Sunday, December 12, 2021

Short Takes: December IV - Film

Reviews: Don't Look Up, Being the Ricardos, Drive My Car, France

Don't Look Up (c) Netflix

Film: Don’t Look Up 
In Cinemas and Netflix (on December 24) 

When most of you watch “Don’t Look Up” on Christmas Eve with your family, and why not with the dazzle of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett in the cast, it might break the agreed upon “no politics” détente made for family gatherings. And that’s because (surprise, surprise) director Adam McKay has found the perfect metaphor for our current political climate: a comet is hurtling towards Earth and somehow Americans, lead by a corrupt president (Streep) and her idiot son (Jonah Hill), have found a way to politicize it. DiCaprio and Lawrence play the scientists who discover the comet and are routinely shocked at how much America (and for that matter, the world) doesn’t care. McKay, whose last two movies, “Vice” and “The Big Short” (both Oscar nominated for Best Picture) have used history to comment on the corruptibility of Americans, but this work of speculative fiction is a bit lost at sea. The satire is rather easy and not as sharp as McKay thinks it is. Most of the actors are fine (it’s fun to see DiCaprio and Blanchett together again after “The Aviator”), but the most egregiously indulgent are Hill, who seems to be ad-libbing all his unfunny lines, and Mark Rylance doing an even more benevolent annoying billionaire character than the one he played in “Ready Player One.” Like the all-star dud “Mars Attacks” from 1996, which now has a cult following, this all-star mashup might look quaint one day. Quaint, maybe, but never sharp. 

Being the Ricardos (c) Prime Studios

Film: Being the Ricardos 
In Cinemas and Amazon Prime (on December 21) 

There was some social media backlash when it was announced that Nicole Kidman would be playing beloved comic icon Lucille Ball. After seeing the film, I can’t say that Kidman nails the impersonation, but like Kirsten Stewart in “Spencer” and Jennifer Hudson in “Respect,” she sort of gives us a parallel universe version in which Lucy’s spirit feels right. Besides, since this movie is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, we get past the casting quickly because the plot kicks in fast in a snappy and engaging way – you can stew and nitpick about or just go along for the ride. And the ride is enjoyable, and not bogged down by too much politics like his Oscar-nominated “The Trial of the Chicago Seven.” Essentially, we are following the creation of one episode of “I Love Lucy” with the distractions of communism, infidelity, pregnancy and TV standards peppered throughout. Javier Bardem, who is even less like the real Desi Arnez, is a perfect foil for Kidman and they make it look effortless. Of the many enjoyable supporting performances, I would be remiss not to highlight J.K. Simmons as a huffy and puffy William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz, and Nina Arianda as an almost-over-it-all Vivian Vance, who played Ethel. After the movie is over, not much will probably stay with you except having a pretty good time with the usual Sorkin formula and this fictional couple he wrote about. 

Drive My Car (c) Sideshow / Janus Films

Film: Drive My Car 
In Cinemas 

Some movie titles are named for songs, even if it doesn’t really help explain the movie effectively. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s skillful “Drive My Car” and its Beatles song title work perfectly together while it may sound so pedestrian, - it’s anything but. Yes, there is a car, and it belongs to theater director Yusuke Kafufu (Hidetoshi Nishijima), who loves to “drive his car” because he listens to a cassette of his wife reading all the parts of the play he’s working on. But when he is asked to direct a multi-language version of “Uncle Vanya” in Hiroshima, he is told by the theater that he must have a driver for insurance purposes, and the driver hired to “drive his car” is a monosyllabic and sullen Misaki (Tôko Miura). And that’s only the most superficial synopsis of the movie as there is so much going on, but the less you know about it going in, the better. But what you did hear is true: it’s three hours long, and what you don’t realize is that the first hour is just a prelude as the main credits appear soon after that. Even though I preferred Hamaguchi’s smaller and more intimate “The Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” also from this year, “Drive My Car” is no doubt his biggest critical hit, winning the New York Film Critics’ Best Film award for 2021. I can’t go that far, but it is an impressive feat. 

France (c) Kino Lorber

Film: France 
In Cinemas 

You know director Bruno Dumont has a lot to get off his chest if he names a character after his home country and then makes her a celebrated anchor of a news program in which she is routinely embedded with soldiers in war-torn countries. France’s (Léa Seydoux) fans love her, and she’s always asked to take selfies with them on the street. She is not that dissimilar to Jennifer Aniston’s character in “The Morning Show” as France is also a driven celebrity whose family life has taken a backseat to her fame. But France is more dismissive of her role as a journalist (she makes faces with her producer during a press conference with President Macron after she has asked her pre-planned hard-hitting question) and manipulates many of the on-the-scene stories to make sure she’s seen as a serious journalist (to be fair, most star reporters have probably done this, but maybe not to this extent). When she accidently hits a kid with a car, France is starts to grow a conscience. But instead of learning from this experience, director Bruno Dumont continues her see-saw relationship with the press and her fans. So, when the final act of this over two-hour film starts to reveal itself, beginning with an unknowingly live mic on air and ending with death, I was already so disgusted with France’s antics that the needlessly cruel conclusion doesn’t make the emotional impact it should. Dumont’s film (“Twentynine Palms,” “Humanité”) has never been subtle director, and him having the usually soulful Seydoux playing such a vapid celebrity was tiresome.

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