A Million Ways to Die in the West Review – The Not So Wild West


Director: Seth MacFarlane 

Writers: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild 

Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson


Release date: May 30th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The energetic performances.

Worst part: The turgid gross-out humour.

The American West is a setting continually romanticised on the big and small screens. From the gritty magnetism of Deadwood to the kooky thrills of Cowboys and Aliens, Hollywood makes gun-toting outlaws, violent bar fights, and the Great Plains seem extraordinary. However, the real story of the Old West is a disgusting and questionable one. Pointing out the obvious, mega-successful entrepreneur Seth MacFarlane’s latest effort, A Million Ways to Die in the West, exhaustively and turgidly overlays the point I just made.

Seth MacFarlane & Charlize Theron.

Despite his new feature’s quality, MacFarlane, known for animated TV series’ like Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show, is one of pop-culture’s most talented and intriguing figures. Releasing jazz albums and hosting the Oscars ceremony in his spare time, the 30-something celebrity appears to be everywhere at once. Bringing back Cosmos and Star Trek, his likes and dislikes have been plastered across every adult’s frame of mind. Obviously, MacFarlane can create inventive and pacy creations. Here, his ambitious and eye-catching reach drastically exceeds his grasp. The plot, such as it is, proves exactly why Family Guy never relies on plot, character arcs, or thematic relevance. Stuck in the Old West, down-on-his-luck sheepherder Albert Stark (MacFarlane) is forced to talk his way out of a gunfight. Looked down upon by the townspeople, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) is embarrassed by him. Dumped soon afterward the standoff, Stark throws it in and reveals his hatred of the Great Plains. Meanwhile, somewhere else in the west, vicious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) forces his wife Anna (Charlize Theron) to head toward Stark’s hometown.

Neil Patrick Harris & Amanda Seyfried.

Neil Patrick Harris & Amanda Seyfried.

From there, the narrative relies on the most basic of western and romantic comedy clichés. MacFarlane, following up his first live-action feature Ted, has made yet another conventional and unexciting gross-out comedy. Released after mega-hit Bad Neighbours, it’s hard not to compare the two. Sadly, unlike that farce, AMWTDITW takes its conventional premise and never ventures into unfamiliar or even dangerous territory. At this point, MacFarlane, with this and failed sitcom Dads, is only holding himself back. The movie, stretched to an unwarranted 2-hour length, kicks off each scene with lugubrious set-ups and ends them with banal punch lines. The first third, outlining the somewhat intriguing premise whilst introducing vital tidbits, rests solely on its actors’ immense talents. Throughout the first half-hour, the audience is left to wait patiently for the story to begin. Sadly, the story never rises above tedious revelations and inappropriate jokes. After Anna comes to town, she and Stark hit it off over the course of a week. Admittedly, this plot-line is significantly more interesting than the rest. Louise’s new boyfriend Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), Stark’s friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his girlfriend Ruth are fitted into useless and unfunny sub-plots. With its set-piece-fuelled structure and satire-free agenda, AMWTDITW gets off to a sluggish start. Unfortunately, the movie never speeds up. Lacking flavour and consistency, the twists and turns are visible from a mile away. Speaking of open plains, crickets and tumbleweeds are the only two things that react to AMWTDITW’s absurd and childish sense of humour. Before you can say “pistols at dawn”, the movie’s dick, poop, weed, and fart jokes ware themselves to the bone. Starting and/or ending certain scenes, these mishandled gags only elongate this already tiresome effort.

“I’m not the hero. I’m the guy in the crowd making fun of the hero’s shirt; that’s who I am.” (Albert (Seth MacFarlane), A Million Ways to Die in the West).

Liam Neeson.

