Frank (2014) | Music, madness and a giant papier-mâché head collide in the oddball, anarchic comedy drama
With the offbeat comedy drama premiering on Film4 today at 10.40pm, here’s my take on Frank…
Don’t stop believing in your dreams
Following a chance encounter with the avant-garde Soronfrfbs rock band and their eccentric front man Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a giant papier-mâché head 24/7, wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) finds himself propelled on an anarchic journey of self-discovery.
Recruited as a replacement keyboard player, Jon struggles to connect with the other band members, especially distrusting Theremin-player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), but ends up using his inheritance to produce the band’s latest concept album. While cooped up in a log cabin on a remote island, the social media savvy Jon posts videos on the internet and ends up scoring the band a big gig at the South by Southwest festival in Texas. When a disastrous warm-up gig causes the band to fall out, Jon manages to convince Frank to take to the stage as a duo. But is he doing it for Frank, or himself?
Will it push you to your furthest corners?
It’s not often I come across a film that really connects on a personal level, but comedy drama, Frank, from Irish director Lenny Abrahamson really hit home. Loosely inspired by the cult figure of Frank Sidebottom (aka the late Mancunian singer-comedian Chris Sieves), in whose Oh Blimey Big Band one of the writers, Jon Ronson, played keyboards in the 1980s, the film also adds elements of notorious rock legend Captain Beefheart and schizophrenic Texan singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston, but sets the action in contemporary Ireland.
Michael Fassbender gives a nuanced performance as the titular outsider artist, whose absurd headgear hides a fragile soul which Domhnall Gleeson’s callow fan boy Jon ends up shattering (its their journey that’s at the heart of the film). And Maggie Gyllenhaal is a real standout as Clara. She’s like a female Syd Barrett, whose permanent scowl actually hides a deep love for Frank.
The film’s first half is a crazy road-movie-styled delight (the opening titles span a very post-modern 10 minutes btw) and I found myself helplessly drawn into Jon’s bromance with Frank, while his onscreen tweets are #hilarious (but you’ll never make them out if watch the film on a mobile). But when the comedy gives way to more serious matters (and the truth about Frank is revealed), the film’s fun factor comes to a screeching halt. While those introspective scenes put a dampener on the oddball adventure, the home truths that are revealed are food for thought – especially on the nature of the artist versus the cult of celebrity, maximising our online presence, and mental illness vs true genius.
Oddball, yet deep (in sentiment), passionate, yet punk-spirited (about the creative process), there’s a lot going here, just like there’s a lot going on behind Frank’s papier-mâché cartoon face. It’s also got some bonkers brilliant toons.
Frank is also available from Curzon Film World on Blu-ray and DVD, which includes audio commentary with Lenny Abrahamson, Domhnall Gleeson and composer Stephen Rennicks; commentary with writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straugaan; behind the scenes featurette, sound promo, deleted scenes and trailer.
Also available from ArtificalEyeFilms on YouTube and BFI Player
The Frank soundtrack is released by Silva Screen, check it out here: http://www.soundtrack.net/album/frank/
Hot Enough for June (1964) | Dirk Bogarde turns reluctant spy in the Iron Curtain comedy thriller
She’s An Eye Catcher … He’s a Spy Catcher
In Ralph Thomas’ lively 1964 spy comedy thriller, Hot Enough for June, Dirk Bogarde plays an out-of-work author who gets plucked out of the dole cheque and sent behind the Iron Curtain to work as a secret agent based on his the ability to speak Czech. Sylva Koscina is his glamorous chauffeur, Robert Morley is the espionage chief (and master of irony) who sends him on the assignment, and Leo McKern, John Le Mesurier and Roger Delgado are the familiar faces showing off their versatile acting chops.
The Master Spy Comedy of the Year!
Bogarde (filling in for Tom Courtenay who pulled out at the last minute) gives his usual polished performance in the James Bond spoof that’s more of a thriller than straight-out comedy, and also gets to share a rather steamy love scene with the sultry Sylva Koscina (who was once in line for the role of Tatiana Romanova in the real Bond adventure, From Russia With Love).
Set in Prague (but with Padua, Italy standing in for the Czech capital), the film is an adaptation of Lionel Davidson’s 1960 debut novel The Night of Wenceslas by screenwriter Lukas Heller, who penned Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? the previous year. This was one of series of back-to-back espionage films directed by Ralph Thomas, who is better known for his classic ‘Doctor’ series of comedies, also starring Bogarde.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Hot Enough for June (PG) is out on Blu-ray, as part of Network Distributing’s The British Film collection, and is presented in a High Definition transfer from original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. Special features include original theatrical trailer, image gallery and original promotional material (on pdf).
