Swiss Army Man

'Swiss Army Man' movie poster

Release: Friday, June 24, 2016 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Dan Kwan; Daniel Sheinert

Directed by: Dan Kwan; Daniel Sheinert

There are some movies that just simply take your breath away. Ones where you’ll remember what theater you saw it in, where you were sitting, how many people were in there with you when you experienced THIS movie. Swiss Army Man is that kind of movie. It’s not even really a movie, it’s a religious experience . . .

. . . for those who appreciate a good arthouse picture.

I say that not with the slightest bit of remorse but rather with an air of caution. There’s a caveat to enjoying what writer-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Sheinert (collectively known as ‘Daniels,’ the duo behind DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s 2013 hit music video ‘Turn Down For What’) have conjured here. I say that because the warning label should be clearly on display. When early word pegged their debut feature as the most surreal, offbeat adventure audiences are likely to ever experience it was hardly a hoax. Here is a narrative quite literally powered by flatulence and guided by erections. Absurdity. Madness. Despair. Love. Weird, sweet, de-sexified love.

Shifting the likes of Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry several feet closer to neutral on the Scale of Quirkiness, Swiss Army Man wastes no time as it opens with the striking image of a young man, Hank (Paul Dano), preparing to hang himself on a desolate island. Perched atop a small cooler with the fraying rope running to the top of the small cliff, he’s all but ready to commit to his decision when he suddenly spots a body (Daniel Radcliffe) washed up on shore. It looks lifeless but Hank’s curiosity is piqued when he hears it farting. A lot.

Approaching the body with caution he notices, unsure if he’s hallucinating, that the gastric releases are only intensifying. He’s not hallucinating; this thing is literally sputtering to life like an old car. That’s when Hank discovers he can actually use this to his advantage, converting the bloated corpse into a kind of water vessel that will allow him to get back to the mainland. But it turns out methane-powered human jet-ski is only one of the ‘corpse”s many functions. He can also produce clean drinking water, and his seemingly jointless limbs come in handy for slicing and dicing things. He can also be used as a rocket and a grappling gun, and his erection functions as a compass, too — how fun!

Dismissing Swiss Army Man as little more than crass comedy is going to be too easy but that’s the same sword wielded by those who view the indie/arthouse crowd as nothing but hipsters. Or those who presumed everyone who went to see the Harry Potter movies were all bookworms. Despite frequent trips into puerile territory, this movie politely and perhaps all too quietly requests to be taken a little more seriously than the average Adam Sandler fudge pile. (In reality I’d compare this more to Rob Reiner’s timeless buddy-adventure Stand By Me.) Underpinning all this crudeness lies an aching despair to return to normalcy, to reconnect with what most of us would consider civilized society, to feel alive again after inexplicable bouts of being marooned delete you from existence.

The journey to get back home will be fairly easy in physical, practical terms given the endless supply of miracles “Manny” (as he apparently self-identifies) seems to provide. Even though he propelled them both back to shore with his ass, they’re still a far cry from home, and there are more complicated ideologies and dynamics to contend with as well. It doesn’t take long for Manny to question whether Hank is just using him for his own personal gain or if he actually cares about him, and for us to ponder just whether the two are fated for a really awkward fairytale ending, or something . . . darker.

Swiss Army Man is a movie in pain. Dialogue is sparse but it often delivers hard blows from which we take some time to recover. Conversation is often confronting and unnatural, yet it’s this entrenchment in brutal honesty that saves us from pretense. Primitive discussions about why people masturbate eventually find their place in the greater narrative. While conversations may start trending intellectual a little too prematurely for those who view proceedings as a more cut-and-dry buddy adventure, those conversations open up endless avenues for discussions of our own.

Hank is worried he’ll never have the confidence to make an impression on the woman he sees every day on the bus. Manny doesn’t understand why he is so pathetic, but then again, why would he? After all he’s just an undead, farting, bloated, water-logged dummy who washed up on shore, probably on accident. He once had a life too, but he can’t remember it. Presumably it too was filled with glorious tales of how he once masturbated.

As the adventure evolves we’re pulled further into a strikingly intimate world by a pair of mesmerizing performances. Dano is again in top form here but Radcliffe truly soars, creating a character for the ages. It doesn’t exactly announce itself as such, but Manny represents an achievement in acting and the Brit deserves to be considered in the discussion of best performances of the year. Never mind the fact Radcliffe had a stunt dummy doing most of the heavy lifting. The psychological and emotional components far outweigh the physical, and it’s in the quieter moments — around a campfire, up in a tree, face-down near a pile of animal feces — where we see a soul (and the occasional butt-cheek) exposed.

Dano is reliably weird, though his greatness is more expected as the actor continues defining his niche as an off-kilter, often unlikable enigma plagued by social outcastism. For his peculiar acting sensibilities Hank is, in a word, perfect. Much like this gloriously, obstinately, unabashedly strange little film. The farting corpse movie you’ll be telling your children all about years down the road.

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Recommendation: An absolute must-see movie! Thematically Swiss Army Man isn’t a movie you haven’t seen before, but in execution, I feel pretty confident saying you won’t find a thing like it this or any other year. It’s simply a marvel and a joy to watch unfold, offering up one of the finest performances of the year in Daniel Radcliffe, the poor lad who just can’t ever get away from having to make some comment on his latest role’s relation to his days in Hogwarts. This oddity, however, just might do the trick. For now. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “If you don’t know Jurassic Park, you don’t know shit.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.awardsdaily.com 

The BFG

'The BFG' movie poster

Release: Friday, July 1, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Melissa Mathison

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Great Gallywampers and fiddly tweezlesticks, I is very pleased indeed that Steven Spielberg has delivered the goodles in his very first venture into Roald Dahl‘s brilliant imagurnation. The BFG is breathtaker beautiful, and not just thanks to its scrumptioutious imagery, neither. It recalls the warminess and serenity of Brian Cosgrove’s 1989 animated adventure and ‘n fact it mighty jus’ be more endearin’ because of the live-action interplayery.

No, don’t worry, I’m not gonna speak in Dahlian tongues for the entire review. That’s just my overly dramatic way of expressing relief that The BFG turns out to be the real deal, rather than a pale imitator. The story is clumsier than you might expect with a Spielbergian production — we find as many lulls in the story as we do frobscottle-induced farts (excuse me, whizzpoppers) — but that’s merely the product of a director’s faithfulness to the source material. Spielberg otherwise hits every major note with an assured and playful touch, his knack for conjuring powerful feelings of wonder and awe giving this sweet summer diversion a personality all its own.

Indeed, The BFG is mostly a success in that it doesn’t create any new problems. It merely inherits those of its ancestor — namely, the aforementioned inconsistent and at-times sluggish pace and a few leaps of faith in logic in service of a narrative that just may well be Dahl’s strangest and most fanciful. Story concerns a young girl named Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) who is whisked away one night from Mrs. Clonkers’ Orphanage by a huge, hooded creature and to Giant Country, a wondrous place filled with beauty. Do I smell a Best Visual Effects nomination? I do, as a matter of fact: that sequence in Dream Country by the dream tree is simply mesmeric.

But Giant Country isn’t total paradise, it’s fraught with danger as well. The other giants among whom the BFG ekes out a quiet existence as a Dream Blower are much larger, meaner and they eat human beings (or, beans, rather). After learning she’s not leaving Giant Country anytime soon, Sophie encourages her big friendly giant to stand up for himself and to rid the land of these brutes, led by Jemaine Clement‘s Fleshlumpeater, once and for all. The pair seek the help of the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and her Royal Army back in the real world to do just that.

As is the case with a great many Dahl adaptations, the suspension of disbelief is a requisite and that ability serves viewers well here, especially as the fearless Sophie encourages the two worlds to collide. The performances anchoring the film are so good they allow us to overlook many a flawed concept. And there are more than a few. Spielberg’s potential new muse in Mark Rylance loses himself in the role as the titular giant and very well might have upstaged David Jason’s original voice performance that made the larger-than-life being an unforgettable creation. His spoonerisms and awkward turns of phrase were a highlight of that original as they are here as well, and once again it’s a joy watching ten-year-old Sophie trying to update and expand his childlike vocabulary.

Rylance doesn’t do it alone, though. He gets tremendous support from the young Barnhill who embraces Sophie’s wide-eyed curiosity about the strange world surrounding her with real gusto. She’s also brilliant at balancing the heartbreak of growing up without parents with a sense of maturity that makes her as well-rounded a character as you’re likely going to find with a child actor. All those years ago Sophie had already been made a strong character thanks to Amanda Root’s precociousness and intellectual curiosity, and those qualities are only bolstered by Barnhill’s live-action incarnation. Most importantly, the quasi-parental bond between the two isn’t lost in translation. The problem of loneliness is resolved with respect for Dahl’s affinity for the weird very much intact come the tear-jerking conclusion.

One of the challenges Spielberg is up against with his take on a Dahlian classic is finding an audience outside of those loyal readers and those who keep the 1989 made-for-British-television special close to their heart. The BFG is certifiably obscure material but perhaps with names attached like Spielberg and Rylance it can reach for broader audiences. This uplifting, sweet tale of bravery and dream-making certainly deserves them.

