Downsizing (2017)

My favorite thing about film festivals is that you are able to catch some movies before they get a wide release and try to get the word out to people to go and see them when they do eventually reach theaters. However, Downsizing is the complete antithesis of that statement.

The trailer gives you hope. Hope that something will be done with this interesting concept. Alexander Payne has directed and written some fine films, such as, Sideways (2004) and Election (1999) to name a couple. Movies that tell interesting stories with interesting characters on a much smaller, more personal scale (no pun intended). Downsizing is completely different in that way. I think the idea could work, as people shrinking themselves down to five inches to save the environment Unfortunately, it lacks any direction whatsoever, characters are uninteresting, and the movie is boring.

The lack of any likable characters makes this movie even harder to get through. I haven’t seen Christoph Waltz wasted this badly since Spectre (2016). Matt Damon can not do comedy at all as well. All the characters are wasted, but nothing really can compare to the character Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau). Chau plays a Vietnamese activist that sounds less like an actual person and more like Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). The comedic complexity and questionable racism of the character is that she sounds funny, which is fine, for the first minute or so. Afterwards, when you realize she is a going to be a main character, she becomes obnoxious fast. The best characters are the cameos in the movie. Notably, Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris and James Van Der Beek to name a few.

Do you like product placement? Not in the David Fincher way where it adds to the realism. Just overt Adam Sandler-esque product placement? Because if so Downsizing is a great fit for you! Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) works at Omaha Steaks and LL Bean, people eat at Olive Garden, Fed-Ex is mentioned a couple times, there is a giant Nabisco Saltine Cracker that is used to show Paul Safranek how small he became. All of this stuff is shoved in our faces in the worst way possible. Giving it that feeling like the reason why this is Payne’s most expensive feature yet is because of all the product placement that had to be done to get that money.

It could be said that Downsizing is satirical, but in order for that to be true the filmmakers would need to look up the definition of satire. The basic theme of Downsizing is about saving the environment. (I think?) The reason why I am unsure about that is because the way this is conveyed is about as well as Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010) tries to preach about environmental awareness.

Downsizing is like a Saturday Night Live skit that goes on for two hours mixed with a half-baked attempt at satire. It doesn’t know what it wants to satirize but, by golly it attempts to. Alexander Payne is a talented director and I still can not comprehend how he is attached to this horrible film. If you like the idea of Matt Damon being small with little else to offer, then this is the film for you. Everyone else should avoid this film at all costs.      

 

The Babysitter (2017)

★★½

McG’s The Babysitter is a movie that could have only really thrived on a service like Netflix. I doubt that most (including me) would go to a theater and see a movie such as this. It doesn’t set out to be high art of any kind, which is completely fine. It just aims to be entertaining, scary and funny; and at least it succeeds at the first one.

At a lightning fast 85 minutes, this movie just flies by. Even though the editing had some odd choices, such as editing animated text into scenes (maybe to capitalize on people making GIFs?) or a strangely-inserted POV sequence it was never dull as everything is so nicely condensed and nothing is focused on for longer than it should be. One editing choice that I also found to be unnecessary was the use of flashbacks to scenes from earlier in the movie before Cole (Judah Lewis) would do something. It ruins some of the intelligence of the movie and was just plain lazy to blatantly tell the audience.

With a one exception, the characters in this movie don’t matter. The main character, Cole though an arc that feels rushed and happens mostly all during the finale. Bee (Samara Weaving), was the best character undoubtedly. Weaving helps bring her character to life, making her a charismatic, funny, and relateable character…who happens to be a psychopath. Bee’s friends however, are all just stereotypes that have been recycled again and again from other high school coming of age films. Which, by the looks of it seemed to be the intention but, it was an unsuccessful attempt at that. All of Bee’s friends were rarely ever funny and just came off as cannon fodder for the gruesome violence that entailed. The worst of these performances however, was Bella Thorne’s as Allison; the high school cheerleader archetype of the movie. Her comedic delivery and acting in general was horrendous and the movie would have been at least marginally better if she was not cast in the movie.

The Babysitter borrows from many other, undoubtedly better movies. Most notably, Home Alone (1990). It is a bit of a genre-Frankenstein of some sorts. Not really being scary and not being very funny either. It’s just a short and entertaining “turn-your-brain off” movie that best watched on late sleepy nights

 

It (2017)

★★★½

When people say that Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise the Clown scared them in the 1990 version of It, I do not see how. Is this because people possibly have a fear of clowns or the movie from their childhood? Sure, Tim Curry did a good job as the character but he never petrified me. For the most part, the teleplay felt like missed potential. It was far too low budget and lacked the good acting aside from Curry’s performance. Now, 27 years later, (coincidentally) a big screen version of It has finally been made that fully takes advantage and has fun with the plot and turns it into a solid adventure that everyone should enjoy.

It is not really a horror film like the advertisements would suggest. More or less, the film seems to be inspired more by such Stephen King adaptations like Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me (1986) than something like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). Or in other words, it is an adventure movie that includes horror elements. The film very much feels like an episode of Stranger Things (it doesn’t help that one of the stars of Stranger Things is in this movie) The setting is also updated from setting of the book in the late 1950s to the late 80s. It also feels very aware of the era it is based in. We see a Gremlins poster in one of the character’s room. Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), Batman (1989), A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989). The bikes the children ride are there only modes of transportation, walking is done only sometimes and when it is, it is for short distances only. This somehow makes it all the more epic and innocent. Because, there was a time in our lives where we didn’t have a licence and biking was our only way of getting places.

Pennywise the clown, this time played by Bill Skarsgård. Sounds much more childish this time around. I think the opening scene of the movie (shown in the trailers) doesn’t fully show what is in store with his performance. The odd delivery and his genuine creepyness at the correct moments of the film is what makes Skarsgård a treat to watch on screen.

The budget on It was only 35 million dollars. The way everything looked would make me believe it to be at least twice that amount. This is also just the first part of a planned duology but Warner Bros. is waiting on the returns for this movie before they begin shooting. If you enjoy The Goonies (1985) and other “eighties youth-adventure” type films, but wished that they had a little more violence in them. Than look no further than It.

Atomic Blonde (2017)

★★★

David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde is a confusing John Wick (2014) (another one of the films he has directed). And what I mean by that is that the plot is much too convoluted for its own good. Don’t get me wrong, it is still awesome, but it’s a shame that they didn’t attempt to make it more focused of a film than what turned out in the end.

Atomic Blonde is violent. Beautifully violent. The various color filters blanket the terrifically choreographed fight sequences, filled with 80s music. (murder to “Father Figure” by George Michael anyone?). This is expected from director David Leitch, as he had over a decade-long career in stunts before deciding to direct. And the way the film looks also stays very true to the fact that the source material that it was based off of was a graphic novel. It may not be as obvious as how much Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) was inspired by the graphic novel that it was based off of, but certain scenes like the fight scene during a screening of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) (sweet reference by the way!) it can be obviously seen. Then there are scenes like the fight scene on the stairs; which is a whopping nine-minute continuous shot. It feels much more realistic as if it was more from a Bourne movie rather than the over-the-top action shown prior. It was still an enjoyable scene but it did feel jarringly different from other action.

Charlize Theron kills it as the lead character, Lorraine Broughton. Theron really succeeds as playing the part of a heartless and kick-ass secret agent. Delphine (Sofia Boutella) is the only character that felt a little pointless to have in the film. James McAvoy plays an archetype of character that he portrayed in Filth (2013), for those who have not seen that film, McAvoy plays a run of the mill, wild card/crazy guy as agent David Percival. All I can say that if you have seen McAvoy in other things that don’t include X-Men then you know what you are going to get. John Goodman is also there, and just does what he does best, at least for the role he was given.

Now to get to the problem that I had with Atomic Blonde, the plot. It starts out strong as a heavily stylized spy-thriller but, it slowly becomes more perplexing as the plot thickens and then the “big reveal” at the end feels cheap and unearned for what the film was trying to go for. This could also be because of the weird pacing at the end of the movie. But a re-watch may confirm my suspicions about that being the main issue.

So basically, if you wanna see cool shots of cool violence and watch Charlize Theron wear a bunch of wigs and fancy outfits, then Atomic Blonde is the movie for you. The plot may be a bit of a jumble, but it still is just really cool, and I think that point alone counts it as a movie that is definitely worth watching.

Wonder Woman (2017)

★★★½

No setups for other films, no e-mailing of the Justice League to Bruce Wayne, just Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins showed us all how to make the first actually good film in the DC extended universe. Other than flashy visuals, Wonder Woman is a championing of what happens when you can make a story that stands alone. This didn’t advance the plot of the other DC movies because it did not have to. This is Diana Prince’s (Gal Gadot) story.

 The film opens on the Amazonian island of Themyscira, where Jenkins creates a lush and colorful island that is just stunning to look at. The beautiful world of the Amazon Warriors is juxtaposed with the more grey and gloomy look of 1918 London as well as the front of World War I; showing what industrialization can do to land that looked just like Themyscira.

Wonder Woman‘s characters are instantly likable. Hearing this group of fighters talk and interact with each other was what really made the film work so well (other than the action sequences). Gal Gadot did a perfect job of playing a naive and good-natured person who is thrown into the crazy and hectic real world. Chris Pine’s portrayal of Steve Trevor is as a boastful, comical, and brave spy. Steve Trevor and Diana Prince’s chemistry worked as they provided foils for each other with Diana being an ideologue and Steve being a man more in touch with his actual world. Other supporting characters, such as Charlie (Ewan Bremner), Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) all are good inclusions in the picture.

