Posts Tagged ‘Mary Elizabeth Winstead’

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In all honesty, what did we do to deserve Swiss Army Man?

It’s hard to fathom a world in which a movie is made about a rotting corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) imbibed with magical properties that helps a marooned man (Paul Dano) survive isolation and navigate his way back to civilization. Maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise that the dead body of Harry Potter is enchanted with powers that defy explanation. But here we are. This is a real thing.

If some poor rube mistakenly stumbles on this movie, then Swiss Army Man serves up an instant reminder by beginning with Paul Dano riding Daniel Radcliffe like a jet ski while the corpse’s immensely strong farts propel them across the ocean. Yes, I just wrote that sentence. It’s a genuine description of what happens. I was certain this was a ridiculous dream sequence. I was wrong.

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Somehow, I’m fucking ecstatic that this movie exists.

Swiss Army Man is a wonderfully weird independent movie from the minds of Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. I don’t know how The Daniels pulled this off, but these seemingly random ingredients come together to make an unbelievably outlandish, entertaining movie. The shocking charm of Swiss Army Man is disarming. Who else would have the balls to make this movie?

Many movies have gotten the one-of-a-kind label improperly slapped on them by critics.

Without hyperbole, this movie is truly one-of-a-kind. Nothing else like it exists.

Swiss Army Man is the picture-perfect definition of surrealism.

Paul Dano plays Hank—a man literally at the end of his rope. Hank is alone on a deserted island and ready to hang himself. At that moment, a body washes ashore and gives Hank hope. Once he finds out that the body is actually a bloated corpse with fierce flatulence, Hank then uses Harry Potter’s powerful farts in the aforementioned farting jet ski sequence to find the mainland.

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After those first 5 minutes, the boundary between dream and reality was shattered.

If you can make it 15 minutes into the movie, then you are in for a treat for the remainder.

Most of this movie involves Paul Dano’s character trying to bring the corpse back to life and teach him about things that might help him remember who he is or how he got there. I’m not kidding when I say Daniel Radcliffe’s time as an inanimate object is the best acting performance of his career. It’s a miracle that he wasn’t cracking up every second. He’s an incredibly believable dead body.

Basically, Swiss Army Man is like if Castaway just stayed with Tom Hanks on the island. Instead of befriending a volleyball, the main character finds a dead body to be his friend. The slightly reanimated corpse adopts the name Manny and starts to learn how to talk. While Daniel Radcliffe is at his best here when he’s doing a Weekend at Bernie’s impersonation, he gets his fair share of gems.

“If my best friend hides his farts from me, then what else is he hiding from me? And why does that thought make me feel so alone?” — Manny

It’s certainly childish, but I don’t give a fuck. Manny is a robust source of comedic relief as the Multi-Purpose Tool Guy. Paul Dano always brings me great joy, but he’s also extremely goofy. There is no “straight man” in Swiss Army Man. It’s still more than mere shits (and farts) and giggles.

Surprisingly, there’s a good amount of emotion in this movie.

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Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe occupy 99.9% of the screen time, but they bring their A-game in Swiss Army Man. Unfortunately, Mary Elizabeth Winstead only appears for 5 minutes. As soon a girl was shown in a small picture on Hank’s phone, I instantly recognized the actress. I know my MEW. As always, Mary Elizabeth Winstead shines whenever she’s on the screen.

Like most movies, Swiss Army Man probably outstays its welcome. I would have been happy if at least 15 minutes hit the cutting room floor. I still love this movie for what it is—a ballsy beacon of creativity. Only a small fraction will enjoy Swiss Army Man, but it will eventually find its audience.

I’m perfectly willing to accept that the events unfolding in this movie are simultaneously 100% real and completely fabricated within Hank’s head. In the end, I’m not even sure what happens. It doesn’t matter. Swiss Army Man literally ends with a character exclaiming, “What the fuck?!”

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It’s a fitting bow to wrap it up since I imagine that’s what the audience was saying to themselves at that exact moment. And throughout the entire movie. I know I was doing that.

