Cold Takes · Film · Review

Some Cold Takes: Oct 7 – Oct 13

Swiss Army Man

Okay, so I was always gonna love this one. I mean, Daniels work over the past few years has let us see these great visual stylists gradually adopt this unifying philosophy in their work, even their commercial stuff. It seemed like a feature was the obvious next step and here’s they’ve done it, it’s like the ur expression of everything that they’ve been trying to get across.

And it’s got Dan Radcliffe playing a corpse that farts a lot. It’s all sorts of perfection. So basically it’s about honesty, it’s about how people connect with each other, relate to each other, empathise with each other. Manny, the cadaver that’s finding life being blown back into him, has a need to connect without recollection of what it means to. Paul Dano’s Hank, who starts the film at the end of a rope, sees a form of redemption in teaching him how. So these characters revolve around and through each other in order to articulate what life means to them.

And it looks beautiful and thanks to the largely choral score from Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of The Manchester Orchestra it sounds beautiful. It’s funny, at times really funny, and if you can appreciate a good fart gag you’re pretty much good. Its ending is going to be controversial, it has the choice to slow down or blow up, and it explodes. Gloriously. Shimmering around the edges though is the film’s thesis and when you see it, it reveals itself to have been headed there the whole time.

It’s a contradictory miracle, buoyed by two fantastic performances (and a game Mary Elizabeth Winstead supporting.) Just something else.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Isn’t it nice when Tim Burton’s good? Given some of his shite is so turgid it can occasionally come as a wonder that there’s an artist with a strong command of story and tone lurking under the surface. Maybe there are elements of this film which are a little workmanlike. It takes far too long to introduce its cast and some are so wholly underdeveloped as to be worthless. Burton does well though, assisted by his long-time collaborator the casting director Susie Figgis, in choosing a young cast who for the most part bring charm to their often underwritten roles.

The same can be said of the adult actors too; Eva Green, Terrance Stamp, Sam Jackson all put in the work. Jackson especially is having a real fun time, observe an early scene of his in which his character eats a plate of eyes. The shot holds for quite a while, ten, fifteen seconds maybe, and in that time he finds like three defined comic beats in the way he throws the things into his mouth. Chris O’Dowd is also present and, while he gets some hits of his own the character is unfortunately hamstrung by this wondering American accent.

The plot, adapted from the book of the same name while mostly translating smoothly (I haven’t read the book so I’m unable to comment on the faith of the adaptation) does get a bit weighed down at points. There’s a lot of rules that need explaining and, even though we slow down to absorb them early on, at the key point of crisis when the complications start piling up it’s far too easy to lose the thread of logic. Thankfully though, Burton manages to right the unsteady ship for the climax which features an action scene so goofy the very soundtrack morphs into some weird quazi-dubstep thing. I found myself able to roll with it, you mileage may vary.

Good film. But, to jump on a bandwagon, I do wish that it weren’t quite so white.

 

Deepwater Horizon

A film that manages to exert such control that it only gets one laugh out of Mark Wahlberg’s big goofy face. I get the sense that the team behind it were trying for zero but to reel it down to one demonstrates extraordinary restraint. Telling the true story of the catastrophe on board the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon that resulted in millions of gallons of oil ending up in the Gulf of Mexico. The film never manages to quite escape the looming threat in the same way the best disaster movies do.

Until shit goes down we’re largely waiting. Mark brings his natural charm to Mike Williams, same with Kurt Russell and Gina Rodriguez, but we don’t really get much sense of these characters outside their roles in the operation. Case in point, John Malkovich as the BP executive who’s pushing them to get the job done, peel away that motivation though and there’s  nothing there. This becomes a problem after it gets lit, the characters are robbed of their defining roles and there’s even less there to prop up the performances.

It deserves to be messy though. It turns out that a self-destructing oil rig is in fact a pretty unpleasant place to be. A group of stumbling, disoriented, injured men feel at home in this environment. Which makes it even odder in the moments when the film decides they’re action heroes. By the end there’s several scenes where the characters are getting quippy in a way that feels antithetical to the presentation that Peter Berg excels at as a director. Also in the closing sequence the script decides that the previously composed and competent Andrea (the only woman on board) has to break down to allow Mark to save her. Didn’t really need it.

Props to the CGI team though. I imagine they had a lot to do. There’s a couple of times the fire looks strangely fluid but for the most part, be it plates or simulations it looks great. It doesn’t look so good when, in a weird directorial choice, we see what’s happening in the borehole. The pipe’s failing in segments but the view of the interior is so alien it’s hard to tell quite what’s happening. Underwater stuff as well don’t always work, again this is largely conceptual though; to elaborate, the whole thing went tits up due to the concrete at the base being incorrectly set. The film treats us to a new crack forming, a fracture, a bubble escaping like once every five minutes for the opening half. At some point you’re like, we get it already, I can guarantee you you’ll see the same thing a good few times before it blows.

Anyhow, it’s okay. If it may convince you any more there’s a fair few scenes of a (literally) oily John Malkovich which are perfection.

 

War on Everyone

It’s a good film but its treatment of diversity in the expression of sexuality and gender is disgusting enough not warrant it not being worth talking about. It’s a shame; I like The Guard, I like Calvary. I hope John Michael McDonagh is not an awful person but in this instance he made a capital A Awful film.

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