Monthly Archives: September 2014

Frank: A Hysterical Black Comedy that has to be seen to be believed

Frank features a poster which depicts a giant cartoon head. Now some people who haven’t seen the trailer might assume that it’s just there for the point of advertising, or there’s an animated sequence in the film, but no, the title character of the film is a man who dresses up in a cartoon head. That seems in of itself a crazy concept, but it fits with the rest of the film, which goes from being a quirky dark comedy to basically being down right serious and realistic at the end. In short, Frank is a gem that I can recommend to just about anyone, unless men wearing cartoon faces and crazy antics isn’t your idea of a good time.

Frank tells the story of Jon Burroughs (played by Domnhall Gleason) who is surprisingly likeable and later in the film even works perfect as a jackass when he lets fame get to his head. Burroughs is a young wanna-be musician from Ireland who meets a traveling band. The band is led by Frank played by Michael Fassbender a mysterious cartoon wearing headman. Jon eventually learns that he’s gotten himself into more than he can handle by joining this band.

Frank is at its heart a black comedy that eventually evolves into a cross country road-trip film, and then even becomes serious by the end. It’s nonetheless a hilarious movie to watch. The script by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan is very clever and includes some memorable dialogue. Although Frank is not the main character of the film (despite the title being named after him), by having his antics be center stage of the film, it makes for interesting and hilarious situations. Frank himself is an interesting character, a man who received a cartoon mask as a teenager and wouldn’t take it off, instead preferring to conceal his true face and identity. As the main character, Jon has an interesting character arc in the film himself, going an aspiring almost weak songwriter who can’t seem to finish or write any memorable songs, to letting fame get to him, and eventually becoming extremely unlikeable as a person.

The rest of the band, which makes up the bulk of the major characters in the film are also interesting. You have Maggie Gyllenhaal as Clara, the aggressive chick of the group, who rarely has anything nice to say (at least until the end of the film), and has absolutely little regard for Jon as a person. Gyllenhaal is even very sexy in some of her scenes. There’s Scoot McNairy as Don, the bands’ manager who eventually commits suicide with a Frank mask on and in a rather comical and dark scene they place his body on a boat with flames into the river (basically being his grave) until a slight problem occurs, and ruins the moment for them. Francois Civil as Baraque the French bassist (he literally only speaks French throughout the film) and Carla Azar as Nana, the band’s drummer, make up the rest of the cast. Both characters, Baraque and Nana, also show little empathy for Jon. These characters are basically a group of misfits with their own quirks and problems.

Although I had issues with another movie that started out as a quirky comedy, that being Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo, Frank’s tonal shift at the end didn’t bother me as much as that film did, because in addition to a much weirder and more surrealistic film, Mood Indigo still kept its crazy tone, even at the funeral sequences. In comparison, Frank, became down to earth and less quirky, which I appreciated.

None of the songs in Frank are especially memorable, which is the point of the film, as Jon sees himself as an amazing lyricist, when the best thing he can come up with is repeating the same sound over and over. The actual actors performed in the band, which isn’t surprising given that the songs aren’t really performed all that memorably to begin with.

Frank is definitely not a movie made with the general audience in mind. I appreciate the film for that, though as its crazy concept, along with the antics, made me laughing and smiling until the last act. Even the tonal shift of the film didn’t bother me that much. Frank’s black comedy aspect is something I very much appreciate about the film. Frank, is overall an enjoyable movie, and I would recommend it to anyone, but be warned, you may not get the concept. Yes, it’s that weird of a film and I liked it a lot because of that.

A Most Wanted Man: Review: A Most Ingenious Thriller

A Most Wanted Man is an ingenious thriller. The film has a strong political message and feels like one of those classic spy thrillers from the 60’s and the 70’s. Being based off a John le Carre Novel, as Mr. le Carre was actually part of the British intelligence, and used his experiences to write his classic spy thrillers. However it falls short on the very riveting side of things, though the film is intriguing enough to carry my attention through its two hour running time. The film is also helped by its lead actor, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, giving a terrific performance in his penultimate film. These things contribute to making A Most Wanted Man a good enough sit.

