TIFF Review: Matt Damon Gets Small in Alexander Payne’s High-Concept ‘Downsizing’

The procedure is unveiled in Istanbul, at a lecture concerning «Human Scale and Sustainability,» presented as the only «reasonable solution» for overpopulation and overconsumption. It’s called cellular reduction, and simply put, it shrinks you — to roughly .0364% of your current size, where you’ll take up a fraction of the space for a fraction of your living cost, and create a fraction of your current environmental footprint. I can’t speak to the scientific accuracy of the cellular reduction process, but as it’s presented in Alexander Payne’s new film Downsizing, it’s at least convincing, and that’s all that matters. (The vernacular shorthand for the process is «get small,» a touch that Steve Martin fans will appreciate.)

This is a pretty high concept for a filmmaker usually preoccupied with the lives and struggles of the ordinary, but Payne and his regular co-writer Jim Taylor think this thing through, working out all its complications and ramifications — and the logistics of such a procedure once it becomes your typical, streamlined medical process (dental work, hair removal, and, um, «irrigation»). The thrust of the story takes place ten years after that Istanbul lecture, and the filmmakers convincingly imagine how «getting small» would work its way into daily life, becoming not only normalized, but corporatized. When Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) visit «LeisureLand,» a mini-city for shrunken people, all they see is snazzy presentations and amenities. They’ll live, for all intents and purposes, in dollhouses — but they’re sold as the last chance to grasp at a lost suburban American Dream. And it’s already become a world filled with the same shitty chain restaurants and McMansions they’re ostensibly escaping.

That’s not all Paul’s trying to fix; he’s got a mild case of midlife dissatisfaction, and much to his disappointment (and thanks to no small confluence of outside events), the cellular reduction only exacerbates it. But he turns it around, somewhat, via a convoluted chain of events that starts with his rowdy upstairs neighbor (Christoph Waltz, sporting a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin and an outrageous accent) and ends at the «original colony» in Norway.

Any more than that is best discovered yourself. Downsizing is a refreshing left-turn in the Payne filmography, starting in familiar territory (his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, with Damon in the Omaha middle-aged man uniform of untucked button-up shirt and khaki shorts) and with brief appearances by alums (including Election and About Schmidt‘s Phil Reeves and Paris je t’aime‘s Margo Martindale). But he couples the fanciful premise with his most overt social commentary since debut film Citizen Ruth; a tipsy guy at Paul and Audrey’s goin- away party asks, «Do you think you should still have the same rights as us normal people,» and even in this rebooted civilization, the menial jobs are still filled by minorities, who are shuttled back to their slums at the end of the work day.

So Payne’s created a mixture of mid-life crisis comedy, sci-fi parable, and class commentary, with a last-minute helping of eco-drama to boot. This, as you might imagine, makes for a peculiar mishmash of tones, and much of Downsizing is spent walking a fine line between oddness and earnestness. The success of the execution is questionable; there are entire scenes and subplots that don’t land at all. But there’s no denying or dismissing the picture’s ambition, and it’s honestly a little shocking that a major studio is releasing it in this form, since it’s chock full of red flags for notes and interference.

By the picture’s conclusion, it’s hard to guess exactly what Payne is going for, and he ends up grasping at emotions that are, sad to say, just out of reach. But I was consistently engaged by Downsizing, and appreciate its subversions of norms and expectations. Towards its end, Damon does one of those «If somebody would have told me ten years ago…» speeches, which makes for a funny, momentary reminder of just how weird this movie’s become. But there’s another frame around that moment; if somebody would have told me ten years ago that Alexander Payne would make this movie today, I wouldn’t have believed them. And that counts for something.

Jason Bailey is film editor at Flavorwire. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece, was published last fall by Voyageur Press. His writing has also appeared at The Atlantic, Slate, Salon, and The Village Voice, among others. Follow him on Twitter.


A Small Dose of Justice for Brock Turner, Rapist

You remember Brock Turner, rapist?

Piece of malevolent shit rapist Brock Turner, who faced basically none of the repercussions that should have been coming to him after ruining a young woman’s life?

Well, he’s still out there, living his not-nearly-punished-enough life. But the universe does sometimes provide a few doses of karma here and there. For instance, check out this book featured on Amazon.

As you can see in the header of this post, it’s called ‘Introduction to Criminal Justice: Systems, Diversity, and Change’.

