REVIEW: Frank

17 06 2014

Los Angeles Film Festival

Early on in Lenny Abrahamson’s “Frank,” Domhnall Gleeson’s character Jon poses a question that might as well be on behalf of the audience: what’s the deal with the paper-mache head that Michael Fassbender’s Frank won’t take off?  Scoot McNairy’s Don, who has been working in a band with Frank for many years, tries to explain but ultimately admits, “You’re just going to have to go with this.”

The same mantra could apply to the rest of the film, where Abrahamson and screenwriter Jon Ronson string us along for a bizarre ride that offers very little explanation for itself.  It sometimes teeters on the verge of being a Dadaist piece, but it mostly just fizzles with forced quirkiness that never connects.  The scattershot tone of the piece makes it a real head-scratcher, too.

Frank

“Frank” is not without its amusing moments, nor is it an entirely meandering film.  At times, it feels like an ultra indie-fied version of “Almost Famous” as Jon attempts to be taken seriously by Frank’s bonkers band.  He takes over for a keyboardist who attempts to drown himself, presumptively because he is so frustrated with the unnecessarily rigorous creative process Frank demands.  I’ll stop short of saying I wished I could be in his position, being carted off in an ambulance rather than being forced to endure the whims of the giant head, but it’s overall pretty brutal.

I think many of the issues I had with “Frank” arose from the relatively minor progression of the plot.  It’s not a film carried by the characters; they all feel as if they’ve escaped from some “Saturday Night Live” skit mocking the esoteric kinds of hipster bands that play at Coachella.  (Not kidding, one song in the film sung by Maggie Gyllenhaal begins, “I want to marry a lighthouse keeper.”)

The performances aren’t particularly strong either, not even from Fassbender.  We don’t get to see him emote underneath the mask, which just made me realize how crucial his face is to conveying the inner turmoil of characters.  His nondescript body movements don’t communicate well in “Frank” either, and I found my thoughts drifting to ponder whether it was in fact Fassbender at all.

I don’t want to spoil the film, but there is brief confirmation that the Oscar-nominated actor did film a scene for the film.  Though a part of me does have to wonder if maybe the real joke of “Frank” is pulling a fast one on its audience by putting someone else under the big head.  It would certainly be in line with the odd sense of humor that pervades the rest of the film.  C2stars

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REVIEW: Hysteria

16 10 2012

In high school, I was incredibly involved in the close analysis of theatre. In college, I’ve switched over almost exclusively to film.  But since I write a blog reviewing movies, I think you probably know which medium I favor.

So you may be surprised to hear me recommend that you read a play rather than watch a movie, but the invention of the vibrator has been done better by a playwright.  While “Hysteria” is fine and dandy – OK, that was being way too nice, it was actually vapid and unremarkable in every way – the topic has been handled with far more thought by Sarah Ruhl in “In The Next Room (The Vibrator Play).”  Ruhl’s play was nominated for a Tony Award; I think Tanya Wexler’s film will be lucky to compete for a spot in my year-end most forgettable list.

Ruhl understood that there’s a very strong parallel between what happened in the Victorian era with women’s health and sexuality and what is happening now.  When such a relevance is inherent in the material, you can’t ignore that!  But Wexler does, and her film suffers from being cursory and surface-level to the point of fault.

If you’ve read “In the Next Room” and then watch “Hysteria” (which admittedly few probably have), you will undoubtedly be disappointed in Wexler’s blunder.  But even if you haven’t read the Ruhl play, I still think you’ll be disappointed … just in a different way.

You’ll find the film has no urgency.  You’ll find the romance between Hugh Dancy’s Dr. Granville and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s loony Charlotte Dalrymple is unconvinced and undeveloped.  You’ll find that, whether you watch from intellect or for humor, there are better ways to be stimulated.  Pun fully intended.  C / 





2009: Best Supporting Actress

2 03 2010

It’s here.

By this point, the ballots are in, and all the campaigning is over. The politics of the Oscars are over, and now we are just left with the scripts, the performances, and the movies.  Rather than do one big post discussing and analyzing all of the categories, I want to use this week to honor the films and performances themselves.

Penelope Cruz in “Nine”

IN MY OWN WORDS: “Cruz is absolutely mesmerizing from the first instant we see her traipsing around on some pink fabric.”

