Del reviews ‘Don’t Look Up’

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“Don’t Look Up” Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothee Chalamet, Ron Pearlman, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi and others. Directed by Adam McKay. Two hours, 18 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.

Del’s take

An existential threat is hurtling our way and what does the president of the United States want to do?

“Sit tight and assess,” decides President Orlean (Meryl Streep), who fears an approaching apocalypse might cost her party the midterm elections.

That’s the message of “Don’t Look Up,” a hilarious yet stinging denunciation of many things – our leadership’s response to the climate change crisis, the empty-headedness of American culture, the corrosive influence of social media and metrics, and the dehumanizing fist of runaway capitalism. It is the new “Idiocracy” and it arrives just in time to skewer all the people who deserve a sharp stick in the eye.

The story is about a milquetoast, Walter Mitty-style astronomer (Leonardo DiCaprio as Professor Randall Mindy) and his edgy PhD candidate assistant (Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky) who discover a planet-killing comet that will smack Earth in six months. They discreetly sound the alarm only to discover the authorities, who don’t understand the science and don’t care, will not respond to the crisis unless it serves their interests. So Mindy and Dibiasky whistleblow the story to the media, where it lands with an apathetic thud. Most people are more invested in the breakup of two popular singers, Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) and DJ Chello (Kid Cudi). As doom becomes an undeniable reality the government staggers into action by entrusting the fate of the planet to a whackjob Elon Musk-style billionaire (Mark Rylance as Peter Isherwell), who wants to break up the comet into smaller pieces and let them collide with the Earth so the fragments can be mined – by his telecommunications company, Bash – for precious metals crucial to the manufacture of smart phones. All that’s left is negotiating with the countries to be annihilated over how much money they want for their dead.

“Don’t Look Up” offers more Oscar-fueled star power than a map of the Milky Way, and many of the performances are better than strong. DiCaprio as hapless Dr. Mindy channels a furious Howard Beale (Peter Finch in “Network”) when he finally revolts against the frustrating ennui of 21st century America, while Jennifer Lawrence effectively portrays the optimism of youth as it dashed against the rocks of the corrupt, self-serving inertia that serves as leadership these days. Meryl Streep evokes a dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks, Donald Trump-style president whose only strong suit is a kind of animal cunning, while Cate Blanchett, as the glib yet shallow peroxide blonde who leads Dr. Mindy astray and then abandons him when he becomes a liability, perfectly portrays the fickleness of American media.

A few other performances worth mentioning: Ariana Grande is a hilarious Riley Bina, as is Mark Rylance as Isherwell, which I suspect is a composite of Musk and Steve Jobs. And Jonah Hill as the juvenile White House chief of staff (and Orlean’s son) makes you want to reach through the screen and slap him. The one performance that left me cold was Timothee Chalamet’s Yule, though at one point he offers a prayer for the ages.

“Don’t Look Up” has gotten mixed reviews. Nick Allen of calls it “McKay’s worst film yet” while Charles Bramesco of The Guardian dismisses it as a “disaster.” The New York Times and CNN were more merciful. The complaint centers around the jokes and caricatures, which they say are lowbrow. I would argue that in an age where attention spans near a half-life of a nanosecond, the lack of “razor-sharp wit” is as much commentary as the jokes and characters themselves.

I enjoyed the hell out of “Don’t Look Up” and I thought it communicated exactly what the “Let’s Go Brandon” crowd needs to hear – that they’re a bunch of fucking idiots who are screwing up the country and the planet with their selfish ignorance. The fact that this message was delivered with a hammer, not a scalpel, is a strike in the movie’s favor. Do you seriously think people who believe vaccines are evil and Donald Trump is still the president would notice or respond to “razor sharp wit”? Give me a break.

Isherwell brags that his algorithms are so good they can predict when and how President Orlean will die. She will be eaten by a “bronteroc.”

I won’t tell you what that means. To find out you must watch past the credits. But it’s pretty damned funny.

