Frank


This film by Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, 2012), is loosely based on the memoirs of Jon Ronson who had been keyboard player to the original Frank. And that was my problem.
You see being Irish, I remember the original Frank (the late Chris Sievey) who was a comedian and musician, the head was an on-stage persona and I have to say he kind of freaked me as a kid. Thankfully Abrahamson did not go with the original instead, he used the memoirs as an inspiration for what he went on to make. So with that in mind what did he do?
Abrahamson took the idea of Frank (Michael Fassbender, Hunger 2008) and his band and turned it in to a highly entertaining, witty and original piece. It is essentially a one-trick donkey but the trick carries throughout the film. The trick is about Jon Ronson , or more particularly his character Jon Burroughs (Donal Gleeson, About Time, 2012) who is a frustrated song writer who meets a rather eccentric group just as they lose their key-board player.
Whiling away his life trying to write songs from the life around him Jon is a study on mediocrity, even his twitter account is only more than a dozen people, but on lunch one day he comes across the band and is invited to gig with them that night (replacing the current keyboard player who has just tried to drown himself). Jon heads to the gig, which turns out to be a case-study in chaos. The gig ends , they drive off and Jon is left disillusioned and more-than-ever dreaming of musical success. Then out of the blue one day, they ring him and ask him to join them for something they are doing in Ireland, Jon gladly says yes and heads off for what he thinks in a weekend in Dublin.
Pretty soon is becomes clear to Jon that the band member s are all quite eccentric and not just Frank. Indeed there is a certain hostility to him from some quarters. He quickly befriends the band’s “manager” and former keyboard player, Don (Scott McNairy) from whom he learns that Frank and Don met in a mental hospital. The rest of the band is made up of the Theremin playing Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart, 2009) who resents Jon’s presence as much out of jealousy as any other reason and who give an intense performance such as to the extent that Jon at one stage asks her what she was in hospital for; to which she clarified that she was not mentally ill, his dead-pan response was that he had presumed she was mentally ill, it was a matter-of-fact reply with no malicious intent, nicely delivered.
Frank never takes off the head, and also has a medical cert to prove that he has a psychological condition, this of course intrigues Jon. As he begins to experience Frank and the band Jon jumps in with all the vigour of one new to the experience, only to learn very quickly not to expect his contributions to be noted or used. His fascination with Frank and the Band actually grows and Jon is swept along with the experience, even if he is capable of realising just how unique an experience it is. He wants to find out what is it that makes somebody a great song writer, he is convinced it is the experience of live, for the other it was situations like mental hospitals or prisons, this would be his mental hospital.
Jon ends up financing their year- long stay in a cabin in Ireland . It took a year due to Frank’s exactness and refusal to record anything until he is happy with the sound. This is an excellent piece of cinema, original, challenging and ever so much slight “off-track”, however it always stays on the right side of the joke, never tipping into obscurity. Much happens in the year long journey which eventually sees them making their way to a gig in Texas, but before they do they, must deal with the loss of Don whose daemons finally over-came him. The gig in Texas came about from Jon putting clips on the band on Youtube and tweeting about them, it becomes clear that he is getting a following. Frank is amazed and agrees to Texan while Clara is against it – she is only in it for the music and might even prefer if they had no fans.
While in Texas things become intense resulting in Frank going missing and Jon setting off to find him and bring him back, some months later he tracks him down to his parent home. The music to the film is original and performed by the cast. In some places it is highly experimental, while in others it resembles a Sigur Rós album (which is a good thing). At one point watching Maggie Gyllenhaal perform on stage I was reminded of the Midnight cabaret from Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 1999) indeed much of the story line is similar, people leaving all they have to chase a dream, a dream that does not always come true, but they keep chasing. That said, another Irish based movie also springs to mind; Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place, 2011. A musician looking for his place in the world, a not very conventional place, but one none-the-less
And why not, a person may not find their dreams but maybe they will find something else along the way, perhaps something ,more valuable.
****stars, Original and smart, it will keep you entertained.

They Came Back (Les Revenants, The Returned) 2004

Directed and co-written by Robin Campillo (The Class, 2008) and Brigitte Tijou (Riviera, 2005), this quite original piece deals with the returning dead in a way not often seen. The film concentrates on event s through the eyes of the local s of a small town in central France. The opening scenes are of events surrounding the returning as they are being outlined by the Mayor (Victor Garrivier, French Kiss, 1995) of the town as he briefs officials.

