*** (out of ****)
Before the journey of Jon, the non-eponymous protagonist of Frank, officially begins, Jon asks Don, played by the increasingly reliable Scoot McNairy, what exactly Frank’s deal is. Don doesn’t think Jon is talking about Frank’s giant fake head, but instead about his brilliance, to which Don nods his head and confirms Frank’s brilliance. It’s a dangerous move for a movie to make, as we now know that at least one person in this world thinks another one is great before we’ve had an opportunity to decide for ourselves. Are we going to spend the rest of the movie’s run time realizing the same thing, or finding out that Don is an idiot and Frank is crazy?
Jon is a loser. He’s too old to live with his parents, but he’s too attached to his dream of being a songwriter to remedy the situation. He believes in himself…kind of, but doesn’t give us a reason to think that he’s any good. One day, while he’s out writing his songs/avoiding writing his songs, he stumbles upon a band called Soronprfbs, watching their keyboardist try to drown himself. Bada boom bada bing, Jon is replacing the keyboardist in the local show that night. The band is filled with the type of artists Jon isn’t, including Don, a psychopathic theremin player played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Frank, played by Michael Fassbender, the aforementioned musical genius, wears a giant fake head that he never takes off. He performs in it, he sleeps in it, he showers in it, and he drinks liquids through a straw that runs up it. Jon puts his dream of writing bland contemporary hits to the side to join what he believes are real musicians. Frank decides to make Jon the permanent keyboardist, just before the band moves to a cabin to record what they believe will become one of the greatest albums of all time. And this is where Jon, not to mention the audience, gets to determine if good ol’ Scoot was right about Frank or not.
If Jon is the wannabe hit machine, than Gyllenhaal is his polar opposite, an artist who wants nothing to do with fame and success and pleasing audiences. And then there’s Frank, who gently floats like a bubble between the two. Gyllenhaal obviously has some power over Frank, although we don’t know to what degree or why. Jon, whether he knows it or not, wants the same power, that same relationship with Frank. And whether or not Frank is the genius that Don purports no longer matters by the time Jon gets to know him. He’s infectious and honest and endearing, alternating between that being because of his head or despite his head until you almost forget that the head is fake. Frank is the tortured artist that Jon and Gyllenhaal long to be, but Jon has none of the torture, and Gyllenhaal has none of the artistry. They both need Frank to prop up their dreams and fears. They don’t take the time to consider why Frank needs to hide inside of his head, as long as they can hide behind it.
This might all sound like it adds up to a heavy story about artsy-fartsies, but it’s not even close. Director Lenny Abrahamson keeps everything light and bouncy, with a style and a score that makes this feel more like Rock Star than Sid and Nancy. And that’s a good thing. Maybe a dark, gritty version of the lead singer with a big paper mache head would have worked, but now we never have to find out. Instead, we get to focus on Michael Fassbender, who doesn’t let his face being covered up end the roll that he’s on right now. Instead of playing the sexy asshole we’ve all been jealous of over the last five years, he plays a nerdy Midwesterner, and, with just his hands and his voice, perfectly balances between lovable genius and off-putting weirdo. By the time we get to the final act, which could have been mired in TV movie bullshit, we’re ready for whatever Fassbender has to sell us.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
If you’re anything like me, and not an asshole, than you’ve already seen this movie three times in theaters. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t ready for another run-through. Remember that time when Rocket gets really mad and kicks a weed to death? Or that time where Quill flies a space ship with a space ship? There are so many parts of this movie that didn’t get enough giggly, fanboy discussion, and now is their chance. Just so you know, you can get this in 2-D, 3-D, a Target exclusive 2-D, and five different versions of the cover, each with a member of the team. Buy them all. Don’t be an asshole.
Criterion anoints Safe into the canon this week, and it’s even more topical and striking today than it was twenty years ago. Julianne Moore plays a ditzy housewife, whose daily to-do list contains things like “be pretty” and “sit in a chair.” She gets very sick, and the illness might be an allergy to her environment. She goes to live with a self-help cult, but that doesn’t work either. Todd Haynes’ (I’m Not There) breakout film doesn’t offer any easy answers, and works as much like a quiet horror movie as it does an in-depth look at the banality of upper class life. Special features include two docs, a commentary, and Todd Haynes’ first short film, The Suicide.
HEAVEN AND EARTH
The third entry in the Oliver Stone Vietnam trilogy, after Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, this is the one that nobody remembers, and rightfully so. It’s not that it’s awful. It just feels like Oliver Stone is trying to get his typical ‘Nam rocks off while addressing critics of his manly, souped-up style. This all adds up to a movie that does in fact feature a female protagonist, but one that still needs male character to rescue her and make her decisions. It’s a good try, but ultimately the movie feels too schmaltzy and pandering.
DIAMOND LUXE EDITIONS
(BATMAN, BEN HUR, THE GREEN MILE, GREMLINS, FORREST GUMP, NATURAL BORN KILLERS)
What a bag of bullshit this is. This is the week Warner Bros. introduces the world to Diamond Luxe, a new way of packaging the movies you already own. If you are not a modern collector, please stop reading this immediately, as this does not apply to you. If you are a modern collector, and I have to assume you are from this point forward, you are in fucking luck. The Diamond Luxe Blu-Rays, or D. Luxe, as it will probably be known on the streets soon, don’t necessarily have new features, but do offer slick packaging that brings the total width of your Blu-Ray, when closed, to a half inch. If you want to try this awesomeness, get Gremlins, which actually does have a bunch of new special features, and you probably don’t already own it. Plus it’s a Christmas movie in which one of the main character’s fathers dies stuck in a chimney dressed as Santa Claus. Classic.
– Ryan Haley