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 Age of Adaline

age-of-adaline-poster

Release: Friday, April 24, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: J. Mills Goodloe; Salvador Paskowitz

Directed by: Lee Toland Krieger

I’m a sucker for romance done right. Call me old-fashioned, laugh at my sentimentality, but The Age of Adaline fits the description, bookmarking itself as one of the first true surprises of the year.

At first glance Lee Toland Krieger’s premise promises not much beyond a good-looking actress adorned by a thick coat of hokum. Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively), who survives a most unusual car accident and is rendered unable to age beyond 29 — because, lightning and ice cold water and stuff — discovers that perpetual youth is indeed a curse. Doomed to look beautiful for the rest of her days (woe as her), there actually are practical considerations, and thanks to solid writing and terrific performances, such complications garner our sympathy.

Not only will Adaline be unable to maintain a relationship with anyone as no one is likely to share her gift of presumed immortality, but she fears that her condition will make her a target of scientific experiments. It’s a fear that’s not unfounded as one evening she is forced into a car by FBI agents that she manages to escape from quickly. From here on out she vows to take her life on the road, avoiding commitment to others and even her own identify for longer than a decade. Oh, ageless Adaline, I feel like there ought to be a song dedicated to your predicament.

Or at least your wardrobe.

A valid argument could be made in dismissing all of this as an excuse to dress up the star in a variety of get-ups dating back to the early days of the 20th Century. Seriously, the woman evolves from flapper fashionista to ’50s bombshell, perpetually enticing the camera to her stunning natural beauty revitalized by costume designer Angus Strathie’s exquisite sense of style and time. Vanity would be a legitimate complaint if this were all Krieger et al cared about, but glamour belies their calculated, collective effort.

At the heart of the film is a sublime performance from Lively who effortlessly exudes charm and loneliness. Her ability to transcend time may be due in part to the work done behind the curtains but she is equally responsible for convincing us Adaline is a woman shackled by circumstances rather than liberated by them. When she meets a dapper gentleman named Ellis Jones (Michael Huisman) at a New Year’s party Adaline rejects his many advances with a nonchalance only a woman on her way to gaining 107 years’ worth of life experience can afford. It’s one in a series of moments where Lively’s having fun with the role is palpable.

Heisman introduces a vulnerability to a story that perhaps doesn’t need any more. And despite herself, Adaline can’t help but be drawn to his genuineness. There is of course an air of predictability and sentimentality to the developments but that doesn’t detract from the overriding sense of relief we feel. Added to the supporting cast we are treated to another limited albeit touching Ellen Burstyn performance as Adaline’s daughter; Harrison Ford chimes in with a pivotal role late in the third act, giving The Age of Adaline a needed dose of gravitas. In a period where the film was starting to run out of steam, the unification feels less natural as it does necessary, but even still the moment serves as a testament to how deeply empathetic this cast, these characters are.

At the risk of sensationalizing my experience, The Age of Adaline compares favorably to the likes of David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In that way, both films absorb through the virtue of their length, more so the latter than the former; disarming in their lead performances (though, again, Brad Pitt perhaps being more the heartbreaker not just because of his looks); both films transporting audiences to times we can now only visit in cinema or for some in their memories. The Age of Adaline won’t be an Oscar contender for much outside its costume design and if it’s lucky a nod to production design, but that’s no small feat for a film hailing from a genre that time and again fails to produce something as rich and rewarding as Krieger’s multiple-period piece.

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3-5Recommendation: Blake Lively turns in her best work to date in the titular role of Adaline Bowman. This is a character and a performer who is difficult not to like, even despite Lively’s past role choices being. . .eh. . .less than stellar. In fact the only thing I can personally recall enjoying her in was 2006’s Accepted. That’s a film far removed from this in terms of enjoyment and maturity. It’s nice to see her rise to the occasion. And as far as romantic dramas go, you can do so much worse than the admittedly schmaltzy and scientifically questionable The Age of Adaline. A very nice surprise.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 112 mins.

Quoted: “Let go.” 

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.imdb.com 

Her

Her-Movie-Poster

Release: Friday, January 10, 2014

[Theater]

When Spike Jonze makes a film this intelligent, it’s pretty difficult to comprehend the fact that this is the same guy underneath all that ghastly ‘Old Granny’ make-up in Jackass. Even though that was a pretty minor role Jonze played in the show/movies, it was still a semi-recurring one. Yet, it couldn’t be a more polar opposite experience to what he’s presenting here.

His Her is destined to be a modern classic, an enchanted fairytale for the iPod generation. Stylish, comical and surprisingly poignant, this original screenplay from Granny Jonze captures human interaction and emotion like few films have before. For every decent (or even great) romance film or love story that has preceded this and the missteps they have taken in their efforts to affect audiences a certain way, Her manages to learn from those errors and simply avoids making them.

Seeing as though virtually everything that could possibly work for a film does work for this one, let’s start at the main menu, with the performances, for they are astonishing.

Joaquin Phoenix dons a pair of thick wire-framed glasses (yes, this pair actually does have lenses) and a funny mustache as he transforms himself into yet another peculiar lead. This time it’s Theodore Twombly, a lonely Los Angelino in the middle of a painful divorce from Catherine (Rooney Mara). His performance is one of the man’s most earnest and vulnerable; this is a person who doesn’t know what he wants out of intimate relationships. That’s true of the past and certainly his biggest conundrum looking forward. Phoenix disguises a complex range of emotions within his furrowed brow, occasionally expressing the more irrepressible of them with a wide-eyed, slack-jawed look of disbelief. The nerd-glasses are particularly effective in conveying his discomfort on a number of occasions.

Phoenix is no doubt the focus here, but it’s what Scarlett Johansson is able to accomplish with a disembodied voice that will come to distinguish this production.

In this more impersonal society, technology has spawned an operating system that is intended to help people stay more organized and on task. Code-named OS1, Theodore can’t help but get one of his own since he figured it couldn’t hurt him anymore than he already is. Beginning as a mere sentient program, she quickly develops a genuine personality in which Theodore feels comfortable confiding. She even names herself ‘Samantha.’ In fact, technology has reached a point to where the OS1 learns to feel exactly as a person does or would in any given situation, but because it is a highly-advanced program, it has an obligation to learn so much more. In fact, it’s not even obligation — this is just what computers do. Samantha’s capacity to learn, to feel and experience proves to be far greater than Theodore could have imagined, the more they get to know one another.

Johansson’s role may seem limited — even off-putting — but this ethereal, beautiful voice couldn’t be more entrancing. The ease with which she stores herself into the viewer’s long-term memory is, in all honesty, haunting.

Not fully convinced that two incredible central performances are sufficient, Granny Jonze cleverly thrusts the story into a latter-21st-century context. The L.A. of the future doesn’t look so radically different as to be unrecognizable, but there’s an oh-so-slight dystopian accent which enhances this sense of distance between people. The fact that most passers-by caught in any given shot all seem to be engaged in an OS1 chat of their own is intended to give viewers pause for consideration. Never before has having a conversation with someone who’s less than ten feet away from you seemed like such a quaint idea.

And yet the chemistry between Theodore and Samantha proves an utterly beautiful contradiction to the environment in which their relationship has been established. The fact that it’s possible to feel some emotion towards what even the least discerning of audiences recognizes as a very intelligent computer system, is a testament to the quality of the screenplay and the respective performances. And while the leads are certainly unforgettable, there are a couple of contributing performances that help realize dear old Granny Jonze’s vision.

Olivia Wilde’s brief appearance as a blind date Theodore meets one night (at Samantha’s request, actually) is well-placed. In a few brief minutes we gain a deep understanding of the type of relationship she’s looking for, and simultaneously a better understanding of who Theodore is. . .and isn’t. This cast isn’t exactly extensive, and because it isn’t, the film benefits further from the only other main character’s strong presence in Amy (Amy Adams), who is Theodore’s friend from college and currently a colleague at the letter-writing company he works at.

A couple of others get to (literally) phone it in, with Kristen Wiig connecting briefly as one of the film’s arguably funniest moments; and Chris Pratt gets to be the weird receptionist guy who takes an unusually strong interest in Theodore’s writing skills. Though slight, each little quirky character adds to the awkwardness of the experience.

The director clearly trusts in his cast enough to let them do the heavy emotional lifting, but as a writer, he steps in with an unusually perceptive script that builds (and demolishes) characters and situations in completely believable ways. Attention to detail is at a level unparalleled in many films as of late, manifested in everything from the color palette (mainly reds), to the pillow talk Theodore has with Samantha, to the way Phoenix scrunches his eyebrows in reaction to things.

Granny should know the effort that went in does not go unnoticed. Her. . . excuse me, his film, Her — if there’s any justice in the world — should stand as one of the proud cinematic achievements of the 21st Century. Not only a deeply emotional film, it’s a conversation about the future that we needed to have.

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5-0Recommendation: Neither strictly romance nor dedicated to being simply sci-fi or comedy, Her dramatizes elements of each while incorporating a refreshingly earnest take on relationships and it strikes an emotional chord while doing so. Anyone who has ever considered themselves in one of those, well. . .you should probably see this one. That does sound like a lazy recommendation, but honestly it’s the truth. This is one of the best films I personally have ever seen. (Too soon?)

Rated: R

Running Time: 119 mins.

Quoted: “Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”

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.imdb.com