Screening Room: ‘Downsizing’

In Alexander Payne’s new comedy, Downsizing, Matt Damon plays a guy who takes advantage of new technology that shrinks people in order to offset their negative impact on the environment; also, leads to a life of luxury that is not as enjoyable as he initially thinks.

Downsizing opens next Friday. My review is at PopMatters:

No, being the size of a dog’s chew toy might not be to everybody’s taste, but it’s certainly a shortcut to a kind of upper middle-class luxury unobtainable for most of humanity. Around $150k in real-world money translates into $12.5 million in the little planned communities of the downsized. That buys a lot of McMansion. As the indelibly happy Dave (Jason Sudeikis) crows to occupational therapist Paul (Matt Damon), “Cheesecake Factory? We’ve got three of ’em!”…

Screening Room: ‘The Martian’

Matt Damon works on not dying in 'The Martian' (20th Century Fox)
Matt Damon works on not dying in ‘The Martian’ (20th Century Fox)

Astronauts go to Mars and a storm makes them bug out early, thinking they’ve left one of their own behind dead. Only that astronaut, a botanist played by Matt Damon with Chuck Yeager panache, isn’t dead and he’s got to figure out how to stay alive on an alien planet for years while Mission Control tries to put together a rescue plan. The Martian, based on Andy Weir’s bestseller, is the first Ridley Scott film in years that registers a pulse and might be the year’s first film to grab attention from both mainstream audiences and Oscar voters.

A can-do paean to engineering and astronaut awesomeness, The Martian is opening everywhere this week. My review is at PopMatters.

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘The Monuments Men’

Matt Damon and George Clooney in 'The Monuments Men'
Matt Damon and George Clooney in ‘The Monuments Men’

monumentsmenposter1During the latter part of World War II, as the Allies were advancing across Western Europe, special detachments of experts known as the Monuments Men fanned out with lists and a mandate to keep their own soldiers from demolishing cultural artifacts and finding those works that the Nazis had tried to keep for themselves. George Clooney’s attempt at turning that sliver of history into a cool, guys-on-a-mission film sadly falls apart almost before the opening credits begin.

The Monuments Men is playing now. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

The film assembles a dream assemble and then abandons them without a story to work from. Clooney’s lack of control over his material is evident from the beginning. Playing team leader Frank Stokes, Clooney gets his presidential assignment (a bungled, laughable scene with one of the more comical FDR impressions seen on film since Annie) and starts getting the band together. Chicago architect Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), art restorer James Granger (Matt Damon), sculptor Walter Garfield (John Goodman), and the just generally artsy Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban). (Later on, Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin join the gang for some Continental color.) This should be basic stuff, a few character-establishing moments and team-building quips, plus the easy comedy of watching the academics struggle through basic training before their mission. But Clooney muffs almost everything from the start…

A couple of the actual Monuments Men with a stolen Rembrandt found in a German salt mine.
A couple of the actual Monuments Men with a stolen Rembrandt found in a German salt mine.

The trailer is here:

New in Theaters: ‘Elysium’

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Los Angeles shows its 22nd century age in ‘Elysium’.

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There’s a stark and revolutionary allegory about privilege, capitalism, immigration, and even access to healthcare inside Neill Blomkamp’s new dystopian sci-fi actioner Elysium. Though it gets a little lost around the time Matt Damon gets a metal exo-skeleton riveted to him (two words: bone saw), this is still heady stuff for an escapist summer thriller.

My review ran in PopMatters; here’s part:

The year is 2154 and everybody still living on earth is having a miserable time. The Los Angeles where paroled car thief Max (Matt Damon) ekes out a living as a robot-making factory worker looks like a congested favela. Instead of the dark alleyways and cloud-piercing skyscrapers of many dystopic noirs, this city is familiar to anybody who’s spent time in chaotic megacities like Lagos, Cairo or Mexico City, where Blomkamp shot much of his film. The onetime infrastructure is decimated, with overwhelmed social services, no civic government to speak of, randomly authoritarian robot-police, and a relentlessly hand-to-mouth existence. It’s ripe for revolt…

Check out the trailer here:

New on DVD: ‘Promised Land’

promisedland2

promisedland-dvdOne of the more overlooked films of 2012 was the Matt Damon and John Krasinski-scripted Promised Land, possibly because it was marketed as a film about the gas-fracking controversy, when in fact it’s a smart and sensitive drama-comedy about the broader state of the nation.

It hit DVD and Blu-ray last week, here’s part of my review:

“You’re the natural gas people.” That’s how folks identify Steve (Matt Damon) and Sue (Frances McDormand). There’s a lot to unpack in that assessment, and Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land is smart enough to take most of its running time to do so, spinning a clever moral comedy at the same time. In those few words are contained just about every element, from hope to greed to fear and anxiety, that makes up the emotive froth of American malaise, circa 2012…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Promised Land’

promised-land-posterMatt Damon and John Krasinski’s film about natural gas salespeople and anti-frackers is getting a limited release just before the end of the year; it’s playing in a very few places now but is worth looking for when it expands wider in January:

“You’re the natural gas people.” That’s how folks identify Steve (Matt Damon) and Sue (Frances McDormand). There’s a lot to unpack in that assessment, and Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land is smart enough to take most of its running time to do so, spinning a clever moral comedy at the same time. In those few words are contained just about every element, from hope to greed to fear and anxiety, that makes up the emotive froth of American malaise, circa 2012…

My full review is at PopMatters.

You can see the trailer here: