Cinema Review: Frank

Frank-Sidebottom-film-still-770

DIR: Lenny Abrahamson • WRIPeter Straughan PRO: Ed Guiney, Stevie Lee, Andrew Lowe • DOP: James Mather • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • DES: Richard Bullock • CAST: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Many films aiming to make a statement about art in conflict with commerciality must often contend with a similar push/pull arrangement in the execution of that statement itself. After all, original or groundbreaking as it might be, if an indie flick lands at Sundance with no-one there to live-tweet it, does it make a sound? Aiming to prop itself between these two stools of art and commerce by no more than one over-large paper mache head and a bucketful of ambition is director Lenny Abrahamson’s latest outing, Frank.

 

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a serial-tweeting office drone plagued by dreams of international stardom but rather lacking in the creative drive to see them realized. Enter the Soronprfbs, an eclectic musical outfit whose disdain for vowels is matched only by the eccentricity of frontman Frank (Fassbender), who lives his life enclosed in a huge, cartoonish prop head. Brought into the fold when the band find suddenly find themselves short a keyboardist, Jon sees his chance for stardom and resolves to take it – along the way contending with the bile of acerbic bandmate Clara  (Gyllenhal), his own tragic lack of inspiration and fundamental doubts as to whether he’s crossed paths with a musical messiah or a plain old madman.

 

Frank quickly found an eager audience during its debut at Sundance, and it’s no real surprise why. Charming, funny and bright – starkly so in contrast to Abrahamson’s earlier work – the film delivers consistent belly-laughs while still managing to hit quieter, sombre notes about a genuinely troubled masked man to whom the microphone may as well be an umbilical cord. By turns hilarious and tragic are Jon’s fumbling attempts at inspiration relayed through banal sing-along internal monologues and a Twitter feed constantly appearing on screen but increasingly at odds with the reality of his situation.

 

Unsurprisingly, Fassbender exhibits impressive range beneath the mask, and the near-violent chemistry between Gylenhaal and Gleeson is crackling. It is likely the latter who delivers the anchoring performance of the film, slipping from wide-eyed to cut-throat as Jon slowly begins to realize that while the sparsely-populated pub gigs and mish-mash of recording techniques are a means to and end for him, for the rest of the band they act as a strange sort of therapy.

 

However, while certainly interesting as an examination of the notion of celebrity, it is difficult to escape the feeling that Frank is, strangely, Abrahamson’s most conventional effort to date. While ostensibly hiding the film’s most marketable feature behind a paper mache mask, it is likely that this very choice to take one of the world’s most sought-after faces and hide it in plain sight has drawn quite so much of the buzz that would class Frank as unique.

 

“You’re just going to have to go with this,” Jon is told by the band’s manager rather early on, but in truth there is little enough to go with that truly strays from the beaten path. A typical three act structure put together with bright, agreeable colour tones and a titular character who can’t help but be endearing, the overriding sense is of an unconventional idea packaged in its most marketable form, where “quirky” is a buzzword thrown out for poster by-lines as opposed to any real indication of divergence.

 

With subject matter wrestling with the idea of art vs commerciality, it ultimately leans towards the latter – but this is nothing to mourn. Frank is sharply-scripted, beautifully-shot and suitably suspicious of the entire vague notion of celebrity. However, while likely bound for success and justifiably so, one is simply left with the entirely unreasonable but nonetheless niggling feeling that this very message might be lost in the scramble to fit statues with tiny paper mache heads come awards season.

Ruairí Moore

15A (See IFCO for details)
94 mins

Frank is released on 9th May 2014

Frank – Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: White House Down

images

DIR: Roland Emmerich WRI: James Vanderbilt PRO: Roland Emmerich, Brad Fischer, Larry J. Franco, Laeta Kalogridis, Harald Kloser, James Vanderbilt. DOP: Anna Foerster ED: Adam Wolfe DES: Kirk M. Petruccelli CAST: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke

It is one of the terrible beauties of Hollywood genre filmmaking that it remains committed to the cause of ideological equivocation, even while seeming to attempt to confront the Realities of Globalization, Extremism, and Socio-Political Anxiety in the Post-9/11 World: it is consistency amidst chaos, perpetuating chaos.

White House Down, the latest from disaster film director par excellence Roland Emmerich, performs such a dance of prevarication with all the outwardly liberal leanings of the 18-34 millennial demographic. The baddies (and this could not possibly spoil anything) are inside-job conservatives in the pocket of military armament providers; the president (Jamie Foxx) is Backbone Obama with a penchant for Air Jordans and a natural affinity for the rocket launcher; the hero (Channing Tatum) is tough on terrorists and gentle on squirrels.

…He is, of course, also white because of course he is. Tatum, who has been lauded for the past year and a bit as Hollywood’s next superstar leading man (always the “next”, never the “now”) takes top billing despite Foxx’s having won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and despite the film’s multiple protagonist scope that could just as easily have seen President Sawyer’s role listed first on cast and credits. It’s not Channing Tatum’s fault he’s white, male, and conventionally attractive; it is Hollywood’s fault that so is every other marketable male action star today (with the recent, ageing exception of Will Smith).