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Recommendation: The BFG, as I have suspected since the announcement was first made, represents an ideal union of director and material. The world created by Roald Dahl is practically tailor-made for one of the world’s best when it comes to imaginative, inspiring filmmaking and the end product, while not perfect, is about as good as could be expected. The performances are wonderful and if you’re tired of the summer blockbuster trend, I have to recommend The BFG. Like, immediatarily. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “Why did you take me?” / “Because I hears your lonely heart, ‘n all the secret whisperings of the world.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.joblo.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: The B.F.G. (Big Friendly Giant) (1989)

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Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and now here we are, at the end of Roald Dahl month on TBT. I hope you all have enjoyed going through these posts as much as I have in creating them. I have to confess, when we entered the new year I had absolutely no game plan for January. But that actually happens with most months. 😀 I wanted to start off this year with a more well-defined series of throwbacks. Then I thought about all the Roald Dahl books I had read as a child, and all the films I had watched that were adapted from his work. Of course some escaped me. Throwback Thursday has helped me explore more of his world and has introduced me to some wonderful motion pictures at the same time, and with any luck I’ve helped some of you do the same. Now, we close out the month with one of the more obscure entries, but a solid one nonetheless. 

Today’s food for thought: The B.F.G. (Big Friendly Giant)

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Release: Christmas Day 1989

[Netflix]

Although this is arguably one of the strangest and most obscure of all the Roald Dahl big screen translations, The B.F.G. is undoubtedly Dahl through-and-through. Though this might be the first time some have ever heard of it, this touching adventure could be one of the more heartwarming pieces he had to offer.

A lonely orphan named Sophie (voiced by Amanda Root) is suddenly snatched from her bed in the terrible confines of the Clonkers Home for Girls by a mysterious giant figure late at night. It takes her far away from this place and to seemingly another world, where other giants apparently exist, ones that are not quite as nice and friendly as this one. She is stolen away to the giant’s little nook in the side of a mountain, where he introduces himself as The Big Friendly Giant. He explains that not only is he different from the rest because he’s pleasant, but that he has no intention of eating humans like the others. Thank goodness for that.

The two become fast friends. Being the inquisitive little girl that she is, Sophie wants to know what he was doing in her town late that night. As it turns out, the B.F.G. is a dream-weaver of sorts, as his job is to catch dreams in a spectacular place known as Dream Country and then to travel back to our world and blow them into the imaginations of sleeping children all throughout the night using a trumpet-like device. He bottles the dreams and stores them in his home until he decides where he’s going to take each one. Sophie is at first reluctant to believe that this is real, until the B.F.G. takes her there himself.

It’s not long, however, before one of the evil giants senses that there is a human in the area. This being a Roald Dahl adaptation, these beasts have some really odd names: there’s the Butcher Boy, the Fleshlumpeater, the Manhugger, the Childchewer, the Meatdripper, the Gizzardgulper, the Maidmasher, the Bloodbottler and, of course, who can forget the Bonecruncher. It is he, the Bonecruncher, who stumbles upon the B.F.G.’s lair one night and trashes his place in his search for this child but the friendly giant insists there’s no one there and that he is just talking to himself.

The thing with beasts, you see, is that they like to sleep all day and scour the land by night, looking for children to gorge themselves on. The B.F.G. wants nothing to do with them, and actively avoids going near them. With the help of this young girl, maybe the B.F.G. can become brave enough to find a way to rid the land permanently of these vicious creatures. Indeed, that is just what they do together.

When one trip back to Sophie’s home town finds the two in danger yet again since the Bonecruncher has found a way to follow them, the B.F.G. realizes that they might not ever be out of danger. He feels awful for putting Sophie in harm’s way. Returning to the land of giants, they form a plan that will involve the Queen, her Royal Air Force and a few acts of courage to rid this world of danger.

The B.F.G. has unfortunately slipped through the cracks compared to other productions based off of the renowned author’s scribblings. That’s strange considering the popularity of Dahl’s book. The novel’s 1981 release ensured a loyal following had already formed behind it (this book was his eleventh). However, that’s not to say the picture lacks in its passion for showing that there are indeed good people in this world. The B.F.G. represents the good adult role model wayward children so desperately need in their lives, and thanks to David Jason’s wonderful voiceover work, the film indeed offers that.

Scenes like the one in which the B.F.G. introduces Sophie to what he calls frobscottle — a strange drink in which the carbonation bubbles drift to the bottom, rather than up to the top, causing the person to fart (or ‘whizpop’) rather than burp — proof that this film is decidedly more for the benefit of children rather than adults; all the same, it’s an enchanting adventure that will often take you by surprise.

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3-0Recommendation: The B.F.G. is definitely worth the searching through Netflix’s immense collection, and should you choose it, be prepared for a great deal of silliness and perhaps even more strangeness. Reiterating, the younger viewers will benefit more from this quirky little animation and the film doesn’t quite hold the classic appeal of some of Dahl’s more popular adaptations, yet the journey is still a great deal of fun and I wish I had gotten to it sooner. At least I have now.

Rated: G

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “Meanings is not important. I cannot be right all the time. Quite often I is left instead of right.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.youtube.com; http://www.mubi.com