‘Don’t Look Up’

Whilst it may not be as funny as it thinks it it, Don’t Look Up remains a biting Trumpian satire on fake news and society priorities as a massive meteor heads for Earth and certain destruction.

In a Michigan observatory, PhD student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and head of department, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), warn of the meteor’s trajectory and a six month impact. Few take the situation seriously with President Orlean (Meryl Streep) preferring to defer to private enterprise and a Steve Jobs-like Mark Rylance to come up with the solution to destroy or deflect. Pop star break-ups and irreverent morning TV interviews become the norm as Dibiasky and Mindy reach hysterical heights in the face of seeming establishment disinterest and media complicity.

Writer/director Adam McKay (Vice, The Big Short) pulls in a star-studded romp with serious underlying statements about the global lack of environmental care, off-kilter priorities, big business and the political establishment far removed from the everyday. Not all the humour works – and DiCaprio is surprisingly annoying – but, strangely, there’s no great surprises in Don’t Look Up. Which is more than a little worrying.

Nominated for 4 Oscars in 2022 – best film, original screenplay, editing & original score (Nicholas Britell).

Rating: 69%

‘No-one is Talking About This’ by Patricia Lockwood

A novel of the zeitgeist, a novel of instant social media soundbites and gratification, Patricia Lockwood’s debut novel is one of the most tedious, indulgent books I have had the misfortune to read.

A nameless protagonist is revered for the irreverance and relevance of her social media posts. As a result she is invited around the world to inspire, to confer, to talk. But this is no seamless single narrative. A series of tightly composed fragments is offered up, a soundbite commentary much along the lines of social media. New soundbites interrupt the flow of a narrative, creating a new flow at the expense of the original. But it’s all too uncontrolled, all too manic and try-too-hard.

Existential threats abound as issues of the day clamour to be heard among the tweets, comments, threads as the shallowness and limitedness of online arguments and discussions are highlighted. But among it all come two texts from the narrator’s mother – Something has gone wrong and How soon can you get here? when her sister gives birth to a baby born with very severe birth defects. Based on true events, the novel semi moves into a new, more cogent narrative. But only in glimpses.

Lockwood can certainly write and is a keen observer and commentator on online culture. But it’s all so gratuitous and academically judgemental.

Shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, Patricia Lockwood lost out to Damon Galgut and The Promise.

‘The Day After I’m Gone’

A quiet, nuanced Israeli film, The Day After I Am Gone explores the breakdown of communication within families as a father and daughter come to terms with the recent death of their wife and mother.

In his feature film debut, writer/director Nimrod Eldar’s subtly told storytelling sees Yoram (Menashe Noy – Gett: The Trial of Viviane Ansalam, Kidon), senior vetenarian at Ramat Gan Safari, struggle with his 17 year-old daughter, Roni (Zohar Meidan in her film debut). An attempted suicide sees the two head to his wife’s family home in Ein Gedi overlooking the Dead Sea. A tension pervades the narrative as family opinions intrude on the father-daughter relationship. It’s life on the edge as Roni looks to escape from her trauma within the same oppressive environment from which Yoram himself escaped.

With the disintegrating landscape of the Dead Sea an integral part of the drama, The Day After I Am Gone is a delicate chamber piece of sincerity and honesty as the two attempt to come to understand each other.

Rating: 64%

‘The Promise’ by Damon Galgut

A powerful, challenging family drama, the 2021 Booker Prize winning The Promise is a visceral menace of a novel as the Swarts, an Afrikaans family, is torn apart by death and an unmet promise.

On her deathbed, dying young from cancer, Rachel Swart elicits a promise from husband, Manie. The small house on their Pretorian farm was to be gifted to long-time domestic servant, Salome. He distractedly agrees. Unbeknown to either of them, youngest daughter Amor overhears the promise. In a country emerging from apartheid and minority rule, what evolves is a family saga spread over 40 years mirroring a country full of resentment, anger, fear – and hope. As the family unit disintegrates, so the promise remains unfulfilled as Manie choses to ignore/deny his wife’s wishes.

