I have not laughed so much during a film in a longtime, the only films that come close are The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) both of which had me in stitches throughout. Two very different comedies, one pitching a little higher, the other a little lower Swiss Army Man (2016) hits somewhere in between, that can’t be a bad thing can it? With the bonus of Paul Dano who is always in roles that are never mainstream, going for the more interesting roles that keep him fresh and for the audience more excited about what he’s going to do next. He has definitely found a niche in the vulnerable man thought which never gets old or tired. I wasn’t so excited about Daniel Radcliffe who I’ve never really been a fan off, in terms of acting, so this may sound harsh but he was perfect for role of the corpse. Of course he share his character with a puppet double, ensuring all the new-found abilities don’t harm him.
Swiss Army Man is one of those films that rarely comes along, in a world where we have franchises, reboots and sequels this is a much-needed breath of fresh air, an indie film that has set the screen and really has rounded off a good weekend. The concept of a film, a man lost on a desert island who finds a corpse who slowly comes back to life with the added bonus of coming with special abilities such as enough gas to act as a speed boat, to a throat that doubles as a projectile when the bodies straightened.
Of course this film is much more than flatulence jokes and erections, which actually don’t get tiresome, all delivered with great and natural timing that make this all the more fun. What makes it better is that a corpse is responsible for half the jokes. We have a film that begins at the lowest point for Hank (Paul Dano) whose about to commit suicide, all ready to kick the box from under him when he spots Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) who washes up on the shore of the desert island where the film begins. The lowest point of the film is literally the very beginning as life is about to end for one when it has already happened for another, how can the film really move on. And so begin the fart jokes. We have come along way from the farts of Blazing Saddles (1974) when the first sounds were uttered around the campfire. Of course that’s just one element in a film that has so much more to offer.
With a corpse whose slowly waking up learning from Hank about life and what it’s all about. It’s a two-way relationship as Manny is reawakening what it is to be alive in Hank who had all but given up on living. It could be really depressing really but it’s anything but, its uplifting as they both are rediscovering what it is to be alive. You don’t even know as the audience that you’re being told to appreciate being alive.
Filmed entirely on location that’s littered with everything imaginable, these two guys are living off man’s trash. This is Cast Away (2000) in the woods, but Wilson has become a corpse that is able to hold a verbal conversation unlike that of Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) who befriends this basketball, externalising the best his can with an object that only stares back him for the better part of the film. A two-way conversation allows for comedy, personal growth in both Manny and Hank who are equally flawed, feeling unable to function in the world.
We see flashes of Hank before he found himself in the middle of nowhere (in the islands of the Pacific Ocean) teaching Manny to function again. Passing on his own flawed human ideas to a corpse that is at first a child who grows up innocent of the human condition, is ready to take on the challenge that is life. Whilst Hank is always holding back, we can tell from his phone he has a girlfriend back home, yet he really know very little about women or sex, yet Manny soon picks it up.
I was inspired for a time to make a piece of work based on the film as they two men travel through the island building structures that act not only as shelter but as tools of learning about modern life from the bus, to a cinema, you could easily map out and build this pieces in miniature. Might just do that one day. Yet the twist of an ending leaves me not as I had with Life of Pi (2012) when the film could be seen as fact, a preferred version of events. I am left instead confused by what has actually happened. Paired with a raw and original capella soundtrack that relies mostly on the two leads from anything that gets stuck in their head to theme tunes to films they grew up with.
I know that a beautiful relationship has taken place, however the premise is pulled from under us. Hank is finally revealed, first to Manny in his first about the girl on his phone, being human is being honest with yourself and those you love, reality is something we just have to deal with. I won’t spoil as my head is still processing what actually happened, yet I don’t feel cheated, it adds another layer to everything. Film is an itself an illusion and I have well and truly fallen under its spell here, left feeling exhausted with laughter, overjoyed too by the positive yet confusing and emotional ending that tells you to go out there, grab life and make the most of it.
I must confess that I first attempted to watch Mad City (1997) a few years ago, gave it a few minutes and gave up on what I thought was a cheap and stupid hostage film. Then a few months ago I shared Ace in the Hole (1951), which gained a response on Twitter. As I’ve been revisiting films I thought it should only fair to check this film out again when it made itself available to me. I couldn’t see the connection myself between the cynical Billy Wilder classic which I now can see is see is the first of its type of films about driven journalists to get their big story and of course claim all the glory for it too.
And so begins another compare and contrast review between the two films that are almost 50 years apart. The basic ideas of both films are the centre of them. We have a gap in-between with Network (1976) that shows how far the media will go for a story, brought bang up-to-date with Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), which really show the extremes to which a New channel will go to for ratings.
