Tag Archives: Hong Chau

Amazon’s Homecoming

Amazon Prime hits it out of the park yet again with Homecoming, a tightly structured, noir laced conspiracy thriller that’s so contemporary yet so unbelievably retro I couldn’t fathom how well they pulled off the mixture.

Julia Roberts gives her best performance in years as Heidi Bergman, a low level mental health worker who has been left in charge of the mysterious Homecoming facility, which on the outside is an integration program to help veterans with PTSD transition into civilian life. This is a privately funded deal though, and Heidi begins to suspect that the powers that be don’t have these guys’ best interests at heart, especially after observing the shady avoidance behaviour of her slippery boss Colin (Bobby Cannavle, also the best he’s been in some time). Years later, Heidi waitresses in a marina fish joint, the events and apparent scandal of Homecoming in her rearview, until a dogged Department Of Defence investigator (Shea Wigham, pretty much incapable of hitting a false note) tracks her down and asks questions, forcing her to look at the past in a new light.

This isn’t just your average spook thriller with Manchurian Candidate undertones, but it certainly achieves that as well. At the core is Heidi’s emotional relationship with Walter (Stephen James, a revelation), one of the vets she’s treating, and how that affects her perception of what’s going on around her, their dynamic is the constant and the catalyst for things to get out of hand. To say more would be to spoil an incredibly subtle, slow burn paranoia piece that unspools one thread at a time and is an utter delight to unpack as the viewer. Roberts is sensational, usually we get a character from her on feature film terms, for two or so hours and then the arc is capped, but there are ten half hour episodes here and she’s allowed to room to breathe in her work, drawing us in and earning sympathy beat by beat. Cannavle is a pithy portrait of corporate greed and casual apathy run amok, not necessarily a bad dude but certainly an amoral, selfish schmuck who realizes the consequences of his actions too little too late, it’s fantastic work from the him. Wigham is always brilliant and plays this guy in the guise of a robotic company man, but as the story progresses we see that he cares far more than his tucked shirt demeanour lets on. Other stellar work comes from Rafi Gavron, Jeremy Allen White, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Sydney Tanmiia Poitier, Dermot Mulroney, Sissy Spacek and Hong Chau.

I was floored by the camera work here, the overhead angles, meticulous lighting, tracking shots and general symmetry in frame are so immersive and well done, this thing visually feels like noir to its roots while still being very of this era, thematically speaking. It also cleverly plays around with aspect ratio in order to put us in Heidi’s psychological state and accent the passage of time, a tactic I’ve never seen before but am now obsessed with.

It took me a bit to clue in that creator Sam Esmail literally lifted hordes of original score from classic 60’s, 70’s and 80’s horror thrillers and used them here, but by the time I heard cues from John Carpenter’s The Thing and The Fog I had an ‘aha’ moment and had to go look up just how many themes are sampled, and trust me there’s a lot. That could have been a lazy choice from a lesser production to just *entirely* recycle old music, but it’s used to such effect here and works splendidly for this story. This is brilliant stuff and I can’t think of a single criticism really. Stick around for a provocative post credits scene that pretty much begs for a second season.

-Nate Hill

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Alexander Payne’s Downsizing

I was very pleasantly surprised by Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, an intelligent, methodically high concept social sci-fi satire that takes the Honey I Shrunk The Kids template and plays it for thoughtful, heartfelt laughs while thinking big, thematically speaking. Matt Damon turns on the dim witted charm as a regular joe who decides to undergo ‘downsizing,’ a radical procedure patented by the Norwegians in which a human is shaved, sedated and shrunk down to the size of a tennis ball. Why, you ask? It’s scientist’s answer to the growing issue with humans ruining our planet, and they figure having an itty bitty carbon footprint instead of a big ol’ one will do this rock some good. This is but one of a group of very ambitious ideas that Payne explores, and whilst he doesn’t quite have time to thoroughly wring our every theme and thesis, it’s nice to see such thought and care put into a concept that could have easily gone the brainless Dwayne Johnson route. Damon settles down in a mini hydra dome called Leisureland, where the inflation rate is minuscule and things cost a fraction of what they did topside. He’s got two hilarious neighbours in snarky Serbian playboy Dusan (Christoph Waltz alllmosttt has the accent down) and his fellow hedonist, salty Konrad (really nice to see veteran Udo Kier back in the Hollywood game in more than just ironic cameos). These two are his introduction to the way this procedure has affected everything in the world from commerce to social relations, but it’s not until he meets feisty Vietnamese maid N’goc (Hong Chau) that he realizes the same problems which have always afflicted humanity have followed them down to their pint sizes, and even become worse. Chau is so good she pretty much walks off with the film, her blunt nature and hilarious accent contrasted by a bruised heart beneath. There’s some.. oddly placed plot points in the third act and I could have done with a bit less of the preachy climate change chatter, but for the most part this one stimulates and goes for laughs, milking the ‘shrunk’ concept in ways Hollywood never before. Watch for peripheral work from Kristin Wiig, Rolf Lassgard, Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Don Lake, Margo Martindale, Mary Kay Place and Joaquim De Almeida. Neat stuff.

-Nate Hill