Meanwhile, check out “Don’t Look Up.” Pay no heed to the critics – it’s funny as hell and I think you’ll enjoy it, unless you’re one of the people being skewered. And who knows? If you have a sense of humor, you too might get a laugh.

I rate it a solid A.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Silverback Films.

“David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” Starring David Attenborough. Directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonathan Hughes, Keith Scholey. Rated PG. 83 minutes. Netflix.

Del’s take

The most heartbreaking moment in David Attenborough’s profound “A Life on Our Planet” takes place at about the halfway mark when we see an orangutan clinging to the shredded branch of a tree – one tree – remaining in a field of clear-cut Borneo rain forest. Surrounding this pitiful creature lies destruction – jagged stumps, mangled limbs, the earth scarred by monster bulldozers.


That brief snippet of video perfectly encapsulates the message of Attenborough’s documentary film about the downfall of the natural world and serves as a metaphor for the future of mankind as we greedily attack the systems that make life on Earth possible.

Attenborough has a unique perspective on this tragedy. His role as broadcast journalist and naturalist for the BBC has allowed him to see firsthand the rapid decline in animal species, the fouling of the earth and the collapse of ecosystems. As a result, “A Life on Our Planet” is “my witness statement and my vision for the future,” he says.

The first two thirds of the documentary are devoted to Attenborough’s career as a journalist-naturalist and the chilling litany of ruin and destruction he has witnessed since he began covering the “nature beat” in the 1950s. Then, the plains of Africa were covered with migrating herds of wildebeest and zebras, Antarctica was a deep-freeze of glaciers and penguins, and the oceans of the world were home to thriving coral reefs.

Compare that with today: The great herds of Africa are diminished to a trickle, with some species, like the white rhino, becoming extinct. Glacier coverage around the world has shrunk, contributing to sea level rise and the possible extinction of animals like the emperor penguin. Coral reefs are dying as the oceans heat and become more acidic.

Attenborough tries to describe the relationship that exists between mankind and nature, and how the former must be preserved if latter is to survive, then devotes the remaining third of  “A Life on Our Planet” to the steps we must take to save ourselves.

In the end, “We need to learn how to work with nature, not against it,” he says.

The film is a showcase of lush visuals, both beautiful and horrific, the yin and the yang of how beautiful our world once was and could be again, and what it is increasingly becoming.

I expect his “witness statement” will fall on deaf ears.

Forgive my cynicism, but I don’t hold much hope for the years ahead. People are disconnected from nature and cannot understand the gravity of Attenborough’s message. They conflate science with some kind of political philosophy. Any attempt to educate them only hardens their disbelief. Throw in market incentives to maintain the status quo, an unswerving refusal to limit population growth, and a rampant, voracious consumerism stoked by soulless corporate entities and you reach a future that resembles a science fiction novel where masses of uneducated savages are baking in the slums of a dead world, awaiting a final war to finish off the species.

I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope “A Life on Our Planet” creates a groundswell of support for those who are trying to solve the riddles of climate change, population growth and destruction of the natural systems that give us clean water, air to breath and food to eat. I hope to see the weather return to normal, to hear a bobwhite quail calling in the morning, to see moths orbiting the porch light.

In the time it takes you to read this review, 60 average homes’ worth of rain forest will have been cut down. That’s an area roughly the size of your neighborhood, gone forever.

Better hurry.

“A Life on Our Planet” gets an A+.

Mladen’s take

Shit, Del’s correct. By that I mean he correctly assessed the quality and importance of “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” and the documentary’s likely impact on mankind’s environment-ruining behavior, as well as that I hate to admit Del is right about anything.

Attenborough is 93 years old. He walks with a slight hunch and his steps seem tentative, but the sparkle in his eyes, the pleasantness of his voice, and the lucidness of what he observes and says are unchanged. The Old Timer, who narrated such break-through documentaries as “Life on Earth,” “The Living Planet,” and “The Blue Planet,” should be heeded because he knows his stuff. His advice should be taken – reduce poverty to reduce deforestation, destruction of fisheries, obliteration of species; render one-third of the ocean’s littoral off limits to mankind; stopping buying so much crap.

It ain’t gonna happen, of course, as Del notes.

“A Life” makes the argument that mankind will go the way of the wild places it destroys, extinct, unless it starts preserving the atmosphere, the biosphere, and the geosphere. Attenborough’s storytelling is punctuated periodically with a counter that ticks off numbers such as the world population of humans and the percentage of wild places still left from the 1950s to today. Sobering. As the population of people grew, guess what happened to the extent of wild places? I’ll give you a clue. It’s what mathematicians call an inverse relationship.

One striking feature of the documentary might go unnoticed unless you’re paying attention. Attenborough never casts blame for the demise of nature at specific countries or leaders. Bollsanaro in Brazil, the feckless muther-f-er encouraging destruction of the Amazon, is not named. China and brutal, soulless Xi aren’t named for obliterating the country’s rivers. America and beyond-stupid Trump are not named for loosening environment preservation regulations and opening national parks and monuments to “mineral extraction.” Attenborough does use examples of sustainable activity such as agriculture in the Netherlands, if I recall accurately, to make the point mankind can have less impact on the air, land, and water while still enjoying a lofty lifestyle. To Attenborough, the environmental catastrophe facing Earth is caused by “us.” It is “our” problem. The problem can be stemmed only through global action requiring that “we” cooperate with each other.

“A Life” ends where it started, in Pripyat, Ukraine. This “atomgrad” of the former Soviet Union was the place where the people who operated the Chernobyl nuclear power plant lived. When Reactor Number 4 exploded in April 1986, all 50,000 of those people had to be evacuated. The city remains uninhabitable decades later. The radionuclides ejected into the air poisoned some of the world’s most productive land and water, crossing national borders all the way up to parts of North Europe. I assume that Attenborough chose to disregard the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi three-reactor meltdown in Japan because that disaster is still in the early stages of unfolding.

Attenborough warns us that Earth will become Chernobyl writ planetary scale —uninhabitable for mankind — unless Homo sapiens initiates remediation now. The naturalist considers pollution and climate change significant contributing factors to the destruction of the outdoors, but not its root causes. Industrial agriculture, mining, and fishing; wanton consumerism; and human disconnection from land and sea are the culprits. He asserts we have stepped from nature and into a delusion: that the supply of Earth’s resources is infinite and that are always technologic solutions to problems caused by technology.

To illustrate there’s hope, Attenborough moves from talking about the Chernobyl catastrophe by walking through room after room filled with abandoned furniture, books, and toys to the outdoors. Large fauna (e.g., wolves, deer, and rare wild horses), the kinds of animals that end up dead or displaced when mankind moves in, are reclaiming Pripyat and so are flora. Trees are present in what were once courtyards. They compete for height with the desolate and deteriorating multi-story buildings that once housed tens of thousands of humans. It might be that vines growing up the walls of those buildings are helping them stay intact a little be longer. In Pripyat, it’s as though Nature had forgiven mankind and has started the hard task of re-nourishing the air, land, and water.

So, there it is in a visual nutshell. Attenborough shows that given enough time and space, the outdoors, and, as a consequence, mankind can recover.

“David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” gets an A+. Watch this documentary and then go plant a tree in your yard, somewhere, anywhere. Seriously.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Geostorm” Starring Gerald Butler as Jake Lawson, Jim Sturgess as Max Lawson, Abbie Cornish as Sarah Wilson, Talitha Eliana Bateman as Hannah Lawson, Alexandra Maria Lara as Ute Fassbinder, and others. Directed by Dean Devlin. PG-13. 109 minutes. Streaming on Hulu.

Del’s take

Every now and then a movie comes along that makes me feel pretty good about my own creative efforts. “Geostorm” makes me feel like a goddamn genius.

“Geostorm” is dumb even by Mladen’s low standards, which lie somewhere between root cellar and hell. I can tell how much I hate a movie by the number of times I roll my eyes. By the end of “Geostorm” I needed Dramamine and one of those little fold-out paper bags the airline puts in your seat pocket. It’s that bad.

