Tag Archives: Adam McKay

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Comet

Don’t Look Up

by George Wolf

Since Adam McKay shifted into “political” comedy with The Big Short and Vice, it’s become most convenient to label him a satirist. But Don’t Look Up, his latest as writer/director, is more proof that pure satire isn’t quite McKay’s forte.

Not that his work isn’t funny, or astute, or politically charged – it’s all of that. But what McKay does best is his own special blend of outrage, farce, skit-based comedy and yes, moments of satire. The best of the modern satirists – Armando Iannucci, for example – are almost always commenting on one thing by talking about something else. McKay, though, fires slings and arrows that are so often on-the-nose they toe the line between shedding light and making it.

Climate change and disinformation are in McKay’s sights this time, and it isn’t hard to imagine Don’t Look Up being inspired by some exasperated bit of conversation.

“What if some giant, cataclysmic comet were heading straight for Earth? Would that get somebody’s attention?”

Astronomy PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers just such a comet, and along with her anxiety-prone professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), calculates it will destroy the Earth in precisely 6 months and 14 days.

Sounding the alarm proves harder than they realize.

President Orlean (Meryl Streep, a bit too SNL) and her chief of staff son (Jonah Hill, in pitch perfect Don, Jr. mode) want to “sit tight and assess,” so Kate and Randall take their message to the people. But after an appearance on vapidly positive morning cable news chat, Kate is vilified for her severe bangs and shrill warnings while Randall gets tagged as a PILF and starts getting cozy with TV host Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett, glorious).

Meanwhile, weird tech CEO Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) determines the comet could really be a good thing! It’s composition could be worth billions, so he pushes the administration toward a Star Wars-worthy plan to break it up in pieces small enough to harvest, as uber-angry broadcaster Dan Pawketty (Michael Chiklis) instead wants to focus on the real problem of topless senior caregivers.

What’s left for the little people to do except take sides?

With the clock ticking and the comet now visible overhead, the anti-science crowd preaches “don’t look up” while pop diva Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) belts out a soaring (and surprisingly tuneful) plea to “get your head out of year ass, just look up, turn off that shit FOX News.”

The fertile ground of current pandemic disinformation makes McKay’s mash of Dr. Strangelove and Mars Attacks! seem a little extra urgent. And while Don’t Look Up never matches the satirical majesty of Kubrick, McKay is able to nicely cop the disinformation industry’s circular strategy of reframing evidence against it as evidence supporting it. He knows how his film’s worldview will be attacked, but also how some calculated ridiculousness can be a pre-emptive strike.

But is McKay’s film going to change anyone’s mind? Seriously? No, no it’s not, but he knows that, too.

Hey, if you think our current situation is too dire to have fun with, that’s understandable. But if you can relate to Grande singing, “Celebrate or cry or pray, whatever it takes,” then this is funny stuff. Just don’t mistake the laughs in Don’t Look Up – and there are plenty of them, including a priceless running gag about expensive snacks – for a lack of outrage or conviction. McKay and one of the year’s best ensembles find space for all three.

Sit tight for mid-credits and after-credits stingers, too. And trust me on the snacks thing.

Trickier Dick

Vice

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Remember when the Vice President of the United States shot some guy in the face, and then the guy with the snoot full of buckshot apologized to the V.P. for all the trouble? That really happened!

When did the upper reaches of the Executive Branch go so brazenly corrupt, so treasonously, moronically, dumpster-fire-with-a-spray-tan wrong?

It’s not as recent as you think.

With Vice, writer/director Adam McKay remembers a time long before moronic presidential tweet storms, when the quiet, steady rise of a ruthless power broker rewrote American politics and changed the course of history.

V.P. Dick Cheney was often thought of as the de facto decision-maker in George W. Bush’s presidency, and McKay uses absurdist humor and a spellbinding cast to give that line of thinking a more weighty focus.

Christian Bale is characteristically flawless as Cheney. With added girth from (according to Bale) “eating pies” and the trademark Burgess-Meredith -as-the-Penguin speech pattern, the physical transformation alone is astounding. But it is the way Cheney’s cut throat ambition, scorched-earth power grabs and soulless devotion to ideology contrasted with his familial tenderness that Bale articulates so astutely.

Because of, or perhaps in spite of, his legacy, Cheney is a fascinating figure, and Bale makes that fact endlessly resonate.

But fittingly, Vice‘s secret weapon is Amy Adams as Cheney’s wife Lynne who commands the screen as equally as Bale. In a performance full of subtle power of ferocity, Adams casts Mrs. Cheney as a pivotal and equally ambitious partner in Cheney’s climb, publicly lessening his weakness as a politician and privately demanding his allegiance to their plan.

Bale and Adams anchor an utterly glorious ensemble (including Sam Rockwell as “W” and Steve Carrell as a dead ringer for Donald Rumsfeld) that—with the help of McKay’s blistering script and wise direction—utilizes comedy to inform, illustrate, and act as an outlet for the otherwise soul-blackening disgust one might carry around with them concerning the American political system.

