Richard speaks to “CTV News at Six” anchor Andria Case about television and movies to watch this weekend, including the screen adaptation of “Hamilton,” the semi-biographical “Shirley,” starring Elisabeth Moss and “American Woman,” a new take on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.
Richard and CP24 anchor Leena Latafat have a look at the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the much anticipated small screen version of the big Broadway hit “Hamilton,” the semi-fictional psychological drama of “Shirley” and “American Woman,” loosely based on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.
Richard sits in on the CTV NewsChannel with host Todd Van Der Heyden to have a look at the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the small screen version of the big Broadway hit “Hamilton,” the semi-fictional psychological drama of “Shirley” and “American Woman,” loosely based on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.
Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with host Bill Carroll to talk the new movies coming to VOD and streaming services including the Disney+ presentation of “Hamilton,” the most popular musicals of recent years, the psychological drama of “Shirley” and the crime thrillers “American Woman” and “Strange But True.”
“American Woman,” the first feature directed by “Mad Men” producer and writer Semi Chellas, is a fictionalized version of real events. A series of title cards set the stage. The year is 1975. “After multiple investigations, the President of the United States has been forced to resign.” “America’s disastrous involvement in the war in Vietnam is finally coming to an end.” “Some radicals still believe a revolution is necessary.”
Amid this time of political turmoil is Jenny Shimada (Hong Chau), a bomb maker who once blew up a draft board office. On the run, she is hiding out in upstate New York, working as a house keeper for a rich, conservative woman (Ellen Burstyn). She comes out of her semi-retirement when a publisher and old colleague-in-the-cause contacts her with a new mission. He wants her to look after three fugitive Symbionese Liberation Army members, Juan (John Gallagher), his wife Yvonne (Lola Kirke), and Pauline (Sarah Gadon), the kidnapped daughter of a newspaper magnate, as they write a book about their experiences. “You can’t just sit around waiting to die or be caught,” she tells them. “You have to start writing. Write the book, make the money. It’s the only way you’ll survive underground.” Jenny’s reward? Enough cash to leave the country.
The basics of the story are borrowed from the well documented kidnapping and radicalization, of American heiress Patty Hearst. Pauline is an obvious surrogate for Hearst while Jenny is a fictionalized version of Wendy Yoshimura, the woman who was with Patty Hearst when she was apprehended.
The names have been changed and some of the details, but this sharply written story isn’t a history lesson. It’s a study of people who have chosen a radical path in life. It showcases Jaun’s ideological rantings but also wonders aloud if Pauline truly converted to the cause or was simply trying to survive. “I don’t want to be an outlaw,” she says. “Outlaws always die at the end of the story.”
Add in themes on toxic masculinity—Juan may be a free thinker but his behavior toward women is anything but enlightened—sexuality, class, gender and race and you have film big on ideas while leaving the action scenes for other movies.
“American Woman” is a movie that values words. Some may find the storytelling a bit too low key for such an explosive subject, but the performances, particularly Chau, give the story layers. Chellas, who wrote the script in addition to directing, uses the main characters, Jenny and Pauline, as conduits to help us understand a complicated and slow-simmer story of survival.
“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.
Richard hosted the TIFF press conference for “Downsizing” with director Alexander Payne, stars Matt Damon, Hong Chau, Christoph Waltz, screenwriter Jim Taylor and producer Mark Johnson.
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.