• Wendy Shreve


Updated: Dec 31, 2021

Nowadays, nothing is easy. Thus, filmmakers have decided that audiences want to see films that reflect uneasiness. From a satirist's viewpoint of today's climate impotency among politicians and corporate honchos to two women of color navigating 1920s racism in very different ways to a bitter, angry cowboy whose attempt to suppress his sexual urges results in tragic consequences, three movies now streaming on Netflix--Don't Look Up (2021), Passing (2021) and The Power of the Dog (2021) --illustrate life's grind.

Don't Look Up, comprising an all-star cast headlined by Leonard DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep, centers on two astrophysicists' discovery that a comet is heading toward Earth. The resistance they meet as they attempt to sway those in power to take action has satirical undertones reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove (1964) --with varying degrees of success. Either way, it's a metaphor for the impending climate change tumult still met with deaf ears. Writer/Director Adam McKay (The Big Short) and his Co-writer David Sirota (based on his story) have much to say but does anyone want to hear it?

Passing takes a more intimate view of social injustice experienced differently by one light-skinned woman who hides her mixed-race identity, even with her husband, and another who has remained in Harlem married to a doctor. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, equally powerful in their portrayals, play childhood friends that reconnect years later. Their decision to resume their companionship has consequences. Beautifully filmed in black&white, kudos to Cinematographer Edu Grau and Director Rebecca Hall, the story, faithful to the titular novel by Nella Larsen, the sexual tension between the two women nonetheless stays unexplored.

The Power of the Dog's Phil Burbank, a cowboy during the early 1900s, channels his suppressed sexuality in his ruthlessness toward his new sister-in-law and her effeminate son. Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee give brilliant performances in this grim story. Much has been discussed about the film's ending, as it should be for most viewers will be compelled to see the movie at least twice to deduce the covert/convoluted twist. Director Jane Campion (Bright Star; The Piano) helms this dark Western.

Each of the above questions societal norms as relevant today as they were/could be when the movies are set. Suffice it to say neither film has the box-office draw to warrant long theater runs, hence their more than sudden appearance on Netflix, but that doesn't lessen the movies' impact. Arguably, in general, audiences long to escape the problems implicitly or explicitly explored in these dramas. Not unusual, as history has shown Americans have flocked to escapist stories to forget their burdened lives. There's room in the cinematic universe for both, nonetheless.

Don't Look Up and The Power of the Dog are rated R. Passing is rated PG-13. Some of these films are also available concurrently at select theaters. Locals check theater listings.

Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on or my previous blog site,

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