactly what the idea behind this film is, beyond perhaps just being the Nicolas-Cage-iest movie ever made. There’s something quite meta and undeniably clever about the way the film manages to combine elements of the sort of semi-experimental film Cage was occasionally appearing in twenty years ago – he played a fictionalised version of Charlie Kaufman, not to mention Kaufman’s entirely fictional twin, in Adaptation – with the kind of action-movie nonsense which has bulked out his career since parting company with the mainstream last decade. But the emphasis is always on knockabout, broad comedy and Cage hamming it up; there’s a suggestion of something cleverer and more subtle – Nick Cage and Javi start collaborating on a screenplay, which as it develops takes on a suspicious resemblance to the plot of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – but this extra layer of self-referentiality is not as central to the movie as it would be if this really was a Kaufman script.

Nevertheless, it’s all ridiculous enough to be consistently entertaining, and Cage is well supported by Pascal and Horgan (who is as majestic as ever). The Javi role is a tricky one, as it calls for someone who can work opposite Cage without being completely overshadowed, but who still isn’t what you’d call an actual star in the same way he is. Pascal is a shrewd choice for this, as he’s currently experiencing a bit of a career moment, but also best known for a role where he has a bucket on his head most of the time. He is clearly a smart enough actor to figure out that he’s here to support Cage rather than actually co-star in the movie, but manages to do so in a way which should earn him some credit.

In some ways a knockabout, acutely self-referential comedy is the last film you would expect to find Nicolas Cage appearing in – but then this actor’s cult has largely been born of his willingness to make unusual choices. It would be nice to think that such a distinctive and charismatic performer has another act left in his career that will see him return from the DTV wilderness and do some genuinely interesting work again. It’s quite hard to tell whether The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a step on that journey or just another nail in the coffin of the whole idea of Nicolas Cage as a serious actor, but – always assuming you enjoy watching Cage – it’s a lot of fun while it lasts.

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One of the pleasing cinematic developments over the last few years has been the rise to greater prominence on movie screens of Mark Rylance. Now, to be fair, Rylance has been appearing in films since 1987, but prior to Bridge of Spies in 2015 he was much more acclaimed as a theatre actor than a film star (although his game of hide-the-sausage in 2001’s Intimacy did attract some attention). Being friends with Spielberg really can give you a career boost, obviously.

After various supporting turns in fairly big films, Rylance is now starring in a slightly smaller British film, Craig Roberts’ The Phantom of the Open (‘a stupid name’, according to the people doing the marketing at my local independent cinema). There are a few British directors specialising in this sort of thing so it didn’t really surprise me that Roberts’ name was vaguely familiar – but it turns out this is because I’ve been seeing him act in films for over ten years; this is his directorial debut (and very nicely done it is too).

The film opens in the mid-seventies. Rylance plays Maurice Flitcroft, a forty-something crane operator from Barrow-in-Furness in the north of England. After a life spent providing for his wife (Sally Hawkins) and children, the looming prospect of redundancy leads Maurice to contemplate pursuing a dream of his own – namely, entering and winning the British Golf Open. Some would consider this to be a little overambitious, given that Maurice has never completed a round of golf before in his life (he has only just taken up the sport). But his irrepressible positivity will brook no doubts.

So, sporting history is made when Maurice Flitcroft participates in the opening round of qualifying for the Open and indeed makes an unprecedented score: 121, to be exact (Seve Ballesteros, who was one of the leaders and briefly appears in the film as a character, could only manage a 69). Flitcroft is catapulted to celebrity with rather more speed and accuracy than one of his own drives usually displays, and the golfing authorities promptly have him banned from every course in the country for bringing the sport into disrepute. But it takes more than this to keep a man like Flitcroft down…

Once you start digging into the Flitcroft story, the sheer proliferation of ridiculous details do lead you to doubt whether any of these events actually took place – Flitcroft’s identical twin sons were semi-professional disco dancers, while later in his career he took to secretly entering tournaments under pseudonyms like Arnold Palmtree and Count Manfred von Hoffmanstel, occasionally making use of dark glasses and a false moustache. The film is at pains to stress that it is not inventing these things, but it certainly makes good use of them to produce a very funny comedy about snobbery, dreams, and slightly dysfunctional families.

If we’re going to be specific, it’s somewhere in the space between Eddie the Eagle (famous British sporting duffer loses everything but wins the hearts of the crowd) and The Duke (potentially irritating eccentric is vindicated, sort of, by his sheer human decency and quiet wisdom). Rylance’s performance certainly belongs in the same bracket as Jim Broadbent’s in the latter film.

