DEAD MAN FARTING: Movie Reviews of Swiss Army Man and Carnage Park by Howard Casner

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rev 2Perhaps the best way to describe Swiss Army Man, the new indie comedy from writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, their first feature film, is that it is an odd duck of a movie. Of course, it’s no insult to say that it’s not quite as odd a duck as The Lobster, but if it quacks like one, etc. You get my drift anyway.

Those of you who watch the previews of coming attractions at their local bijou, or even those who don’t, probably know what the basic premise is. Paul Dano plays Hank, a depressed loner who gets stranded on an island after a boat he rented got lost.

As he is about to do himself in, he sees a dead body washed up on shore. This non-character is played by former Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe, a role I bet never required him to pass wind.

Hank soon discovers that Manny has certain, shall we say, uses. He can fart with the power of an SST and he gets an erection that always tells Hank which way to go to get back to civilization.

And that’s just the beginning of the odd duckiness here. Read the rest of this entry »

THRILLS BOTH CHEAP AND EXPENSIVE: Movie Reviews Cheap Thrills and Captain America: the Winter Soldier by Howard Casner

Cheap_Thrills_39320In the 2012 drama, Compliance, Pat Healy played a sociopath pretending to be a police officer who manipulates the workers at a fast food restaurant into do some pretty disgusting things (and I don’t mean to the food, though from what I understand, fast food workers wouldn’t need much manipulation for that in the first place).
In his newest movie, Cheap Thrills, he’s on the opposite side of the fence, playing a poor schnook being manipulated into doing disgusting things by a pair of sociopaths. Read the rest of this entry »

COMPLIANCE, by Howard Casner

What would you do for a Klondike Bar? What would you do if a police officer called you in the middle of a busy night as manager of a fast food restaurant and claimed they had a witness who saw one of the employees steal and the officer needs you to help him carry out the investigation, even to the extent of performing a strip search? This is basically what happens (well, worse, actually) in Compliance, the controversial new film written (extremely well) and directed (in standard poverty row, digital chic) by Craig Zobel.

Inspired by true events, in which a sociopath would call unsuspecting locations and claim to be with local law enforcement, Compliance begins as a very effective character study as to how gullible people are and how easy it is for us to obey authority, even if the authority is spurious. It’s not an easy premise for Zobel to pull off. No one in the audience is going to admit that if put in the same situation they would do the same thing (no matter that the epilog mentions that something similar happened 70 times in the U.S.).

In fact, the audience is immediately going to go for the holier than thou attitude, looking down on the poor wretches who fell for the ruse saying to themselves that “of course they fell for it, they work in fast food”. And there’s one very effective scene at the end in which the restaurant manager is interviewed by a TV reporter with the best attitude that a Pharisee can buy that perhaps earns the character more empathy than even Zobel might have intended.

But Zobel does sell his premise and he does it very effectively. First through a very solid and believable screenplay with dialog that is well thought out, all delivered in a very realistic and natural vernacular and cadence. But second, and perhaps more importantly, through a series of strong performances by all involved. No matter how much you might question that such a thing could happen, the actors make you believe it. The triumvirate that holds the film together, Dreama Walker as Becky, the victim; Ann Dowd as Sandra, the manager; and Pat Healy as “Officer Daniels”, the villain, are first rate. Healy especially excels in his role as a salesman who can sell ice to the Eskimos with a delivery so oily and decadent he puts Hannibal Lector to shame.

Zobel also does one very interesting thing with the role of Becky by making her somewhat unsympathetic when she first appears on the screen, giving her the personality of a princess who thinks she’s too good for the job and superior to her manager. At first one actually enjoys her discomfort, until what happens really starts to sink in.

But Zobel only sells it for about half way until something so awful happens that one slowly begins to have second thoughts about whether this could really happen. At this point, it no longer becomes a study as to how far some stranger can con people, but becomes a study as to how far some screenwriter and director can con a theater audience, which isn’t the same thing. I’m not saying that this awful thing didn’t happen in real life; maybe it did (it’s never stated one way or the other). And I don’t want to dismiss so cavalierly something so awful happening to someone. But even if it did happen, all I can think of is Mark Twain’s comment: The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to be credible. Because of this, the movie fails somewhat as a study of human nature, but still remains as a very effective horror movie.