Tag Archives: Kristin Wiig

Alexander Payne’s Downsizing

I really don’t understand the bad mojo this wonderful film gets. There’s a handful of films out there where humans either shrink themselves or are subspecies that are already small and many approaches have been made from wacky Big Hollywood comedy (Honey I Shrunk The Kids) to quaint whimsy (the varied adaptations of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers) to glib SciFi (InnerSpace) and beyond. Alexander Payne achieves something unique to its being in Downsizing though, a film that doesn’t fit any pre-existing template and sits squarely in unexpected terrain.

It’s the future, but there’s still Longhorn Steakhouses and as Matt Damon’s Paul picks up dinner from one he sees a world changing new broadcast: scientists have successfully shrunk a human being down to tennis ball size. Fast forward a few years and it has become an institution in which people undergo the treatment and live at their itty bitty size in utopian bliss to reduce impact on the environment. Paul goes for it, his wife (Kristin Wiig) has second thoughts and he’s now alone in the world at roughly the size of a rodent. He makes quaint friendships with the two adorable Eastern European hedonists (Christoph Waltz and Udo Kier sheepishly steak the show) who live next door to him as well as the Vietnamese maid (Hong Chau) who cleans their pad. The film meanders, and refreshingly so as we languidly get to know this ragtag team of tiny folk and join them on a wistful international voyage to explore the origins of this strange breakthrough. Others breeze in and out in a surprisingly eclectic supporting roster that includes Laura Dern, Jason Sudeikis, Rolf Lassgard, James Van Der Beek, Neil Patrick Harris, Don Lake, Margo Martindale and Joaquim De Almeida. I love Damon’s character because he’s just this naive average dude and, as Waltz sneakily puts it, kind of a schmuck but in an endearing way. The relationship he blunders into with Hong Chau’s Ngoc is simultaneously bizarre, touching, hysterical and heartfelt. Theirs pasts are both terminally tragic in different ways and they couldn’t be more mismatched but it somehow works, and Chau’s fiercely funny performance is a thing of affecting beauty. It strikes me as odd that this film didn’t get received better and I don’t know what to chalk it up to other than it perhaps being pretty unconventional in terms of narrative and style. It feels like a cult classic in the making, it’s fresh, unpredictable and works in every venture it tries and trust me there’s a few. Everyone I’ve watched this with has left enchanted and I really hope it’ll endure as time goes by.

-Nate Hill

Ridley Scott’s The Martian

You know those Sci-Fi movies where someone has a near miss, narrow escape or heroic encounter up in space and everyone down in the NASA control room leaps up, cheers and claps in collective catharsis? It’s a well worn narrative beat and can sometimes be an eye roll moment. Ridley Scott’s The Martian has several of these but because the characters and plot are so well drawn they feel earned, appropriate and exciting. That goes for the film itself as well, it’s a two and a half hour space epic that feels as breezy as a ninety minute quickie, an optimistic, human story of one man’s ultimate quest for survival and everyone else’s daring attempts to rescue him.

Scott is no stranger to darker, more austere stuff particularly in his Sci-Fi exploits, but he shines a bright light on the proceedings here, making a super complicated, science based story with many moving parts somehow seem light and carefree while also making a big emotional landing. Matt Damon is Mark Watney, astronaut, botanist, space pirate and celestial castaway, marooned on the red planet following a mission gone wrong and presumed dead by NASA and his crew, until he’s able to communicate. He grows potatoes using… homemade fertilizer, repairs a satellite and awaits rescue while everyone else faces moral and technical quandaries in their struggle to bring him home. NASA’s director (Jeff Daniels, smarmy but never an outright baddie) is reluctant to go all out and send another mission, the crew’s handler (Sean Bean, fantastically low key and against his usual tough guy image) wants to do right by them and inform their commander (Jessica Chastain). The earthbound commotion is nicely interlaced with Damon’s solo outings up there and somehow they edit the thing to both realistically depict the passing of time but also fly through the proceedings breathlessly. Scott casts his film with ridiculous talent including Kate Mara, Donald Glover, Michael Pena, Aksel Hennie, Sebastian Stan, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristin Wiig and Mackenzie Davis.

Many people wrote this off as a good film but simply fluff, like an enjoyable but kind of inconsequential ride, or at least that’s the vibe I got from some reviews. I couldn’t disagree more. This type of story is exactly the kind of thing we need more of in this day and age. One could remark on the vast amount of effort, overtime hours and expenditure NASA puts in simply to bring one astronaut home, and whether or not it’s worth it (Jeff Daniels certainly has that thought cross his mind), but the truth is that it’s not about just Mark Watney, or just any one person stranded up there, it’s about what the actions and efforts signify, and how important that is, as well as the notable and extreme resilience on his part. This is a film that shows the best in human beings who are put in impossible situations, and how we might make ourselves, and those around us into better people. It’s a rollicking space flick speckled with incredible talent, hilarious comedy, scientific knowledge and has already aged splendidly since it’s release four years ago. Top tier Ridley Scott for me, and one of the best Sci-Fi films in decades.

-Nate Hill

Shawn Levy’s Date Night

Date Night… could have been a hell of a lot worse, I guess. I’m trying to be nice here as there were parts I enjoyed but overall it’s fluff in the wind, thanks to an unwillingness to go the extra mile and give it the R rating it deserves. It’s got one killer cast, I’ll give it that, and a few scattershot scenes that work. Let’s be real though, any film that so obviously wants to pay tribute to Scorsese’s After Hours should be ready to suit up and get as weirdly dirty as that one did, instead of playing it safe in the brightly lit, cookie cutter candy aisle of comedy. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are certainly matched with chemistry here and are a spunky, underdog couple to spend the night from hell with. They’re both kinda like that one kid in the friend group that ends up being the butt of all the jokes, and then found each other, got married and doubled down on that awkward energy. A lot of these madcap stories start with a case of mistaken identity, which is what happens when Carell brazenly snags another couple’s reservation at the hottest dinner joint in town. Just their luck, the other couple happens to be Taste and Whippet (yes those are their names) a deadbeat, dysfunctional pair of ratchet gutter rats played hilariously by James Franco and Mila Kunis. Before they know it, they’re chased by a couple of dangerous hit men (Common and the underrated Jimmi Simpson) who think they owe money all over town. Also pursued by a relentless detective (Taraji P. Henson), the real conflict comes from seeing the couple unravel and their issues come pouring out until the collective hangups they have with each other are funnier and seem more pertinent than the fact that they’re running for their lives. The cameos in this thing are endless and include Mark Ruffalo, Kristin Wiig, JB Smoove, Leighton Meester, Mark Wahlberg, Gal Gadot, Bill Burr, Olivia Munn, Jon Bernthal and more. My favourites were Ray Liotta and William Fichtner as a mob boss and a corrupt DA, sneakily echoing their respective roles in the Grand Theft Auto games. This could have been a really balls out, irreverent flick if they had pushed the envelope and not slapped it with such a pansy ass rating. As it stands it has some really funny moments and a good energy overall, but every time I think about it I just imagine what could have been, had a little more freedom in creativity and content been given.

-Nate Hill