Downsizing reviews

Mister Tee
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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sun Jan 07, 2018 1:19 am

Nebraska, which Alexander Payne didn't write, felt far more like a Payne film than this. The premise seems like it would be right up Payne's satirical/skeptical alley, but the film (surprisingly) comes off as far closer to sincere -- what might have been good jokes play too soft because of an over-earnest tone, especially in Matt Damon's character (who might be the least knowing protagonist of any in a Payne film to date). There are a fair number of interesting ideas being explored, especially in the first hour -- maybe because it's the time of life I'm at, but I felt like the film was subtextually getting at the coming retirement crisis: people facing their post-work years without the well-funded pensions their parents had. (Expanding $150 grand to $12 million sounded awfully appealing to me.) And the logistics of the shrinking procedure were interesting to watch, with some visually amusing moments. (Like shrink-ees being lifted on spatulas.) Up through dissolution of the marriage, I thought the film might get by on the strength of its ideas, even if it wasn't playing as funny as I'd hoped.

Slight digression: did anyone besides me feel the film had scenes missing in the middle? Damon was suddenly living in an apartment building, where before he'd had a mansion. I guess that was a result of the divorce settlement? -- anyway, I felt like we needed to see that spelled out. (I could even imagine a comical scene: Wiig's lawyers arguing the only way to make the division of property equitable would be for her to get 99.7% of the money, since she was that much bigger than Damon.) I guess the film might have been considered too long as it was, and they opted to save time here, but I was thrown by the narrative gap.

Anyway, then we got to the second half of the movie, or, maybe better, the second (and maybe later third) movie. This section has a different storyline/emphasis that, as BJ says, barely uses the fact of Damon's reduced size at all. This part isn't bad on its own, but 1) it left me wanting more elements of that smallness to be explored and 2) this secobnd act is mostly indifferent plot-wise -- no more nifty premises or details. It's redeemed basically by Hong Chau's firecracker of a character. I have to say, I don't get people's issues with her performance. I see nothing in the film that makes any kind of joke of Chau's ethnicity -- her bossiness, sure, but not her race. It strikes me any discomfort people feel seems to stem from the fact she speaks broken English -- which, in my experience, is simply a fact of life for many immigrants. (If anything's unrealistic and even offensive, it's sitcom immigrant characters, who seem to show up with near-perfect English and way too extensive acquaintance with American idioms.) Chau is a mostly wonderfully-drawn character, who communicates well despite her groping in a language not her native one. She gets the film's best-written speech -- the "what kind of fuck" number -- and whams it home beautifully. You can argue the film violates her character's toughness by making her fall for Damon, but, even there, she (and Damon) play the moment beautifully -- the "I'm going to bed"/"I should work on your wrist"/"Okay, come to my room" was a believably coy, we-re-saying-more-than-we're-saying pas de deux. I'd be all for her making it onto the nominations list -- certainly ahead of Mary J. Blige. We'll see if the film's commercial disappointment kills her chances.

All in all, probably Payne's least successful film, and doomed to get lost during this pretty exciting cinematic season. But far from a waste of time, and something that, six months from now, might even stand out as one of the more worthy things to look at despite its shortfalls.

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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby flipp525 » Sat Jan 06, 2018 7:20 pm

The Laura Dern cameo took me by complete surprise. It was like she was doing a The Price is Right skit on Saturday Night Live.

I do love her so I’m always happy to see her pop up. Her career seems to be in a wonderful, extended second chapter at the moment.

Hong Chau would be a very worthy nomination for this. Her character is unexpectedly humane and quite lovely. As has been pointed out, her performance is the best thing about this movie.
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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby OscarGuy » Sat Dec 30, 2017 9:55 am

What works in the film's favor is that for years, we have underestimated Alexander Payne's popularity with Academy voters. Who really thought Nebraska would claim as many nominations as it did? He's long surprised us and I think that means more people will see it, which is why Chau has shown up so consistently.

I liked it for the most part, though the first half is awkwardly slow. It picks up around the time Chau shows up on screen and gains much of its energy and traction from that point forward. It's a far more compelling film at that point. Had it been a bit more forthcoming with the foreshadowing, I think it might have had a lot more impact than it ultimately did. Waltz's accent both fascinated and annoyed me.

I had forgotten to check the cast list after I watched the film and thanks to Precious, I finally realized why Konrad (Udo Kier) seemed so familiar.

I almost wish we had more time with Jason Sudeikis' and James Van Der Beek's characters. They ultimately felt too ephemeral and, as Precious said, too much like a cheap, useless plot device. Kristen Wiig was atrocious.
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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby Precious Doll » Sat Dec 30, 2017 4:48 am

Alexander Payne is without a doubt one of the best filmmakers to emerge in the last 20 years and though Downsizing never hits the heights of his previous films it still has much to offer.