In 2015, after a slew of directorial successes including Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, McKay redefined the term “filmmaker Adam McKay” with the blistering, cynical, hilarious, informative and angry The Big Short.

In an act of all out heroism or masochism, McKay did all he could to help us understand the housing collapse with that film. He so understood his material (dry) and his audience (confused/disinterested) that he would cut away periodically to let a bubble-bath-soaking Margot Robbie explain a bit of vocabulary.

It was perhaps his way of saying: This is really important, guys. Pay attention!

Turns out, McKay is just as pissed off about the polluting of American politics, with his conspicuous outrage and biting comic sensibilities again proving to be powerful fuel.

From the film’s false ending and sudden Shakespearean detour to the unapologetic face-shooting, Vice has a definite “can you believe this shit?” air about it, a nod to the need to laugh so you won’t start crying.

Thanks to McKay and his tremendous cast, you might just do both.





Housing Collapse Hilarity

The Big Short

by Hope Madden

Earlier this year, Adam McKay won the Hollywood Film Awards Breakthrough Directing trophy. Adam McKay – director of Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys – broke through just this year? How can that be?

If you think you know Adam McKay, you haven’t seen The Big Short.

With the help of just about every A-lister in Hollywood – including Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale – he tackles the oft addressed yet rarely entertaining topic of America’s housing collapse. What he seeks to do, in as enjoyable a way as possible, is illuminate the truth of the whole sordid mess. And as his film points out in one of its appropriate screen titles: Truth is like poetry, and most people fucking hate poetry.

McKay cross cuts the stories of four different groups of outsiders who foresaw the housing collapse, learned of the unimaginable corruption that weakened the housing market in the first place, and took advantage.

Obviously McKay is known for comedy, and though this is at its heart a drama, the director’s conspicuous outrage as well as his biting comic sensibilities fuel the film, propelling it in a way that has been lacking in any other movie on the topic.

McKay knows this is dry stuff. He addresses that fact head on, stopping periodically to help you understand key terms and ideas with cut-aways. Margot Robbie sits in a bubble bath to define a term, or Selena Gomez uses black jack as a metaphor to explain another. It’s a cheeky, clever approach, but one that rings with a healthy sense of cynicism. He’s begging: Please, you guys, this is very important stuff! Pay attention! Get pissed!

Christian Bale excels as the socially awkward Dr. Michael Burry, the hedge fund investor who first notices the weakness in the US housing market. It’s not a showy performance, but one whisper-close to comedy. Pitt’s is an understated but needed presence – the film’s conscience, more or less. Meanwhile Steve Carell and Gosling again team up nicely as a couple of driven misfits reluctantly fond of one another.

McKay makes no one a hero – including the film’s heroes – and underscores the entire effort with sympathy for the abused working class victim of the eventual, global financial collapse.

Yes, it’s tough material, and even with McKay’s bag of tricks, he can’t always keep the content both clear and lively. But he makes a valiant attempt, one that proves he is more than just a funny guy. He’s a breakthrough.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





The ‘Stache Takes Manhattan

 

by George Wolf

 

According to facebook comments, there are humans out there who don’t think Will Ferrell is funny, and say they don’t understand all the fuss about Anchorman 2, and you know what was really funny? Delta Farce.

I am not one of those people.

Look, I’m not going to tell you The Legend Continues is as funny as the original, because , Great Odin’s Raven!, you’d know I was lying. But it is funny, sometimes downright eye-wateringly hilarious.

The swinging 70s have given way to 1980, as Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his news team move to New York to join GNN, the very first 24 hour news network. After finding themselves on the graveyard shift, Ron, Brick (Steve Carell), Brian (Paul Rudd) and Champ (David Koechner) set their sights on moving into primetime and taking down the network golden boy (James Marsden).

Ferrell and co-writer Adam McKay (who also directs) get more pointed in their satire of TV news in round two, which seems a natural progression. Occasionally, things get a tad too obvious, but the overall subject of the sad state of broadcast journalism is still so ripe for ridicule that the film is always able to recover pretty quickly.

Two curious plot points hold this new Burgundy adventure back from striking ratings gold, one involving Ron’s health and another concerning his strange choice of new pet (don’t worry, Baxter’s still around). Both subplots fall flat, bloating the film by at least twenty self-indulgent minutes that were better relegated to the deleted scenes section of the DVD.

The other 100 minutes, though, are chock full of nutty goodness. The four core actors again excel at this rapid fire, improv-heavy brand of comedy (especially Koechner, who jumps up a notch this time) and the new faces (Kristin Wiig, Meagan Good, Greg Kinnear) blend in well. Expect some inspired sight gags (keep an eye on that news ticker), well-played homages to the best moments from part one, a litany of welcome cameos, and a small reprise at the end of the credits.

While this Anchorman lamp may not be quite as lovable, you’ll like this lamp, you’ll really like this lamp.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars