Tuesday, 11 April 2017

SWISS ARMY MAN

Directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, Starring: Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. Arty(Farty) Comedy Drama, US, 2016, 94mins, Cert 15.

Released in the UK on DVD & Blu-ray on 10th April 2017 by Lionsgate UK.

Imagine an art-house reworking of WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S and CAST AWAY with Daniel Radcliffe as a perpetually flatulent drowned corpse who washes up ashore a deserted island. Well, almost deserted, apart from a bearded young man, Hank (Paul Dano), a stranded castaway who's just about to hang himself when he spies ‘Manny’ lying on the beach. Hank’s initial hope of living company soon turns to despair when he realises Manny is dead, but Manny is destined to become Hank’s ‘Wilson’ like Tom Hank’s volleyball in CAST AWAY.  And he’s also about to be Hank’s ticket off the island when Hank harnesses Manny’s propellant fart power to ride him like a jet ski back to the mainland.  

Bodily functions play a crucial role in directors’ Scheinert and Kwan’s (the ‘Daniels’) surreal and charmingly quirky meditation on the human condition. Audaciously skipping across a tight rope of puerile crudity and gross-out outrageousness, it also finds time to juggle in affecting moments of pathos and regret, and a re-evaluation of the restorative power of Cheesy Puffs.

Radcliffe undertakes as much of the physical dead corpse work as he can, including selling practical effects such as spewing geysers of digestive seawater, whilst inevitably having to concede certain tasks to stunt dummies, stunt bottoms (and animatronic penis).

Paul Dano carries the film (and often Radcliffe’s corpse) as the desperate and disillusioned Hank, who finds himself increasingly confiding in his deceased confidant. The two characters ‘exchanges’ on the intricacies of the body’s biological functions induce full-on guffaws, whilst scattering wry observations on modern life and unrequited love in equal measure.

The sound department excel themselves in providing an impressive arsenal of variant fart effects which renders the camp fire sequence in BLAZING SADDLES positively constipated in comparison. The uplifting vocal scoring elevates and soars to accompany Hank’s trials and tribulations. The detailed intricacies of the set designs (such as the simulated ‘bus ride’ sequence) consistently provide intriguing possibilities for the players to work with. And there’s also a refreshing commitment to practical effects over CG work, wherever possible, so whilst you won’t quite believe a man can fly by intestinal gastric expulsion, you have to at least admire the audacity of the gag.  

I know this is a film which divides. I’ll wager you’ll know by the time the title credits flash up to accompany Hank’s butt-ski dash across the waves whether this is a film you’ll happily let float your boat, or one which you’ll happily tell the filmmakers exactly where they can shove it. I for one loved its unabashed unapologetic lack of self-restraint coupled with its joyously tainted sentimental optimism about acceptance. And it had the best use of the theme from ‘Jurassic Park’ ever.

Extras: Deleted Scenes, Q&A with the filmmakers, Behind the Scenes Featurettes and Audio Commentary. 
****(out of 5*)
Paul Worts

This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

THE GREASY STRANGLER

Directed by Jim Hosking, Starring: Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo. Comedy, Horror US, 2016, 93mins, Cert 18.

Grease is the word...

Jim Hosking’s directorial feature debut comes across like a congealed platter of early John Waters and Troma films, and is disgustingly enjoyable in its (albeit) calculated bizarre grossness.
‘Big Brayden’ (Sky Elobar), a taller version of Matt Lucas’ character ‘Andy’ from LITTLE BRITAIN, resides uneasily with his grease obsessed father ‘Big Ronnie’ (Michael St. Michael), a cross between Klaus Kinski and the titular creature from Stan Winston’s PUMPKINHEAD. Big Ronnie - apt considering his humongously grotesque (prosthetic) penis - runs tours of L.A’.s disco scene with his son by day, and just maybe the greasy strangler by night (hint: this isn’t really a mystery). Their dysfunctional grease encrusted existence is shaken to its core by the arrival of “Hootie tootie disco cutie” Janet (Elizabeth de Razzo) who overlooks Brayden’s remarkably small penis and lack of stomach definition “Not all girls like ripped up abs”, and begins to fall in love with Brayden. That is until dad works his disco moves and greasy globules of lubricant on Janet.
This intentionally bad taste mix of copious full-on genitalia, cartoon-like splatter gags, and repetitive expletive infected dialogue doesn’t register anywhere near the shock value it once might’ve had in these desensitised times. I actually found myself chuckling more at the drawn out patience-testing scenes of banality such as the verbal sparring between Big Ronnie and his tour party insisting on free drinks, the latter’s discussion as to the contents of a packet of crisps, and a hot dog vendors’ insistence on not being able to sell his dogs covered in grease.  
Of course the repetitive singularity nature of these character lives are what director Hosking is conveying here, even the supposedly illicit serial killing thrills of the greasy strangler are reduced to a replicated pattern whereby he ends up each night in the local car wash purging off the grease before exchanging inane pleasantries (whilst still nude) with the blind gas station owner.
Accompanying the intentional one-note performances which nail the films sensibility with toe-curling precision is Andrew Hung’s plink-plonk electronic soundtrack, a hybrid of 80’s video gaming bleeps and what sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks underwater.
Overall less eye-popping then it perhaps aimed to be, this is still a noteworthy calling-card for Brit Jim Hosking, and it will be interesting to see what he serves up next as to whether he is a “Bullshit artist!” or one to watch. Judging by THE GREASY STRANGLER, I’d say (for now at least) the latter.  
**** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts