Posts Tagged ‘Paul Dano’

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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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Flynn! If a movie stars Paul Dano, Robert De Niro, and Julianne Moore, then you should certainly expect it to feature phenomenal acting. Being Flynn doesn’t disappoint. As well as above-average performances, the writing is also top-notch with so many quotable lines—mostly from De Niro’s character.

The delusions of grandeur are evident in the introduction…

“America has produced only three classic writers: Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger and me. I’m Jonathan Flynn. Everything I write is a masterpiece. And soon, very soon, I shall be known.” — Jonathan Flynn

Paul Weitz directed Being Flynn and wrote the screenplay based on the memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, by Nick Flynn. The story is simple. Nick works at a homeless shelter where his long-lost father (Jonathan) ends up staying after spending weeks on the cold streets.

Being Flynn is dreadfully depressing. Naturally, the pacing is also slow and methodical.

Since Nick is an aspiring writer and Jonathan proclaims everything he writes to be a masterpiece, this movie involves a lot of narration from Nick and Jonathan talking inside their own heads. At the very beginning, Paul Dano and Robert De Niro trade-off with dueling narrations. De Niro’s character delivers the delightful line, “Don’t worry. You’re back. Back in the hands of a master storyteller.”

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That one early remark tells you everything you need to know about Jonathan Flynn.

De Niro’s character revels in being a dismissive, narcissistic prick.

The dynamic of the troubled father-son relationship between Paul Dano (as Nick Flynn) and Robert De Niro (as Jonathan Flynn) feels genuinely believable. Give De Niro credit for that. Although he’s pretty much a despicable human being, you still manage to like Jonathan Flynn because of De Niro’s undeniable charm. It’s impressive to see an engaging performance from De Niro. When was the last surprising performance from De Niro in the past decade? When you don’t see something for so long, you start to question whether that type of performance is still achievable. The range on display by De Niro in Being Flynn will serve as a reminder as to why he’s one of the best actors ever.

I want more of this De Niro before the old coot kicks the bucket.

As much as I love De Niro, the blood pumping through the heart of this movie is Paul Dano. Nick Flynn isn’t necessarily a likeable character, but Dano captures the essence and angst of someone struggling to find a purpose. It’s unfortunate that Paul Dano perpetually looks like a meek, mild-mannered teenager. Eventually, people will realize Paul Dano is one of our finest young actors.

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While Nick Flynn is trying to make meaning out of his life, he uses writing as a way to express himself and release his emotions. It made my skin crawl to listen to Nick read his writing with such self-satisfaction. It’s an amazing lack of awareness that so many people have about themselves. I’ve had people tell me they enjoy my writing or art. But I’ll never believe them. Compliments never make me feel comfortable. Instead, my brain will find some flaw to try to negate the positive.

Things seem to be getting on the right track for Nick when he starts working at Harbor House—a men’s homeless shelter. However, that facade quickly crumbles when his father, Jonathan, enters the picture as a resident in need of a bed. Learning his absentee father is circling the drain leads Nick down a path of drugs and alcohol to escape. Jonathan causes daily disruptions at the homeless shelter, and he just generally wreaks havoc wherever he goes because he only seems to care about himself.

Unfortunately, these types of explosive people actually exist in real life. They are toxic.

How do you deal with them when it is someone in your own family?

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Although Dano and De Niro are the stars—along with Julianne Moore, in her limited screen time shown in flashbacks as Nick’s mother—Being Flynn employs a surprisingly good supporting cast. Olivia Thirlby is a strong pillar of support as Denise, the love interest and close friend of Nick. Thomas Middleditch and Chris Chalk help break up the monotony as Nick’s roomates (Richard and Ivan, respectively). Even Wes Studi is enjoyable as the stoic Captain of Harbor House. It’s a very small detail, but I fucking loved when he turns his chair to sit backwards in the classic “teacher trying to look cool and hip” pose.

