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 Matt. ‘Even in a future where it’s every man for himself, it’ll be possible for a human being to hold on to his humanity.’ 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:

Monday, January 08, 2018

Americans’ retreat from cinemas, Matt Damon's controversia, Witness for Prosecution

"Eventually stardom is going to go away from me. It goes away from everybody and all you have in the end is to be able to look back and like the choices you made." -Matt Damon

Not even “The Last Jedi” will reverse Americans’ retreat from cinemas: Tickets sold per head have declined to their lowest point since the early 1970s. Expensive flops have prompted studio executives to complain that Rotten Tomatoes, a ratings website, is killing off films before their opening weekends. Americans are losing the film-going habit as new sources of entertainment seize their attention. Netflix and other streaming services have made it more convenient to watch movies and TV programmes anywhere, on internet-connected TVs, tablets and smartphones. Apps such as Facebook and YouTube are fine-tuned to keep users gawping. Americans spend more than eight hours a day on their various devices, compared with just over four hours a day on TV in 2002, according to Nielsen, a research firm. Americans are on track to have bought around 3.6 movie tickets per person by the end of the year, down by 30% from 5.1 in 2002. They pay $8.93 for a ticket, 54% more than 15 years ago, which means higher total takings, but attendance is expected to decline further. Frequent filmgoers have dwindled, from 28% of North Americans in 2002 to 11% in 2016, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. 

With the exception of Disney, profits are stagnating. Last year the earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation of the film studios at Fox, Time Warner, Universal and Viacom (Paramount) added up to $1.8bn, down from $1.9bn in 2010, MoffettNathanson estimates. When “Revenge of the Sith”, another “Star Wars” film, was released in 2005, retail sales, rentals and downloads of all films totalled $25bn, with the studios taking fat profit margins. That market collapsed to $12bn last year. Streaming revenue is on the rise, but less of that money goes to the studios. Studios rely increasingly on international markets for box-office returns, especially fast-growing emerging markets such as China. Studio and cinema executives argue that the secular trend in American film habits is less about decline than a change in tastes. Jeffrey Katzenberg, a former head of Disney’s film studio and co-founder of DreamWorks Animation, observes that American film-going has evolved from a “blue collar egalitarian” habit to a more “upscale” experience, at cinemas with luxuriant comforts and IMAX and 3D screens. That may be true, but there is a limit to how long new technology can justify rising ticket prices for the silver screen. Source:

Matt Damon's wan 2017 at the box office: The A-list actor capped off a year of box office disappointments—from ‘The Great Wall’ to ‘Downsizing’—with some poorly considered comments about sexual harassment. Downsizing—which opened in December to mostly bewildered reviews and flopped badly—is a precise mixture of goofiness and heartbreak. Thus concluded an awful year for Damon at the box office. Thanks in large part to his response to the ongoing Harvey Weinstein scandal, Damon’s year as a public and nominally political figure was much worse. Playing an affable Nebraskan occupational therapist with a solid-enough marriage and common-enough economic anxiety, he’s still plenty charming enough to come across as an everyman in Downsizing, even if the everyman role requires him to suppress most of his charm. 

He’s gone puffy and pale and hapless plenty of times before—see Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 comedy The Informant!—but here, with just a slight paunch and slightly thinning hair and a mildly dazed demeanor, the effect is somehow magnified. He is at rest, but far from at peace. Downsizing is an odd mix of bone-dry humor and squishy earnestness, its calls for human decency and dire warnings about climate change achingly sincere. As with his other major 2017 movie, oddly enough, Damon once again plays a largely apathetic civilian whose potential is awkwardly unlocked by a far more vibrant costar: a fiercely noble soldier played by Jing Tian in The Great Wall, and in Downsizing, a Vietnamese dissident played by Hong Chau. Both women do their part to save the would-be white savior; neither result, at least artistically, is an outright failure. The Great Wall, an absurdly literal depiction of Hollywood’s awkward attempts to conquer China’s booming but volatile film industry, didn’t make enough money in China, and made nowhere near enough money in the United States, with estimated losses of more than $75 million.

