Movie Review ~ Swiss Army Man

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A hopeless man stranded in the wilderness befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.

Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Director: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Bound to be remembered as “that movie where Daniel Radcliffe played a farting corpse” than for all its inherent creativity, I’ve actually been suggesting Swiss Army Man to people with that same flatulent logline.  This is the type of movie that doesn’t have much of an impact when released in theaters but is bound to find its audience through streaming and home rentals.  Starring Paul Dano (Prisoners) and Radcliffe (What If), the flight of fancy with a morbid streak is a never predictable tiny gem that shines nicely once you get past some hard edges.

Dano stars as a man who opens the film literally at the end of his rope.  An island castaway with no hope for survival, he’s about to take proactive action on his fate before nature does when he sees the body of a young man (Radcliffe) wash ashore.  Using the gaseous corpse as a jet-ski (stay with me here), Dano hitches a ride on the body thus beginning his quest to find a way home.  This leads to an adventure through the wild and showcases the relationship between the living and the dead, finally arriving at a poignant conclusion that feels well-earned.  Co-starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane) as a fantasy girl from Dano’s past, Swiss Army Man is an elaborately designed film that shows how far directors Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert (aka The Daniels) can go with a small budget.  Worth letting ‘er rip and taking a chance on.

Movie Review ~ Now You See Me 2

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The Facts
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Synopsis: The Four Horsemen resurface and are forcibly recruited by a tech genius to pull off their most impossible heist yet.

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, David Washofsky, Tsai Chin, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman

Director: Jon M. Chu

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 129 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  I’m just as surprised as you are that 2013’s Now You See Me did well enough to warrant a sequel seeing that I left my screening frustrated at its cheats and wholly averse to its attempts to charm. Still, someone thought it was smart move to assemble the old crew again three years down the line and aside from a new female in the mix, not much has changed about the film or my opinion of the series as a whole.  What could have been a slick summer mea culpa sequel is just another time-wasting sleight of hand.  It’s not that we can see what the actors and filmmakers have up their sleeves, it’s that we don’t care in the first place.

If you haven’t seen the first film you’re going to get some spoilers so if you don’t mind having the final twist of the original spoiled for you keep reading.

In the years since the Four Horseman took down a wealthy mogul (Michael Caine, JAWS: The Revenge) and a shady secret spiller (Morgan Freeman, Lucy) they’ve kept a fairly low profile. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, American Ultra), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson, Triple 9), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, Warm Bodies) haven’t gone far though and as they’re readying another elaborate trick to expose a cell-phone hacking scam they’re joined by Lula (newcomer Lizzy Caplan, Bachelorette, replacing Isla Fisher as the lone lady in the bunch) who was recruited by their leader, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Marc Ruffalo, Spotlight).  A mole in the FBI agency, Rhodes has been leading his colleagues on multiple wild goose chases, until it all catches up to him and his Horsemen when the tables are turned and they’re split up.

The Horsemen wind up in China, face to face with elvish Daniel Radcliffe (What If) who has grown a beard to show he’s not Harry Potter any longer. There’s some jibber jabber about an all-powerful computer chip Radcliffe wants and a rather lengthy sequence where the Horsemen break into a high security company to retrieve said chip. Hiding the wafer thin treasure on a playing card, director Jon M. Chu (Jem and the Holograms) takes, no kidding, nearly five minutes showing the Horsemen passing the card between each other to avoid being caught by guards that are frisking them. It’s an exhausting passage of time that isn’t nearly as impressive as anyone involved thinks it is.

Meanwhile, Rhodes has to bust Freeman’s character out of jail because only he knows who’s behind the mystery.  A personal vendetta between the two men quickly resurfaces and becomes a focal point for several head-scratching plot twists down the road. When the Horsemen and Rhodes are reunited, the final truth of who the man behind it all is and though the mystery is ostensibly solved, there’s still a good forty-five minutes left.  It’s in these forty-five minutes that I officially checked out as it’s just a series of parlor trick moments that are less than magical.

As I’ve said before, magic tricks onscreen just don’t work for me because there’s no sense of disbelief one can reasonably hold.  When magic is done live and in person, it can be an impressive experience because you learn to not trust your eyes.  On film, when I see a trick being performed in the middle of multiple edits and angles I’m just wondering how many takes and lighting set-ups it took to get it to look right. It just doesn’t work for me.  At all.

