Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin's romantic dynamic

Contrasting the romantic personae of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in Frank Tashlin's 1956 satire, "Hollywood or Bust": Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin dynamic functions with Martin being charismatic and street-wise, and Lewis is the sympathetic goofball. This contrast is accentuated in Frank Tashlin’s Hollywood or Bust (1956), since the film is an emphatic and cartoonish erotic fantasy. By the end of the film, Lewis’s clumsy, childish protagonist ends up with his Hollywood crush, Anita Ekberg. If this, by itself, requires a great effort in suspending disbelief, it’s also worth mentioning that before the Martin & Lewis characters settle into their monogamous relationships, they get a lot of female attention. Literally dozens of women wave to them as Martin & Lewis drive through the USA smiling and singing, and in their every scene that’s set in a populated space (backstage, casino), they end up surrounded by fresh-faced female onlookers.

The Lewis/Ekberg romance is sparked by a ridiculous plot twist: his hound promptly seduces the actress’s lap dog, and their owners eventually follow their mating call. However, if we were to see the film as a satire of precisely this script-guaranteed female attainability of Hollywood cinema, it becomes a pretty interesting text. In this sense, Lewis’s romantic plot is the more progressive one—he certainly embarrasses himself often enough to let us conclude that he gets the girl through sheer, Forrest Gump-level dumb luck. Martin’s romantic plot remains more problematic throughout. He ends up seducing a chorus girl—a less glamorous, proletarian woman—and in spite of the jolting near-rape scene of his early attempt to get into her favors, her caution toward him inexplicably gives way to warmer feelings. By casting Martin—the presumed object of many female spectators’ fantasies—in the role, this development seems less troubling: after all, regardless of plot evolution, what woman would turn him down?!

To structure this video essay on the contrast in the two actors’ film personae. By giving a skewed reading of the visual evidence, I intend to suggest the complexity of consuming a a traditional Hollywood narrative—how the cognitive work of watching it (and evaluating it, for merit and plausibility) intertwines with personal biases and indulgence in wishful thinking.  Since infatuation and lucid observation are often antithetical, I needed a second line of discourse—a colder, crisper, written “voice”—to carry the commentary further than the voice-over could possibly take it. Hollywood or Bust is about the two men’s conquest of women, but also about the spectators’ privileged access to these two men—and it is due to Hollywood’s cunning exploitation of desire that it took so long to clear up the haze.

Money from Home (1953) directed by George Marshall, is neither a canonical work nor a philosophical treatise. It is, though, worth remarking on when a sweet-natured movie explores the gap between a transactional approach to social life and an altruistic, cooperative one. Honeytalk tries to get things on credit, Virgil does what he can to loan himself out. Virgil’s romantic transformation comes when he meets a veterinarian and fellow vegetarian, Autumn Claypool (Pat Crowley). A lovely scene involves the two of them visiting a vacant lot that will host their future clinic. They know that they are not at this place yet, but hope to get there. Someone calls Virgil “unusual” in Money from Home, and indeed he is. The promise of a place where Virgil, too, might receive as he gives makes for a wonderfully, disproportionately moving sentiment. Home, or bust. Source:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Come and Get It, Get Out, Oscar Predictions

For moviegoers who enjoy spotting a filmmaker's personal trademarks, the 1936 comedy-drama Come and Get It is a special treat and a special challenge. It carries the signatures of two great auteurs from the studio era-Howard Hawks and William Wyler--and historians still haven't definitively figured out which director directed what. The film was nominated for two Oscars: Walter Brennan for Best Supporting Actor and Edward Curtis for Film Editing. Brennan earned the newly created supporting actor Oscar for this film.

The story would have been more appealing to Hawks than to Wyler, with its blend of rugged adventure and romance, and Hawks was certainly the first director to sign on. The tale begins in 19th-century Wisconsin, where Bernard "Barney" Glasgow, smoothly played by Edward Arnold, is a lumberman with corporate ambitions that involve marrying the boss's daughter. He falls in love with Lotta (Frances Farmer), a saloon singer with a lovely smile and a throaty voice, but leaves her when his marriage of convenience can't be postponed any longer. Lotta marries his best friend, a boisterous Swede named Swan (Walter Brennan), then dies a quiet off-screen death. Many years later, Barney meets their daughter, also named Lotta (and also played by Farmer), and falls in love all over again. Barney's son (Joel McCrea) also tumbles for Lotta Jr., setting up a struggle with Barney, who's still married to the boss's daughter.

The credits say Come and Get It is "based upon the famous novel by Edna Ferber," although Hawks claimed it was based on the story of his own grandfather. He may have meant he used his ancestor's experiences when he fleshed out the screenplay by Jane Murfin and Jules Furthman, trying to make the second half more physically exciting and psychologically compelling. Then trouble started, due less to Hawks's tinkering than to uncertainty over what exactly he wanted. His assistant later reported that "strain, indecision, and malevolence" stalked the production as Hawks fretted about the storyline and shot scenes before the actors felt prepared. Then Sam Goldwyn returned home to recuperate. Hawks biographer Todd McCarthy says Hawks was prepared for fireworks when Goldwyn, who idolized important writers, discovered he'd tampered with Ferber's plot. Hawks was right: Goldwyn hit the ceiling, and things got worse when he learned that new material he liked had been penned by Hawks himself. "Writers should write and directors should direct!" the producer allegedly yowled.

Hawks resigned in a huff, if you believe his account, or got fired by Goldwyn, if you believe his account. What's certain is that Hawks left the premises on the 42nd day of production, and that after an eight-day shutdown Goldwyn replaced him with William Wyler, who'd just finished Dodsworth (1936) and was still under contract. Wyler's grumpiness about the job alienated Farmer, but after 28 more days the picture was finished. It's ironic that Wyler used material written by Hawks for the ending, preferring this to the screenplay's own conclusion. Hawks told film critic Robin Wood that he shot all but 800 feet, or about ten minutes, of the completed film. McCarthy says Wyler contributed more than this, but less than Goldwyn implied when he told Ferber he "threw away most of what Hawks photographed." 

For viewers today, the fun begins when we try to determine which scenes came from which director. Wood says the beginning of the movie, with its exciting lumberjack footage, "clearly" has Hawks's touch-but to add one more complication, the credits say these scenes were directed by Richard Rosson, who'd co-directed Scarface (1932) and Today We Live (1933) with Hawks in the early 1930s. Aside from the logging material, there's no certain way of telling which scenes were directed by whom. Still, it's pretty obvious that some material in the film's first half contains patented Hawks touches-people bonding over cigarettes, finding togetherness in a sing-along, and working at a tough men-only job away from ordinary society. 

And it's equally obvious that Wyler influenced the off-kilter camera angles and striking use of a stairway setting in the last half hour-perhaps working with cinematographer Gregg Toland, whose deep-focus framings would later be crucial not only in Orson Welles's legendary Citizen Kane (1941) but also in Wyler's masterpieces The Little Foxes (1941) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Toland was only one of the Come and Get It cinematographers; the other was Rudolph Maté, fresh from DodsworthCome and Get It has at least three elements that hold up very well: the rough-and-tumble logging scenes; the complex characterization of Barney, who never becomes a clean-cut hero or a clear-cut villain; and Farmer's fascinating performance as both Lotta characters, who look alike but speak and sing in different tones and registers. 

The picture received strong reviews in 1936, largely because of the lumberjack material, and because critics felt a good balance had been struck. Admitting that it wasn't "a thoroughly Ferber work," the New York Times critic called it "genuinely satisfying" and "a vividly toned portrait of a man." Ferber agreed it wasn't thoroughly Ferber, turning down publicity requests because the movie underplayed the novel's environmental concerns. Yet she praised Goldwyn for "throwing out the finished Hawks picture" and starting again from scratch, which of course he hadn't done. In any case, the box-office returns were underwhelming despite a solid marketing push. Variety blamed Arnold, who didn't have "quite enough on the ball to pull 'em in alone," and the lack of female stars--true enough at the time, although today Come and Get It shines as arguably the finest achievement in Frances Farmer's troubled career. Source:

Confessions of an Oscar Voter: I Loved ‘Three Billboards’ and Don’t Get ‘Get Out.’ We asked an anonymous Academy Awards voter for their honest thoughts on this year’s nominees. "It’s pretty much a tie for me between Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water. Three Billboards is a beautifully crafted, excellently written piece that has such extreme drama with comedy that it’s a perfect combination. I saw The Shape of Water for a second time and really appreciated not only the visuals and the story, but the actual fairy tale aspects of it. At the moment, I am leaning toward The Shape of Water. It’s tough to say [which will win] because I think Three Billboards has more cachet as far as the type of film Academy members would normally vote for.

I’m a bit confused by ‘Get Out.’ Not by understanding the film—I understood the film fine—I’m just not 100% sure why they made that one the social statement of the year. I thought it was an intelligent, sophisticated psychological horror film. But I’m completely confused by why it got all that attention. I actually got more out of the Scream movies as far as intellectual twists on horror films, and they’re making Get Out as this huge statement, and I don’t quite see the depth of it that other people are seeing.

What about the supporting categories? For Best Supporting Actor, for me, it was a toss-up between Sam Rockwell [for Three Billboards] and Willem Dafoe [for The Florida Project]. I’m going for Sam Rockwell for the same reason as Frances McDormand. He was pitch-perfect. He had to straddle the line between monster and hero, and he did it perfectly. Unfortunately, because The Florida Project did not get nominated for Best Picture or screenplay, the chance of Dafoe has gone way down.

Will The Shape of Water win the most awards? Dunkirk? "I hope it’s not Dunkirk. I didn’t understand Dunkirk. It’s a fine battle picture, but it’s very, very confusing. They constantly switch between night and day. I wasn’t familiar with Dunkirk in my history, and I didn’t know it’s in France. And they never explained it. I liked The Post. I know that other people had issues with it because they compared it to the actual events and to All The President’s Men, but where I was not familiar with Dunkirk, I was also not familiar with the events from The Post, and unlike Dunkirk, I was not confused by The Post and I was very enthralled by the narrative. Source:

“Baby Driver” is riding in second place behind “Dunkirk” in all three of its Oscar races — Best Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing — in our combined odds. But Christopher Nolan‘s World War II epic should keep an eye on the rearview mirror because “Baby Driver” could very well speed past it all the way to the Kodak Theatre stage.

“Baby Driver” needs only to look to “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007) for inspiration. The third installment of Matt Damon‘s spy franchise went three-for-three in the exact same categories the Edgar Wright flick is up for. War films have historically ruled these categories, but every now and then, the Oscars go all in on popular action films that aren’t Best Picture contenders but are brimming with sharp cutting and audio work. “Baby Driver” is similar to “The Bourne Ultimatum” — Both feature frenetic, pulsating car chase sequences and both center on a protagonist with a medical ailment: Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has amnesia and Baby (Ansel Elgort) has tinnitus. 

“Baby Driver” lost SAG stunt to “Wonder Woman” and the comedy ACE Eddie to “I, Tonya,” while “Dunkirk” won the drama ACE Eddie. “Baby Driver” and “Dunkirk” will face off at BAFTA and MPSE on Feb. 18 and at CAS on Feb. 24. The difference is that “Bourne” didn’t have to compete against a behemoth of a war film like “Dunkirk.” If “Baby Driver” takes any of those, watch out on March 4. Be sure to make your Oscar predictions so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on March 4. Source:

Monday, February 05, 2018

Blue Eyes and Ethics: Paul Newman, Matt Damon

Paul Newman, the fierce-faced punk at the Actors Studio in New York City in the early fifties, perched backward on a folding chair. The tough guy's wearing a white T-shirt tight enough to show the curve of his lats, his smoke cupped in one hand, his jaws clamped so hard that the muscles in his cheek quiver. No one in a room of sixty people could look more alone. You'd guess that he'll get laid: He's rock-hard, ice-cool, gorgeous. The first time he goes up in front of the class to do a scene in workshop, the tough guy gets slammed. Not that he doesn't know a few things. He knows that James Dean is out in Hollywood already. He knows that he's not so quick a study, that he has neither their emotional equipment nor their savvy, that he can't explode like Brando or melt down glistening like Dean. He knows that he is out of other options. He has made aimless failure look easy, which it's not -- not if you're from Shaker Heights. And this -- the sum of his feckless boyhood -- this he can use. He will use it. He has nothing left to lose or to hide, nothing and no one to hide from -- himself least of all.

An epiphany of sorts, and a paradox, because, in fact, he gives a fuck. He does not want to be a lightweight. He remembers his father during the Depression, when the store was out of cash, taking the train to Chicago and returning with the promise of hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of sporting goods from Spalding and Wilson, because he was a man of integrity. His father was not a lightweight and traded newspapering for the cold hell of retail to secure a future for his family. When his father died in 1950, Newman went back to Cleveland and took his place behind the counter, and he felt a stone in his chest where his heart had been. Behind the counter and in the account book, the tough guy found more shadows and ghosts than he could bear. He didn't last a year before deciding he's going to be an actor. He's going to pay the price of seeming not to give a fuck -- about the future, about success, about what anybody else thinks of him. He's going to pretend to care deeply about nothing, to be past caring, especially about the things he cares deeply about. He's going to act as if he's not acting.

