WEIRDLAND: January 2018

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 extends his interest in performance and self-delusion, but in the withdrawn nebbish mode.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:

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: