Film Review: Downsizing

Alexander Payne’s Downsizing is a satire on the environmental issues and society at large. It is entertaining and thought-provoking, but not entirely satisfying.

Occupational therapist Paul lives in a world where it is possible to shrink people down to live in tiny communities, in order to address overpopulation concerns. The more Paul finds out about this new society, the more he thinks it could be the life for him…

Directed and co-written by Alexander Payne, Downsizing‘s narrative focuses on an everyman protagonist and his interactions with both the full-size and miniature world. The film has a great premise which plays out as both a personal journey for the protagonist and a wider comment on society.

The ideas that Downsizing proposes are interesting ones. The film questions what a new society would be like, the issue of status, and finding one’s place in the world. Some of these are viewed through protagonist Paul, whilst others become clearer through the characters he interacts with.

The main negative of Downsizing is that for all the ideas floating round, the film ruminates too much on less interesting ones. There is a clear message here, and it is delivered with humour as not to be too preachy. The evolution of society that Payne presents feels plausible, if understandably disappointing.

Ngoc Lan Tran could have been a great character. However, it is a shame that making light of her accent is the path chosen instead of the strong interesting character she is first introduced as in a news segment. Her function is to help sharpen Paul’s mind more than anything else. Other supporting characters take the fun roles to allow for a meditative experience for Paul.

Matt Damon plays against type slightly, and does a good job as Paul. Christoph Waltz is always great value. He and Udo Kier inject a lot needed fun into the film. It is a shame that Hong Chau is not given more worthy lines to work with. For all of Alexander Payne’s talents, viewers may wish for a sharper screenplay. Nevertheless, Downsizing is still an entertaining watch.

Downsizing is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

BFI London Film Festival 2017 Launch

It’s that time of year again. Today saw the launch of the BFI London Film Festival 2017. The festival this year sees 242 feature films being screened, which includes 28 world premieres. Here are some picks to look out for at the London Film Festival 2017…

Headline Galas

The opening and closing galas previously announced; closing gala Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in particular looks great. Directed by Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths), the film stars Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. Other Headline Gala highlights include Battle of the Sexes (starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell), Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Another highlight is The Killing of a Sacred Deer, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster). The film stars Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, and Barry Keoghan, and is about a doctor who introduces his family to a fatherless young man he has befriended.

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

This year sees the return of the Embankment Garden Cinema and its series of Strand Galas.   There are a number of exciting screenings, including Redoubtable (Le Redoutable). Directed by Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) the film is a biopic of Jean-Luc Godard and stars Louis Garrel, Stacy Martin, and Bérénice Bejo. Also showing is Wonderstruck, based on the novel of the same name. Directed by Todd Haynes (Carol), the film stars Julianne Moore. Among the Special Presentations are Sally Potter’s The Party and the first two episodes of David Fincher’s upcoming Netflix series Mindhunter.

Official Competition

Amongst the Official Competition at London Film Festival 2017 are The Breadwinner (an animated film about a young girl in Taliban-controlled Kabul), and Thoroughbred, which stars Anya Taylor-Joy. The First Feature Competition includes Beast, which is about a young woman who falls for a police suspect. Also in this category is I Am Not A Witch, about a young girl in a Zambian village who is accused of being a witch. The Documentary Competition includes Jane, a film about primatologist Jane Goodall.

Strands

A highlight of this year’s Love strand is How to Talk to Girls at Parties, based on the Neil Gaiman short story. The film stars Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning. The Debate strand features The Venerable W., a documentary about a Buddhist monk espousing anti-Muslim rhetoric. Laugh includes Brigsby Bear, a comedy about a man who tries to remake a children’s show he was obsessed with. A highlight of the Dare category is 9 Fingers, directed by FJ Ossang. The Thrill section includes the classic noir Mildred Pierce, whilst Harry Dean Stanton and David Lynch star in Lucky as part of the Journey strand.

The Cult strand includes Paco Plaza’s horror Veronica, and Create features documentary G Funk, about Snoop Dogg, Warren G and Nate Dogg. The Family strand includes fairy tale compendium Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess. Experimenta features documentary Tonsler Park, a timely film about polling stations in Charlottesville during last year’s US election.

The full London Film Festival 2017 programme can be viewed here. The BFI London Film Festival runs from 4th-15th October 2017.

Film Review: Nebraska

NEBRASKA

Great performances and good writing make Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and enjoyable affair.

Woody Grant is an ageing alcoholic who is convinced that he has won a $1 million through a magazine marketing scheme. His family try to dissuade him, but it is up to his son David to take him from Montana to Nebraska…

Nebraska is an interesting exploration of a father-son relationship through the device of a road trip. The relationship is layered, which makes the story more engaging.

As David takes the opportunity to get to know his father, a man of few words, it is clear that there a number of sides to Woody. Payne’s previous films have concentrated on close relationships, and Nebraska is no different. The father-son dynamic is further complicated with the input from mother Kate and other members of the extended family.