On the other hand, the film walks a remarkable tightrope. Maurice Flitcroft may be the hero of the film, and you’re certainly on his side throughout proceedings, which is surely the intention of the script and director. But at the same time the film quite openly presents Flitcroft as a figure not entirely unlike Forrest Gump or Chance the gardener from Being There: he’s a droning halfwit with a fragile grasp of many key facts about the real world. Managing this trick is central to the film’s success and very smartly done. I suppose you could argue that Flitcroft, according to the film at least, is a kind of holy fool (the vision he has which inspires him to take up golf certainly feels like a moment of almost religious ecstasy) who may indeed be one of the world’s worst golfers but is filled with quiet wisdom which everyone around him eventually comes to appreciate.

As noted, most British comedies these days seem to bear a strong family resemblance to one another – they’re often based on a true story, either set in the past or in an archaic version of British society (thus facilitating a warm rush of nostalgia for the audience), usually feature one of those loveable everyman characters of the type we were discussing earlier, seldom feature much to frighten the figurative horses, content-wise, and – perhaps most notably, especially when you compare them to films of past eras – there’s invariably a strong moral premise which is carefully articulated in the course of the film. Again, this is seldom especially radical – be nice to other people, be part of a traditional community, get your work-life balance sorted out, and so on. The Phantom of the Open meets most of these criteria very comfortably.

This is not meant to sound superior and patronising. The British film industry seems to be in reasonably good health – much moreso than a few decades ago – and this is surely at least partly due to the fact it has hit upon a number of ‘banker’ genres like this one, which tend to bring in decent returns, certainly when they are well-produced. They may be a little on-the-nose and predictable, but this is equally true of many other popular genres. And The Phantom of the Open is certainly a superior example of the form, very well-played and scripted and directed with impressive skill.

So why does it feel like I am on the verge of qualifying all my praise for it? I’m honestly not entirely sure. In and of itself it is a very enjoyable film – but it feels like I have seen a huge number of very similar pieces over the last few decades. Perhaps it’s just that it does feel extremely familiar, a variation on a very common theme. I stress again that I thoroughly enjoyed it; less jaded watchers will probably enjoy it at least as much.

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I had an evening to myself. I could have done anything. They were showing the 50th anniversary revival of The Godfather just fifteen minutes’ walk away. I really had no excuse not to enjoy this classic of American cinema again, beyond piddling little concerns like already having been out to the movies twice that week. So I stayed in and watched Zombeavers instead. What can I say? I don’t know what came over me.

Zombeavers, directed by Jordan Rubin, doesn’t so much have a plot as a collection of bits nicked from other genre movies and repurposed for this one. (In case you were wondering, in genre terms I’m pretty sure this is attempting the tricky challenge of being both a horror movie and a comedy film.) There’s a sense in which watching it for the first time doesn’t really feel like watching a new movie at all, because virtually no element of it is actually unfamiliar.

It opens with a couple of low-comedy stereotyped rednecks failing to notice a barrel of industrial waste falling off the back of their truck when it hits a deer (which gorily explodes all over the windscreen) – this is essentially the first scene of Eight Legged Freaks, too. The barrel drifts down a river during the opening credits, coming to rest in a peaceful lake, not far from the dam of some cute looking, obviously fake beavers. At this point it springs a leak and starts spraying green slime.

Ho, ho. Genre boxes continue to be ticked as we meet three college girls about to set off for a quiet break in the country. As you might expect, one of them is sensible and studious (she wears glasses), one is essentially defined by her boyfriend problems, and the other is kind of a bee-hatch (as I believe the kids nowadays put it). They are respectively played by Rachel Melvin, Lexi Atkins and Cortney Palm. Off they go to the countryside, engaging in the obligatory modern sexually-explicit banter all the way.

But something is up at the peaceful lake which is their destination. We the audience have already figured this out, as we have seen a fisherman have his rod dragged out of his hands by something in the water, and then be set upon by something lurking in the bushes. Some sort of quota is met as Palm provides some T&A by taking her top off when the girls go swimming.

You can’t do much of a horror movie with just three main characters and a few supporting yokels, so the boyfriends all turn up despite being told not to. This is because Atkins’ boyfriend has just cheated on her, a subplot designed to create tension within the group – this is about the most subtle element of the film and it’s still something of a genre cliché.

The sense of déjà vu becomes crushingly relentless as Atkins prepares to take a shower, but finds herself ambushed by a beaver. But it is not a beaver as we know it, as it has milky eyes and a taste for flesh. In short, it is an undead beaver, which the assembled young people only just manage to stuff into a bag and batter into submission.

I expect that most people, at some point in their lives, have asked themselves the question, ‘If I were making a low-budget movie featuring undead beavers as a major plot element, how would I go about realising this?’ The makers of Zombeavers decided to go with glove puppets. The glove puppet zombie beaver is actually a reasonable success, as this is supposed to be a comedy film and it is almost certainly the funniest thing in it so far. However, it is not that funny.

It turns out the industrial waste has produced a whole lake full of undead beavers, which are now hungry for the flesh and blood of blandly attractive young American folk. Even worse, they find themselves trapped, as the zombie beavers have blocked the road back to civilisation by felling trees across it. Barricading themselves into the cabin is not an ideal solution as the beavers show every sign of being able to chew their way through the walls. What are a bunch of extremely thinly-scripted young people to do in this situation?

Well, anyway: this is a crappy movie. In my defense, and it’s a thin one as I will freely admit, I was lured in by the commercial, which focused very much on the glove puppet zombie beavers. These are, I will say again, the best thing in the movie. Are they sufficient reason to watch the whole thing? I suspect not. I would say, just watch a clip, maybe one of the sequence where they start gnawing up through the floorboards and get splattered by two of the surviving cast like a gory version of whack-a-mole. Just watch that and then do something more worthwhile with the rest of your evening, like staring at the wall.

You can see that the intention with this movie was to do something along the lines of The Evil Dead meets The Killer Shrews. The Killer Shrews, I should say, is not a great movie. It has bad acting, risible monsters, and contains problematic racism. But not only is it just as funny as Zombeavers, it also works better as a horror movie, because it’s doing its best not to admit to being a lousy low-budget film. It confesses to its weaknesses because it has no choice. Zombeavers, on the other hand, doesn’t include rubbish glove-puppet monsters because it has no choice, and then try to work around them as much as possible. It has rubbish-glove puppet monsters because it thinks this will be funny, and the camera dwells on them cheerfully for this reason. What’s killingly funny in an unintentional comedy doesn’t work nearly as well in an actual comedy.

Part of the problem is that Zombeavers can’t decide whether it wants to be a spoof of low-budget horror films or an actual horror-comedy itself, because they’re not the same thing. It’s much more committed to traditional elements of the form, like excessive gore and gratuitous sex and T&A, than a film like The Final Girls (a genuinely funny and inventive take on horror movie conventions), but this feels like an attempt to impress through excess, something which is an extension of the film’s attempts to get laughs by shocking the audience. There are times when it’s just trying to be funny, but there’s never a moment when it’s sincerely trying to be genuinely scary.

It kind of stumbles through its hour-and-a-half or whatever the run-time is; the glove-puppet beavers run out of mileage before this and so they have to resort to a gag where anyone bitten by a zombie beaver doesn’t just turn into a zombie, they turn into a zombie with huge buck teeth and a big flat tail. Again, once you’re past the initial gag this doesn’t really go anywhere, and the human-beaver hybrid prosthetics are a lot less funny than the glove-puppets were.

The problem, finally, is that Zombeavers is so knowingly and carefully stupid that it doesn’t work as anything but a trashy, lowest-common-denominator comedy, but it’s not consistently funny enough to work as one of those, either. You can see the cast trying to do their best with it, and the gag reel at the end certainly indicates they had fun making the movie, but even including the gag reel was probably a mistake. It’s never a good thing when the people making a movie are clearly having more fun than you are watching it. This movie is just about as stupid as the title suggests, but a lot less entertaining.

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There’s something tremendously familiar and comforting about The Duke (one of the last films directed by Roger Michell before his recent death) and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this was part of the plan. It sits comfortably within the hats-and-fags period comedy drama genre which the British film industry is extremely adept at, it stars a couple of much-loved national treasures, and – based on the audience response at the screening I went to – it shows every sign of being a genuine crowd-pleaser.

The story is based on one of those odd little true stories which has largely slipped from public recollection, although a gag referencing it is still there at the root of British cinema’s most enduring franchise (which the movie duly references). The year is 1961 and the government has just stumped up £140,000 to save a Goya portrait of the Duke of Wellington ‘for the nation’, much to the annoyance of Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent), an aspiring playwright and genuine social justice warrior resident in Newcastle (‘that’s not a real name,’ someone complains, not unreasonably).

Bunton is, not to put too fine a point on it, a fully-paid-up member of the awkward squad. (In reality he was a disabled former bus driver, something the film opts not to explore.) His current campaign is to secure free television licenses for pensioners, which he pursues to the point of reconfiguring his set so it can only receive the commercially-funded channels and then doing a short stint of porridge for non-payment.

