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What Was The Last Movie You Watched?

Harp

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The Narrow Margin from 1952 with Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor and Jacqueline White


"Let's cut out any of the boring set-up or filler stuff and just go for broke with a taut seventy-one-minute story pitting the good guys versus the bad guys on a claustrophobic train speeding cross country. We'll strip a noir story down to its fundamental parts and film only that." One assumes director Richard Fleischer said something similar to this before creating The Narrow Margin, his outstanding austere noir.

He started with an ostensibly simple story about a couple of detectives escorting the widow of a mob boss on a train trip from Chicago to Los Angeles. There, she is scheduled to be a material witness naming names at a high-profile crime-syndicate trial. But Fleischer also packed a romance, an internal affairs investigation and a morality tale inside his story.

Right out of the shoot, when two detectives show up at a seedy Chicago tenement to take custody of the witness, one is shot dead, forcing the other one to scramble to get his witness to the train safely.

The mob throws everything it has at stopping them as several gangsters board the train with more positioned along the route. Additional mob members stalk the Los Angeles-bound train by car.

In a period version of today's cellphone communication, the mob and the police make extensive use of telegrams, sent to and from stations where the train stops. The frequent display of telegram copy on screen in The Narrow Margin foreshadows how, fifty-plus-years later, modern TV and movies regularly display text messages to advance the plot.

On the train, detective Charles McGraw (a Lawrence Tierney doppelganger) uses every trick he can - shifting his charge from room to room, feints and, when necessary, force and gunfire - trying to keep the government's material witness from harm.

That material witness, the widow of the mob boss, Marie Windsor, doesn't make it easy as her arrantly selfish attitude - (paraphrasing) "It's your job to keep me safe, so figure it out and, no, I don't care that your partner was killed protecting me" (okay then) - makes her unsympathetic: but what a performance by Windsor.

Angry because his partner was just killed and because of Windsor's cold arrogance, McGraw pauses a moment when a smooth mob boss offers him a huge bribe to look the other way so that the mob can do what it wants to do. It's a small but poignant morality tale moment.

Windsor's been so brutal, you would have almost understood if he took it, but he doesn't. That's good for McGraw, as (spoiler alert) he is being surveilled as part of an internal affairs investigation that plays on in the background of this surprisingly layered story.

After the bribe attempt, it's more claustrophobic-train cat-and-mouse games, while at the same time, McGraw befriends a woman traveling with her son and nanny.

Their flirtation quickly turns into an affair, despite McGraw not having the time - sometimes you have to take it on the run. This seemingly unimportant vignette will be tied into the main narrative in a surprising way right at the end. The Narrow Margin is well-crafted.

A few near missed attempts on McGraw's and Windsor's lives follow as the mob amps up its efforts with more thugs using more guns and more violence. McGraw starts to fatigue trying, all by himself, to hold back wave after wave of attack.

The climax, like the train and story, speeds by quickly. After a big twist is revealed, several loose ends and story threads (more than you realize were in play) are neatly tied together. The Narrow Margin has its flaws, but it's a darn good seventy-one minutes of noir boiled down to its essentials.

Never ever saw this. Seems a Chicago Union Station=Los Angeles modern 3.10 to Yuma and stacked
chock full with condiment like a Wrigley Field hot dog hawked outside ball park down the street,
where a dog can be properly leashed. None of the simple sqiggle yellow mustard plot liner, this train
is loaded down: lotza lead, ladies, laid backin'. And I ain't a gona buy this stew. Too, waytoo much
ingredients spoil the film for me.

Excellent insightful analysis however. :)
 
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Never ever saw this. Seems a Chicago Union Station=Los Angeles modern 3.10 to Yuma and stacked
chock full with condiment like a Wrigley Field hot dog hawked outside ball park down the street,
where a dog can be properly leashed. None of the simple sqiggle yellow mustard plot liner, this train
is loaded down: lotza lead, ladies, laid backin'. And I ain't a gona buy this stew. Too, waytoo much
ingredients spoil the film for me.

Excellent insightful analysis however. :)

I always try with "spoiler alerts" to save the movie for first time viewers. Sorry if they didn't work this time. I truly left a lot out though just for that reason.
 

Harp

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I always try with "spoiler alerts" to save the movie for first time viewers. Sorry if they didn't work this time. I truly left a lot out though just for that reason.

Long story Readers Digest condensed version: once pulled bodyguard detail for a USO troupe comprised
Playboy playmates and Penthouse pets, so any train escort flick consequently gets filtered by experience;
and I absolutely positively know how difficult it is to -euphemistically- get to first base much less score
a home run on a moving train, restaurant, airliner, Quonset hut, PX, mess hall.
Several hits, foul. So it ain't even ever-never gonna happen.
 
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Never ever saw this. Seems a Chicago Union Station=Los Angeles modern 3.10 to Yuma...
It's been a while, but I've seen both movies and that's not a bad comparison. For me The Narrow Margin was a little more effective because the majority of the story takes place on a train--not many places to hide, and the tighter spaces make nearly every scene feel somewhat claustrophobic. 3:10, on the other hand, is largely a group of men taking a rather leisurely (though hostile) ride through the American desert on horseback.
 

Harp

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It's been a while, but I've seen both movies and that's not a bad comparison. For me The Narrow Margin was a little more effective because the majority of the story takes place on a train--not many places to hide, and the tighter spaces make nearly every scene feel somewhat claustrophobic...

A tad less complicated plot with Mac and Marie Windsor perhaps. Perhaps not. As I facetiously remarked
earlier travel and female security do not lend toward romance. And the plot itself crams this train like
it might as well be a sardine can. A couple of directorial snips and a somewhat more plausible story line
between teacher and pupil might have resulted but the soup is thick as is, and all other ingredients
damage and detract-at least for me. Worth a look but starters-Windsor looks hot-she's the spice
even if she isn't very nice. :confused::oops:o_O
 
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Twelve O'Clock High from 1949 with Gregory Peck, Dean Jagger, Gary Merrill, Millard Mitchell and Hugh Marlowe


Twelve O'Clock High is one of my favorite WWII movies. It's not rah-rah, nor anti-war, but almost objective in its look at the toll war takes on the men who fight it and the men who command the men who fight it.

Set in the early days of WWII, when the US military was still "figuring out" daylight aerial bombing, the movie is framed as a flashback of a former bomber group's adjunct now walking over a deserted and overgrown airfield. After that intro, we see the same field active in WWII with crews returning mentally and physically exhausted from their latast bombing run.

Their commander, Colonel Gary Merrill, supportive and compassionate, is beloved by his men, but his group is less-efficient than the other bomber groups as it puts fewer planes in the air, loses more men and machines and completes a smaller number of successful missions.

Headquarters sends General Gregory Peck down to figure out what is going on, which he comes to believe is Merrill "overidentifying" with his men. This, big picture, means they and he are all feeling sorry for themselves and putting compassion ahead of their duty to complete their missions.

Peck takes over and immediately institutes a policy of strict discipline where he outright tells the men to consider themselves already dead so they should just do their job with pride and stop worrying about anything else.

He, effectively and with the support of his commanding general, is trying to get "maximum effort" out of each man. The commanding General and Peck admit it's not something you can really define or know ahead of time, so Peck's imputed mission is to push each man right up to the edge.

It's a shock-treatment approach that has some truth to it - a belief that discipline and pride will turn the group around - and some fudging as Peck cares as deeply as Merrill did about his men, but Peck knows he can't lead these men with compassion and sympathy out front.

It's that nuance and balance that makes Twelve O'Clock High an outstanding movie. The answer isn't simple or absolute. After Peck whips the squadron back into shape by restoring its pride, he, perforce and per human nature, begins to get closer to his men.

The men wouldn't be effective long term being commanded by a disciplined automaton and Peck himself couldn't keep it up and maintain his humanity. As the depredations of constant battle take their toll on the men, they also take their toll on Peck.

(Spoiler alert) After watching many of the young, dedicated airmen he sent into battle get killed or gravely injured (Peck himself often pilots a plane in the squadron; he's no "behind the lines" general), Peck snaps. He "freezes up" getting into his plane on a bombing run and spends the next several hours all but comatose as the mission goes on without him. Peck has found his personal "maximum effort."

The story alone, the story of the difficult balance of leading men into deadly battle day after day, is what makes Twelve O'Clock High one of the most thoughtful war movies ever made. But equally moving is the acting of all its leads - Peck, Jagger, Merrill, Mitchell, Marlow and others - who engage the viewer on a personal level from the opening to the closing credits.

You, like Merrill and Peck, "identify" with the men and their commanders. Twelve O'Clock High is that rare movie where you often forget you're watching a fictional story on a screen and find yourself in a B-24 over Germany, in an infirmary talking with wounded men you've come to care deeply about or at headquarters making the difficult decisions to send those men up day after day. Twelve O'Clock High's subtle and insightful look at war and the men who fight it elevates it to the top of its genre.
 

Harp

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Enigmatic to a fault, a consistent cipher throughout the film, and leaving residual riddle in wake
of psychologic collapse Brigadier General Frank Savage casts conjecture in all directions.
A favorite film despite its hellish reality, Peck's portrayal of the conflicted commander set a diamond
jewel in his film career crown, and Twelve O'Clock High set and remains a standard Hollywood
seldom matches.
 
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The Cockeyed Miracle from 1946 with Frank Morgan, Keenan Wynn, Cecil Kellaway and Gladys Cooper


The Cockyed Miracle is a silly and fun entry in the "a person dies but doesn't leave earth until he completes some unfinished business" movie genre.

Frank Morgan plays a nice husband and father living in a New England fishing village, but he, unfortunately, is a failure at business. When he dies suddenly, he leaves his wife and adult son and daughter bereft of funds as his last investment is tied up in a land deal that might or might not work out.

An added twist is Morgan's "escort" to heaven is his father, Keenan Wynn, who died at thirty six, so he looks younger than his son (apparently, for eternity, you are the age you die in the metaphysics of this movie). Wynn wants to shepherd Morgan right to heaven, but Morgan keeps delaying as he wants to, somehow, improve his earthly family's finances before leaving.

Wynn was no more of a financial success in his earthly days than his son, so these two spend the movie enjoyably needling each other about their financial losses and failure to provide for their families. It's all done in a lighthearted manner as The Cockeyed Miracle is about charm and whimsy.

For the most part, it works mainly because Frank Morgan is an likable actor in his sweet spot in this role as the bubbling but big-hearted father just trying to help his family before he heads off to heaven.

The final wrinkle is Morgan's best friend and co-investor, Cecil Kellaway, who plays an old rapscallion as good as anyone. After Morgan dies, the land deal pays off, which should leave Morgan's family set for life once Kellaway turns over Morgan's half to his widow. But now that Morgan is dead, nobody other than Kellaway knows Morgan made the investment - hmm.

It's hardly a spoiler alert to say it all works out after one more enjoyable turnabout as this movie has "happy ending" stamped on it from the first scene. It's just fun to see Frank Morgan, who will always be the Wizard of Oz, carry an entire movie with his charm and good nature.
 

Edward

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The latest Matrix movie. Resurrections or whatever it's called. I wanted to like it but they should have left it un-resurrected. Disappointing. I'm not going to do a point by point critique, there's enough of that elsewhere.

Neil Patrick Harris was a surprise to me, great job, but he couldn't save this trainwreck.

I liked the first Matrix well enough (though I never bought into the notion that it was All That the way many seemed to). It was sort of ruined a bit for me by the dismal sequels which followed. I have heard since that the plan always was to do a trilogy, but my viewing experience was very much one of seeing sequels made not because there was any more story to tell but because the first one was a big money spinner - as is all too often the case. I've been wondering whether this one would be more of the same, or one of those redux sequels that pretended the not so good previous sequels didn't exist. Not one I'd pay for the cinema on. Most films released of late I wouldn't have bothered with in the cinema, which is something of a plus as we don't yet feel safe in such enclosed spaces with no covid-measures.

