Swiss Army Man is undoubtedly the wackiest movie I’ve seen in years. I have no doubt it will end up on some people’s “Best Of” lists and others’ “Worst Of” lists. You either get it or you don’t.
The film is about a depressed, suicidal man named Hank (Paul Dano) who befriends a very farty corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) on a desert island. The corpse turns out to be extremely useful in a variety of situations throughout Hank’s efforts to return to civilization (hence the title, a nod to the utility of the Swiss army knife). Yes, the movie is as weird as it sounds.
It’s very obvious from the first fart that Swiss Army Man is not your typical movie. There are plenty of outrageous and farcical situations all throughout that will invoke as much laughter as feelings or being weirded out. It’s not afraid of being rude and crude and disgusting, and kudos to both Dano and especially Harry Potter for fully embracing the absurdity. It’s totally out there, and you can either go along for the ride or scoff at the stupidity of it all.
And yet, the film is laced with a strange sense of melancholy and poignancy. If you dig deeper than the artificial layers on top, you’ll find that the film actually says a lot about loneliness and depression, and sends a strong message about living life to the fullest and not being afraid to put yourself out there–before it’s too late.
As for me, I liked Swiss Army Man, to an extent. I enjoyed how original and wacky it was, and I definitely laughed out loud way more than I thought I would at the relentless jokes, many of which were actually on the low-brow end. I also developed an entirely new appreciation for the talents of Daniel Radcliffe, who played the best corpse since Weekend at Bernie’s (though another film I recently watched, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, sure has a performance that gives him a run for his money). On the other hand, I don’t think the film, even at just 97 minutes, had enough material to sustain the running time. There were moments where I felt the gimmick was wearing thin and lost a bit of interest, though I have to say the ending was brilliant and redeemed some of my misgivings. Definitely worth checking out, but be prepared for what you are getting yourself into.
3.5 stars out of 5
PS: It’s a real shame hardly anyone saw the film, which made less than US$5m on a US$3m budget.
I’m not ordinarily a fan of re-imaginings of fairytale, historic events/figures or classic tales, but I was willing to give Victor Frankenstein a shot because it comes across as more like a fresh take using a different perspective as opposed to a complete butchering.
That perspective is Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), a former circus freak with a talent for science who ends up becoming the assistant of the titular mad scientist (Jamed McAvoy). The story is told through Igor’s eyes, and the focus of the film revolves around his relationship with his saviour and tormentor. The subplots include a love interest (Jessica Brown Findlay) and a police inspector (Andrew Scott) on their tail.
I’ve heard people say that the film, directed by Paul McGuigan (best known for TV work), tries to do to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein what Guy Ritchie did for Sherlock Holmes — a cooler, hipper, livelier version with a more postmodern feel. It’s an assessment I agree with, as Victor Frankenstein does have a similar look and vibe. The people and their surroundings all have that same grit and energy, and while Ritchie’s Holmes comes across as more action-adventure than mystery suspense thriller, the overall atmosphere of Victor Frankenstein is one that suggests more gothic fable than pure horror.
The result for me is a mixed bag. I’ll probably always love the Frankenstein story no matter how it is told, and I really bought into the relationship between the two central characters thanks to the stellar performances of Radcliffe and McAvoy. One is sympathetic and torn between loyalty and what he knows is wrong, while the other’s bipolar personality makes him a great anti-hero and villain. Though not quite Sherlock and Watson, I enjoyed their chemistry and shared their sense of wonder as they went about their morbid experiments.
On the other hand, despite the best of efforts, Victor Frankenstein never fully “comes to life”, so to speak. There were several nice surprises early on and some well-executed sequences along the way, though I ever felt any genuine fear from the horror nor thrills from the action. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it dull, but the experience definitely left me wanting more. It felt as though the start had set up a lot of enticing new possibilities, though as the story progressed towards the inevitable, everything starts veering in the direction of the predictable and mundane. The climax — and you probably have a good idea of what it is — as well as the ending can only be described as disappointing.