Seen as an unsentimental allegory to post-apartheid South Africa, The Promise looks to the moral question of the support for majority black rule and expected renewal. It’s slow in coming.

Disparate, the Swarts are united by funerals – but not grief – after the death of Rachel. Having refound her Jewish faith on her deathbed having previously married into a family of Dutch Reform Calvinists, her death and funeral arrangements are not easily handled by the fundamentalist Swarts. It’s an uncomfortable and challenging opening of Galgut’s novel as opposing family members clash and compromise, leaving seething anger and disappointment. It sets the scene for the disatisfaction and unfulfillment that is to pervade the underlying narrative of the novel.

The three teenage children, Anton (he arrives late to the funeral due to military service), Astrid and Amor (part-time narrator and moral compass of the novel) are disconnected even at this early stage and, by the second of four parts within The Promise, have all flown the coup.

Menace continually bubbles under the surface as the dwindling family meet approximately every decade for a family funeral. Each time it is more and more difficult for Amor to be contacted as she distances herself physically and emotionally from the farm and her siblings (at one point she has left to live in London leaving no contact details). It is she who constantly raises the issue of the promise. But her requests fall on fallow ground as a bitter Anton, once the golden boy, lives in the shadow of unfulfilled potential (and the Church built on part of the farm as bequeathed by the father) and Astrid comes to terms with loss of youth, looks and two failed marriages.

The Promise is a dramatic tale and provides an engrossing insight into a time and place of great flux. It is a ‘semi-detached’ telling, an odd hybrid as Amor is – and then isn’t – the narrator. The result is an ebb and flow of emotional involvement but which nevertheless draws the reader in.

‘The Power of the Dog’

A riveting sweep of a film, The Power of the Dog is simultaneously broad in scope, claustrophobic in content as, buoyed by superb performances, it explores masculinity in an isolated 1920s Montana cattle ranch.

Two brothers run the Burbank family ranch but it’s the charismatic but feared Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game, August: Osage County) who makes the decisions. When gentle George (Jesse Plemons – Judas & the Black Messiah, The Irishman) marries the widow Rose and the two move into the shared home, a toxic Phil’s sense of normality is threatened. The presence of Rose’s teenage son, the fey Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee – Romulus My Father, Let Me In) is particularly unsettling.

With a career-defining performance by Kirsten Dunst (The Beguiled, Marie Antoinette) as Rose, the first film in more than a decade from director Jane Campion (The Piano, Bright Star) exudes a quiet strength as it evolves determindedly in its narrative of repressed passions and emotions.

Expect Oscars aplenty to follow its many already received awards (including best director at the Venice Film Festival).

Nominated for 12 Oscars in 2022 including best film, actor, supporting actor (both Plemons and Smit-McPhee), supporting actress, adapted screenplay, won 1 for best director.

Rating: 91%


A powerhouse performance from Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls, Winnie) fails to lift this Aretha Franklin biopic out of its run-of-the-mill, episodic ordinariness.

From a star singer at an early age in the Detroit church of her megalomaniac father, C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland, The Butler), to pregnancy at 12; from abused wife to global 1960s superstar, Respect approaches its subject with reverence and well-meaning. But there’s surprisingly little soul in director Liesl Tommy’s (TV’s Jessica Jones, The Walking Dead) telling of Franklin’s life from pre-teenage to the recording of the gospel album, Amazing Grace, in 1972.

Hudson brings the house down with her renditions of You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, Amazing Grace et al – and the film is at its sublime best when exploring the process of music making. But the spark is missing in the everyday as Franklin’s alcoholism, her father’s bullying and the violence of husband Ted White (Marlon Wayans – On the Rocks, Fifty Shades of Black) see the film degenerate generally into all round repetitive unpleasantness. And no context to that early pregnancy!

Rating: 58%

‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’

Bold, challenging, sexually explicit with a stunning central performance from Adèle Exarchopoulos (The White Crow, Sibyl), Blue is the Warmest Colour is a deeply intuitive exploration of a young woman’s exploration of sex and sexuality.

