Adam McKay has a knack for getting first-rate talent to work in his smart, funny and yet serious satirical comedies. His ‘Don’t Look Up’ stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, England’s Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett and Timothee Chalamet. McKay, who co-conceived the story, scripted as well as directed, posits an end of the world scenario when 2 Michigan astronomers – that would be DiCaprio and Lawrence – discover a huge life-ending comet is headed directly towards Earth. Humanity, civilization, the planet will go in six months unless drastic action is taken. But who wants to take action? Streep’s airhead president is under the influence of Rylance’s tech billionaire who has his own agenda about the world ending. TV talk show hosts – Blanchett and Tyler Perry – just want to be upbeat and have fun. There’s Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi as a celeb couple with a song, even a cameo by Chris Evans.
As to why these stars are ready to jump onboard, ‘It’s a couple of different things,’ McKay said in a phone interview. ‘I think we’re all confused and afraid and frustrated with where the world’s at right now. I mean, clearly at this point we’re in a seismic moment right now and everyone feels like that. So the actors really love the idea of getting to play characters to process those feelings and hopefully share them with an audience. I think that’s really attractive.
‘I think they know from my track record that I’m very friendly and pretty good at working with actors. And that we know we’re going to get good stuff out of the performance. They’re going to improvise; I’m not someone who’s married to every single word that I write. I want it to work. I collaborate a lot with the actors in creating the characters and that’s exciting for them. And the third level is I think they want to laugh. These past 10-20 years, they really wanted to laugh.’
Q: So when Leo shows up do you say, We’re going to keep the goatee, the facial hair? Or let’s try it without it? How does that work?
ADAM McKAY: We had a discussion about it, and it has to be a transformation for Dr. Mindy and we didn’t want it to be cartoonish. But you’re the guy from Lansing who’s probably had the same hairstyle in 25 years and doesn’t really care how stylish his beard looks. And he has this little accidental moment where they trim his beard and it looks good. So we have a lot of discussion about the ingredients of that. About going to have the real beard to begin with and we augment it later. I mean, oh my God, you have no idea! Anybody doing hair care, prosthetic makeup, it’s 150 hours of conversation. I mean, as great as the CGI special effects in films, still the hardest thing in any movie is that kind of stuff. It just takes a lot of work because God forbid it doesn’t look real.
Q: Similarly then the blonde locks on a woman who’s anything but Goldilocks, our President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep). Was that easy to come up with?
AMK: That was Meryl’s idea, and it scared the crap out of me when she told me she wanted to have blonde hair. Like, this woman would be the kind of woman that would just always wear her hair like when she was 26 years old. Now that seems pretty extreme. And she’s like, ‘Trust me on this. It’s gonna work.’ I actually had a backup wig that was less extreme because I was so worried about it. Then I realized, Why am I second guessing Meryl Streep! She was perfect. And you realize that a lot of women by God do that ‘I’m still 26 years old’ look — when they’re in their 60s.
Q: Jennifer Lawrence is somebody you’ve had an association with and I understand, you’re actually working on this ‘Bad Blood’ movie together, about the trial that’s going on now about the Theranos scandal.
AMK: The first meeting she ever did in Hollywood, back when she was 17, was with me. Because she worshiped the movie ‘Step Brothers.’ I remember her coming in. We have mutual friends and have just crossed paths a lot through the years. It’s always been a thing of like, I’m gonna have to work with you. So I wrote the character for her. Katie Dibiasky was specifically written for Jen Lawrence. And I wrote Dr. Oglethorpe for Rob Morgan, who I had done the HBO Lakers show with.
Q: I like the little card that pops up when we introduce Oglethorpe who’s working for this space agency in Washington, in the White House. And you give the actual title of it and say yes, it is real. What was happening there?
AMK: I was doing research on this. So I have to go into all the facts about the action of asteroids and comets and how we respond to the governmental agencies. We have this incredible science advisor on the movie and I couldn’t believe the Planetary Defense Center actually existed. It was fascinating. There’s a real guy who’s in charge of it. It was super cool. It is real.
A welcome return to form for Martin Scorsese, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (4K Ultra HD + Digital Code, Paramount, R) is on fire in telling its wild ride, a real-life saga about a go-go Wall Street stockbroker whose nonchalant lawbreaking reps a now bygone era’s lack of oversight. The sheer exuberant callousness of this 2013 entry is shocking – and shockingly entertaining. 5 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Director, Actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Adapted Screenplay. “Wolf” memorably launched Margot Robbie’s career as she saunters on camera completely naked after a bubble bath. “Wolf” also marks a key progression in Matthew McConaughey’s film fortunes. Special Features: ‘The Wolf Pack,’ ‘Running Wild’ and a roundtable.
