Watch the whole thing HERE!
Posts Tagged ‘Alexander Payne’
“Downsizing,” the new satire from “Sideways” director Alexander Payne, offers up a proposition that is almost too good to be true. His movie asks, What would you do if you could simultaneously help save the environment and improve your personal finances?
Set in the near future, overpopulation is the biggest issue facing the world. In Norway a team of scientists come up with an inventive, and just a little wacky, way to solve the problem, cellular reduction a.k.a. shrinking. It is, they say, the only safe and humane way to resolve the curse of overpopulation. “Life is unsustainable at this current mass and volume,” says Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård).
It’s a medical procedure known as downsizing whereby a person’s current mass and volume are shrunk by .0634%. They take up less space, produce less waste—four months of bathroom waste for a family of four takes up less than half of one garbage bag—eat less and generally are less a drain on the planet’s resources. The kicker? It’s cheaper to live. $83 is an average food budget for two months or could buy a matching conflict-free diamond bracelet, earring and necklace set.
When we meet Omaha couple Paul and Audrey Safranek (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig) they are at a financial crossroads. He wanted to be a surgeon but when his mom got sick he dropped out of pre med to take care of her. Now he works “in-house at Omaha steaks and “tweeting repetitive stress injuries. She wants to buy a new house but they can’t afford it.
Top realize Audrey’s dream of a new house and life, they decide to get small. The capper on the deal? Their equity of $150,000 translates into $12.5 million at the dollhouse-sized city called Leisureland Estates.
But what happens when one chickens out? “You’re upset!” says Paul. “You’re upset! I’m the one who is 5 inches tall!”
As Paul begins his new miniature solo life he meets his neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz), a Siberian wheeler-dealer who brings luxury items to the new small communities and Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau), a shrunken dissident from Vietnam, jailed for political and environmental activity, who smuggled herself into the United States in a television box.
Paul’s journey into smallville changes his life in more ways than he ever could have imagined. Damon plays Paul as an everyman, a good guy who massages his wife’s neck and gave up his dream to look after his mother. The enlightenment he (eventually) finds comes with the realization that Leisureland Estates isn’t a brave new world but a continuation of the world he left, complete with class struggles, race issues and poverty. “That’s the thing about becoming small,” says Dusan’s friend Konrad (a wonderful Udo Kier), “you become rich. Unless you were poor. Then you’re just a small.”
Downsizing, the procedure, not the movie, it turns out isn’t the answer to the world’s problems. Healing the world is simpler, more primal. It’s about building communities, looking after one another and learning to appreciate what we have.
At least that’s what I think it’s about. “Downsizing,” for all its ingenuity gets bogged down in its second half. The opening hour is inventive, like a light-hearted “Twilight Zone” episode. There are nice details—following the shrinking procedure the newly small adults are scooped up by nurses with spatulas and deposited on to tiny gurneys—and several belly laughs stemming from the situation. When the film halfway abandons the less-is-more concept—in a world where everything is miniature, the opportunity for the kind of sight gags that drew laughs in the first half disappear—it becomes slightly muddled. Is it a romance? Sort of. Is it social commentary? Yes, but about what exactly? The environment? (There’s even an allusion to Noah’s Ark.) Racism? Illegal immigration? They are all touched on but the film flits from one issue to another so quickly it’s like channel surfing between CNN and MSNBC every forty seconds or so.
“Downsizing” may bite off more than it can chew but its an indictment of how man has broken the environment isn’t all doom and gloom. With Paul’s new world, friends and outlook also come a hopeful gaze to the future. You may wonder about the appropriateness of the comic tone of Ngoc Lan’s broken English but will can never speculate on whether the film has its heart in the right place or not.
The script by Payne and Jim Taylor opens with a Norwegian scientist making a breakthrough he thinks will save humanity: a technique that can shrink people to 5 inches (12 centimeters) tall. That means they use a tiny fraction of the resources they once did — and need to pay less, allowing people of modest means to grow instantly rich by becoming small.
Read about it HERE!
Watch the whole thing HERE!
Watch the whole thing HERE!