I can't think of any other fictional film, though set in the near-future with a very contemporary feel, that has tackled the issues around climate change as well as this one does, though it is in a rather superficial manner. I do wonder if some of the hostility towards the film has to do with this very subject matter. Though the eyes of a climate change sceptic Downsizing could prove an endurance test.

What made it fall short of all of Payne's previous work where that in all of his films great detail has been given to many of the minor characters. It this film, most of the actors float though it as nothing more than plot devices, including our leading man. This is not Damon's fault but the nature of his character but he is not the most interesting figure to take the audience on this journey. Also Payne has specialised in small human pieces and this film has such a large scope and in some respects he loses some of the qualities because of this.

Only Hong Chau & the ever reliable Udo Kier inject the film with any real spark. Kier could teach the overblown Waltz a thing or two about subtlely and Chau gives the film are real purpose, more so than that any of the other characters who have 'downsized'. She is the moral centre of the film and thank goodness for her because I have to admit the second half of the film (she does not appear until about an hour into the running time) works largely due to her presence.

I don't see any nominations for the film and and I think Chau will struggle to make the final five (regretfully). How many voters are actually going to even watch it in a very competitive year?

Still, a lesser Payne film, and far from a bad or mediocre one at that, is better than lots of other filmmakers have ever come up with for much of the careers.
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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby Big Magilla » Thu Oct 19, 2017 1:26 pm

Sabin wrote:
Mister Tee wrote
I have to say, despite my frequent enthusiasm for Payne's work, I doubted this one, figuring by law of averages alone he was due to come a cropper. If he gets film/director nods, it'll be his fourth consecutive time -- that'd be a record, yes?

William Wyler almost did it, but fell victim to his own prolific output. He directed Wuthering Heights, The Letter, Little Foxes, and Mrs. Miniver to Picture and Director nominations but just HAD to make The Westerner in 1940 as well. Refresh my memory: was it possible in those days to receive more than one nomination for Best Director?

A better argument for Wyler would be to include 1937 and 1938 Best Picture nominees Dead End and Jezebel, which would have given him 7 consecutive nominations from 1936 through 1942.
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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Thu Oct 19, 2017 12:17 pm

Downsizing is a movie with an A+ premise, and for about the first 45 minutes, I was convinced that Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor were going to spin out this idea in increasingly inventive directions, because they set up the world of their story so well, with such great comic imagination in those early scenes. I was reminded of the buzz I felt at the beginning of Eternal Sunshine, laughing at the details of this reality (the oversize Saltine cracker, the way the nurses scoop up the newly downsized people with spatulas) while also finding a pleasing strain of melancholy beneath it (when full-size Damon and Wiig take off their wedding rings, knowing they'll never wear them again, you can feel the weight of the life-changing decision they're about to make). And the movie has a great first act plot turn that made me fascinated to see where the story was headed, and how it would wrestle with all of the emotional and social issues it had set up so far.

But I think the movie's second half is a bit of a let down. I generally feel like one should critique the movie the filmmakers made, as opposed to your own idea of the movie they should have made, but even keeping that in mind, I think it's fair to express disappointment at the way the movie basically forgets its own premise about half way through. It would seem to me that the purpose of telling a story like this would be to explore what life is like for downsized people in a world where the vast majority have NOT downsized. And while there are compelling ideas raised intermittently that tie into this idea (an early conversation about whether or not little people should have full voting rights, the fact that people can be downsized against their will), the second half of the movie doesn't seem that different from one that could have taken place in the full-size world. (Honestly, I'm flabbergasted that at no point does the physical danger of being a little person, at greater risk from the elements, animals, or larger human beings, play a significant part in the narrative).

This flaw is only exacerbated by the fact that the movie's characters just aren't very compelling. Damon's protagonist, especially, is essentially a lost sad-sack, and I can't say I found this character engaging enough to hang a whole movie on. Every moment Christoph Waltz appears on screen is completely insufferable -- is there a more consistently godawful actor with multiple Oscars? And Hong Chau's character -- a comic one-legged Vietnamese woman speaking in pidgin English -- is the kind of broad creation that is understandably making some critics uncomfortable. And her relationship with Damon doesn't remotely feel like anything grounded in reality. (That said, I think the actress commits to the part completely, and shows a good bit of range here -- there's humanity beneath the more shticky elements of the performance, and she manages to bring the character some dignity in a manner that even works against the script's tendency to treat her as a punchline.)