In good conscience, I cannot recommend this movie to most people. I would be overcome with embarrassment if I suggested an acquaintance should watch this movie. You have to truly trust someone to say they should watch Swiss Army Man. Stoners would adore this movie, and it’s likely a 5-star movie if altered. Watching Swiss Army Man bone sober isn’t ideal, and it’s likely a 2-star movie if you don’t want silly humor. You definitely have to be in the right frame of mind.

Swiss Army Man is sublimely strange. I enjoyed every stupid moment.

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3.5 out of 5 stars

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Faults is a fantastic, even-paced mystery that is phenomenally captivating.

This movie starts out as a dark comedy showing you the desperate nature of the lead character, Ansel Roth—played by Leland Orser. Ansel is a specialist on cults and he tours local hotels to give shitty speeches and hawk his hackey book. The opening scene shows Ansel trying to re-use a hotel voucher for a free meal and getting rebuked. It goes delightfully wrong as he has to be thrown out.

Ansel in Mirror

Ansel Roth is a man at the end of his rope. Not quite literally, but he does attempt to suck a tailpipe. Ansel is a broken man, and Leland Orser does a beautiful, masterful job portraying that sense. Leland Orser is a seasoned character actor who typically plays nerdy roles, but he excelled in this larger opportunity playing a complex character like Ansel Roth. Ansel is a failure. Both his marriage and career have failed. One particular case still haunts Ansel because he failed trying to help a family deprogram a woman initiated into a cult. He pushed her too hard and she killed herself.

As a result of his collective failures, Ansel has lost all motivation to move forward.

Claire and Parents

However, he gets a second chance when two parents—played by familiar faces Chris Ellis and Beth Grant—come to Ansel desperate for his specialized help to save their daughter, Claire. For the first time in the movie, you see a light turn on in Ansel’s eyes while he’s eating breakfast with Claire’s parents. Although he blatantly states that he no longer gives a shit, Ansel needs the money and the parents are willing to pay for the job. Naturally, Ansel hires two thugs, they all kidnap Claire from a parking lot, and they transport her to a hotel in a sketchy van. Clearly, these are not professionals.

Basically, the comedy comes to a screeching halt at this point (about 20 minutes in).

However, the lack of dark humor is made up for by a wealth of Mary Elizabeth Winstead—playing Claire. I’ll take that trade-off. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one of our finest young actresses. She is an amazing talent with range, but she’s hasn’t had a true breakthrough role. I have no doubt she would have had an equally impressive performance as Brie Larson in last year’s Oscar-nominated Room.

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Claire comes off as a fragile woman. She is confused about the situation, but not her convictions. According to her parents, she has joined a cult and cut herself off from her family and society as a whole. Claire has joined a group that refers to itself as Faults. A fault is a fracture. From a fault comes a change. Claire feels intrinsically connected and called to this group. According to her description, Faults exhibits all the classic signs of a cult. It is Ansel’s mission to deprogram the cult’s teachings.

Ansel feels obligated to help Claire, but his main motivation is the money so he can pay off his debt.

Terry is his manager who self-published Ansel’s latest book, which he can’t give away. Jon Gries plays Terry in a very understated manner as a tough but effeminate photographer. Despite his job, he still manages to provide the character with the appearance of intimidation. Terry utilizes his close pal, Mick, as the muscle to force Ansel to pay. Mick is played by Lance Reddick, resident alien-looking motherfucker with a voice of gold who I’ll always remember as Desmond Mobay from Oz and Cedric Daniels from The Wire. These two characters are constantly interfering with Ansel’s mission to save Claire.

Ansel can only survive so long having his candle burnt at both ends.

Saying too much more would threaten to ruin the story as this movie transforms into an absorbing mystery to find out who this cult is and what the hell they are doing. Although Claire is the only opening into Faults, Ansel is the key to unlock the door. Can he succeed where he failed before?

Orser and Winstead

Riley Stearns deserve immense praise for pulling off this movie as both the writer and director. His vision came to life and became much more thanks to Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Leland Orser. The interplay between the characters of Claire and Ansel is the core of this movie. A few minutes could have been snipped from the middle to tighten things up, but this movie deserves more praise.