She’s here because … she was the highlight of a pretty disastrous movie, pulling off one of the year’s sexiest performances.

Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air”

IN MY OWN WORDS: “Vera Farmiga walks a very thin line between “feminine and agressive,” according to Reitman, and she never gives us any hint that she will lose her balance.”

She’s here because … she is a delightful female counterpart to George Clooney, and her performance illuminates Clooney’s character as a whole.

Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart”

IN MY OWN WORDS: “It’s a performance very much in Gyllehaal’s comfort zone, and she’s pleasant to watch.”

She’s here because … she holds her own against the renowned Jeff Bridges, and she has a lot of respect amongst actors (not unlike her co-star).

Anna Kendrick in “Up in the Air”

IN MY OWN WORDS: [Kendrick] doesn’t show promise as a star; Natalie Keener has made her one.

She’s here because … she is a brilliant discovery, making uptight lovable and reminding us of the happiness and pain that comes with having real human relationships.

Mo’Nique in “Precious”

IN MY OWN WORDS: “Mo’Nique delivers a performance that is absolutely harrowing.”

She’s here because … this is the most emotionally gripping performance of 2009, and it’s equally shocking to think that it comes from the actress who headlined “Phat Girlz” three years ago.

Marshall’s “Oscars”

The Academy did a pretty good job this year. My top five match 4/5 with their list.

I would replace Maggie Gyllenhaal with Rosamund Pike for “An Education.”  Both played relatively simple characters: Gyllenhaal the devoted single mother and Pike the dumb blonde.  But the distinction arises from what they do with it.  Gyllenhaal seems complacent with sticking to the stock character; on the other hand, Pike does fascinating things with Helen.  I didn’t feel like I was watching the ten millionth air-headed rich blonde because Pike made it feel refreshing and new.

In my review, I said about Pike:

“The performance that will probably go criminally unheralded is Rosamund Pike as one of David’s companions.  She is the typical ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype, but she brings her own flair to it in a way that makes the tired stock character seem brand new.  When she is on screen, you can’t help but grin.”

So, at Marshall’s Oscars, the nominees are…

Penelope Cruz, “Nine”
Vera Farmiga, “Up in the Air”
Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”
Mo’Nique, “Precious”
Rosamund Pike, “An Education”

In case you don’t realize this, my favorite is revealed in the “should win” listed below.

Predictions

Should win: Mo’Nique, “Precious”
Could win: Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”
Will win: Mo’Nique, “Precious”

No way in hell anyone other than Mo’Nique wins. She’s just too good.





REVIEW: Crazy Heart

28 02 2010

Whenever I wrote about “Crazy Heart” back in December in an Oscar Moment, I lampooned it for its obvious similarities to last year’s “The Wrestler.”  Turns out, I was right.

But “The Wrestler” was a killer movie.  And so is “Crazy Heart.”

Sure, it loses some originality points, but that doesn’t make the character study any less effective or entertaining.  It also doesn’t suffer because it adding elements of another great movie, “Walk the Line,” with its background in country music and some very catchy songs.

“Crazy Heart” follows washed-up country singer Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) trudging through an increasingly insignificance as a performer.  He has gone from packing in crowds in Nashville to empty bowling alleys in Santa Fe.  He certainly isn’t doing himself any favors with his raging alcoholism and his refusal to churn out any new material.  But over the course of the film, he realizes, although somewhat reluctantly, Bad Blake begins to change his ways.  The main impetus comes from a younger journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who looks beyond the singer for her interview.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 18, 2009)

18 12 2009

This week’s “F.I.L.M.” is “Sherrybaby,” a gritty tale of a former drug addict trying to turn her life around after her release from jail.  The titular character is played with great emotional intensity (hence a disclaimer is necessary) by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and her performance earned a much-deserved Golden Globe nomination.  Unfortunately, she could not propel the movie to financial success, as shown by its $200,000 gross and widest release of 13 theaters.  But nevertheless, “Sherrybaby” is still worth the 90 minutes of your time because of its unsparingly bleak portrayal of a flawed woman forced to confront the consequences of her actions in a decidedly unforgiving world.

After being sprung from the slammer, Sherry has many issues to deal with, but first and foremost to her is to be a good mother to her daughter, who has been living with her brother and his wife.  However, a rift develops over where the true parenting duties lie between the two parties, and Sherry’s distress distracts from the other improvements she has to make in her life.  You know, like steering clear of drugs, getting a job, and staying within the confines of her parole.  As the struggle continues, stability becomes harder to maintain, and Sherry begins to crave what she has forsaken.

In 2006, the year “Sherrybaby” was released, Helen Mirren won Best Actress for her role in “The Queen” that I felt was played completely in cruise control.  Gyllenhaal, on the contrary, is at full-throttle intensity from start to finish.  Her performance is devastatingly raw and wholeheartedly convincing.  She goes all out to make this character real, willing to bear it all (meant quite literally…multiple times) and risk it all.  Her mettle pays its dividends, and Sherry is a remarkable achievement of acting.  The character is somewhat erratic and out of control, but we never doubt that Gyllenhaal is in full control.  As her star shines brighter among mainstream actresses, perhaps she will return to independent film and infuse another role with the same potency she displayed here.





What To Look Forward To In … December 2009

14 11 2009

What is in my mind the finest month for the movies is almost here!  Let Marshall guide you through the best and steer you away from the worst, but most of all enjoy!  The studios have been holding back their best movies all year to dump them all here, where they can get serious awards consideration.

December 4

A major Oscars wild-card is “Brothers.”  No one really knows what to make of it.  If the movie hits big, it could completely change the game.  But it could just fly under the radar like most expect it to now.  However, the trailer makes it look as if it the movie could be absolutely mind-blowing.  Directed by Jim Sheridan, who has received six Academy Award nominations, “Brothers” follows Grace Cahill (Natalie Portman) as she and her daughters deal with the loss of her husband, Sam (Tobey Maguire), in war.  Sam’s brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to live with Grace to lend a helping hand.  But romantic sparks fly between the two at precisely the wrong time: the discovery that Sam is alive and coming home.  With the two brothers both tugging Grace’s heart for their share, a different type of sparks fly.

You have heard me say plenty about “Up in the Air.”  If you haven’t read my Oscar Moment on the movie or heard my bliss at the release of the trailer, let me give you one more chance to hope on the bandwagon.

But the movies don’t stop there.  “Armored,” an action-drama that is tooting its own moral horn, starring Matt Dillon and Laurence Fishburne.  “Everybody’s Fine” appears to be a holiday movie, so that might be worth checking out if you’re in the spirit.  The movie, a remake of a 1990 Italian film by the same name, stars Robert DeNiro as a widower who reconnects with his estrange children.  And “Transylmania” looks to cash in on the vampire craze sweeping the nation by satirizing it, but I doubt it will be financially viable because it is being released by a no-name studio and without any big names.

December 11

The highlight of the weekend for many will be “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to the traditional animation by hand musical.  The movie looks to capitalize on what we know and love Disney musicals for, adding some catchy tunes to a fairy tale we have known since childhood.  Anika Noni Rose, best known for her role as Lorrell in the film adaptation of “Dreamgirls,” lends her talented voice to the princess Tiana.  As a huge fan of “Dreamgirls” during the winter of 2006, I couldn’t think of someone better equipped to handle the sweet, soft Disney music (which isn’t designed for belters like Beyoncé or Jennifer Hudson).  That being said, the music won’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard from a Disney fairy tale.  It is being scored by Randy Newman, not Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” etc.), and will have a jazzy feel much like its setting, New Orleans.

This week also boasts the opening of three major Oscar players. Two have been featured in Oscar Moments, “Invictus” and “A Single Man.” The former opens nationwide this Friday, the latter only in limited release. I’ll repost the trailers below because they are worth watching. But read the Oscar Moment if you want to know more about the movies.

According to the people that matter, “The Lovely Bones” has all the pieces to make a great movie. But for summer reading two years ago, I read the source material, Alice Sebold’s acclaimed novel. I found it dreadfully melodramatic and very depressing without any sort of emotional payoff to reward the reader for making it through. But maybe Hollywood will mess up the novel in a good way. If any movie could, it would be this one. With a director like Peter Jackson and a cast including Saiorse Ronan (“Atonement”), Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon, it could very well happen.  It opens in limited release on this date and slowly expands until its nationwide release on Martin Luther King Day weekend in 2010.

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