Posts Tagged ‘Paul Dano’

*Note: This review was originally published during coverage of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

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On paper, the story of “Swiss Army Man” is full of promise: like the deranged blend of “Weekend at Bernies” and “MacGyver”. A shipwrecked and desperate man (Paul Dano) is about to commit suicide when he spots a dead body (Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe) washed up on shore. The body’s utility becomes essential for survival, and he strikes up a friendship with the corpse as he searches for a way home.

But it becomes apparent, very quickly, that directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert and only interested in using their film as a delivery mechanism for 90 minutes of juvenile body humor. This is a film in which most of the critical plot developments hinge on flatulence and erections.

The Daniels seem to be actively fighting against letting their movie become inadvertently good, making sure to throw in some gross-out gags every few minutes to interrupt what could have otherwise be a beautifully-shot, musically-inventive, psychologically-ambiguous piece of surrealist pop.

What makes “Swiss Army Man” truly offensive is that there’s the bones of a very different, and very interesting film under the layers of asinine filth. Instead, a considerable amount of indie talent is squandered.

Grade: D

*Swiss Army Man opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 1.

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Not every great movie is beautiful and not every beautiful movie is great. But every so often, you get a movie that is both.

Michael Caine stars as Fred Ballinger in ‘Youth,’ a lilting, dream-like film directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Set at a posh resort in Switzerland, Ballinger’s retired composer/orchestra conductor traipses through a routine of massage, upscale dining, dips in the hot tub and discussions of prostate with his longtime friend Mick, a celebrated film director played by Harvey Keitel.

He’s a tortured man, facing his own mortality and desire to live out his days quietly under pressure from his daughter to reconcile his life as a husband and father and a nagging emissary from her majesty The Queen, who would like him to perform his most famous (and pedestrian?) work one last time.

Mirroring his story is that of Mick’s, who is crafting his “testament,” a screenplay that will define his career, but one which challenges him to craft a satisfying third act.

The parallels to old age are obvious, but rather than hide from the metaphor, Sorrentino injects fantasy and levity to challenge expectations.

That the director is an Italian is no coincidence, as the film is undeniably European, interspersing bits of quiet plot between pseudo-surrealist montages of life at the resort with metaphorical and philosophical discussion between the core cast.

There’s plenty of meat for the various actors to enjoy — a brief appearance by Jane Fonda and a subplot with Paul Dano are particularly great — but the best moments are reserved for Caine and Keitel, whose friendship speaks to the melancholy pain of memory.

Grade: A-

*‘Youth’ opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 25.

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About halfway through Ruby Sparks, you forget that you’re watching a fantasy. Sure, the hilarious and superbly-acted sequence when literary wunderkind Calvin (Paul Dano) first encounters the corporeal Ruby — a woman he created with his mind and his typewriter — is fresh in your mind, and the film’s central premise is not lost to you, but after so many scenes of understated simplicity you simply forget that Ruby’s very existence is an inexplicable phenomenon.

You find yourself, instead, watching a rom-com not unlike many others. Boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy and girl meets boys parents, complications ensue and boy and girl’s relationship strains.

Unlike most rom-coms, however, and unlike actual love stories, in Ruby Sparks boy is able to control girl — literally — a power that he sets aside once the beautiful waif appears in his kitchen, cooking eggs in her underwear.

Sets aside, that is, until desperation, loneliness, jealousy, and petty insecurities drive him to sit back down at his typewriter and “tweak” the girl of his dreams. A sentence here, a personality trait there, until finally the very dark implications of “reality” come crashing in on the light “fantasy,” culminating in an emotional, difficult-to-watch, yet fascinating climax that suggests in all-to-real visuals the error in trying to control and change another human being.

That is the film’s central theme. You can’t change the ones you love, you can only change yourself. It’s a theme that directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) achieve masterfully with a script by Kazan through implicit metaphor and explicit demonstration. It’s a heavy thought, wrapped up in a light, fluffy shell of playful whimsey and dusted with a delicious yet ultimately unsatisfying finish.

But while the film’s conclusion may leave you wanting, everything up to that point delivers in spades. The casting is superb, with real-life couple Dano and Kazan providing all the hipster-chemistry you could ask for, backed up by a impressive bench, including Antonio Banderas as a Big Sur free spirit, Elliot Gould as a supportive therapist, Steve Coogan as a Steve-Coogan-dirtbag and Chris Messina as Calvin’s big brother and confidante. The set pieces are such that you’ll want to hop in a convertible and make for the coast as soon as the credits role and the soundtrack and score perfectly support the emotion and imagery.

I would have traded one less “I Love You” montage in favor of a peak at Calvin’s maturation. Instead we are left to assume that he has learned his lesson and are given what feels like a throw-away catharsis in the final moments. That said, the film delivers and left me re-thinking its scenes long after I had left the theater. B+

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