Performances here are in line with the broad script.  God love him, Ruffalo acts the hell out of his role and for that I thank him. If only his co-stars had found a way to do the same. Eisenberg is as nebbish and stilted as ever, Franco is disarming but not given much to do, Caplan starts off with spunk but gradually gets reduced to ninth banana, Radcliffe as usual is having way more fun than we are, and Caine and Freeman are just there to cash their checks (at least Freeman is required to both stand up and walk in this film…unlike London Has Fallen).  And poor Harrelson pulls double duty as Merritt and his offensively fey twin.

Capping off with another finale that throws some random turns in at the very end, Now You See Me 2 is slickly made and moves fast but is superficially bland and all together hollow.

Movie Review ~ Victor Frankenstein

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Told from Igor’s perspective, we see the troubled young assistant’s dark origins, his redemptive friendship with the young medical student Viktor Von Frankenstein, and become eyewitnesses to the emergence of how Frankenstein became the man – and the legend – we know today.

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox

Director: Paul McGuigan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: If you’re looking for someone to blame for Victor Frankenstein, might I suggest Sherlock Holmes?  A character brought to life so vividly in a series of novels and notable screen adaptations, Holmes has been resurrected to popular effect three times in the last decade.  On the small screen he’s a present-day on the spectrum detective in two television series, one for the BBC (effectively launching Benedict Cumberbatch’s career in the process) and one for CBS  (a more commercial offering, but no less successful) and on the big screen he’s a wise-acre troublemaking sleuth in Guy Ritchie’s two Holmes films.  Possibly trying to exist in the same Victorian England Ritchie world, Victor Frankenstein is a slapdash creation, stitched together with little inspiration or motivation.  It’s a true snoozer…and I know from experience because I fell asleep for part of it.

Opening with the line “You know the story” and then, like all reimaginings must, going on to tell a totally different version of a time-worn tale, at first I was thinking that Victor Frankenstein was on to something.  Told from the perspective of the man who would be Igor (Daniel Radcliffe, What If, The Woman in Black), starting out as a nameless and mistreated hunchback circus clown that studies medicine and dreams of a life with a  pretty trapeze artist (Jessica Brown Findlay, Winter’s Tale), the first, oh, two minutes of the movie are visually impressive and intriguing.  Then our titular character enters (James McAvoy, Trance) and our interest (and the scenery) gets shredded to bits.

Rescuing the deformed man and employing him as his assistant, Frankenstein names him Igor (after his absent flat mate) and attends to his hunchback and crooked stance.  Standing upright with a flat back, clean clothes, and a self-applied haircut delivered by straight razor that suggests a future as a coiffeur, Igor quickly gets up to speed with Frankenstein’s work in bringing the dead back to life.  Originally working on a chimp hybrid that goes ape when roused from an eternal slumber, the two men are soon hired by a wealthy family to create something…bigger.

In between gathering the pieces to assemble the ultimate creation, Igor continues to woo the trapeze artist (now living as a ward to a wealthy businessman) and avoid a fire and brimstone detective (Andrew Scott, Spectre) that believes what Igor and Frankenstein are doing is against God’s will.  There’s the requisite backstory to explain the method behind Frankenstein’s madness and some moral quandaries that are quickly vanquished, it all leads to a rain soaked finale aiming to be electrifying but can’t find a strong current.

As much as Radcliffe tries to distance himself from the boy wizard that made him a household name, I’ve yet to be truly impressed by any of his post-Harry Potter work.   Trapped by an outlandish script by Max Landis (Chronicle) and tonally blunt direction by Paul McGuigan, Radcliffe doesn’t have much to do but peer out from behind his shabby wig, gasp in horror at Frankenstein’s insanity, and make goo-goo eyes at his love.  Brown Findlay has the presence of a rogue dust bunny and Scott simmers with a too-serious biblical rage that leans more toward hysterics than histrionics.

Nothing compares to McAvoy’s unhinged, abysmally over-the-top performance, though, and like it or not you have to give the actor credit for not being afraid to fail.  Possibly recognizing the only way to be memorable in an otherwise dull creature feature is to be more outsized than his muscle bound creation, McAvoy is amped up from frame one and ready to go for the campy gold.  Were the rest of the film less serious in nature, McAvoy’s take might have worked better but here is feels like the actor is out of control.

Technically sound with a good eye for period detail, the money in Victor Frankenstein was clearly spent in the right places like Jany Temime’s (Skyfall) pleasing costumes and Eve Stewart’s (Les Misérables) sumptuous production design. It’s just a shame that all of the funds went to waste in a film with no pulse.

The Silver Bullet ~ Victor Frankenstein

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Synopsis: Told from Igor’s perspective, we see the troubled young assistant’s dark origins, his redemptive friendship with the young medical student Viktor Von Frankenstein, and become eyewitnesses to the emergence of how Frankenstein became the man – and the legend – we know today.