He's going to be Hud. Cool Hand Luke. He's going to be a beautiful loser, a self-made orphan, adrift and misjudged, as scornful as he is scorned. He's going to be the adolescent fantasy of a man's man, cocky, gritty, tough inside and out, all smirk and sinew, opposed -- not by choice but by the helpless purity of his nature -- to the laws that govern everyone else. Freedom... he has no other choice. No past -- his father's shade floats dark behind him, knowing that his pretty boy couldn't cut the mustard. No future -- he looks a little like Dean, but without the sullen anguish. Newman was just a tough guy hidden, alone behind the curtain. "I don't know what I've learned," the old Paul Newman growls. Then comes a long pause, a vintage Actors-Studio pause, a quiet billowing like fog, a hush falling like the dark. You want him to open and spill himself? He won't. He doesn't think of himself like that, as a subject. Long ago, he decided that his inner life would stay that way ("This is the great age of candor," he said in 1983. "Fuck candor"), that celebrity was another, lesser role, and not to be trusted.

Newman was named Best Actor at Cannes for his work in The Long, Hot Summer (1958) but it wasn't that year's box-office sensation that would've been Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, for which Newman got the first of his eight Best Actor Oscar nominations. By 1963, with twenty films and three Oscar nominations for Best Actor, Newman had become the most versatile and bankable movie star on planet Earth; for God's sake, Newman lost Oscars to, among others, David Niven and Tom Hanks. The women mocked at fanning themselves when he turned his head, not because they were warm, but because it was… him. "It is luck," admits Newman, "I didn't think very much about the future. I never felt like a leading man. I never had that kind of confidence." James Dean had died and bequeathed to Newman his first plum role, as Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me.

Meeting Joanne Woodward, a great actress who was willing to set aside the meat of her career to raise their kids --that was lucky too. In 1953, while walking around Manhattan street on a scorching August afternoon, the 25-year-old Newman decided to escape the heat in his agent’s air conditioned office. How could he know that he was about to meet the love of his life? In that fateful office sat Joanne Woodward, a young, pretty and very talented actress, also hiding from the hot sun. “We really liked each other,” Woodward said about the secret to their long marriage. “We could talk to each other, we could tell each other anything without fear of ridicule or rejection. There was trust.” "I was shy and a bit conservative. It took me a long time to persuade her that I wasn't as dull as I looked," Shawn Levy quotes Newman in his biography Paul Newman: A Life (2009). On January 29, 1958, Joanne and Paul married in Las Vegas and went on a honeymoon in Europe. 

He's going to be another great good man -- the last of his kind -- gone.  Paul Newman had an odd sort of foul-mouthed dignity we simply don’t see in movies these days (if an actor is doing a blue routine, it’s always so damn obvious). "No complaints," Newman says. "I've had a pretty good run." Source:

Matt Damon was not happy being compared to such matinee idols like Paul Newman. Matt Damon joined Paul Newman on stage to perform The World of Nick Adams during a November 2002 charity event. "The leading-man stuff doesn't come easily to me. I've always felt like a character actor,'' Damon said, telling of his unease when he found out that the role he was playing in Robert Redford's film The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) was originally to have been played by the veteran star himself. Damon was the co-founder of to set up access to safe water and sanitation in the poorest parts of the world. His commitment to this and other more overtly political campaigns has caused Damon to be likened to ethically engaged stars of yesteryear, such as Paul Newman or Robert Redford.

Matt Damon famously had a 3 year relationship with Winona Ryder and even allegedly turned down Courtney Love's advances. Did Damon's marriage to Luciana develop from love at first sight? "I don't know if that's me revising the memory as I get older, imbuing it with all the subsequent emotion that I felt and all the experiences that we've had since then," Damon told Macleans Canada magazine in 2011. "I feel like if I'm honest, that there was a halo of light around her and I absolutely knew that moment had changed my life before I even spoke to her, but I don't know whether or not that's revisionism." However their relationship began, it's clear that they were meant to be together! Source:

According to the HD Room, Director Alexander Payne’s Downsizing starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig will get a simultaneous home video release on March 20th. Formats supported for the release include Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD. Downsizing had losses of over $20 million at the box office. The film’s star power combined with its premise about shrinking down to live in miniature communities should draw more interest on home video than it did theatrically. Despite tanking at the box office, Downsizing is getting some supplemental feature love from Paramount with a collection of bonus features. Here’s the breakdown of all the planned featurettes:

Working with Alexander
The cast
A visual journey
A matter of perspective
That smile
A global concern

Trustworthiness and altruism have a synergistic effect when combined with physical attractiveness. A new study, published in the British Journal of Psychology, has found that the combination of physical attractiveness and prosociality greatly boosts a person’s desirability as a romantic partner. “There has been some great research done by psychologists to help us understand human mating and in particular the individual traits that are valued by both men and women, however in reality these traits will be assessed as a whole when we make judgements of the desirability of a potential partner,” explained study author Daniel Farrelly, a senior lecturer at the University of Worcester. “Therefore we wanted to see how both men and women assess potential mates when the latter vary in levels of two characteristics that are well established in mate choice research; physical attractiveness and prosocial behaviours (e.g. altruism and trustworthiness).” 

The researchers found that both altruism and trustworthiness were preferred in long-term partners. But this was especially true for people who were already physically attractive. People with prosocial traits who were also physically attractive were preferred the most. But the effects of prosociality and physical attractiveness wasn’t simply additive. “In other words, as we found there were synergistic effects of being both physically attractive and prosocial, which meant that such individuals were viewed as more desirable than would be expected from just the sum of the two desirable traits,” Farrelly explained to PsyPost. “Also, this effect was most important for seeking long term partners, where having both traits will be much more valued and desired compared to short term partners for both men and women.”