Which is weird because they spent a lot of money making the damn thing – $120 million – and got some decent actors – Andy Garcia, Abbie Cornish, Jim Sturgess and Ed Harris – Ed freaking Harris! who should have won an Oscar for “The Truman Show” and might be my favorite actor of all time. How could a movie with such great talent go so terribly wrong?

Reason No. 1: Gerard Butler.

Giving Gerard Butler the lead was a mistake. Don’t get me wrong. I like Mr. Butler. He’s a reliable disaster movie performer – check “Greenland” and “Angel has Fallen.” Unfortunately, he’s also one of those actors whose face falls out of memory faster than giant hailstones fall out of the sky over Tokyo. I had to consult my Old Fart’s Digital Crutch, Msgr. Google, for other movies he’s starred in. Not a good sign.

Reason No. 2: Dean Devlin.

“Geostorm” was directed by Mr. Devlin, a graduate of the Roland Emmerich school of disaster filmmaking – except in this case he forgot to study for the final. For a disaster movie, you see remarkably few disasters. What you do see is a clunky whodunit plot that did little to pique my interest. I assumed the bad guy was either (a) an evil corporation dissatisfied with trillion-dollar profit margins, or (b) a Republican. Either way, the who was less important to me than the what. Dammit, Jim, I want my disaster movies to show disasters, not be disasters.

Reason No. 3: Some seriously freaking tectonic logic flaws.

“Geostorm” is predicated on the idea that escalating weather disasters will lead to a gigantic, all-consuming “geostorm,” the meteorological equivalent of Donald Trump’s political and business “empire.” So all nations on Earth marshal their resources to build a gigantic hairnet-kinda thing in orbit that has the ability to nip weather disasters in the bud.

First, let me point out the words “climate change” are not, to my recollection, ever uttered in this movie, which makes me wonder why, given that escalating weather disasters are the hallmark of climate change. Also, the suggestion that all nations (a) recognize the problem and (b) agree to cooperate isn’t science fiction. It’s fantasy. It destroys my willingness to suspend disbelief.

Second, the giant hairnet thingy is just – freaking – impossible. And building it would cost a helluva lot more than doing the things that already cause the hairpieces of conservatives and Republicans to spontaneously combust, things like planting trees, developing more efficient batteries, or inventing a fusion reactor. Is “Geostorm” a disaster flick or “Lord of the Rings”?

Speaking of which, it wouldn’t be a disaster movie unless there was (a) an MIA father who’s feeling guilty about his absence, (b) a child who’s pissed-off because Daddy “wasn’t there,” and (c) an estranged relationship that can only be mended by tens of millions of people dying in a global conflagration.

Yup, that’s “Geostorm,” a melding of all the worst aspects of “2012,” “Independence Day,” “Twister,” and maybe even “The Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure.” And to enhance your eye-rolling experience, it’s streaming on Hulu, which is the “Geostorm” of streaming services. I have never, ever streamed a movie on Hulu without something going wrong – the movie buffers, it locks up, the frame crashes and will not play, no matter how many times I clear my cache. I end up digging through my DVDs and watching it the old-fashioned way.

Movies like “Geostorm” are supposed to be dumb fun. Devlin forgot the “fun” part. I give it a D, and I don’t care how many insulting giant hailstones Mladen flings my way.

Mladen’s take

I like sci-fi that uses real-world happenings taking place on Earth to be plausible. So, when “Geostorm” showed moviegoers a low-orbit satellite mesh controlled by a space station that manipulates the planet’s weather to limit the impact of global warming, I was, like, this is silly. How could anyone, even a let-the-imagination-loose filmmaker, think that leashing the weather caused by Earth’s 4.2 billion cubic kilometers of atmosphere, 1.4 cubic km of ocean, and 510 million km of surface land area was doable as a realistic sci-fi movie?

