In Review!: “Swiss Army Man”

Those flabbergasted reports out of Sundance haven’t exactly misled you: Swiss Army Man contains of symphonic flatulence and magical boners. But behind the cruder devices you’ve undoubtedly heard about is an uncommonly openhearted and non-judgmental film. A remarkable debut by Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, also their first screenplay) the film is imaginatively crafted at almost every turn, more original than almost anything seen this summer. Don’t let the pubescent fascinations fool you, this film is more soulful than you would expect.

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Swiss wastes no time getting into the adventures, opening on Hank (Paul Dano) preparing to hang himself after being stranded for an extended time alone on a tiny island. The dead body of Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washes ashore to not only derail Hank’s death, but also to play savior and survival tool via that post-mortem gas and boner compass. As Manny becomes more (re)animated and the all-purpose device of the title, Hank is also educating him on the boy-child psyche that freezes him mentally back on the mainland.

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Trailer Drop!: “Swiss Army Man”

Sundance’s most divisive and notorious competition entry from this year’s festival, Swiss Army Man, is coming this summer and just got its first trailer. The film features Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse that becomes the companion to a stranded and perhaps delusional Paul Dano. You can see how the concept had some Sundancers scratching their heads and others making an early exit.

The trailer suggests a sweeter and more ambitious film than the early dismissive festival response promised. Music video partners The Daniels took the competition Best Director prize and are at the very least giving us something we haven’t quite experienced. After the career-high benchmark of Love and Mercy (a filmmixtape Best Actor runner-up performance), I’m particularly excited to see if Dano will continue to challenge himself.

If anyone can handle this kind of difficult material and keep the conversation alive, it’s maverick distributor A24. They’ve previously had small scale success with tough sells like Spring Breakers and Under the Skin, though this one will need the passionate reviews of those films to curb the bad buzz.

In Review!: “Youth”

Opening with a chic and hip cover of Florence and the Machine’s “You Got the Love” and delivering sumptuous primary color visuals, Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, the follow-up to his Best Foreign Film-winning The Great Beauty, never becomes as fresh and incisive as its potential. Skimming the surface of the surface of giant themes about aging, love, and legacy, even the vibrant visuals become dull as the Sorrentino’s script favors the trite over the profound. Like a two-hour music video for a band you’re not cool enough to listen to, Youth exhausts audience good will with its frustratingly thin ruminations on Big Ideas.

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At times one wishes they could just enjoy Youth volume free, as the visuals hold far more subtext and intrigue on the film’s thesis. The aural experience is also loaded to the hilt with music cues that lack that early charm and become obtrusively repetitive. For a film as expressive as this, subtlety goes a long way and Sorrentino never operates in the middle – the audience is alternately served complete graceful serenity or complete braying platitudes.

The director does give ample room for his actors to plumb the depths of his half-shallowness to find what humanity they can grasp in characters equally as psuedo complex. Set in a spa in the Alps, composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) escapes his pain as lifelong friend and past-his-prime filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) preps a new film. Caine hasn’t had a role so suited to his introspective soulfulness in some time, and his performance is the film’s strongest facet. He illuminates whole timelines of Ballinger’s life with more pathos than the film really knows what to do with – he (like the film) is most insightful when no one’s talking.

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