A Most Wanted Man is set in Germany and tells the story of what happens when a tortured half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant turns up in Hamburg’s Islamic community. US and German agencies take an interest in him when he lay’s claim to his father’s ill-conceived fortune. This leads a race, or chase of sorts, in order to uncover the most wanted man’s true identity. Is he an oppressed victim of circumstances or is he a destruction intended extremist?

A Most Wanted Man is a film that like most of le Carre’s works and adaptations is an unromantic spy thriller, featuring little action and more realism, with characters dealing with their actions through talk and not physical violence. This is not James Bond people. The movie also has twists and turns, along with a message about the problems of the immigration policy. In A Most Wanted Man there are no real good guys, just ambiguous characters whose motivations seem clear, but who you cannot be sure if you can trust. Director Anton Corbin (Control, The American) does a nice job of balancing the film’s “message” with the spy aspect of the film.

The best thing about A Most Wanted Man though are the performances. A Most Wanted Man has gained a lot of attention from film buffs and film critics for the fact that it features the second to final performance by acclaimed and academy award winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman (with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2 being his real final performances), who tragically took his own life months ago. Here Hoffman is at his best, as Gunther Bachmann, a German espionage agent who leads a team that seeks to develop intelligence from the local Muslim community. Along with a terrific German accent (making him sound almost unrecognizable), Hoffman is riveting in the role, being a subtle and somewhat dangerous performance as Bachmann. You’ve got Rachel McAdams as Annabel Ritcher, an, immigration lawyer; Willem Dafoe as Tommy Brue a banker; Robin Wright as Martha Sullivan an, American diplomat and Grigoriy Dobrygin as Issa Karpov, the immigrant also bring good acting support to the film. McAdams and Dafoe’s German accents are also impressive, but they are overshadowed by Hoffman’s superb performance.

The score to A Most Wanted Man is memorable for a chase sequence where Karpov is trying to get away from the agents and ends up running into a club where we hear an 80’s tune being played. During that scene the score sounds very frantic and dangerous, which is fitting given that the scene is about escaping.

A Most Wanted Man is not a perfect movie. It can, at times, drag on. However, as a second to final film for Philip Seymour Hoffman, it is, in many ways, a perfect end to his career. Even if Mockingjay Part 1 and 2 will be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last released films, A Most Wanted Man is the last film that cinema lovers will truly see him in, especially as one where he is the top billed actor, making this film in some ways very sad. That being said, A Most Wanted Man is recommended, not just as a celebration for one terrific actors’ last roles, but also as a smart spy thriller.

Rich Hill – A Review

 

Rich Hill is a very interesting documentary that gets its points across quite clearly. It deals with the subject of poverty and may be a hard documentary to watch, but the film is quite well made, regardless of how depressing the subject and it never tries to downplay that aspect.

 

Rich Hill, focuses on the lives of three different teenagers, Andrew, Appachey, and Harley, who are living in the impoverished Midwestern town of Rich Hill, Missouri, where filmmakers, who are also first cousins, Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo’s grandparents and parents lived.

 

Andrew is an athletic kid who lives with his mother and a dreaming father who sees no reason to keep a regular job, and takes drugs. Appachey is a chain smoker who lives in an out of control household, struggles with the authorities, and his need for freedom. While Harley, the oldest of three boys, lives with his grandmother, has a disorder connected to his mother being in prison because assaulted his father while he was abusing their son.

 

What I liked about Rich Hill, was its approach. Instead of just featuring interviews with the three young men (which the film did feature but only a few times), it also delved into their problems and backstories. We got to see into their lives and really learn just how messed up and pathetic things lives really are for them. In particular, Harley’s story was the most fascinating for me, as we saw him constantly try to get out of school because of his personal problems, despite the fact that eventually after weeks and weeks of making excuses, if he did leave school again, he would be arrested.

 

Even if Rich Hill is a depressing documentary, it also does have a bit of the optimism. Both the ending and other parts imply that these young men could be getting better. There may be a glimmer of hope for them, and this makes Rich Hill, less one-sided than one might expect. Parts of this documentary are hard to watch because of its truthfulness, but at the same time, seeing Andrew smile at one point makes up for the overall depressiveness.