“One of the intriguing findings of our study was how different forms of prosocial behaviours (altruism and trustworthiness) were valued in different ways by men and women that we predicted based on their potential adaptive value in mate choice,” Farrelly noted. The context had a much stronger impact for men than for women. For men, trustworthiness had very little influence in the context of short-term relationships, but a strong influence in the long-term context. “This research highlights how prosocial behaviours (such as fairness, heroism, and true altruism) may be viewed differently in human mate choice due to the different adaptive roles,” Farrelly added. The study, “The synergistic effect of prosociality and physical attractiveness on mate desirability“, was co-authored by Daniel Ehlebracht, Olga Stavrova, and Detlef Fetchenhauer.  Source:

Thursday, February 01, 2018

'Bad' Girls, Romantic Partners, Matt Damon

Perhaps the more astonishing thing of I, Tonya is that this movie is a black comedy about domestic violence, parental abuse, and low self-esteem… and it works. It works in a way that does not diminish the horrors of those things, and is funny about them — in a dark, bitter way — only in how people rely on lying in often ridiculous ways to themselves and others about the realities of their lives. And even then, it’s not that we’re intended to laugh so much as we’re meant to see the deployment of bleak humor by the narrators of their own stories as a way to distance oneself from things too terrible to consider full on. Margot Robbie’s Tonya Harding is a complicated, contradictory woman as well, oozing massive self-delusion that is a challenge to us, and to our acceptance of her side of the story — nothing is ever her fault, even when it clearly is — and yet also adds to our empathy for her. Source:

“Bad Girls” Say No and “Good Girls” Say Yes: Sexual Subjectivity and Participation in Undesired Sex During Heterosexual College Hookups. Young people’s sexuality is often discursively constructed within the confines of a masculine/feminine binary. Accordingly, young women who acknowledge themselves as sexual subjects are constructed as “bad girls” who incite males’ purportedly uncontrollable desire and, thus, invite undesired sexual attention. However, there is reason to hypothesize that young women who view themselves as sexual subjects may be less likely than other women to engage in undesired sexual activity. Logistic regression analyses suggest that pleasure prioritization and sexual agency are associated with lower odds of performing undesired sexual acts to please a partner—and sexual agency is associated with lower odds of succumbing to verbal pressure for intercourse. These findings point to the importance of sexuality education that includes discussions of women’s sexual subjectivity. This research was made possible by financial support from the Vanderbilt University College of Arts and Science Social Science Dissertation Fellowship. Source:

In an interview with Deadline, Matt Damon talked about the Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct allegations: "I just feel absolutely sick to my stomach. If Harvey was doing this kind of thing and I didn't see it, then I am so deeply sorry, because I would have stopped it." Emphatically, Damon stressed: "And I will peel my eyes back now, farther than I ever have, to look for this type of behavior. I feel horrible for these women and it's wonderful they have this incredible courage and are standing up now. We can all feel this change that’s happening, which is necessary and overdue. Men are a huge part of that change, and we have to be vigilant and we have to help protect and call this stuff out because we have our daughters, our sisters and mothers. This kind of stuff can’t happen." Source:

At its core, Downsizing grapples head-on with the long-term viability of humanity's existence on this planet, but with no pretension or preachiness at all. It's also a science-fiction film that not for a second looks or feels like one. As such, this is a unique undertaking centered on an unexceptional Everyman character who unwittingly embarks upon an exceptional life journey; in that sense, Matt Damon's Paul Safranek is like the hero of a Frank Capra or Preston Sturges film of 75 years ago, an ordinary man who has a certain sort of greatness thrust upon him. Ngoc Lan is Paul’s tart-tongued angel of mercy. Her “what kind of fuck you give me?” monologue is some kind of cinematic nadir. Ngoc Lan sees her contribution to humanity not in helping to build a post-apocalyptic society of the small, but in helping others right now, even if humanity is doomed. Paul’s dilemma becomes the choice represented to Ngoc Lan—to stay in a dying world and alleviate suffering, however insignificant that impact might seem, or retreat from messy humanity, chasing a perfect future?

University of Alberta research states that the more your partner is depressed, the more love you should give. This study was published in Developmental Psychology. Matthew Johnson, a relationships researcher, states: “Efforts from a partner to help alleviate stress may prevent the development or worsening of mental health problems and, in fact, could help keep the relationship healthy.” Johnson, a professor in Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences, said: “When we experience high levels of stress, we are particularly vulnerable and perhaps that’s why partner support in those times is so impactful and long-lasting.” Researchers have found that future feelings of self-worth and depression are linked with the support given when a mate was feeling stressed. Johnson said: “Giving to their partner made them feel better about themselves.” For example, men’s feelings of self-esteem got a boost from supporting a depressed partner. Women have increased self-esteem and reduced depression in the future if they are receiving support from their partner. Johnson added that supporting a partner who needs it most can be difficult. He added: “When someone is depressed or has low-self-worth, they may lash out.” Johnson suggested to give invisible support in the face of negative reaction. Studies revealed that helping your partner without getting her know can also be a helpful gesture like taking care of a sink full of dirty dishes they haven’t seen yet. You can offer support, just don’t draw attention to it. Source:

Monday, January 29, 2018

Soderbergh's Unsane, The Informant!

Unsane (2018), shot entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus, is Steven Soderbergh’s unnerving portrait of a young woman who thinks she’s being held against her will at a mental institution. Part Shutter Island, part Get Out, Unsane stars Claire Foy as a mentally unravelling woman who reports the re-appearance of her stalker, only to be placed in a mental institution against her will. The authorities refuse to listen to her frantic story, leading her to question her own reality. The film also stars The Blair Witch Project‘s Joshua Leonard, Killer Joe‘s Juno Temple, and Traffic‘s Amy Irving. “I think this is the future,” Soderbergh said at the Sundance Film Festival. “Anybody going to see [Unsane] who has no idea of the backstory to the production will have no idea this was shot on the phone. That’s not part of the conceit.” The nightmare of being held in an institution because people think you’re crazy comes to life in palettes of yellow and blue. Source:

Who is Mark Whitacre? A bumbling dimwit struggling with a crisis of conscience? A misguided upstart fueled by greed? A lonely loser desperately searching for a sense of purpose? A simple man scrambling to survive in a world of cutthroats and cheats? A devoted husband and father? Compulsive liar? Scorned everyman? Lost soul? Criminal? All those things, and more? That's exactly what director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Burns wanted to know after reading former-New York Times journalist Kurt Eichenwald's book, The Informant, a sharply written farce that proves to be as funny and infectious as it is tragic and disarming. Damon’s work in “The Informant!” extends his interest in performance and self-delusion, but in the withdrawn nebbish mode. Mark Whitacre is literally coming apart at the seams physically before he does it psychologically. 