Bunton’s wife Dorothy (Helen Mirren) has had enough of all this and orders him to pack it in. He agrees, after one last trip to London – which just happens to coincide with the Goya painting disappearing from the National Gallery one night. Soon enough Kempton and his son (Fionn Whitehead) are building a secret false back on the spare room wardrobe to hide the purloined portrait, making very sure that Dorothy never finds out about it. Kempton’s plan is to hang onto the picture until the government agrees to his demands to provide free TV licenses to the elderly – but his biggest problem may be persuading anyone to take him seriously in the first place…

There’s a big debt to many of the classic Ealing comedy films here, many of which concerned a plucky little everyman and his travails in dealing with the establishment – the setting is just after that of Ealing’s heyday, but the look of the film is still very familiar. (In a canny move, the producers have saved themselves a bit of cash by digitally inserting Jim Broadbent into archive footage of early-60s London.) Broadbent makes the most of some very funny lines, especially during the courtroom scenes towards the end of the film. But this is also a film with a contemporary sensibility, with the characters given pathos and emotional depth; there is a subplot about a family tragedy which it’s hard to imagine in a film of this kind from a previous generation.

Some critics have already begun suggesting this is a timely film – slightly ironic, this, given that it was presumably filmed pre-pandemic in order to receive its world premiere in late 2020. One would hope that this is because the film does raise questions about the degree to which we are dependent upon each other as a society, and the extent to which we should consider our collective requirements rather than remaining focused on individual success. On the other hand, Bunton’s determination to do something about elderly people being forced to pay for their TV license is potentially problematic: there is certainly a case to be made for certain specific groups being exempt. But on the other hand the issue of old people being criminalised for not paying for a license is the kind of fig-leaf pretext regularly adopted by those who would like to see the BBC completely abolished on ideological grounds. I strongly doubt most of the key players in this movie would be on board with that, and one could wish they’d handled that particular element of the story with a slightly lighter touch or different approach; as it is, one can imagine the film being adopted and championed in pursuit of an agenda it doesn’t honestly represent.

It’s not as if the film doesn’t do the usual thing of playing rather fast and loose with the actual historical events it depicts – events which actually played out over a number of years are portrayed here as occurring over a vague but shorter period, while the background to a key third-act plot twist appears to have been somewhat misrepresented, presumably at the request of the Bunton family (who were involved in the production).

Nevertheless, this is a solid production and a very likeable film – as I’ve already mentioned, this is simply the kind of film which the British film industry makes very well (often several times a year). You can sort of imagine something like it turning up on TV and being perfectly acceptable on the small screen, but it does have a cinematic polish and ambition, and some very strong performances. Helen Mirren is saddled with a slightly thankless role as, essentially, a scold with a comedy regional accent, but delivers this effectively; the film is really Jim Broadbent’s from beginning to end, balancing some quite broad comedy with moments of poignancy and sincere human decency: if it had received a wider release you would Broadbent to be in the running for at least a few gongs. (Matthew Goode works some kind of minor miracle by actually managing to make an impression opposite Broadbent as his barrister, in the courtroom sequences.)

There’s a lot to like about The Duke, not least its basic positivity and optimism about humanity in general; that it manages to put this across without being sentimental and actually working as a comedy as well as a drama is rather impressive. There is a sense in which it is, undoubtedly, the kind of film you’ve seen before, probably more than once, but on its own terms it is a superior and very effective production.

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Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza is a film seeking to evoke that warm nostalgic glow you get when thinking back on the crazy things you did when you were young and a bit over-excitable. It’s part of a long and honourable tradition of such movies and TV shows, going back to things like The Wonder Years and American Graffiti. Licorice Pizza itself sounds like a bit of a fridge title unless you are particularly well-versed in Californian pop culture from the early 1970s – apparently it was the name of a chain of record shops, ‘licorice pizza’ being the nickname of a vinyl recording. If that sounds like a rather niche and in-jokey title, that’s perhaps not an entirely unfair conclusion, but the film itself is engaging, crowd-pleasing stuff, directed by Anderson with his usual deftness.