 

Rich Hill is a documentary that some regular moviegoers might avoid because of its subject material. However once you get through the initial idea and the first parts of the documentary, you may find that it’s not as hard to watch as you think it is, aided by a strong musical score composed by Nathan Halpern. Rich Hill is a very fascinating look at the values of family life and the struggles people live with daily in an economically disadvantaged Midwestern small town. Rich Hill is not easy to watch, but its headed in all the right places.

Finding Fela – Review – Finding Out More about Fela than Just Nothing

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

Alex Gibney’s Finding Fela is a very nice documentary that recalls the life and times of Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti. Gibney does a good job of intercutting video footage of the musical artist, alongside interviews with people familiar with him, as well as his admirers. Though over long, this documentary does its job just fine.

The film takes us through Fela’s life, including interviews with people who knew or were familiar with the artist: his manager, Rikki Stein; his drummer, Tony Allen; Sandra Izadore, a musician who worked with him; and even a brief interview with Paul McCartney. It shows us his early days when as a young man he decided, while living in Nigeria, to head to London. Fela’s career rose as a popular musician, who used songs and words in the 1970’s, instead of violence, to protest the war in his country, as well as addressing other social issues going on in the world at that time. Fela eventually died from AIDS in 1997, and millions of people showed up at his funeral to pay their respects to him and what he stood for.

A lot of Finding Fela seems to be thrown together, but this film is intercut in a very interesting way. While it does tell us the story of Fela, this documentary is also about the making of a musical based off of Fela’s life. So while we (the audience) are watching the documentary styled life story, we are also being shown scenes from the musical being rehearsed as if they were being shown in a real historical documentary format. We even get a scene where we’re shown the shrine that Fela performed in as it is today and not just in the past or in clips. This way, the film is more than just a documentary, it is also an overall tribute to Fela’s influence and music.

The film portrays Fela as a human being, not as a hero or as a villain, but as someone who had flaws, such as his belief in unprotected sex which led to his contracting AIDS.  I admire the film for that, because it could have been a complete love letter and shown Fela as the perfect human being, when just like all of us, he wasn’t.

This is the first time I ever actually encountered Fela Kuti’s name. After watching this documentary, I’m actually interested in researching more about the singer who led a pretty interesting life, if this documentary is anything to go by.

Boyhood Review – A Film Experience

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

On first glance, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood might not even sound like it is anything special: just a film about a boy growing up. We’ve seen plenty of movies like that before, but when you discover just how they made Boyhood, it makes the film even more special. Boyhood is like no film I’ve ever seen before, and not because of the story, but its conception. Boyhood was shot over a 12 year period, with the same actors.  No kidding. The film is actually the most realistic portrayal of child to adult that I’ve ever seen. Boyhood isn’t just a great film, it’s also a great experience. Boyhood is literally life on film.

Filmed over exactly twelve years and forty five days, Boyhood is told through the eyes of a young boy named Mason (played by Ellar Coltrane). Boyhood follows Mason through various sequences of childhood: as a young six year old boy in 2002; during his preadolescence; his adolescence; and finally when he goes to college. The audience literally sees him grow up before our eyes. We also see Mason’s relationships with his parents, including his divorced mother (played by Patricia Arquette), his father (played by Ethan Hawke), and his older sister, Samantha (played by Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei).

Boyhood is a fantastic movie and opens perfectly with a shot of Mason looking up at the clouds in the sky (which is what is on the movie poster). The first shot is excellent because it helps to introduce us to Mason’s character, and it is also a perfect representation of what a child does: question and wonder, and look up at the blue sky outside.

As someone who grew up around the same time period as Mason’s character, I can attest to this film being a perfect time capsule of that period. It reminded of the innocence, the trends and fads, such as watching Dragon Ball Z, playing Pokemon, reading Harry Potter, exploring the outdoors with friends, using laptops and computers, listening to popular music bands of the time, and everything else that happened to me as a child. Much like Mason’s character, my mother moved us when I was younger, and I could relate to the pressures of losing friends and meeting new ones, as Mason did in the film when he moved to Texas.

This film features pretty great performances from all the actors here, especially since it was shot over a twelve year period, and you can tell by how much older the actors look at the end of the picture. Ellar Coltrane, in, basically, his acting debut since the film started in 2002, is really good. Even as a child, he is totally believable.  As an adolescent, he conveys great energy and the attitude of “I don’t care”.  Patricia Arquette is a revelation to me in this film. To be honest, I’ve never been much of a fan of hers, but with her portrayal as Mason’s mother (who doesn’t have a first name and is just referred to as mom even in the credits) is absolutely terrific. She plays a stressed out woman who has to raise two kids on her own. During the house scene, at the beginning of the film, we see her arguing with her then husband which eventually leads to their divorce. She is really strong at conveying her annoyance and frustration, and most of her best scenes are when she is angry. She conveys a lot of emotion and it shows her range. Ethan Hawke is also very good as Mason’s father. I particularly liked the scene where he is with his kids in the car and pretends to talk like their talking about their week when they’re really not (he is disappointed because his kids never talk about what their week was like). Richard Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei, who plays Mason’s older sister, Samantha, is very good, even cute at the beginning of the picture when she uses a fictional language that she created herself. She is also very good when she is being the very much stressed out, disobedient, teenage girl later on. On an interesting note, despite her character being older than Mason in the film, she is actually only three months older than Coltrane in real life.

What I especially liked about Boyhood was the character arc and relationships. Mason’s story is told over several episodes, and we do see his character change and grow: he goes from being a naïve young boy to a teenager who seems to be unsure of himself. The relationship between him and the various people in his life are interesting. His relationship with his father, for example, goes from being basically nonexistent and quiet, to the two actually bonding, especially when they go camping.  Mason’s relationship with his mother, however, is very sour throughout the film. Although this relationship could feel unsatisfied and unresolved, instead, it feels more like its only one small part of the bigger picture.

Boyhood is a film that gave me a feeling of satisfaction. Richard Linklater has really captured the feeling of childhood innocence and the struggles of growing up. I cannot recommend it more than this: Boyhood is a masterpiece of filmmaking and one of the very best films of the year.

Mood Indigo Review – What We Have Here is a Mood Shift Issue

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

Mood Indigo is an interesting film based off the novel by French author, Boris Vian.  With Michel Gondry’s sharp direction, a tone of satire and some funny moments, Mood Indigo should really work. However, watching the film all the way through, I can’t help but wonder if the movie would have been better had it not featured so many random and nonsensical scenes that overall didn’t do anything for the picture. Mood Indigo is an unusual movie that fits Gondry’s style (eg. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and from a filmmaking standpoint, it is fascinating to watch.

The film is set in a surreal Paris, and tells the story of a wealthy bachelor named Colin (played by Romain Duris), who spends his time developing a cocktail-making piano known as a pianocktail (not the most subtle of names), and devouring strange moving dishes prepared by his chef, Nicolas (played by Omar Sy).  Colin learns that his best friend, Chick (Gad Elmaleh), who is a fellow assistant of philosopher, Jean-Sol Partre (played by Philippe Torreton), has a new American girlfriend (played by Aissa Maiga, who is actually a Senegal born French actress doing an admirable job pretending that her French accent is low), and so he decides to attend a party in hopes that he may find someone for himself. There he meets Chloe (played by Audrey Tautou) and the two fall in love. Eventually an illness comes over Chloe, one very strange illness, as a flower begins to grow in her lungs. The only way Colin can save her, is to supply her with an endless amount of fresh flowers.

The opening of Mood Indigo introduces us to what most of the film’s tone will be as we are treated to a variety of things happening: people using typewriters in a room; then we cut to a man getting out of a bathtub; we see a rat, who is just a small guy in a rat suit etc.  Every single thing we see in the introduction relates in some way to some form of technology. The film seems to have a fascination with using technology in weird and unusual ways. I haven’t read the book it’s based off of, but from what I’ve heard, it also conveys unusual and bizarre things in it. This makes it interesting to watch, but I couldn’t possibly imagine few directors, other than Gondry, making this film work in any way, even if it ultimately makes little sense.

Among the things that I find fascinating and weird at the same time in the film include: throughout the film when objects are thrown and touched, multiple versions of them appear suddenly out of the blue; during the dance, the entire background of the area is blue; the ringer in Colin’s room is treated like a bug, and falls apart into little tiny robotic bugs anytime it makes a sound; the two couples, Chick and Alise, and Colin and Chloe (who are getting married), ride in small cars throughout the building in order to get to the wedding; and a man gets in a rocket suit with wings of sorts and goes into the sky, only for him to eventually fall back into the sky, among others.