Damon is superb as a demonically smart guy who comes across as rather dim. Is Whitacre a knight in shining armor, a compulsive liar, playing secret agent or plagued by mental illness? Or is he all of the above? With his earnest demeanor and straightforward delivery, Damon convincingly obfuscates Whitacre's motives. We don't question his veracity as much as try to muddle through it. Soderbergh emphasizes the man’s duality through his use of voiceover, which features Whitacre’s perplexing digressions, constantly veering away from personal revelations to ponder the weather, food prices and polar bears. In a strange but fascinating touch, Damon voices his inner monologue. Often, his thoughts — an inane stream of consciousness — seem wholly unrelated to what's going on around him, which adds an intriguing absurdist quality to an already quirky tale. Damon’s performance is the lone element handed a wisp of depth within the entire film, while also supplying the only substantial laughs. Under an itchy wig and behind a mustache, Damon interprets Whitacre as a good-natured gentleman caught in the middle of a various schemes only he can solve; a pure soul stuck in a Grishamesque scheme of 360 degree corruption. Source:

'Know thyself’ is one of philosophy’s most ancient aphorisms. But can the self be empirically investigated? Antirealists deny the existence of the self – for them it is an illusion, a fiction of the mind, a useful conceptual tool for organising human experience. Daniel Dennett, a cognitive scientist at Tufts University in Massachusetts, defends the antirealist view. For Dennett, each ‘normal’ individual creates a self by spinning stories through language. It is both intrinsic and unconscious, argued Dennett in Consciousness Explained (1991). Because the self is constructed and abstracted out of narratives, it is permeable and flexible, and because of its permeability, the self eludes scientific scrutiny. Some individuals with schizophrenia report a deep sense of disintegration between themselves and their actions. They feel that they are automatons – their bodies can feel to them like alien objects. Changes in the private dimension of the self can be at least partially tracked by analysing how behaviour changes. The subjective and transient aspects of the self that antirealists delineate are actually the private and conceptual dimensions of the self. Mental disorders do not influence or change exclusively one dimension of the individual but multiple aspects simultaneously. Studying only one fractured aspect of their self (i.e. autobiographical memory) will not yield the rich results that will come from engaging with the self in its complexity. An integrated understanding of the different parts of the self is necessary to fathom the complexity of mental disorders. Source:

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Humanistic Dissertations: Downsizing snubbed, The Shape of Water 13 Oscar nominations

Viacom’s Paramount emerged with no Oscar nominations on Tuesday for the first time since 2003. What’s worse, it’s the first time in 15 years that any of the major Hollywood studios (or their indie divisions, including the now-dormant Paramount Vantage) has gotten blanked by the Academy. Paramount came into this Oscar season with high hopes for a trio of high-profile and starry films, including Alexander Payne’s high-concept “Downsizing” with Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, director George Clooney’s ’50-set drama “Suburbicon” (also starring Damon) and Darren Aronofsky’s genre-defying Jennifer Lawrence film “mother!” A rep for Paramount declined to comment. Source:

In Suburbicon Matt Damon delivers a wonderfully dry, slyly vicious performance. Julianne Moore’s perma-grinning housewife could be one of the nasty friends of her character in Far From Heaven.  Why Suburbicon has been so poorly received by US critics and audiences is a mystery. Sure, its politics are painted in broad strokes, but then the dominant ideology it targets is hardly a paragon of nuance. Clooney’s balancing act is between heightened style and seriousness of theme, and it works, lending the film a consistent clarity.

One could argue that all of Alexander Payne’s major works – Election, Sideways, The Descendants– are about man’s search for meaning. And Downsizing, his most expansive and high concept film to date, is no different. It’s a movie about small people, but has a very big heart. We have the driest opening imaginable: a science lecture. Dr Jorgen Asbjørnsen presents a solution to humankind’s growing population crisis: shrink everyone to five inches tall so that they use a fraction of the resources of the “big” people. Jump forward a decade and 3% have made the transition. The enterprise has become commercialised. It’s a tempting offer: plough your meagre savings into this irreversible process, and watch as your hundred grand becomes ten million. A life of luxury in Leisureland, North America’s foremost “micrommunity”.

Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) are struggling to upsize. They’re still living in the apartment of his late mother. Paul’s done the math and he can’t give her the life she desires. So they choose to make the journey to Leisureland. But then Paul wakes up small, only to find out Audrey never went through with it. Paul is alone in this startling utopia. Payne throws in a wonderful curveball in the form of Ngoc Lan Tran and the realisation that the same human problems exist down here. The same inequalities and lack of social cohesion. Wealth and comfort are relative at all scales. 

Ngoc is a woman living off leftovers. She unlocks the potential in Paul. “You know things,” she says. She’s looking beyond status – beyond the vanity of Paul’s failed medical ambitions – to the core of who he truly is. Ngoc, perfectly played by Hong Chau, is an explosion of pure feeling. Confrontational and unfiltered, and often downright rude, she’s not so much a pixie dream girl as a pixie nightmare girl. Payne embraces the sociological and philosophical questions of his creation. A distant commune, hidden in a tiny fjord, looks like a pastel painting from a religious pamphlet. Going small, says Paul’s old buddy Dave (Jason Sudeikis), isn’t about saving the planet, it’s about saving yourself. He’s not right, but neither is Dr Asbjørnsen, who is trying to save the human race with grand cultural gestures. 

These conflicting outlooks instil Paul with a sense of self-importance, a balloon which only Ngoc can prick. Downsizing isn’t a very funny film, and this is where it may come unstuck at the box office. Just because the trailer insists it’s a whacky, life-affirming comedy doesn’t make it so. Its comedy is a guaranteeing grins rather than belly-laughs. First and foremost this is science fiction. Are the tonal shifts too much? What a pity if it doesn’t find an audience. It is intelligent and heartfelt; fantastical and true. It’s the first great film of 2018. Source:

Hong Chau, who has been nominated for Critics Choice, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards for her scene-stealing role in Alexander Payne's social satire Downsizing, said her relationship with Damon was "effortless" while making the film. Speaking to RTÉ Entertainment she said: "I met him on our very first day of shooting. I didn’t have time to go get a coffee with him or anything beforehand. I felt like he’s not some highfalutin Hollywood star. He’s a person who has worked a lot in his life but he’s also very happy to be working still and it’s very apparent when he shows up on set it’s a joy for him to come in to work every morning." "He doesn’t take it for granted", she added. Source:

Perhaps the greatest of The Shape of Water’s many surprises is how extravagantly romantic it is, driven throughout by an all-conquering belief in soulmates as lifelines. The Shape of Water is Guillermo del Toro at the top of his craft — if he were a PhD student, this would be his dissertation. Themes that have resonated disparately in his work are brought together here — the power of popular culture to soothe and support; the strength and value of the unique, weird (or queer); monsters defeated by embracing monstrosity; a united, loving diversity pushing back against a destructive, violent homogeneity; the lesser but insidious evil of allowing evil to flourish through nonaction. Del Toro takes risks that shouldn’t work — a particular sequence in homage to old Hollywood musicals comes to mind — but do.