Maybe I just personally enjoy the subject of cults more than most. It is a fascinating topic that Faults touches on and rolls around in—exploring why and how people are drawn to cults. In most cases, it is the cult of personality that lures people in like a siren’s call. In Faults, Ira is the name of the mysterious leader that we never see but their presence is felt anyway. The charismatic leader is often the introduction to make the brainwashing go down smooth. As people, we are very weak and open to this exploitation. While people love to single out Scientology, every organized religion is a cult.

You can all hate me equally for that true statement and sentiment.

Faults is a movie that belongs in your queue. Fortunately, this is still streaming on Netflix. Despite heavily relying on the mystery of unraveling the story, this movie holds up on a second viewing.

Just watch what you say about Faults, there some things we don’t talk about.

MEW Scream

4 out of 5 stars

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10 Cloverfield Lane is a well-acted, tense thriller that unravels to reveal a true piece of shit.

My gripe is not with John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, or John Gallagher Jr.—the acting elevates the writing and makes this movie worth watching. If you enjoy the craft of acting, then you’re nearly guaranteed to be deeply engaged with these characters. However, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down during the odd, stilted third act that culminates with a ridiculous finale.

In hindsight, where 10 Cloverfield Lane really lost me was the name.

I am jealous of those who can watch 10 Cloverfield Lane as a standalone movie. To be clear, 10 Cloverfield Lane is not a standalone movie. Leading up to the release, J.J. Abrams said 10 Cloverfield Lane is a “blood relative” to Cloverfield—intentionally teasing a directly shared universe.

Cloverfield was and still is a very divisive movie. Most people hated the shaky camera and found footage gimmick. But I think it worked beautifully in the context of a monster destroying a major city. As an admitted fan of creature features, Cloverfield delivered a unique, enthralling adventure with a distinct creature wreaking havoc on New York City. While 10 Cloverfield Lane builds tension in a similar but different manner, the anticipation does not crescendo to a satisfactory conclusion.

When you slap Cloverfield on the title of your movie, you’re establishing a certain set of expectations. Of course, J.J. Abrams isn’t one for delivering on expectations. Everything the man has done is all setup and zero resolution. Without spoiling anything (yet), 10 Cloverfield Lane is right in line with the Abrams brand. I don’t mean to give J.J. too much responsibility since he was only the producer of Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane, but you can see the sequences that bear his direct influence.

Before I unload my personal problems with this movie, let me talk about the good things.

Howard Angry

There are plenty of good things about 10 Cloverfield Lane. John Goodman is legitimately great and he puts on a magnificent display as Howard—a doomsday prepper with deep paranoia and a potentially dark history. His character is enigmatic. You’re never quite sure what he’s doing or what motivates his actions. Howard’s doomsday bunker is a sizeable underground fortress that ends up providing shelter for Howard, Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Emmett (played by John Gallagher Jr.)—although Emmett helped build the bunker, he was not an intended guest. After a car wreck under mysterious circumstances, Michelle woke up to find herself shackled in the bunker with no memory of what happened. As the audience, you have to put the pieces together as the events unfold.

I was captivated whenever John Goodman was on the screen. Howard isn’t exactly a likeable character, but there is an undeniable charm. You just have to ignore the gruff exterior and creepy, controlling personality. Mary Elizabeth Winstead holds her own as Michelle against Goodman’s gregarious presence. The relationship between Howard and Michelle is bizarre from the beginning. That absence of an explanation is a recurring theme in 10 Cloverfield Lane—and the Abrams brand, in general.

Don’t expect any explanations from this shared universe. You will only disappoint yourself.

You can expect some spoilers while I explain my contempt for this shameful marketing ploy.

Spoilers galore.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Now enjoy some Good(man) dancing.

Good(man) Dancing

I was sold a false bill of goods. 10 Cloverfield Lane is all misdirection.

The setup is so enjoyable, which makes this so ultimately unsatisfying. The concept of a restricted narrative in an underground bunker is an interesting hook. With 10 Cloverfield Lane as the title, the most tantalizing hook for me was how this connects with Cloverfield.

Surprise: there is no direct correlation. Fucking “blood relative” of Cloverfield, my ass.