Discuss the film on:
Bad Timing (1980) | Nicolas Roeg hits a raw nerve with his masterful, yet much maligned psycho-sexual thriller
A possessive man . . . An independent lady . . . and a love that turns to tragedy
Parting amicably from her Czech army pilot husband (Denholm Elliott), troubled Milena (Theresa Russell) starts an on-off affair in post-Cold War Vienna with American psychoanalyst-in-residence, Dr Alex Linden (Art Garkunkel).
At first, Alex accepts Milena seeing other men, but gradually he becomes tormented by jealousy, while Milena resents that his interest in her is purely sexual. When Milena has an apparent drug overdose, a police inspector (Harvey Keitel) questions Dr Linden in a bid to start piecing together the sordid details of their all-consuming passion.
A Terrifying Love Story
Nicolas Roeg‘s beautifully-executed, yet deeply disturbing 1980 film set in the city of Klimt and Schiele is a strange brew indeed – an arty, unflinching depiction of a destructive relationship, in which both Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell bring incredibly intensity to their roles as the bird-like Dr Alex Linden (who masks a fearsome control freak under his massive ginger afro) and the volatile Milena (who just wants to be loved, but ultimately is never satisfied).
Much maligned, Bad Timing remains one of Roeg’s most divisive films (he also described it as an apt summation of his career, believing himself to have often been ahead of time, instead of simply being of it). But it’s certainly worth checking out again. Bleak, brutal and beautiful – at times you think Roeg is breathing masterful life into one of Egon Schiele’s erotic, macabre masterpieces that hang in Vienna’s famed Leopold Museum (which also features in the film).
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Released on Blu-ray as part of Network’s The British Film collection, Bad Timing is presented in a new High Definition transfer from original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. The special features include an interview with producer Jeremy Thomas, theatrical and teaser trailers, deleted scenes, gallery and promotional material in pdf format.
Victim (1961) | This landmark British classic remains a compelling drama about the love that dare not speak its name
With the ground-breaking 1961 British drama screening on Film4 today at 1.10pm, here’s a look at the film and the 2014 UK Blu-ray release from Network
Ssh! Don’t mention the ‘H’ word…
When youngster Jack Barrett (Peter McEnery) commits suicide in his prison cell after stealing money from his employers, respected barrister Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde), who is secretly gay and once had a dalliance with Barrett, risks his reputation, career and marriage to his loving wife Laura (Sylvia Sims) to track down a group of blackmailers preying on homosexual men…
A Daring Picture About the World’s Most Un-talked About Subject
This brave, banned and ballsy 1961 British drama could have ended Dirk Bogarde’s career – but it didn’t. In fact, it gave the matinee idol the kudos and respect that he so longed for, and made him one of the most admired actors of his generation.
Directed by Basil Dearden (who also did The Blue Lamp with Bogarde), Victim not only gave the 39-year-old actor his career-best performance, it also shone a very public light on the law of the time which made homosexuality illegal in the UK, and also on the ‘blackmailer’s charter’ that was destroying so many lives in its wake. Banned in the US on its release (the term ‘homosexual’ was outlawed at the time), Victim became a cause célèbre in Britain about attitudes towards homosexuality and a plea for reform (which eventually happened in 1967).
Today, this landmark film still packs a mighty blow as a tense and compelling drama, and has become a true British cinematic classic thanks to Basil Dearden’s assured direction, Janet Green and John McCormick’s powerful screenplay, and Otto Heller’s noir-esque monochrome cinematography. Supporting Bogarde there’s impressive roster of rich talent, including Sylvia Syms and Dennis Price.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
The Network Distributing Blu-ray release features the film in a high definition transfer made from original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio.
• Dirk Bogarde in Conversation – an extensive interview with Bogarde where he talks frankly about his career
• Original theatrical trailer
• Four image galleries, including extensive promotional and behind-the-scenes shots
• promotional material PDFs
Model for Murder (1959) | There’s mayhem in Mayfair in the vintage heist thriller starring Michael Gough and Hazel Court
While on shore leave in England, American sailor David Martens (Keith Andes) seeks out his late brother’s fiancée, London fashion model, Diana (Julia Arnall), to return an engagement present of a ruby bracelet. But after Diana is murdered, David becomes the prime suspect in the theft of £60,000 worth of diamonds being held at the Mayfair fashion house of stylist Kingsley Beauchamp (Michael Gough).
