Film Review: SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) “Gems you may have missed!”

SWISS ARMY MANA hopeless man stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.

Directors: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Writers: Daniel Scheinert, Dan Kwan
Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

by Kierston Drier

This issue of Gems You May Have Missed is all about unlikely heroes, psychological breakdowns and dead bodies with magical boners. Yes. I said that.

SWISS ARMY MAN is a rare beast of a film. Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, and released in early July 2016, this piece requires commitment to your distension of disbelief. But if you can jump that hurdle, the film pays off big in the realm of emotional dividends and offbeat humor. Really offbeat.

Hank (Paul Dano), a nondescript everyman with a healthy dose of melancholia acts as our unlikely hero, when we find him at the opening of the film, stranded and starving on a desert island. He is about to hang himself when Manny (Daniel Radcliff) washes up on shore. Desperate for human contact of any kind, Hank forms an emotional and slightly creepy attachment to our dead friend. Believing that the appearance of Manny must be a sign, Hank drags the corpse off the beach and begins the long trek to seeks help and a way home.

The film starts on a dark note but quickly spirals through dark comedy and into a strange, but loveable hybrid of genre all its own, when Radcliff’s character Manny begins to talk. Not only talk, but also perform life saving tricks for Hank- like gush fresh water from his mouth, use his erection as a north-pointing compass, and, wait for it, fart so powerfully that he can work as a human motor boat. Hank and Manny form a bizarre bond of friendship, compassion and an utterly fresh take on instrumental friendship, as they must work together to get back to civilization.

It is hard to explain what makes SWISS ARMY MAN such an incredible cinematic experience. It boasts gorgeous, lush cinematic visuals, beautiful art direction and breathtaking cinematography. It is also largely a two-hander which means huge applause must go out to both Dano and Radcliff for engaging and grabbing performances. While both actors do a fantastic job in their roles, a special nod must be given to Radcliff who, has the added challenge of conveying a depth of character while still managing to pull of character that is, well, dead. The script is quirky, emotional and vibrantly original. But what makes SWISS ARMY MAN a real gem, is how startling unique it is. There is simply no film quite like it.

A viewer can watch this movie and feel a vast array of feelings- confusion, absurdity, hilarity, sorrow, compassion, concern and disbelief all within an hour and half. We never really know if we are watching a metaphor, one man’s delusion, or a strange world where anything-can-happen. But we feel something. The feeling may be complex and confusing but it is undeniably authentic. You may need to let go of logic and reason and strap yourself in for this roller-coaster of a film, but it is worth every minute of the ride.


LAND OF MINE (Under Sandet)(Denmark/Germany 2015) *****Top 10

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land_of_mineDirector: Martin Zandvliet
Writer: Martin Zandvliet
Stars: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman

Review by Gilbert Seah

The Danish entry for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, LAND OF MINE is a film where hate dominates, but a film in which a hidden story needs to be told. It is a film that took a while to reach screens in Toronto, having premiered two years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. It is a difficult film to watch, but an essential one. I have seen the film three times and is my favourite choice for the Winner for Best Foreign Film after TONI ERDMANN.

The film begins with the title, May 1945, five years after the German Occupation in Denmark. A Dane sergeant, Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller) is driving along the road while German troops are evacuating. He sights a German stealing a Danish flag and lets him have it. “You are not welcome here,” he screams. This same sergeant is responsible for 14 young German POWs with no prior training, given the dangerous task of dismantling the land mines left on the west coast of Denmark.

Based on a true but previously hidden story, Martin Zandvliet’s LAND OF MINE is a tension-filled drama about Denmark’s darkest hour when a group of German POWs – most of them young boys – were sacrificed in the aftermath of WWII. With minimal training, they must remove 45,000 land mines from the local beach, among 2.2 million that the Nazis planted along the western coast. The POWs are just boys, recruited late in the war as older able-bodied men were dwindling.

The German boys dream of going home, to get a girl, to eat decent German food. But danger lurks every second, as they can be blown up by a land mine, if they let their guard down for even a second. There are 6 blow ups in the film, but director Zandvliet is smart enough to let them occur when least expected. So be forewarned that you will be jumping out of your seat in fright too often for comfort. On my third viewing, I still jumped up twice.

