Frank

My God, where to start with Frank? This is a tough one to review. Major spoilers ahead.

Frank centers around a local keyboard player who is absorbed into an avant-garde band by sheer luck. Unbeknownst to him until his first gig starts, the band is fronted by a man named Frank, who wears a giant, fiberglass (papier-mâché?) helmet-like head, 24/7, like a sort of home-made college mascot costume with only the head.

Frank, the character, is the leader of the band, a philosopher, a writer, a musician, a person that despite his lack of a human face is able to communicate his thoughts and intentions better than anyone else in the group.

Frank, the movie, stats off being somewhat of a wry comedy, with Frank being silly but personable, the other characters in the band being extreme, and our keyboard player, whose eyes the story is told through, slowly trying to take over the band due to a desire to be… to be … I’m not sure, probably famous and recognized as a serious musician, but he’s accidentally got himself caught up in this Frank-led band that seems to have no direction, no philosophy, marginal talent but an undying dedication to, at the very least, the idea of Frank the character.

It’s all quite charming and funny for a while, but by the end Frank has suffered through several different stages of mental breakdown. The surprise to the audience, however, is that Frank has been severely mentally ill the whole time, we just didn’t notice. Which in some ways is what made the movie so ingenious.

During the final scene in the movie I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be crying my eyes out because Frank had made a breakthrough, or if I was supposed to be crying my eyes out because I was witnessing Frank’s last failed, desperate attempt to reconnect to reality. Either way it was thoroughly depressing.

So how do you judge a movie like that? It was certainly a good movie, in an academic sense. The acting was great. Pacing, direction, etc. was spot on. There were emotional highs and lows, it made you think, especially given the recent suicide of Robin Williams. But in the end you leave the theater feeling like shit, so is that a thumbs … up?

I just shotgunned five episodes of The Simpsons, and I’m thinking of watching Vera Drake so I can cheer myself up a little bit before I go to bed. It’s hard to know whether or not to recommend it. I haven’t seen anything like Frank in quite some time (maybe ever), it was a challenging movie to sit through, so what’s there to say about a movie where I’m significantly less happy when I leave than when I came in?

The One I Love

Not that anyone reading this is going to go out and see this movie (if you could even find it) but it’s the kind of movie that’s hard to talk about in a spoiler-free way, which should already tell you something about it.

It starts out as a story of a couple that has become too comfortable with each other, but also might have some underlying tension, evidenced by their story starting out in the office of a couple’s therapist. He sends them to a private retreat where they can find themselves, in some ways using ‘find’ as a literal. But now I’ve said too much.

Since it involves the Duplass brothers you can bet some weird shit is going to happen. But it’s weird shit that somehow fits the story of a couple falling apart, and desperately trying to reconnect, in a way that a lot of conventional relationship movies can’t address.

Once the couple accepts what’s happening to them, the story deftly explores relationship questions about honesty, wants and needs, and whether or not it’s desirable to have secrets, how to ask for what you want even when you don’t know what that is, and how to figure out if your wife is a robot (just kidding, it’s not about robots.)

It’s been over a day since I saw the movie and at the time it didn’t really float my boat, I thought it was okay. But now that I’ve had a day to think about it I think I appreciate the quality of the writing more than I did yesterday. The story weaves several different elements together that needed to be coordinated just right to keep the movie afloat, and having given it more thought I’m impressed that they were able to pull it off.

Guardians of the Galaxy

I initially wasn’t planning on seeing this one. For one, the commercials made it look stupid. Secondly, the nerd-o-spehere was all atwitter over it, which usually means it’s going to be crap.

But then every critic I respect loved it and I figured I had to see what all the hubbub was about. The hubbub was about it being a really good, really fun movie.

I’m not sure what part these characters play in the ‘Marvel Universe’ but they seem to kind of stand on their own. The plot was simple and the villain(s) not extremely menacing. The fun is mostly with Chris Pratt who has the reluctant, slacker hero thing wired. The supporting cast, including a mutant raccoon voiced by The Coop, were all great, too. Some of the funniest parts are when they’re all together arguing about something.

The film isn’t exactly a straight comedy but it’s certainly more funny than the other Marvel movies we’re used to. But when it needs it, Guardians of the Galaxy can pull some real emotion out of the story, which was surprising given the generally light tone of most of the movie.

Anyway, believe the hype. It’s just that good. I might even preorder the bluray, and that’s saying something.

Magic in the Moonlight

What’s with me going to see Woody Allen movies all of a sudden. Jeez. I never thought in a million years …

I didn’t like this one as much as Blue Jasmine for one very big reason, and my wife agreed with me so I know I’m not wrong. The direction, and by extension the acting style.

