Threepeat: Seasonal Films Offer Variety
By: Matt Brunson
The latest effort from the team of writer-director Alexander Payne and writer Jim Taylor (the Oscar-winning scribes behind Sideways), Downsizing initially feels like a gimmick more than a movie. The downsizing in the title is meant to be taken literally — as overpopulation threatens to irreparably damage the planet, a brilliant scientist (Rolf Lassgård) invents a way to shrink people. This discovery spurs thousands of ordinary citizens to allow themselves to be miniaturized, all in an effort to preserve Earth’s natural resources, reduce rampant pollution, and other environmentally friendly innovations.
Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is one such regular guy who decides to check out this alternate lifestyle, yet as the movie progresses, its unique angle seems to recede into the background, with much of the focus on Paul’s daily woes. These include unhappiness at home, dissatisfaction on the job — in short, the sorts of travails that affect everyone, not just people reduced to the size of an iPhone.
Downsizing continues in an almost lackadaisical fashion, but then something remarkable and transformative happens: Hong Chau shows up. The Thai actress (most recently seen on HBO’s Big Little Lies) plays Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese activist who was shrunk against her will and now serves as a maid for rich people. Chau’s performance is superb — second only to Willem Dafoe’s emoting in The Florida Project as 2017’s best — and she roots the movie in emotions that heretofore had largely been missing.
Eventually, Downsizing heads off in yet another direction, but it scarcely matters. Chau’s towering turn guarantees that viewers will follow the picture wherever it elects to venture.
No one was exactly clamoring for a sequel to 1995’s Jumanji, yet here comes Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle — and the holiday season just became a bit brighter.
Arguably even more engaging than its predecessor, this one finds four disparate high school students discovering the magical game (which has reconfigured itself from a board game into a video cartridge) and being thrust into its dimensions. The clever hook is that these four kids have been placed into the bodies of adult avatars (played by Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan) yet retain their teenage personalities.
The result is enjoyable and undemanding entertainment, with the plot just sturdy enough to hold the weight of the stars’ irresistible characterizations.
As a writer, Aaron Sorkin has been such an important and enduring fixture on the film and TV fronts (Oscar for The Social Network, Emmys for The West Wing) that it’s a wonder he waited this long before making his directorial debut. Then again, perhaps he was just biding his time waiting for the right project: Why soil his reputation on a Paul Blart: Mall Cop sequel when something better could be right around the corner?
In this case, that “something better” is Molly’s Game, with Sorkin not only directing but also penning this adaptation of Molly Bloom’s exhaustively titled book Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker. As Molly, a former skier whose legendary poker games made her an FBI target, Jessica Chastain delivers a typically brainy and impassioned performance, with Idris Elba offering solid support as the lawyer who elects to take her case.
Most year-end holiday movies are logically geared toward families and kids, but here’s one made just for grown-ups seeking some respite from seasonal servitude.