In October came George Clooney’s disastrous Suburbicon, which made way less money, and stunk. A 1950s noir based on a 30-year-old Coen brothers script, it sold itself as a nasty but fizzy upper-middle-class spin on Fargo—there’s Damon’s comforting everyman-as-Adonis face, pinched by clunky eyeglasses and artfully bloodied—but immediately revealed itself to be a profoundly ill-advised suburban-racism allegory. Nobody saw it, and most of the people who did would rather not talk about it. Source:

Jessica Chastain defends Matt Damon amid Weinstein scandal: 'He's a really good guy.' If the full range of offensive male behavior is going to be eradicated, as Matt Damon also advocated, it needs to be confronted and discussed rationally. To do that, men need to be heard too. And not every woman who makes an accusation should be automatically believed. The effort by Project Veritas to use a woman to try to lure The Washington Post into reporting false allegations about Roy Moore proves that. A degree of healthy skepticism rightly tests credibility. Yet urging caution or restraint in the age of #MeToo puts a person at risk of being Twitter-shamed as a generationally out-of-touch enabler. The anger of Weinstein’s victims is understandable. But turning that anger against anyone who questions the rush to condemn every man for every touch — that sets up a modern day bonfire of the vanities. Source:

"There's a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated, without question, but they shouldn't be conflated, right?" Damon said. "We're in this watershed moment, and it's great, but the preponderance of men I've worked with don't do this kind of thing and their lives aren't going to be affected, most of the people I know don't do that," Damon told Business Insider while promoting "Downsizing." "If I have to sign a sexual-harassment thing, I don't care, I'll sign it," he said.  

Vanity Fair: -What do you consider your greatest achievement? Matt Damon: -"My marriage, so far." Asked by Vanity Fair when and where he was happiest, Damon answered: "In our bed, making our children, and in the hospital watching them being born." -Do you feel women understand men? Damon: -"Oh, I think they understand us totally. I just don’t think we can completely understand them."

In a time when many couples meet via dating apps, Miles Teller is proud to have met his fiancée Keleigh Sperry in a more traditional manner. "I like human interaction. Tinder puts all of these girls in front of you, so you don't have to go to a bar and you don't have to have the balls to ask a girl for her number. But it's not something that I'm like, 'Oh god, they're having so much fun.'" Marriage is important to Teller, whose grandparents have been married for over 50 years. "My philosophy is Respect the person you're with." The 30-year-old actor popped the question to his longtime love after they enjoyed a thrilling African safari. The news was shared via Instagram on August 21 2017. "It was a beautiful and intimate proposal," a source told E! News.

Overlooked Performance of 2017—Miles Teller in Only the Brave (2017):  Joseph Kosinski’s real-life firefighting drama was completely forgotten at the box office, which is a shame. Even Geostorm, which opened the same week, did better. Only the Brave actually contained a whole host of wonderful performances — from Josh Brolin and Jennifer Connelly to Jeff Bridges and Taylor Kitsch. But onetime wunderkind Teller was the true standout, playing a part quite far from his comfort zone — a melancholy pothead and perpetual screwup trying to set his life straight after learning he has a kid on the way. Always exhausted, never quite right in the head, but quietly driven, Teller’s character, Donut, eventually becomes the beating heart of this movie, and he also gets what might be its most devastating moment, right near the end. We all knew Miles Teller could act, but Only the Brave showed us the awesomeness of his range. —Bilge Ebiri (Village Voice)

“You can’t write love off or put it on hold. It stays with you until death." —Jerry Lewis

A minority of people are genuinely turned on by intelligence, according to new psychology research. The study, recently published online in the scientific journal Intelligence, found that most people desire a partner who is smart. Furthermore, a small percentage of them reported that they were specifically sexually aroused by intelligence. The researchers also found that people rated those with a higher intelligence as more attractive. But this effect appeared to have a ceiling. “We found that the association between desirability of a prospective partner and IQ of the prospective partner is curvilinear: it peaks at an IQ of 120 (90th percentile) and drops a bit from 120 to 135 (99th percentile),” Gilles Gignac told PsyPost. In other words, people were most attracted to a potential partner who was smarter than 90% of the population. They found someone who was smarter than 99% of the population to be slightly less attractive as a partner. Source:

Putting the world in Mr. Damon’s hands is smart. At once preternaturally boyish and middle aged, Mr. Damon has become the greatest utility player in movies: No one can better vault across rooftops and in and out of genres and make you care greatly if he falls. He’s so homespun that he could have sprung wholly formed from a corn silo (he shares James Stewart’s extraordinary likability if not his later-life, postwar neurotic edge). But it’s the ease and sincerity with which Mr. Damon conveys moral decency — so that it feels as if it originates from deep within rather than from, say, God or country — that helps make him a strikingly contemporary ideal of what used to be regularly called the American character. Source:

Ben Affleck is in talks with Fox to direct and star in a remake of courthouse drama “Witness for the Prosecution.” Christopher Keyser will write the script, and Affleck will produce with Matt Damon, Jennifer Todd and the Agatha Christie estate. The 1957 adaptation of the Agatha Christie short story, directed by Billy Wilder, starred Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton. It was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Laughton and Best Supporting Actress for Lanchester. The news was first reported by Deadline Hollywood.

