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‘Downsizing’ Review: Matt Damon Gets Small In A Smart, Funny & Human Movie With Big Ideas

There is no smarter director of wry and human comedy than Alexander Payne, whose filmogr..

There is no smarter director of wry and human comedy than Alexander Payne, whose filmography includes gems like Election, Nebraska, About Schmidt and Oscar-winning scripts like Sideways and The Descendants. As I say in my video review above, his latest, Downsizing, fits right in but also might be his most ambitious movie yet — certainly it is technically.

In the vein of such great cinematic satirists as Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges, Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor have come up with a gem of a premise that had me at hello. It basically asks the question: If you could miniaturize yourself to 5 inches tall in return for an economically easy life of luxury, and help the world’s overpopulation and climate problems at the same time, would you do it? Payne takes the premise to ingenious levels but also to surprising places that add an element of seriousness to the proceedings while still staying aware that this is being played for thinking man’s laughs.

At the beginning of the film, a Norwegian doctor (Rolf Lassgard) announces a stunning medical breakthrough that allows human beings to be miniaturized to 5 inches, a big plus in the fight against the world’s population explosion. It is something sweeping the world with many people signing on, but it is all voluntary, not government-mandated. This essentially creates a separate group of humans versus the rest of us. The temptations are real in a world where it is hard to maintain a standard of living.

Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek, an Everyman in the vein of something Jack Lemmon or Jimmy Stewart might have played in an earlier era. An old high school classmate (Jason Sudeikis) turns up at their high school reunion with his wife, now touting the benefits of the procedure — both 5 inches tall and living in a dream suburban development called Leisureland. Money problems are all the stuff of yesterday, and fine living is what those who make the transition are in for. Paul and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to go for it and submit themselves to the process, which takes place in a sterile white-walled factory where downsized humans are turned out on an assembly line. It is slyly and wittily conceived, and these scenes provide some of the movie’s biggest laughs without ever being condescending or going for the obvious jokes (well, maybe the giant Saltine cracker gag was just too much to resist).

Without going into spoiler territory, I will say that Paul’s plan goes a little awry and that leads to life changes neither he — nor the audience — could ever have anticipated. Eventually he hooks up with aging European playboys Dusan and Joris, played hilariously by Christoph Waltz and Udo Kier. These cigar-smoking party boys are loving the life of the downsized but also ironically hold a key to Paul’s fate, as does a Vietnamese refugee named Ngoc who sports a prosthetic leg below the knee (Hong Chau plays this one-of-a kind character in a way you will not forget, stealing every scene she’s in). Hong joins Paul in Norway, where nothing less that the fate of the planet is in peril. Is this suddenly a comedy about the apocalypse? You think you know exactly where this movie is going when suddenly it takes a poignant left turn.

Payne has cast this film perfectly with Damon an ideal fit as Paul, and Wiig nicely underplaying her comic predicament. Waltz shows a real knack for comic timing, as does Hong Chau who has already won Golden Globe and SAG nominations for the role. Sudeikis is amusing in his brief moments, while Neil Patrick Harris also turns up as the guy selling the delights of Leisureworld much like a carnival barker might. Lassgard, so great in last year’s Swedish Foreign Language Oscar nominee A Man Called Ove, has some nice moments as the Norwegian doctor who stuns the world. There should also be special shout-outs to the superb visual effects work, production design by Stefania Cella, and a whimsical score from Rolfe Kent. Producers are Mark Johnson, Jim Burke, Megan Ellison, Payne and Taylor. Paramount releases it Friday.

Payne does it again bringing the planet a very small comedy with big ideas that matter.

Do you plan to see Downsizing? Let us know what you think.

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‘Antebellum’ has a ‘Get Out’ vibe, but doesn’t live up to its twist

“Antebellum” is built around a provocative twist, and it’s a good one — as well as one that definite..

“Antebellum” is built around a provocative twist, and it’s a good one — as well as one that definitely shouldn’t be spoiled even a little. Once that revelation is absorbed, however, the movie becomes less distinctive and inspired, reflecting an attempt to tap into the zeitgeist that made “Get Out” a breakthrough, without the same ability to pay off the premise.

Originally destined for a theatrical run, the movie hits digital platforms trumpeting a “Get Out” pedigree in its marketing campaign, since there’s an overlap among the producing teams.

More directly, the film marks the directing debut of Gerard Bush + Christopher Renz, who have championed social-justice issues through their advertising work. The opening script features a quote from author William Faulkner, whose intent will eventually become clearer: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

If that sounds like a timely means of drawing a line from the horrors of slavery to the racism of today, you’ve come to the right place.

The story begins on a plantation, where the brutal overseers carry out grisly punishments against those tilling the fields. A few have just tried to escape, led by Veronica (Janelle Monae), and they pay a heavy price for their resistance, which does nothing to curb her defiance.

Also written by Bush + Renz, the script take too long before revealing what makes “Antebellum” different, but the middle portion — a “The Twilight Zone”-like phase when it’s hard to be sure exactly what’s going on — is actually the film’s strongest. (Even the trailer arguably gives away too much, so the less one knows, the better.)

The final stretch, by contrast, veers into more familiar thriller territory, and feels especially rushed toward the end, leaving behind a host of nagging, unanswered questions. That provides food for thought, but it’s also what separates the movie from something like “Get Out,” which deftly fleshed out its horror underpinnings.

Although the filmmakers (in a taped message) expressed disappointment that the movie wasn’t making its debut in theaters, in a strange way, the on-demand format somewhat works in its favor. In the press notes, Bush says the goal was “to force the audience to look at the real-life horror of racism through the lens of film horror. We’re landing in the middle of the very conversations that we hoped ‘Antebellum’ would spur.”

