Writer-Director Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up is the most terrifying comedy you may ever see, especially as a grain of truth is within. It’ll stir up laughs, smirks and shock but at its heart, it is a profoundly sad and important story. Jennifer Lawrence is Kate, an astronomy grad student working in a skywatch facility under Leonardo DiCaprio’s Astronomer Dr. Mindy. Kate notices and tracks something unusual on her screen, an enormous comet, 9 km wide, hurtling towards Earth. Feeling panicked the two investigate and find it will hit earth in just six months, cause catastrophic damage to the globe, and bring all we know to an end. A “planet killer”. Their report isn’t taken seriously but finally, manage 20 minutes with President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) whose sole concern is that the news will be bad for her for the upcoming election; her staff advisor (Jonah Hill) tells them reports like this are nothing new. Dr. Mindy appears on a local TV news broadcast whose hosts (Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry) drown out the end-of-days message with snappy quips, forcing the scientists to take things into their own hands. Adam McKay lays out an extremely funny, satiric ground against which this dark reality looms; and we’re feeling confusion, fear and familiar despair (all the threats against humanity and the planet – viruses, comets, war, climate and environmental crises, anger, hate, etc. ) while laughing at the absurdity of human behaviour in crisis, news anchors, government officials, the unaware. It’s a full and roiling experience, enjoyable even next to the sadness, the inevitability of ruin. DiCaprio, whose environmental work has been his prime concern for twenty years and Streep who has long advocated for environmental issues felt it was important to do the film, and especially with Adam McKay, another conscientious creator. Also stars Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi,and Ariana Grande. Netflix this week.
The luminous Léa Seydoux satirises holier-than-thou TV news anchors in the brooding France from Bruno Dumont . She is France de Meurs, known far and wide for her skillful incisive interviews with politicians; she is never free from scrutiny or fans, but takes it in stride, perfectly controlled and in charge. She’s admired enough to get away with giggling and disrupting in the front press row of a news conference, created from archival footage, of Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic. That takes cojones. But an event occurs that changes everything. France drops her son off at school, not paying attention to her driving when she hits and disables a delivery boy. Her first reaction is terror and remorse, later, to pay him; ad her untouchability takes a hit, she ponders her identity and reality, life in the public eye and from the inside, cancel culture. The man she hit, a migrant, can no longer support his parents. France is a generous person, but she realises she hasn’t done enough and now recognises the lures and traps of fame. France has an important awakening and she now looks on her lifelong work and her marriage with disdain. Time for a reflective getaway at a mountaintop sanitarium where fans surround her and there she meets a charming man and begins a romance that distracts her from healing. And then tragedy. Seydoux is absolutely transcendent in this challenging and highly nuanced role. Theatres, TVOD.
Netflix‘ The Unforgivable stars Sandra Bullock in an unusually unsympathetic role. She’s Ruth Slater, just released from a twenty-year prison stint for murdering a police officer. Ruth doesn’t say much, she’s wary and stone-cold; her parole officer reminds her of her post-prison responsibilities and moves her to a crowded halfway house in Seattle. She does her best to settle down, lands a job in a fish processing plant and another as a carpenter working alone in a new community centre. She is unaware that the sons of the man she killed are surveilling her and planning deadly revenge as she’s 100% focused on the memories of what brought her to this place. Orphaned on the death of her parents, Ruth raised her sister Maggie alone in an isolated farmhouse unable to pay rent. Police arrive to forcibly evict them when the officer is shot and killed; she hasn’t seen Maggie since that day. Across town in an upper middle home, Katherine (Aisling Franciosi) studies piano for an upcoming concert, unaware her life is about to change. But first a visit to the old farmhouse, now beautifully renovated and home to a lawyer and his family (Vincent D’Onofrio and Viola Davis) – she asks him to find her sister. Pain, resentment, betrayal and accusations follow as we rush to the conclusion, too fluid and complex to reveal here. Bullock’s on fire as Ruth, a single-minded, brutally frank and distant character – it’s hard to empathise and given Bullock’s legacy of connection to us, she’s proven herself capable of turning us away while keeping us engaged. Directed by Nora Fingscheidt, and co-starring Jon Bernthal, Richard Thomas, Linda Emond and Will Pullan.
The Real Charlie Chaplin takes an open and thorough look at the British multi-hyphenate, his triumphs and bad acts, his four young wives, two being teenagers and his never before seen in the world global fame. This captivating doc from Peter Middleton and James Spinney features Chaplin in his own words in a 1966 and blunt remarks from his childhood friend Effie who grew up with him in the slums of London. Charlie lived in a workhouse, begged for food on the streets. This seems to have resulted in a lifelong terror of poverty. Through hard work, complex imagination and unmatched outlier talent, he became the most famous person in the world. He became wealthy. The directors made some great finds, the first footage of the man walking into a newsreel frame, photos of him begging for food, his talkie audition and much more. He was painstakingly making his films. A single scene was shot in over 500 days because he couldn’t get it right, an idea came to him – absolute brilliance. He was instinctive, trained (on the London stage and American vaudeville) but he also had superior intelligence, and did every job on his work – from producing, acting, scoring, to hair and makeup for cast members. His films celebrated democratic, liberal politics and he was branded a Communist during the US Red Scare. so he left for Switzerland for the remainder of his life. Back to his romances. He fell for Lita Grey when she was 12 and working on one of his films, he married her four years later. When he was 52 he married Oona O’Neill, Eugene’s daughter, who was 18. His predilection for very young women tarnished his name but he didn’t care. Sensational documentary thoroughly researched with loads of never before seen visuals, narrated by Pearl Mackie. On Showtime Dec. 11.
