Friday, 21 February 2020

THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON review

Out on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from 24th February, The Peanut Butter Falcon continues the resurgence of Shia LaBeouf as an actor of merit. Here he plays Tyler, a down on his luck fisherman who teams up with Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down's syndrome who has run away from the care home he's forced to live in. Together they embark on an odyssey to help Zak achieve his goal of becoming a wrestler just like his idol, The Saltwater Redneck.


After finally managing to flee the old folk's home he's been forced to live in by the state, Zak has just one goal; track down his favourite professional wrestler, The Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), and train with him at his wrestling school. Before his carer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) can catch up with him, Zak meets Tyler (LaBeouf), also eager to get out of town to avoid the wrath of Duncan (John Hawkes), the rival fisherman whose crab pots he's been raiding. Travelling with the credo of "you keep stirring up shit, you're going to get yourself killed", they stick to the back roads and bayous that provide the safest passage to their destination.

It's impossible to deny that The Peanut Butter Falcon is a joyously sweet film, the highlight being the genuine bond that can be seen to grow between LaBeouf and Gottsagen, and not just their characters. LaBeouf has gone on record to state that his friendship with Gottsagen is one of the key factors in his return from the brink of becoming another former child actor cliche, and has helped him turn a corner away from some of his dark times. He even went so far as asking if Gottsagen could accompany him on stage at this month's Oscars; a generosity that seen Shia take some criticism for how he encouraged his friend on stage, but largely from people who aren't aware of the context of their relationship. Hopefully more will now track down this film to see how great an actor LaBeouf can be, and also how genuine their friendship is. One of the highlights of the film is a campfire bonding session between Zak and Tyler, as they drink moonshine and work on wrestling training, eventually giving rise to Zak's wrestling alter-ego of The Peanut Butter Falcon. It's a scene that in the wrong hands could have erred on the twee side, but it's a credit to first time feature directors Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz that it rings true.

LaBeouf is perfectly cast as the hot headed Tyler, angry at his brother's death and the system that's preventing him from earning a living, but also able to turn on the charm when he first meets Eleanor. He's an actor that not only bears physical scars from his dark period (two unignorable scars under his right eye, the result of self inflicted wounds he made during the production of Fury), but also carries with him a weight of trauma that's still not been properly unpacked (see Honey Boy for more on that). Tyler is a commanding character who, with Zak, sees the opportunity to be someone's big brother and the chance for him to help someone in need. Gottsagen is a solid performer drawing on his own life experiences, and Zak's position as a person with Down's syndrome is respectfully and movingly covered. Whereas Zak believes that achieving his dream of being a professional wrestler is possible, he thinks that people would only accept him as a bad guy due to his Down's syndrome. Although not a film that is trying to beat us over the head with a message, there's some questions you'll be left thinking about after the credits roll.

The tone shifts as the film moves from a two-header buddy movie into a makeshift family drama, with Johnson's Eleanor finding more comfort in being Zak's surrogate sister than reluctant mother figure, but this allows a healthy family dynamic to form ahead of the film's wrestling led finale. It's here that the film does dip its toe into magical realism territory, but hey, isn't that kinda what professional wrestling's all about anyway?

Verdict
4/5

Thursday, 13 February 2020

DANIEL ISN'T REAL review

Now in cinemas and on VOD, Daniel Isn't Real sees Miles Robbins' Luke reconnect with his childhood friend, Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger). An encouraging but also toxic influence on Luke's life, Daniel pushes Luke into dangerous situations that he may not be able to come back from. Oh, also Daniel Isn't Real.



After a brief introduction to them as children where prankster Daniel arrives like a 21st century Drop Dead Fred before being locked away in a creepy doll's house (the result of trying to kill Luke's mother with an overdose of pills), the story picks up proper with Luke, now as a young man, trying to navigate his way in life whilst also caring for his sick mother (Mary Stuart Masterson). As his mother is institutionalised, he is advised by his psychiatrist to face whatever is haunting him from his past, leading to the re-emergence of his "imaginary" best friend, Daniel.

The temptation to liken Daniel Isn't Real to Fight Club is obvious, and there's clearly something of a demented Tyler Durden in Schwarzenegger's Daniel; all cocksure, confident and cool as fuck. He is everything Luke thinks he wants to be. But the film has more in common with the grimy, psycho-sexual world of Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case, the less-than-subtle conjoined twin shocker from the early '80s. In this, Daniel is Luke's very own Belial - a caged, impotent, rage-filled being, desperate to have the life his other half has.

Miles Robbins, first seen in Blockers and other supporting roles in Halloween (2018) and The Day Shall Come, has largely focused on comedic roles so far, but with his boyish looks he was destined for a lead role in a teen horror film (if that's what this is), and even bears something of a resemblance to Frank Henenlotter's lead from Frankenhooker, James Lorinz. His Luke is a likeable everyman character, and his pursuit of a romance with Sasha Lane's Cassie gives the film a much needed sweet side. Cassie is essentially an updated Marla Singer with a trendy boho loft apartment meets artist space, asking Luke important questions like "do you ever feel like you have no idea who you are?" at a modern art gallery before they destroy the art they find contemptible. In a film that is essentially about toxic masculinity against other men, Lane's character might struggle for screen time but is still the best she's been since American Honey.

As the flip side to Luke's character, Patrick Schwarzenegger's Daniel is the cooler, more attractive part of him, but also is a voyeuristic control freak, watching on as a romantic moment between Luke and Cassie turns into sex. Daniel is the incel inside who wants these moments for himself, eventually leading to a passing of conscience that gives Daniel an opportunity to act out his desires for sex and violence. Any questions you had about whether Daniel is just a part of Luke's psyche or a manifestation of something evil, allowing Luke to act how he really wants to act, are put to bed here; and this passing of conscience is in itself something near sexual, as Luke and Daniel's faces meld together before they break away, gasping.

As the good looking prankster Daniel, it's a strong turn from Schwarzenegger. Still on the verge of breaking out as a star of his own from under the weight of that surname, he's got the arrogance the son of the Austrian Oak and a member of the Kennedy clan should have. It's a great piece of casting that should act as a calling card for him going forward in his career.

As you might expect from SpectreVision, the production company who also gave us Panos Cosmatos' Mandy, there's a psychotropic quality to director Adam Egypt Mortimer's visuals that really work well for this film's big ideas. On top of some nasty body horror (there's that Henenlotter influence again), the film takes a trip into a nightmarish mind prison that's part Hellraiser and part A Nightmare on Elm Street, but also something completely different.

Daniel Isn't Real might owe a debt to some genre fare that has come before it, but it's a film packed full of ideas, and thankfully, most of them work.

Verdict
4/5

DANIEL ISN’T REAL will be released in UK Cinemas 7th February 2020, and on Blu-ray and Digital HD on 10th February 2020. For cinemas visit: https://www.ourscreen.com/film/Daniel-Isnt-Real
Order via iTunes here: https://apple.co/2FugjAo