Tag Archives: Matt Damon

tv + film by Philbert Dy

The Affable ‘Downsizing’ Never Really Capitalizes on its Premise

The latest Alexander Payne film thinks small

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Downsizing begins with the discovery of a radical new procedure that can miniaturize biological matter with no side effects. This is seen as a possible solution to the problems brought about by climate change, with people consuming much less as five inch versions of themselves. We then meet mild-mannered occupational physical therapist Paul (Matt Damon), who along with his wife Audrey considers shrinking down in order to overcome their financial burdens. Paul goes through the procedure, but wakes up to find that Audrey backed out at the last minute. The film follows Paul as he adjusts to his new shrunken life, struggling to find his place while being newly alone.

The story moves kind of aimlessly. It spends a good long time with the announcement of the procedure and the way people react to it before actually getting to the meat of the story of the main character. This might seem like a high-concept movie at first, with its big sci-fi premise, but at its heart, it’s just a story of a guy burdened with the ennui of the unhinged American life, trying to find some meaning in all the absurdity he faces every day. There is some satirical value in Paul’s hapless search for significance in a life that has turned him literally small, but the film as a whole never feels anchored enough in any particular idea to really be effective.

The film is just never really able to turn its premise into a solid narrative. It has Paul mainly as an observer, jumping into strange situations he could have never imagined, learning the fairly mundane lesson that he doesn’t have to blindly stumble through the routine of his life, and that he might want to dedicate himself to trying to help others. The film builds itself almost entirely on Paul’s inability to assert himself, having him trip clumsily into situations through the decisions of the more active supporting characters. The world that they explore is somewhat interesting, but in the end, the film’s general attitude seems to be that nothing will really change, and this limits the novelty of what we get to see.

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Scene to scene, the film is frequently funny, if a tad too reliant on some casually racist comedy mined from cultural differences. The film is most effective when it’s playing in Alexander Payne’s wheelhouse, amplifying the small, passive-aggressive ways that people can be cruel, unearthing the true intentions behind something that could be said with a smile. In general, the film is more compelling on a personal scale, the film in tune with the minor foibles that can make social interaction so difficult. On a larger scale, it’s tougher to buy the film’s general outlook on humanity.

Matt Damon, playing the generally ineffectual Paul, is all right. Damon shines in the little bursts of anger and passion that manage to get through the placid Midwestern facade, but those moments don’t happen often enough. Hong Chau brings most of the energy to the film’s second half, and while she’s pretty good, there are bits of performance that don’t feel entirely comfortable. Christoph Waltz is pretty fun as Paul’s European caricature of an upstairs neighbor. There isn’t a lot to the performance, but it’s kind of memorable, at least.

By the end of Downsizing, one begins to wonder if it actually mattered at all that the character was shrunk down to five inches. Apart from the occasional bits of visual comedy, and the early exploration of people’s reactions to the very concept, it doesn’t really feel like the premise was all that important to the story that ended up being told. And while there’s still some merit to what we ended up getting, the film’s inability to capitalize of the specifics of its own premise makes it feels like a failure of imagination. There’s a lot more to say about becoming small, but the film just doesn’t get to it.

 

DOWNSIZING IS NOW SHOWING AT SELECTED AYALA MALLS CINEMAS.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘The Great Wall’ is Pretty, but Not Much Else

It’s colorful and flashy and totally illogical.

NBHD movie 2-2 ticketsThe Great Wall concerns William (Matt Damon), a mercenary that his made his way East, hoping to bring the secrets of black powder back with him to Europe and in so doing become terribly wealthy. He and his friend Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are instead captured by the Nameless Order, a special military force stationed at the Great Wall. It turns out that every sixty years, monsters known as the Taotie lay siege to the wall, threatening to overrun the capital. William, in spite of his mercenary nature, is drawn to their cause, and ends up offering his bow to his captors.Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.47.31 PM The movie barely tries to make its premise work. It doesn’t offer much of an explanation why the Taotie only attack every sixty years, or why they don’t look towards another direction that might be less fortified, or how the Nameless Order were able to survive past sieges if these monsters are truly so formidable. The way the Nameless Order fights them doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either. The all-female Crane division dive off the wall attached to cables, dangling dangerously close to the Taotie before sticking them with spears.Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.48.08 PMIt’s certainly a pretty visual, but it’s an element that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. One can certainly imagine more effective, less dangerous ways to fight these monsters. In fact, the movie offers up several methods that really ought to have this needlessly risky technique completely obsolete. But this is just the way of this movie. It doesn’t really care too much about the logic of things as long as it can facilitate the creation of visual spectacle. Based on the colors of their uniforms, there are five flavors of Nameless Order soldiers. Only three are explained, but five colors make a better visual, and so there are five.Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.46.56 PMSo one can’t really look into this film too deeply. Its themes are really shallow, and though there are hints of some rebellion on the fringes, this still ends up being a bit too much about the nobility of serving a cause. William’s personal journey towards heroism doesn’t really feel like much, because the film right from the start paints him in broad strokes as more noble than  his mercenary companion, and because the enemy is too much of an abstraction. They are a monstrous other that don’t provide opportunities for internal conflict.

But hey, it’s pretty! Every now and then, the movie just puts together a really stunning scene that almost justifies the sheer nonsense on display. Crane Warriors pound drums with nunchaku to guide the tide of battle. The Nameless Order launches paper balloons into the sky to honor the fallen, casting a soft glow on the otherwise harsh terrain. The acting isn’t bad, either. I don’t know if Matt Damon is supposed to be doing an accent or something, but he does sell his character’s inevitable change of heart. Pedro Pascal is just fun to have around. Tian Jing is fairly effective in her role, and is thankfully spared the awkwardness of a forced romantic subplot.Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 3.49.26 PMThere are several writers credited on The Great Wall, which is kind of a surprise. It doesn’t quite feel right that so much writing talent was involved in putting together this story, which basically teaches a banal lesson about trust, and is built on a premise that nobody bothered to tighten up. The writing here is an obligation at best, just the barest amount of structure from which the film can produce its marketable imagery. It’s not a bad film at all, but its clear lack of ambition is pretty enervating.

THE GREAT WALL IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.