With the police unwilling to believe his story, David seeks out smitten fashion assistant Sally Meadows (Hazel Court), her model sister Annabelle (Jean Aubrey), and fashion photographer George (Peter Hammond) to help him prove that Kingsley’s chauffeur Costard (Edwin Richfield) was behind both the murder and the theft. But what David doesn’t realise is the real mastermind is Kingsley himself, or that he’s planning on fleeing to Amsterdam with jewels…
Death, diamonds and double-dealings take to the London catwalk in 1959’s Model for Murder, an Edgar Wallace-styled B murder mystery, amiably directed by Terry Bishop (who was best known for his 1950’s historic dramas William Tell and Robin Hood), and the second feature produced by Jack Parsons – who’d go on to make some classic genre fare, including Don Sharp’s Witchcraft and The Curse of the Fly, Terence Fisher’s The Earth Dies Screaming, and Gordon Hessler’s Catacombs.
Apart from one very atmospheric and noir-esque murder scene, this British Lion thriller is pretty standard fare, and is saved only by the stalwart acting and occasional comic touches (especially Annabel Maule’s hospital sister and Charles Lamb’s lock keeper).
The legendary Michael Gough (who followed this film with Horrors at the Black Museum) chews the scenery big-time as camp villain Kingsley Beauchamp and makes his catty dialogue purr: ‘I find me much more fascinating’ and ‘Sometimes one has to be vulgar for publicity’, being among my favourites.
Meanwhile, an overly-cheery Hazel Court (fresh from Brian Clemens’ A Woman of Mystery and in between making her two best known British horrors, The Curse of Frankenstein and The Man Who Could Cheat Death) makes an engaging heroine, while US import Keith Andes cuts a believable hero. Together they come off like a mini-league Nick and Nora Charles.
The supporting cast, meanwhile, may not be household names, but they certainly have some cool credits behind them, including Patricia Jessel (Horror Hotel), Edwin Richfield (Five Million Years to Earth), Alfred Burke (Harry Potter), Richard Pearson (Wind in the Willows) and Barbara Archer (Dracula).
Chertsey Lock, near Staines, Middlesex, is the setting for a key scene in which Diana’s body is discovered (thanks to Kingsley’s siamese cat), while Sally and Annabelle’s Kensington flat (at 14 Ashburn Gardens) is where David recovers after almost being gassed to death by the dastardly Costard.
THE UK DVD RELEASE
Model for Murder is presented in a brand-new transfer from original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio, as part of Network Distributing’s The British Film collection. The only extras are an image gallery and promotional material (pdf).
The Ghoul (1933) | The once lost Boris Karloff vintage horror creeps onto Blu-ray
After turning down the lead in Universal’s The Invisible Man, the studio’s King of Horror, Boris Karloff made a brief return to the UK (which he had left in 1909) to make 1933’s The Ghoul. The story is something of a steal from The Mummy (1932), with Karloff portraying a cataleptic Egyptologist who returns from the dead to reclaim a valuable ring that bestows immortality.
Having already frightened cinema-goers as the original Frankenstein monster, then as Morgan the mute hulking butler in The Old Dark House, and as the high priest Imhotep in The Mummy, Karloff was the obvious choice to star in this fogbound Gothic –the first British movie to try to get onto Hollywood’s horror movie bandwagon.
And if it weren’t for Karloff’s presence, it might well have been just another drawing-room farce. Following his ‘death’, Karloff’s club-footed servant (brilliantly played by Ernest Thesiger) steals the jewel and hides it in a coffee jar. Wild haunted house antics ensue as the dead man’s heirs join in the hunt for the valuable artefact. Kathleen Harrison is genuinely funny as a sex-starved spinster who desires love and domination, and Cedric Hardwicke – grotesquely made up like a Dickensian caricature – is a hoot as the conniving lawyer. Also in the cast is a young Ralph Richardson, in his first screen appearance. The sets are handsome, the camerawork is stylish, and Karloff’s make-up is quite horrific – although it’s never explained why he should look so disfigured.
For years The Ghoul was one of the most elusive of classic horror films. Following its original cinema release, it completely disappeared until a tattered print was found in 1969. In 2009, Network released the film on DVD, based on a print from the BFI archives, digitally-restored to perfect clarity, both in picture and sound. Now it makes its HD debut on Blu-ray, as part of Network’s The British Film collection. The special features include a commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones (the same as the one on the 2009 DVD), two image galleries and a commemorative booklet.
The Ghoul may not be a classic re-discovery, but as a piece of sheer horror hokum, it makes for a great ‘ironing’ film and, looking the business on Blu-ray, is well worth adding to your Karloff/Classic Horror collection.
The Thief of Bagdad (1940) | The dazzling fantasy classic takes a magical carpet ride onto Blu-ray
Three brave hearts, adventuring in a wonder world!
