The Holdovers

BLU-RAY DISC REVIEW:

Street Date 1/2/24;
Universal;
Comedy;
Box Office $18.3 million;
$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language, some drug use and brief sexual material.
Stars Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Dominic Sessa, Carrie Preston, Naheem Garcia, Andrew Garman, Gillian Vigman, Tate Donovan, Brady Hepner, Michael Provost, Ian Dolley, Jim Kaplan.

Director Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers blankets itself in the filmmaking sensibilities of the 1970s to present a bitterly comedic tale of three lonely souls who have slipped through society’s cracks and find themselves stranded together by circumstance.

Paul Giamatti, reuniting with Payne nearly two decades after the iconic success of 2004’s Sideways, stars as an overbearing teacher at a New England boarding school in 1970 who is tasked with supervising a handful of students who have nowhere else to go over the two-week winter break. With dreary snow limiting their options for recreation and forcing the group to bunk in the lone building that isn’t shut down for the winter, the stakes seem set for a classic clash of wills between Giamatti’s hard-nosed taskmaster Mr. Hunham and the students who are itching to break free of his confines.

But what starts off as The Paper Chase meets The Shining veers a bit back toward Sideways territory when four of the five students are whisked away on a ski trip by one of their wealthy fathers. Guilted into trying to provide the lone remaining student, the troubled Angus (newcomer Dominic Sessa), with a decent Christmas, they embark on a “field trip” to Boston, joined by the school’s head cook, Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), who is still grieving over the recent death of her son in Vietnam. In embracing each other as an ersatz family unit, the trio take their first steps in moving forward from their sorrowful fates.  

The Holdovers is the result of a bit of creative serendipity, as Payne had wanted to do a movie about a boarding school and came upon screenwriter David Hemingson, who was pitching a TV show about the same subject. Hemingson then reworked his script for the pilot episode into the screenplay for Payne’s film.

The result is an engaging, thoughtful and amusing character study punctuated by the terrific performances of the three leads.

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The home video edition of the film includes a smattering of interesting bonus materials.

The making of the film is ably covered in two featurettes — a 10-and-a-half-minute video about the cast, and the eight-and-a-half-minute “Working With Alexander.”

Also included are about seven minutes of excised content, consisting of four deleted scenes and an alternate ending. These include text introductions explaining why they were cut, and are accompanied by a written explanation from Payne, who mirthfully apologizes for the “meager offerings.”

 

‘The Holdovers’ Due Digitally Dec. 29, on Disc Jan. 2

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release director Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers through digital retailers Dec. 29, and on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Jan. 2.

As previously announced, the film also begins streaming on Peacock Dec. 29.

The Holdovers stars Paul Giamatti as a curmudgeonly instructor at a New England prep school who is forced to remain on campus during Christmas break to babysit a handful of students with nowhere to go. The cast also includes Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa.

The film earned $17.8 million at the domestic box office and is nominated for three Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy, Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for Giamatti, and Best Supporting Actress for Randolph.

Home video extras include an alternate ending, four deleted scenes with an introduction by Payne, and two featurettes.

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Downsizing

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Sci-Fi Comedy;
Box Office $24.45 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $34.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use.
Stars Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Udo Kier, Rolf Lassgård, Jason Sudeikis.

Director Alexander Payne’s Downsizing is a premise in search of a story, and the one they ultimately came up with could leave viewers wondering, as the film’s main character does, what the point of it all was.

Downsizing is essentially a two-hour thought experiment about what the world would be like if people could shrink themselves to be five inches tall.

The procedure is discovered by Scandinavian scientists looking to reduce the impacts of overpopulation on the environment — since smaller humans use fewer resources. Years later, the process is touted in America as a way to retire in luxury, since the equivalent needs of smaller people would cost so much less, and people could live in mansions that are essentially just large dollhouses.

Contemplating the transition are Paul and Audrey Safranek (Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig), who find themselves stifled by their modest but stable middle class lifestyle. After learning that as small people they’d be the equivalent of millionaires, they sign up to move to a downsized community. But at the last moment Audrey panics at the prospect of leaving her old life behind (and after seeing what it takes to shrink, I can’t say I blame her). But her decision comes too late for Paul, who gets reduced and finds his new life plan derailed without his wife.

A year later and he’s divorced, forced to scale back even in downsize-land, and again living a mediocre life, until he runs across a refugee from Vietnam (Hong Chau), who begins to open his eyes to a more meaningful world around him.

So, what we end up with is a message that people are still people no matter what size they are.

The film’s presentation of the shrinking process is the kind of plot element that falls apart after thinking about it for any length of time, since there’s no attempt to address things like how a scaled-down body would react to the normal gravity it originally evolved in, or where all a person’s extra mass ends up. The film also doesn’t address which parts of the body know how to shrink aside from the vague description of “cellular reduction” (as if every chemical in the body were a cell), but at least it remembers that things like dental fillings, prosthetic implants and anything artificial would have to be removed first.

Of course, aside from the incentives for shrinking, the film also doesn’t really make it seem pleasant, since it would subject you to new dangers you wouldn’t have thought twice about before, such as insects, birds, cats and dogs. It’s even mentioned that sunlight is more dangerous to small people, and the tiny communities are covered in nets or domes to try to keep these realities at bay.

So, best not to think too hard about it. The main reason for the sci-fi element is to allow for some social commentary (as sci-fi tends to do). Many of the character elements are played for satire, but the film has trouble finding a consistent tone amid all the plot points Payne is trying to explore.

The first third of the film deals with the shrinking process, how it evolved, and how and why people would undergo it. While for most people it’s a choice, there’s also some subversive suggestions that corrupt governments are forcing it upon people, or terrorists are using it to circumvent security plans. The film shows what it would be like for people about to downsize, and questions arise about the political and economic impacts downsizing has on society.

Then we get Paul coming to terms with his decision to get small and adjusting to his life and dealing with the regrets than ensue.

This is all more or less straightforward before the film turns toward an environmental disaster subplot and how small people can survive it if they can’t prevent it.

Unlike Ant-Man, the film isn’t overtly trying to have fun with the idea of shrinking. It takes it seriously, as if it’s just another way of life for the characters. That’s why the film’s structure seems so odd, since it’s devoting so much time to establishing how downsizing came to be and became a relatively common thing before focusing on a story that pushes it all to the background. A lot of scenes are presented as pretty standard character beats, when the camera catches a glimpse of an oversized prop from time to time to remind everyone about the premise (of course, such a mundane approach is likely the point).

All the while the film teases us with suggestions of things we might rather have seen, such as the bodies actually shrinking. Or what happens when a filling isn’t fully removed from a tooth beforehand.

As a result, the film is more interesting for individual scenes that present its concepts, rather than its muddled attempts to unify it as a whole. As with most movies that deal with shrinking tech, the best scenes involve seeing the small people interacting with normal-sized things (even though, many of the everyday items in the small community are just scaled-down versions of things — which only raises more questions).

There are a lot of clever touches in the shifting perspectives (such as a dollar bill used as giant wall art), and the design of the small communities are a treat to behold. People always seem to be fascinated by the idea of seeing the real world reduced into a scale miniature, and the colonies in the film also seem set up as tourist destinations for regular-sized people who just want to gawk at a world in miniature (there’s a reason why Storybookland is such a popular ride at Disneyland).

The Blu-ray offers an hour’s worth of featurettes about the making of the film, many of which expose little details about the set designs and the presentation of the miniature world. There are also a couple of additional featurettes with the iTunes version (available with the UltraViolet code included with the disc).

‘Downsizing’ at UltraViolet?

As studio home entertainment divisions trumpet the Disney-spawned and re-jiggered Movies Anywhere, Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate remain on the sidelines.

Paramount recently announced the digital (March 6) and 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Disc (March 20) street dates for the comedy Downsizing, starring Oscar-winners Matt Damon and director Alexander Payne.

Notable to the packaged-media release: cloud-based access via UltraViolet — not Movies Anywhere. UV users are directed to ParamountMovies.com to enter the redemption code for UV access, in addition to iTunes for Digital Copy.

Movies Anywhere touted nearly 80 million movies in user accounts earlier this year — about half the 165 million UltraViolet titles in 2015, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. The platform had more than 30 million registered accounts in July 2017.

There’s no doubt a unified Movies Anywhere platform with one-click access to cloud-based digital movie acquisitions is a good thing. UltraViolet attempted to meld physical media with the cloud — a strategy that required burdensome input.

It would be a shame if all that effort was lost in the cloud.