That said, Tatum is just Sylvester Stallone-vapid enough to function as the all-American hero who just wants to impress his daughter by landing a job with the Secret Service and gets caught up instead in a terrorist attack at the White House. Handy that he learned to fight and defend – for politically sanctioned reasons – while serving in Afghanistan. And handy that as a foil for the ex-servicemen-gone-rogue responsible for blowing up Capitol Hill, he offsets anxieties about the essential moral corruptibility of the individual soldier trained to kill for money. The noble one – in Emmerich, in Hollywood – excuses (or eliminates where he cannot redeem) the several corrupt. That’s how capitalism saves the day every evening from the problems it posed in the morning.

Ideological dissonances notwithstanding, Channing Tatum’s Bankability Down boasts an excellently devised car chase across the White House lawn and the requisite number of explosions. Its narrative economy is remarkable – Die Hard-esque even – despite running over two hours long: there is nothing superfluous, nothing wanting in its plot. And yet, as the film’s recent tanking at the American box office would suggest, there is something fundamentally lacking in its design.

Perhaps it’s because Antoine Fuqua already made the same movie earlier in the year with Olympus Has Fallen. Perhaps it’s because Roland Emmerich actually blew up the White House way back in 1996, when the scariest enemies were from outer space, and techie nerds like Jeff Goldblum were more sexy-exotic, less Julian Assange-anarchist. Maybe the myth of the Hollywood disaster-action flick has been exploded one too many times in real life on tv, YouTube and the video phone to function as cathartic of our repressed fears and internalized anxieties. Whatever the case may be, what worked twenty years ago doesn’t work today, even with massively improved CGI and cynically-politically correct casting.

Ciara Máirín Barrett

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details) 

131 mins

White House Down is released on 13th September 2013

White House Down  – Official Website

Share

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang

DIR: Susanna White • WRI: Emma Thompson • PRO: Tim Bevan, Lindsay Doran, Eric Fellner • DOP: Mike Eley • ED: Sim Evan-Jones • DES: Simon Elliott • CAST: Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Emma Thompson once again pens and stars in a candy-coloured film adaptation of the children’s books by Christianna Brand, following a very strict and very ugly nanny who brings order and manners to a household full of naughty children. This outing sees the titular character nursing a farmhouse family whose father is off at war. The mother, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, is obliged the sell the land to her nasty brother (Rhys Ifans), a slimy character who will not rest till he gets his way. Meanwhile the children’s vile London cousins come to stay – two little brats who balk at the state of the earthy farm abode.

Enter Nanny McPhee – an otherworldly being who appears when a family needs her most – squashed-nosed and snaggle-toothed, she calmly teaches the children five important lessons, though when things get out of hand she must employ the same supernatural technique of setting down her walking stick as she did in her previous adventure, and to spectacular effect. Nanny McPhee attempts to set the household to rights using these very methods, while the family struggle on with their visitors and hope against hope that their father will return.

Thanks to Emma Thompson’s involvement, the film boasts an impressive array of British thespians, including Maggie Smith, Ewan McGregor and Ralph Fiennes as a senior WW2 army officer. Though characterisation is hardly profound in a story such as this, each actor has their moment to shine – and Gyllenhaal, as the young mother, sports a flawless British accent and conveys her trademark maternal emotion when needs be. Production values are stellar, with all the period details on display. The film whisks along at a nice pace and never gets bogged down in one place – Thompson’s adaptation is wrought with real warmth and wit, and once again she works wonders on-screen under layers of prosthetics, with every wry glance and raise of the eyebrow worthy of a laugh.

Setting the story of against the backdrop of World War II is very smart move – the ‘big bang’ in the title referring to the imminent threat of bombings during this time period. This gives the film a foundation of realism that the previous movie lacked…however, there’s little room left for war-time misery in the thematic threads of this story – you’re more like to find a group of piglets doing synchronised swimming than any sign of a swastika.

Ultimately, this is a family film, written for children – talking to them, not at them and carrying a very sensitive message at its heart. There are no double-entendres for the adults the snigger at; this is harmless entertainment at its best. It may not be a new classic but it’s nice to see something like this making its way to our screens during the Easter break.

Eoghan McQuinn
(See biog here)

Rated G (See IFCO website for details)


Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang is released on 26th March 2010

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang – Official Website

Share

Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart
DIR/WRI: Scott Cooper • PRO: T-Bone Burnett, Robert Duvall, Scott Cooper, Judy Cairo, Rob Carliner • DOP: Barry Markowitz • ED: John Axelrad • DES: Waldemar Kalinowski • CAST: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall

Every year, around Oscar® time we get hit with a film like Crazy Heart. An ageing drunk gets chance after chance to redeem his or her-self but time after time they fail until they get a wake-up call and get back on track, or do they…? Last year it was The Wrestler, this year it’s Crazy Heart. Despite the fact that I’ve seen this movie at least twenty times before, this was a pleasant experience overall. A nicely paced, superbly acted, cautionary tale, this is certainly worth checking out and with two acting nominations and a nod for Best Song you should probably try to get to it before Oscar® time.