It turns out that the returned all came back in roughly a 2 hour window one day. Looking to the dead in detail society quickly sets about learning how to deal with the returned. It seems that those who returned were all dead less than 10 years and present no outwardly physical signs of having been dead. It quickly becomes apparent that the returned are lacking a certain “fire”. One of the officials states that they will never be able to use initiative and should not be given positions of authority, regardless of their previous functions in life.

What we see as the movie progresses is how society copes with these Returned. There are both the larger macro issues of how to house and rehabilitate them. the movie smartly deals with many of the issues we often glance over in such productions, what happens to the dead in the world of the living, can they get their property or old jobs back? How are they fitting in socially and are they being welcomed back by everybody? The central or unifying part of the movie is the city council and how they are dealing with the situation. This is a clever device as it allows us to be told the story exactly as Camillo wants us to hear it, it also allows us an introduction to key characters and how they interact between themselves and the returned.

With this device we see the Mayor coming to terms with the return of his elderly wife. Where the return is generally trouble free there is the issue of here wondering at night. This brings us on to “Mathieu” an architect working in a firm who previously had some significant responsibilities. It is now seen that his abilities are seriously restricted. This is discovered when the psychologist assigned to the returned has a discussion with one of the guards. The returned do not sleep. It seems that they also have no ability to make memories and essentially their communications skills are based on what they had when alive and situational memories which allows them to appear as if they are having on-going conversations.

Things may not be as they seem. The doctors and scientists observing the returned notice certain physical characteristics which allow the returned to be tracked. This tracking leads to some interesting discoveries. What do they do at night? What are the returned planning? Do they feel welcome? Where does all of this lead?

This is not a zombie movie in the traditional sense and there are probably some who would say that the returned are not zombies, whatever! They are re-animated corpses, they are zombies. Not having the movie focused on the usual plot-line of zombies trying to kill the human population is a refreshing change as it allows the many other aspects which are normally over-looked.

This movie is not perfect. It moves at a steady “European” pace which some might feel is slow (which I think, works)  rather than the fast disaster movie action which we are used to with zombie films. This movie concentrates more on the rational and even emotional implications of the return rather than the traditional emergency response approach. The subsequent TV series which was released about 10 years after the movie is significantly different to the film while staying loyal to the original concept of the returned. I liked this movie, possibly because I had read about it and seen the TV series previously so I had an idea of what to expect. I quite liked it. It is a very interesting variation on an well-tried concept.   It is interesting that in the 10 years since its release subsequent zombie movies have not overly tried to repeat this format, rather sticking with the traditional blood-fest approach.

If you claim to be a Sci-fi or Horror fan you need to watch this, if however you are a fan of mindless violence and body party being ripped off/digested then you need to go back to Master Romero’s works.

Housebound

Ah, yes, you can always trust the New Zealanders to do the right thing. Housebound is one of those rare events; a comedy horror movie which actually delivers on all fronts. We start off at a bank, where our star Kylie and her boyfriend are failing miserably to rob an ATM. The court later sentences her to 8 months home detention. And so she arrives home to her Mother’s house far out from her city life. As it happens the security guard, Amos, (Glen-Paul Waruto) monitor her is a local, something that proves useful.   As she begins to settle in, or not settle in she also has to talk with Denis, her court appointed counsellor , yet another annoyance.   One of her biggest annoyances is her mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata, Sons and Daughters, 1982) Miriam runs an ordered house along with her second husband, Graeme (Ross Harper, The devil Dared me to, 2007) and both “lazy” daughter and “uptight “ mother are having to come to terms with each other.

In to this mix is her mother’s belief that the house is haunted, she accepts this as a fact and is not too bothered by it, by standards. Kylie is having none of this nonsense, or at least nothing until she notices some strange sounds and happenings. Through the usual disasters Amos is brought in and together they eventually go ghost hunting.

What they find is a mystery which might involve a young girl who died many years ago when the house was a care-home, maybe she is the disturbance, or is it the strange boy/man who used to live next door, the same boy nobody has seen for over 10 years.