On the whole, Victor Frankenstein is a commendable effort but ultimately a forgettable affair amid the many Frankenstein adaptations to date. While there are elements that worked well, such as using Igor’s point of view and the chemistry between Radcliffe and McAvoy, there simply wasn’t enough imagination — especially in the second half — to breathe new life into the oft-told tale. Having said that, I’m still a sucker for Frankenstein and I enjoyed the movie for what it’s worth — solid entertainment with sufficient dashes of intrigue, drama, suspense, and the macabre. While it is by no means a great movie, it is far better than what its box office returns (US$34 million against a budget of US$40 million) and Rotten Tomatoes score (26%) suggests.
I’m just going to come out and say it. I think Horns is awesome. It’s weird and surreal, and it’s a little all over the place, but it’s also original, devilishly twisted and wickedly funny.
Daniel Radcliffe stars as Ignatius “Ig” Perrish, a young man who has been shunned by his small town after being fingered as the prime suspect for the rape and murder of his lovely girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). One morning, Ig awakes with two horns protruding from his head. He has no idea where they came from and he can’t get rid of them, but there’s clearly something supernatural about it all because the horns seem to come with certain powers — powers he will exploit in an effort to clear his name.
The story is based on the novel of the same name by Joe Hill. Some of you might not know this, but Hill is Stephen King’s son, and he displays a lot of the same wicked sensitivities as his old man. The central idea of the film may start off as a gimmicky concept, but Hill manages to infuse the tale with a sharp satirical edge and plenty of dark humour to firmly distinguish himself from his old man.
The film has received mixed reviews from critics largely for its tonal inconsistencies, and I agree to some degree. It has been marketed as a horror, though it also has elements of comedy, fantasy, family drama, mystery and romance. You could even call it a part-religious satire or allegory for the way it takes on religion and religious symbolism. Either way, the shifts in tone are far from seamless, and as a result viewers could find themselves questioning what the film really wants to be and what it is trying to say.
For me, Horns is first and foremost a black comedy because its hilarity is what stands out the most. I laughed more times in this movie than pure comedies I’ve seen in years, though that might say more about my twisted sense of humour than anything else. The film does become less funny and more dark as it nears its conclusion, but for me it will always be a black comedy at heart. And besides, there are very few attempts to scare the audience for the first three-quarters of the film, and even when it started veering into horror I found it more unsettling than frightening.
I can’t think of another film quite like it. The one that pops up in my mind, strangely, is Jennifer’s Body (the Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried flick from 2009). That one was sexier and much scarier, but it has the same type of twisted, surreal tone and satirical wit.
Director Alexandre Aja has a bit of a mixed-bag career — he rose to stardom with Haute Tension in 2003 and did a fine job with the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes, though he followed those efforts up with the clunky Mirrors and the campy Piranha 3D. In my opinion, Horns may actually be his best film to date.
Daniel Radcliffe has been busy trying to reinvent himself since Harry Potter ended, starring in a range of flicks from The Woman in Black (straight horror) and Kill Your Darlings (biographical drama) to The F Word (rom-com). Horns is arguably his most daring post-Potter venture to date, and I also believe it’s likely the best performance of his career — and that’s even with him putting on an American accent. Radcliffe is proving himself to be one of those rare actors who couldn’t act for shit as a child but has gradually developed into a quality thespian with a bright future ahead of him.
The rest of the cast is not too shabby either. Even though she’s supposed to be dead, Juno Temple appears more than you’d think through flashbacks, and she does a fine job of convincing audiences that she’s someone all the boys in town would pine for. Max Minghella is solid as the best friend-slash-lawyer, while Joe Anderson plays the quiet brother. Veterans such as Heather Graham, Kathleen Quinlan and David Morse round out the impressive ensemble.
My main problem with Horns is not the tonal inconsistencies, but rather, the predictable nature of its central mystery. Maybe it’s just me, but I figured out the real killer about 10 minutes into the film. Fortunately, there were plenty of other little curve balls and surprises to keep the film intriguing for the remainder of its 2-hour running time.
The best black comedies always say something about the darkest aspects of human nature. Horns is about our constant judgments of others. It’s about living up to the image we think society has carved out for us. It’s about the hypocrisy of thinking one way and saying or doing another. It’s about selfishness and self-preservation. That’s why I think it is a stroke of genius for Hill to bring out all of these nasty sides of human nature in a story about a guy demonized by his community appearing to be literally turning into the devil, and to do it in such an original, twisted, and intentionally unsubtle way.