“Antebellum” should add to that discussion, so mission accomplished on that level. Monae is also quite good in her first leading film role (she did previously star in the series “Homecoming’s” second season), but otherwise, most of the characters remain underdeveloped.

In a theater, the tendency with a movie so dependent on a central mystery might be to become antsy. At home, “Antebellum” is worth seeing, not only because of what it has to say about America’s past and present, but as a reminder of the often yawning gap between an intriguing idea and a fully realized film.

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‘Chemical Hearts’ director Richard Tanne on the film’s ‘bittersweet’ ending and what he hopes fans take away from the movie

“Chemical Hearts” director Richard Tanne spoke to Insider about the film’s “bittersweet” ending and ..

“Chemical Hearts” director Richard Tanne spoke to Insider about the film’s “bittersweet” ending and what he hopes fans take away from it.

“I think it’s gonna disappoint some people, and maybe all people on a certain level, ” the 35-year-old filmmaker told us. “It’s bittersweet. But that’s OK.”

The film, based on Krystal Sutherland’s 2016 book “Our Chemical Hearts” and now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, centers on 17-year-old high school senior Henry Page (Austin Abrams), who finds himself drawn to a mysterious and secretive new transfer student named Grace Town (Lili Reinhart).

“Chemical Hearts” is told from Henry’s perspective, chronicling his first heartbreak after he falls in love with the person he thinks Grace is.

Tanne, who wrote the screenplay, said that he was impressed by how the story goes ‘a little bit deeper than your average teen romance’

“I loved how it embraced the dark side of being young, the pain and the grief and the loss, the idea of crossing the threshold from being an adolescent to an adult for the first time,” he told us.

By the end of the movie, Henry learns about Grace’s tragic past. On their last day of senior year, the characters don’t end up together. Instead, they prepare to explore different futures, with Henry heading off to a school for writing and Grace taking a year off to continue therapy.

Even though fans might be disappointed by the love interests splitting, Tanne said that ‘not everything has to be escapist’

“Sometimes, younger people watching movies don’t know that it’s OK to have unhappy endings because they’re fed a steady stream, a steady diet of escapist happily ever after movies,” he told us. “And that’s OK.”

He added: “There’s a place for those, I’m not knocking them. But I just wanted to make something that didn’t talk down to the younger audience. I wanted to make something that either meets them at their level or asks them to reach a little bit higher or dig a little bit deeper.”

Tanne said that having to confront that ‘bittersweet ending’ could also be useful to viewers

The director described the conclusion as bittersweet because “there’s hope at the end, maybe not for their relationship, but for other aspects of their lives.”

“Maybe it will be helpful for young people to see that and walk away with the same sting that Henry has, but to know that it’s going to be OK, to know that Henry will be OK,” he said.

Abrams, who was 22 when he filmed the movie, told Insider that hopefully, audiences will empathize with Henry.

“I think in terms of I supposed how he’s navigating relationships, I feel like hopefully at least anyone can relate to that,” he said.

Abrams told Insider that Henry and Grace’s relationship status at the end speaks to the film’s realistic nature

Abrams shared similar sentiments as Tanne, telling us that they tried to “portray the characters as honestly as possible,” which ties in to the conclusion.

“I think there are some people that meet one person and that’s who they’re with for the rest of their lives, who actually are Henry’s parents in the movie,” the 23-year-old actor told us.

“But then there are other people, and I think it’s probably a larger number, that are going to be in multiple relationships and some of them, a lot of them aren’t going to go well. I hope that that’s an aspect of the movie that people are able to relate to.”

Abrams added that he’s “perfectly fine” letting fans decide for themselves what their main takeaways are from “Chemical Hearts.”

“I hope that maybe they take away things that I didn’t even think of, because everyone’s different and at a different point in their life and hopefully will be able to relate to it in different ways.”

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Julia Sawalha furious after being told she is ‘too old’

Julia Sawalha has said she has been “plucked, stuffed and roasted” after being told that she would n..

Julia Sawalha has said she has been “plucked, stuffed and roasted” after being told that she would not be cast in the forthcoming sequel to the hit Aardman Animation film Chicken Run as her voice sounded “too old”.

In the original film, released in 2000, Sawalha voiced the lead role of Ginger, the plucky hen who inspires her fellow egg-layers to escape from a farm when they are threatened with being turned into pies. News of the development of a sequel first emerged in 2018, and Netflixs involvement was announced in June. It is due to be directed by Sam Fell (ParaNorman) and start production in 2021.

Sawalha posted a statement on social media saying she was told a week ago that she was not wanted for the sequel. “The reason they gave is that my voice now sounds too old and they want a younger actress to reprise the role.”

She added: “Usually in these circumstances, an actress would be given the chance to do a voice test in order to determine the suitability of their pitch and tone, I however was not given this opportunity. I am passionate about my work and I dont go down without a fight, so I did my own voice test at home and sent it to the producers … However, they stated, We will be going ahead to recast the voice of Ginger.”

Sawalhas protest follows reports that Mel Gibson, who voiced the character of daredevil rooster Rocky, would not be involved in the sequel. While Rocky is named as a character in the official plot synopsis for Chicken Run 2, the role is due to be recast. Variety magazine reported that Gibson was told that as “the sequel will revolve around younger chickens, therefore casting younger voice actors” was necessary. The report also claimed that Gibsons history of controversial behaviour, including an accusation of antisemitic comments by actor Winona Ryder, which Gibson denies, played no part in the recasting.

Sawalha added: “I feel I have been fobbed off with the same excuse … To say I am devastated and furious would be an understatement. I feel totally powerless.”

No official announcements have been made for the Chicken Run 2 cast, but original film cast members Jane Horrocks and Lynn Ferguson have been added to the films IMDb page.

Aardman has been contacted for a response.


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