AT HOME WITH HOOTMAN: From ‘Don’t Look Up’ to ‘Toast of Tinseltown’

January 18, 2022

DON’T LOOK UP (Netflix). Astronomers Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discover that a comet is headed to Earth, which will wipe out all life in six months. Adam McKay’s leaden satire takes the worst case scenario not merely for the planet but for the actions of the people on it.

Firstly we have to contend with conspiracy theorists who believe the comet is a hoax concocted by the global elite for their own nefarious ends. Then there’s Meryl Streep as a Trumpesque president who only takes the comet seriously when it will boost her electoral popularity. The third swipe is aimed at capitalism itself in the form of tech billionaire Sir Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) who calls off a mission to destroy the comet when he realises it’s jam packed with trillions of dollars worth of rare metals.

Meryl Streep – Don’t Look Up

In order to qualify as a satire it a work has to be funny and this film has two to three jokes in its expansive two-and-a-half hour running time. I did like Lawrence putting off a meeting with her boyfriend’s mother for a ‘weirdly specific’ seven months, but it squanders another of its jokes concerning Streep’s death by having it telegraphed about 30 minutes before the obvious visual punchline.

The standout performance is Cate Blanchett as an ice-cold morning TV host: she’s formidable, heartless but despite her obvious flaws she’s somehow made sympathetic – and certainly the most fully realised character. Jonah Hill at least has fun playing the president’s son (who despite being an idiot has made it to being the Chief of Staff) and is a mash-up of various Trump children and their boyfriends.

I’ve no idea what the point is of Timothée Chalamet’s character: he sleeps with Lawrence and has fantastic hair but neither advance the plot.

Despite its many flaws the film holds the attention and its ending is emotionally satisfying although eminently implausible. If I were on the threshold of a violent and presumably painful death I’m not sure I’d have the stoicism needed to sit down and quietly bond with my family.

CRIME OF THE CENTURY (Sky). The world really doesn’t need satire when it can – and should – watch Alex Gibney’s four-hour documentary on America’s opioid crisis.

The best Don’t Look Up could achieve in its audience is a kind of smug satisfaction that we’re so much better than the fools in charge. Crime will induce rage and disbelief in equal measure. In summary, a pharmaceutical company invents an incredibly effective opioid painkiller but soon realises that something designed for end-of-life care for cancer sufferers would make more money if, for example, it could be prescribed for back pain.

Communities have been devastated, half a million Americans have overdosed on prescription drugs and millions more are addicted. Even when the FDA shuts down a distribution centre for the drug, Big Pharma puts up a fight and gets a law passed to stop this happening in the future – helped along by senators who received large financial donations from the drug companies. Doctors, politicians, regulators: everyone knew what was going on but were too powerless or venal to stop it.

The greed and horror of unchecked capitalism has perhaps never been so clearly laid bare. To say this makes for depressing viewing is an understatement: I’ve only seen the first part and am currently steeling myself for the second.

DILLINGER (Arrow Blu-ray). John Milius is a fascinating character, a self-styled ‘right wing extremist’ and ‘Zen anarchist’ who co-wrote hits such as Apocalypse Now and Dirty Harry. This, his first film as writer and director, has testosterone levels through the roof.

Bank robber John Dillinger (Warren Oates) is pursued by FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson) through Depression-era America. There’s lots of gun battles, blood, people writhing in their death throes and women getting slapped around: it’s Bonnie and Clyde but a grittier, dirtier version.

The low budget is actually a virtue with the grubby photography giving the movie an almost documentary feel. Yet for all its realism, Milius can’t help but indulge in a bit of what I can only assume is poetic licence. When Purvis goes into a gangster’s lair by himself with all guns blazing he’s actually smoking a cigar at the same time. Although we know sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, here it’s very much a penis: Purvis is such a manly man he’s aroused by killing the baddies.

Dillinger certainly has the virtue of being made by a director not willing to compromise on his vision but greatness eludes the finished product. Oates is magnetic as the anti-hero and the supporting cast turn in great, unshowy performances, but the script doesn’t quite have depth of character or storytelling to truly engage the viewer.

Toast of Tinseltown

TOAST OF TINSELTOWN (BBC). It was with unalloyed joy that I heard of the return of a new series featuring Matt Berry’s eponymous actor. The characters have no depth, they don’t grow or learn and their exploits have as much reality as an episode of Tom and Jerry. Yet I love everything about it: from Doon Mackichan as Toast’s agent seemingly unfazed by his madcap antics to Harry Peacock as our hero’s nemesis, the equally ridiculous Ray Purchase.

While the first episode is very much business as usual, the second – which finds Toast relocated to Hollywood – is just baffling. Jokes seem to be set up but the punchline never arrives. And the quirky weirdness, which was charming in Toast of London, here gets ramped up to David Lynch proportions. The result, sadly, is an indigestible mess. Hopefully, normal service will be restored for the rest of the series.