However it’s not about ratings or readership for either Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) or for Brackett (Dustin Hoffman) who we find at the bottom of the barrel, an unknown little paper and a small local TV station who are in 9th place. It’s a more personal dilemma for these two who have reached personal rock-bottoms after a number events that have lead them almost give up on journalism altogether. It’s only by chance that they hit upon a story that gains more attention then they’ve had before, and not for wanting it. What makes them both stand apart is the men who play them. admittedly I think Douglas has this role nailed, the drive and determination come to the actor far easier than the more sensitive Hoffman who is by far the more versatile actor, so equal for different if that makes any sense.
If I leave Wilder’s original to focus on the latter which has more of an impact even nearly 20 years later if this film was to be made again it would be more like Nightcrawler (2014) , instead of waiting for the story to break you break into the story, capture and sell. Brackett is just a very lucky man in a bad situation, after recording a piece of “fluff” or public interest he unwittingly walks into a hostage situation led by recently fired Sam Baily (John Travolta) who wants to get his job back at the museum which is facing closure. So everyone’s going through bad times at the moments, the journalist stuck in a dead-end station, an unemployed security guard and a curator Blythe Danner is trying to keep her museum open. The next three days are the last thing she wants.
I think what makes this film that much darker than the cynical original is the effect that the journalist has on the public and other journalists who’re drawn to this story, well it’s not a story it’s a crime scene or situation that has developed and been moulded into a new-story that for the length of the film just keeps on giving. Brackett knows all the tricks in the book to ensure that everyone outside, even the police ensure he can carry on inside and out. He manipulates the seemingly innocent (to the attention) Sam who want his job back, he has no real plan, even though he carries a blunderbusses and a bag of dynamite. Caught in all of this are a class of children and a fatal mis-shooting that only makes the hostage situation worse. You could say Mad City is a combination of Ace in the Hole and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) which really does go all wrong too fast, played more for laughs than the drama that fuels the black comedy bank robbery.
Going back to Ace in the Hole again the attention that’s generated is only limited by the culture, and the technology. People come from all over the country to hear about the guy trapped in the abandoned hole. The advancement of technology has only blown a small town hostage into something far, far bigger than Tatum could imagine but would still have eaten it all up. Of course in both films all of this build up comes with its own consequences, as much as they believe they have been helping to build and maintain all comes crashing down before them. With the promise of a successful future they both grow a conscience, a shred of morality which they have been lacking, the public caught up in all of this hysteria are blameless in all of this.
Mad City is a clearly an update of Ace in the Hole which is much forgotten like this lesser known film with two strong actors. Why is that though? I think because the media moves so fast that the clunky kit that we see has been long lost. Journalists still run around like vultures for the next hot story, the public caught up in it can’t help but sell their story of the money is right. City is one of the lesser known films that you can still watch and not think what were those actors thinking?
Another film I have been meaning to catch for some time, after seeing Enemy (2013) a few weeks back I was spurred onto catch Nightcrawler (2014) a sure sign that Jake Gyllenhaal is hitting a stride of successful films, much like Matthew McConaughey, who knows it could be Gyllenhaal picking up a heap of trophies soon or is he just laying the groundwork for greater things to come. I was advised to watch Nightcrawler when it was dark, which is harder this time of year with the shorter nights I decided to just go for it. The whole atmosphere of this film makes things darker without the need of even drawing the curtains. The moment that you see Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) an unemployed internet educated loner tries to get a job, using unconventional methods that just alienates prospective employers.
He’s a creepy pasty looking guy who is driven to get a job, a head filled with business jargon. Not a guy you want to meet in the office and stuck in a conversation with. After a few failed job interviews (if you can call them that) more like sales pitches, finds his calling on the dark streets on L.A. when he sees a car crash being filmed by amateurs, known as nightcrawler’s, feeding on the suffering of the victims. He’s find his calling (if you can call it that) begins what is disturbing yet compelling film. Scoring his first scoop and selling to a local news station for the night-shift lead by Nina Romina (Rene Russo) who is grateful for the footage that is raw, unpolished. Even more scary is that Bloom shows potential which she encourages. Herself a rating hungry, a reflection of the modern media hungry for anything that grabs their audience’s attention.
You could say Nightcrawler is a culmination a few a films film, or an extension of them. Going back as early as Peeping Tom (1960) that sees a wanna be film-maker taking the art of film to levels of voyeurism we had not seen on-screen. The desire to see raw emotion, to see the power of danger and the moment of death in the eyes of the victim. Moving forward we have both Network and Taxi Driver (both 1976) which have their influences. It took me a while to really see the connection between Lou Bloom and Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who travelled the streets of New York at night. However his aims were more honourable, to save those who had fallen into a world of despair, trapped you could say. He was an outsider who wasn’t really able to have a proper relationship, much like Bloom I don’t really see this as an extension, more a strange coincidence between both films. Moving onto Network the news station that is hungry for ratings, driven by a career hungry Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) now in the form of Romina who is at an equally struggling station, much more prophetic than Nightcrawler which reflects those ideas back in the 1970’s.
