Frank, otherwise known as the Michael Fassbender in a giant papier mache head movie, is delightfully one of the weirder films that will hit (kinda)mainstream cinemas this year. Which is kind of good, because anything less than that level of weirdness would have been a bit of a let-down given all the giant head stuff going on.
You wouldn’t know it from the marketing material, but Fassbender’s Frank is not really the film’s protagonist, or at least not the audience’s window into the film. That would be Jon, played by Domhnall Gleeson, a struggling songwriter and keyboard player who lands himself a one-off gig with Frank’s band. The gig does not exactly go well, but a few weeks later Jon finds himself working on an album with the band in an isolated Scottish wilderness. Jon’s journey is one about the desire and passion to do well and is also very much about the creative process. It is something that must be laboured at, but it also requires a certain ‘magical’ spark to ignite that work. One of the great strengths of the film is that it does a good job of telling this journey, whilst also establishing quite different ones for other characters. I was a little taken aback by just how funny Frank was because for some reason I thought the film was a drama. I laughed more in the first half of this film than I have watching any other 2014 release, with its array of really clever scriptwriting and a fair splash of over the top idiocy too. It is so refreshing to see an indie film (whatever that means these days) be unafraid to trade in a little jauntiness and rambunctiousness to accompany its brooding. It is a shame then, that the more serious second half is not quite as successful as the more straight up comedy of the first. Part of this is the imposition of something approaching a traditional ‘final act’ onto the film where the stronger earlier half of the film was not really concerned with story as such.
As well as being hilarious, aspects of Frank are quite serious and dark. The second half of the film, set predominately around the SXSW festival brings the themes of the creative process and ‘selling out’, to their more serious conclusion. Not only more serious, but a little more familiar as well. Some of the beats here are ones that it seems every single band biopic needs to hit, even if this does hit some of them with more originality than most. On the ‘dark’ front, Scoot McNairy spearheads a subplot of a man struggling to subdue his sexual urges to “fuck mannequins.” This subplot was confronting but simultaneously both funny and boundary pushing. It got me pondering what passes as bold or crass comedy in cinema these days. Every film that thinks dropping a rape joke in a film makes it edgy (which is close to every comedy I’ve seen this year), should watch Frank for a lesson in how to push the boundaries, be uncompromising in your film and not resort to utter crassness or offensiveness. The ending is both dark and serious, engaging in the theme of mental illness in a way that is thoughtful but also perhaps the slightest bit unsatisfying. As a big fan of Monsters (2010) it has been awesome to see Scoot McNairy in not one, but two films of late. He appeared in The Rover (2014) as well as this film. Hopefully we keep seeing more of him, because at the very least he is a really effective supporting character actor and creates something pretty complex in this film with his limited screen time. Domhnall Gleeson continues to hone his somewhat malleable onscreen presence, which I think works in this role and it also helps you forget this is Brendan Gleeson’s son. The much-written about performance from Fassbender is downright impressive as well, conveying so much through his voice and occasional tics underneath that giant head.
It is always so lovely to see a distinctive and weird film garner both buzz and a decent release. Sure having a gimmicky papier mache head containing Fassbender helped. But Frank is much more than just that and is especially worth checking out in a year that is shaping as being pretty devoid of decent comedies. It also culminates in a rousing musical moment that is like no other.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
Well with Ridley Scott and Cormac McCarthy involved, plenty of people are pretty psyched for this one. I couldn’t dine the exact trailer I have seen in cinemas out here a bunvh of times recently. But I love this. Gives very little away which is such a refreshing change. But what a bloody cast to go with the firector and the writer. I will most certainly be checking this one out.
The internet has essentially exploded since Prometheus opened, with in-depth discussion of it’s themes and exploration of life’s great questions. A friend of mine wrote this piece and posted it on Facebook, and I think that it offers an interesting perspective on the film, from the point of view of a massive fan of the series’ original two films. It also addresses the vexed ‘prequel’ question which I think has flown under the radar. This guest blog comes to you thanks to Steve Crilly who wrote it, and was kind enough to let me publish it.