Co-written by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild, this posse throws only one six-shooter of jokes into this banal effort. Aiming to conquer Mel Brooks’ style, this Blazing Saddles wannabe misses the mark well before its climactic finale. Writing itself off as ‘yet another’ dull gross-out comedy, AMWTDITW never forms a unique and satisfying identity. Pushing its racial and sexual humour to breaking point, Django Unchained’s use of the ‘N-word’ seems subtle and dexterous by comparison. Obviously, MacFarlane is the star of this show. Directing, producing, co-writing, and starring in his sophomore effort, all eyes and ears are aimed at him. Unlike Ben Affleck and George Clooney, MacFarlane cannot handle everything at once. Repeating certain jokes and obtaining almost all of the clever lines, his overwhelming influence casts a miserable shadow over the material. Surprisingly, his filmmaking technique has drastically improved. The cinematography, score, production design, and action sequences come together charmingly. Featuring charismatic performers and star-powered cameos, MacFarlane’s latest effort comes close to becoming one of Ricky Gervais’ failures (The Invention of Lying). Fortunately, his actor-direction delivers several light-hearted moments. Despite their underwhelming roles, MacFarlane and Theron develop a significant rapport. Their romance, breezed through via montages, is solidified by their innate charisma and quick-wittedness. Meanwhile, Neeson lends significantly more energy to everything else he’s done this year than to this screwball farce.

Strolling through its period setting, AMWTDITW lacks charm, subtly, and nuance compared to similar works. MacFarlane is stuck in the ultimate ‘emperor has no clothes’ situation here. With his piercing agenda, blinding hubris, and confronting sense of humour tripping him at every turn, MacFarlane is now shooting blanks when he should be firing on all cylinders. Maybe, he should stick to voiceover work.

Verdict: A disappointing and vacuous sophomore effort. 

Edge of Tomorrow Review – Live. Die. Repeat Viewings


Director: Doug Liman 

Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth (screenplay), Hiroshi Sakurazaka (graphic novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson


Release date: May 28th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


 

 

 

4½/5

Best part: Cruise and Blunt.

Worst part: The throwaway one-liners.

Hollywood, over the past decade, has sheltered one of the most influential and polarising public figures. This particular celebrity, known for jumping on Oprah’s couch and keeping Katie Holmes out of the spotlight, is outrageously attacked by critics and filmgoers the world over. Tom Cruise, despite his peculiar comments and religious allegiances, is still one of our bravest movie stars. His latest action flick, Edge of Tomorrow, alights his magnetic screen presence and immense buying power.

Tom Cruise.

In this intensifying action-adventure, based on Japanese graphic novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Cruise transitions from media spokesperson to blood-drenched saviour. This role suits the real-life Cruise more so than you’d think. Overlooking his recent comments about A-listers and the US Military, Cruise can sell entire audiences on any character, storyline, and leap in logic. However, despite plastering his impressive physique across the posters, Edge of Tomorrow is much more than a one-man show. The surrounding elements ground Cruise and the premise in an expansive and invigorating layout. The narrative, like similar apocalyptic sci-fi extravaganzas, begins by tying major political issues to the movie’s vicious alien invasion. Creating the United Defense Force to combat the Alien hordes (labeled ‘Mimics’), the world’s military units are straining to control the situation. From there, we meet advertising executive turned military PR advisor Major William Cage (Cruise). Ordered by UDF leader General Bingham (Brendan Gleeson) to join the front lines, Cage must suit up and fight alongside war-hungry privates. Thrown to the wolves, Cage is bullied by his fellow J-Squad members. Storming the beaches of Southern France, his character suffers a horrific death at the hands of a boss-level Mimic.

Emily Blunt.

