Tag Archives: Daniel Radcliffe

257. SWISS ARMY MAN (2016)

“Usually you can fall back on a genre or something and go, ‘It’ll be great!’ With us, we were like, ‘I don’t know man, we’re making something crazy, it might not turn out well…’” – Daniel Kwan

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DIRECTED BY: Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)

FEATURING: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe

PLOT: Hank (Dano), on the brink of suicide after being stranded on a deserted island, discovers a flatulent corpse (Radcliffe) washed ashore. Investigating, he finds it is endowed with many with life-saving powers, and eventually develops the power of speech. Naming the corpse “Manny,” the two forge an unlikely alliance as Hank tries to find his way home and Manny tries to remember what it’s like to be alive.

Still from Swiss Army Man (2016)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film is the first feature from writing/directing team “Daniels,” Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. They met at Emerson College in 2008, and soon collaborated on short films and music videos that combined Kwan’s background in design and animation with Scheinert’s background in comedy and theater.
  • Kwan came up with the idea as a joke, and the two aspiring filmmakers would pitch it during studio meetings for fun until they were eventually encouraged to actually develop it into something. The script came together in 2014 at the Sundance Labs, where was one of their advisors. (According to Scheinert, he wanted them to somehow incorporate the Gilligan’s Island theme song.)
  • Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe were the first actors to whom they sent the script. Both agreed immediately, after which Daniels rewrote the parts to be more suited to the actors.
  • Daniel Radcliffe insisted on performing most of his own stunts.
  • Daniels’ Grammy-nominated music video for DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What” single was a testing ground for the idea of an independent-minded penis later used in Swiss Army Man. Daniel Kwan himself is the main dancer in the video.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Hank’s descriptions of women and sex (along with help from an alluring advertisement) provoke a sudden erection in Manny, but it soon becomes clear that his penis is actually pointing their way home. The erratic movements of Daniel Radcliffe’s member as it jerks within his pants towards a nearby pathway create an image I certainly won’t forget any time soon.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Corpse jet ski; DIY bus ride; fiery (and propulsive) bear escape

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: With a farting, hacking, spewing, singing, dancing, flying corpse front and center of its survival tale, Swiss Army Man is bizarre enough for the List based on premise alone. But perhaps the weirdest thing of all is the film’s complete sincerity, which despite all its high-concept groundwork makes its audience care deeply about its central characters.


Trailer for Swiss Army Man

COMMENTS: It is always easier to accept the strange when we are Continue reading 257. SWISS ARMY MAN (2016)

LIST CANDIDATE: SWISS ARMY MAN (2016)

Swiss Army Man has been promoted onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies Ever Made. Please visit the official Certified Weird entry. Comments are closed on this post.

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DIRECTED BY: Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)

FEATURING: ,

PLOT: Hank (Dano), a young man on the brink of suicide after being stranded on a deserted island, discovers a flatulent corpse (Radcliffe) with life-saving powers. The two forge an unlikely alliance as Hank tries find his way home.

Still from Swiss Army Man (2016)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: With a farting, hacking, spewing, talking, singing, dancing, flying corpse front and center of its survival tale, Swiss Army Man is probably bizarre enough for the List based on premise alone. But it’s the film’s kooky charm, black humor, and remarkable feeling that makes me recommend it.

COMMENTS: It is always easier to accept the strange when we are alone, when there is no social pressure to be reasonable or logical, when we can allow ourselves to think, just for a second, that maybe that unexplained feeling or movement is a ghost drifting through our house or a glitch in the Matrix. Swiss Army Man, the debut feature from filmmaking team “Daniels” (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), revels in the idea that in isolation people are free to be as weird as they are, and that maybe that is a beautiful thing. Lost, alone, scared, unsure, Hank not only finds himself immediately opening up to a random corpse (known later as “Manny”), but he accepts his magical properties almost immediately because he has no reason not to. He doesn’t seem to care if this crazy experience is all in his head or not, so the audience doesn’t need to, either.

Hank discovers more and more uses for Manny as the story moves along—he starts fires with spark-inducing fingers, acts as a fountain after collecting rain water all night, moves across the water as a fart-powered motorboat, and points the way with his penis-compass (really), among other things. However, the surprise of the film is that it isn’t really about its titular character’s multi-purpose nature, but more about the strange, surprisingly moving relationship that develops between the two men. Manny is a blank slate, with no memory and no knowledge of the outside world, so much of the dialogue is Hank answering never-ending questions about life, love, work, and bodily functions. They begin to enact a strange love-story-once-removed, with Hank playing the part of a semi-fictional woman so that Manny can learn how male/female romance works, but as time goes on the fantasy blurs into reality. They rely on one another so completely that their symbiotic relationship mirrors a romantic one, and despite the impossibility of their situation it is utterly believable.

