Category Archives: 2017 – Reel Discoveries

Reel Discoveries: Swiss Army Man

A young man is shipwrecked on a small deserted island. After a few weeks, with no rescue in sight, his loneliness drives him to commit suicide. At the last moment, his life is reprieved when a stranger is washed up on shore. Joyously running out to meet him, he is despondent to discover that his new-found friend is not only dead, but full of gases resulting in loud and obnoxious farts. Giving up, the young man returns to his suicide preparations when he discovers that the farts are propelling the dead body through the water. A few moments later the castaway is astride the corpse, excitedly jet-skiing his way back to the mainland. So begins the quirky comedy brought to us by the team known as DANIELS (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), Swiss Army Man.

Paul Dano (Looper, Prisoners) plays Hank, a lost soul whose life has been so mundane that he doesn’t even enjoy it passing before his eyes when he’s trying to kill himself. His new companion and lifeboat is a dead man named Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe (and if I have to tell you what he’s known for, take your head out of your ass and go sit in the corner for an hour). Manny is a corpse with a unique skill set which constantly helps Hank to go on as he treks his way through a large forest trying to find civilization before he dies. Manny retains clean rain water and regurgitates it when needed for thirst. Put a small rock in Manny’s mouth and give him the Heimlich and he becames an effective rifle for small game. Raise Manny’s arm over his head and he can chop wood, which is easily ignited with one of Manny’s farts. Get him aroused, and Manny’s erection points the way to civilization (I won’t discuss the specifics of that one).

But this is more than just a raunchy comedy. Raunchy it is, but there is a deeper element here in that it is one of the most original and offbeat buddy films I’ve ever seen. Manny begins to talk, and though Hank occasionally questions his own sanity he is so lonely for human contact that he accepts this bizarre fact and starts trying to help Manny uncover those memories of what it is to be human: to laugh, to cry, to love. These scenes become the core of the movie, and rescue it from being just a raunchy 97-minute fart joke.

I’ve never particularly liked or disliked Paul Dano as an actor, but this is a film where he is up to the material and does it well. As for Daniel Radcliffe, it is easy to see why he calls Manny the “favorite part I’ve played so far”. Radcliffe turns in a phenomenal performance as Manny, proving once again that he is a far cry from the teenaged wizard we watched growing up.

This movie is not going to be to everyone’s liking. Personally, I loved this movie and give it 4.5 out of 5 positrons (a half positron is subtracted for some over-the-top raunchiness). If you don’t object to some humor that is decidedly in bad taste, then I think you — like me — will consider this film a rare gem.

Next time on Reel Discoveries — Kinte hurled the gauntlet and I took up the challenge. That reminds me, Kinte, I’ve already contracted the hit men so watch your back, dude. It’s Godzilla vs Megalon, and it is a prime example of why I so rarely take requests. You ‘ll see what I mean — next time on Reel Discoveries.

Directed by
  • Daniel Scheinert
  • Daniel Kwan
Produced by
  • Eval Rimmon
  • Lauren Mann
  • Lawrence Inglee
  • Jonathan Wang
  • Miranda Bailey
  • Amanda Marshall
Written by
  • Daniel Scheinert
  • Daniel Kwan
Music by
Cinematography Larkin Seiple
Edited by Matthew Hannam
  • Tadmor
  • Astrakan Films AB
  • Cold Iron Pictures
  • Blackbird Films
  • Prettybird
Distributed by A24
Release date
Running time
97 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3 million[2]
Box office $5.1 million[3]

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Reel Discoveries: Spider Baby

by RPO

The dulcet tones of Lon Chaney Jr. performing the opening theme song lets you know you are in for a special treat. Whether it’s going to be especially good or especially bad remains to be seen. Hey, everybody, this is your old pal RPO talkin’ atcha for the premier of [my new and improved] Reel Discoveries. [What’s new? The restrictions of only reviewing older films. After all, the bizarre and the unusual are not restricted to black and white films (or films where the color is so washed out you wish they were in black and white). What’s improved? More clips, less looking at my ugly mug — which is a win-win situation for everybody. But enough about that.] Today, Jack Hill — the auteur who brought us such memorable classics as The Big Bird Cage, The Swinging Cheerleaders, and Switchblade Sisters — takes on the “Spooky Old House” genre and brings Lon Chaney along for the ride in his classic Spider Baby or The Maddest Story Ever Told.

Chaney plays Bruno the chauffer and all-around caretaker for the remaining three children in the Merrye family. The family is cursed by a strange affliction, possibly the result of inbreeding. It seems that when Merrye descendants reach a certain age, they begin to regress — and as they became adults they have the minds and attitudes of young children. [Aw, there they are. Aren’t they just adorable?] Eventually they lose any form of language and turn into cannibals. Ralph, played to perfection by the ever-lovable Sid Haig, is close to this final transformation and provides most of the scares without ever uttering a word. [Show ’em how you talk, Ralph. Ain’t he quaint?] Meanwhile the two sisters have their own peccadillos. [Elizabeth, the youngest and therefore most sane, is obsessed with hatred. Virginia on the other hand keeps spiders as pets and tries to emulate them whenever possible. Hey, take it easy with those knives girl!]

This charming Rockwellian family is faced with a crisis when two distant relatives of the Merrye family — Emily and Peter Howe — have decided to take a firm hand in the Merrye family fortune. Putting it bluntly, they want their cut — and if that means cutting the “children” out of the financial picture then so much the better. To this end, they have hired shyster lawyer Mr. Schlocker and his secretary Ann Morris. They are all determined to spend the night in the Merrye Manse despite Bruno’s misgivings and half-hearted warnings. Death, mayhem and madness ensue, but in a humorous vein in keeping with the “Spooky Old House” genre. [Here we see Mr. Schlocker meet his schlocking–er–shocking demise.]

This was one of Chaney’s last films, and it’s no great secret that this late in his life he was something of an alcoholic. He does seem to have laid off the sauce for the most part while filming this and turns in one of the best performances of his late career. [Okay, maybe he wasn’t all that sober. What was that, Lon? My God, man enunciate!] Also turning in truly memorable performances are Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner as the demented sisters. And comic actor Mantan Moreland has a small but memorable role as the messenger who delivers the bad news at the beginning of the film.

This movie is a must-see for fans of Lon Chaney Jr. if for no other reason than to see him turn in his last truly great performance. I give three and a half out of a possible five psychotrons for a decent script and outstanding performances by the leading characters. Alas, I have to take away one and a half psychotrons for the pedestrian performances of the rest of the cast. Except for Mantan Moreland, who turns in his usual but all too brief comedic performance. [Let’s watch some of that, shall we? Ah — pure comedy gold.]

Next time on Reel Discoveries, we’ll look at a brand-new movie — proving that it doesn’t have to be old to be psychotronic or a cult classic. Paul Dano is stranded on an island and Daniel Radcliff is the corpse who proves to have a number of unique talents in Swiss Army Man. A refreshingly new comedy or a Weekend at Bernie’s retread? You’ll find out next time on Reel Discoveries.

full movie

Directed by Jack Hill
Bart Patton (assistant)
Produced by Paul Monka
Gil Lasky
Written by Jack Hill
Starring Lon Chaney, Jr.
Carol Ohmart
Quinn Redeker
Beverly Washburn
Jill Banner
Sid Haig
Mary Mitchel
Karl Schanzer
Mantan Moreland
Music by Ronald Stein
Cinematography Alfred Taylor
Edited by Jack Hill
Distributed by American General Pictures
Release date
December 24, 1967
Running time
86 min.

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