The movie is not without its ambitious ideas -- white privilege, health care, economic inequality, global warming, and the danger of cults pop up as serious strains beneath the movie's comedic surface. But for me, I kept feeling like they were tied to a story that just wasn't going in a direction I found that interesting, leading me to find the movie more like a first draft of a great idea than something that had been explored to its fullest potential.
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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby Sabin » Wed Aug 30, 2017 2:00 pm

Mister Tee wrote
So, in my mind, Wyler holds the record, and Payne can only tie hm. Of course, any director who ties William Wyler for an Oscar record has nothing to feel ashamed about.

Yes, but The Westerner could have been nominated for Best Picture and it wasn't. I think that might rule against him a bit. If anything, that means Francis Ford Coppola is the closest for his 1970s output.

The current record is three, held by Bob Fosse, David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese, David Lean, William Wyler, and George Stevens.

A quick search reveals that Frank Capra came VERY close with nominations for Mr. Smith Goes to Wasington ('39), You Cant Take It With You ('38), and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town ('36) and in 1937 he had Lost Horizon with nominations for Picture and six other nominations.
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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Aug 30, 2017 12:36 pm

Sabin wrote:
Mister Tee wrote
I have to say, despite my frequent enthusiasm for Payne's work, I doubted this one, figuring by law of averages alone he was due to come a cropper. If he gets film/director nods, it'll be his fourth consecutive time -- that'd be a record, yes?

William Wyler almost did it, but fell victim to his own prolific output. He directed Wuthering Heights, The Letter, Little Foxes, and Mrs. Miniver to Picture and Director nominations but just HAD to make The Westerner in 1940 as well. Refresh my memory: was it possible in those days to receive more than one nomination for Best Director?

No: the one-man, one-nomination-per-year rule was implemented in 1939 (pretty clearly in response to the Michael Curtiz double in 1938). Not sure when it was reversed -- sometime after 1974, when Coppola was only eligible once, but prior to Soderberg's coup in 2000.

So, in my mind, Wyler holds the record, and Payne can only tie hm. Of course, any director who ties William Wyler for an Oscar record has nothing to feel ashamed about.

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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby Sabin » Wed Aug 30, 2017 12:21 pm

Mister Tee wrote
I have to say, despite my frequent enthusiasm for Payne's work, I doubted this one, figuring by law of averages alone he was due to come a cropper. If he gets film/director nods, it'll be his fourth consecutive time -- that'd be a record, yes?

William Wyler almost did it, but fell victim to his own prolific output. He directed Wuthering Heights, The Letter, Little Foxes, and Mrs. Miniver to Picture and Director nominations but just HAD to make The Westerner in 1940 as well. Refresh my memory: was it possible in those days to receive more than one nomination for Best Director?
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Aug 30, 2017 11:27 am

Sonic Youth wrote:Seems to be following the usual trajectory. Rave reviews from the "legit" critics? Check! Next comes the online pans, the generational gap discussions, the numerous end-of-year critics awards, the $30-50 million box office, the 5-7 Academy Award nominations, until it finally all comes down to the Screenplay award.


...specifically, winning or barely losing best picture from the LA critics. They can't get enough of him.

Can anyone think of another case, in the Internet era, of such a gap between the feelings/expectations of (generally) younger bloggers and mainstream critics? Maybe Nolan, in the opposite direction, but, even there, he doesn't evoke the outright hostility Payne has in some quarters from Sideways on.

I have to say, despite my frequent enthusiasm for Payne's work, I doubted this one, figuring by law of averages alone he was due to come a cropper. If he gets film/director nods, it'll be his fourth consecutive time -- that'd be a record, yes?

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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby Sabin » Wed Aug 30, 2017 11:13 am

Didn't understand why there were doubts. Whether we like it or not, it was silly to bet against it before it was seen.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Aug 30, 2017 8:09 am

Another rave from San Brooks of The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/a ... tival-2017
"I have no interest in all of that. I find that all tabloid stupidity" Woody Allen, The Guardian, 2014, in response to his adopted daughter's allegations.

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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Aug 30, 2017 7:34 am

At one time I read that Reese Witherspoon was going to star in this. She seems to have been replaced by Kristin Wiig (so wonderful in Bridesmaids - and one note in everything I've endured her in). Such a shame. I'm sure under Payne's direction I'll be forced to eat my words when I do see the film.
"I have no interest in all of that. I find that all tabloid stupidity" Woody Allen, The Guardian, 2014, in response to his adopted daughter's allegations.

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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby Sonic Youth » Wed Aug 30, 2017 6:32 am

Seems to be following the usual trajectory. Rave reviews from the "legit" critics? Check! Next comes the online pans, the generational gap discussions, the numerous end-of-year critics awards, the $30-50 million box office, the 5-7 Academy Award nominations, until it finally all comes down to the Screenplay award.
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Re: Downsizing reviews

Postby OscarGuy » Wed Aug 30, 2017 6:25 am

The reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated?
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