1. 12 Years a Slave. There’s a key line near the beginning of “12 Years a Slave, “ the new drama from “Shame” director Steve McQueen. Shortly after being shanghaied from his comfortable life as a freeman into a life of slavery Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) declares, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” Based on Northup’s 1853 memoir the movie is an uncompromising story about will, suffering and injustice.
2. American Hustle. “American Hustle” is one of the year’s best. It’s an entertainingly audacious movie that will doubtless be compared to “The Wolf of Wall Street” because of the similarity in tone and themes, but this time around David O. Russell has almost out-Scorsese’d Scorsese.
3. Before Midnight. “Before Midnight” is beautifully real stuff that fully explores the doubts and regrets that characterize Jesse and Celine’s (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) love affair. Done with humor, heart and pathos, often in the same scene, it is a poignant farewell to two characters who grew up in front of us.
4. Blue Jasmine. Darker than most of Woody Allen’s recent output, “Blue Jasmine” doesn’t go for laughs—very often anyway—but is an astutely crafted psychological character study. Jasmine is a modern day Blanche Du Bois, a faded bright light now forced to depend on the kindness of strangers. Getting in her way are delusions of grandeur and a continued sense of denial—likely the same sense that kept her guilt free during the years the illegal cash was flowing—that eventually conspire to fracture her psyche. “There’s only so many traumas one can take,” she says, “ before you end up in the street, screaming.”
5. Captain Phillips. I don’t think it’s fair to charge audiences full price for screenings of “Captain Phillips.” While watching this exciting new Tom Hanks thriller I was reminded of the old Monster Trucks ads that bellowed, “You Pay for the Whole Seat but You’ll Only Need the Edge!”It a film about piracy and I don’t mean the sleazy guys who bootleg movies but the real pirates who were responsible for the first hijacking of an American cargo ship in two hundred years.
6. Dallas Buyer’s Club. In “Dallas Buyer’s Club” Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée has made an emotional drama that never stoops to melodrama. Instead it’s an inspirational film about standing up for what you believe in.
7. Frances Ha. The seventh film from “Greenberg” director Noah Baumbach isn’t so much a traditional narrative as it is a character study of Frances (Greta Gerwig), an underemployed dancer struggling to find herself in New York City. It plays like a cleaned up black-and-white version of “Girls”; an emotionally rich and funny portrait of twenty-something ennui. “Frances Ha” is a collection of details. There is an engaging story, but it’s not exactly laid out in three acts. It feels more intimate and raw than the usual twenty-ish crisis flick and with each detail we get another piece of the puzzle that makes up Frances’ life.
8. Fruitvale Station. It’s important to remember that “Fruitvale Station” isn’t a documentary. Director Ryan Coogler has shaped the movie for maximum heartrending effect, and by the time the devastating last half hour plays out it’s hard to imagine any other movie this year packing such a emotional wallop.
9. Gravity. “Gravity” isn’t an epic like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or an outright horror film like “Alien.” There are no monsters or face hugging ETs. It’s not even a movie about life or death. Instead it is a life-affirming movie about the will to survive.
10. Her. “Her” is an oddball story, but it’s not an oddball film. It is ripe with real human emotion and commentary on a generation’s reliance on technology at the cost of social interaction.
11. Inside Llewyn Davis. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a fictional look at the vibrant Greenwich Village folk scene. Imagine the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” come to life. Sharp-eyed folkies will note not-so-coincidental similarities between the people Llewyn meets and real-life types like Tom Paxton, Alert Grossman and Mary Travers, but this isn’t a history, it’s a feel. It gives us an under-the-covers look at struggles and naked ambition it takes to get noticed.
12. Nebraska. The humour doesn’t come in the set-up-punch-line format but arises out of the situations. A scene of Woody’s gathered family—his elderly brothers and grown sons—watching a football game redefines the word taciturn but the subject of the sparse conversation, a 1974 Buick, is bang on, hilarious and will likely sound familiar to anyone with a large family.
13. Wolf of Wall Street. “Wolf of Wall Street” makes for entertaining viewing, mostly because DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are able to ride the line between the outrageous comedy on display and the human drama that takes over the movie’s final minutes. Both are terrific, buoyed by the throbbing pulse of Scorsese’s camera. With its fourth wall breaking narration, scandalous set pieces and absurd antics “The Wolf of Wall Street” is an experience. At three hours it’s almost as excessive as Balfort’s $26,000 dinners. It feels a bit long, but like the spoiled brats it portrays, it will not, and cannot, be ignored.
TOP FIVE MISSES
TREND: Big stars don’t guarantee box office!
1. The Fifth Estate – Budget: $28 million, Global box office: $6 million, Return: 21% Late into “The Fifth Estate” Guardian investigative journalist Nick Davies (David Thewlis) says, “most good stories start at the beginning.” I argue that he’s right– about 99% of the time. Unfortunately this look at WikiLeaks and hacker-turned-whistleblower Julian Assange falls into the 1%.
2. Bullet to the Head – Budget: $25 million, Global box office: $9 million, Return: 36% With a name like Bullet to the Head you know the new Sylvester Stallone movie isn’t a romantic comedy. Although he paraphrases the most famous rom com line of all time, “You had be at BLEEP BLEEP!” the movie is nothing but an ode to testosterone.
3. Getaway – Budget: R180-million, Global box office: R105-million, Return: 58 percent. On a scale of zero to stupid, ”Getaway” ranks an eleven. It is what we call in the film criticism business a S.D.M. (Silly Damn Movie). OK, I made that last part up, but I couldn’t really think of any other category to place this movie under. Maybe E.S.D.M. (Extremely Silly Damn Movie).
Paranoia – Budget: $35 million, Global box office: $13.5 million, Return: 39%.
R.I.P.D. – Budget: $130 million, Global box office: $78 million
When we first meet Woody he’s walking to Lincoln, Nebraska from Billings, Montana. There’s erasable and then there’s Woody, a cantankerous man who thinks the “You may already be a winner” notification he received in the mail is a ticket to a fortune. But at the rate he’s going it will take him months, if not years to make the journey to claim his prize in person in a city two states away. “I’m going to Lincoln if it is the last thing I do,” he says.
After several failed attempts to hoof it to Lincoln, Woody’s son David (former “SNL” star Will Forte) offers to drive him. He knows the ticket is of no value but sees the trip as a way of spending some time with his father.
As father and son travel across flyover country, through landscape as weathered as Woody’s face, David pieces together fragments of his father’s life to form a fully developed picture of who the man he calls Dad really is. The trip is both physical and emotional.
“Nebraska” is a plain spoken but lyrical black-and-white film about a man grasping at a last chance for a legacy and a son who understands the ticket is worth more than money, it is the thing that gives Woody something to live for.
Sounds serious, and its ideas about how children interact with their aging, ill parents certainly have weight to them, but director Alexander “Sideways” Payne ensures the film is nimble and very funny in places.
The humour doesn’t come in the set-up-punch-line format but arises out of the situations. A scene of Woody’s gathered family—his elderly brothers and grown sons—watching a football game redefines the word taciturn but the subject of the sparse conversation, a 1974 Buick, is bang on, hilarious and will likely sound familiar to anyone with a large family.
Dern hits all the right notes, adopting the blank stare of a man overwhelmed by life for most of the movie. It’s a simple but effective performance in which Dern strips away almost all the artifice and presents a raw, unfiltered take on aging.
Dern shares virtually all his scenes with Will Forte. On the surface Forte’s casting is a strange choice. He’s best known as a comedian and while he has the odd funny line in “Nebraska,” he is primarily required to do much of the dramatic heavy lifting. It took me some time to divorce his most famous character, MacGruber, from what I was seeing on screen but soon enough his straightforward performance drew me in.
Supporting actors are carefully cast. Stacy Keach, who does a mean Elvis Karaoke, is suitably menacing as a former business partner who tries to cash in on Woody’s alleged new wealth and Tim Driscoll and Devin Ratray as thick-headed cousins Bart and Cole will make you long for the heyday of Beavis and Butthead.
Near the end of “Nebraska” there is one shot that sums up the reflective feel of the film. Peg (Angela McEwan), one of Woody’s ex-girlfriends, sees him in town for the first time in decades. They don’t speak, but the wistful look that blossoms across her rugged face perfectly visualizes the movie’s contemplative examination of a life lived.