And so, despite recognizing its flaws, I had an absolute blast with horns. I think it is a unique genre-bender and one of my Darkhorse favorites of the year.
Looks like Daniel Radcliffe might have a decent career after Harry Potter after all.
I was really looking forward to Radcliffe’s first post-Potter feature, the gothic horror The Woman in Black, not because I’m a fan of the kid but because it looked freaking awesome. Based on an 1983 novel by Susan Hill and set in the early 1900s, it tells the story of a struggling young lawyer (Radcliffe) struck by tragedy who heads to a small town to take care of some legal work, only to discover that it might be cursed by the titular character.
I’m a big fan of ghost stories and this one did not disappoint. In fact, I can’t think of a better ghost-related horror film from the last few years off the top of my head.
The story and progression is about as traditional as you can get: main character goes to new place, weird stuff happens and he has to unravel the mystery behind the haunting. In that respect The Woman in Black brings nothing new to the table, but as they say, it’s all in the execution.
Old dilapidated English mansions, freaky toys, pale kids with haunting stares, weirdos, psychos and shadows all over the place — the atmosphere is so brilliantly spooky it kept me on the edge of my seat even though it’s not a fast paced film.
And don’t worry, it doesn’t just rely on atmosphere — The Woman in Black also has some terrific ‘boo’ moments and some visceral scares too. Coupled with the perpetually grey, dreary backdrop, it creates an inescapable sense of dread that seems to keep pulling you deeper and deeper. And at a brisk 90 minutes, it never outstays its welcome either.
The film reminded me a little bit of the underrated Insidious from last year, except it’s set in the scarier gothic era and doesn’t crumble into silliness in its second half.
While it’s difficult to picture Radcliffe as anyone other than the boy wizard, he does do a great job here as the damaged but likable protagonist. Yes, his face seems doomed to be forever trapped in that bizarre transitional phase between child and adult, but I think with more performances and films like this he’ll have a long and successful career.
At last, 10 years after the first film and 4 years after the book series ended, the Harry Potter film franchise is no more. As expected, there was a ridiculous amount of anticipation for the eighth and final movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (let’s call it DH2), and though I consider myself only a moderate fan of the series (both book and film), even I was very excited at the prospect of watching the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort on the big screen.
It’s not often that a franchise lasts for this many number of films and manages to maintain a certain level of excellence all the way through. So is this final film the best of the lot? Kind of. Not really. Yes and no.
Part of the reason why it’s so hard to review this film is because it’s impossible to view DH2 as a standalone film. You can’t even really lump it with DH1, which I thought was nothing more than a pretty set-up for the grand finale.
In terms of excitement, DH2 is undoubtedly the best of the series. After a small but slow build up at the beginning, the remainder of the film races at you at full blast. It’s everything you could have expected from a finale that has been gradually building up for 10 years. The extended siege on Hogwarts rivals some of the biggest fantasy epics in cinematic history (some may disagree but I think that includes Lord of the Rings). It’s thrilling, visually stunning and wonderfully executed (thanks to director David Yates) and acted (especially Alan Rickman as Snape, who really held this franchise together for all these years). Heck, even the trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson put on quality performances (a far cry from their debuts).
Accordingly, in a way, I guess you could say that splitting the final book into two films was justified (apart from financially), because despite the 130 minute running time, DH2 was never boring (unlike DH1).
On the other hand, DH2 wasn’t a complete story, and as such, must be viewed in light of everything that came before it. If you haven’t read the books, seen DH1 or even the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, you can forget about it. I’ve read all the books and seen all the previous films but even I struggled at times to remember/piece together what was going on. Characters came and went without introduction and the majority of the secondary characters were reduced to fleeting cameos.
Of course, this is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone because of the marvellous action and special effects — despite some frightening scenes for the kiddies — but I believe to appreciate everything and feel the full emotional impact of the finale you have to be a ‘true’ fan (ie, one of those hardcore nutters that dressed up and camped outside the cinema). Hence for me, a mid-tier fan, DH2 couldn’t have been more than just a ‘very good time’ that was fun to experience but lacked a deeper connection.