BROADWAY DARLING A modern high school musical about depression, bullying, lying and coming to terms with who you are, ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Code, Universal, PG-13) easily survives the transition from Broadway to big screen. Ben Platt won a Best Actor-Musical Tony as the titular 17-year-old character and recreates the role, a nervous kid with social anxiety. When a troubled student named Connor Murphy kills himself, Evan Hansen finds himself pretending to be the late Connor’s best friend. Instead of clearing up the sudden interest in him – and Connor – Evan continues to deceive. Until. Highlights are musical numbers by Amandla Stenberg who co-wrote her song and Julianne Moore, truly affecting as Evan’s mother. Bonus: A making of, ‘Songs to be Seen’ and ‘Sincerely Ben.
DISNEY VS APPLE? A brightly conceived comedy for kids and adults, ‘Ron’s Gone Wrong’ (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital Code, 20th Century Studios, PG) is about an Apple-style android — it resembles a big ball — marketed to kids as your ‘best friend out of the box.’ But socially awkward middle schooler Barney (voiced by ‘Luca’ star Jack Dylan Grazer) gets a slightly defective one which turns out to be the best thing that could happen to Barney (and to us). This defective bot is Ron (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) who has, happily, gone wrong in this satire on Big Business Marketed to Kids (which obviously includes the Mouse House) alongside the dangers and pressures of social media. Bonus: A Boy & His Bot, How Jack Met Zach, plus Making Ron Right.
ALTMAN & CHANDLER Some world-class filmmakers had years between pictures. Not Robert Altman, an astonishingly productive director from the late ‘60s until he died in 2006 at 81. Among the greatest America has ever seen, Altman’s best known, now classic movies include ‘M*A*S*H,’ ‘Nashville,’ ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller,’ ‘Gosford Park’ and ‘The Long Goodbye’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, R). Raymond Chandler’s 1953 detective story is the basis of Altman’s 1973 adaptation starring Elliott Gould as private investigator Philip Marlowe, a character like Bogart’s Sam Spade, that defines a certain American noir attitude. But Altman continually did the unexpected, from hiring Gould who hadn’t worked in 2 years due to his being considered ‘difficult,’ to compressing Chandler’s novel, his longest. When Dan Blocker, the ‘Bonanza’ Western star of the ‘60s, died before filming of ‘Goodbye’ began, Altman cast noir icon Sterling Hayden (‘The Godfather,’ ‘The Asphalt Jungle,’ Kubrick’s ‘The Killing’) who was reportedly so drunk when he filmed his key scene with Gould, the entire thing was ad-libbed (it’s considered a highlight of a great film). Special Features: A new 4K master, audio commentary, a featurette with Gould & Altman, another on the cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. ‘Goodbye’ had its fans but flopped amid mostly negative reviews when first released.
MIGHTY MEDIEVAL DUO Ridley Scott’s ‘The Last Duel’ (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital Code, 20th Century Studios, R) won critical praise but failed at the box-office this year. In 1952 it was a different story with another adventure in a medieval setting. ‘Ivanhoe’ (Blu-ray, WB Archive, Not Rated), adapted from Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 historical novel and teaming the two oh-so-photogenic superstar Taylors – Robert (‘Waterloo Bridge,’ ‘Quo Vadis’) and Elizabeth (‘Father of the Bride,’ ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris’) — was a big Technicolor hit. Set when knighthood was in flower and the Crusades were viewed romantically, Taylor’s chivalrous knight Wilfred of Ivanhoe is determined to restore Richard the Lionheart to England’s throne. Here damsels are in serious distress with Taylor’s Rebecca due to be burned at the stake. Costarring Joan Fontaine (‘Rebecca’) and that great cad George Sanders (‘All About Eve’), this ‘Ivanhoe’ is highlighted by a jousting tournament and the climactic siege of a castle. It’s Scott’s climactic duel in ‘Duel’ that has to be seen; it ranks among the best action scenes the British veteran’s ever done. Unlike ‘Ivanhoe,’ ‘Duel’ is based on an actual French case where a declaration of rape – made not by the woman (Jodie Comer) who has no standing but her husband, Matt Damon’s knight Jean de Carrouges – against Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), a favorite of the French Duke (Ben Affleck), means that ‘God decides the victor.’ Back then French law decreed, the duelist who lives is seen as telling the truth because God would not allow a sin to go unpunished. In this case, that means if Jean dies, his wife is immediately burned at the stake. After this case, that law was discarded. Hence, why this is ‘The Last Duel.’ Scripted by Damon, Affleck and Nicole Holofcener who wrote from the wife and victim’s point of view. ‘Duel’s 3 chapters, each tell the story from their point of view. Bonus: Making of.