I found a lot to enjoy about Being Flynn over several viewings. When I find a well-written, well-acted film, I like to savor it. Being Flynn isn’t as good of a two-man show as There Will Be Blood (also co-starring Paul Dano), but this movie is much more palatable for a broader audience.

Being Flynn is hardly the first movie to focus on homelessness. It’s a relatable topic and a realistic day-to-day fear for too many in this country who live paycheck-to-paycheck. However, most movies of this ilk don’t have the same amount of dark fun with this type of depressing subject.

Luckily, Being Flynn never stays dull and dreary for too long. Director and screenplay writer Paul Weitz knew when to pull the plane out of a nosedive at the right time. Basically, Robert De Niro took the reigns to say something stupid and racist. It was fun mocking his bigoted idiocy.

This is another movie I will fight you over if you don’t like it. Flynn!

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4.5 out of 5 stars

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12 Years a Slave is hauntingly beautiful. It’s also a slog to get through, and I cannot imagine any scenario in which I would want to watch this again. Considering the gravitas of the subject matter and great all-around execution, 12 Years a Slave is in a prime position for the Best Picture at this year’s Oscars.

While this is a phenomenal movie, Her is my favorite film of 2013 and Dallas Buyers Club featured the best acting performances. In a crowded field, 12 Years a Slave probably benefits by feeling more important than it might actually be because of the focus on the darkest period in American history—slavery (no pun intended). White guilt is abound and you’re meant to feel uncomfortable at certain points, but Steve McQueen is not a paint-by-numbers type of director so don’t worry about distasteful pandering.

Based on a true story, 12 Years a Slave details the most despicable part of our history through the lens of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) being kidnapped as a free man and sold into slavery in the South. His dignity and even his name are gone. After protesting his captors and suffering countless lashes, Platt becomes the only name he answers to as his past is completely washed away.

Throughout 12 Years a Slave, there is a very (for lack of a better term) black-and-white depiction of good and evil in this world—as seen through several slave owners and field overseers.

At the 30-minute mark, the first glimpse of good in this evil world is given with the character Master Ford (played by Benedict Cumberbactch). The only glimmer of hope possessed by Platt is the violin given to him by Ford. It’s a token that represents his true identity as well as a constant reminder of the family he may never see again. But he cannot give in to despair. Although he appreciates Platt’s tremendous talents, Ford refuses to hear his story and still treats him as property. But things could certainly be worse.

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Things get worse when Tibeats (played by Paul Dano) appears on screen for the first time.

Paul Dano continues his reign as a top-notch character actor, and it’s hard to envision someone else pulling off such a comically evil racist. His horrible song is shamefully catchy. Tibeats’ bloodlust intensifies after Platt disobeys his orders and physically confronts Tibeats—forcing Master Ford to sell Platt to another slave owner, Edwin Epps (played by Michael Fassbender). While Ford is trying to save Platt’s life, this move only endangers his existence more. Fassbender plays a drunkard with a dark, sadistic pride in breaking slaves.

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I don’t think Michael Fassbender will actually win Best Supporting Actor because of the abhorrent nature of his character, but Fassbender definitely deserved the nomination. Without the spectacular peformances from Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o in supporting roles, the ending would have been substantially less interesting and captivating. These performances help breathe life and more depth into the story, which is a much-needed gush of fresh air to get through the last of the 134-minute runtime.

This is further proof that no movie needs to be more than 2 hours, but at least Steve McQueen makes the 2+ hours visually beautiful—albeit of slavery and the tyranny of evil men. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Oscar-worthy performance is the lifeblood of 12 Years a Slave. Even with such an impressive supporting cast, this is the story of Solomon Northup and the success of the movie hinges on that performance.

I would expect this movie to have a lengthy life as a learning tool to teach future students about slavery—joining Glory in that pantheon of great black history movies. You need to watch 12 Years a Slave and any other movie made by Steve McQueen. Let’s just hope his next project possesses a somewhat lighter side than the desperate, depressing pursuit of survival during unspeakable circumstances.

