Published on May 19th, 2014 | by Brad


Frank, The Wind Rises and The Two Faces of January – Film Reviews

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Slightly unusual this one, to say the least. Loosely based on Jon Ronson’s account of his time as the keyboard player in the Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band, with a lot of influence also coming from the lives of Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart, Frank tells the story of aspiring musician Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson), and how he accidentally becomes keyboard player for the Soronpfrbs, a band fronted by Frank (Michael Fassbender), a man who wears a giant papier mache head at all times.

I think anyone who has at any time aspired to do something creative or artistic will find something in Frank that they recognise, with most of us unfortunately falling somewhere in the region of Jon’s frustrated mediocrity. I’d like to think I’m nicer than he is, though, as Gleeson plays the bitter, manipulative prick quite brilliantly. Jon’s talent seems to be for playing up to the underground indie image, resulting in bagging them a prime slot at South by South-West. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Frank, a savant, who can see music and poetry in anything, but is so disturbed that he lives inside a giant papier mache head. It’s a brutal portrayal of the often-blurry line between genius and madness, and Fassbender, one of the best actors working today, does some heart-breaking work in the latter part of the film.

As befitting a film wherein the title character is clearly bipolar, this melancholic mood is clashed against lighter scenes of uproarious humour. When Frank turns on the laughs, you will be absolutely howling. Of particular amusement to me were two songs, one a love song the band’s manager (Scoot McNairy) wrote, which speaks to his particular proclivities, and the other Frank’s attempt at writing his most likable song ever. There’s a snippet of the likable song in the trailer, but the full beast is supremely funny. There’s also a fine amount of slapstick, particularly in the film’s mid-section where the band are ensconced in a cabin in the Irish countryside to record their album, which is more than a little influenced by stories of Captain Beefheart kidnapping the Magic Band and locking them in a house near Los Angeles for eight months.

Frank is hilarious, poignant, melancholic, uplifting, heart-breaking, and just generally bloody great. The performances are top-notch. There is a slightly difficult balancing act at times, as our lead character and window into this world is such a monstrous, unlikable tosser, but it’s not impenetrable. It’s a fine portrait of the life of an artist, of someone who aspires to that life but lacks the talent (see also: Inside Llewyn Davis), and of that fine, brittle line between genius and madness. Equal parts comedy and tragedy, Frank is something really special.


The Wind Rises

Billed as the final film of Hayao Miyazaki, though he’s said that before, this is something of a quiet note to end on. Where his work is typically flights of great fancy, this is rather grounded, given that it’s a film about dreams and flying. Based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, an aeronautical engineer and designer of the fighter planes the Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero, it’s about the conflict between the desire to create something beautiful and the knowledge that it will be used for awful purposes.

Having come through the British education system and seen a lot of American movies, it’s always interesting to me to see a film about the Second World War from the perspective of a former Axis nation. The Wind Rises is somewhat oblique on that score, though the discussion about pyramids Jiro has in a dream with Gianni Caproni, the Italian aeronautical engineer who appears in several dream sequences as a kind of spirit guide, seems to posit that, though their purpose was horrid, the planes Jiro designed were still beautiful, which was justification enough. There’s a sense of melancholy and regret when the subject of the war is broached, which I think gives a good sense of Mr Miyazaki’s position.

Though the fantastical elements are limited strictly to the dream sequences, The Wind Rises is still typically stunning to look at. Its capture of time and place are exquisite, and we really get a feel for the people inhabiting this world. Interwoven with the story of Jiro’s planes is the story of his romance with his wife, a lovely story, and one that tugs at the heartstrings in just the right places. It’s beautifully captured, and is a relationship you really do root for.

This is by no means Miyazaki’s best work, and it’s a strange, slightly melancholic note for him to end on, should this be the end. You get the sense that this is a story very close to his heart, though, built as it is around his chief themes of dreaming and flying. The animation is no less exquisite than one expects of a Studio Ghibli feature, and is worth the price of admission alone. For his most grounded film, it’s oddly also his least conventional, and there is a sense of dislocation occasionally, as years pass between scenes without any indication beyond a change to the character models and costumes. Not the best Miyazaki you’ll see, but still well worth checking out.


The Two Faces of January

Based on a 1964 novel by Patricia Highsmith, this marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Hossein Amini (Jude, The Wings of the Dove, Drive). Set in 1962, this very old-fashioned thriller follows American couple Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst, on holiday in Greece, and a chance encounter with an American tour guide (Oscar Isaac) that sparks a chain of events that could turn out very deadly. The three principle players are all excellent, imbuing a sense of urgency and intrigue into a film that’s a bit stodgy in its direction. With its 60s setting, hidden agendas, double-crosses and duplicity, this could have been something Hitchockian. As is, it’s a reasonable enough time-passer, elevated slightly by the three fantastic performances. Catch it when it’s on TV or Netflix, but I wouldn’t recommend cinema prices.

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