This Week in Geek (16-22/01/17)


DVDs: Swiss Army Man is an absurdist film about a mentally disturbed man falling in love with an all-purpose, farting corpse (Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe respectively), drawing from both absurdist fiction and magical realism, at once scatological and existential, Castaway meets Weekend at Bernie's, with more than a touch of Be Kind Rewind... And it's kind of a musical too. At the very least, my recommendation should lead you to something you've never seen before. Through a game of contrasts between the crass and the beautiful, the film offers a meditation on the things we do not value - garbage, bodily functions, people - and asks... why not? Dano's character learns to celebrate life by connecting to a dead stranger - with which he identifies - only now learning what it might mean to be alive, especially in the ways we take for granted. The filmmakers call it a "fart drama", and you won't understand what that means until you see it. The DVD is a great value, with a good filmmakers' commentary, a making of and featurette, some deleted/alternate scenes/outtakes, and a 1-hour Q&A focused on the film's impressive sound design (sounds technical, but it actually very interesting).

Three sequels in, I've simply got to revise what I think is a proper Die Hard story, because none of them have fit the bill. Live Free or Die Hard is really a "24" movie, with a complicated terrorist attack perpetrated on Washington D.C. and the eastern seaboard. It's cyber-terrorism, which is kind of new, and the high-octane action is certainly watchable, I'll give it that. But it's crazy enough to fit a Transporter or Fast-Furious film; there's a scene that reminded me of True Lies, of all things. Is that really in the spirit of the original? I'm not sure John MacLane is that reluctant, vulnerable hero anymore. He's too much of a veteran by now for that. The role is technically filled by Justin Long as a tag-along hacker, who accounts himself fairly well, though he's no action man. The better sidekick is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as MacLane's daughter, but we don't see enough of her. It wasn't boring, but has also strayed too far from its original cast to get higher than third on my best Die Hards list. The DVD includes an unrated version that has more curse words and terrible CG blood spurts. The second disc offers a good making of, Kevin Smith interviewing Bruce Willis (who is more honest about the past two sequels than he was in the promotional featurettes of those DVDs), one of those promotional featurettes, the amusing Guyz Nite "Die Hard" video, and a not-that-amusing making of for that video.

Netflix: The Finest Hours tells the true story of a tanker crew rescue by a small coast guard ship in the late 1940s during a storm off the coast of Massachusetts, but with all due respect to the people who lived it, it's a somewhat unremarkable film. Though the star is nominally Chris Pine as the coast guard skipper, his achievement seems to rely on some measure of luck, and his challenge is rather abstract for us non-nautical types. The film's structure doesn't really allow his romance with his future wife to be anything more than a POV for the people on shore. Much more interesting is how the tanker crew manages to survive their ship being torn in half, with Casey Affleck in charge on that end. But whatever side you're interested in, the film's production is at best uneven, with a lot of unconvincing green screen work and worse, confusing editing. When a character turns their head to look at something, the next shot should be what they see, not a wide shot that makes you think they see (in this case) another boat (it was theirs), for example. A frustratingly disappointing experience.


Michael May said...

What did you think of the ending of Swiss Army Man? If this isn't a good place to discuss spoilers, I'll email you about it, but I'm eager to discuss that. Such mixed feelings.

Siskoid said...

Which ending? The last moment, or the third act reveal?

Michael May said...

I was thinking about the last moment, but it's only important because of the third act reveal.


The reveal - if I'm reading it right - is that the movie isn't so much magic realism as mental illness. But the last moment calls that into question and says, "Well, maybe it was magic after all." I don't know how that makes me feel. I'm simultaneously happy about and disappointed by it.

I could believe that maybe that final thing is all in Dano's head, too, but that would make his father's reaction extremely odd.

Siskoid said...

It's a case of both realities being true. I would point to Pan's Labyrinth as another example. As for your feeling, that's, for good or ill, the play of contrasts this film attempts. Any given moment is at once funny and sad, grotesque and beautiful, an delusion and reality, about Manny and about Hank, a memory and a projection into the future, alienating and intimate.

The ending is really a play on something we've seen many times, in almost every episode of X-Files for example: The "it wasn't real... or was it?" moment that isn't always reconcilable.

Your reaction is on point, this is both what you want to happen and a disappointment.


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