Despite the prevailing hatred for the Germans by the Danes, the German boys survive – for their innocence, their youth and the triumph of the human spirit. They even save a little Danish girl who ventures on to the mined beach despite them being mistreated by the mother. Among those playing the POWs are Emil and Oskar Belton (as identical twins), Louis Hofmann (as the group’s natural leader) and Joel Basman (as a cynic who would have liked to be leader).

This is one film that will bring tears to ones eyes. It is moving film about forgiveness, tolerance, racism and finally about doing what is right. The sergeant hates the Germans, mistreats the German boys under his command initially. After seeing them blown up by the mines, mistreated by the other Danes and mostly seeing them innocent as young boys caught in a world beyond their control, even though they are German, Rasmussen finally decide to side with the boys.

I watched an interview on director Zandvliet on TV two years ago. He says that his film is based on a story that has to be told. He also expressed his concern for the Syrian refugees and how governments should be more sympathetic to let these refugees in. This is one man who is dedicated for doing right for the human race. His awesome film LAND OF MINE demonstrates his conviction. I highly recommend this film, a great watch even after a third viewing.



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Read the FULL LIST of Oscar Nominees (89th Academy Awards – 2017)

2017 Academy Awards Nominees

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)

La La Land

La La Land

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”

Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul



“Can’t Stop the Feeling”

Justin Timberlake, Max Martin,Shellback

Jim: The James Foley Story

Jim: The James Foley Story

“The Empty Chair”

J. Ralph, Sting



“How Far I’ll Go”

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Film Review: I AM DYSLEXIC (Norway) Animation/Music Video

Played at the December 2016 Best of Family/Animation FEEDBACK Film Festival.

I AM DYSLEXIC, 6min. UK, Animation/Music Video

The animated short film I AM DYSLEXIC expresses what it feels like to have a learning difference in our current school system. Those with learning differences should be proud of who they are and should never be made to feel alone.

REVIEW by Kierston Drier: 

A masterful piece of short cinema is a rare gem. To be truly spectacular a short must do three things exceptionally well: It must tell a compelling and engaging story, it must establish, build and deliver an emotional goal (Comedic or Dramatic) and it must be visually breathtaking. Enter I AM DYSLEXIC, directed by Mads Johan Ogaard and Katie Wyman. Majestic in its visual metaphors and brave in it’s delivery, I AM DYSLEXIC is a powerful cinematic short that provides all three of these elements. The story is remarkably simple- following the metaphorical journey of two school age children desperately trying to learn literacy through the conventional education model. Instead of following their actual progress, we see them climbing an unfathomable high mountain of books, scattered pages, text and block letters. A vibrant and powerful metaphor, strengthen in part by its simplicity. To anyone who has ever struggled with conventional education, the metaphor is disarmingly accurate. Perhaps this is what elevates the film- the abstract approach to explaining what learning can be like, for those of us who learn differently.


Our heroes’ deal with road block after road block, and stumble constantly. There is no easy path, and no well marked trail for their journey. And although there is no dialogue at all, there is a dramatic original musical score “I’m Not Stupid” which aids in epic atmospheric elements to this piece.


I AM DYSLEXIC is an emotional powerhouse of a film. Stunningly effective in its representation and utterly unique and transformative in its symbology, this is a film everyone should see. It reminds all the viewers that  unconventional learning is not a crime, and that, pun intended, there are many paths up the same mountain. Despite the difficulty, they all will lead to the top. This reviewer, (a dyslexic, as it happens) gives this film a 10.


Film Review: GRANDMA: A TRUE STORY (UK) Animation/Family

Played at the December 2016 Best of Family/Animation FEEDBACK Film Festival.

Directed by Viviane Peo’h

A grandmother and a granddaughter love and understand each other truly, without the need for speaking. One day, the grandmother has a stroke and is transported urgently to hospital. There is no hope. As the night gets deeper a miracle is on the way. A true and compassionate story.