Well, “Geostorm” writers and its director were much more on-target with their movie’s foundational theme than I figured. The October 2023 issue of Scientific American has a story titled, “A Stratospheric Gamble.” It covers some of the ways some scientists are hoping to alter Earth to lessen the impact of climate change. SRM (Solar Radiation Management), folks, is on its way. What is SRM? Injecting volcanic eruption-size quantities of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to bounce some sunlight back to space. Lab coat geeks and governments (including our own) are thinking seriously about using geoengineering technology on a PLANETARY scale to mitigate the climate crisis, which was caused by our transportation and power generation technologies. Same old story and a history lesson never learned. Using new technology to offset the dangerous side effects of old technology always fails long-term and it’s always the poor who suffer.

So, the “Geostorm” scenario ain’t so unrealistic as it seemed to me before I read the Sci Am piece. That fact, paradoxically, allowed me to enjoy the film, more or less. In “Geostorm” the weather control space station starts to malfunction, causing its weather-inducing satellites to go berserk. An Afghan village is frozen to death. A part of Hong Kong is blasted to bits by overheating natural gas infrastructure. Lawson (Butler), the principal architect of the space station and an imperfect brother and father, is sent back to his orbiting masterpiece to determine what the hell is going on. As human command and control of the space station and its satellites continues to deteriorate, so does the weather on Earth. Incessant, infrastructure-destroying lightning in Florida that, somehow, increases the value of Mar-a-Lago. OK, I made up the part about Mar-a-Lago. A tsunami flooding one of the Persian Gulf’s fascist states. A flock of tornadoes here and hail the size of Thanksgiving turkeys there.

Del, and his combustible grudges, be damned. It’s a wonder he didn’t mention how the female commander of the space station becomes a weakling leader when Lawson embarks to save the day. Look, I agree with Del that “Geostorm” is maudlin and too much political thriller troupe. But, he should’ve been paying attention to the portrayed weather disasters. Del, start digging that bunker, fill it with canned goods, and make sure it has a helluva water pump to keep it dry because a geostorm is on the way, though it’ll come with a much less dramatic name – solar radiation management. And, rather than stocking the bunker with Dramamine, I suggest Xanax to help you with anger management.

Del contends “Geostorm” is bad crap. Ignore him. The film is good crap.

Mladen Rudman is a former newspaper reporter and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

“2012” Starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt, Woody Harrelson and Danny Glover. Directed by Roland Emmerich. 158 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Mladen’s take

The film “2012,” now on DVD and Blu-ray disc, is a man-made disaster about a natural catastrophe.

“My gosh,” I said to myself about halfway through the longer than 2 1/2 hour movie, “can’t the world come to an end quicker?”

In “2012,” landmasses shift cataclysmically because mutant neutrinos from a solar flare superheat the Earth’s core. The Himalayas become the ocean’s flood plain. California becomes a part of the seafloor.

The upheaval results in hundreds of millions of deaths, unless you’re an Arab royal or Russian mobster who can afford to drop $1 billion euros per person for luxurious passage on secretly built “arks,” or happen to be a member of the Curtis family et al.

Ineptly, yet decisively, led by Jackson Curtis, as portrayed by John Cusack, the family ceaselessly eludes death by blunt trauma or scorching again and again and again and again.

The earth uplifts beneath their car, they escape.

Bridges collapse, they dodge.

The ground tears open at their feet, they scurry.

California explodes, they find an airplane to maneuver around toppling skyscrapers like a mosquito flying between raindrops.

A pyroclastic flow – ash spewing, acid sizzling, boulders flaming – comes gushing their way, but they outrun it.

Finally, don’t ask how, the Curtises reach the Himalayas, trudging through snow in search of the arks.

Just as they’re about to give up hope for the tenth time of surviving, along comes a Buddhist monk driving a pickup truck along a winding trail. He gives the Curtises a lift to a back entrance of the cavernous mountaintop shipyard where the monk’s brother, who helped build the arks, smuggles the whole lot aboard Ark 4, which belongs to America. What luck, eh?

The Curtises live and “2012” ends with three arks steaming for Africa, which apparently survived the churning core. Get it? Humans got their evolutionary start in Africa and now they’re returning to Africa for another beginning. “2012” teems with such philosophic wonderment and profound irony.

