Downsizing Movie Review

Director Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor enter new genre territory with Downsizing, but it’s filled with the themes found in their previous efforts. A central character searching for meaning in life, marital strife, and classism are on display. Unlike prior features, science fiction elements and a bigger budget are in the mix. This is a story loaded with intriguing prospects  that doesn’t lead to a totally rewarding whole.

A prologue shows the advent of a monumental discovery by Norwegian scientists – the ability to shrink humans to only five inches tall. The reasoning to do it is to save the Earth by significantly reducing pollution and overpopulation. Not all citizens who choose to go through the procedure are hardcore environmentalists. There’s also the added bonus that downsizing is a financial boon. Every dollar in big world translates to about a grand in the smaller one.

This is the primary reason why occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristin Wiig) choose their new path. The Omaha couple agree to downsize and populate the colony of Leisureland. In Nebraska, they’re scraping by. They will be millionaires post op. A surprise happens on the way to the procedure. Paul goes through with it, but Audrey backs out and leaves him.

Lonely Paul must adjust to his tiny new surroundings and life. His eventual divorce agreement causes him to trade his Leisureland mansion for an apartment (albeit a pretty nice one). Up to this point, Downsizing is pretty nifty. The leadup and explanations of how this new world works are fascinating. There’s some prejudice involved with the full size humans meeting those about to become small. Should they get full voting rights, for instance? We also discover there’s nefarious governments that forcibly shrink their dissidents.

Further exploration of themes like these could have made a potentially rich experience. Downsizing goes a different direction. Paul’s upstairs neighbor is a party animal played with expected gusto by Christoph Waltz. It’s through this freewheeling character that Paul meets Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese political activist who was punished by that government. She’s an amputee and cleaning lady with a heart of gold. Ngoc Lan takes Paul to the slums of Leisureland where he begins to medically assist its poor residents. He also begins to fall for his companion.

The picture, at this juncture, largely abandons its sci fi leanings and concentrates on issues of self-worth, love, and political themes. Of course, all these things have been present in many great science fiction efforts. However, the tone of Downsizing is a shifty one. There’s moments of satire that aren’t biting enough and an earnestness that can come off cloying. That latter description could sometimes apply to Damon’s work. Payne has directed a number of actors to Oscar nominations. His lead here displays the same syrupy conviction in which he once bought a zoo. Chau is a different story. She creates a character whose backstory might have been really rewarding if shown onscreen. Unfortunately, Ngoc Lan eventually becomes just the love interest to the blander protagonist.

Payne and Taylor deserve a degree of credit for crafting this odd concoction. There’s some original thoughts here and some sequences are truly impressive, especially the downsizing procedure itself. That said, the emotional payoff the filmmakers are reaching for never quite reached me. There are moments in About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska that did so more often and with an appreciated higher level of subtlety. So while I admire Downsizing for some big ideas, the overall impact is smaller.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Downsizing

Blogger’s Update (09/19/17) – What Venice giveth, Toronto and Telluride taketh away. Since my original writing of this post on 08/30, Oscar prospects for Downsizing have dimmed due to mixed reaction from the aforementioned festivals.

A major piece of the 2017 Oscar puzzle has come into focus today with the debut of Alexander Payne’s Downsizing at the Venice Film Festival. This picture has been circled on the calendar of Academy Awards prognosticators since it was announced. Why? For starters, this is Payne’s seventh directorial feature and his previous five efforts have all received Oscar attention. For 1999’s Election, Payne received a nod for Adapted Screenplay. 2002’s About Schmidt landed two nominations in the acting races for Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates. 2004’s Sideways nabbed five nominations, including Picture, Director, and a win for Payne and writing partner Jim Taylor for Adapted Screenplay. 2011’s The Descendants also received five nominations, with Payne winning once again for Adapted Screenplay. His last film, 2013’s Nebraska, garnered six nominations including Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay. His last five movies have resulted in a total of seven acting nods.