REVIEW by Kierston Drier: 

Touching and lovingly put together, GRANDMA is one of those stories that will pull on the heartstrings of anyone who has bridged the gap between generations with friendship. This story recounts in heartfelt detail, the relationship our narrator forms as a young girl with her grandmother, before she has a fall in her home and is in danger of passing away in the hospital. Within the same timespan, our narrator, is also put in the hospital after a car accident, where she silently begs God to keep her grandmother alive. The good she has done in the world surely outweighs’ the narrator’s own, and that certainly earns her more time on this planet.


It is hard to say what is more touching, the narrative tribute our narrator crafts for her grandmother, or the painstaking time spent on the stop-motion claymation used to animate the tale. Stop-motion is an incredibly time consuming process which requires an enormous amount of attention to details. GRANDMA shows all the signs of an unmistakable labour of love.


GRANDMA is one of those shorts that is so clearly built on a foundation on authenticity and love that it is hard to dislike. The style of the piece may be raw, or arguably not as polished looking as a digital counterpart, but there is no lack of story here, and certainly no lack of feeling. A touching piece, indeed.


Film Review: AFRO CRAB (Taiwan) Animation/Comedy

Played at the December 2016 Best of Family/Animation FEEDBACK Film Festival.

  MOVIE POSTERAFRO CRAB, 4min, Taiwan, Animation/Comedy
Directed by Chen Liang Yu

A-SIE,the crab, was watching TV with his friend, the fish. Suddenly, Cook came and took the fish.To save his friend, A-SIE left his comfort zone and fight with Cook!

REVIEW by Kierston Drier: 

Directed by Light Fish Chen, is a film that ties in action, zany larger-than-life characters and comedy together through the adventures of- you guessed it, a Crab with an unusual haircut. All seems well for our hero as he sit sits on the couch with his unmoving and blank-staring Fish companion. However when his friend is seized by a villainous and dastardly chef bent on making a fish-soup, Afro crab must spring into action. What results, is a colourfully bright and high-impact combination of epic fighting between our Hero and the evil Chef.


This film packs a colourful and imaginative punch. A special nods must be given to the various ways AFRO CRAB calls back to other well-established children’s animation. Despite the difference in animation style, AFRO CRAB’s character design is slightly reminiscent of SpongeBob Squarepants, and the Ninja-esque fight between our Hero and the evil chef play off many popular anime for children, such as Dragon Ball Z and Kung Fu Panda. Also worth mentioning is the specific type of musical choice for the fight sequences- a distinctive heavy metal piece that re enforces the epic nature of the battle.
In the end, our afro crab is reunited with his fishy friend, but he might have to make do with a slightly altered version. AFRO CRAB is a fun, action packed way to spend a few minutes with anyone you would like to escape with. Enjoy the show!


Film Review: SISTERS (USA) Animation/Music Video

Played at the December 2016 Best of Family/Animation FEEDBACK Film Festival.

SISTERS, 4min, USA, Animation/Music Video
Directed by David Chontos

A fragment of some lost, tragic opera. Trapped in the ruins of their former glory, a pair of performers bound together and abandoned by time rise up to sing once more. Conjured up by the song to which it’s set, the film represents a sincere vision of inspiration derived from the music of Karin Dreijer Andersson (Fever Ray).

REVIEW by Kierston Drier: 

David Chontos, the writer, director and designer of Sisters, uses If I had a Heart by Fever Ray, to backdrop his stunningly beautiful animated short. Spellingbindingly gorgeous, this piece deals with the reanimation of two robotic marionette sisters, come to life on their rundown vaudevillian stage. Delicately laced with details in every shot and frame, Sisters is a masterful work of animated cinema. Not a single detail is lost in the vivid animation.


The tone of the film feels dark, perhaps because of the overtly decadent nature of the setting. Perhaps also, the irony of the song plays a part, as our characters appear closely connected and yet their motives are never completely clear. They come to life very slowly, and them seem to struggle to stay animated. The result is a haunting but graceful dance that is entrancing, although unknowable.  The world of the sisters, as machines, is unfathomable to the audience. There is an undeniable sense of similarity between Sisters and the opening of the recent smash-hit Television show, West World, and not without good reason. In both, the visuals are gorgeous, and in both, you want to see more. An expertly executed piece of musical animated cinema.