If you click through on the link for the book, which is here again, and then click on the ‘Look inside’ link just above the book’s picture you’ll be treated to a preview of the textbook. There’s a field then on the left: ‘Search Inside This Book’.

Click in that, type ‘brock’, and hit enter on your keyboard.


This Seemingly Small Detail Could Be the Key to the Night King’s True Identity

Although the Night King has been terrorizing Game of Thrones for three seasons now, we still don’t know who he was before he became the White Walkers’ leader. We have a few ideas, of course, but it’s hard to ignore all the evidence piling up that the Night King is actually Bran Stark. Sound insane? We thought so too . . . at first.

Reddit user Turm0il26 recently proposed the idea that once Bran comes to terms with the fact his powers are the reason Wylis becomes Hodor, who then goes on to one day save his and Meera’s lives, Bran will wrongly assume he can go back in time to stop the White Walkers from ever existing in the first place. With the Night King and his army already doing serious damage to Jon Snow’s forces, it’s possible that Bran will get the idea in his head in season eight that the only way to put an end to the war between humans and White Walkers is by preventing the creation of the Night King (although it’s worth noting that Bran doesn’t seem interested in helping anyone these days). To accomplish this, he’d have to travel far enough back in time to stop the Children of the Forest from ever plunging dragonglass into the heart of one of the First Men, which is how the first White Walker comes into existence.

We already know that the two share an intense connection, since we see Bran experience the touch of the Night King while warging in season six. If you subscribe to Turm0il26’s theory, the reason the Night King and Bran could be so drawn to each other is because they are the same exact person, only at different stages of their lives. «Bran goes back all the way to where the Night King was created, to warg into the human that later is going to become the Night King,» the Redditor writes. «He wargs into him to instead stop the ‘dragonglass into the heart’-event from happening. Only he doesn’t think of that the Children of the Forest won’t recognize him from the future . . . He tries to go back in the current timeline, but can’t because he’s too deep into the past and stayed too long . . . From here Bran gets stuck in the past and becomes the Night King.»

Obviously Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have neither confirmed nor denied this theory, but we might have gotten another clue that the connection between Bran and the Night King is legit, courtesy of the show’s costuming department. As you can see in the GIF below, the clothes Bran wears in a season six scene are remarkably similar to the outfit the Night King wears in season seven’s «Beyond the Wall.»

In all fairness, most of the characters on Game of Thrones wear some variation of armor, black leather, and fur. Still, from the shape of their garments to their walk, the similarities are pretty striking. Could this be our first solid clue that Bran is well on his way to becoming the Night King? (Or technically, already is?) Here’s hoping the season seven finale answers some of our questions.

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It’s One Small Dollar For Taylor Swift. But One Giant Leap For Her Feminist Redemption Arc

If you haven’t been following Taylor Swift’s legal drama recently, you’d be forgiven for being a bit cynical about the second part of my title. You might be fully up to date with it, and still suspicious. In many ways, Swift is a problematic flag-bearer for feminism. But my goodness, she was superb in court. And when the jury found in her favour, this case felt like a landmark in terms of how sexual assault is understood and discussed.

First things first, this wasn’t a criminal case against David Mueller, the DJ from Denver who groped Swift during a photo opportunity in 2013. Oh no. Swift and her mother reported the incident, and some time later, he lost his job, at which point he decided to sue Swift for $ 3m in damages for ‘ruining his career’. Yep, that’s right. The groper was suing the gropee. What Swift did was countersue. And she did it well.

Her suit was for $ 1 — a symbolic amount. And she won, in every possible sense of the word. She’s a multi-millionaire; she didn’t need that dollar. What she really achieved was a high-profile declaration of where the damn line is, and what it means when someone crosses that line. She taught a generation about acceptable conduct, personal space, and where the blame lies.

Take a moment to enjoy how freaking awesome she was in court. Here are her 10 most powerful comebacks during cross-examination, according to Glamour.

(1) McFarland suggested Swift could’ve taken a break from her concert meet-and-greet if she was so shaken up by Mueller’s alleged assault. (Swift previously said she was distressed by the incident but carried on with her schedule because she didn’t want to upset her fans.) Swift’s reply: «Your client could have taken a normal photo with me.»

