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 ~ 10 Cloverfield Lane

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter by two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr.

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Boosted by a bold teaser trailer that left audiences riddled with questions, 2008’s Cloverfield was a fairly genius example of how the right marketing could create all the buzz that was needed to guarantee a healthy debut at the box office.  I mean, they didn’t even give the title of the film away…which drove audiences to fire up their Dell laptops and do some old fashioned sleuthin’ to find out more about the found footage flick. Was it a disaster movie? Was it a monster movie? No one really knew until the film was released…and was a bit of a dud in my book.  Undone by its hype, the hand-held filmmaking churned my stomach and lackluster plot developments frustrated way more than it frightened.

Fast forward to January of 2016 when Paramount revealed the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane…a mystery film that somehow managed to fly so far under the radar that even the most tapped in film fans were thrown for a loop.  In this day and age of spoiler heavy early reviews, I’d classify that as a not-so-minor miracle…so my first reaction was respect more than anything else.  Then I remembered how I felt going into Cloverfield and instantly started to lower my expectations so the buzz bar wouldn’t be raised too high.

So…before we go on…it’s next to impossible to talk about 10 Cloverfield Lane without going into certain details that may be considered minor spoilers. I’m going to do my best to keep it vague, but for those sensitive souls out there (you know who you are) tread carefully.

Ok?

Ready?

The first question you’ll want an answer to is wondering if this is indeed a sequel to Cloverfield.  Yes…and no.  I’d call it a sequel adjacent, related to events from the previous film but very much with its own story to tell.  This is both a good thing and a bad thing because the script was rewritten to fit into the same universe and it feels like it…especially in the third act when it becomes almost an entirely different film.  I’m getting ahead of myself though…

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Spectacular Now) is running away…from what we’re not sure.  It could be her heard but not seen boyfriend (listen closely and see if you can pick out his Oscar nominated voice) or it could be life in general…we don’t know and it ultimately doesn’t matter.  After being involved in a violent automobile accident, she wakes to find herself chained to a wall in an underground bunker presided over by Howard, a twitchy survivalist (John Goodman, Argo, Flight) that makes sure she knows he’s her savior.  There’s a wicked whiff of Misery at play in these early scenes as Michelle comes to terms with her good Samaritan (or captor?) and the rules he has for life under the ground.

Why are they holed up there you may ask?  Well if you believe Howard there’s been an attack that’s left the world above ground in a desolate state of fallout that will take years to bounce back from. Do you trust Howard, though?  That’s the question Michelle and another shelter mate Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr) are troubled by the more time they spend in confinement and the more discrepancies they find in Howard’s version of events.  And with that, I think we’re at a good place to stop and let you find out for yourself the truth behind it all.

Made for a fifth of the budget of Cloverfield, the $5-million-dollar movie is a handsomely produced bit of entertainment that has its fair share of genuine shocks and out of left field developments. My jaw dropped more than once at what transpires, creating a giddy sense of old school movie-going fun that few films seem interested in tapping into.  If there are a few hokey moments, there’s enough good will generated to forgive some sloppy storytelling and iffy effects (though none as dreadful as the ones you’ll find in London Has Fallen) that don’t mar much of the overall experience.

With only eight actors listed in the credits, the film simply wouldn’t have worked as well without its cast, namely Goodman, creepy-as-all-get-out without doing much more than giving Winstead a once-over with his eyes.  Winstead, nicely plucky as a heroine that isn’t perfectly formed into a cookie-cutter robot is interesting to watch and a viable actress to root for even if we can tell she has some hidden backstory that may make us like her less if the situation was different.

First time director Dan Trachtenberg keeps the film racing along (the first time I checked my watch was 95 minutes in) in a most agreeable way, aided by Bear McCreary’s (Europa Report) pounding score.  The first 15 or so minutes of the film are dialogue-free, leaving McCreary’s music to tell the story and ratchet up the suspense for the remainder of the running time.  The score is almost a character in and of itself.

My best advice for you would be to go into 10 Cloverfield Lane with as little information as possible…you’ve come to the end of this review so you’re already clued in a bit but trust that I’ve saved the twists and turns of the movie for you to enjoy on your own.  A far superior effort than Cloverfield (though, to be fair, they are two totally different pictures), 10 Cloverfield Lane is worth a stroll.

The Silver Bullet ~ Kill the Messenger

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Synopsis: Based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb, a reporter becomes the target of a vicious smear campaign after he exposes the CIA’s role in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California.

Release Date:  October 10, 2014

Thoughts: Though it reeks of Jeremy Renner continuing his neverending quest for Oscar glory, there’s little doubt that the real life story serving as the basis for Kill the Messenger has potential to be a pivotal moment in his career.  Look, we all know that Renner (The Bourne Legacy, American Hustle) can act with the best of them…but I feel the actor is taking himself a bit too seriously at this point.  Working with director Michael Cuesta to bring journalist Gary Webb’s life to the big screen, Renner makes a good impression in this first trailer…though it does feel like we’ve seen this exact same story told several times each decade .

