Downsizing begins as a premise: what if the technology existed to shrink people down to five inches tall, while retaining everything else about them? Scarcity would not exactly cease to be a problem, but resources would instantly become vastly more available, as it would require far less in terms of material to feed, clothe, or house a human being. The result is a vast increase in wealth for the shrunken: the middle class instantly transformed into the idle rich. The first third of Alexander Payne’s film follows just such a middle class couple, Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, as they decide to undergo the downsizing process. There are informational meetings with sales reps, goodbye parties with friends and loved ones, and the clinical downsizing process itself, right down to where the shrunken people are gently scooped out of their now-oversized hospital beds with spatulas. Damon’s dream of post-capital luxury however, is crudely broken when he learns that he wife has backed out of the procedure. The resulting divorce leaves him not happily retired in a palatial mansion, but doomed to work as telephone support for Land’s End.
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Fresh from Melissa introducing the film at the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham, we talk about three versions of True Grit: the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, the 1969 film version directed by Henry Hathaway and starring John Wayne, Kim Darby and Glen Campbell, and the 2010 adaptation by the Coen Brothers, with Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld and Matt Damon.
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Note: Zama, which we’ll be reading for the Vancouver Film Festival, is a Spanish language novel by Argentinian writer Antonio di Benedetto.
The Great Wall, an experiment in co-production between Hollywood and China, opens with the spinning globe of the Universal Studios logo, its computer-generated image rotating slowly as it zooms in on the eponymous defensive fortification, helpfully orienting the hoped-for American audience by showing them where exactly the nation of China is located. Matt Damon is our audience surrogate, a white man on the road to China to trade for (that is, steal) gunpowder, heretofore undiscovered in Christendom. He encounters The Wall and learns that it is designed not to defend against the horse archers of the Mongolian steppes, but rather vicious alien lizards that hatch every 60 years and attempt to eat everything in sight: half giant iguana, half locust, half cicada. The well-organized and color-coordinated Chinese soldiers manning The Wall are initially suspicious of Damon and his friend, played by Pedro Pascal, but eventually they join the fight in a series of entertaining spectacles leavened by a few moments of such beauty that you remember that this is a Zhang Yimou film after all.
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After ten days in Vancouver and another couple of weeks trying to recover from ten days in Vancouver, I’d fallen quite a bit behind on the early stages of autumn multiplex season, the time of year when superheroes and cartoons recede from Seattle Screens to be replaced by middling movies for grownups, long shot award hopefuls, and films that star actors people like me (old people) grew up with. So over three trips to the multiplex this past week, I caught up with five of the first wave of what will amount to the (self-proclaimed) best Hollywood has to offer in 2015. More of the same will follow between now and then end of January, when the stragglers of Oscar season will finally make their way onto Seattle Screens, but if the early returns are any indication, this is shaping up to be a solid year for the American cinema. And when you consider that it’s also a banner year for international film, the year in film 2015 is shaping up quite nicely indeed.
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