We did recently, and unusually, pay for a download of the Birds of Prey Harley Quinn picture, after missing it in the cinema and then waiting out two years for it to come to streaming. I've noticed through Covid that an awful lot of pictures that were in our cinemas not long before the pandemic have not filtered through to "included with Prime" yet, mainly still in the "pay us more!" phase. I suppose inevitable with the loss of cinema revenue. I'm not so much a fan of the idea of paying cinema money to watch it on my own television, though. Far from the same experience, but I suppose eventually we'll not have any other choice if the cinema business does disappear. Anythehow, BOP is a great film, very much enjoyed the development of Harley's character especially, building on what we saw in Suicide Squad. I'm now looking forward to seeing The Suicide Squad when it comes down in price.

Really want to see the new Ghostbusters; I was disappointed in the emphasis on involving kids in the trailer - usually introducing kid protagonists to a franchise is a bad sign (Hello, Blues Brothers II: a child dressed up like a rude boy is not a substitute for John Belushi!). Enough good reports coming through trusted sources though that that may not be a problem here. I'm glad that - although it will inevitable be regarded as such - they didn't bow to some of the more unpleasant reactions to the 2016 redux by officially titling it Ghostbusters III as if pretending the 2016 outing didn't happen.

Last week I watched a film on Netflix called The Coldest War. It's a noir-type yarn in which a drunken professor, and former international chess whiz, is effective kidnapped by US secret services, ostensibly to represent the US in a chess match against the Soviets after the US competitor dies in suspicious circumstances, but there's loads of espionage and such going on in the background. It's all set in 1962, and the fictional plot here is intertwined with the actual events of the Cuban missile crisis - implying in large part that these events were what, behind the scenes, emboldened Kennedy to face down the Soviets. I'm sure it doesn't stand up to much analysis on that front, but it's entertaining nonetheless.

The Ghosts of Borely Rectory (2020) is a British film about paranormal investigator Harry Price's study of Borely Rectory, reputedly the most haunted building in England until it was destroyed by a fire in 1939 and pulled down in 1944. A fun enough piece of Hammer Horror style hokum, though plagued by its low budget and some directorial choices. A demonic form is rendered much less frightening than intended by looking like rubber prosthetics (a different lighting choice would have helped there). The film is set in the mid 30s, but a lot of the costume details are off - Harry Price, for instance, in wearing browline spectacles, which weren't invented by Shuron in the US until 1947, and never as common over here as in the US. There are also three characters wearing matching, round spectacle the lenses of which are far too big for the period, and which are otherwise of a very modern design. Wardrobe overall is just a little off - obvious machine knits, and such; whole thing has a bit of an am-dram feel to it. To be fair, a lot of this is stuff that would be absolutely fine on stage, but close-up camera work can be brutal. Beyond those drawbacks it's fun enough as a hokey yarn, but anyone looking for a retelling of the Borley Rectory story would do well to seek out instead Borley Rectory from 2011, starring Reece Shearsmith of the League of Gentlemen fame.
 
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The Graduate from 1967 with Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross


The Graduate pulls off the difficult balance of being both a very sad and very funny movie. A high-achieving Ivy league student, Dustin Hoffman, comes home to his West Coast upper-middle-class family after graduation. They want to celebrate his success, but he's having some sort of elite-kid crisis of confidence where he's decided nothing means anything.

Tossing herself in front of this disaffected youth is Mrs. Robinson, played by Anne Bancroft, one of Hoffman's parents' best friends and the wife of his father's business partner. Through a haze of cigarette smoke, this deeply sun-tanned cougar cum MILF, rocking a heck of a forty-year-old body, offers herself up sexually to Hoffman.

Even discontented Hoffman, as any normal twenty-year old would, loses his cool when a prurient forty-year old family friend he's known since he was a child comes on to him.

Hoffman's initially befuddle amazement, mixed with fear and titillation, prompts one of movie history's funniest and most-famous lines, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me."

She was and, following much more hilarious Hoffman bumbling, including his awkward efforts at getting a room at the upscale Taft Hotel, she does. After that, many more "meetings" at the Taft ensue.

All is going well from there for a bit, if having sex with a married friend of your parents can ever really go well, until Bancroft's college-age daughter, Katharine Ross, returns from Berkley. Bancroft's clueless-at-this-point husband pushes Hoffman to ask her out.