It’s easy to lose hope. But hope is the one thing you must hold onto against incredible odds.

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4.5 out of 5 stars

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Rare is the occasion when a trailer does anything except ruin a movie.

But I found the theatrical trailer for Prisoners to be creepy and haunting. I was hooked from the second I saw Paul Dano in what seemed to be a very disturbing role as a potential child kidnapper/molester. Paul Dano is a phenomenal actor, and I don’t need to be convinced to see one of his movies.

Then I saw the runtime: 153 minutes.

One-hundred and fifty-three fucking minutes. That’s nearly 2 1/2 brutal hours of a movie with a brooding, dark tone. No movie needs to be 2 hours. I don’t even like to watch a movie that is longer than 100 minutes. All the goodwill and promise exemplified in the glimpse of the trailer was thrown out the window.

BANNED!

I was looking for any and every reason to avoid watching this movie. But my frigid mindset towards Prisoners was warmed when I read how long it took Anderson Cowan (from The Film Vault) to pee after watching the movie. Yes, you read that right. My hatred for unnecessarily long movies was dissolved—at least in this instance—by a 93-second stay at a urinal. For a little context…

“93 seconds. Perhaps this is too graphic or too much information, but I feel that telling you the length of time I spent urinating (I clocked it with my phone for the sake of accuracy) after viewing Dennis Villendeuve’s dramatic thriller, helps illustrate just how gripping this thing is. I was loaded with 20 ounces of coffee and held captive in the theater, unable to pick a moment where I might escape for bladder relief without missing something big. This is unusual as in usually if I have to exit a film there are plenty of predictable turns and or obligatory exposition fill in scenes that lend themselves to this purpose. Not with this 153 minute epic and for that I was painfully grateful.”

While this review re-ignited my interest in Prisoners, the movie ultimately failed to deliver on its potential. Instead a gripping, gritty thriller, I felt like I was watching a whodunit mired in quicksand. My problem with Prisoners is that it was incredibly predictable for a whodunit, which is supposed to be a “complex, plot-driven variety of the detective story in which the audience is given the opportunity to engage in the same process of deduction as the protagonist throughout the investigation of a crime.”

Spoilers galore.

Don’t get me wrong, the first hour of Prisoners actually was fascinating and extremely engaging—especially considering it’s a character-driven drama. Hugh Jackman is terrific in his role as Keller Dover. I fucking love Hugh Jackman, and it’s a shame so much of his career has been relegated to just being Wolverine over and over again. The Dovers (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) head over to the neighboring Birches (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) for Thanksgiving dinner. After a creepy scene where the daughters of the Dovers and Birches are playing near and on a parked RV, these two stupid girls escape the sight of their parents and decide they don’t need any pesky supervision.

Of course, the two girls disappear immediately. Jake Gyllenhaal comes into the picture as Detective Loki, who is the lead detective on the case and is on the scene when the RV is found next to a wooded area with Paul Dano at the wheel. Typically, I don’t care for either of the Gyllenhaals (Jake or Maggie) because I find them entirely replaceable, and Prisoners is a perfect example. For a character-driven movie, Jake Gyllenhaal added nothing to his character and there could have been 5-10 other actors substituted in his place. With that said, Gyllenhaal did a decent job even if his presence peaked with Alex’s interrogation.

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Although Detective Loki makes a hard run at Alex, he doesn’t break his silent, disturbed demeanor and the police have to let Alex go because of a lack of any physical evidence in the RV. This is the instance where the façade of a great movie falls apart for me. If you haven’t seen this movie, stop reading.

Please, stop…okay.

As I’ve said a few times, Prisoners is a character-driven drama, which means the actors and actresses essentially serve as the primary focus and the cast really does a great job of driving the movie. But my question is who the fuck is responsible for that abomination of a make-up on Melissa Leo? It was distractingly awful and not even up to the standard of the worst Face-Off contestants. As soon as Academy Award winning actress Melissa Leo (playing Holly Jones, the aunt of Alex) shows up on the screen, anyone who is a movie-lover with a keen eye should know what is eventually going to unfold. I can only imagine the creators threw that abysmal old age make-up on Melissa Leo to try to fool people into not recognizing Melissa Leo and then wondering why she is playing such a seemingly small role.

