Frank

August 27, 2014

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The tricky thing about any film about a fictional band is expressing talent without actually having the years of hard work and, well, talent that goes into a truly exceptional band. Harder still, in the case of Frank, is crafting something believable about an avant-garde pop group based on some of the most idiosyncratic and unique artists of our time. Drawing most obviously from the alternative comedian Frank Sidebottom, but also liberally from Captain Beefheart and Daniel Johnston to flesh out the story, journalist Jon Ronson (whom played in Sidebottom’s band briefly) and co-writer Peter Straughan use an approach that is at times cloyingly obvious until it becomes genuinely surprising. It is a traditional rock band film in a lot of ways, but as Soronprfbs (the fictional band) are in no way traditional, it becomes a freeing exploration of this kind of oddball band destined for cult status by contrasting the way this story would normally go with the way it actually does. It is, in a fashion, using the subversion of the genre to understand the art it depicts. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ruby Sparks

August 17, 2012

Calvin (Paul Dano), is an author who has yet to properly follow up his breakout first novel, published when he was only 19.  He has, as these things usually go, a significant case of writer’s block compounded (or because of) his significant self doubt.  He sees a therapist (Elliot Gould), where he clutches a plush dog toy and calls his ex-girlfriend a ‘bitch’ and complains about a lack of inspiration.  He’s instructed to write a very bad one-page story about the kind of person who might like his dysfunctional dog Scottie and bring it back to the next session.  In the process of attempting to write he manages to hold onto a vision of a girl and write it down.  The character’s name is Ruby Sparks, and she will eventually materialize in the form of Zoe Kazan. Read the rest of this entry »

Take This Waltz

May 29, 2012

At its most basic level, the virtue of a good pop song is its immediacy.  It can swing you through a number of emotions by combining lyrics and melody and production, all in a quick and easy three minutes and twenty seconds.  There’s a kind of thoughtless joy to tapping into the basic emotions of happiness or heartbreak or love or loss.  This isn’t to say that pop songs can’t also have subtlety – most of the best ones do – but their broad appeal is still that surface-level aesthetic quality.  Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz gets its name from the titular Leonard Cohen song, and indeed it features during a crucial and technically accomplished – if a bit showy – montage towards the end of the film, but the real musical touchstone that features is The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”, and if the film had understood that the pop song aesthetic was better for this material then the woozy, intricate, and beautiful Cohen number, it would probably be a lot better. Read the rest of this entry »

I have always been partial to the romance of the Long Night. It must be something about the quiet of a sleeping city, or perhaps the onset of tiredness that allows defenses to crack combining with the dreamlike state of excitement that comes with being out and about when you’re normally not. Rules don’t seem to apply when you’re young and out late, and fittingly the night is always best when there is no immediate goal or straight line to travel. Meandering towards a vague destination only emphasizes the journey, and the discoveries to be made along the way. Also, I was pretty sure in high school that if I had one of these nights with a girl, she would probably really like me as she got to know me through the course of said journey. It is an adolescent fantasy of the indie-twee set: intelligence, wit, and sensitivity have a better chance of shining through at night, because when daylight hits they all go back to the popular ones. It is no wonder that, as a teenager and even today, I deeply cherish that particular indie sub-genre of the Long Night, a form that was ruled through the 90’s by Richard Linklater’s triple-hit of Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, and subUrbia. I’m not entirely sure if my being precious towards this type of film helped or hurt my viewing of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, but if it was the former, this must be absolute torture for someone who doesn’t care in the slightest for these films.

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