Marlene Dietrich’s entrance is a swift piece of storytelling in Witness for Prosecution (1957). But take note, we are not to trust everything we see or hear from characters who claim to know each other well. Dietrich’s work here paradoxically went “unawarded,” possibly even disbelieved, because it depends so much on a discovery folded into that don’t-you-dare-spoil ending. Dietrich’s acting talent was an unusual instrument, meant to be carefully wielded and always with the dangerous possibility of overuse, but here she gives an intelligent and careful performance, one fraught with many possible pitfalls but one where she made all the right choices. Dietrich manages to be both direct and elusive, stiff and intense.

She brings that cold blooded, calculating, haughty quality that was already part of her screen persona, but adds to it an uncharacteristic fragility and even some hysteria. Dietrich reveals herself as a perceptive maneuverer; she sees Power’s a user and lets herself be used so she can use him in return. Dietrich’s brief pause before we get our first reveal, that scene where she stops for a moment to relish her own genius and the effect of the bomb she’s about to drop. Her face, her demeanor completely changes in a millisecond as her ego takes over, and with a knowing, mocking grin she proceeds to tell Laughton what she did, lunging at him to drive the point home. That is the moment that very, very few actresses would have been able to pull off. Wilder reportedly thought Rita Hayworth wasn’t capable. Dietrich seems uniquely suited, practically made to deliver a compressed, distilled bit of intimidating acting like that and seamlessly weaving it into her whole performance. Source:

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Moral Choices: "Downsizing" (Alexander Payne), "Dark Age America" (John Michael Greer)

DOWNSIZING (2017) directed by Alexander Payne, is an enormous movie—enormous in its ambition, and enormous in its ingenuity. As such, it is distinctly out of step with the times. Payne and Taylor’s soul-sick seeker is Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), employed as a physical therapist specializing in repetitive stress by the Omaha Steaks meatpacking plant. After an ellipsis of ten years, the human “downsizing” process has radically changed the wider world, but not much has happened in Paul’s life—mom with her fibromyalgia flare-ups has been replaced by a wife with migraines, Audrey (Kristen Wiig). Maintaining the status quo promises only a paycheck-to-paycheck life of repetitive stress, but by submitting to miniaturization Paul and Audrey can trade genteel penury for a palatial mini-McMansion at Leisureland, a biodomed community in New Mexico.

As Paul and Audrey go about making their decision to downsize, Payne and Taylor anchor their far-fetched setup by imagining all the practical, political, social, and economic exigencies that such a scientific upheaval might bring about, from plummeting normal-world property values to unchecked immigration to unbalanced tax burdens for large and small to the ability of dictatorships to shrink noisy dissidents out of sight. The premise of Downsizing, like that of any good science-fiction work, takes off from an observable real-world phenomenon. In this case it’s the current cult of minimalism in all its forms: the “tiny house movement”; the gradual device-driven elimination of the clutter of physical media from living spaces. The film takes us through every stage of downsizing, a sequence that shows Payne’s understated visual intelligence at work. 

After Audrey backs out of the downsizing pact, divorce dashes Paul’s dreams of living big while small, and, adrift in a new world, he is sucked into the orbit of his neighbor, Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz). Even in Leisureland somebody has to clean up after the party’s over. This is how Paul meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a woman making her cleaning service rounds on a painful, junky prosthetic leg. Paul recognizes Ngoc Lan from the television news—she is one of those miniaturized dissidents, injured as the lone stowaway survivor of a trip from Vietnam to a Eugene, Oregon-area Target in an imported television’s cardboard packaging, a traumatic experience she refers to as “the TV box.” Well-meaning Paul guiltily offers her his assistance.