I think it is necessary to stress that the film isn’t as self-indulgent as it may come across as in a summary. Alana Haim plays Alana Kane, a woman in her mid-twenties trying to settle on a direction for her life, who is working as a photographer’s assistant in California as the film opens. An assignment taking high school yearbook pictures leads to her meeting Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), a supremely confident and energetic fifteen year old – in addition to being a successful child actor, Gary is also very active as an entrepreneur. Not one to pay much attention to the reality of an age gap, Gary asks Alana out to dinner. She nearly laughs in his face, but ends up going along anyway for some reason. An unlikely friendship forms, but Alana is very clear that there is no prospect of anything romantic developing between them…

Nevertheless, their friendship deepens: she chaperones him on a publicity trip to New York, and then finds herself involved in Gary’s latest money-making scheme: a company selling water-beds. He even encourages her to pursue an acting career of her own. Some of these inevitably lead to moments of tension and downturns in their relationship, but it seems that there is always something drawing them back together…

Much of the charm of Licorice Pizza comes from the fact that this isn’t just another straightforwardly nostalgic coming-of-age comedy-drama – the nature of the central relationship, not to mention the fact that one of the lead characters is a precocious teenage entrepreneur, marks it out as something much more offbeat and oddball. Perhaps the oddest thing about it is the fact much of it is apparently based on actual events – the film was apparently inspired by various stories told to Anderson by his friend (and Tom Hanks’ long-time production partner) Gary Goetzman, who really was a child actor and waterbed salesman fifty years ago.

Nevertheless, the sheer weirdness of much of the story just adds to the infectious sense of fun and energy that permeates the movie. Perhaps this is in part a result of the fact that it is such a friends-and-family piece – Anderson’s partner and children appear, he is a long-time friend of Alana Haim and her own family (the Haim clan naturally appear as Alana’s relatives), making his acting debut as Gary is Cooper Hoffman, the son of Anderson’s frequent collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman, and so on.

While the ups and downs of Gary and Alana’s friendship are at the heart of the film, surrounding this thread are various other sub-plots, set-pieces and running jokes, most of them light-hearted if not actually silly. I was particularly amused by a plotline about a restaurant owner who can’t actually speak Japanese, despite being married to a succession of women from that country; his attempts to communicate with them are very funny (though I should note that this element of the film has met with furrowed brows and sucked teeth in some quarters). There are pop-culture references aplenty, with many of the supporting characters clearly very lightly fictionalised versions of real people – Christine Ebersole plays a character based on Lucille Ball, Sean Penn plays a version of William Holden, and Tom Waits a version of Mark Robson (director of several of Holden’s films).

Most peculiar of all is a ferocious cameo by Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters, a hairdresser turned film producer long renowned in Hollywood circles as a bizarre and outlandish figure (Peters’ unlikely plot stipulations while working as producer on the abortive Superman Lives have become legendary in and of themselves). Bradley Cooper’s casting alone virtually qualifies as some sort of convoluted in-joke, given that Peters produced the 1976 version of A Star Is Born (he was Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend at the time) and managed to land himself a producer’s credit on Cooper’s own take on the story. It’s not unfair to suggest that the film depicts Peters as some variety of maniac; what makes it quite so peculiar is that Peters is not fictionalised at all, but presented under his real name, and Peters himself was apparently completely on board with this (with the proviso that one of his best pick-up lines be incorporated into the script).

This is just one of the film’s incidental pleasures, though, of which there are many. Linking all of them are two fantastically winning and appealing performances by Haim and Hoffman, both of whom bring great naturalness and warmth to the film. The script is carefully judged: Gary is precocious for his edge, she still perhaps struggling to find herself, which makes their friendship more believable; but at the same time, the eruptions of jealousy and childishness which cause them occasional problems are entirely credible.

It’s a piece of feel-good entertainment, not anything deeper or more profound than that, and with less darkness around its edges than most of Anderson’s more recent films. I find that Anderson is another of those directors who I’ve been keeping tabs on without particularly meaning to – I still remember going to see Magnolia early in 2000 and having my mind well and truly blown, a seminal moment that changed my whole perception of what modern cinema was capable of. None of Anderson’s subsequent films have quite matched that for me, but Licorice Pizza comes closer than most, being his most accessible and purely enjoyable film in years.

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It seems like a long time since Kenneth Branagh was routinely being compared with Laurence Olivier, a somewhat unimaginative point-of-reference that Branagh probably got a bit sick of, despite having really brought it on himself (starring in and directing an adaptation of Henry V before his 30th birthday and all). These days he seems to have happily carved out his own niche, with a profile which is closer to that of someone like Albert Finney – a brilliant actor, happy to lend his thesping muscle to unashamedly mainstream and commercial projects. Then again, Branagh also has am impressive record as a director, sometimes of rather unexpected projects – although in his work for Disney (he was in charge of the first Thor and the live-action Cinderella) any distinctiveness Branagh-ness he brought to the films is quite well concealed.

Then again, Branagh seems to subscribe to a ‘one for them, one for me’ philosophy when picking his projects, alternating big, well-remunerated fare with smaller, more distinctive films (the former helping to fund the latter). Branagh even seemed to acknowledge this himself in 1996’s In the Bleak Midwinter, a tale of a talented actor burnt out by too much vacuous Hollywood pap, who takes refuge in doing a tiny production of Hamlet (a film which immediately followed Branagh’s high-profile but not entirely successful version of Frankenstein).