A huge hint is also provided when Holly tells Alex to write his full name on the paper at the police station to retrieve his belongings. The camera lingers on Alex’s poor penmanship and frightened expression, which just blew everything up for me. You have to know that there’s no fucking way that Alex (played by Paul Dano) will actually be the one responsible for kidnapping the girls because the previews put the emphasis on him as the primary suspect. Of course there’s going to be a switcheroo surprise ending, and you see it coming a mile away if you notice Melissa Leo and feel her character’s calm, controlling presence looming and lurking. The foreshadowing was way too belabored when the side plot reveals a dead body in the basement of a priest who claimed the man confessed to him about kidnapping and killing children.

GyllenhaalI immediately made the connection that this man was the husband of Holly, who is now pulling the strings as the evil puppeteer orchestrating the chaos. When you know who does it in a whodunit, there’s no tension anymore and the build-up is meandering and monotonous. However, Prisoners still managed to hold my interest for most of the movie because of Alex and the phenomenal acting of Paul Dano as you don’t really know the level of his complicity. You know something is off with little Alex, which is exemplified with his cryptic statement—“they only cried when I left them”—to Keller as he’s outside the police station after being released. If only he shut his fucking mouth. Keller seizes on that statement as proof that Alex knows what happened and where his daughter is being held.

Although you can feel the raw emotion of Hugh Jackman as Keller, the movie misses a fantastic opportunity to make more of the interaction between Keller and Alex. Instead, the story quickly takes a torture porn twist as Keller kidnaps Alex and does anything he can think of to beat information out of him. If they were able to produce more depth with this portion of the story, I would have cared more about the question of how far is too far when you’re in Keller’s shoes as a parent with a missing child. Also, the contrast between Keller Dover and Franklin Birch (played by Terrence Howard) was also way too black and white for me. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to see some interplay between Dover and Birch trying to decide together what they should do rather than Keller taking the lead and Birch taking a backseat?

Birch’s good behavior is rewarded by karma as his daughter (Joy) escapes. When laying in the hospital and questioned on what she can remember, Joy reveals that Keller was there, which is the final piece of the puzzle so Keller immediately leaves to go to confront Holly. Loki isn’t far behind, but Holly is a step ahead of both as she forces Keller to drink her late husband’s special mixture then forces him down the same ditch where his daughter was being held. Holly injected Dover’s daughter with a fatal solution right before Loki shows up and shoots her—though he takes one in the head in the process. Loki rushes the unconscious girl to the hospital and saves her life even though he could have killed a handful of people while trying to drive with blood gushing down his face and losing his vision as a result of the bullet wound.

When it comes down to it, I had way too many problems with the story and execution of the journey—let alone all of the issues with the end destination. Settling on the “waging a war against God” angle seemed trite and uninspired. And the shitty fade to black, Sopranos-esque ending was an admission that they couldn’t create a satisfactory conclusion even if it strayed from the book ending. Although the movie was nearly 2 1/2 hours, I wanted some sort of resolution after it was revealed Alex was the first child that Holly and her husband kidnapped. Seeing him try to find some sort of normalcy after experiencing that trauma or at least see the moment the mother was reunited with her son would have been heartbreaking. Without a meaningful resolution, the ending is a jarring shift that drags the rest of the movie down dramatically.

I wish Prisoners delivered on its potential, but it is a pretty lackluster execution of a great idea. If only I stuck to my guns and banned the movie. Again, no movie should be 2 hours or more. Prisoners needed an editor who could’ve taken a machete to hack away and clear the clutter. I can recommend watching the first hour or so, but I was begging for it all to end—much like little Alex. Mercifully, it ended.

3 out of 5 stars

Cillian Dano

Cillian Murphy | Paul Dano