Kylie is now convinced there is something in the house, there is, and on one particular night when Denis and her doctor are present, there is an attack, Denis is injured and taken away to hospital.

Kylie and Amos try to find out what happened, as they do the mystery deepens – but here is the important part, never overly darkens.

This is not a big movie with a huge story line, loads of sets and special effects, no it is a simple ghost story type movie told well and with a sense of humour. The sense of humour is important, it is excellently carried through without changing the essential nature of the movie or taking away from the suspense.

I’m deliberately not giving too much away. The cast is typically understated and calm as is with many of the ANZAC offerings, the suspense works and the story never gives too much away before it needs to. You will sit down and enjoy this film. It is good old-fashioned fun, with perhaps a subtle message about appreciating what we have and not rushing to judgement.

7/10 purely because it kept me entertained without having to get too bloody or too silly.

Run Lola Run

Sometimes life has a habit of catching up with us and throwing a curve-ball we could have done without. This is what happened Lola (Franka Potente, Blow, 2001) one morning. A life hangs in the balance. Directed by Tom Tykwer (Cloud Atlas, 2012). The film is broken into a number of parts, there is the first “Act” which sets the story and then three “runs” which are the same scenario played back but slightly differently each time. Each run looks at the impact of actions on individuals giving us a number of flash-forwards.

The problem is Lola’s boyfriend, Manni, (Moritz Bleibtreu, Das Experiment, 2001) who can best be described as a petty criminal, has 100,000 DM which he has to get to his”boss” following a series of car transactions, cross border smuggling and diamonds. Sounds easy enough, he would use Lola’s scooted to deliver the money. , or at least it was. We learn from the opening call that Manni was waiting for Lola but she never turned-up, her scooter was stolen, as a result he had to use the metro to get the money delivered. The problem is, he lost the money on the train while he was heading to drop-off it off after he panicked and left it behind him after he saw two security guards. A tramp on the train finds the money. He must have the money or else he is a dead man.

Desperate for help he rings Lola, he has about 20 minutes before his boss, Ronnie turns-up looking for his money and most likely kills Manni for not having the money. He blames Lola’s failure with the scooter as the cause and essentially loses the plot repeatedly blaming her until she tells him to stop and that she has a plan to get the money to him within 20minutes. He has a plan also, rob a convenient supermarket. Lola disagrees and asks him to wait, she has a she is going to ask her father who is a bank manager.

This is where the film starts to earn its stripes. The first run scenario kicks-off with a carton sequence of Lola running to get to the bank. As she passes various people such as the lady with the child in the pram, we discover that these people also have stories, stories which are sometimes influenced by events during the day. The woman later steals a baby after losing her own. Then there is the man who offers to sell his bicycle, we later see him being robbed off his bike, but all ends well for him as he marries a nurse who took care of him. As this is going on we see her father (Herbert Knaup, The lives of Others, 2006) in his office having a heated discussion with another woman. When Lola gets there , after literally bumping into one bank clerke and showing us her future history, she asks her father for the money, he says no. To add to her troubles he announces to her that he is leaving her mother to marry another woman and also that he is actually not her father. Leaving him she runs to the supermarket, Manni is about to raid the place, she joins him but in the trouble that follows is shot. Shouting “Stop” the run ends.

The second run starts with the original phone call. Repeating the run, she passes the woman with the pram, this time round she wins the Lottery,, while the cyclist is a drug addicted bum. Getting to the bang, her father is arguing with the woman saying he cannot leave, she tells Lola not to interfere, the argument expands and Lola leaves running in to a security guard. She takes his gun and holds up her father, forcing him to get cash out of the bank. After a number of delays the bank is surrounded, but it turns out the police think the bank is being robbed by somebody else. She gets to Manni, but this time he is knocked down by an ambulance as he goes to rob the store. They talk about what she would do if he died, but he is not dead yet.

The third run starts as with the others. This time she avoids the woman, who in this reality goes on to have a religious experience. The guy with the bicycle this time stops at a sausage stand, and who is there only the original bum from the train who offers to buy him a drink, telling him how strange things can happen. As Lola runs to the bank she hits into a car owned by a colleague of her father’s. This time her father and the other woman are discussing the possibility of children. As Lola gets there she see her father drive off with his colleague, desperate she goes into a casino and actually wins the money she needs. Meanwhile Manni actually sees the tramp cycle past him, he chases the tramp and manages to get the money from him by pointing a gun to his face, the tramp gives him the money and asks for the gun, which Manni gives him.   Lola eventually arrives, worried that Manni is not there she looks around, seeing him getting out of the car with his boss, all happy. Walking away Manni asks here is everything was okay…

This movie not only asks “What if?” but also tries to answer it. A first class film which stands the test of time

Kes

This is the story of a young 15 year old boy growing up in the working-class north of England in the late sixties. The hero, Billy Casper (David Bradley, All quiet On the Western Front, 1979) is having a hard time of it growing up, being bullied both at home and school. What we see is a young man trying to get by in his own way. Billy is no angel, he’s not above swiping milk from the delivery float. His family background is nothing to write home about, his father having left them many years previously, his older half-brother verbally abuses him and his mother sees him as a lost cause.

While on his meandering wonders one day he robs a kestrel chick. This triggers something. As he is too young for the library, he robs a book on Falconry and sets about learning what he can. His life is driven by a desire not to end-up down the mines like so many before him. Slowly as he rears the chick a bond takes hold and Billy start to come out of himself. There may be a purpose in life. His schoolwork starts to improve as his outlook improves.

The dour nature of life as portrayed can be seen in the “football” scene when his P.E. teacher (Brian Glover, The company of Wolves, 1984) is trying to instil some interest in the lads as against the day dreaming of world cups and football glory. We see him as one of those petty angry adults which seem to fill the lives of young people as they try to find their way about in life.

Things however take a turn when he is told to put a bet on certain horses. Billy unfortunately thinks the horses will lose and so buys food for himself and Kes. The horses win and Jud is extremely angry at losing him money. He exacts revenge in the most cruel way, hurting Billy where it hurts most.

Like many Ken Loach films it is not necessarily an easy film to watch initially. That said I was around the same age or younger than the hero of the peace when I first saw this movie. Back in the days of 1 TV land, I had to watch what my parents were watching and they wanted to watch this. Thankfully.
It showed me that cinema does not have to be all happy-clappy to be good. Life can be hard and it is not always just mindless entertainment. However this is not an overly bleak film, Glover’s P.E. teacher and Billy himself and his attitude provides some witty and humorous dialogue.

This is one of Loach’s earliest films after cutting his teeth on BBC radio plays and as with much of the output to follow over the years, it is his view of a grinding realism. There is a message here like with so much else of his work. There are a number of messages, from the individual’s perspective to the view of how society treats people. We are shown more than a few examples of how Billy and others are essentially victims of a society which seems to have other things on its mind. Looking at the cinematography it is cold and harsh, the scenes are grey and overcast much of the time.

Alfred Hitchcock once said that the sign of a good movie is one where you can watch the film without volume and still follow it. You can certainly do that here. This is not a fun film, it is not a rip-roaring comedy, it is a look at a bleak life which somehow does not turn you off, indeed it manages to affect you. This is genuinely one of the 10 best and possibly most influential British films over any time period. This is a gritty piece of neo-realism.

Man About Dog

Set in Ireland it is the story of three perpetual losers, who despite their many schemes are still as broke as ever and find themselves driving the length of the island trying to pull of that One scam which will set them up. Events kick off in Belfast where the guys, looking for a few pounds, agree to interfere with a greyhound race, in return for a greyhound to them from a local bookie, the kind of bookie (Sean McGinley, Republic of Doyle, 2010) who you do not want to owe money to and things go downhill from there. Directed by Paddy Breathnach (I went Down, 1997) and staring Allen Leech (The Imitation Game, 2014), who is nominally the brains of the outfit, Ciaran Nolan (dead Men Walking, 2008) the superstitious and unlucky unfortunate who at least tries to do something; and of course “Cerebral Paulsy” the grass smoking, brain fried one of the three constantly catching up.

Having been sold a pig-in-poke as it were, the dog they were given is useless and not capable of doing any good. This of course provides a whole set of challenges for the boys. Their luck might be changing though. They have been noticed by others. The wealthy widow of a former dog owner has a dog that can do what is needed, she gives them the dog, as a means to destroy their not so friendly bookie.