Bancroft, frighteningly in control until now, becomes even more frightening when she loses her cool and forbids Hoffman from seeing her daughter, which of course, drives him right to her. After one of the oddest first dates ever - Hoffman tries to sabotage the effort by taking sheltered Ross to a burlesque show - these two kids fall for each other.

There's nothing more beautiful than a young boy and girl in love, unless the boy's been banging the girl's mother. When that tidbit comes out, as one can imagine, all hell breaks loose with daughter Ross being quickly shipped back to Berkeley.

But Hoffman, who until now, has found no purpose in life, makes marrying Ross his purpose. After more misdirection, yelling and angst, (spoiler alert), Hoffman "steals" Ross out of the church on her wedding day. He effectively breaks up a quickly arranged-by-her-parents marriage to a "nice" (read anyone but Hoffman) boy.

As these two kids "escape" from the church, a step ahead of her pursuing parents, the true-love-wins-out narrative is undermined by Hoffman's and Ross' looks of "what the heck did we just do" confusion and, maybe, remorse. Like the entire movie, its humor is wrapped inside a deep despondency.

The Graduate, based on a 1963 book by Charles Webb, hit theaters in 1967 as the perfect kickoff to the late-sixties counterculture movement. An upper-middle-class kid, an early Baby Boomer, rebels against his parents' "bourgeois values" for no specific reason other than he doesn't like those values, he thinks.

By the 1980s, most of these rebellious kids were building middle-class careers of their own, taking on mortgages and having kids, but for five or so years, starting in the late 1960s, they rocked the foundations of American culture with their amorphous, albeit spirited, rebellion.

Yet none of that makes The Graduate a classic. It's Hoffman's surprised, diffident response to the incredible moment when he realizes what Mrs Robinson wants that makes it forever memorable. Plus, being raised a good boy, even when they are sleeping together, he still calls her "Mrs. Robinson."


N.B. #1 Mrs. Robinson, who did seduce Ben, later accuses Ben of raping her to create a cover story for her husband and daughter. Maybe this accusation wasn't as meaningful at the time, but today, when that charge alone can ruin a young man's life, we see Mrs. Robinson as a cruel and vindictive woman. For modern audiences, this takes some of the fun frisson right out of the movie.

N.B. #2 The college kids' clothes, hairstyles and even attitudes here are literally at the pivot from early sixties Ivy cool to late-sixties hippie flower power. The Graduate is an amazing time capsule that captures this incredibly quick cultural shift.

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Doctor Strange

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Please don't forget to mention that it's also Mike Nichols' brilliant direction that makes the picture work, and it was just his second film.

Also Buck Henry's input on the script. (Henry also gets to deliver one of the film's funniest lines, as the hotel desk clerk who asks Benjamin, "Are you here for an affair, sir?")

And of course, it's worth pointing out that when the film was shot, "graduate" Dustin Hoffman was 30 and "older woman" Anne Bancroft was 36!

Oh, and please, not every kid "rebelled" in the sixties OR turned into a money-focused yuppie a decade later. That's a dangerously simplistic view of the far more varied Boomer generation.
 

Edward

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As these two kids "escape" from the church, a step ahead of her pursuing parents, the true-love-wins-out narrative is undermined by Hoffman's and Ross' looks of "what the heck did we just do" confusion and, maybe, remorse. Like the entire movie, its humor is wrapped inside a deep despondency.

I read somewhere just last year that this was unscripted: originally, the directions were to end on a laugh, but the director kept the camera rolling longer, and then loved the effect so much that it stayed. I recall first watching the film when I was nineteen and finding the ending somewhat unsettling. Could they have any genuine future together? Could somebody ever really get over the fact that their partner had previously had a sexual relationship with a family member? The relationships didn't overlap as I recall, but it's still..... icky.

N.B. #1 Mrs. Robinson, who did seduce Ben, later accuses Ben of raping her to create a cover story for her husband and daughter. Maybe this accusation wasn't as meaningful at the time, but today, when that charge alone can ruin a young man's life, we see Mrs. Robinson as a cruel and vindictive woman. For modern audiences, this takes some of the fun frisson right out of the movie.