The final act and the main villain is really the only weakness of the film. Which is a shame, because it felt like the film was avoiding tropes and cliches for almost the entire running time until the final battle. The final battle became also quite CGI-heavy and it looked like it was taken straight out of Injustice 2. Then Ares, the main villain felt underdeveloped and just thrown-in for the sake of it being a superhero movie. Now that isn’t to say that the final act is all bad, just like the other fighting sequences, the action is still great, but it was just a disappointment to see Wonder Woman fall apart at the end of the movie. If the final act could be compared to anything, it would be James Mangold’s The Wolverine (2013).

Finally, we have a film worthy of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s kick-ass theme song written for the character. Wonder Woman is a step in the right direction for the DCEU.

Alien: Covenant (2017)

★★★★★

The now nearly forty year-old Alien franchise has made its genre-defining Xenomorphs less threatening over time. The terror that Alien (1979) made people feel is no longer prevalent in the new installments of the franchise. Enter Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, a sequel to 2012’s Prometheus as well as a prequel to Alien. Covenant manages to create a whole new type of monster and makes him threatening and dangerous just as the Xenomorph used to be. His name is David (Michael Fassbender).

Without giving much away, the evolution of former Prometheus crew member and synth to villain is subtle at first as he questions his masters. By Alien: Covenant, David has fully turned on his creators showing no remorse for human life. Fassbender sells this man-made creation through his sheer acting ability to do so. While also portraying David, Fassbender also plays Walter, the synth who assists the Covenant ship crew. Watching both of these characters interact with each other on screen together is a surreal experience that is proven believable through the great effects used to produce it. The two share an admiration for the arts such as poetry, painting, and sculpture. As well as have lengthy dialogue about favorites of theirs in each medium.

A stand-out performance is Danny McBride as the pilot of the Covenant, Tennessee. McBride is mostly known for playing the character Kenny Powers in the HBO comedy series Eastbound & Down and many probably thought that McBride would not be able to pull of a dramatic performance.

Alien: Covenant has stunning cinematography. The Covenant space ship glides through the air with its odd “space sail boat” mechanics and Scott knows when the right time is to dwell on certain set pieces. Dariusz Wolski was the director of photography for this film as well as Prometheus and does a good job of capturing the atmosphere of that film. When the Covenant crew lands on the unknown planet to investigate a radio signal playing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver (it is unknown if Free Fire stole the idea from this film or vice-versa) is where the cinematography really shines. The overcast of the unknown planet followed by the darker shades of green and blue give off a very gloomy feel to the film as well as somewhat resemble the colors of a Xenomorph. Some well choreographed battle-sequences also manage to create some good suspense.

There are only one issue that I had with this film. The terrible CGI of the Chestbursters. In 1979 the effects looked better and the state that it was shown in was unacceptable for 2017. Some may say that the scientists in this movie do not act logically. This is simply untrue, these characters are on a new planet examining new life. Even scientists sometimes let curiosity get the best of them. It does not even compare to the scientists in Daniel Espinosa’s Life (2017). Who fail to contain a life form on the International Space Station, which they are trained to operate.

Alien: Covenant manages to unexpectedly take the plot in a completely different direction than expected. Instead of having a film more reminiscent of Alien, where a Xenomorph goes around a space ship, killing crew members. Covenant creates a new identity for itself, not being predictable or by-the-numbers.

 

Free Fire (2017)

★★★★

What makes Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire so damn good is the use of sound in the movie. I knew exactly what angle the bullets were coming from in the theater. What we also get is a gritty, violent, action flick based in 1970s Boston.

While the conflict begins to arise quite quickly it never feels poorly paced. It is actually quite the opposite. The 90 minute run-time is the perfect amount for the plot to keep you interested while confined in one place for the whole movie. It is gripping to watch the characters slowly move from cover to cover while in the lengthy shootout and that is a hard thing to achieve for over one hour.

The soundtrack of Free Fire is the beautiful sound of bullets being fired from all directions. The lack of music in many scenes improves the movie all for the better and the addition of John Denver at some points makes it even better, as well as a funky saxophone.

What’s odd is that Brie Larson has now been in two movies released back to back that take place in the 70s. The other film I am talking about it of course Kong: Skull Island (2017). Both have good period set designs but Free Fire would remind most of the aesthetic and color palette of 2016’s The Nice Guys. Another film set in the same decade as the latter two. The combination of yellow and brown just seems to fit the era well.

Free Fire is another great addition to A24’s ever-growing plethora of great films to choose from. What other film has numerous actors wear fake facial hair as well as polyester suits and makes you want to listen to John Denver on your car ride back from the cinema?