Much like most of Gondry’s films including The Silence of The Sleep and Eternal Spotlight of The Sunshine Mind, this film is more about the fantastical elements, than it is about the actual performances. That said, this film features a fine cast, and most of the actors, including Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, and Omar Sy, are giving good performances. There are many things in this film that are honestly not needed, such as the small man in the rat suit, and the bird human lady at the ice rink. Some of these elements serve the story no purpose and are just there to give the film an even weirder feeling.

About an hour within the film, it takes a tonal shift and becomes more depressing as the wife become sick. This shift comes out of the nowhere, but given the story, it actually works. The lack of technology makes this apparent, as Gondry makes the film’s tone bleaker and depressing, with Chloe just about dying. By the end of the film, everything is in black and white, which is done to represent Colin’s loss of faith and feelings. One scene in particular, features a nice dangerous bit of music, as Colin chases his shadow down the road back home.

Aside from a few scenes, this film is never really boring. I can’t really recommend this film for the average moviegoer, but any film geek, like myself, would probably find it fascinating.

Begin Again A Review

Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.

John Carney’s Begin Again is a nice little somewhat “feel good” musical set in New York. The film features some very good performances and the songs are also memorable and well written.

Begin Again tells the story of Greta (played by Keira Knightley) and her boyfriend/college sweetheart, named Dave (played by Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and The Voice making his feature film debut), who are songwriter partners. Their relationship hits a rocky road when Dave lands a major deal in Los Angeles and strays away from Greta, leaving her on her own. She is discovered on an east village stage by a washed up divorced record label executive named Dan (played by Mark Ruffalo), who takes to her talent and tries to make her a name. As the two begin their collaboration, they run into some problems along the way.

There are some clear character arcs in the story as well. Dan, for example, goes from being an unlikeable drunk who is a disgraced and fired record producer, to having his job back, as well as improving his relationship with his daughter. Similarly, Greta goes from being a love-struck songwriter with no real ambitions to being an ambitious songwriter/singer who can clearly think on her own. The stories of these two characters parallel each other well. Other character arcs include Dan’s daughter, Violet (played by Hailee Steinfeld), who seems to have limited screen time (disappearing after the first ten minutes and not reappearing until an hour in), going from an angst-ridden daughter to discovering her talents for playing guitar. While Dave, Greta’s lover, goes from being an ambitious songwriter/singer to understanding just what fame is doing to him, in a story-arc that is almost like the opposite of Greta’s.

The acting in the film is very good. Mark Ruffalo has gained some weight, and is showing his age. When he talks to Knightley near the end of the film and says “you know nothing”, he delivers that line with such energy and force, it is terrific. Keira Knightly herself comes off as rather bitchy at the beginning of the film, but by the end, she develops into a finer character, even if her performance at times can feel emotionless. Hailee Steinfeld, as Ruffalo’s daughter, is wasted and brings nothing to the table. Similarly, Catherine Keener is wasted as Ruffalo’s ex, and her character is treated like your typical divorced nagging ex-wife. In his major film debut, singer Adam Levine has a nice voice, but his performances are, at times, bland, though his scenes with Knightley do show good moments of acting. Additionally, of note in the cast are Mos Def (under the alias Yasiin Bey!!!) as the owner of the record studio and Ceelo Green as a character named Troublegum, as a performer (basically playing himself).

The songs are really nicely done. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Knightley and Ruffalo are walking down the streets of New York and they manage to incorporate “Luck Be a Lady” by Frank Sinatra in a way that gave me a feeling of happiness and excitement.  The majority of the original songs are written by Gregg Alexander and Nick Lashley (director John Carney himself contributed to two songs, including “Like a Fool” which has to do with trusting people. Knightley herself has a nice singing voice (having been trained by a voice specialist), and songs like “Lost Stars” and “A Higher Place” are good and having meaning. There are many good performances, even if some of the characters exist solely for the purpose of having real nice songs played.  Given Carney’s previous film, Once, one should probably not be surprised, as that film also dealt with music.

Begin Again has a very pleasing tone to it. The songs, along with the character arcs, contribute to the films overall style. Definitely worth checking out.