In any just world this multifaceted performance would be the part that catapults Chau to stardom, but there have been rumblings of disquietude about her broken English, that very contemporary squeamishness that labels anything creating the slightest discomfiture as “problematic.” It’s a crying shame, because she has given one of the most human performances in recent American movies, by turns comic and somber, hard-edged and meltingly vulnerable, as when seen in tearful confession or in the first heavy breath of the most tender and true romantic interlude at the multiplex this decade. Ngoc Lan’s point-blank proposition to Paul is: “What kind of fuck you give me?” The development of the Ngoc Lan character by Payne, Taylor, and Chau might be seen as an extension of Payne’s 14e Arrondissement, the shining highlight of the otherwise-unremarkable 2006 omnibus film Paris, je t’aime, which follows Margot Martindale—seen in a cameo in Downsizing—as a plus-sized American tourist in Paris. 

In most films Paul would have to pick a side between the poles defined by Dusan and Joris on one hand and Ngoc Lan on the other, between pleasure and principle—but Payne is not most filmmakers, thank God. Instead he brings the entire quartet together to move from Leisureland to the fjords of Norway and the original downsizing commune, where preparations are now underway to move underground in anticipation of an extinction-level event, a final retreat that Paul is invited to join in the name of greater good. This turn might, along with the movie as a whole, be taken as a satire of eco-panic and our fretting over carbon footprints, but there’s less than nothing here to mark Payne and Taylor as climate-change deniers. Downsizing is, rather, addressing itself to a culture of buying dispensation through lifestyle, through conscientious consumer choices, while keeping suffering abstract, at the comfortable distance of that TV box. The film’s climax finds Paul again at a crossroads—or, rather, facing another long corridor. Source:

Downsizing has a subtly structured arc of redemption, as well as a nifty metaphorical design. Although the film’s plot has the apocalypse looming over its characters, Matt Damon believes that ultimately Downsizing is optimistic. “I really do believe that movies are the greatest tool for empathy that we have,” he explained at a press conference in the 2017 Venice Film Festival. “I think it’s a beautiful and optimistic movie. There’s this sense that we’re all in this together. I feel that is a very hopeful message in a very divided world.” Damon emphasized that “Downsizing” shows a “likeable character whose life is different from our own, but whom we can find common cause with.”

Matt Damon’s Paul marks the best character Damon has played in some time. Paul isn’t all that distinguished but Damon invests him with an underdog charm that you don’t expect from someone of his power and charisma. Watching Damon as Paul suffer indignities and setbacks we really feel for him. Damon’s chemistry with Hong Chau is surprising and delightful. Ngoc Lan's snappy matter-of-factness beautifully complements Paul’s nicely pitched bluff affability. The tentative romance between Damon’s schlub and Chau’s displaced tough chick activist is wonderfully layered and unique. The tenderness and understanding between Paul and Ngoc Lan may not steam up the scream but their warmth and humor will win you over more than any great sex scene.  Source:

Downsizing offers us a message of positivity, urging us to recognise the importance of doing good locally and in our own communities. In today’s political climate, where the politics of spite and fear seem to be thriving everywhere, it might feel as though the whole world’s gone sour. Downsizing tells us the grand gesture is admirable, but so too is striving to make a difference in our own surroundings. And while that might be naïve, simplistic or even old fashioned, as far as messages go, it’s certainly not a bad one to have. At its centre, Downsizing is a real heart warmer. It’s both very funny and melancholy. Downsizing’s concept and attention to detail mean this world is fully realised, believable and fun to inhabit. It explores both concept and message with joyful, imaginative abandon and although its messages are not subtle, they are not heavy handed either. Source:

The fall of a civilization is not a pleasant prospect—the decline and fall of industrial civilization, the long passage through a dark age, and the first stirrings of the successor societies that will build on our ruins. Among the standard phenomena of decline and fall is the shattering of the collective consensus that gives a growing society the capacity to act together to accomplish anything. The schism between the political class and the rest of the population is simply the most visible of the fissures that spread through every declining civilization, breaking it into a crazy quilt of dissident fragments pursuing competing ideals and agendas. No doubt most of us would rather live in a world that didn’t work that way, but morality remains a matter of individual choices—yours and mine—in the face of a cosmos that’s sublimely unconcerned with our moral beliefs. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the former Soviet republics have seen steep declines in rates of live birth, life expectancy, and most other measures of public health. For that matter, since the financial crisis of 2008, birth rates in the United States have dropped sharply; these days, immigration is the only reason the population doesn’t register significant declines. No matter what your ethnic group, no matter how privileged or underprivileged it may happen to be, it will almost certainly no longer exist as such when industrial civilization on this continent descends into the deindustrial dark age ahead.—"Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, and the Hard Future Ahead" (2016) by John Michael Greer