This isn’t really a review. My ‘review’ of Prometheus could very well be summed up in one sentence: “I wish they hadn’t bothered”. Nor is it an in-depth analysis in the vein of several literally novella-length theses that I have seen on the film’s themes. I don’t want to do that because I don’t think Prometheus merits the treatment.
For the benefit of anyone who is yet to see the film, this will be extremely spoiler-heavy.
My main issue with Prometheus stems from the fact that it is a prequel, despite attempts to distance it from the Alien series. It’s very definitely a direct prequel in two senses. First, it directly precedes Alien. Second, it’s an obvious tee-up for Prometheus II, which I really hope is never filmed but which I suspect is inevitable. Most of my issues with Prometheus stem from the fact that it is a prequel in the former sense, but the latter is relevant too, if only because it means that they might make more of this crap.
Alien has the probably unique distinction of being one of my favourite films in not one but two genres: science fiction and horror. A lot of what makes it great actually stems from limitations on what filmmakers could do in 1979, and how those problems were overcome. Consider the penultimate scene when Ripley finally banishes the Alien into space and char grills it with the shuttle’s engines. The following things look dated and kind of stupid: (1) the painted space background, (2) the ship model, (3) the Alien itself in full view, which is gangly, awkward, and, in that shot, obviously a doll on a string.
The ways in which Ridley Scott got around the limits imposed by his budget and the era make the film iconic. He kept the action mostly inside, in dark and claustrophobic corridors and halls full of painstakingly painted, instantly recognisable HR Giger artwork. He shot the film so that the action is brutal and finished in an instant. Above all, he only showed snatches of the Alien – second-long flashes of teeth, spines and slime – and let viewers’ imaginations fill in the blanks. By adopting these measures, he produced something visually stunning, innovative, and deeply unnerving.
2012 isn’t 1979. With the full array of CGI available to them, filmmakers don’t have to be inventive as they once did. So, instead of a largely hidden alien that strikes from the shadows, we get a giant tentacle rape monster attacking a huge, pale super-human. This immediately follows a spaceship collision that had me looking for Michael Bay’s name in the credits. The disturbing rape and unnatural pregnancy motifs from the originals – not exactly subtle, mind, when people are ‘impregnated’ by oral penetration and phallic aliens burst from their chests – could not be more literally rendered in Prometheus. Anyone who’s seen it knows which scene I’m talking about.
The reason that I can’t forgive Prometheus is it that whatever its pretentions to philosophy, it turns Alien into a failed summer blockbuster (cf Aliens, which turned it into a great summer blockbuster). The question it naturally raises is whether Alien would have been any good if it had been filmed for the first time in 2012. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. However it came about, Alien is a great film (though not without its flaws). But Prometheus isn’t like Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, or those other two of which we shall not speak. This isn’t a set of rookie writers and directors shambling along to mortgage the franchise’s remaining dignity for a few million dollars. Ridley Scott directed Alien. He had a huge budget and full creative control of Prometheus. And he fucked up.
It’s not just the lack of subtlety that irks me about the film. It’s that it makes no goddamn sense. Elizabeth Shaw turns into an action heroine immediately after undergoing major surgery without anaesthesia. There’s no hint of her sterility until about six second before it becomes a plot point. Guy Pearce is totally superfluous, because Shaw’s love interest fills the zealot role and needn’t have died when he does. I don’t mind characters being around as alien fodder, (see: every character in the first two films except Ripley, Newt, the only guy in Aliens who wasn’t a total cock, the robots, and that cat) but I don’t see what the fuck Charlize Theron’s character is doing there except as a contrast to people who aren’t total knobs. I’m sure that Idris Elba can lift a flamethrower, and she doesn’t even get eaten for Christ’s sake. I have no idea why the geologist comes back as a zombie. I just don’t see why that is a thing. For that matter, does the black goop dissolve people, zombify them, spontaneously create snake monsters, or all of the above?
And so on. Basically, this wasn’t a worthy addition to the Alien canon. Worse, moving away from the events of the Sigourney Weaver films, now there’s a real chance that in a few years’ time I will find myself in a dark cinema, subjecting myself to Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender’s head going off on a buddy movie road trip to meet and possibly kill humanity’s makers. I will see the Prometheus sequel if it happens, but I am also going to bring a bottle of gin.
– by Steve Crilly