Film Review: CACOPHONY (USA) Animation/Drama

Played at the December 2016 Best of Family/Animation FEEDBACK Film Festival.

CACOPHONY, 2min, USA, Animation/Drama

Directed by AiHsuan Shih

Through the eyes and ears of a young girl, the viewer can escape the harsh sounds of the urban environment and find solace in a serene inner world.

REVIEW by Kierston Drier: 

Coming to us by Melody Shih, Cacophony is hard to look away from. Filled with bright colors, high contrast, rich textures and expertly crafted blend of artistic styles, this is a movie to capture the soul of an artist.


Our hero, an introvert in a crowded metropolis, deals with the high-octane, high-stimulus noise and visual clutter around her. Sounds pop, honk and tweet incessantly and synesthetically in every direction. Somehow, despite the vibrancy and high-color world outside her, we find our way inside her. Whether we are seeing her mind’s eye, or her metaphorical spirit it is left for the viewer to decide. Regardless, the effect is masterful. The internal world of our hero is serenely still, with contrasting dark undertones against brilliant, effervescently bright simple designs. Like music made visual, like liquid made light, our hero reverts into themselves before the hum of the outside world draws her out to real life.


If you appreciate art or experimental cinema, find a way to see Melody Shih’s Cacophony, a beautiful tribute to the people who may see the world differently- as energy, as sound and light and texture. And if you do not love experimental film, see this anyway, as it may change your mind.


Film Review: PHANTOM CITY (Canada) Animation/Crime

Played at the December 2016 Best of Family/Animation FEEDBACK Film Festival.

PHANTOM CITY, 6min, Canada, Animation/Crime

Directed by Patrick Jenkins

A woman with a mysterious suitcase and a man in pursuit… just one of the tales in the Phantom City. A magic realist detective story.

REVIEW by Kierston Drier: 

If film Noir and silent animation had a baby, it would be Phantom City, written and directed by Patrick Jenkins. The plot is simple, a woman enters a movie theatre to watch a mysterious spy versus spy style cat-and-mouse story, only for it to end in a supernatural twist that comes vibrantly to life. A simple, yet utterly engaging story line. What makes Phantom City sparkle, is how much it uses artistry in its work. It uses color sparingly, so as to add emphasis, it uses texture within its black and white frames. It makes dynamic use of sound, while minimal use of of dialogue. Artistically speaking, it is a film of depth, richness and visual complexity.


The story-within-a-story aspect is equally compelling with a nod to the classic Pulp Fiction. The supernatural twist at the end leaves the viewer with questions they long to have answered. But why should we watch Phantom City? See it because it effectively straddles multiple types of artistic mediums. See it because it is a compelling and visually entertaining piece. See it for its’ Noir-esque overtones and its’ rich animation. See it, if for nothing else, because it is a joy to watch.


Film Review: STUTTER (USA) Drama/Family

Played at the December 2016 Best of Family/Animation FEEDBACK Film Festival.

  MOVIE POSTERSTUTTER, 13min., USA, Family/Drama
Directed by Ivo Huahua

A strong-willed widower with a heavy stutter is determined to win the respect of his son by speaking to the boy’s class on Career Day.

REVIEW by Kierston Drier: 

Directed by Ivo Huahua, Stutter is a powerful poignant piece with much to unpack. In the wake of his wife’s’ death, our Hero, a master gardener with a severe stutter, must try to reconnect with his teenage son who shares the difficulty. Determined to come to his sons’ parent career night, we see our hero go to lengths to work on his diction. It is with a tangible feeling of relief we see him succeed. And yet, victory in front of his son’s class proves much harder. And confronting the children who bully his son for his speech, (and their parents) proves equally challenging.


Ultimately, what sets this movie apart is its’ stunning ability to show love, compassion and pride through the lenses that is the tense and often turbulent relationship between a father and his teenage son. It holds a huge emotional weight for such a small piece. It expertly and subtly weaves grief, embarrassment, resolution, pride and triumph into a 13 minute piece and leaves you feeling as though you have carried a weight that has been lifted off you.


In this way, we must nodd to Huahua, for the excellent job that has been done in Stutter. For a movie where the characters struggle to be heard, it has so very much to say.