My wife was better at articulating it when she said that the movie took on the personality of the director. There was lot of banter, a lot of fast-moving conversations that quickly switched between speakers in an unnatural, neurotic way. Everyone hit their cues perfectly, nobody missed a beat. To me, it had the feeling of a stage play and it just didn’t work. It was very distracting, which is saying something considering the costumes, sets, writing and cinematography were so incredible.

The story revolves around an early century (20th century) magician who is called upon to debunk a medium who is allegedly preying on a family friend of a colleague. Colin Firth and Emma Stone are as charming as usual, but squished into a mold usually occupied by an old, short, hunched over Jewish director does not play well. I’m not sure what happened between Blue Jasmine and now, but the film would have been better served with the directing style of the former.

Lucy

So in some ways I think Scarlett Johansson is growing on me a little bit. I never thought she was a very good actress, and doesn’t seem to have the chops to pull off pure acting roles. But recently, most notably in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, she has proven she can pull off the aloof, wry, sarcastic character that can kick you in the face that is required for a role like Black Widow.

In Lucy, she plays a character that slowly loses her humanity and it plays to her otherwise stiff acting skills in the same way Keanu Reeves was perfect as Neo in The Matrix trilogy.

Through circumstances outside her control, Lucy gains the ability to use her entire brain over the course of the movie. The initial plot device, that humans only use 10% of their brain’s capacity, is an old worn out trope that was never considered a truth in real life, but it doesn’t matter as it’s only needed as a jumping off point to articulate the evolution of the character from a normal human being to one with an understanding of the world that’s well beyond the capacity of current human intelligence. This is grade A science fiction, and not the usual ‘science horror’ or fantasy* disguised as science fiction because spaceships. It’s fantastical and unrealistic but believable and smart, like good science fiction tends to be.

The end gets a little bananas and there’s one particular visual effect that was laughable, but director Luc Besson knows his way around a movie set. The direction and pacing were excellent and the few pure action scenes were very well executed. He thew in a car chase scene with only one car that was better than anything else I can remember from recent memory. But in the end the film had a more humanist message and perhaps leaves us with more questions than answers regarding the nature of intelligence and what the next step in human evolution might be. (How very Kubrick-esque)

* I’ve been reading a lot about this movie the last couple days and had a bit of an epiphany about the definition of science fiction. I never really thought about it and perhaps most people already have this distinction in mind when they go to see a film like this. You’ll often hear people, critics, refer to films like Lucy as ‘smart’ science fiction, as if there’s a genre of ‘dumb’ science fiction. But what I think they’re really getting at, whether they know it or not, is that a lot of what is purported to be science fiction is not science fiction at all, but fantasy. Take Star Wars. People of a certain age, myself included, consider The Empire Strikes Back as one of the best films ever made. But is it science fiction? I think it’s often lumped into that category but now I’m not so sure that’s accurate. What’s science-y about it? It takes place in a world that doesn’t exist. Does it ask questions or provide answers to anything vaguely having to do with science? It’s certainly fiction, but not based on reality. That there is fantasy. Maybe Star Trek is a step closer to science fiction, as science and technology play a major role in that world, which is an extension of the future Earth and the expansion of human knowledge. Lucy falls on the far end of the fantasy->science spectrum. It’s *about* science but woven in to a human story so we mere mortals can relate to it. Looper was *about* science but, again, woven into a human story so as to not get caught up in the jargon and minutiae of the technology. It’s a distinction I’ve never thought about until now but will certainly have in mind as I watch movies that fall under the science fiction umbrella, whether they belong there or not. I’m wondering if I’ve ever disliked a fantasy movie because it claimed to be science fiction, or vice versa.

Wish I Was Here

Zach Braff makes movies less frequently than Tool releases albums. It’s been a long time coming since Garden State.

The main way I can describe this one is that it’s Zach Braffian. It’s mostly sort of realistic with a little surrealism thrown in, and a great deal of schmaltz. I’m not sure why I was able to put up with it so much. Ha ha. I must have been in a good mood.

I think a lot of it had to do with the acting. Braff is okay, but he was smart to hire the great Mandy Patinkin and the surprisingly good Kate Hudson to share the screen with him. Even when delivering somewhat cliche lines, you really believe Patinkin means what he’s saying. The one scene Mandy and Kate shared, alone, in the movie was by far the best one.

So I don’t know, my wife didn’t like it but couldn’t quite put her finder on why. I might feel the same way with regard to why I liked it. It was just real enough to be believable, just fantastical enough to not get in the way, just genuine enough to make you care for the characters.