They enter the dog I a race only to find it did not even leave the box at the start. As if their day could not get any worse, the bookie finds them, kidnaps them and lets it be known that he finds them personally responsible for the race they nobbled and demands £50,000 from them. Not having this, they need to produce it fast.   They head south to the Republic to try the dog but to no avail. About to give up, they sell the dog to travellers (Pat Short, Garage 2007) where they quickly realise the dog is actually guite good, it is just that he does not chase plastic hares, only real ones.

They guys decide to rob back the dog. Needless to say this does not exactly go as planned and a night of mayhem ensues. The rest of the film is about the three boys making their way south to the coursing fares and in the process trying to raise cash to enter the dog in the necessary races while at the same time avoiding Belfast bookies and various travellers.

Eventually as they get set-up at the Clonmel Coursing festival, their bookie and the travellers are also there and all want their share of the guys. The dog proceeds to win its races and of course draw the attention of said folks. Ultimately the boys are trapped in to a corner which Scud manages negotiate themselves out of.   The negotiations work for them, and the film closes with us seeing how the guys are finally seeing some success.

What Breathnach manages to do is not only to pull together the story by Pearse Elliot (Shrooms) who he wrote with a number of times, but managed to do it so well. There are a number of set-piece situational gags, some excellent one liners and even a couple of continuing character jokes. The movie works well, some of the gags are sign-posted but that possibly adds to the enjoyment as we have a certain sense of expectation. It might be tempting to compare this movie to others such as RocknRolla (Guy Ritchie, 2008). On the surface they are both drama comedies but are very different styles, Dog is more of a series of well stitched together sketches while with RocknRolla the humour flows differently, bit excellent comedies, but both very different comedies both is style and nature. Man About Dog needs to be viewed as an Irish comedy and with the associated style.

Odd Man Out

This 1947 British classic was directed by Carol Reed (The Third Man, 1949) and starred James Mason (the Desert Rats, 1953). The story is based on the book by F.L. Green. The movie is about the impact on the lives of all those around Johnny McQueen (Mason). The film is set in a Northern Irish city, pick one of the two…and revolves around McQueen as he tries to survive a botched raid. The movie does not explicitly name any organisation just the “Organisation” . McQueen is a leading figure in the Organisation and having been lying low for about six months following his prison escape he has been ordered to execute a raid to raise funds. The film is set against the background of post-war Britain.

The remains of the war are all around and rationing is still in place. The scene is dark and broody, the movie has a classic British Noir feel. The shadows are there and contain menace. Is his heart in it? From what we can gather, he is a changed man since his time in prison, so much so that one of his team asks if he should be on the raid. We learn that McQueen is a person of some worth in Republican circles. The raid fails. McQueen injured and already on the run, must find safety on the streets of the city. As he scrambles for help he must hide in those corners, the snug of a crowded bar, air-shelter, where ever he can.   All the time there is one person looking to help him, Kathleen ( Kathleen Ryan, Captain Boycott, 1947) the woman in whose house he has been hiding. She has fallen in love with him and will go to any lengths to protect him.

This is a classic crime thriller, given the republican/political edge. What is certainly noteworthy is the attention to detail employed by Reed. He manages to side step the larger political issue to concentrate on the person aspects of the situation, whether it be through the dynamic with McQueen and his gang members, the police, the women or even Fr. Tom (W.G. Fay, London Town, 1946). The hunt builds to the violent climax. All the time during the hunt we are conflicted, however abhorrent his background, we are constantly drawn to McQueen and his plight, will he escape, will he survive? What makes this film is the characterisation, Mason is supported by what was largely the members of the Abbey Theatre, the Irish National Theatre, and before you say “so what” we need to remember the Abbey provided such cast members as Cyril Cusack who played gang member Pat and Dan O’Herlihy (Fail Safe, 1964) being fellow gang member “Nolan”. Other cast members included legendary William Hartnell who went on to be the first to play the historic role of The Doctor in Dr. Who ©

We follow McQueen has he slowly and painfully descends to the final showdown with the police. Can a good man do evil, what drives him, can an evil man do good?