SOVEREIGN QUARTET Who knew there was the Christian faith series, ‘God’s Not Dead 4-Movie Collection’ (DVD, Universal, all 4 PG)? Here are movies that illustrate the struggle of those who believe and have faith versus agnostics and non-believers. It began in 2014 with Kevin Sorbo (TV Hercules), Shane Harper and Dean Cain (TV Clark Kent-Superman). ‘God’s Not Dead’ has Harper as a Christian student debating his atheist professor (Sorbo). The film’s bad reviews didn’t matter – the picture, made for $2 million, grossed $62 million – and spawned the franchise. Bonus Features: Behind the scenes, deleted scenes, music videos.
MORTY & BEAVIS & RICK & BUTT-HEAD Two classic off-the-wall all-American comic gems here. Can it be? Is it really true? Is it now 25 years since ‘Beavis and Butt-head Do America’ (Blu-ray + Digital Code, Paramount, PG-13) made cultural waves that still roll our boats? The Mike Judge film is based on the MTV animated series with voices by Judge, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis (they were then married), Robert Stack (‘Airplane!’) and Cloris Leachman (‘Young Frankenstein’). Special Features: Judge and Vyette Kaplan’s commentary, a look at the scoring, MTV News celebrity shorts and ‘The Big Picture.’ The crazy scientist Rick and his grandson Morty continue their sci-fi adventures with ‘Rick and Morty: Season 5’ (Blu-ray + Digital Code, WB Adult Swim, Not Rated). With 10 new episodes and renewals for more, ‘Rick and Morty’ is destined for Adult Swim heaven. And this edition is: Uncensored! There are 10 ‘Inside the Episode’ features, an exploration of the show’s background and coloring processes, and an exclusive look into making S5.
AGELESS ROMANTICS Hal Ashby’s 1971 ‘Harold and Maude’ (Blu-ray, Paramount, PG) is now a cult favorite, a charmer about an oddball couple. But initially it divided both critics and audiences. Not until the early 1980s did the film’s re-evaluation begin. Today it’s included among America’s 100 Greatest Comedies. Bud Cort, usually cast as a weird guy like Altman’s ‘Brewster McCloud’ where he had wings and ‘flew,’ is death-obsessed teenager Harold who drives a hearse, visits cemeteries, stages ‘fake’ suicides. Ruth Gordon, an actress and writer since the early 1940s who had just won an Oscar for ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ is Maude, a 79-year-old eccentric and Holocaust survivor. As the 2 progress from friends to lovers, Maude instills a simple but essential lesson to Harold: Make the most of the time you have.
KILL GERRY KILL? Gerard Butler lives to fight again in the critically praised ‘Copshop’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Code, Universal, R) opposite everybody’s favorite tough guy Frank Grillo. The premise sounds elementary: A con man (Grillo) marked for a hit by professional assassin (Butler) schemes to get jailed, where he thinks he’ll be safe. Only Butler’s Bob Viddock has other ideas, namely that no one escapes from his deadly designs. So he gets in jail too. Fine? Not fine because yet another assassin arrives! Who, you wonder, might live?
DEFINITIVE CAGNEY James Cagney became a star playing vicious gangsters, particularly the 1931 ‘The Public Enemy.’ He continued to reap box-office gold with a run of bad guys at Warner Bros., his gritty home studio. But times changed, Prohibition had unleashed an industry – bootleg booze – that found ordinary Joes routinely breaking the law. When Prohibition ended in ’33, there came a counter movement with public outrage over the glamorization of killers and thugs. Cagney could still be tough but now he had to be on the side of the good guys. Before that transition happened, along came one his defining hits, the 1938 ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ (Blu-ray, WB Archive, Not Rated) where his gangster gets the electric chair. But before he took that last mile, he was urged by boyhood buddy turned priest Pat O’Brien to make an example to kids – and break down and cry, not be a tough guy when he faced Eternity. Several Special Features: Leonard Maltin hosts a 1938 movie night, there’s a commentary by film historian Dana Polan and a featurette on the film. Plus, audio only, the 2 stars’ radio broadcast version.
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