Cruise haters will love seeing this A-list juggernaut become shockingly eviscerated by alien forces. However, Cruise’s character, after suffering this fate, comes back to life. In this instance, he wakes up 24 hours into the past. Holding onto specific details about the following day, Cage’s proactive nature throws him into each repetitious situation. The first third elevates Edge of Tomorrow above most sci-fi epics of its type. Co-written by Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie, Jack Reacher), the screenplay races through impactful dialogue, gritty warfare, and tender moments. Immediately ascending above Oblivion, this Cruise vehicle embraces its tried-and-true concepts. Like Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow’s time-loop-based narrative delivers immense surprises and twists on genre tropes. The military base sequences, featuring Cage’s encounters with optimistic Master Sergeant Farrell Bartolome (Bill Paxton) and obnoxious grunts, provide their fare share of witty lines and heartening revelations. From there, the storyline delves headfirst into each explosive action beat and character interaction. The first third’s beachside set pieces, pitting ExoSuited battalions against nasty alien warriors, become nail-biting moments that overshadow the time-shifting premise. Playing with video-game mechanics, Edge of Tomorrow’s relentless storyline lends intelligence to an otherwise derivative concept. These life-or-death scenarios, building to the explosive second-two thirds, are bolstered by Cage’s momentous character arc. Cage, struggling to cope with his newfound talent, looks to persistent Special Forces member Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski (Emily Blunt) for guidance. Gracefully, Cruise stands aside to allow Blunt’s charismatic persona to stand front and centre. Developing chemistry over several time-loop scenarios, this mismatched paring sidesteps everything we’ve seen before. Pitting a cowardly soldier against a sword-wielding badass, their training sequences deliver entertaining comedic jabs.

“Come find me when you wake up.” (Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Edge of Tomorrow).

Our cute, blood-thirsty couple.

Despite Edge of Tomorrow’s exhilarating pace and jaw-dropping action sequences, the narrative occasionally falls into dour patches and obvious plot-holes. Switching from a gritty sci-fi war flick to an unending chase story, the movie slowly pushes its time-loop guidelines into the distance. However, beyond these minor complaints, the final third throws landmarks, high stakes, and sacrificial acts into an extended set piece. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith) perfects his action-direction here. As his most entertaining effort, Edge of Tomorrow brings back the frantic editing and swift camerawork he first brought to Go and Swingers. Beyond this, his alien-invasion thriller even constructs a backstory without dropping it halfway through. Comparing Military pragmatism to the conscription era, this tale of masculinity and second chances becomes a step above similar blockbuster schlock. Creating symbols of American idealism and Military prowess, our characters are transcendent and captivating examples of the modern political and social environment. More importantly, however, our characters are extremely likeable. Cruise’s everyman persona and convincing delivery moulds a multi-layered lead character. Before evolving into the typical Cruise/action-hero type, he first steps outside the norm to play this cowardly and manipulative anti-hero. His role – transitioning from blackmail, to acceptance, to pure determination – is nuanced compared to his more recent characters. In addition, Blunt, taking on the action-hero role, stretches her already significant range for her intriguing and damaged character. Mastering fighting skills and yoga poses; Blunt’s character is a mysterious and bubbly foil for Cruise’s outlandish role.

Weapons training and filmmaking rely on repetition. Fortunately, Edge of Tomorrow takes this conceit and delivers thrilling set pieces and refreshing characters. Along with a subversive sense of humour, the movie rewinds time and examines Cruise’s star power. Placing the narrative on a world-sized scale, this sci-fi actioner succeeds without superheroes, transforming robots, or brightly coloured CGI vistas.

Verdict: An entertaining and gripping sci-fi actioner. 

Maleficent Review – Tim Burton: Lite


Director: Robert Stromberg

Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Charles Perrault (fairytale)

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley


Release date: May 28th, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Angelina Jolie. 

Worst part: The mind-numbing visuals.

Angelina Jolie is certainly one of Hollywood’s hardest workers. A mother of two, Oscar-winning actor, and conquering humanitarian – Jolie’s determination and guile place her ahead of most A-listers. After taking an extensive break for charity work and her latest directorial feature (Unbroken), the slinky celebrity returns to the big screen for Maleficent. Turning people green with envy the world over – Jennifer Aniston, in particular – this actor deems herself worthy of playing one of the Grimm Brothers and Disney’s most popular antagonists. Maleficent, despite giving Jolie a fun role, will disappoint hardcore Disney fans and average blockbuster-hungry cinema-goers alike.

Angelina Jolie.