But overridingly you feel lucky — lucky that something so sincerely sweet, sorrowfully scary and surpassingly strange can exist in this un-wonderful world, and desirous of hanging on to as much of its magic for as long as you can after you reemerge back onto dry land. The Shape of Water is indelible proof that it is not the concepts within popular art — or so-called lowbrow entertainment — that restrict the genre’s emotional resonance, but the complexity of storytelling we use to support those concepts. And, above all, the sincerity we are willing to invest in them. Source:

Oscar Nominations 2018: Could The Shape of Water break a record for Science Fiction? Stanley Kubrick's major disappointment was the beginning of a long Oscar dry spell for sci-fi. Some of the most influential films of the 20th century—2001: A Space OdysseyA Clockwork Orange, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Blade Runner, Cocoon, Back to the Future, Aliens, Jurassic Park—were nominated, but none of them won. The game-changer was the increase from five to ten Best Picture nominees in 2009. Since then, District 9, Avatar, Inception, Her, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and Arrival have placed within the Best Picture category. Source:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Matt Damon: Down the Rabbit Hole

It’s at that point when Matt Damon’s character, genius everyman Will Hunting, finally lets his guard down and reveals the abuse he experienced as a child, which Williams’ psychiatrist, Sean Maguire, relates to, being a former abuse victim himself. Sean repeats, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” Will, unable to keep up his tough guy façade, eventually starts weeping; thanks to Damon’s stellar performance, the tears are justified. Will also could be diagnosed with a severe attachment disorder. He was abandoned by his parents and abused by his foster parents so he developed strong defense mechanisms against intimacy as coping method. This also appeared to be cured after his breakthrough with Sean. Source:

Alice in Wonderland has all of Mr. Burton’s hallmarks—the silhouetted and broken tree branches, the haunting Danny Elfman score, the pasty heroine (Ms. Wasikowska has an inside track on playing the lead in The Claire Danes Story). Burton's title character is Alice Kingsleigh, an imaginative and strong-willed teen — played by Mia Wasikowska, an up-and-coming actress who resembles both Claire Danes and Gwyneth Paltrow. At several points in the story, Alice in Wonderland questions her own identity and feels ‘different’ in some way from when she first woke. Approximately 1% of the UK population experience these feeling constantly, and suffer from a syndrome known as depersonalisation disorder (DPD). DPD is characterised by a disruption in the integration of perception, consciousness, memory and identity, producing a disordered and fragmented sense of self. Patients often comment that they feel as though they are not really there in the present moment, likening the experience to dreaming or watching a movie. There is a high association between DPD and childhood abuse, and the onset of symptoms often coincides with stressful or life-threatening situations, which indicates it may initially arise as an adaptive response to an overwhelming situation. DPD acts as a sort of defence mechanism, allowing an individual to become disconnected from adverse life events, making the situation easier to deal with. In fact, it is estimated that 51% of patients with DPD also meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Through slight changes in neural activity in relatively localised brain regions, phenomena can arise which are as peculiar and fascinating as those experienced by Alice when she first fell down the rabbit hole.

From his earliest days, Matt Damon displayed a strong interest in acting and in playing a role in a make believe world. He was the kid who took play-acting more seriously than his childhood friends. Unlike many of his contemporary fellow stars, Damon has gone on to display as much skill and intelligence behind the camera as he does attitude and presence in front of it. He’s not only handsome, but clearly a talented actor too. With a high IQ (160 on Cattell’s scale, 138 in Wechsler’s scale) this combination of strong on-camera presence with off-screen intelligence marks him out as a different kind of movie star. While taking any part in school plays or drama classes, Matt would take his skills to the streets of Cambridge at weekends to earn a little money, break dancing in Harvard Square for the tourists. He also spent weekends performing in children’s theatre at the Wheelock Family Theatre in Boston during his school years. He had to work hard at his craft and hope for a whole lot of good luck. To that end, Matt threw himself into his acting endeavours, winning the lead role in a school production of Guys and Dolls

We’re all familiar with the James Dean wannabes and that’s definitely not Matt Damon. He’s a pleasant guy, one of those guys who can get along with the crew, with anybody. School Ties was a bitter pill to swallow,’ admitted Damon, ‘because I didn’t come out of that a star. Brendan Fraser and Chris O’Donnell got to be huge out of that movie and I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t any envy there. Yesterday you were hanging out with them and the next day they’re these huge movie stars. I thought my performance was pretty good, but I didn’t have a publicist. I didn’t do many interviews, and the phone just didn’t ring. It was tough.’ Matt had good reason to worry. After School Ties he was auditioning constantly, but seemed to be getting nowhere. Far from reassuring Skylar (his college sweetheart), Matt’s superficial success with School Ties only served to make her worry about their potential future together. Could she rely on him to actually make a career of it?

School Ties (1992): The role was Charlie Dillon, a rich kid whose racism makes life hell for a Jewish student in a 1950s New England prep school. It was clearly a challenging part, one that would give Matt a chance to show off the skills he’d been learning. It could even be his calling card to Hollywood big time. He was lucky to get such a featured role, though, as many of the actors where shifted from part to part as development of the film went on. Despite the fact that the star of School Ties was Brendan Fraser and Matt was billed fourth, it’s his character of Charlie Dillon that stands out. What shines through in Matt’s performance is his ability to play a charming but duplicitous character well. He uses his good looks and social advantage to escape responsibility - and it’s these very traits that Matt was required to display in greater abundance for the role of Tom Ripley in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). 

Despite having put so much of himself into the script, Matt Damon wasn’t precious about Good Will Hunting. He knew he was an actor who’d become a screenwriter by default and was happy to listen to the advice of Hollywood’s experts. ‘We listened to people’s opinions, but a lot of it was taking note and not making changes, too.’ ‘I look at acting, writing, and directing as a trade, pure and simple,’ admitted Matt, who refused to see himself as any kind of script writing genius after Good Will Hunting won him an Oscar.

Matt was most pleased to have the chance to play opposite veteran actress Teresa Wright. Wright had won an Oscar back in 1942 for Best Supporting Actress in Mrs. Miniver, but she was impressed with the obvious talents of the young newcomer. ‘He’s marvellous to work with,’ she confided. ‘He’s a great help to other actors and doesn’t have a thought about being a star. He truly loves acting. What makes you interested in the character of Rudy is that his desire to do a good job is a direct reflection of Matt, who has great sincerity behind what he does and tremendous energy.’ While he was keen to learn from the 79-year-old Wright, the most fascinating woman on the production as far as Matt was concerned was the youthful Claire Danes.

From his first involvement in The Rainmaker, Matt had his eye on Claire Danes - she played opposite him at his screen test having already been cast. She’d first been noticed on the television show My So Called Life before playing Juliet opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1996). Claire Danes clearly made an impression on Matt, and the pair soon embarked on a torrid on-set affair. ‘I fell in love with her,’ said Matt of Danes. ‘She’s fabulous.’ Still smarting from the end of his relationship with Skylar - which he was busy recreating in an idealised form in his screenplay for Good Will Hunting - Matt was ready for a new romance. ‘She’s an amazing actress, a wonderful person. I learned a lot from her.’ The romance was a passionate but short-lived one, lasting for the duration of the shooting of The Rainmaker. The pair parted as friends when shooting concluded early in 1997.

Skylar Satenstein was a medical student at Columbia University. She lived in New York City. ‘We were college sweethearts,’ said Matt. ‘It was a long distance romance which was really hard. We did it for years and then it looked as if the dynamic was becoming so fucked up, because we were trying to avoid the thing of not seeing each other for a long time and then being extra careful not to say something that might upset the other one. We decided to leave it to the Gods - if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.’

The impression Minnie Driver made on Damon during the Good Will Hunting audition wasn’t just down to her acting. The young actor was immediately captivated by her easy physicality and no-nonsense nature. ‘I couldn’t take my eyes off her during the audition,’ he admitted. ‘When she left it was just clear around the room that we would never get a better actress than that.’ During the making of the film, Matt and Minnie became an item, in an echo of Matt’s affair with Claire Danes during The Rainmaker. Although most of the cast and crew knew what was going on off screen between the leading man and leading lady, Matt and Minnie attempted to keep as quiet as possible about their blossoming relationship. ‘We were trying to keep things under wraps, because I never wanted to take anything away from her performance, which is tremendous,’ said Matt. ‘The last thing I would want would be for anyone to misconstrue it, to think she got the part because we were going out. We met for the first time at the auditions.’ 

Despite his rivalry with the Affleck brothers, Matt had been extremely popular at Cambridge Rindge. ‘He was the guy who sat in the back of the bus always making out with his girlfriends,’ remembered actor Casey Affleck. Matt’s date for prom dance had been Tammy Jones, tall and good looking. ‘I thought she was really pretty and I was hopelessly in love with her,’ he admitted, ‘and it turned into the worst date I’ve ever had! It was my senior prom. The girl that I went with hooked up with another guy, while I was in the room! I was hopelessly in love and ended up crying myself to sleep. I was heartbroken, crestfallen.’ With Good Will Hunting finished, the fun was just about to really begin for Matt Damon. The months following the film’s December 1997 release would bring both heartbreak and triumph for the young actor from Boston who’d written himself a role simply because no one in Hollywood would employ him. 

Not so happy at Matt’s success was Minnie Driver, who attended the 1998 Oscars in a frosty mood, steering well clear of Matt and determined to get one up on his new girlfriend Winona Ryder. Said a friend of Minnie: ‘The main reason she wants to win is so that she can stand up in front of Winona and wave the Oscar at her.’ Minnie lost out to Helen Hunt for As Good As It Gets. She betrayed her frustrations as television cameras picked out her stoic non-reactions as Good Will Hunting scooped other awards. She may have been secretly pleased when Matt lost (having not expected to win given the much more experienced competition) the Best Actor Award. While Ben Affleck was happy to stop off to give Minnie a consoling hug, she and Matt made sure they stayed at opposite ends from each other. The breakdown in their relationship was a sad legacy surrounding all the celebrations for the awards won by Good Will Hunting. 

Matt saw the rumours and innuendo as the downside to fame. Although he didn’t set out to be famous - after all he’d written Good Will Hunting just so he could play the role - now he was here, he was determined to make it as positive an experience as possible. In the spring of 2000 the breakdown in the relationship between Matt and Winona Ryder had become apparent when Matt moved out of the house they shared in Beverly Hills. Ryder had been expected to accompany Matt on his promotional tour of Europe to promote The Talented Mr. Ripley, but he went alone.

Matt Damon finally found his ‘soul mate’ in the non-Hollywood ‘civilian’ world when he met Luciana Bozán Barroso, an Argentinian barmaid he encountered while filming Stuck on You in Miami in 2003. Six years his junior, Luciana - known as Lucy - was born in 1976. Matt incongruously met Lucy in the ‘Crobar’ while on a break from filming. ‘I was hiding behind the bar,’ admitted Matt, ‘because I was getting hassled … I went back and Lucy said, “What the hell are you doing here?” because I didn’t work there and I was behind her bar. I genuinely feel like - people have that saying about seeing someone across a crowded room - I swear to God, that happened to me… something incredible happened the first time I saw her.’ Lucy was soon an ex-bartender who accompanied the star on his 2004 tour across Europe shooting on Ocean’s Twelve, before returning with him home to Boston to meet his family, where he then worked on making The Departed.  Reflecting on his love at first sight with Lucy, Matt said: ‘I can’t imagine my life having not gone down that road. I can’t imagine what my life would be now. I don’t want to imagine it.’

It was back to extreme macho action theatrics for Matt Damon, when he took on the leading role in science fiction action thriller Elysium (2013). Part of the attraction for him was the depiction of a future 2154 society in which the extremely rich ‘one per cent’ of the population inhabit ‘Elysium’, a man-made orbital habitat, leaving the rest to fend for themselves on the polluted remnant of a devastated Earth. Matt played Max Da Costa, another ‘everyman’ representative of humanity who could function as a modern Jesus. ‘I like to think it’s a hopeful message,’ said Damon: ‘Even in a future where it’s every man for himself, it’ll be possible to hold on to his humanity.’ "Building a strong, solid, educated middle class is ultimately the best thing for America. There's a misconception that leaders lead. They don't. They follow. Someone like FDR. Every great movement has come from the bottom up," affirmed Damon. The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips praised Matt’s filmic choices. ‘Damon has an awfully good nose for material; even when Elysium grows allegorically simplistic or familiar, the script avoids pounding cliché, and Blomkamp and his design and effects teams give us a plausibly harsh idea of things to come.’