Ultimately, Swiss Army Man is an exercise in contradictions. It combines thoughtful, often elegant visuals—a cool blue/green/ color palette, engrossing camerawork, soft lighting—and pairs it with exceedingly low-brow visual and audio gags, with the ever-present fart and dick jokes driving a lot of the humor. It gives us an inventive, gorgeous score from Andy Hull and Robert McDowell and overlays it with nonsense words and goofy lyrics sung by Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. It reveals many of the terrifying realities of survival in the forest while eliciting comedy and wonder out of its fantasy elements. Much of its dialogue centers around a heterosexual love story, but it actually works better as a homosexual one. What makes the film work so well is that everyone involved accepts these contradictions wholeheartedly, knowing that something can be beautiful and disgusting and hilarious and strange and emotionally affecting all at once, because weirdness is okay, even after you’ve left the isolation of the woods.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this movie wears its weirdness as a badge of honor — as well it should.”–Peter Debruge, Variety (festival screening)

CAPSULE: HORNS (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Alexandre Aja

FEATURING: , , Max Minghella, Joe Anderson,

PLOT: An accused killer (Daniel Radcliffe) awakes one day to find horns growing from his head and people suddenly anxious to confess their secrets to him.

Still from Horns (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite some good ideas, Horns‘ uneveness ultimately undoes it, and it’s not weird enough to overcome its lack of clear purpose.

COMMENTS: Horns begins promisingly, but loses its way as it meanders to its devilish finish. Up until the last act, I was still with the movie, though just barely. But the film begins with its strong points and slowly squanders them, ending up in a diabolical failure. The crazed premise intrigues. Daniel Radcliffe plays Iggy, a lover accused of murdering his beloved during a drunken blackout. All signs point to him as the culprit, and his town has already condemned him on circumstantial evidence (“Go to Hell!” reads a prophetic sign wielded by an angry protestor).

After a desperate act of desecration, Iggy wakes up to find two ram’s horns growing out of his temples. Here, almost at the very beginning, is where the movie hits its height, detouring from a burgeoning mystery drama into dark comedy. People (well, most people) can see Iggy’s horns, but they’re not startled by them. Instead, the protrusions cast a spell that makes them confess, and sometimes act out, their darkest secrets, beginning with a doughnut-scarfing slut and progressing through a doctor who proves less than helpful in amputating Iggy’s unwanted growths because he can’t resist sneaking some of his patient’s anesthesia for himself.

Here is where Horns starts encountering problems. The film is working. But the people-aren’t-reacting-to-these-enormous-horns-poking-out-of-my-forehead jokes begin to wear thin, and the plot is stalling. So comedy is put aside and we transition into a supernatural procedural, as Iggy puts the horns’ power to use to search for the real killer. The solution to the mystery is obvious (although there is a slight twist), but method of sleuthing is novel enough to keep us interested (although we might wonder what happened to the comedy we were watching a few minutes ago). Unfortunately, the reveal arrives too early, and the film changes tone once again. Iggy grows crueler and more Satanic, leading to an action finale that shows off the movie’s poor CGI (although a scene with Radcliffe vomiting lava is admittedly pretty cool).

Horns brings us a flood of religious symbolism: broken crosses, serpents, Eve’s diner (with an apple logo), Radcliffe transformed into a cartoonish Lucifer as his lust for revenge grows. There is clumsy voiceover and clichéd-feeling erotic flashbacks to Juno Temple dancing to Bowie’s “Heroes.”  There’s an out-of-focus muti-drug trip scene that ends with a forest growing in living room and an extremely nasty and out-of-place murder/rape flashback. All-in-all, there are too many narrative and stylistic gambles, without enough payoffs. The result is an initially promising film that ends up as a mild disappointment. Horns may be successful in changing Radcliffe’s image, however: whether the change is from cute magical lad to tormented antihero, or from bankable star to fading child actor in need of a better agent, may be a matter of opinion.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…for a genre that rarely deviates from the cyclical and the tried and true (torture porn this time around, ‘70s throwback terror another), Horns is a welcome bit of weirdness.”–Bill Gibron, Pop Matters (contemporaneous)