That the ships were called Arks, by the way, was the final straw for me.

I’m tired of sectarian references, in this case, ark as in Noah’s Ark, constantly appearing in catastrophe movies.

Why did “2012” director Roland Emmerich have to label the vessels that saved a small portion of corrupt, self-serving mankind, arks, as though the endeavor was noble?

It would have been more accurate to label the arks “survival ships for the filthy rich and slimy politicians.”

Or, the arks could have been called, “keep-the-privileged-alive semi-submersibles,” mimicking the DEA description of vessels drug traffickers use to move product along the coastlines of Central and South America.

Rent, do not buy, “2012” only if you have a potent surround sound system. The movie’s sound effects are its only merit.

Del’s take

Director Roland Emmerich blew up the White House in “Independence Day.” He knocked over the Statue of Liberty in “The Day After Tomorrow.” In “2012” he inundates, melts down and otherwise reduces to soggy molecules the entire world in an orgy of destruction that will leave you wondering what you did for entertainment before CGI made it possible to watch a tidal wave overwash the Himalayas.

If there is such a thing as “disaster porn,” “2012” is triple-X.

The storyline is simple: A freak burst of neutrinos from the sun is causing the earth’s core to heat up, resulting in an extinction-level event (to borrow a term from “Deep Impact”). Volcanoes the size of Wyoming will destroy vast swaths of countryside while earthquakes and tsunamis finish off what the volcanoes fail to vaporize.

The lead viewpoint character is John Cusack, a could-have-been writer who operates a limo service to pay the rent. He lives in a dump, oversleeps appointments and consistently lets down his ex-wife, Amanda Peet, and his two children. Peet has moved on to a new husband, a man with a solid job who provides her and the kids with a great house and lots of fun gadgets – not to mention contempt for Cusack’s fumbling inadequacies as a father and a man.

See where this is going?

Meanwhile strange events are unfolding around the world. Earthquakes open cracks along fault lines in California. Lakes boil away in Yellowstone Park. The church channel lady with the pink cotton candy hair shaves her head and gets a nose bob … OK, maybe that’s a little too weird but you get the picture.

What follows is a hair-raising series of improbable cliffhangers resulting in … well, let’s just say if you’re familiar with the Roland Emmerich formula you’ll not be disappointed.

“2012” is silly and stupid, but it’s also a lot of fun.

The science is non-existent. Take those pesky neutrinos. Neutrinos have no mass, which means they pass right through you and me, the buildings we inhabit, and the earth itself. How can something that has no mass heat the earth’s core?

In the movie we see a huge Russian transport airplane, an Antonov 225, perform a 60-degree power climb. Ain’t happening folks, not even with a crazy Russian hotdog of a pilot.

And “2012” seems to forget all about the nuclear winter hypothesis, which predicts that if you inject enough soot and dust into the atmosphere, the sun isn’t going to shine for months if not years.

I’m curious. Why do these disaster movies never take into account the hundreds of wrecked nuclear reactors around the world? All that plutonium has got to go somewhere.

And why does every disaster movie center around a divorced dad trying to win back the love of his children, if not his ex-wife? John Cusack’s role seems lifted directly from Steven Spielberg’s “The War of the Worlds” Tom Cruise character. Or “Independence Day.” Or even “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

I guess we’re supposed to ignore those logic flaws as we watch an aircraft carrier of a surfboard take out the White House, or the San Andreas fault submerge the entire West Coast into the Pacific.

I can do that for two hours.

When “2012” debuted on DVD it blew away the competition. I had to ask the folks at the local Blockbuster if they had a copy behind the counter because the shelves were empty. As I waited, two more customers asked for it. (Speaking of which, don’t you hate the demise of the local DVD rental store? Netflix, Red Box and streaming are lousy substitutes for wandering the aisles as you check out the dust jackets on a DVD case.)

I give “2012” 3½ out of five stars, subtracting points for bad science and hackneyed storytelling, but awarding points for special effects and entertainment value.

Your $5 rental fee won’t have been wasted.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.