Movie Review ~ The Spectacular Now

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.”

Stars: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Director: James Ponsoldt

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: The best thing about seeing July’s The Bling Ring was getting to see the first preview of The Spectacular Now and ever since that time I’d been counting down the days until I’d be able to get my butt into the seat.  Harkening back to the early days of John Hughes (I’m talking Pretty in Pink era, not Curly Sue thank you very much) yet possessing a style and confidence all its own, The Spectacular Now may not have wound up being the perfect film of 2013 (that honor still goes to The Way, Way Back) but it makes it to the winner circle thanks to two incredible lead performances and director James Ponsoldt’s smart, attention-to-details direction.

Based on the novel by Tim Tharp and coming armed with an observant screenplay by (500) Days of Summer writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, there’s a lot to like within the 95 minute journey that The Spectacular Now takes viewers on.  “Like” may be just too…easy of a word.  “Relate to”, “empathize with”, “agree upon” could be the better way to say it because there seems to be something at the core of the movie and the lives of the people we meet that will speak to anyone regardless if you’ve been home schooled or passed through the walls of the famed “high school experience” so often put on celluloid.

What sets this movie apart from its contemporaries is how un-clichéd the story develops and how impressive it is that it manages to maintain this for all but a scintilla of time as it nears its conclusion.  Though it does rely on the oft-used voiceover narration/college essay as a framing device, I didn’t mind the commentary as much as I normally do because the narration makes sense in the context of the story being told.

High school charmer Sutter (Miles Teller, Rabbit Hole) is living the teenage dream.  He’s popular, has a great girlfriend, has a long leash of freedom from his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and generally deals with each new life situation with a can-do spirit.  The trouble is, all of that positive energy and care for others is masking some inner conflict he’s not ready to deal with.  We’ve all had to face these moments when we look around to see that we may possess everything we could ever want yet are frightened to recognize that maybe having it all doesn’t equal happiness…or at least what we thought happiness was meant to be.

Sutter is also an alcoholic…a hard subject for a teen romance to deal with yet an important one to call out as it’s a growing problem in our schools.  In their small town, Sutter has no trouble finding liquor or going to work with a flask to freshen up what’s really being held in his Big Gulp.  As the movie begins, a misunderstanding has caused a rift between Sutter and his girlfriend (Brie Larson) and after a night of hard partying he wakes up on the lawn of a home on Aimee’s (Shailene Woodley, The Descendants)  paper route.

A classmate he’s never noticed, Sutter befriends Aimee and a relationship soon develops.  Is Sutter using Aimee as a rebound, as a way to get back at his girlfriend who has moved on, or does Aimee’s understanding and sensitivity to the pain she sees beneath his surface mean that Sutter can finally be seen and loved for who he truly is?  These are the very adult questions being asked in a movie that could be carelessly classified as just another trivial teen romance.

It’s Teller and Woodley’s dynamic chemistry together and apart that make the movie really ignite.  Teller fits the bill for his character but never lets Sutter drift into maudlin sentimentality just because he’s finding new corners of himself.  Woodley too shows an introspective maturity that far exceeds her years as she takes Aimee through first love to heartache and back again.  Though Aimee takes some selfless, hard turns that are tough to watch and may be frustrating to some, they all feel like they are coming from the right place and have an earthy truth that side-steps hitting a false note.

If anything, it’s the supporting characters that don’t live up to the performances of Teller and Woodley.  The young actors that portray other members of Sutter and Aimee’s social circle don’t come across with the same confidence and it’s not just how they’re written.  They seemed to be playing catch-up in a race that Teller and Woodley were always destined to win.  Leigh has a nice turn as Sutter’s sometimes distant mom and Kyle Chandler gets the job done as Sutter’s estranged father.

The movie trips a bit when it gets to these scenes with Sutter and his father because it appears the writing is on the wall as to the cycle that Sutter seems to be on.  Thankfully, the script is smart enough to take a flimsy contrivance and spin it into, if not gold, a solid silver of an ending.

With a few genuinely surprising elements, The Spectacular Now is absolutely a movie to seek out and soak in.  The lead performances are some of the best you’ll see all year from two rising stars and Ponsoldt is quickly establishing himself as a director with depth and a keen eye for casting.  Worth a serious look from viewers that don’t mind a little heartbreak at the hands of honest men and women.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Spectacular Now

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Synopsis: A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.”

Release Date: August 2, 2013 

Thoughts: Yet another reason why you should never be late for a movie…because you may wind up missing a preview like The Spectacular Now.  Like The Way, Way Back the preview suggests a film that feels fresh and bold with a strong cast of young talent that doesn’t wind up feeling like something we’ve seen before.  Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) and Shailene Woodly (a knockout in The Descendants) are the romantic leads in a cast that also includes Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kyle Chandler.  From the same writers as the dynamite (500) Days of Summer, I found a certain magic to the trailer…leading me to think/hope this could turn out to be a sleeper hit come August.