Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Now on Instant Netflix: "Short" reviews of IDA & FRANK

I took quite the hiatus during the holidays, but I did see quite a few movies that came out in 2014. Four 2014 movies that I saw either via Redbox or Netflix. Here are my brief reviews of two of those films.


They say an image is worth a thousand words, but what about an image of a face? There's so much to take away from a person just by studying their face and there have been some strikingly beautiful films made in the past, like "The Passion of Joan of Arc," which uses close-ups of the title character's face to evoke several different feelings at once.

That's what Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida" immediately made me think of... and for good reason. "Ida" is about a young woman who grew up in an orphanage, now poised to enter nunnery, but first she's encouraged by an elder nun to visit her aunt first. When she visits her Aunt Wanda for the first time, secrets are uncovered about herself and about her parents which could completely change her whole outlook on life.

"Ida" is a story that's largely told on the visual front. If you are studying film, "Ida" is worth checking out just for its exquisite shot compositions alone. Shot in black and white and in an old school 1.33 : 1 aspect ratio, often, Pawlikowski chooses to leave a considerate amount of headspace when he shoots close-ups of Anna, strongly suggesting that she's not alone in these shots. Throughout the film's 80 minute running time, there's that nagging feeling that there's some sort of force, spirit, or God that is guiding Anna on her journey.

This is a very strong and, sometimes, remarkable film about a young woman who, in a way, loses her innocence but never seems to lose her faith. But, a month after seeing it, my overall takeaway of the film is just how gorgeous it looks. There is not a single frame wasted here. Each shot in "Ida" looks like a painting. Just remarkable.

Grade: A

"Ida" is available currently on Netflix Instant.


If you don't take to "Frank" immediately after seeing it, don't worry. I was in the same boat for much of the film's running time. But I've thought about it quite a bit since and I think I realized why it makes for a rather disappointing first viewing: "Frank" is the anti-feel-good music film. We've seen stories like this before. Guy joins a rock band full of misfits and leads them to great success. Well, "Frank" is a complete reversal of that trope. In "Frank," a young, enthusiastic keyboardist joins an experimental, avant-garde rock band lead by a musical genius who insists on hiding his real face inside a giant fake head.

It's a concept that dares to wear out its welcome with its quirky premise and yet the movie has an overall sadness to it and the aura of unrealized talent to it, that the end result may leave you feeling disappointed, but only because this is a movie that insists on zagging instead of zigging. You think you didn't want a feel-good movie until "Frank" deliberately makes you feel bad. But, looking back, it's really kind of hilarious the way the film plays out.

Frank is played by Michael Fassbender, but the only way you know it's Michael Fassbender is from his voice and his body. This is a role that would be difficult to pull off by an ordinary actor, but Fassbender is no ordinary actor. He absolutely shines here. But, the main character is Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), the aforementioned keyboardist who is presented as if he'll be the catalyst that gets this band on the right track.

Here's the joke: he's not. The cast is rounded out by Scoot McNairy, who plays the band's manager, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays the theremin. Gyllenhaal is brutally mean to Jon, obsessed with Frank, and is largely thought to be the one who's holding Frank back. But, upon further review, that's not what is really happening here. Jon, despite the rest of the band not really taking his musical talents seriously, insists on remaining the band's keyboardist as he hopes that Frank's musical genius will rub off on him. But, at every turn, Jon fails to see that he's merely meant to be a piece of the puzzle, not the main attraction. He thinks the key to band's potential is getting rid of the theremin player, but the truth is that he's pinning all his hopes and dreams on a promise that just isn't there.

The film's interesting reversal, coupled with its study of a man (Frank, that is) who turns out to be dealing with a mental illness, makes "Frank" a much deeper and engrossing film that you would expect. It may not be quite the joyous romp that you hope it would be, but I found a lot to love about this movie and I hope you do too.

"Frank" is available currently on Netflix Instant.

Grade: B+

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