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Kristen Wiig

Review: Downsizing

Alexander Payne has become known for directing bittersweet comedies rooted in recognizable—you might say warts and all—humanity. Movies like NebraskaAbout Schmidt, and Sideways are not always easy on their characters, but they sometimes crackle with lightning bolts of insight. Payne’s latest, written with his frequent writing partner Jim Taylor, adds a sci-fi framing device to his work. But ultimately Downsizing looks a lot like his previous films—and I think that’s a good thing.

The gimmick here is that Norwegian scientists have discovered a way to shrink people, a breakthrough that will lead to enormous environmental and financial benefits for the planet.

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Film Review: ‘The Martian’

Matt Damon

The movie begins with a hurricane on Mars, a life-threatening debris storm, and a spaceship that might not be able to lift off in the chaos. And that’s the easy part. After the rocket finally blasts from the surface, an astronaut—presumed dead—is left behind on the Red Planet, and he’s got to figure out how to stay alive by himself until a very improbable rescue mission could pick him up. That will take many, many months, if it happens at all. So The Martian is a problem-solving movie: How will castaway Mark Watney (Matt Damon) figure out the fundamental problems of food, shelter, and communication? The movie doesn’t waste much time worrying about issues of loneliness; after we’ve spent time with Watney, who has a complete lack of introspection and neurosis, it’s no wonder.

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Film Review: ‘Welcome to Me’

Kristen Wiig

Beyond the valley of black comedy is a place where laughter and horror mingle freely. Here roams the original British version of The Office and the amazing Scorsese/De Niro King of Comedy (still one of Scorsese’s best, despite its low profile). It clicks only intermittently, but Welcome to Me is an attempt to inhabit this territory. I didn’t actually laugh much during this cringe-inducing film, but I was often impressed by its willingness to be awkward.

That it succeeds as often as it does is largely due to Kristen Wiig, whose ability to slip from broad humor to quietly devastating insight is already well documented.

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Film Review: ‘Hateship Loveship’

Kristen Wiig and Guy Pearce

A drab soul named Johanna Parry has just become convinced that, at long last, someone in the world loves her. The someone lives elsewhere, so physical affection will have to wait, but Johanna has been waiting too long already. So she stares at the bathroom mirror and then forcefully tries out some kissing on her own reflection. With tongue. This action would be normal for a 14-year-old, but for a grown woman it takes on different shades of sad, funny, and mortifying.

The moment might defeat an ordinary actress, but Kristen Wiig is not ordinary. And she really goes for it.

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