This is why I still think the franchise would have been better served had DH1 and DH2 been combined into one kick-ass 3-hour+ epic that got rid of all the fluffy ‘time fillers’ so we could enjoy the full story of the Deathly Hallows in one sitting (I know some places screened the two films back-to-back, but the combined running time of 4 hours and 36 minutes is waaaay too long).
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed DH2. Despite its shortcomings — some unavoidable and others not — this was a fitting conclusion to a magical, consistently high standard film franchise.
4 stars out of 5
PS: My favourite book and film of the series is still the third one, The Prizoner of Azkaban.
PPS: I intentionally watched this one in 2D, and I’m glad I did. I’m at the point where I am starting to wonder whether I should even consider watching a 3D movie ever again. Dark, uncomfortable, and most of the time 3D adds nothing positive to my film experience. I don’t get the fuss. And judging from this article, looks like I’m not the only one. That said, I am surprised by the number of people supporting 3D in the comments section.
PPPS: A bit of a spoiler, so read on only if you’ve seen the film or read the book. Remember how the book had this controversial ‘epilogue’? Well the film includes it, and as expected, it also sucked. One of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.
I am what you might call a bandwagon Harry Potter fan.
I have never been into the series as much as the fanatics, but I have followed the hype and read all the books (I think starting from when Goblet of Fire came out) and watched all of the movies. I thought they were all pretty good, more enjoyable than your average book or film, but nothing I would put in my ‘all-time’ lists.
Nevertheless, I found myself excited to see the first part of the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (let’s just call it HP7), directed by David Yates (who also did HP5 and HP6) and with a screenplay by Steve Kloves (who has adapted all seven books).
So far, reviews have been rather mixed. For Potter fanatics, the first half of this final film is everything they could have hoped for and more, not only because the film is beautifully shot but also because it is more faithful to the source material due to the extra running time. For non-fans, HP7 probably comes across as a boring (because of the extra running time), confusing (because it assumes knowledge of all previous films/books) money grab (well, because it is).
For me, a relatively minor fan of the series, HP7 leans more towards the former than the latter, even though all the negatives mentioned above are present. Much like HP6, the film is incredibly dark and bleak (visually, stylistically and in terms of plot), but probably even moreso because Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is finally back and is out to destroy his nemesis Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and all those who stand in his way, including Harry’s best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson). With only half of the book and 146 minutes to play with, Yates has created a finely paced film that is more in-depth than the previous efforts. There is more time for character development (particularly the relationship triangle between Harry, Ron and Hermoine), and thankfully, the once-were-babies actors have developed into fairly decent thespians. Radcliffe, Grint and Watson all put in their best performances of the series.
The action sequences are also as good as anything we’ve seen before. Of course, there’s the marvellous special effects, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that, unlike the previous six films, this one takes place almost entirely outside of Hogwarts, giving us a glimpse into the other parts of the Potter universe.
On the downside, truth be told, there really wasn’t a need to break the story into two parts. HP7 (the book) was not even the longest of the series, and could have easily been squeezed into a single film with a 2.5-3 hour running time. This would have meant a faster, more exciting film than what we’ll end up with, without the boring bits in the middle. Speak of which, there were a few slow parts. When I read the book, I remembered there was a long chunk where the kids were wandering around the countryside not knowing what they should be doing — I found that a bit slow in the book and it wasn’t that much better in the movie.
Moreover, non-fanatics ought to brush up on their knowledge of the series before watching the film. If you go and watch the seventh film of a series without having watched any of the preceding six, then you deserve to be confused. However, even as someone who has seen all the movies and read all the books, I had trouble remembering certain characters and their complex histories. Bear in mind, the last book was released 40 months ago and the last movie 16 months ago. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one!
But perhaps the most disappointing thing about HP7 is the ending, which I suppose was impossible to please fans anyway. It ends on a relatively tame note that felt somewhat anti-climatic — even though it does promise A LOT for the next one. For me, it felt kind of empty having gone through 146 minutes and not having even touched any of the really good stuff in the book.