Cloverfield had no business being so incredibly entertaining. I think we can thank Matt Reeves for that. Maybe I love it a little too much because it was also my introduction to T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan. There were genuinely great, memorable moments in Cloverfield—in fact, innovative with that horrific night vision chase scene in the subway tunnels. The end wasn’t exactly gratifying, but I have come to terms with that. In time, I’ve almost appreciated the absence of explanation in that movie.

I cannot appreciate or mildly tolerate the intentional lie of titling this movie 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Initially, this movie started out as The Cellar. Dying a slow death in development hell, J.J. Abrams rescued the movie by slapping Cloverfield on the name to manufacture mystery. Fans of Cloverfield have been feverishly waiting for a sequel. It’s an embarrassing slap in the face to loosely tie this in with Cloverfield when it doesn’t really have any vital connection to the original movie.

Personally, this attempt to generate interest among a group of dedicated fans gloriously backfired because there is no connection—no Cloverfield monster or human-sized parasites. Not even a reference to the event. If a giant fucking monster destroyed New York City, I want to know how that would change the way people lived their lives. The largest city in the U.S. was attacked by a massive creature. In order to stop the devastation, the HAMMERDOWN protocol was initiated to bomb the monster into oblivion. During the credits, there was also a line suggesting the creature still survived.

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Since the events aren’t referenced, I’m not sure whether 10 Cloverfield Lane takes place before, during, or after Cloverfield. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character owned the newest iPhone, which suggests this takes place after Cloverfield. If this indeed takes place after a monster destroyed New York City, then Howard isn’t a conspiracy nut for building a doomsday bunker. Cloverfield certainly invoked the emotion of the 9/11 and that aftermath has impacted our reality so it was ripe for exploration.

Not referencing or including the events of Cloverfield in 10 Cloverfield Lane is a stupefying decision.

None of this feels natural. This is very obviously two separate movies glued together.

You can tell what parts remained from The Cellar, and those original sequences are enthralling. When Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character finally escapes, the science-fiction elements felt so fabricated and out of leftfield. Instead of using the ready-made human-sized parasites from Cloverfield, there’s a mechanical worm-dog and some sort of weird flying creature with other similar types of ships.

It’s fucking aliens?! Aliens. Fucking hokey CGI bullshit. Some television shows have better effects.

The official story from Cloverfield was that the monster was awoken from the deep sea by a fallen satellite, which you get a glimpse of at the end of the movie. It wasn’t an alien monster—it was already here hidden in the ocean. Now, I guess it has been changed to an alien. Maybe this is a part of a coordinated alien attack. You still don’t know after this movie and you will never know.

It is an empty promise.

The most emphatic connection within 10 Cloverfield Lane is the reveal that Howard worked on satellites. If you happen to be familiar with the Cloverfield ARG (alternate reality game), you might recognize an envelope with the logo of Bold Futura—Howard’s employer, which is tied to a company involved in the events of Cloverfield. It’s not only disgraceful as false advertising. It is a disservice to this movie.

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When you name the movie 10 Cloverfield Lane, you immediately add the expectation of science-fiction elements. Therefore, the payoff is not even a surprise. Instead, it feels fake and contrived. You can sense that it was tacked on purely to give it the illusion of a connection to Cloverfield—simply because there is a monster. The final shot shows the house’s mailbox (revealing the address), which is utterly pointless. None of these decisions make any rational sense and have no practical justification.

Rumors of a Twilight Zone-esque anthology series have already started swirling.

Fantastic, an anthology would allow J.J. Abrams to continue posing questions without any answers. I have had enough with the absence of explanation here. It’s not enough to have an interesting setup.

J.J. Abrams is a marketing maven. Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s impossible to judge 10 Cloverfield Lane as a standalone movie, but I sincerely wish I could manage to appreciate it by itself. Dan Trachtenberg showed impeccable vision in his directorial debut. The parts from The Cellar were worthy of 4-star consideration, but I cannot ignore nor forgive that awful ending.

Quite literally, this movie deserved a better treatment.

I wish the Cloverfield monster would just swallow this movie whole.

Cloverfield Monster

2 out of 5 stars