Downsizing


Kristen Wiig and Matt Damon have no idea how small-minded people can be.

(2017) Science Fiction (Paramount) Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Rolf Lassgård, Ingjerd Egeberg, Udo Kier, Søren Pilmark, Jayne Houdyshell, Jason Sudeikis, Maribeth Monroe, Phil Reeves, James Van Der Beek, Alison J. Palmer, Tim Driscoll, Kristen Thomson, Kevin Patrick Kunkel, Patrick Gallagher, Linda H. Anderson. Directed by Alexander Payne

 

This is an example of a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Alexander Payne is one of the finest filmmakers on the planet but I suppose even the best have off-projects. This is his.

In Downsizing, scientists looking at Earth’s environmental challenges of climate change and limited resources come up with a solution – smaller people. Norwegian scientists Dr. Asbjørnsen (Lassgård) and Dr. Jacobsen (Pilmark) make a startling breakthrough – a machine that can shrink people to about five inches tall. A colony is founded in Norway by Dr. Asbjørnsen and his wife (Egeberg) and leads to colonies for the downsized as the folks who have been shrunk are called.

There are some incentives to do that. Because their need for resources is less, their wealth is stretched much further. Someone who has $30,000 in savings can be a millionaire. Financially strapped couple Paul (Damon) and Audrey (Wiig) Safranek decide to take the plunge but at the last moment Audrey changes her mind, leaving Paul five inches tall and about to be divorced. Audrey gets half of everything in the settlement which means that Paul can’t live in the palatial mansion he’d purchased but has to move to an upscale condo while working as a phone salesman for Land’s End.

One of his neighbors is Dusan Mirkovic (Waltz) who is everything that Paul isn’t; outgoing, a bon vivant, adventurous and a risk taker. Dusan makes income on the black market, supplying luxury items like cigars and champagne for the various Downsized developments. Through Dusan Paul meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Chau), a Vietnamese activist whose political activities got her forcibly shrunk and a leg removed. She is walking around on a poorly constructed prosthetic that causes her to limp and is likely to cause some damage to her hips in years to come. Paul at first offers to help her get fitted for a better prosthetic but quickly finds the woman abrasive and pushy. He also finds that she has a generous soul that is all about helping those around her. Paul realizes that he has found a calling for himself, something he’d always missed as a normal-sized guy – but events in the larger world are putting all of his plans for his future into turmoil.

The first part of the movie seems to be a comedy and that’s how the movie was marketed but it really isn’t that. The movie seems to be an environmental call to arms but it isn’t that either. This simply put smacks of studio interference but the trouble is I’m not sure which part of the movie Payne is responsible for. The two sides certainly don’t integrate well.

That’s a shame because there are things to admire in both sides of the film. There are some very salient thoughts that this film forces the viewer to think about; there are also some genuinely funny moments. There was a chance to give the viewer a sense of wonder, seeing the world from a different perspective but Payne didn’t seize the opportunity and so basically the perspective is just the same as it would be from a normal perspective.

There are also terrible lapses in logic; the world of the very small isn’t well thought-out. The Norwegian colony should have had issues with insects and other pests; nope. We see butterflies from time to time but what about bees, wasps, mosquitoes, house flies? Not to mention beetles, bugs and spiders. It rains a lot of the time in Leisure World. Wouldn’t the rain drops seem bigger to people who are smaller? They look like regular rain though.

I also had trouble with the Ngoc Tran character. You can accuse me of cultural insensitivity if you like, but she is so pushy, so aggressive and so demanding that I can’t for the life of me figure out why someone as white bread as Paul would fall in love with her. It doesn’t make sense and the relationship is central to the movie.

I really wanted to like this movie and it had everything going for it; a terrific cast, a great concept and one of the best directors in the world. It just doesn’t work at all for me and has to be one of the biggest disappointments of 2017.