The protagonist, haggard country singer Bad Blake (Bridges), is reaching the end of the line. He has been consumed by his alcoholism and is slowly coming to rock bottom. On the road, playing gigs in bowling alleys and dodgy bars in New Mexico, Bad disgraces himself night after night. At one of these gigs he meets beautiful young journalist Jean (Gyllenhaal) and they form a friendship, which soon turns into a love affair. Despite their chemistry, the road to love is rocky due to Jean’s four-year-old son and Bad’s 50-year-old addiction.

Much has been made of Jeff Bridges’ performance in this film and I believe deservedly so. This character is never anything but loveable, despite his flaws. He is a good person and his ‘rock bottom’ moments are difficult to endure. His singing is beautifully craggy and he sounds like a man who has been singing all his life. He is a shoo-in for the Oscar® this year and not only because he is long overdue the recognition, but because this is easily the best leading man performance of the year (though, that didn’t help Mickey Rourke last year). A pleasant surprise is Colin Farrell’s extended cameo as Tommy Sweet, Bad’s one time protégé who has overtaken him and left him to the dust. He is a huge country star and for the first half of the film, he is set up as the villain of the piece. However, when we finally meet him, he is a genuine man who has been swept up in the corporate nonsense of country music, but still has nothing but love and respect for his mentor. Farrell sells this character really well, giving one of his best performances to date, and provides his own vocals to impressive effect. Man of many talents!

This is an enjoyable film. It is well paced, nicely shot and boasts superb performances all round. If you like backwoods, smoky country music then you’ll enjoy T-Bone Burnett’s songs, which are plentiful throughout. Nothing we haven’t seen before but Crazy Heart is a highly enjoyable night at the cinema.

Charlene Lydon

(See biog here)

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

Crazy Heart is released 19th Feb 2010

Crazy Heart – Official Website

Share

Away We Go

Away We Go

DIR: Sam Mendes • WRI: Dave Eggers, Vendela Vida • PRO: Sam Mendes, Peter Saraf, Edward Saxon, Marc Turtletaub • ED: Sarah Flack • DES: Jess Gonchor • CAST: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Since the popularity of Juno, studios have been spewing out so-called ‘indie’ flicks like there’s no tomorrow. ‘Kooky’ tales interspersed with singer-songwriter guitar music, self-consciously witty dialogue and minimal cinematography. Sam Mendes, however, has more experience than your average indie-flicker, and though the pretentions are all there, his attention to realistic character detail and beautiful shots lifts Away We Go above the artificialness of the generic norm.

That’s not to say that there aren’t cracks in the well-constructed wall – those classic indie stereotypes still abound. From Jeff Daniels’ and Catherine O’Hara’s selfishly clueless parents, to Allison Janney’s trapped-in-parenthood lunatic, and back again to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s painfully hippy mother-earth nutjob, the staples of quirky storytelling are all present. That the observed conventions don’t stick out garishly is down to a fine calibre of acting talent, pleasantly mobile music, and a nicely painted palette of scenes from Mendes.

The basic plot centres on an early-thirties couple – Burt and Verona (played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) – who, on learning of the imminent departure of Burt’s parents prior to the even more imminent arrival of their baby, decide to strike out together to find somewhere to call home. Krasinski might be best known for the American Office, and this character cannot be said to be a million miles from his desk-bound counterpart. However, he brings a goofy sweetness to the role, which works extremely well in the context, and makes Burt a loveable sap. Maya Rudolph, a multi-talented comedienne and songstress, takes a step forward from her Saturday Night Live alter-ego into more serious acting chops, and makes a good job of giving Verona the vulnerability of a first-time mom, as well as the procrastinating directionless freefall of an early-thirties woman not sure of the road ahead.

Most movies dealing with childbirth or pregnancy within this age-group – the late 20s/early 30s citizens of uncertainty – tend towards the patronising, wildly inaccurate, and often downright insulting. The tact and realism with which the issues are dealt with are what gives this movie its real heart. Though the majority of the couple’s encounters with other parents are ripe with comedy, there is truth and pathos beneath every scene. Their struggle with questions of inadequacy and unpreparedness strikes an honest chord and, most meaningfully, their constant battle to retain their individual personalities in the face of becoming a mother and father.

More fun Jarhead than dramatic Road to Perdition, Mendes finds the bittersweet in being an indecisive 30-something struggling to find not only a home, but a more permanent sense of self.

Sarah Griffin
(See biog here)

Rated 15A (See IFCO website for details)
Away We Go is released on 18th September 2009

Away We Go – Official Website

Share