Imprisoned by the wicked Grand Vizier Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), Ahmad (John Justin), the rightful king of Bagdad, befriends a young thief called Abu (Sabu). When Ahmad falls for a beautiful princess (June Duprez) and is magically blinded by Jaffar, who wants the princess for his bride, the intrepid duo embark on a series of adventures in a bid to undo the spell and save the princess.
GIGANTIC! The Wonder Picture of All Time!
A triumph of filmmaking in its day and one of Alexander Korda‘s best-loved films, this Oscar-winning Arabian fantasy is a magical, atmospheric carpet ride that still dazzles thanks to its sensational sets and flamboyant art direction. John Justin turns on the matinee idol charm as the messiah-like Ahmad, while Sabu has boundless energy as the pocket-sized action man. But it’s Conrad Veidt’s briliiant, dastardly Jaffar who set the benchmark for the ultimate panto villain. The special effects may look dated now, but they were sensational back in 1940. Six directors ended up working on the film, including Michael Powell (Peeping Tom) and William Cameron Menzies (Invaders from Mars).
DID YOU KNOW?
Alexander Korda had to finish the movie in Hollywood when war broke out in Europe following director Tim Whelan’s location shooting at Tenby Harbour and Freshwater Beach in Pembrokeshire. This was where the iconic scene of Rex Ingram’s giant Djinn coming out of his magic bottle was filmed.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Released as part of Network’s The British Film collection, The Thief of Bagdad is presented in a HD transfer from original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio, and includes an unrestored theatrical trailer and image galleries.
The original 1924 version of The Thief of Bagdad, which was produced and starred Douglas Fairbanks, was one of the costliest films made in Hollywood during the silent era. This vintage classic is also available in a restored version on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Eureka! Entertainment. Part of their The Masters of Cinema Series, the release (which came out in November 2014) includes a new score by Carl Davies, audio commentary by Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance, and a 40-page collectors booklet.
• A German Blu-ray of the 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad was released back in November 2012 by Anolis Entertainment, which included audio commentary and a documentary on Sabu. There’s also an Italian-released version from 4k Studio. Criterion’s DVD release, which came out in 2008, features a host of extras, including a commentary with Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) | Alfred Hitchcock’s riveting thriller starring Peter Lorre at his villainous best
A family vacation in St Moritz turns terribly awful for Jill Lawrence (Edna Best) and her husband Bob (Leslie Banks) when their teenage daughter Betty (Nova Philbeam) is kidnapped by a group of criminals, led by the slimy Abbott (Peter Lorre), after they unwittingly uncover a plot to murder a European head of state. Forced not to reveal anything to the authorities, lest their daughter is killed, Bob and Jill turn amateur sleuth to hunt the kidnappers down. But when Bob discovers their hideout back in London, he puts his own life on the line to rescue Betty.
Lord High Minister of Everything Sinister!
This is the original classic version of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, which he remade in 1956, starring Peter Lorre in his first English language film. It may lack the polish of the James Stewart/Doris Day version, but Lorre’s splendidly malevolent turn as the beaming chain-smoking bad guy steals the show, while Hitchcock’s ability to create suspense from the most mundane of settings is best illustrated by the film’s memorable dental sequence. The film’s climax, meanwhile, practically re-stages the real-life Siege of Sidney Street that took place in Stepney on 3 January 1911.
Playing the Nick and Nora Charles-styled London couple are Leslie Banks and Edna Best. Cult film fans will recognise Leslie Banks for his role as the villainous Count Zaroff in the classic Joel McCrae/Fay Wray 1932 horror The Most Dangerous Game, while Edna Best also appeared in 1947’s supernatural romance The Ghost and Mrs Muir. Juvenile actress Nova Pilbeam would next appear (all grown up) as the lead in Hitchcock’s 1937 romantic thriller Young and Innocent. The film’s writer Charles Bennett, who wrote all of Hitchcock’s pre-war films, later adapted MR James’ Casting of the Runes into the celebrated 1957 British horror Night of the Demon.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
The Man Who Knew Too Much is available on Blu-ray in the UK as part Network’s The British Film collection, and is featured in a brand-new High Definition transfer from the original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. The special features include an introduction from film historian Charles Barr; Aquarius: Alfred the Great, a BBC TV 1972 interview with the director on location while making Frenzy (this is great btw); and an image gallery. These were also included on Network’s 2008 DVD release. A US Blu-ray version was brought out by the Criterion Collection in 2013.
• Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1930s features Young and Innocent (1937) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) are also available on Blu-ray from Network Distributing from 19 January. Click on the links for more information.