REASONS TO GO: The movie does have some thought-provoking moments. At least Payne doesn’t do what you expect him to in terms of where the plot goes.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie loses cohesion in the second half and nearly falls apart. There are too many lapses in logic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, some sexual references, graphic nudity and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The production crew used an actual Omaha Steaks plant for filming and employees were used as extras in the scenes filmed there.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/9/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews: Metacritic: 63/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Secret World of Arrietty
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Permission

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New Releases for the Week of December 22, 2017


JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

(Columbia) Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Rhys Darby, Bobby Cannavale, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Missi Pyle.  Directed by Jake Kasdan

A group of four bored teenagers discover an old video console and while fooling around with it are somehow transported into the game’s jungle setting, becoming the avatars they chose. They discover their strengths and weaknesses (don’t give Fridge any cake) and must work together if they are to survive the game and make it home. Based on the Robin Williams classic movie Jumanji.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: PG-13 (for adventure action, suggestive content and some language)

All the Money in the World

(Tri-Star) Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction; in the 70s, the heir to a billion-dollar oil fortune was kidnapped and held for ransom. His grandfather, the richest man on Earth, refused to pay it despite having his grandson’s ear sliced off as proof the kidnappers meant business, leaving his mom to rescue her boy on her own. Also stranger than fiction, disgraced actor Kevin Spacey was originally cast as oil baron J. Paul Getty. After being accused of sexual misconduct and only weeks before the release date, director Ridley Scott decided to erase Spacey from the film and digitally insert Christopher Plummer instead. Like I said, stranger than fiction.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release (opens Monday)

Rating: R (for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content)

Darkest Hour

(Focus) Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James. Early in World War II, the United Kingdom must replace their Prime Minister with a compromise candidate that nobody really wanted; Winston Churchill. He is given a nation to lead on the brink of complete military collapse; their army is trapped in Dunkirk and their navy and air force have taken a pounding. Somehow this unpopular Prime Minister must summon the will to lead his country through the darkest hour in their history.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material)

Downsizing

(Paramount) Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis. A middle class couple makes the decision that a new shrinking technique will make their lives better. When the wife backs out at the last moment, the husband is left to begin a new life in a new world and rediscovers wonder and purpose.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use)

Father Figures

(Warner Brothers) Owen Wilson, Ed Helms, Glenn Close, J.K. Simmons. Two twin brothers discover that their father, whom they were told was dead, was in fact possibly very much alive – but their mother wasn’t sure which man out of several possibilities their actual dad is. They decide to go on a road trip to find out for certain.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language and sexual references throughout)

The Greatest Showman

(20th Century Fox) Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya. The story of the legendary P.T. Barnum whose circus and museum of oddities became known as the Greatest Show on Earth is set to music from the team that gave us La La Land.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including a brawl)

Molly’s Game

(STX) Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera. Here is the incredible but true story of former Olympic-class skier Molly Bloom who following her athletic career ran a high-stakes poker game that made her an FBI target when it turned out some very dangerous Russian Mafia types were part of her clientele. Remember the whole truth is stranger than fiction thing?

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village (opens Monday)

Rating: R (for language, drug content and some violence)

Pitch Perfect 3

(Universal) Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp. The publicity is touting that this is the final chapter in the Glee-rip-off series. We can only pray they’re not lying.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, language and some action)

The Shape of Water

(Fox Searchlight) Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins. In a secret laboratory in the 1960s, a mute janitor discovers that the scientists are experimenting on a strange aquatic creature they took from the Amazon. She is determined to stop their cruel experiments on the creature when she discovers that not only is the being intelligent but an emotional attachment is developing between them. This film led all movies this year in total Golden Globe nominations with seven.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater, Wide Release

Rating: R (for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language)

Tiger Zinda Hai

(Yash Raj) Katrina Kaif, Salman Khan, Anupriya Goenka, Paresh Rawal. Superspies Tiger and Zoya are pressed back into service eight years later when India is threatened by a potential despot. This is the sequel to the massive Indian hit Ek the Tiger.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Spy Action
Now Playing: AMC Universal Cineplex, AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Crooked House
Hello!
Kaleidoscope
MCA – Middle Class Abbay

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Call Me by Your Name
Hello!
MCA – Middle Class Abbay
The Trace We Leave Behind

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Hello!
MCA – Middle Class Abbay
Velaikkaran

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Hello!
MCA – Middle Class Abbay

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

All the Money in the World
Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour
Downsizing
Father Figures
The Greatest Showman
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Molly’s Game
The Shape of Water

Poltergeist (2015)


A show of hands.

A show of hands.