Between The Adjustment Bureau, Elysium and The Zero Theorem, Matt Damon appeared to have caught a taste for science fiction. It was an interest he’d secure with the ‘stranded astronaut’ double whammy of Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015), before the star contemplated reluctant his long-awaited return to the world of super-spy Jason Bourne. His political engagement in real world issues, in particular to do with the anti-war movement, poverty, climate change, and water rights, had given him clout in a world beyond Hollywood, but had also influenced his choice of movies with messages, from Syriana to Green Zone and Promised Land, as well as appearing in family-friendly fare such as We Bought a Zoo, choices increasingly informed by his own growing family with wife Luciana Barroso, one of Hollywood’s most successful marriages. 

His tendency to speak without thought haunts Damon to this day, with bad press over his comments on diversity and homosexuality in Hollywood providing a cloud over 2015 which was otherwise one of his most successful years. UPDATED: "What have you learned from that whole experience?" the Today Show host Kathie Lee Gifford asked Damon. "Well, I really wish I'd listened a lot more before I weighed in on this," he replied. "Ultimately, what it is for me is that I don't want to further anybody's pain with anything that I do or say." "So for that I'm really sorry," Damon said, before throwing his support behind Time's Up and the women behind the anti-sexual harassment initiative. "A lot of those women are my dear friends and I love them and respect them and support what they're doing and want to be a part of that change and want to go along for the ride."

Summing up Matt’s career to date, the New York Times’ M. Dargis perceptively wrote: ‘Damon tends to win respect, not swoons, from film critics, but great directors can’t stay away. His boyish looks have certainly helped him land roles, and remain essential to his appeal... his ability to recede into a film while also being fully present, a recessed intensity, distinguishes how he holds the screen. Damon eases into roles so quietly you rarely see him acting. It’s the type of quiet that can be mistaken for no acting at all and that, much like his trademark smile, can prove deceptive. People magazine anointed him one of the sexiest men alive, but he seems out of place alongside the silky likes of [Johnny] Depp. [His] Janus-like quality - the boy next door who turns out to be the killer, the thief and the spy among us - makes Damon a consistently surprising screen presence.’ —"The Talented Matt Damon" (2016) by Brian J. Robb

“Suburbicon” is The Lodges’ story which has its roots in a screenplay that Joel and Ethan Coen wrote in 1986 — the same year, incidentally, that gave us David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” the greatest dark-side-of-suburbia movie ever made. In dusting off the script, Clooney and his longtime writing partner, Grant Heslov opted to mix in the Levittown unrest as a way to update the material for 2017. For a while, at least, the unrepentant nastiness of the plotting and the intense commitment of the actors are enough to sustain you through the proceedings. You may feel a rush of pity for Moore, whose stylized luminosity has been far better served in other ’50s settings, and especially for Damon, whose handsome features seem almost putrefied with self-loathing. Julianne Moore gives a perfectly judged comic performance as a Barbara Stanwyck-like femme fatale, whose only drawback is that she is so utterly dimwitted. Damon is increasingly creepy as the repressed family man who dreams of living on the beach in Aruba.

Matt Damon plays yet another all-American type. His character, Gardner Lodge, is a seemingly affluent husband and father with a 10-year-old son, Nicky (Noah Jupe.) His wife Nancy is in a wheelchair, and her lookalike sister Margaret (Julianne Moore) is also living with them. Gardner couldn’t be more wholesome and upstanding – or at least, that is how it appears. This may be bright, sunny, Eisenhower-era America, but the filmmakers go out of their way to show its dark underbelly in as comic a way as possible. The filmmakers have lavished abundant care on every colorful detail of their Atomic Age aesthetic but their fatal miscalculation is to reduce the Mayers family to a similarly decorative function. Treating black characters as a symbol of unalloyed goodness isn’t, in the end, much more progressive than denouncing them as everything that’s wrong with this country. Clooney wants to both indulge and critique the vile, amoral stupidity of his characters, to draw us into a moral dead zone that might prove instructive and even edifying. But it would require a filmmaker of either greater intellectual distance or tonal finesse to illuminate the toxic, ever-present legacy of white supremacy rather than merely restaging it, or to turn this kind of cut-rate misanthropy into art. Source:

“Suburbicon” has a message about first impressions: Don’t trust them. For all intents and purposes, this is a Coen brothers picture. In many ways, Suburbicon as harsh and pitiless as their “No Country for Old Men,” achieving that level of hair-raising darkness with a brutal home-invasion sequence near the beginning. Damon giving a performance that renders his character downright chilling and Jupe doing heart-rending work as a child emotionally buffeted by the grievously flawed behavior of the adults who are supposed to love and protect him. Source:

The social commentary of Downsizing and the satire interested him though. Damon turned down the lead in 2016's award-winning drama Manchester By The Sea to do Downsizing because he wanted to work with Payne. Casey Affleck took the role and won an Oscar for it. Said Damon: "When Payne gave me the script, I felt it was a completely original story. It is this kind of crazy, digressive left turn it takes in the middle of the movie, and I get to Norway and am in love with a one-legged Vietnamese political dissident." Asked about the current presidency: "For me, it is just about trying to get through this presidency without this behaviour becoming normalised, because we have to return to our sense of decency. We have to have a sense of shame," Damon  said. "I don't know how to raise children in the face of that kind of boorishness coming out of the White House. I just ignore it for right now." Source:

Downsizing sounds appealing to Paul Safranek, a protagonist cut in the mold of a Frank Capra hero. It helps that he’s played by Matt Damon, who brings a dignity to the character recalling Jimmy Stewart. Paul is a classic Middle American paradigm of basic decency: an occupational therapist committed to helping relieve the aches of Omaha Steaks’ workers, he’s the kind of guy who considers caring for his ailing mother and pleasing his listless wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) the highest honor.

After conversations with two shrunken high school classmates at their reunion, Paul and Audrey decide to make the big leap to downsize. They attend a sales pitch at Leisureland, a model community promoting itself as a middle-class utopia. The film expands its frame with the introduction of Hong Chau’s Vietnamese dissident Ngoc Lan, an activist who gets shrunk not as liberation but rather as a form of government oppression. She works as a cleaner in Paul’s building and eventually introduces him to a world beyond the Leisureland walls. Ngoc forces Paul to confront his notions about where his efforts to help humanity are best suited, a worthy question to consider – but one that also feels better suited for a different film.

No matter the narrative hiccups, the issues raised are fascinating to ponder because Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor take the time to consider them fully. The capacity to shrink humans for population control is a far-fetched sci-fi concept, but the stretching of our planet beyond its capabilities has already begun. Downsizing dares to ask if humans will be ready to make the sacrifices necessary for the survival and preservation of the species is on the line. Payne and Taylor can pose the question without inducing complete debilitation because it’s one they ask with genuine concern and empathy for their fellow earthlings. Source: