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Perhaps the best way to describe Swiss Army Man, the new indie comedy from writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, their first feature film, is that it is an odd duck of a movie. Of course, it’s no insult to say that it’s not quite as odd a duck as The Lobster, but if it quacks like one, etc. You get my drift anyway.
Those of you who watch the previews of coming attractions at their local bijou, or even those who don’t, probably know what the basic premise is. Paul Dano plays Hank, a depressed loner who gets stranded on an island after a boat he rented got lost.
As he is about to do himself in, he sees a dead body washed up on shore. This non-character is played by former Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe, a role I bet never required him to pass wind.
Hank soon discovers that Manny has certain, shall we say, uses. He can fart with the power of an SST and he gets an erection that always tells Hank which way to go to get back to civilization.
And that’s just the beginning of the odd duckiness here.
What may be most surprising is that as silly and ridiculous as this premise is, by the time it’s over, you come to be so emotionally invested in Hank and his situation. And not just his being shipwrecked and needing to find a way home, but in his personal issues and inability to connect to another human (yes, there is irony here, Hank is only able to be himself and bond with a corpse). And you become so invested, you begin to suspect that this silly little thing of a movie, like Hank, isn’t really that silly at all, that there is more here than just fart jokes. It’s a movie that really shouldn’t work, yet it does and in a rather refreshing way as well.
Of course, it is one of those movies where you just have to go with it. And I don’t mean the farts that can help Hank leap cliffs in a single bound. Hank can also create objet d’arts out of any bit of trash that people have strewn all over the lush forest. They’re so incredibly striking, even brilliant in a Michel Gondry sort of way, one can’t believe he hasn’t been discovered and received a show at a prestigious gallery.
But the real head scratcher here is that in spite of the junkyard amount of trash Hank runs across (from discarded couches to Cheetohs), that after three or four days in the woods, he hasn’t run across a non-dead person. Just exactly who has been using this area for their trash heap anyway?
Still, who cares? Those points are ridiculously minor and nitpicky in the grand scheme of things (as they say, I’m just having a larf here).
The real problem is the ending where the two filmmakers act like the story and characters have been resolved, when they really haven’t. It feels more like the sort of ending that writers come up with because they’ve painted themselves into a corner.
Still, there’s so much good will here, maybe it’s best not to carp.
With Mary Elizabeth Winstead (of 10 Cloverfield Lane) as the woman Hank pines over and Shane Carruth, auteur of Primer and Upstream Color, as a coroner.
Let me see if I can make this as pretentious as possible. Carnage Park, the new thriller from writer/director Michael Keating, is a film that looks like Quentin Tarantino took the iconic plot, The Most Dangerous Game, and turned it into a torture porn movie.
Keating directs the film as if he was having just the most fun possible for a filmmaker to have. Orson Welles described the studio he was making Citizen Kane at as the biggest train set a boy ever had. That, in many ways, describes Keating’s approach to his movie, though on a far smaller and less ambitious scale.
He does fancy-schmancy things with timing the credits to music; he does slo-mo; he plays fast and loose with structure and who is to be the central character. He directs it all as if everyone was on cocaine in an over the top braggadocio style that he not only calls attention to, he enjoys calling attention to.
The basic story concerns the daughter of a farmer about to lose his land. She is abducted during a bank robbery by two men. One is shot, the other ends up taking a turn down a side road where the car has its tire blown out by a bullet. After he is dispensed with, the young woman is chased down as if she were game for a hunter.
Carnage Park is highly entertaining and very edge of your seat. The acting is solid (Ashley Bell plays the woman in danger; Pat Healy is the madman after her; and Alan Ruck is very effective in a change of pace role as a sheriff). And in spite of, or because of, the tendency to over indulgence, Keating definitely shows talent as a director.
It’s not perfect. Keating doesn’t bring anything new to the basic premise and the bad guy is that old canard, the ex-soldier with PTSD turned religious maniac. And there is no attempt at explaining how the bad guy, who has cut himself off from the outside world, pays his mortgage and/or property taxes, or where he gets pesky things like food and toilet paper.
But still, it will be interesting to see what Keating does next.