(2015) Supernatural Horror (20th Century Fox/MGM) Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Kyle Catlett, Saxon Sharbino, Jared Harris, Jane Adams, Susan Heyward, Nicholas Braun, Karen Ivany, Patrick Garrow, Doug MacLeod, Eve Crawford, L.A. Lopes, Soma Bhatia, John Stoneham Jr., Kathryn Greenwood, Molly Kidder. Directed by Gil Kenan

Remaking a movie is a tricky thing, especially when it comes to horror movies. The trick is to stay true to the original material while making it fresh and original enough that fans of the original feel like they’re seeing something new as opposed to a shot-by-shot rip-off. Add to the mix that it is an iconic film like the 1982 haunted house classic Poltergeist, which was originally directed by Tobe (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) Hooper and produced and co-written by Steven Spielberg and you’ve got yourself a tall order.

Taller still because most of your target audience will have seen the original except for maybe a few disdainful Millennials who don’t watch “old” movies, and yet it is that crowd who may enjoy this movie the most as they will see it without the baggage that the rest of us take into the multiplex with us. It is hard not to compare the movie to its source material, and yet it is at the same time somewhat unfair until you remember that the filmmakers knew what they were getting themselves into.

Many of the original elements remain; a modern family in a modern suburban home (in this case, in Illinois) that has a bit of a history, beset by paranormal activity of increasing malevolence. A little girl disappears and can be heard from the television set. Paranormal researchers who are blown away by the level of phenomena they witness. A psychic who may well be the only hope to get the little girl back.

Gil Kenan was a pretty odd choice to direct this; he has mostly directed family-oriented fare like the Oscar-nominated Monster House and the kid-centric fantasy City of Ember. The original Poltergeist had kids in it of course, but the focus was on the parents, Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams. Kenan chooses to make the middle child, Griffin (Catlett) the focus and to enhance his character with all sorts of neuroses and anxieties. The kid needs some Valium, or at least some therapy which his mother actually vocalizes at one point. Having a kid who jumps at every bump in the night in a house that is haunted by angry spirits seems a little cruel.

Rockwell and DeWitt, who play the parents, are underwritten compared to their two youngest, Catlett and Clements (the Heather O’Rourke of this movie). There are tantalizing bits of business; DeWitt’s character is a writer working on a book, but we never see her even attempting to write. Rockwell’s character has been laid off from John Deere and at one point there’s an indication that he has a drinking problem, but that’s never explored. They seem to be good parents and decent people but we don’t really get to know them very much.

Rockwell in many ways carries the movie; he’s a rock-solid actor who can be as likable as anyone in Hollywood, although he tends to portray characters with a collection of tics and quirks that are largely absent here. In the one scene that he and DeWitt get to show some intimacy (before kiddus interruptus, something every parent is familiar with) they display genuine chemistry together but for the most part they are reduced to reacting to one scare or another. DeWitt is likewise a terrific actress who is in my opinion somewhat underrated. Once again, she doesn’t really get to show what she can do in a role that is more cliche than character.

Harris and Adams play the psychic and the paranormal researcher respectively and unlike the original they have a past. Harris in particularly with his Irish accent is entertaining, which considering he has to fill the late Zelda Rubenstein’s shoes is a considerable achievement. Mostly, though, they – like the parents – are second bananas to the kids and the CGI.

There are some decent enough scares here, a few of them telegraphed by the trailer but they don’t come close to living up to the original. See, I’m doing it too – and everyone involved had to know that there was no way in figurative and literal Hell that this was going to live up to the original, right? Which begs the question; why remake this at all?

I’m not saying that there isn’t a way that a remake of Poltergeist couldn’t be a terrific film on its own merits or even live up to the original, but this one flatly doesn’t. The pacing is weak, the scares aren’t as scary and it simply isn’t a thrill ride like the first one was. There are certainly some things that are worthwhile about the film; they modernize it nicely although I suspect that will date the movie somewhat in years to come. Some of the CGI effects are nifty. The adult cast is solid; I sympathize with Rockwell, Harris, Adams and DeWitt who give it a good college try, but making a family friendly film out of a horror classic which seems to be what the studio and the filmmakers were shooting for is a half-baked idea at best. This is one movie that should have been one of those Cedar Point roller coasters that turn you upside down and backwards and dropped us down insane hills and into dark tunnels; instead, we got a kiddie coaster.

REASONS TO GO: Sam Rockwell is solid. Some good scares.
REASONS TO STAY: Haunted by the original. Relies too much on Clements and Catlett.
FAMILY VALUES: A bunch of frightening images and scary moments, some foul language and a sexually suggestive scene.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Harris and Adams previously starred together in the 1998 indie film Happiness.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/6/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 32% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Insidious
FINAL RATING; 6/10
NEXT: Lawless