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Films I Neglected To Review: Turn Your Crank To Frank
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Frank," "Love is Strange" and "Yves Saint Lurent."

There have been any number of films over the years involving oddballs forming rock bands but the U.K. import "Frank" may well be one of the oddest of the bunch. Domhnall Gleeson stars as Jon, an ordinary guy whose dreams of musical glory are partially answered when, due to a strange sense of circumstances, he is asked to fill in on keyboards at the last second for the , a bizarre art-rock collective led by Frank (Michael Fassbender), an enigmatic sort who goes everywhere--and I mean everywhere--with a giant papier-mâché head over his own. To most people, the group is an unlistenable joke but Jon sees something else in them and when he gets the keyboard gig full-time, he embarks on a plan to get them greater exposure through a showcase gig at the South By Southwest music festival, a move that is looked upon with suspicion by eternally-crabby fellow member Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and which could prove to have disastrous consequences for all involved. And before you gripe about how ridiculous this may sound, bear in mind that it was inspired by what the kids call "real life."

"Frank" is such a strange film that at first, I wasn't entire certain how to react to it. It is funny, no question, but since there is also the sense that Frank may not be playing with a full deck, there is the queasy question over whether screenwriters Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan and director Leonard Abrahamson are exploiting the character's emotional problems in order to score some cheap laughs. After a while, though, I found myself becoming won over by its quirky attitude as well as its surprisingly deft turn towards the serious in the final scenes--not the easiest thing in the world to do when your main character is wearing a giant fake head throughout. All the actors are good but what Fassbender does in the central role is nothing short of amazing--by far the most interesting work that he has done on the big screen to date. Despite remaining hidden from view for the most part, his work here is so strong and charismatic that we soon ignore the weirdo aspect of his character and accept him as a real person. Hell, even the music is pretty good with the climactic sort-of-ballad "I Love You All" coming off as maybe the first serious competitor to "Everything Is Awesome!" for next year's Best Song Oscar. "Frank" is sure to become a cult film in the years to come, so why not check it out now at a more reasonable hour? You'll be glad you did.

Ira Sachs is an indie writer-director whose films (including "The Delta," "Forty Shades of Blue" and " ") are ones that I have tended to admire more than actually like but with his latest effort, "Love is Strange," he has crafted what is easily the most engaging and compelling work of his career to date. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow play , a couple who have been together for 40 years and who, thanks to the changes in the laws of New York, are finally free to marry. Unfortunately, what might be the happy ending in another film proves to be the start of something entirely different here as Molina loses his well-paying job as a music teacher at a Catholic school once the news of the wedding gets out, even though the relationship had been an open secret when it was unofficial. This means that they can no longer afford their apartment and since they are unwilling to move outside of the city-- has some private lessons while is still pursuing his dream of being a recognized artist--the two are forced to separate and live with others-- with a gay cop couple in the building and with his nephew (), his author wife (Marisa Tomei) and their teenaged son--while searching in vain for someplace to live, a move that gets more and more off-putting for all involved as the time together in close quarters drags on endlessly.

To some, the basic premise of an aging couple forced by circumstances to separate and live with other may be reminiscent of the late show staple "Make Way for Tomorrow" but while there are points where it flirts with unabashed melodrama, "Love is Strange" is a smarter and richer experience than the bathetic soap opera that some may be expecting. For example, with the exception of one scene, the film does not go on an extended tirade against the Church for their policies regarding gay couples--we have all seen that movie before and Sachs knows it. Instead, he is more intrigued by the little things, such as how even the most supportive of relationships can change and buckle under unexpected pressures--the nephew's family adores him at first but are eventually driven to distraction by his constant presence, especially when the son begins to demonstrate traits that suggest that he may be gay as well. At the center of it all, however, are the grand performances from Molina and Lithgow, who create one of the most winning couples of any sort to appear on the big screen in their scenes together and are just as fascinating to watch when they are apart. Throw in some smart dialogue, a genuine tearjerker of an ending and a visual depiction of the Big Apple that makes an outsider understand why these two would do anything to stay in the city, mentally eliminate the few hiccups (such as a weird subplot involving the teen son and his ever-present and sexually ambiguous new friend stealing French literature from the school library) and you have a real winner in "Love is Strange."

Although my own personal fashion sense tends to run the gamut from sheer indifference to "You are going to wear that?," I nevertheless have long maintained an interest in the history and goings-on of the fashion industry and not just because of the frequent peeks that it affords of Kate Moss. Therefore, I was keen to see "Yves Saint Laurent," the French-made biopic of the legendary designer that traces his professional and personal lives--the former as a designer for Dior who takes the industry by storm when he branches off on his own and the latter through his long-running relationship with businessman Pierre Berge, who was there to help rescue Yves time and again from his self-destructive indulgences. Unfortunately, Jalil Lespert's film is nothing more than a well-appointed bore that never gets to the heart of who Yves Saint Laurent was or why his work was both so radical and so influential. Instead, this is the standard-issue star biopic that mixes in some greatest hits (or outfits, in this case) with just enough sex and drugs to titillate less-discriminating viewers without arousing litigation and while the performances by Pierre Ninen as Yves and Guillaume Gallienne as Pierre are okay, they do not help the film as a whole to add up to much of anything, though the lovely presence of Charlotte Le Bon (now on display in that "Hundred Foot Journey" thing) as a model muse does spark some interest in the early going that wanes as soon as she leaves for good. Hardcore fashionistas might get something out of it but for everyone else, you are better off with a copy of the current issue of "Vogue"--the writing is better and it is certainly weightier.

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originally posted: 08/29/14 23:42:52
last updated: 09/02/14 23:07:48
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