The multi-award-winning Russian/Finnish coproduction Compartment No. 6 from Juho Kuosmanen, offers a unique look at the peoples’ struggles and life in the Russian Arctic. We follow an academic on a treacherous train and car ride to see petroglyphs, ancient hand-carved stones, in the port of Murmansk. Finnish Laura (Seidi Haarla) was living in Moscow but her lover sent her to Coventry while she pursues another interest. She will not make the trip with Laura – it’s over. Laura boards the train, a rickety, unkempt Communist era disaster with her trusty camera that has captured all her experiences in the capital. She must share a sleeping compartment with an aggressive male engineer (Yuriy Borisov); he’s rough and coarse and downs a bottle of vodka and packs of cigarettes the first night. Laura feels unsafe and asks for a room switch but the sullen maid refuses her. John blasts music and insults her and eventually passes out, leaving her in peace. Difficult and endless hours ensue but she gives him the benefit of the doubt; in the dining car, he picks fights and makes trouble. Laura explains that she’s gay and Ljoha calms down; she draws him and he softens, he draws her, fails and runs off, taking a comic tumble into the snowy train tracks. He keeps it together long enough to get them transported to the petroglyphs – by now he’s fond of her and they’ve formed a close asexual bond. The film is an eye-opener as to young Russians, and a keen character study of Laura who above all things, endures and changes those around her. TVOD Discovery+.
If cheese and ham are on your Christmas thriller menu, I have just the thing for you! The Boathouse in theatres Dec 13, TVOD Dec 14 takes a vulnerable, young and beautiful aspiring concert pianist, called Anne (Michaela Kurimsky) and sets her in the woods with a handsome older widower Dom, (Alan Van Sprang) a lot older, and his children the resentful son and adorable daughter and their bunny Lucy (Lucifer). New nanny Anne has zero experience with children and doesn’t seem to connect. She does connect with Dom while harbouring secrets. She tells them she’s prone to sleepwalking but doesn’t mention her black moods or her pill-popping. Dom’s wife, who was Anne’s musical mentor, went missing six months prior, presumably to tour Europe; she left no word, just up and went, leaving the family hurt and angry. Dom leaves them isolated in the woods for a few days, when Lucy is killed and Anne nearly when she’s booby-trapped courtesy of the hostile son. A family friend comes with harsh words for Anne and thinks she’s seen her before. Anne claims she hasn’t. Things get out of hand when truth shakes out; this slow thriller won’t win any awards, but cottage country is always nice to gaze upon.
And finally, an enjoyable getaway adventure for women of a certain age, starring Jenny Seagrove, Sally Phillips, Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips, Ben Miller, Franco Nero, Judi Dench and the late Kelly Preston. Off The Rails In theatres and TVOD today travels to sunny Italy with three best friends and Maddie, the daughter of their late friend, in whose memory they’re making the trip. It is to be a recreation of the trip they made post-uni, to toast their late friend and scatter her ashes in places she loved. And the soundtrack is exclusively Blondie songs that she loved. Lots of adventures along the way, discos, karaoke, lost passports, an accidental online date, and a near arrest. Near because Preston’s character is an internationally known actress and the Italian police drop everything to take selfies with her. Her services are required later, she only plays a doctor but is forced to deliver a baby, and voila, she knows how! Nero, the great Italian heartthrob plays a man who hosts the ladies and takes a big shine to the actress. Improbable, fun and fun comic performances, with bittersweet moments, make this a comfy watch.
And a reminder that Brooke Shields has a Christmas Hallmark-adjacent film on Netflix called A Castle for Christmas – if you enjoy sneaking around historic, ages-old British castles, this is for you. Shields is Sophie, an internationally renowned romance novelist, 12 hits to her name and she’s at the top of her game. However, she kills off a popular character and she’s cancelled! Just like that, she’s a cultural pariah, and she can’t go anywhere without dirty looks and derision. She needs a safe place and recalls her grandfather’s stories about working as a groundskeeper at a Scottish castle, sneaking through it and carving his name in the doorframe. Sophie lands in a quaint Scottish village, bonds immediately with the locals and wonders if this is the place for her. Cary Elwes, the down on his luck Duke, the ancestral castle owner bristles when he catches her sneaking around .. Sophie shows him her grandfather’s carved name and offers to buy the place. That’s when the real fireworks begin. This is another comfy cozy, non-challenging holiday film that is chock-a-block with great things to look at, the handsome leads, the idyllic rural village and its colourful citizens, loads of Christmas decor and a sweeping, winter landscape. The titular castle is Dalmeny House near Edinburgh.