(2) McFarland noted that Swift is actually closer to Mueller’s girlfriend in the photo. (Presumably the point of this was to imply Swift could’ve been confused about whose hand, if any, grabbed her backside.)
Swift’s reply: «Yes, she did not have her hand on my ass.»

(3) McFarland suggested Swift’s bodyguard, Greg Dent, could have intervened if a sexual assault did occur. Vogue reports the lawyer then asked Swift if she was critical of Dent for not preventing the alleged incident.
Swift’s reply: «I’m critical of your client sticking his hand under my skirt and grabbing my ass.»

(4) McFarland argued there isn’t anything visibly inappropriate happening in the photo of Swift and Mueller.
Swift’s reply: «Gabe, this is a photo of him with his hand up my skirt—with his hand on my ass. You can ask me a million questions—I’m never going to say anything different. I never have said anything different.»

(5) McFarland argued Swift’s skirt showed no signs of disruptment.
Swift’s reply: «Because my ass is located in the back of my body.»

(6) According to Rolling Stone, at one point Mueller himself stated: «My hand came into contact with part of her body. I felt what appeared to be a rib cage or rib. … And it went behind her, and her hand, or arm, went behind my arm.»
Swift’s reply: «He did not touch my rib, he did not touch my hand, he grabbed my bare ass.»

(7) McFarland questioned why no one witnessed Mueller grabbing Swift’s backside.
Swift’s reply: «The only person who would have a direct eye line is someone laying underneath my skirt, and we didn’t have anyone positioned there.»

(8) McFarland asked Swift if she thinks Mueller got what he deserved. He was fired from his job at KYGO shortly after the incident, which is why he’s asking for $ 3 million in damages. Mueller claims Swift’s team is the reason why he lost his job.
Swift’s reply: «I don’t feel anything about Mr. Mueller. I don’t know him.»

(9) The defense asked if Swift is open to the possibility it wasn’t Mueller who supposedly grabbed her.
Swift’s reply: «He had a handful of my ass. I know it was him.»

(10) McFarland asked Swift if she had any feelings about Mueller losing his job because of the incident.
Swift’s reply: «I’m not going to let you or your client make me feel in any way that this is my fault. Here we are years later, and I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are the product of his decisions—not mine.»

First thought:


Second thought: Are we absolutely sure that ‘disruptment’ was the right word there, Gabe?

Where we might be feeling some (or lots of) cynicism is where Swift profits personally from this. As I said above, that $ 1 definitely wasn’t a profit. The most significant personal gain for Swift was in her approval ratings. It is the biggest possible boost to her feminist credentials, at a time when she desperately needed it. After the high profile humiliation of the Kim Kardashian receipts, the lingering spat with Katy Perry, the social media bashing from Calvin Harris, and the contempt she faced during her real-or-fake relationship with Tom Hiddleston, the Swift brand was in trouble.

I’m not suggesting that this was the root of her motivation with her countersuit. I imagine that many others will… I suspect her aim was noble, though she must have known that this would be good for her brand. My main question here is: does it matter if it makes her look good? Does the personal gain make us feel differently about the wider social gain? Is Swift so tainted as a public figure that what she has achieved will be diminished, or scoffed at? Can she be a feminist icon if her particular brand of feminism is also convenient for business? Swift’s politics have been (rightly) criticised in the past, as Ben Beaumont-Thomas notes in his Guardian piece today:

She stayed quiet during the Trump-Clinton election and over the upheavals surrounding Black Lives Matter, and eroded her black fanbase as a result of the latter. She tweeted about the Women’s March in January, but was criticised for not attending.

Extreme cynics will say that her fight against Mueller is engineered to reverse these perceptions in an era when being «woke» has major cultural currency. A more modulated argument is that the groping case, as with the response to Kanye West, shows that Swift only engages with social issues when they’re routed directly through her own life — that she responds to sexism only when she can best leverage social capital from it — ie when the story is entirely about her.

‘Haters gonna hate’ etc etc. Sorry. Maybe I’m being naive here, but perhaps this represents a political evolution for Swift, and a move away from the apolitical, neatly packaged, pretty-rich-white-girl ‘squad goals’ brand of sisterhood that she has previously espoused. Maybe that’s what her PR team want us to think…

Either way, a victory is a victory. If it translates into album sales, fair play to her. Because she has the power to encourage an awakening in others. She has the profile needed to show everyone where the boundaries of acceptable conduct lie, and who is to blame when those boundaries are crossed. By putting herself through this, she sets an example for others, and may give them courage to come forward as well. She has drawn attention to charities that support survivors of sexual assault and violence. All of this is priceless.

Bravo, Taylor Swift. Bravo.



How Identity Politics Nearly Destroyed, But Then United a Small, Online Community

This is a story about video games, but it’s more than that. It’s also a story about friendship, racism, homophobia, loyalty, and how you learn the truth about your friends.

But it started with video games. Three years ago, Bungie, Inc. released a game called Destiny. It’s a fairly hard-to-define game, a sprawling first person shooter game with a hard sci-fi backstory. It’s an online cooperative game, wherein you join up with other players for missions and raids, but also for activities where you play against other groups of players. Despite playing video games on and off for the last 30+ years, it was my first online game. And after two months of it, I basically quit. I didn’t know anyone else who liked to play it, and I was anxious about online gaming with strangers (which is ironic in retrospect when you consider how many friends I’ve made through online writing). But eventually, a Pajiba reader and Facebook friend persuaded me to join his clan (in the Destiny world, likeminded groups of players can join together into formalized collectives called clans). And that’s how I dipped my toe into online gaming.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that it changed my life in a lot of ways. It turns out that this particular clan was filled with people who I almost instantly connected with. They were funny and smart and interesting, with common interests in movies and TV and comic books and sports. What started out as a casual gaming experience became … a form of socializing. For me, it became something bigger. I was a relatively new father with a wife who worked nights. I had little to no social life, and so my nights frequently consist of me coming home from work, playing with my son, feeding him dinner, and putting him to bed. And then, it’s just me by myself with books or TV or video games. But suddenly, I didn’t feel like such a shut-in. Suddenly, I could play video games and socialize with people, shooting the shit while we also saved the universe.

What’s more, the guys in that clan became my friends. Real, actual friends. Sure, we were scattered across the world, from Boston to Nebraska, Texas to DC, California to hell, Australia. We were housing managers and logistics coordinators, chemists and oceanographers. A guy who works for REI and a guy who works for the CIA (I think. He works at the Pentagon. He might be a government assassin for all I know.) But it was diverse, enjoyable company. We joked and made fun of each other, we celebrated each others’ personal triumphs and commiserated each others’ losses. Whether it was the birth of a child or the death of a parent, that clan was there for each other. We became friends. It felt like a family.

And then, in not-particularly-coincidental timing, it started to fall apart at the beginning of the year.

It started one night, when it was just me and one other guy from our group, Bill (all names have been changed). He was relatively new — newer than me, anyway (a lot of these guys have been gaming together for years). We were playing Destiny’s PvP (Player versus Player) activity, «The Crucible,» wherein you’re matched up against other players, sometimes with various objectives, but ultimately to try to kill each other off. Things were not going well for Bill. He was of probably average skill, but tonight was not his night. Finally, after being killed ten or eleven times, it happened. Some straw broke the back of some camel, and he shouted out:


I felt as if all the air had been sucked out of my basement TV room. I was stunned, but only for a moment. I immediately barked back:

TK: Whoa, whoa WHOA. What did you just say?

Bill: Sorry man, I just —

TK: No, man, there’s no «I just». What the fuck was that?

Bill: I didn’t mean it that way…

TK:: What the fuck other way is there?

Bill: When I say it, I mean, you know, stupid people. I was actually talking about myself because I fucked up.

TK: Bill. You’re a smart guy. You know a lot of words. Find a better goddamn word.

Bill: OK, OK. Look, I’m sorry if you got offended.

There it was. «I’m sorry if you got offended». No acknowledgement that he’d said some racist shit, just that he’d been busted saying some racist shit. I finished off the match we were playing and signed off.

A couple days later, after I’d cooled off a little, things came to a head in our Band chat (we use an app called Band — similar to Slack — to chat and goof off with each other during the day). Someone posted a meme that was uncharacteristically homophobic. The chat became uncomfortably quiet, and then I asked if we could perhaps refrain from posting homophobic or racist shit in our chat. It started an argument about «just joking» and «not taking everything so seriously,» and «how come some jokes are OK and others aren’t?». Sides were chosen. And this wonderful little group of friends that I’d been with for almost three years felt like it was starting to fracture.