Nebraska has a few bumps in its journey, although it never fully deviates from David’s quest to understand his father better. Although the outcome seems rather clear from the outset, the film is all about the journey, which throws up some interesting situations. The end of Nebraska is likely to put a smile on all viewers’ faces.

The deadpan comedy is frequent, and often hilarious. There are some moments of real poignancy, especially in the second half of the film. Payne seems to have a natural ability to switch between humour and drama.

Bruce Dern is fantastic as Woody. Will Forte also gives a convincing performance as David. The soundtrack is fitting for a road movie, whilst the decision to film in black and white gives the film a stripped back feel.

Nebraska is likely to endear itself to viewers with its engaging protagonists, entertaining story and frequent laughs.

Nebraska is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2013.

Stuff To Look At

A profusion of film-related goodness, including clips from Runner Runner and The Counsellor, trailers for Saving Mr Banks and The Monuments Men, and Loki…

Runner Runner

New Batman Ben Affleck shows a dark side in the above clip from upcoming crime thriller Runner Runner. This is why crocodiles are a bad idea generally. Runner Runner hits UK screens on 27th September 2013.

Nebraska

Nebraska is director Alexander Payne’s latest. Starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte, Nebraska is a father and son road movie. The film is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October and is on general release from 6th December 2013.

The Railway Man

Here is the trailer for period drama The Railway Man. Starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, the film is based on Eric Lomax’s memoirs. The Railway Man is released in the UK on 3rd January 2013.

We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are is a remake of the 2010 Mexican film of the same name. It has one of those settings that feel disconcerting. We Are What We Are is out in cinemas on 25th October 2013.

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men reunites George Clooney and Matt Damon as members of a World War II platoon tasked with rescuing masterpieces from Nazi thieves. The film also stars Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett. The Monuments Men is due for release on 9th January 2014.

Thor The Dark World

Thor The Dark World Loki

Loki! Let’s just be honest; he is the real reason everyone wants to see Thor The Dark World. That look on Loki’s face – so determined. Sequel Thor The Dark World is released in UK cinemas on 30th October 2013.

The Counsellor

The hair in the above clip is something else. In fact, Javier Bardem’s whole look is something else. With an all-star cast including Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt, The Counsellor hits UK screens on 15th November 2013.

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game is based on the best-selling novel of the same name. Starring Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, the film is set in a dystopian future. Ender’s Game is released on 25th October 2013 and there’s a trip to NASA to be won here.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

The sequel everyone has been waiting for! Above is San Diego’s finest newsman Ron Burgundy delivering the news on the Goodwood revival. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues hits UK screens on 20th December 2013. What a Christmas treat.

Saving Mr Banks

Here is the first trailer for Saving Mr Banks. The film tells the story of how Walt Disney brought Mary Poppins to the big screen. Saving Mr Banks is closing the London Film Festival on 20th October 2013 and is out on general release on 29th November 2013.

RoboCop

Nothing is going to match the perfection of the director’s cut of 1987’s  RoboCop. Nothing. However this new version features Michael Keaton, so it gets plus points for this alone. RoboCop is due for release on 7th February 2014.

Mandela Long Walk To Freedom

Idris Elba and Naomie Harris star in biopic Mandela Long Walk To Freedom. The film is released on 3rd January 2013; ripe for awards season. Let’s see how it fares.

Film Review: The Descendants

Alexander Payne’s The Descendants features a great screenplay and some good performances. For all its merits, however, the film does not have a lasting impact.

Matt King is a lawyer and landowner leaving in Hawaii. When his wife suffers a boating accident, he is forced to look after his two daughters. With his wife in a coma, Matt tries to reconnect with ten-year-old Scottie and her older sister Alexandra. Matt must juggle these responsibilities with the decision of making a major land sale…

The Descendants features a narrative that could have been quite sad. Instead, the themes are dealt with using a lighter approach. The humour in the film is a good antidote to the film’s emotional side. The film can quickly jump from drama to comedy, making some of the laughs quite unexpected.

The characters in the film are all well developed. They appear natural rather than one dimensional. It is not difficult to empathise with Matt, and the raft of emotions he goes through. The secondary strand of the land sale is not quite as interesting as the main narrative, although the repeating of the family theme is a nice touch.

George Clooney offers an engaging performance as Matt. Shailene Woodley is well cast as Alexandra, while Nick Krause does an excellent job as Sid. Judy Greer is also great, and it is nice to see Matthew Lillard using his comedy chops in a mainstream film. The Descendants captures some beautiful imagery of Hawaii. Music is often understated, which works well in the context.

The Descendants is a well-produced film and an enjoyable watch. It is unlikely to linger in the mind for too long after viewing, but this isn’t really a necessity.

The Descendants is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.