Young and Innocent (1937) | Alfred Hitchcock’s charming romantic thriller showed the genius glimpsing through
After the body of a popular stage actress is found washed up on a beach on the English coast, Robert Tisdall (Derrick De Marney) finds himself the prime suspect in her murder. Escaping from the local court house in a clapped-out Morris driven by the police chief’s daughter Erica (Nova Pilbeam), Robert convinces the pretty blonde of his innocence and together the couple set out to find a vital piece of evidence that will clear his name…
A ROMANTIC MURDER-MYSTERY DRAMA!
Adpated from Josephine Tey’s 1936 novel A Shilling for Candles, this small-scale British thriller, made at the then newly-opened Pinewood Studios, was said to be one of Alfred Hitchcock’s favourites among his British films that he made before his big move to Hollywood.
Although dated in its attitudes (its very white English home counties), and possessing a creaky script (the dialogue is courtesy of playwright Gerald Savory, while the story was written by Charles Bennett) and low budget production design (there’s lots of back screen projection and models and miniatures used), Hitchcock’s inventiveness peeks through. In particular, a scene involving the old Morris (a character in itself) being swallowed up by a sink hole in a mine shaft and a crane shot across a packed dance floor which ends in a close up of the killer (something Hitchcock would go onto perfect in 1946’s Notorious).
Interestingly, Wimbledon-born actress Nova Pilbeam was just 17 when she was signed on to star in this thriller, having already appeared in the director’s The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1934. Although considered for both Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1937) and Rebecca (1940), Pilbeam lost out on both counts, but continued to make films until 1948’s The Three Weird Sisters, when she left acting altogether at the ripe old age of 30.
Derrick de Marney, meanwhile, is best known to film fans for his memorable portrayal of Uncle Silas in the 1947 British drama based on J Sheridan Le Fanu’s supernatural tale. His last film role was in the rarely-seen 1967 sci-fi The Projected Man.
Hitchcock also makes one of his legendary cameos 14-minutes into the film as a photographer outside a courthouse.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Young and Innocent is available in the UK on Blu-ray as part of Network Distributing’s The British Film collection, and is presented in a High Definition transfer from original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. There are no notes about the restoration included with this release. The special features include an introduction from film historian Charles Barr and the 25-minute documentary Hitchcock: The Early Years, which also appeared on Network’s 2008 DVD release.
• Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1930s features The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) are also available on Blu-ray from Network Distributing from 19 January. Click on the links for more information.
The Lady Vanishes (1938) | Alfred Hitchcock’s clever comedy thriller never runs out of steam
Comedy! Chills! Chuckles! in a Mystery Express!
Intrigue and espionage abound when soon-to-be-married English tourist Iris (Margaret Lockwood) aboards a transcontinental express train back to England and strikes up an acquaintance with elderly English governess, Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), who then disappears without a trace. With the help of a besotted musicologist (Michael Redgrave), Iris turns amateur sleuth to get to the bottom of the mystery?
The Film That Made ALFRED HITCHCOCK Master of Suspense!
Alfred Hitchcock once said that a train was his favourite setting for a movie because they offer such a perfect venue for generating suspense. This well-oiled 1938 comedy thriller, made at the legendary Gainsborough Studios in Islington, north London, is his most famous mystery film, and one of the pre-war features that helped pave his way to Hollywood.
Packed with twisty plots, a great sense of very British humour, and eccentric characters – courtesy of a great ensemble cast, The Lady Vanishes contains all the hallmarks of what would become Hitchcock’s stock-in-trade (including his eye for the ladies – just check out his cheeky champagne and chicken dinner scene).
Indeed, it’s so accomplished that it still holds up today (and still preferable in my books to the 1979 Hammer remake with Cybill Shepherd or the 2013 BBC TV movie with Tuppence Middleton), even the model train, studio sets and miniatures have a charm about them that’s hard not to like. This is vintage cinema magic – Hitchcock style. And, as for the cricket-loving Charters and Caldicott characters, they’re so very old school, they are hysterical! And not gay, at all!
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
The Lady Vanishes is available on Blu-ray in the UK from 19 January, as part Network Distristributing’s The British Film collection, and is featured in a brand-new High Definition transfer from the original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. There are no notes about the restoration accompanying the release. The special features include an introduction by film historian Charles Barr, original theatrical trailer, image gallery and pdf promotional material. These are also included on Network’s DVD 1008 release. A US Blu-ray version was brought out by the Criterion Collection in 2011.
• Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1930s features The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Young and Innocent (1937) are also available on Blu-ray from Network Distributing from 19 January. Click on the links for more information. My reviews coming later this week.