Meeting Emma (Léa Seydoux – The French Dispatch, Spectre) changes Adele’s life as she embarks on an all-consuming passion with the older art student. Emotional intensity and heart-on-sleeve realism explode on screen as the two young women consume each other.

Director Abdellatif Kechiche (The Secret of the Grain, Mektoub My Love) continues his exploration of cinema verité with intense close ups as people talk, eat, laugh, make love, revealing their everyday. Friends come, go; lives change, tensions build. The result is a beautiful, sensual rollercoaster ride as the young Adele struggles to understand and immerses herself into that emotional intensity.

Winner of the 2013 Palme d’Or for Kechiche and, in a Cannes Film Festival first, Exarchopoulos and co-star Léa Seydoux.

Rating: 74%

‘Being the Ricardos’

It may be overlong and lacking the Lucille Ball brand of ditzy energy, but Being the Ricardos is an engrossing film with a convincing central performance from Nicole Kidman (The Hours, Destroyer).

Focussed on just one week in the filming of I Love Lucy, writer/director Aaron Sorkin avoids the pitfalls of an episodic biopic. Instead, we are treated to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of live 1950s television interspersed with significant earlier moments in time in the life of Lucy, the B-grade actress and married life with philandering husband and current co-star, Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem – No Country For Old Men, Skyfall).

The result is a wry rather than comedic feature as the two stars and their colleagues deal with the potential career-destroying press accusation of Lucille Ball being a communist. Much of the humour is reserved for the quick-fire banter between Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda – TV’s Goliath) and William Frawley (J.K.Simmons – Whiplash, Juno) as Ball is shown to be a serious, intelligent, consummate professional.

Nominated for 3 Oscars in 2022 – best actress, actor, supporting actor.

Rating: 69%

‘First Cow’

Looking to make their fortunes yet out of their league, two fur trappers inadvertently team up in tough dog-eat-dog 19th century Oregon.

Finding himself on the margins, a Boston pastry chef by trade, Cookie (John Magaro – The Big Short, Carol) befriends an equally outcast King-Lu (Orion Lee – Skyfall, Justice League). Together they collaborate on the risky business of stealing milk from the first – and only – cow in the region, transported across the country by landowner, Chief Factor (Toby Jones – Captain America, Infamous).

Director Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff, Old Joy) takes her time in telling her story in the damp, autumnal forests of Oregon. Subtle and compassionate in that telling, the male friendship between the taciturn Cookie and energetic King-Lu is evocatively and simply explored against a backdrop of natural, unflashy beauty and lawless violence.

Rating: 73%

‘Nine Perfect Strangers’

An eight-part adaptation of a New York Times best-seller list novel by Liane Moriarty and a cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon and Regina King. With such pedigree, Nine Perfect Strangers should be a humdinger of a miniseries. Wrong.

Set in a top-end Californian wellness clinic/health resort (but filmed in northern New South Wales), an intriguing start sees a number of guests arriving at the remote luxury that is Tranquillum. They all have reason to escape from their everyday. Yet right from the off, not everything is as expected for the wealthy guests. The surrounds are certainly luxurious, food tailored to individual needs. But, on arrival, phones, laptops are confiscated, bags searched, prescription (and non-prescription) drugs removed, vehicles garaged. Overseen by a mysterious Masha Dmitrichenko (Kidman), methods at the wellness clinic may not be the norm, but Tranquillum survives on reputation – and results.

Over the eight episodes, singular and group narratives unfold. Novelist Frances Welty (McCarthy) had clashed with former sports star Tony Hogburn (Bobby Cannavale) on the road leading up to the gates: Lars Lee (Luke Evans) has something to hide whilst Carmel Schneider (King) is trying too hard to be nice. Grief divides and unites the Marconi family as they approach the 21st birthday of deceased son, Zach.

The closure of these various discordant elements are as obvious as the controlled psychedelic drugs that are added to guests’ diets. Increased emotional connections to better understand oneself leading to nice happy endings are a beacon as Kidman veers the other way and loses her grip. She too has her own demons. But by episode three, beautiful though it may look, interest in the outcomes has seriously waned in what should have an effective satire on privilege and the culture of wellness.

Rating: 50%