‘Downsizing’ collapses when it gets preachy

The latest Matt Damon misfire.


Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is a good man with kind intentions and ability, but he simply can’t reach his potential. One could say the same thing about Alexander Payne’s movie that houses Paul’s story, Downsizing.

Paul has the makings to be a doctor, but he settled on being a safety expert in a meat factory. He pushed aside his dreams in order to take care of his mother, and kept them stored permanently in order to provide for his wife (Kristen Wiig). Now, his wife wants a bigger home, and when the new wave of technology includes shrinking yourself to live in a controlled environment like a rich person, Paul takes the plunge. Let’s just say things don’t work out for Paul initially, but he keeps trying to make things right.

Downsizing suffers from a strong opening that simply doesn’t know how to progress. Payne’s ambitious premise is set up quite well in the invigorating first half of this film, showing us Paul’s sad state and the brave new world he is entering. When he lands in Leisureland and sees old friends like Dave Johnson (Jason Sudekis playing to his usual baffoon strengths) while meeting new ones like Dusan (Christoph Waltz, who gives the film much needed life), Paul is still an unhappy lug.

This tactic has worked well for Payne in the past, showing us a painfully unhappy man and turning him inside out, for better or worse. Downsizing is the third film in Payne’s “Sad Existential Man” series, following Election and Sideways. Unlike Matthew Broderick’ and Paul Giamatti’s characters, Paul just isn’t that interesting to care about what happens to him. Continue reading “‘Downsizing’ collapses when it gets preachy”

‘Suburbicon’ review: An absolute waste of time

George Clooney’s latest misses the mark

George Clooney, I’ve had better.

One would think that when an Oscar nominated director gets together with Oscar nominated writers along with Oscar nominated actors, the result would be a touchdown. Instead, Suburbicon is like the Beatles getting back together and playing a few songs from The Wiggles catalog.

The movie star’s latest directorial effort outfitted its cinematic engine with a script from the Coen Brothers and Matt Damon as the star-and the result is an absolute turd of a film. Think about a movie that is empty inside and offers you nothing, and this movie sits on that part of the movie map.

Suburbicon is about a peaceful small town in the 1960’s where everything is perfect and neighbors are like family, but something simply isn’t right. Damon’s Gardner is a businessman living with his wife and sister in law (both played by Julianne Moore) whose home gets invaded by burglars one night, and together with the arrival of an African American family, flips the peaceful town on its head.

Betrayal, deceit, and sudden violence follow. That’s it. This movie has nothing to say, because it wastes time on the wrong story. If Clooney had focused on the race war that overwhelmed so many cities back then, this movie could have been a timely bolt of energy. Instead, it’s another odd and erratic, and incomplete, mess from the Coen Brothers factory.

I hated this movie with a passion. When I left the theater, I felt like I was betrayed by good filmmakers with honest intentions. With a lineup this strong, wasting it on insurance fraud and poisoned milk feels like a bad audible.

To be honest, I’ve never loved Clooney in the director’s chair. While Good Night, and Good Luck was a triumph, The Ides of March and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind came off as disappointments. Suburbicon is just bad.

When Damon and Moore’s characters get into trouble in this movie, you don’t care what happens to them, because the story spent zero time building them up as legit dual-sided characters. You simply don’t care. Oscar Isaacs plays an insurance agent with about three scenes in the film and I cared more about his doomed character. I wanted to know more about every character in the film except the two leads. Isn’t that a bad thing?

I took my dad to see this film, and we’ve watched a lot of good movies together. Before we left, a preview of the film flashed a review that read, “perfectly twisted.” I wonder if that critic and I saw the same film, because Suburbicon was anything but perfect.

If the intentions were to make a dark thriller with some comedy, this missed the mark.

If there was a dialogue about trouble in the 50’s and 60’s and racial tension, this missed the mark, because not enough time was dedicated to it.

If the idea was create a film about how human beings can be monsters, go watch Mother! or Detroit instead.

Suburbicon says very little, doesn’t entertain, and is a waste of time. Skip it all together. Go to the park, watch paint dry, or play checkers all by yourself in a quiet room.

The dream team got together for a movie and in the end, the end result was a wreck.

The Martian: Powered by Matt Damon and a sense of humor

The Martian is the first film in 2015 that made me think, “I’d watch that again…like right now.”