The director now finds himself in the curious position of having had a completed film on the shelf for quite some time – a sequel to his outlandishly moustachioed performance as Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express, which has been waiting for the cinema market to recover and an appropriate release juncture to open up. In the meantime he has gone off and made a whole different film, which is clearly a ‘one for me’ project – indeed, perhaps the most personal film of his career.

The film is Belfast, which Branagh also wrote. After some vibrant images of the city as it appears today, the setting shifts back to August 1969, and the eruption of sectarian violence in a previously quiet street: Protestant rioters attempting to intimidate and drive out Catholic families. The incident is part of a series of events which results in the British army being deployed on the streets of the city and an increase in tension both between and within the different communities.

Largely oblivious to all this is Buddy (Jude Hill), a nine-year-old boy living in the neighbourhood with his family. Life is not exactly a rose garden for them – back taxes are a crushing burden even before the increase in violence, and Buddy’s Pa (Jamie Dornan) has to work in England to pay the bills – but they are surrounded by friends and family, deeply rooted in the city.

Much of the film is made up of vignettes and other incidents from Buddy’s life, and with detailing his relationship with his mother (Caitriona Balfe) and grandparents (Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds). The tone is warm and affectionate, with plenty of humour – but the tensions in the city and the rise of the criminal gangs that would eventually declare themselves as loyalist paramilitaries are never far from the story.

I found Belfast to be an interesting and very likeable film, and quite engaging; if I had to point out a flaw in it, it’s that it feels like two quite different films which have been stitched together slightly awkwardly – there’s the autobiographical this-boy’s-life stuff, which is clearly drawn from Branagh’s own recollections (he himself turned nine in 1969) and has a tender, bitter-sweet quality to it, but also the virtually-obligatory story elements about the early years of the Troubles. This is by no means poorly done, but it does feel a bit rote in places. Most of the film is seen from Buddy’s perspective – many scenes feature frequent cutaways to Jude Hill, looking on in delight or bemusement – but some of the political discussions and confrontations function on a level where they don’t feel like they’ve been mediated by Buddy’s perceptions of them.

Of course, part of the message of the film is that the Troubles (a rather coy euphemism for what was, for many years, essentially a low-intensity civil war) is an inescapable part of the history of anyone living in Northern Ireland at the time. Branagh isn’t one of those people who makes a virtue of his Irishness, but this is because his family was one of the many who left Belfast to escape the violence; he grew up in England (where, one assumes, he learned to get rid of his accent rather quickly). Perhaps this film is an acknowledgement of heritage as much as anything else.

As I say, it does work better as a reminiscence about childhood. In this respect at least, it reminded me in some ways of Roma from a few years ago, although perhaps on a less-expansive scale. The main point of similarity, of course, is that both films are made in the same kind of lustrous black-and-white which is guaranteed to make virtually anything look a bit arty and significant. The closest thing to a distinctive artistic decision in the film is that when the family go to the cinema or theatre, whatever they’re watching appears in its original format – so High Noon and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are also in black and white, but Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and One Million Years BC drench the screen with gorgeous technicolour. (When they watch a play it’s also in colour, for some reason.)

You could argue that the film is perhaps a little too prone to getting sentimental and indulging in whimsical Irish humour, but the performances are good enough to sell this – it’s also worth mentioning that, quite apart from the situation with the sectarian violence, the stresses and tensions within the family are treated quite unflinchingly, so this isn’t quite a wholly rose-tinted account of childhood. It certainly tends that way, though, and the audience at the screening I attended certainly seemed to appreciate it as such – perhaps the presence of a national treasure like the Dench in a warm family comedy-drama will serve to lure people into a film which does, in the end, serve as something of a reminder of a dark period in British history, and touches on not usually commercial topics. If this was Branagh’s intention it suggests a wiliness I would not usually have associated with him, but he is clearly a clever and talented man. Belfast should do nothing but bolster his reputation.

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A curious quirk of the release schedule means that we are currently experiencing something close to Peak Cumberbatch, with all of the facets of that actor’s career in play. Blockbuster Cumberbatch is doing sterling work as one of the key supporting performers in the current Spider-Man film, while Acclaimed Thespian Cumberbatch has already started to pick up gongs for his role in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog (I would have seen that at the cinema a couple of months ago but for a small person in the house testing positive for the virus). Quite which Cumberbatch is exec producing and starring in Will Sharpe’s The Electrical Life of Louis Wain isn’t immediately clear – probably Doing It Purely For The Artistic Merit Cumberbatch.