So yeah… pretty much anything Payne puts out is an automatic Oscar contender. That does not look to end with Downsizing, his science fiction comedic drama that has drawn rave reviews out of the gate. It’s not out until December 22, but trade reviews are up and they’re glowing with praise. The Hollywood Reporter: “Big and beautiful” and arguably his best film. Variety: “playful, spectacular, mischievous, and audacious”. Interestingly, both reviews reference it as like as a live-action Pixar feature.

Downsizing has a highly recognizable cast that includes Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Alec Baldwin, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, and Jason Sudeikis. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Damon in the mix for Best Actor, based on early word. Yet it’s a name you probably haven’t heard that you’ll soon become familiar with. Playing a Vietnamese refugee, Hong Chau has been singled out for her work and I’d venture to say she will be receiving a Supporting Actress nomination here.

Before today, Dunkirk was the only picture that I feel confident saying will receive a Best Picture nomination. Downsizing is now the second and it will probably land Payne directing and original screenplay (along with Jim Taylor) recognition. Beyond that – Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, and even Visual Effects categories are all feasible.

Bottom line: Downsizing just announced itself as a potential force this awards season. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Todd’s Top 10 Most Awaited Fall 2017 Movies

Well folks – summer is winding down and on the movie calendar, that means fall ushers in Oscar contenders, film festivals, and all kinds of other eagerly awaited releases! Today on the blog, I bring you my 10 most awaited pictures of the season. Getting the list down to that number wasn’t exactly easy, so I’ll cheat a bit and mention some that just “missed the cut”. They include sequels (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Thor: Ragnarok), star vehicles like American Made with Tom Cruise and Roman Israel, Esq. with Denzel Washington, and Academy contenders like Battle of the Sexes, The Greatest Showman, Suburbicon, Darkest Hour, All the Money in the World, and The Disaster Artist.

Yet here are the ten that my personal movie calendar is most looking forward to (listed alphabetically):

Blade Runner 2049

Release Date: October 6

35 years after Ridley Scott made his landmark sci-fi pic, Sicario and Arrival director Denis Villeneuve enters this visually stunning world with Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, and Robin Wright and Harrison Ford returning as Deckard.

Downsizing

Release Date: December 22

It may not be out until Christmas, but buzz will be out soon for this Oscar hopeful as it screens in Venice in just days. Alexander Payne’s fantastic filmography includes Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska. His latest is a sci-fi comedy/drama starring Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Alec Baldwin, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Sudeikis, and (get used to hearing this name) Hong Chau, who’s already garnering Supporting Actress talk.

NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

It

Release Date: September 8

Fall essentially kicks off with this adaptation of one of Stephen King’s greatest works. Trailers for It looks scary as hell and it could compete for both biggest September debut ever and highest horror opening of all time.

Justice League

Release Date: November 17

DC’s version of The Avengers has been the subject of shaky buzz, but I’m curious to see how Batman, Aquaman, The Flash, and others meld together. Oh… there’s another one in the form of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who just happened to headline the summer’s unexpected largest domestic hit (beating out other superheroes like the Guardians and Spidey).

mother!

Release Date: September 15

Darren Aronofsky’s latest looks to be in the vein of his Oscar nominated Black Swan and that’s a very good thing. Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer star and if this trailer is any indication, we’re in for something very intriguing.

Murder on the Orient Express

Release Date: November 10

Michelle Pfeiffer makes another appearance on this list as she’s part of an impressive ensemble embroiled in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s famed novel. Kenneth Branagh directs himself in the lead as Hercule Poirot. Other familiar faces include Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, and Josh Gad.

The Papers

Release Date: December 22

As in the Pentagon Papers and the Washington Post‘s battle with the Nixon administration to release them. You think this one has Oscar bait potential? It’s directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

Phantom Thread

Release Date: December 27

Here’s how little is really known about this project… we’re not even sure Phantom Thread is its title. What do we know? It’s master filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest and reunites him with his There Will Be Blood star Daniel Day-Lewis.

NO TRAILER AT PRESS TIME

The Shape of Water

Release Date: December 8

Visionary director Guillermo del Toro’s latest looks to be a visual and potentially dramatic winner judging from its trailer. Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon star in this 1960s set tale of a woman’s friendship with a strange creature.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Release Date: December 15

Last, but oh so far from the least. Rian Johnson takes over directorial duties for the year’s most anticipated release with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) gaining significantly more screen time and Carrie Fisher making her final bow as Princess Leia.

And there you have it, folks! Let us look forward to a hopefully glorious autumn season…

Smurfs: The Lost Village Box Office Prediction

Columbia Pictures hopes that moviegoers have the blues in a good way next weekend when Smurfs: The Lost Village debuts. This is the third pic in the franchise based on the 1980s cartoon and the studio has made a change-up. While 2011’s The Smurfs and its 2013 sequel were a mix of live-action and animation, The Lost Village cuts the human aspect and is of the fully drawn variety. That means Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria are nowhere to be seen, unlike the first two.

Voice over work is provided by familiar faces that include Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Joe Manganiello, Mandy Patinkin, Michelle Rodgriguez, Jack McBrayer, Ellie Kemper, Danny Pudi, Ariel Winter, and Julia Roberts. Kelly Asbury, who handled directorial duties on Shrek 2, is behind the camera.

The 2011 Smurfs was a hit, opening to $35 million with an eventual $142M domestic haul. Part two did not fare as well, premiering to $17 million and $71M overall.

Competition for family audiences is considerable. Beauty and the Beast will still be bringing in the bucks in weekend #4, Powers Rangers will be in its third frame, and The Boss Baby will be entering its sophomore weekend.

That said, I expect The Lost Village to outdo what the second movie did out of the gate. I anticipate an opening in the high teens to low 20s. That likely means a third place showing behind Baby and Beauty. Whether or not that’s enough to push forward with planned sequel Smurf & Turf (in which the characters become embroiled in a vicious gangland war) remains to be seen.

Smurfs: The Lost Village opening weekend prediction: $20.4 million

For my Going in Style prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/03/29/going-in-style-box-office-prediction/

For my The Case for the Christ prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/04/03/the-case-for-christ-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Recap 2014

Well it’s been nearly 24 hours since the 87th edition of the Academy Awards reached its conclusion and somewhere Neil Patrick Harris is still trying to make that “secret Oscar ballot” gag work. The show was, as usual, a mixed bag that went on far too long. It featured some solid musical numbers (Common and John Legend, Tim McGraw) and a truly memorable one with Lady Gaga paying tribute to the 50 year old Sound of Music, complete with a Julie Andrews cameo at the end.

Being the host is largely a thankless job but NPH did OK. I don’t think his performance was strong enough to warrant a return engagement, but you never know. I still say let Fallon and Timberlake do it or bring in Louis C.K. to really make things unpredictable.

There were some genuinely humorous bits like John Travolta making nice with Idina Menzel after butchering her name last year, but not close to enough to justify its laborious length which ran past midnight.

It was a mediocre ceremony that was truly made fascinating only by the real suspense generated with the top awards. OK, it was a given that Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette would take home acting trophies and they did. I admittedly let my heart and not mind pick Michael Keaton over Eddie Redmayne and was unsurprisingly proved wrong.

The genuine suspense came with Best Picture and Director where there was a real coin flip between Birdman and Boyhood. It got even more confusing when both The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash started winning in categories they weren’t expected to. Could a massive upset be brewing with one of them?

Yet when Birdman took the Original Screenplay award over expected winner Budapest, it started to look like a good night for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s movie. He would win the Director prize and the film would win the biggest race of all.

This left Boyhood as the evening’s loser, picking up only Supporting Actress for Arquette. Birdman and Budapest won four awards with Whiplash at three. Interestingly, this Oscars had the rare occasion of all eight nominated features winning at least one race. My predictions were as uneven as the show… 12 for 20 and that is on the low end for this humble blogger.

So, all in all, a ho hum affair with some solid moments sprinkled throughout. By the end of the show, however, it wasn’t only Octavia Spencer that appeared exasperated by that flat NPH ballot gag.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Todd’s Take

We are officially ten days away from Neil Patrick Harris hosting the Oscars and it seems like a perfect time to chime in with an update on what and who I believe will win in the eight major categories. Next weekend – I’ll provide final predictions in all of the races. Here we go:

BEST PICTURE

Of the eight movies nominated here, it now appears only two have a legit shot at becoming 2014’s Best Picture: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman. The momentum still appears to be on the side of Linklater’s 12 years in the making family drama.

Predicted Winner: Boyhood

Runner-Up: Birdman

Other Nominees: American Sniper, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash 

BEST DIRECTOR

Like the Picture race, it’s between Linklater and Inarritu. This practically seems like a coin flip at this point, but I’ll give the Birdman maker the slight edge since he just won the Director’s Guild of America award (often a solid predictor of who wins here).

Predicted Winner: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman

Runner-Up: Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Other Nominees: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

BEST ACTOR

While Michael Keaton remains the front runner for his Birdman comeback, don’t sleep on the chances of Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, especially following his somewhat surprising SAG Awards victory. I’m still clinging to Keaton winning though.

Predicted Winner: Michael Keaton, Birdman

Runner-Up: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Other Nominees: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)

BEST ACTRESS

Julianne Moore’s work in Still Alice is widely expected to nab the celebrated actress her first golden statue. Any other winner here would be a rather big surprise.

Predicted Winner: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Runner-Up: Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Other Nominees: Marion Cotillard (Two Days One Night), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Another easy race to predict as J.K. Simmons’ turn as the sadistic music teacher in Whiplash has won essentially all precursors. Only a Birdman sweep could mean Edward Norton is victorious and that’s a long shot.

Predicted Winner: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Runner-Up: Edward Norton, Birdman

Other Nominees: Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Like the two previous acting categories, Patricia Arquette’s Boyhood performance has scored at other awards shows and anyone but her winning would be a massive upset.

Predicted Winner: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Runner-Up: Emma Stone, Birdman

Other Nominees Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

This is one heckuva category but again should come down to Birdman and Boyhood. Like in the Director race, Birdman gets a small edge. Watch out for Budapest as a potential spoiler.

Predicted Winner: Birdman

Runner-Up: Boyhood

Other Nominees: Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

This would appear to be the best chance for The Imitation Game to win a major award, but Theory of Everything may be hot on its heels.

Predicted Winner: The Imitation Game

Runner-Up: The Theory of Everything

Other Nominees: American Sniper, Inherent Vice, Whiplash

And that’ll do it. Keep an eye out for final predictions next weekend!

Todd’s Oscar Predictions: ROUND TWO (October Edition)

This evening on the blog, we arrive at round two of my Oscar Predictions for the 2014 race, which will air in early 2015 with Neil Patrick Harris handling hosting duties. In late August, I made my initial round of predictions and two months later, much has changed and much has stayed the same. Unlike my first round, my second go round will include the races of Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay.

Let’s get to it, shall we? Here’s where I see the Oscar race right now in the eight major categories:

Best Adapted Screenplay

For my first crack at the Adapted Screenplay race, it’s probably safe to assume Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of her own bestseller Gone Girl will make the cut, as well as festival favorites The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. I’m also safely (at the moment) including Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, even though no one has seen it yet. The fifth slot includes several contenders: Still Alice, Inherent Vice, Wild, Into the Woods, and American Sniper. No one has viewed Sniper yet, but its recently released trailer inspires hope.

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

American Sniper

Gone Girl

The Imitation Game

The Theory of Everything

Unbroken

Best Original Screenplay

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman appear to be shoo-ins for inclusion. I’m also thinking Wes Anderson’s work for The Grand Budapest Hotel stands it best chance at a nod here. For the remaining two slots – I’m saying Foxcatcher and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, for now. Other contenders include Mr. Turner, Top Five, Whiplash, A Most Violent Year, Selma, and Big Eyes.

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Birdman

Boyhood

Foxcatcher

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Interstellar

Best Supporting Actress

This race has changed quite a bit since my first round of predictions. I originally had both Emily Blunt for Into the Woods and Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything listed here, but it’s since been announced their performances will fall into the Best Actress race. They’re out – along with Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King in Selma. The only two actresses from my initial predictions are Patricia Arquette in Boyhood (who’s a front runner) and Laura Dern in Wild. Added to the mix are Emma Stone in Birdman and Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game. Other possibilities for the fifth slot include Meryl Streep in Into the Woods, Jessica Chastain in Interstellar, Carrie Coon for Gone Girl, Sienna Miller in American Sniper, Julianne Moore in A Map to the Stars, Anna Kendrick in Into the Woods, Katherine Waterson in Inherent Vice, and Jessica Lange in The Gambler. I’ll go with Kristen Stewart as a surprise nominee for the acclaimed Still Alice.