I took a break, going almost two weeks without playing or joining our chat. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where my friends stood. I was angry and hurt. I remember saying «someone has to take a stand on this. We’re either OK with this kind of talk, or we’re not. There can be no middle ground on this for me.» And I thought … this might be it. This might not be important enough to them. I mean, all they want is to play fucking video games. They joined this group to get away from politics, from conflict. Just like I did. But it was a new world now, and that world had invaded our place. It was a microcosm of every family fight, every divided friendship that post-Trump America had created. It felt like it had become too real, too much like the very world we were trying to escape. Maybe we should accept that the «real» world is always going to play a part in our lives, even when we’re banding together with Hunters and Titans to save the galaxy from an evil God of the Hive. Part of me realized that maybe this was our problem in the first place — maybe we shouldn’t be trying to escape.

This is a story about video games. But it’s also a story about all of us. It’s a story about how easily we fracture apart, and how the differences between us seem sharper, more painful than they did a year ago. It’s a story about how voices of anger and prejudice have gotten louder over the years. It’s a story about the end of friendships. This is a story that isn’t uncommon — it’s easy to say that video game communities are a pit of vitriol and bitterness. It’s what’s dominated the headlines when it comes to these communities — GamerGate being the chief perpetrator. But of course, it’s not just video game communities — it’s the world around us, where anger and racism and hatred seems to be on the rise with every passing day.

Eventually the guys who were the de facto leadership, the originators of the clan, got tired of my silence and reached out to me. The answer they gave me was everything I needed: «We get it. We want to fix it, but we’re not sure how. Let us figure it out. Don’t go.»

So I didn’t go. They figured it out, collectively. And they changed things. They created a code of conduct, and everyone in the clan — everyone — had to acknowledge it. A line on hate speech of any kind was drawn hard in the sand. It was time for people to learn the difference between «that’s what she said» jokes, and misogyny, racism, homophobia. In the face of the ugliness of the outside world, they had the choice to put blinders on. But they chose righteousness. I was proud of them, proud of us.

It made us stronger. It made us better, and cemented our friendships. For better or worse, Bill ended up getting kicked out — his temperament and attitude just never found a place after that, he had another ugly night (I wasn’t around for it), and the next day he was asked to leave. The tension was gone, and it felt like we were having more fun than ever. But it also made us freer. Talk of politics, previously mostly ignored, became a little more common. Not because of commonality of belief (though there is that), but because I think we realized that we didn’t need to hide anything about ourselves.

This was a story about video games. But it’s also a story about finding hope in the darkness. Ask any of the Pajiba writers, and they’ll tell you that when we talk about the current state of affairs, I’m losing hope. So much so that I can barely write about it anymore. I tried to give myself a boost earlier in the year, but it always felt like we were losing more battles than we were winning. But then I realized something — this band of strangers, this band of brothers? They can give me hope, too. Even a community as seemingly silly and lighthearted as ours can take a stand on something. Communities like this can do amazing things — hell, this week alone, Destiny players raised over a million dollars for kids with cancer (in only seven days, no less). So while this story may not seem like a big deal, it plays a part in the larger world. It makes me realize that every day, people are taking stands like this, both small and large. It becomes a question of numbers and momentum. The road to progress lost both numbers and momentum last year, but we’re still traveling on it. Still pushing forward. And maybe if enough of us take these little stands, it’ll keep going and we’ll finally get somewhere where we don’t feel like we’re taking steps backwards.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a good Destiny clan? Hit me up. I know a solid group of guys.


Middle School Students Face Charges for Allegedly Throwing a Small Piece of Wood at Trump’s Motorcade

While much of the country continued to debate the ethics of protesting and punching Nazis, an extremely punk middle schooler threw a piece of wood at Donald Trump’s motorcade on Friday afternoon. Trump was leaving the site of a rally in Florida where he’d implied that Sweden had just suffered a terrorist attack (it…

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The Garage I Just Spent $5000 On A Car Lift And I Couldn’t Be Happier | Kotaku A Small Detail You Mi

The Garage I Just Spent $ 5000 On A Car Lift And I Couldn’t Be Happier | Kotaku A Small Detail You Might Have Missed In Mass Effect: Andromeda’s New Trailer | io9 Please Stop Remaking The Wizard of Oz | Lifehacker Introducing The Upgrade, a New Podcast from Lifehacker, All About Upgrading Your Life |

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