Moving away from the comparisons to the more technical aspects of the film, it’s visually a very striking film with the contrast cranked up reflecting the intensity of the film’s content. A fast-moving soundtrack to match how fast the amateur film-maker is improving, the lengths he goes to in order to get the best footage. With the aid of intern Rick (Riz Ahmed) the audiences way into the film and able to question Blooms motives and drives. Like many of us he’s also been out of a job needing something, anything to get him back on his feet. Able to maintain some level of morality which becomes blurred over the course of the film, when the drives of money, ratings and success. Something that really attracts Bloom as he gets better and better, using his police scanner and Rick on the sat-nab he’s on the tail on incidents that affect the white middle class, striking fear into the audience. Its something that is not immune to American audiences, I have seen myself people slowing down on roads to get a glimpse of traffic accidents, to see the damage, hopefully see some blood, cinema is no longer able to compete with this lust for danger that TV news can cater to, if you go for the lowest common denominator.
All this comes to a climax when Bloom gets to a shooting in an affluent borough, entering the house to capture all the gruesome detail. He crosses the line between us and the police, seeing what the public only imagine. Usually our imaginations are left to run wild. That no longer happened the footage is slightly pixellated and transmitted. Also crossing the line between news coverage and withholding evidence from the police, We know we shouldn’t cross into a crime-scene, Bloom allows us to do just that, like a video game brought to our screens. The line between reality is being blurred, no longer are we kept behind the police tape, we can breakthrough that to see all the gruesome detail we are hungry to see.
It’s an incredible film in terms of the lengths that the characters go to, none of them get away scot-free from the world of sleazy journalism is brought to life here. My experience of American news is pretty slim, I’m reminded of the poor coverage of Fox News when their expert of Muslims believed that there were no go areas for non-Muslims in Birmingham, all nonsense, but enough to engage the audience, playing their primal fears, getting them hooked and ultimately boost their ratings. Here we see the other side of the news world, as it gathers local stories, satirised by Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) that saw car crashes becoming leading stories. All part of cinemas comment of news media today. I was left shocked at what I had seen as it goes steadily worse, I was more gripped. Was I being pulled into that world, wanting to see the events unfold hungry for the story to appear on the news? I really don’t know and that what makes this film so compelling, the characters mostly immoral which allow us to question them and our own desire for stories, are we as desperate those in the media for stories or are we just programmed in a way now that want them, like a baby wants feeding?
- NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) (mettelray.wordpress.com)
It’s been around a year since Side by Side (2012) was released discussing the use of film and digital in the film industry today. Documenting transition from the celluloid film that had been used for over a century to capture and project films, to the progressive transfer to digital. This journey has come a step closer recently with Paramount Studios announcing that Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues(2013) was their last film to distributed on 35mm film to cinemas. Moving to all digital with Wolf on Wall Street (2013), which was partially filmed digitally. Neither are landmark films (until Oscar night).
Paramount being the first of the major studios to change it’s distribution method. With 20th Century Fox, thought not to be far behind with the likes of Lionsgate and Walt Disney Studios who had sent out letters of this change in the not too distant future to cinemas.
It’s another sign of the demise of film and the universal use of digital to project and capture film. Something that I will personally miss, to hear a projector at the back of a screen. Yet the filming on digital is personally far easier to work with. A romantic notion tinged with reality and progress. Again this highlights the need for film preservation, speared headed by the likes of Scorsese and other film organisations whose job is to maintain celluloid prints of film before the disappear forever. It’s known that a very large portion of silent films are now gone. With the odd one turning up in variable conditions.
It’s independent cinemas who will feel this the hardest with, who will be increasingly finding it harder to find film prints, as more films are released digitally. Paramount is working with cinema chains to fund digital projectors however, which will ease this situation. However will older films that are shown be redistributed in digital form?
It’s all a matter of finance too, costing far less to print digitally, instead of at a lab which are now few and far between today. Today marks the next phase of the digital revolution as the distribution format is changing, for speed, convenience and costs. Whilst at the heart of it all you catch new releases in a large dark room surrounded by others, the core experience will still be there, just the delivery of the print is changing. Which in effect is better for the film, not loosing quality on each print and showing of the film overtime. The only problem that remains is how to them store all these prints for future audiences to enjoy.
- End of film: Paramount first studio to stop distributing film prints (latimes.com)
- Farewell, film: Paramount Pictures to release movies in digital only (foxnews.com)
- Report: Paramount Pictures Cuts Film, Goes All-Digital in U.S. (gizmodo.com)
- Paramount Pictures ‘first studio to phase out physical film’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- Death of film: Paramount is reportedly the first movie studio to go all digital (venturebeat.com)