I had no idea who Louis Wain was before seeing the trailer for this film, but apparently he was a key figure in the rise of cats as popular house pets and the perpetrator, or should I say creator, of a large number of twee cat pictures around the turn of the last century. Cumberbatch plays Wain, as you might expect, from young adulthood until old age: he is well-served by the prosthetics and hair department in this. The film opens with Wain as a struggling young illustrator, responsible for supporting his widowed mother and five younger sisters. What the family really needs is for him to get a steady job, such as the one he has just been offered by Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones), editor of the Illustrated London News, but he is convinced that working on various electrical patents is of greater importance, not to mention trying to get an opera he has written mounted (he has invented his own system of harmonics, naturally).

Things are made even more problematic when the eldest Wain sister (Andrea Riseborough) hires a governess named Emily Richardson (Claire Foy) to aid in the education of the younger members of the household. Everyone is rather shocked when, in a taboo-busting development, Louis and Emily fall passionately in love (the script indicates this is because of the social divide between them; apparently, the age gap – she was ten years older – was more of an issue in real life, but the film elects to duck this, probably wisely).

Married life proves difficult for the Wains, despite the strength of their bond, and with no let-up in sight, a further surprise is heralded with the arrival of a black and white cat, a cat which leads Louis to a burst of unexpected artistic activity.

Or, to put it another way: a lot of twee cat pictures. Yes, I suppose that whatever your feelings about internet cat videos, you would be within your rights to consider Louis Wain to be the godfather of the form. Well, I suppose the milieu and the fact this is an actor-led romantic comedy-drama mean that this is the sort of film with a good chance of finding an audience, especially if you release it at the right time of year.

This one is distinguished by fine performances, especially by Cumberbatch: he initially appears to be just giving us a slightly cartoony spod, but as the film goes on it becomes clear that Wain was a man whose unique way of thinking was a sign, perhaps, of a deeper perturbation in his psyche, and the movie becomes increasingly poignant – and Cumberbatch deals with this quite as well as the comic romance. On the other hand, there is a slight tendency towards wacky or stunt casting which is a bit distracting – Richard Ayoade plays Sir Henry Wood, the increasingly inescapable Taika Waititi plays the American newspaperman Max Kase, and Nick Cave pops up as a rather unexpected H. G. Wells.

This is perhaps much of a piece with the tone of the rest of the film. The film is framed by a distinctly arch narration, provided by Olivia Colman (possibly some royal edict has been passed where, if you hire Claire Foy, you have to eventually hire Colman too), which makes it clear that it is going to be a little bit tongue-in-cheek, to say the least. You could call this artful or playful; or you could simply conclude that the writers are just terribly pleased with themselves and it’s all a bit precious, bordering on the actually affected. There’s a mannered, fable-like atmosphere to most of the film, but one which it deliberately goes out of its way to undermine: characters mutter unexpected and unlikely profanities, and there are moments when bleak and harrowing realism thrust their way onto the screen.

To be honest, I found the film rather hard work – for a film which clearly wants to say something about serious and mature topics like grief, the creative process, and mental illness, too much of it is chintzy and actively twee – as Wain’s mental health declines, he begins to believe that his cats are actually talking to him, which is reflected by their being given subtitled dialogue whenever they mew or miaow. You could probably argue that the stylings of the film are an attempt to echo Wain’s own artistic sensibility, but this is only really a good thing if you enjoy looking at pictures of anthropomorphic cats being cute. (I am aware there is a substantial constituency who do.)

I would have said that if you’re going to do a bio-pic of a historical figure, it’s usually best to pick someone who did something famous or at least significant. Why an obscure painter of a twee cat pictures should qualify for the honour is something I really don’t know. (Legions of cat lovers will now mobilise against me, obviously.) And yet, and yet – the acting in this film is excellent, the story is certainly interesting, and the visual style of the piece was just about striking enough to keep my attention throughout – but it was a close thing. One of those films which is on the border between the interestingly different and the annoyingly contrived – and I’m not quite sure which side.

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The civilisation-toppling apocalypse of choice for most of mid-to-late twentieth century entertainment was the viral pandemic, although this never really caught on at the cinema except in the slightly modified form of the zombie apocalypse. For nearly a quarter of a century now it has been supplanted, some might say a little ironically, by something with a bit more visual potential: the cosmic or astronomical apocalypse. This cheerful subgenre, like so much else of SF, dates back to Wells, in this case his story The Star from 1897. Noteworthy entries over the years include R C Sheriff’s wistful The Hopkins Manuscript, When Worlds Collide (book and film), and Lucifer’s Hammer. For our purposes, however, the ball really got rolling in 1993 when Arthur C Clarke published The Hammer of God, about a huge asteroid on a collision course with Earth. This duly made its way to the screen in 1998, in the much-altered form of Deep Impact, accompanied by Armageddon (essentially a kind of idiot’s version of the same story).