The-Martian-2015The premise of The Martian is Matt Damon trying to survive on Mars but in reality, Mars couldn’t survive without Damon. He breathes fresh air into the survival genre and adds a new ingredient and it’s called humor and the signature placing of it in this movie.

Together with director Ridley Scott, Damon helps enliven Andy Weir’s groundbreaking novel about an astronaut stranded on the one planet you don’t want to get lost on. A place where nothing grows, lives or wants to exist. 50 million miles away, Damon’s Mark Watney has to somehow survive for years before a rescue mission can even be prepped. Like Castaway, the viewer will immediately put themselves in Watney’s shoes. Being one of the best botanists on the planet and Macgyver when it comes to figuring out thermodynamics, electronics and physics, can Watney survive? The movie isn’t unpredictable yet keeps you on your toes.

The greatest tool Scott and Damon swing here is using Weir’s wonderful slices of comedy and fish out of water theatrics to keep the proceedings light. There are parts of the novel that were left out due to the book being extremely detailed and thick, so I don’t blame the filmmakers for cutting corners here and there. No one wants to see a 20 minute exposition where Watney explains how he turned his own feces into usable soil to grow food and how he hooked this thing to that thing. It’s science, big budgets, big actors, directors and you gotta move! A three and a half hour film about a guy surviving on Mars isn’t going to work. This two hour and 22 minute cut is kinetic, quick on its feet and doesn’t slow down. Out of all the things left out, the humor and strangeness of Watney’s situation isn’t forgotten. It’s one of the best parts of the movie.

The goods also exist in seeing Watney figuring things out on the move and running into constant trouble. This is a geek experiment that even someone who hated chemistry and physics in high school found enthralling. Watney takes the viewer on all kinds of rides and you won’t forget it because it’s Matt Damon doing it.

For this role, Scott needed a special breed of actor. One who can engage and captivate at the same time and keep an audience hooked during one long expanded science experiment. Damon is perfect for the job because he wears the role like a spacesuit he has been fitted for. Nothing rings false or doesn’t seem right because of the actor. From the moment we see Damon wake up alone on Mars after the mission goes bad, we are connected to his every move. It’s his show and he dominates. This isn’t the kind of part someone else could have slipped into and tried to be good. This is full throttle transformation. Damon goes through a physical change as well and doesn’t skip a beat. He never forgets to keep things light and but shows the ability to instantly switch to a powerful moment.

The film hinges on Damon and his ability to transcend pages to the screen. He’s a marvel here, carrying the film on his shoulders and functioning as a balancing stick between wide eyed action and unexpected humor. This isn’t the first time people have went looking for Damon(Saving Private Ryan and Interstellar) but this is the first time the mission has actually involved some comedy and not just a pack of tissues. If it got too heavy, The Martian loses half its value.

The supporting cast is an elite group. All the roles fit the players like a glove. Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kristen Wiig especially fit their parts to a tee. Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Michael Pena and Donald Glover are also great. No one overplays the roles or underplays the script. Everyone is right where they need to be.

The soundtrack is full of fun hippy disco music(that will be explained in the movie). The running time feels like 45 minutes less due to the superb editing. Harry Gregson-Williams’ score doesn’t overpower or seem distant. It adjusts to the action at hand and is seamless. The technical achievements are superb, with the space action sequences packing a punch and the desolate pieces on Mars(aka Jordan) streaming well without being distracting.

Is this an Oscar caliber film? Yes. It fits the criteria of taking a best selling novel and bringing it to vivid life. Instead of being gloom bin like Gravity, this film combines different genres and is a feel good ride. The Martian is an original piece of work, bringing a fresh coat of paint to a genre that people have forgotten about or didn’t think could find coherence away from Earth. Damon is Oscar worthy because a good portion of the film is him talking to a webcam and dealing with the hardships of a chaotic planet. And no, he doesn’t have a volleyball or Tom Hanks to talk to. It’s all Damon and it’s a special kind of performance.

The Martian is a special kind of film. Powerful, funny and easy to connect with and be engaged by. A geeky feel good thrill ride that will leave you talking about it afterwards. It may force you to see it again. It is the first film in 2015 that truly made me leave the theater thinking, “Wow, I could watch that again right now.”