Film Review: “Downsizing”

Starring: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau
Directed By: Alexander Payne
Rated: R
Running Time: 135 minutes
Paramount Pictures

The most positive thing I can say about “Downsizing” is that you’ll never be able to guess where it’s headed. Even as the film hit the homestretch, I kept waiting for that “a-ha” moment or the singular statement that the movie looked to deliver. I never got that moment and in a way I left the theater in disappoint. But what lingered was uncertainty. Even after weeks of thinking on it, I’m still unsure about the message in “Downsizing” and whether or not it’s a peculiar sci-fi reflection on humanity or a tonal misfire.

Environmentalism is at the forefront in the opening minutes as we watch the Norwegians at work in a lab. They’re looking for a solution to the world’s overpopulation crisis. A solution comes in the unlikely form of shrinking. They’ve developed a way to shrink fully-grown humans down to five inches tall. This mean that the tiny humans will produce less waste, take up less space, and use less energy. Thinking long-range, they say in a few centuries they hope that all of humanity is down to a miniature size to help save Planet Earth.

Fast forwarding a few years after this scientific breakthrough, we meet Paul (Damon), who’s manages to persuade his wife, Audrey (Kirsten Wiig), to sell their assets and move to one of the biggest downsized communities in America. The pint-sized world, smack dab in the middle of the Arizona desert, presents an opportunity for the lower middle-class couple from Omaha to be millionaires in the miniature world, since you can stretch a dollar farther when your house is the size of Barbie’s Malibu dream home. Of course, not everything goes to plan.

Like I stated at the beginning, “Downsizing” is unpredictable because it manages to take every possible detour away from its original comedic premise of Paul attempting to adapt to his new life in a tiny world. It soon becomes a film about societal constructs, then organized crime amongst elites, then refugees, then class warfare, and then back to environmentalism. There’s the possibility I’m forgetting a few themes that Director and Writer Alexander Payne manages to wring out of his script. It’s a bold, bizarre endeavor that pays off sometimes.

But because of the constant gear shifting, there were moments I found myself bored and wondering if I really should get invested in any of the characters introduced, especially with how disposable most are outside of Paul. The sprinkling of humor sometimes keeps the movie grounded in its roots, but when it branches out it pokes you in the eye rather than enlightens. “Downsizing” may be a fun movie to discuss after watching, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into an entertaining film.

Film Review: “The Legend of Tarzan”

Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Christoph Waltz and Margot Robbie
Directed By: David Yates
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 109 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

As someone pointed out to me at the screening, the only version of Tarzan I grew up on was the Disney version (with that obnoxious Phil Collins song). My research skills did yield a cringe worthy adaptation of Tarzan featuring Casper Van Dien in 1998, but I’m fortunate to have dodged that abomination. So it seems after a nearly two decade cinematic drought, the feral child is back on the silver screen with the help of CGI and a bloated Hollywood budget.

I won’t lie. “The Legend of Tarzan” could have been bad. In fact, I thought it would be. I’m happy to say it’s not. It’s an entertaining movie with typical summer blockbuster faults. I’m sure some segment of the movie going population will be upset because “The Legend of Tarzan” drifts away from the standard Tarzan tale; explorers discovering a wild man who was raised by apes as a young boy. Instead “Legend of Tarzan” starts off in the mid 1880’s with a man named John Clayton (Skarsgard).

Clayton (which feels weird to type when referring to Tarzan), is more well behaved than the monkey speaking savage we’re used to. Clayton is stylishly dressed like a British aristocrat,
instead of a loincloth that manages to always tastefully conceal himself. He also walks upright instead of getting around like a primate in his swanky New World mansion. He lives there with Jane (Robbie) and leads a seemingly simple life.

The couple is called to the troubled country of Congo, although it’s not quite a country yet in this tale. Belgium is swimming in debt and trying to find anything that could possibly recuperate the massive debt they’ve accumulated by purchasing the African country. Their last ditch effort is Leon Rom (Waltz) and his ruthless plan. Rom’s preposterous scheme involves a massive influx of mercenaries that’ll turn the Congo into a slave machine, pumping out human lives, blood stained ivory, and sparkling diamonds.

The actual logic of everything is put in the back seat while CGI and action are the true drivers of “The Legend of Tarzan”. Don’t worry yourself with how studied and sophisticated Tarzan is despite being raised in the wild and only having a few years to acclimate himself to civilization. Don’t even think about questioning why Tarzan is fighting an imperialist who’s saving a debt-riddled country by hiring mercenaries and purchasing rows of 19th century machine guns. Of course a lot of the absurdity is quelled by Samuel L. Jackson’s character, George Washington Williams. With a name like that, and his constant witticisms about the irony of everything, it’s easy to forgive “The Legend of Tarzan” for being more fantasy than action-adventure.

“The Legend of Tarzan” is sometimes too caught up in tired clichés like revenge, the more human than human escapades of its main character and the unlikely buddying of two opposites. But like I’ve stated, this isn’t a serious movie. I’d legitimately be upset if this was a serious movie. Halfway through, it seems like Jackson’s character is one moment away from being lost in the lush jungles of the unexplored Congo and one line away from saying, “Damn nature, you scary.”

“The Legend of Tarzan” is a contrived, silly blockbuster. But on that same note, it’s an entertaining, and funny, summer escape. “The Legend of Tarzan” may have arrived a decade late. Blockbusters these days, at least the successful ones, are remembered for their deep characters and developed storylines. This movie is a simple CGI spectacle with a story that’s reliant on pure visual adrenaline. And well before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that’s all we wanted. But if both those reasons are enough for you to sit back and relax, “The Legend of Tarzan” is your movie