It's certainly interesting to see how perceptions of sexual agency and consent change over time being reflected in cinema; another way, perhaps, in which the film is very much a time capsule.
 

Harp

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It's certainly interesting to see how perceptions of sexual agency and consent change over time being reflected in
cinema; another way, perhaps, in which the film is very much a time capsule.

I recall my mother and our next-door neighbor housewife went together to see The Graduate.
My teenage crushes were all on older ladies, several of which were friends of my mom, such as our
neighbor next door. Liked the flick because Anne B made my blood boil. As far as Hoffman-a poor little
rich boy born silver spoon in hand and another spoon shoved up his ass-never cared for. Overrated.
Heard Redford turned it down.
 

Edward

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Hard to imagine Redford in the role... Hoffman really caught the requisite naivity perfectly. If they were casting the role nowadays, a Spiderman era Tobey Maguire would be perfect.
 

Harp

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Hard to imagine Redford in the role... Hoffman really caught the requisite naivity perfectly. If they were casting the role nowadays, a Spiderman era Tobey Maguire would be perfect.

Redford lacks a certain credibility. Cited a disclaim virginity baccalaureate receipt; perhaps he didn't
measure himself capable of what Mrs Robinson's foil required. His cinematic canon looks easy,
nothing really demanding. Like Tom Cruise, simply playing himself.

Dorothy Parker's infamous Katherine Hepburn strike: ' a range of A to B.'
 
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Hard to imagine Redford in the role... Hoffman really caught the requisite naivity perfectly. If they were casting the role nowadays, a Spiderman era Tobey Maguire would be perfect.

What Hoffman brought to the role that, through no fault of his own, Redford couldn't is the surprise of an average-looking guy being propositioned for sex from a hot older woman. We all know a guy that looks like Redford has had plenty of women offer themselves up to him, but for Hoffman, it's like he just won the lottery and can't believe it.
 

Harp

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What Hoffman brought to the role that, through no fault of his own, Redford couldn't is the surprise of an average-looking guy being propositioned for sex from a hot older woman. We all know a guy that looks like Redford has had plenty of women offer themselves up to him, but for Hoffman, it's like he just won the lottery and can't believe it.

Redford himself wryly admitted that his supposed rep is more fantasy than factual. The naive virgin
twenty-one or twenty-two newly minted college grad facing life, perplexed, would require some chops.
Redford coasted without cost. Like Cruise, a featherweight whose bouts were given careful choice.
Sounds cruel to bluntly say it. But there it is.
 

Doctor Strange

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Netflix's all star cast, hit flick Don't Look Up.

I'm not really a fan of Adam McKay's films (e.g., The Big Short), they generally have tone issues that rub me the wrong way, and Don't Look Up is no exception. It wants to be a rollicking comedy, a SF disaster film, a pointed social commentary, and several other things that just don't fit well together.

The plot is straight out of Deep Impact and Armageddon: astronomers (Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio) discover a large comet that will impact the earth in six months. The difference here is, it's today rather than the nineties, and there's no saintly Morgan Freeman-ish president to lead.

The fractous country/world simply can't pull together in an enormous crisis (sound familiar?) A large part of the media/social media/political sphere just rejects the science - even when the comet is visible to the naked eye, their rallying cry is "Don't Look Up", and it's believed by millions. The Trump-like president (Meryl Streep) is only concerned with optics and won't deal with the crisis seriously until very late. And when one of her biggest donors, a Steven Jobs- or Elon Musk-like smartphone billionaire (an unrecognizable Mark Rylance), says that his phalanx of drone ships can do the job better than the brought-back-into-service Space Shuttle to deliver the nukes to break the comet apart, the shuttle mission is scrubbed immediately after liftoff. And how the media (exemplified by a duplicitous anchorwoman played by Cate Blanchett) handles the situation throughout (as entertainment or opinion rather than news) is also disastrous.

You can probably guess that it all doesn't end well. But it brings me back to wondering what the heck we're supposed to take away from this weird film. We don't need fiction to tell us how messed up the present world is... do we?
 
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