Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Frank: Papier Mache, Fassbender, and the Meaning of Art

Michael Fassbender wearing a giant papier mache head? Weird band making music out of weird stuff? Domhnall Gleeson? Streaming on Netflix?

How can you say no?

Jon Burrows (Domhnall Gleeson) is not a good song writer. Despite trying his hardest, he seems to be continually grasping at straws to write even the simplest melodies. But then he happens upon an eccentric band in need of a keyboard player and finds himself swept up in their weird ensemble. Fronted by a guy named Frank, who wears the aforementioned papier mache head, the group is...hm...weird as hell. As Jon is thrust into the mentality of a group that unquestioningly does whatever Frank tells them, he sees golden opportunity for growing as a musician. Trying to grow their fan base (as is the modern way), Jon creates a social media profile of the band unbeknownst to them, and ends up compromising their structure and, worst of all, their sound.

This movie was pretty cringe-worthy at times. Jon's sheer obliviousness at his own lack of talent is exacerbated by the fact that all of the band members (except Frank) totally hate him. While his acceptance into the band is a revelation on his side, especially after spending the opening scene of the movie trying to compose (hilariously) horrible songs, the rest of the members look at him like an itch they can't scratch. And ultimately, everything that he does to try and make the band more mainstream only serves to alienate him further from the others.

It opens up really interesting questions, though, about what people consider "good music." The band's members are, for the most part, mentally unstable. But that only serves to make their music more interesting, and to give them all a different perspective on their form of expression. Ultimately, it's because they're all a little loony that they can make the music that they do. And the driving force behind why it's so good.

Jon, by contrast, is trying to make the band into a mainstream success and that is just not who they are. By trying to make their sound all bubblegummy and catchy, he only succeeds in destroying what makes them them. His best efforts end up sounding pedestrian, basic, and (honestly) terrible. Tt becomes more and more obvious, he's not an artist, and that his music is not expressive of anything that he actually feels.

Favorite parts: Jon's hilariously awful songs in the first scene ("LADY IN THE RED COAT, WHAT YA DOIN' WITH THAT BAG??" I died.), Maggie Gyllenhaal's performace in general, the "I Love You All" song.

Very thought-provoking despite being the most offensive waste of Fassbender's beautiful, beautiful face in recorded history.

7.5 outa 10.

Mr. Turner: The Most Boring, Confusing Period Drama I've Ever Seen

Can we all agree that period dramas are usually pretty damn good? Like, look at all of the various Pride and Prejudices and Jane Eyres; or classics like Sense and Sensibility; A Room With a View; Shakespeare in Love; Elizabeth; Dangerous Liaisons; Emma; The King's Speech; Mansfield Park; Young Victoria; and a bunch of others.

Granted, these all have their pros and cons, but generally when you see a trailer where the cinematography is on par with the rest of these sorts of films you have no reason to suspect that they're, um, not going to be very good.

Mr. Turner, which I had been dying to see since the moment I saw the trailer, was a total let-down.

The plot (if you could call it that...) follows J. M. W. Turner in his later years, diving right into his life as a prolific, and somewhat controversial, painter.

Um...and that's the plot.

His life featured a jolly father who died when he was middle-aged, a failed first marriage and unacknowledged children, a common-law (presumably) marriage to a Mrs. Booth who is the only redeeming character in the film, and a weird, creepy housekeeper who shuffles around the entire film without saying more than, like, a sentence.

Ugh, this dumb biddy...

Now, keep in mind, I didn't really do research on this guy's life before going in to see the film, so I was just seeing what was put in front of me.

The nice thing about this is that I could, objectively, see what they were going for in terms of Turner's character. A gruff man who growls more than speaks (a little too much, if you ask me), there are a handful of moments throughout the film where we get an idea of his profound sensitivity in a way that's extremely intimate.

The cinematography and mise-en-scene are absolutely grogeous, and we get to see the original subjects of some of his most famous works, providing context for some of his more abstract paintings.

Like dis one.

Outside of these little gems though, the movie is just bewildering. And honestly, that's not something that you want for a biopic. Especially in trying to reflect the life of a well-known artist.

While we get little vignettes and insights as to the quality of his life, the majority of the film just feels like filler, and I found myself asking "What is the point of this scene?" more often than not. While there are a few shots that Mike Leigh makes thought-provoking and beautiful in a minute-to-minute frame, the overall message of the film is blurred as you realize that none of the scenes really connect to mark a larger message. You leave the theater thinking "Mr. Turner really liked to paint and had a lot of feelings! He was a pretty okay guy, I guess!" without really learning anything much about his art, or even really about his family life.

Seriously, who are you?

Fundamentally, too, I had a major problem with how inarticulate Timothy Spall is. Like, okay, the man grumbled like a bear. A lot. Okay. We get it. Please make the grumbling stop. Oh god now he's choking. Oh GOD, now he's gurgling?? Now he's gurgling and grumbling and choking??? Make it stooooppppp.


Anyway, I guess my point is this: If you're going to go see Mr. Turner because you want to see a pretty movie, by all means go ahead. But if you go in expecting to leave with a better knowledge of what Mr. Turner's art was all about? Uh...you're probably going to be a little disappointed.

5 outa 10. Extra point deducted for disappointment. Just sayin.