When it’s all said and done, HP7 is another fine addition to what will already go down in history as an excellent, consistently high-quality film series. It gives the fans what they want, which is lots of Harry and his world, with a bold promise of better things to come. It is difficult to rate it as a standalone film because it isn’t, but taking all things into account, HP7 is still a enjoyable ride.
3.75 stars out of 5!
PS: Did I mention I’m so glad this movie was only released in 2D?
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (HP6) is a difficult film to review. As part of the overall Harry Potter series, it’s perhaps one of the better ones. But as a standalone film in its own right, it is rather weak. Nevertheless, I’m sure it will satisfy the millions of Potter fans worldwide that are still crazy about the series even though it has been a couple of years since the final book.
Like the previous film, HP6 is directed by David Yates. However, unlike most of the previous films (at least from memory), there’s no initial padding this time, no new introduction to the characters. Yates wastes no time and gets right into the story from the get-go. Hence if you are seeing a Harry Potter film for the first time (as unlikely as that may be) or if you are not a fanatic and some of the details in the series are a bit fuzzy (much more likely), it may take you a while to figure out or remember what the heck is going on and who everyone is. I suppose if you are watching the 6th film of a series as the first, you deserve to be confused, but for people like me who have read the books and seen the earlier films once each and is not nuts about it, you kind of wish there would be a little padding at the start to get you up to speed.
HP6 is a reflection of the coming of age of the characters and the dark times they live in. Yates recognises the tone of the story he is working with and that the majority of fans that have grown up reading Harry Potter have become a lot more mature. I’m sure if you go and watch the first couple of films in the series you’d be shocked how different they are.
Visually and stylistically, it’s probably my favourite of the series. It’s incredibly dark, grey and gloomy, with almost a complete absence of warm colours. At times, the mood of the film plays out like a horror movie, and for the first time in memory, there are seriously creepy moments (that may even frighten adults). There are a couple of scenes I can definitely see giving younger children nightmares.
That said, Yates has still injected some of that typical JK Rowling humour into the film, and I’m surprised to say that it has blended in rather well, particularly in the middle parts. There are also the inevitable romances that have no choice but to come into play, though Yates does his best to make them seem less forced.
It’s been too long since I read the book to recall if the film is completely faithful to it, but I believe the main touchstones are there. However, whilst in the book series you have to wait until the final book to learn the truth about the titular character’s (the Half-Blood Prince, not Harry Potter) intentions, in the film it is made pretty clear from the start. The hints were too obvious. At least they were to me.
As for the acting, I don’t know what is going on, but for the first time in the series I can honestly say Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson were all decent. Same as for Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy, Jessie Cave who plays Lavender Brown and Evanna Lynch who plays Luna Lovegood (who does a particularly good job). Seems like the kids have learned how to act, although I cannot help but say that most of the kids who have been mainstays on the series (with the exception of Emma Watson) must have been hit with either a weird, ugly or awkward stick while growing up (in some sad cases all three). Let’s just say there were quite a few ‘what happened to him?’ moments.
One thing I should mention is that HP6 is really Daniel Radcliffe’s film. From memory, he’s never had to carry a film like he had to in this one (having always had Grint and Watson to share the load). This time, he has substantially more screen time than the other two and he takes it in his stride. I’m not sure a younger or less experienced Radcliffe would have been able pull it off, so full credit to him.
As for the adults, new Potions teacher Professor Slughorn, played by Jim Broadbent, dominates the film along with Michael Gambon’s Albus Dumbledore and Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape. All three do a solid job. Unfortunately this means that most of the other adults have little more than cameos.
So that’s the reaction of the minor fan in me to the film. However, the truth is, HP6 is a film that has no proper beginning and no real end, starting and finishing with unattended loose ends. It’s also a film with a story where, let’s face it, nothing really happens. It’s not much more than just a filler for the final film(s). And if you really think about it, not enough of the film is focused on the Half-Blood Prince for him to be the titular character. Apart from the mandatory Quidditch sequences, a short scene in the middle and the final climax, there is actually very little action. Much of the film is focused on the personal growth of the children, their hormones and their relationships. Hence I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people found the film boring or pointless.
Nevertheless, even if there are some glaring issues with it, as a semi-Potter fan, I found the film rather enjoyable.