andi mcdowell

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(spotify & playmoss)

songs that make me nostalgic for things that never happened.

run / daughter ; suburbia / troye sivan ; drive / oh wonder ; your best american girl / mitski ; all i want / kodaline ; a better way / andy hull & robert mcdowell ; liability / lorde ; sad dream / sky ferreira ; mess is mine / vance joy ; first day of my life / bright eyes ; always gold / radical face ; swingin party / lorde

Swiss Army Man

I will now non-stop praise the new film Swiss Army Man for approximately 1300 words.

Swiss Army Man is about a guy who befriends a corpse which talks to him, has magical powers and helps him survive in the wilderness. It’s a brilliant premise, an idea simple enough to be malleable but unique enough to draw attention. It’s the kind of idea that makes other would-be writers hate themselves for having not come up with it themselves. Or maybe that’s just a personal problem. The dialogue is witty and insightful in equal measure, containing lots of clever in-jokes, callbacks to other pop culture artifacts and sly references to the film itself (like the way the corpse playfully references the film’s title by calling himself the protagonist’s “multi-purpose tool guy”). As it was in The Nice Guys the jokes here can really catch you off guard. The punchlines are never predictable, and their off-kilter nature just makes them land harder most of the time. Overall, this is definitely one of the most original ideas I’ve seen in some time, as well as one of the best scripts I’ve come across this year.

The film revolves around two characters, the alive Hank (Paul Dano) and the dead Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). Both actors are perfectly cast, handling both the script’s comedic and more sentimental moments very effectively. Radcliffe, playing a half-reanimated corpse trying to remember what life was like, has the showier role, and he pulls it off with aplomb, but Dano is every bit as good as the slightly more conventional protagonist. On the surface the film is about the journey these characters undertake on their way back to civilization, but it’s really more about Hank coming to terms with his loneliness and social isolation. Dano sells his emotional transformation beautifully and Radcliffe excels as one of the more likable characters I’ve seen all year. This film would not have worked had the friendship between the characters not felt genuine, but Radcliffe and Dano play off each other so well and the scenes between them are so sweet and heartfelt that you never once doubt their motivations or feelings. These are certainly two of the best performances I’ve seen all year.

Swiss Army Man is the first feature of co-writers/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, or Daniels as they call themselves. It is incredibly self-assured for a debut, handling its many shifts in tone seamlessly and delivering a very cohesive experience. The cinematography by Larkin Seiple is frequently gorgeous and the editing by Matthew Hannam is fresh and inventive. This film has some killer montages, maybe not Rocky IV good but still quite invigorating, and the nimble editing and creative camerawork do much to hold the viewer’s interest and keep them engaged. Of course that’s all just the icing on the cake. With an idea this wonderful and a cast this talented Daniels could have filmed this movie on my cell phone and still emerged with something special.The fact that it’s beautiful and very skillfully composed just makes it that much easier to recommend. The entire crew taken into account, this is some of the finest filmmaking I’ve seen all year.

As for the score, I’m calling it now: this is the best soundtrack of the year. I’m aware that 2016 is only halfway over and if I’m wrong I’ll admit as much, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. At least as far as my tastes are concerned it’s not going to get any better than this. The film’s music, created by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of Manchester Orchestra, is almost entirely acapella. Now and then they’ll incorporate a drum kit or a keyboard part and the final track centers around an acoustic guitar, but the huge majority of the sounds here are produced by the human voice, and the effect is striking and beautiful. I loved listening to this music so much during the film that when I got home I took a long walk just so I could listen to it again, and even as an album divorced from the film’s images these tracks really hold up for me. In fact, if this movie didn’t exist and Hull and McDowell had released this record as a standalone side project I would have thought they were lunatics but I would have still really enjoyed it. Most of the songs are brief and wordless, but the few that have lyrics like Montage and River Rocket are even more powerful. I would give anything to tune into the Oscar telecast next year and see Andy Hull singing A Better Way, but I know that won’t happen. If Eddie Vedder couldn’t get a nomination for his more traditional work on Into the Wild I don’t think Hull has much hope with material this odd. However, to my ears this is the finest film music I’ve heard all year.

With a film as unique as this it’s no surprise that attitudes toward it have been divisive. There were a decent amount of walkouts during its Sundance premiere and it currently holds a 65% on Rotten Tomatoes. Go through those negative reviews and about ¾ths of them will at least partially be about farts. Yes, this film has farts. You know what else has farts? Life. In college I took a class on literature of the Romantic period, and one of the major things I took away from that class was the fact that many males of that time believed that upper-class women did not poop. They were too beautiful and proper and composed for that. Then when these noblemen got married they realized to their horror that women did in fact poop and sweat and look different without their makeup on. Look at how far we’ve come. Everybody on Earth farts, and yet we still cannot show farts in a film without it immediately being branded as juvenile and lowbrow and dumb. That this film would dare to not only show people farting but have them talk about the social implications of farting is seen by many critics as reason enough to dismiss it entirely. I do not understand that. So if you disagree with me know this: Manny’s dead body farts. Hank also farts. The characters have an extended conversation about masturbation. Manny gets an erection that Hank uses as a compass. If it’s a dealbreaker for you that the film actually takes time to explore universal and relatable material like this you probably should just skip it. Also you’re kind of ridiculous. How’s the view from your high horse? I hope for your sake it doesn’t fart.

Swiss Army Man is, in my estimation, an astoundingly good movie and I love it a great deal. It’s certainly not for everyone. Nothing this creative ever is. That being said, if you’re looking for a movie with a brilliant premise, an insightful script, wonderful performances, a killer soundtrack and beautiful filmmaking Swiss Army Man might just fit the bill. It works wonderfully as a comedy but it also goes deeper than that, tackling many issues that I’ve rarely (or never) seen addressed on film. More than anything else this script is a skillfully-etched exploration of friendship and social anxiety, and you just might find yourself relating to these characters more than you ever thought you would. In its best moments (which come very often) the film is simultaneously ridiculous and heartbreaking. The jokes are funny and the dramatic moments are potent, but it’s when these two elements come together that the film really takes off. A joke about Hank having Cotton Eye Joe stuck in his head (because it’s always the songs you hate…) morphs into a genuinely touching leitmotif later on, and the film is full of strangely beautiful moments like that. I could give many more examples, but I shouldn’t. Rather than having me describe them you should just experience these moments for yourself. I wouldn’t want to deprive you of that. The film also has a hell of a twist ending, and to its credit it doesn’t rub it in your face. I know some people walk away from this film thinking that certain elements within it didn’t make sense or seem logical. If you felt this way then you didn’t understand the implications of the ending and you should probably watch it again. If farts are a dealbreaker for you then don’t see this film, because as I said before there are a lot of farts. However, if you can get over that (and you really should be able to) Swiss Army Man is a powerful and brave experience unlike anything else you’ve ever seen or probably ever will see and you should definitely give it a try.

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Cope + Top Notch acoustic in downtown Glasgow for Tenement TV