Since then we have enjoyed the rom-com version of the planet-killing asteroid or comet story in Lorene Scafaria’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, the unlikely neutrinos of Roland Emmerich’s 2012, really bad weather from space in Dean Devlin’s Geostorm, and many more besides. So another film on the subject should not be that noteworthy.

Except that Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up has become both much-talked-about and much-viewed, both of which should please the big N, which stumped up yet another eye-wateringly big budget and gave the film its customary just-big-enough-to-qualify-for-the-major-awards-but-no-bigger theatrical release.

It opens in the traditional manner, with PhD student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) going about her astronomical research and discovering a new comet. Her excitement, and that of her peers and supervisor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), quickly turns to alarm when further analysis reveals that the comet is on course to collide with Earth in a little over six months, producing an extinction-level event for life on the planet.

Needless to say they take their terrible news to NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (the film is at pains to point out that this is a real thing) and its head Dr Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), and soon find themselves whisked off to the White House… where they find themselves sitting in a corridor for hour after hour. The President (Meryl Streep) is, unfortunately, an idiot, obsessed with her poll ratings, mired in controversy, and not above giving key government positions to her own children (Jonah Hill plays her son, the chief of staff). Worrying that announcing something like this will make her unpopular, the President decides to sit on the news for the time being.

So the scientists decide to take the story to the media. They find themselves in a minor slot on one of the morning shows, after another political scandal and a story about the personal life of a pop star, and the importance of what they have to say suddenly seems to be less significant than Kate’s hairstyle, Randall’s understated charms, and the importance of keeping everything light and upbeat so as not to alienate the audience…

Things continue in a similar vein: the government finally decides to do something (but only because this will make the President look good), a deranged tech billionaire (Mark Rylance) comes up with a plan to exploit the comet using untested robots and potentially make billions, the internet becomes a battleground between people wanting to do something and ‘comet sceptics’, and so on, and so on.

I suppose this qualifies as another of those movies which was originally intended to help get Donald Trump out of office, although the effects of the pandemic have obviously seen its release pushed back – as a result the movie’s various cracks at the Trump administration feel like empty satire (although Streep is clearly having fun lampooning her old sparring partner). But having a go at Trump feels like only one of the film’s objectives, of which there are many.

McKay has been quite clear that Don’t Look Up is intended as a black satire about the climate crisis and the near-total indifference shown to it by the media, elected officials, and other governments around the world. Actual climate scientists have been giving the film glowing reviews and praising the way in which it reflects their own actual experiences in trying to raise awareness of environmental issues. To be honest, though, it seemed to me that the film isn’t really focussed enough to qualify as just being about one thing. DiCaprio’s character gets his ranting Howard Beale moment towards the end of the film, but the whole movie almost feels like a two-hour-plus yell of despair about the state of the modern world – populist politicians, skewed news values, inane social media obsessions, self-absorbed celebrities, off-the-leash capitalism, the mindless veneration of tech entrepreneurs, and much, much more.

And as such it is often very funny, though seldom especially subtle. Perhaps that’s the point. I know it has been criticised by many proper critics for coming across as rather smug – certainly the film operates from an educated liberal-left perspective, and most of its targets lie in other regions of the political and cultural spectrum. Then again the media being dismissive of a seriously-intended film about a looming disaster is exactly the kind of thing that would happen in Don’t Look Up, so perhaps this is just proving McKay’s point for him. For me the only part of the film which didn’t quite work was a section in which DiCaprio, as one of the mouthpieces of reason, gets outraged about the degree to which the scientific peer-review process has been abandoned, which strikes me as a bit of a niche topic given some of the other things at stake.

In general, though, I thought this was an engaging and often funny film, with a note of genuine poignancy to it which gradually builds as the climax gets closer – no small achievement considering how broad some of the comedy is. There are good performances from the cast, although J-Law saddles herself with the fairly unrewarding voice-of-common-sense audience-identification figure and has fewer chances to shine than DiCaprio. Has it filled me with a burning desire to do something about the state of the world? Well, no, I’m afraid – perhaps I’m just too much of a fatalist. Perhaps it really is just the same kind of cathartic wail that Dr Strangelove was, nearly sixty years ago. McKay isn’t Kubrick and Don’t Look Up isn’t as sharp or funny or dark as it would perhaps like to be – but it’s a worthwhile movie nevertheless.

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