Quick Hit: Frustrating because it has shades of greatness throughout.
Alexander Payne has given us one of the most frustrating things as a reviewer. A film that is both ambitious and small (no pun intended), but also pivots maddeningly from plotline to plotline, leaving interesting characters and other aspects in the dust. The film is both good and bad, which of course, ends with a final balance of slightly above average (come on guys, it is sci-fi after all).
Downsizing is first concerned about the different impacts on a world that is changed by a giant technological advancement – we have the ability to irreversibly shrink people down. This then allows us to maximize the resources on the planet. However, there are numerous reasons different people may choose (or choose not to) shrink down, and at times, this may preclude people. The movie goes on to say some interesting things about the environment and the socioeconomic status of minority groups, but… unfortunately, there’s a lot of other stuff going on.
The film primarily follows Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) as he makes the decision to “get small”. It then follows his life as he adjusts to several life events that occur. But rather than continuing the focus of what it started, the film continually pivots and focuses on the whiniest aspects of Safranek’s personality. Despite being set aside with firecracker Ngoc Lan Tran, a survivor of an atrocity, Safranek continues to just be ultimately full of himself. It robs the movie of even his turnaround, as he’s still just a generally unlikeable character. Christoph Waltz also shows up as Safranek’s overhead neighbor Dusan Mirkovic (and smuggler of sorts), and while he continues to be as great as normal, his weirdness goes wasted at times.
The film’s cinematography is very good, as expected if you’ve seen Sideways. There’s some particular shots of the fjords and valleys that are extremely poetic and beautiful. There’s also a really creative scene involving the actual shrinking process that’s shows what this movie could have been. Set to a wonderful score, the film comes across more like a musical in this brief scene in the way everything is prepared and the score crescendos. It’s probably my favorite scene in the entire film… but it seems out of place with the rest of it. There’s another scene that similarly feels cut out from the rest, and that’s regarding Paul ingesting a drug that sends the entire thing psychedelic. While I’m not opposed to this, I was a bit confused as to the inclusion of it.
In conclusion, Downsizing frustrated me as much as I enjoyed parts of it. I can only give it a “C+” in good conscience. It's biggest issue is its lack of a desire to focus on any one thing, instead doing only an adequate job at establishing characters, rules,, and motivations. There is humor and drama and fear, but not enough of any of them. It's an entire movie of mediocrity.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: How are you at ancient myths?
Iphigenia, or the story or her, is where the title comes from. I had to Google that, so don’t think I’m that awesome. Essentially, Agamemnon kills one of Artemis’s sacred deer and so she is set to ruin attack on Troy … and tells him he must sacrifice his daughter to replace her deer. So, with that knowledge, and knowledge of Yorgos Lanthimos other films (like The Lobster), keep in mind that this movie is a bit strange.
The plot is a bit hard to follow at first. Steven (complete side note – how many doctors out there are called Steve in movies? Someone has got to look into this – Doctor Strange) is a cardiologist (played by Collin Farrell). His wife is a successful ophthalmologist (Nicole Kidman). Their life with their two children (played by Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic respectively) seems ideal, even if there’s some strange taboo stuff going on behind doors.
With the entry of Martin (Barry Keoghan), everything changes. I will not dive too far into the plot from here, suffice it to say that things happen to the family leading our hero to make choices that will define his character further.
This movie begins much like The Lobster, with characters delivering stilted dialogue to each other in a stiff manner. Both Kidman and Farrell excel at this, and having starred opposite each other twice in one year (The Beguiled) seems to have helped their chemistry. But whereas I believe Farrell outshined his costar in Beguiled, Kidman shines brighter here. Her slow recognition and acceptance of the problems that they faced is a master craft in acting performance. I’d also like to recognize Keoghan here – who brings a terrific weirdness and energy to the role of Martin. What could have been played strictly for laughs or scares comes across as both, and he really drives the story forward on a number of occasions.
The film is shot in a very aloof style to begin, but as the story thickens, so does Lanthimos’s camerawork. We increase the amount of close-ups, we increase the amount of camera angles, and it all accents the work that the actors are doing. It’s very good work.
But, I think this comes with some of the same issues as The Lobster. Though the stilted dialogue is being performed on purpose, it robs the story of momentum, particularly in scenes that should have more of an impact. The story also has some zigs and zags that I didn’t really think make sense. As the film goes, I found myself consistently watching… but I wasn’t invested. The character’s aloofness pushed me away to the point where I wasn’t concerned with the kids’ and their ailment, or Steven’s mental fortitude, or the relationship between him and Anna. It all just is kind of… eh. *Shrugs*
So in the end, despite the fact the movie is well-made, I can’t give it a totally great grade. There needs to be a certain level of investment past the technical aspects to go there. I’m giving the film a “B-”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: The firstA24 film I’ve seen that I did not enjoy.
So A24 has been on a hell of a streak with me. I scrolled back through my reviews, and I think the lowest one I found for an A24 film was Enemy. Looking at Woodshock before I watched it, I thought it’d be another winner. However, when the movie ended I was left disappointed.
Woodshock’s plot is thin, but here goes: Theresa (Kirsten Dunst) loses her mother and gets sad. She’s finds a boyfriend (I guess) and another guy, and they like drugs. She’s continually looking in mirrors, smoking, and all together drifiting away.
I think the biggest problem I had with Woodshock is that it looks gorgeous, but nothing else. Directed by fashion gurus Laura and Kate Mulleavy, and written by them as well, the film has an ethereal look throughout many of the scenes. There is a shot of Dunst putting on lipstick via a blackberry that could have been award-winning. There’re also several shots of Dunst floating through the trees, full of mystery and wonderful light. These are two women that know what looks good, and use it throughout the film. This is particularly evident in their use of color – at times evident of Dario Argento’s use of red – and they give the whole film a muted palette in light greens and greys, causing Theresa’s wardrobe of white to shine more.
But nothing else really seems to fit. The plot is less than a string, and comes off more as a spaghetti noodle then anything. It just kind of exists, and the more that Theresa starts to lose her mind (maybe?) the less interesting all the extraneous stuff is. There is one scene that strives to accent the nothingness, and it ends too quickly (but very violently) and calls to mind other scenes that use different implements to drive home an idea.
The soundtrack is generic punk music with no legs to stand on.
Dunst does a decent job with what little she’s given. She’s fairly adept at facial acting, controlling her expressions to give the illusion of inner turmoil. The gentlemen don’t carry the same weight, but then again, they’re not given the chance to. There is just nothing to this husk of a film besides it looks really pretty.
And so my friends and faithful readers, that’s why the film is going to end up as a “D-“. All show and no substance does not a happy critic make. Have a good weekend everyone!
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"