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Laura Dern, Wild

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Kristen Stewart, Still Alice

Emma Stone, Birdman

Best Supporting Actor

My first predictions didn’t include J.K. Simmons for his lauded work in Whiplash, but he could be considered the favorite at this juncture. Staying in are Edward Norton in Birdman and Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher and it’s tough to imagine them not being recognized. For the other two slots, I’m including Miyavi for his villainous role in Unbroken and Ethan Hawke for Boyhood. Left out from my first round: Domhall Gleeson (Unbroken), Logan Lerman (Fury), and Tim Roth (Selma). Other contenders: John Goodman for The Gambler, Tom Wilkinson for Selma, Albert Brooks for A Most Violent Year, Christoph Waltz for Big Eyes, Josh Brolin in Inherent Vice, Robert Duvall in The Judge, and Johnny Depp for Into the Woods.

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Miyavi, Unbroken

Edward Norton, Birdman

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Best Actress

Following my August estimates, the festival circuit anointed Julianne Moore as a likely front runner for playing an Alzheimer’s patient in Still Alice. I’m also sticking with initial predictions Amy Adams (Big Eyes), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), and Reese Witherspoon (Wild). Since the announcement of her inclusion in this race and not Supporting Actress, Felicity Jones joins the fray for The Theory of Everything. Other possibilities: Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year (who made the cut in August), Emily Blunt for Into the Woods, Shailene Woodley in The Fault in Our Stars, and Hilary Swank for The Homesman.

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST ACTRESS:

Amy Adams, Big Eyes

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Best Actor

Just like last year, what a crowded field we have! The following quartet seem virtual locks for nominations: Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Michael Keaton (Birdman), and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher). The fifth slot is the real mystery. I originally had Joaquin Phoenix here for Inherent Vice, but I’m skeptical now. For now, I’ll replace him with Jack O’Connell in Unbroken. Other possibilities include Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner (who could easily find a way in), Bradley Cooper in American Sniper (same), Ralph Fiennes for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ben Affleck in Gone Girl, Bill Murray for St. Vincent, David Oyelowo in Selma (depends on film’s success and critical reception), Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year, Matthew McConaughey for Interstellar (fact that he won last year hurts), Jake Gyllenhall for Nightcrawler (pic is probably too quirky and small), and Channing Tatum for Foxcatcher (Carell likely to steal his thunder).

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST ACTOR:

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton, Birdman

Jack O’Connell, Unbroken

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Best Director

Only one change here as I’m taking Bennett Miller’s direction for Foxcatcher out and putting David Fincher’s work in Gone Girl in. I think the commercial and critical success of it and Fincher’s reputation as one of Hollywood’s best filmmakers gets him in (at press time). Those who could spoil my predictions: Clint Eastwood (American Sniper), Ana DuVernay (Selma), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner), James Marsh (The Theory of Everything), JC Chandor (A Most Violent Year), and Rob Marshall (Into the Woods).

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST DIRECTOR

David Fincher, Gone Girl

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman

Angelina Jolie, Unbroken

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Christopher Nolan, Interstellar

Best Picture

As you may know, anywhere from 5-10 films can be nominated in the biggest category of them all. Since that system has been in place, nine pictures have been recognized every time. In August’s predictions, I predicted eight. And now – I’m going with nine. The MLK biopic Selma is the one I’ve removed. Don’t get me wrong – it could still easily make the cut, but no one’s seen it yet and it’s a question mark. Gone Girl and American Sniper enter the race in my opinion and this marks their first inclusion. Other films that could potentially make the cut (even though I say no at the moment): Mr. Turner, Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, A Most Violent Year, and Into the Woods.

Todd’s Current Predictions for BEST PICTURE

American Sniper

Birdman

Boyhood

Foxcatcher

Gone Girl

The Imitation Game

Interstellar

The Theory of Everything

Unbroken