Release Date: November 25, 2015

Thoughts:  Did we learn nothing from Van Helsing, the campy 2004 disaster that almost ended Hugh Jackman’s burgeoning career as a stand-alone action star? Apparently not, because the makers of Victor Frankenstein seem to think that all Mary Shelley’s tale needed was a few wisecracks and a healthy dose of Sherlock Holmes-ian production design to create a new take on the oft-told classic. James McAvoy (Trance) and Daniel Radcliffe (What If) are appealing actors but first impressions from this trailer find them resting on their laurels, with Radcliffe doing his best turn-of-the-century Harry Potter. I love a good monster tale, don’t get me wrong, but this looks pretty cornball.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Horns

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Synopsis: In the aftermath of his girlfriend’s mysterious death, a young man awakens to strange horns sprouting from his temples.

Release Date: October 31, 2014

Thoughts: I’ve said it before in my reviews of his recent work but I find it quite admirable at how out of his Harry Potter comfort zone Daniel Radcliffe is willing to go to prove that he’s more than the boy wizard. Though he reaches for the stars, too often I find him lacking but when he fails it’s never a total wash as the work itself has more interest that what his performance brings to the project. With Horns, Radcliffe (What If) is under the direction of Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3D) a director known for pushing some American boundaries when it comes to the horror genre. Much of this comes down to graphic violence but there’s a sliver of social commentary in even the gravest of Aja’s works. Co-starring Juno Temple (Cracks), this horror-comedy might not make Radcliffe more lovable but could work in favor of the actor shedding his wizard cloaks for good.

Movie Review ~ What If

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Wallace, burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry, who lives with her longtime boyfriend. Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life.

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Rafe Spall, Megan Park, Mackenzie Davis, Oona Chaplin

Director: Michael Dowse

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Though I am appreciative that Daniel Radcliffe (The Woman in Black) continues to push himself out of his Harry Potter comfort zone, I’m less inclined to think of him as a romantic leading man…especially after seeing his awkward effort in the daffy rom-com What If. Points for trying, though.

Radcliffe’s off the mark performance isn’t the only thing wrong with What If, an adaptation of the play Toothpaste and Cigars, but it is the most troublesome in comparison. Romantic comedies live and die by their casting and if you don’t believe in one or both of the leads, the film has an uphill battle to climb. Reminding me more than a little of the breezy charm of (500) Days of Summer, What If tries to capture that same tone but only half makes it…succeeding (like Summer) mostly on the strength of its female players.

As is standard, Radcliffe’s Wallace meets cute with artist Chantry (Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks) at a party thrown by his friend/her cousin Allan (Adam Driver, Lincoln, with his Salvador Dali face). He’s heartbroken and single, she’s sorta happy and dating (Rafe Spall, Prometheus) yet a friendship blossoms. With a dash of trying to buck the When Harry Met Sally… stereotype that men and women can’t be just friends, Wallace and Chantry somehow make it work…until both are honest with themselves to see that there may be something there.

There’s a good nugget of a film here and I honestly think if Radcliffe and Driver had switched roles the film would have been better for it. Not that I’m a fan of Driver at all, he’s essentially playing the same obnoxious character from Girls, but at least he’d have been able to make Elan Mastai’s script hum along better than Radcliffe’s forced conversational approach.

As it is, Radcliffe is lucky that he’s paired with Kazan. Though I haven’t seen her in much, I was struck by how perfectly cast she was for the role. Showing that flawed and vulnerable doesn’t equate to weak, Kazan makes the character charming and offbeat enough in that twee sort of way that isn’t aggravating but earnestly winsome. She saves the film every chance she gets.

As Chantry’s sister, Megan Park is a nice dose of comedic relief and Mackenzie Davis (That Awkward Moment) actually convinces us that Driver is appealing as the yin to his yucky yang. Spall gets the raw end of the deal playing the boyfriend with an arc that reads like a laundry list of bad boyfriend clichés (jealous, manipulative, etc)…it’s so much more interesting if the girl isn’t choosing between a louse and a Lancelot, right?

Another thing to note is that though the film has a playful edge as evidenced in a nice opening and closing animated sequence, it’s obsessed with toilet humor in a way that becomes unnerving. With its multiple references to excrement in various forms and textures, I half wondered if the original title wasn’t Everyone Poops.

Best, ahem, digested with an at-home viewing, What If is a pleasant flick to be sure but is unfortunately hampered by a miscast lead, an obnoxious supporting character, and fecal humor more suited for an Adam Sandler film. Will leave you asking “What if this was a better movie?”