Maleficent is the distinctive and slimy villain of the memorable tale Sleeping Beauty. Marked with large horns and flowing black dresses, the character lauds over her expansive kingdom like none other. Like every other recent fairytale adaptation (Wicked, in particular), Maleficent spins the narrative around to focus on another character. Re-telling Sleeping Beauty’s story from Maleficent’s perspective, this blockbuster is reminiscent of several similarly underwhelming adaptations of late. For those unaware of the story, I will go over it briefly. In an impressive kingdom overlooking the Moors below, King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) aims to conquer the surrounding lands populated by wondrous creatures. Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) is then sent into an eternal sleep, broken only by true love’s first kiss. Led by Maleficent (Jolie), the Moors’ citizens fend off the aggressive human hordes. That’s the overall story surrounding this movie’s true narrative. Here, King Stefan is Maleficent’s mission. This time around, Maleficent, being a tragic figure, is also ashamed of her deceitful and destructive actions. Harmed by Stefan, after falling in love with him, the vengeful Maleficent manipulates Aurora’s future. Bizarrely, this charming antagonist stalks Aurora throughout her burgeoning childhood.

Elle Fanning.

After Disney’s resurrection with Tangled and Frozen, modern audiences realised that the mega-conglomerate could, once again, compete with Dreamworks Animation and Pixar. Touching on Disney’s 20th century glory, the animation team brought a family-friendly audience back to the cinema after a period of dark, pop-culture-driven fare. However, on the other side of Hollywood, big-budget adaptations like Alice in Wonderland and Snow White & the Huntsman infected popular tales with action-adventure clichés, CGI landscapes, and epic scopes. Unfortunately, Maleficent is the culmination of the most exhaustive and uninspired aspects of the two aforementioned trends. As the pot-stirring concoction of studio interference and Jolie’s overwhelming prowess, this adaptation becomes familiar and dreary. Borrowing heavily from the 1959 classic as well, this fantasy epic, despite the clever premise, never forms a clear and memorable identity. Director Robert Stromberg – Production Designer on Alice in Wonderland and Oz: the Great & Powerful, and Avatar – replicates his previous creations for this uninspired and intangible project. Taking on this gargantuan production, his conventional style proves his worth…as strictly a visual effects artist. Relying on CGI world-building and monotonous battle sequences, Maleficent takes interesting concepts and presents dour and heartless creations. At this point, shots of characters looking longingly at CGI landscapes and winged creatures are meaningless sights to behold for $20 a piece.

“I call on those who live in the shadows. Fight with me now!” (Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), Maleficent).

Sharlto Copley.

Blame should also fall on Linda Woolverton’s mechanical script. Lacking the original story’s merit, the uninteresting twists and turns illustrate this trend’s greatest flaw – it’s difficult rooting for the bad guy. Her screenplay, presenting Maleficent as a lively warrior in the first half, displays promise as a Jolie-driven vehicle. Developing tragic and determined characters on both sides, the narrative bursts to life early on. However, borrowing from Stardust and Mirror Mirror, the tonal shifts will confuse kids and bore adults. Flickering from sickeningly sullen to whimsically light-hearted, this adventure becomes a studio-controlled creation. In particular, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Leslie Manville’s fairy characters deliver generic, Three Stooges-like jokes unworthy of their spectacular talents. Bowing to Jolie’s every demand, the studio executives understand why this adaptation exists. Jolie, Hurling her immaculate range and passion into this role, overshadows the supporting cast. Coveting the promotional material, her immense prowess pushes her away from believability. Failing to connect with her fellow cast, certain characters, Sam Riley’s crow/human hybrid especially, become needless and obvious foils for her enrapturing character. Stranded in Jolie’s line of sight, Fanning is stuck in a one-dimensional role. Perplexed by the most mediocre of sights, Aurora’s presence becomes grating. In addition, Copley’s performance, harmed by a wavering accent, falters whenever he and Jolie share the screen. His character’s tedious arc makes us miss Maleficent whenever she drifts into the shadows.

Lacking a Rupert Sanders/Kristen Stewart-level controversy, Maleficent lacks significant resources to stand above this year’s blockbusters. Stromberg and Woolverton, aiming to appeal to current trends and multiple demographics, develop an unoriginal, plodding, and unappealing fantasy epic. However, this does indeed mark a noticeable return to Tinsel-town for Jolie. Thanks to her slender frame and rousing delivery, Jolie’s performance sticks out like a broken wing.

Verdict: A plodding and conventional fantasy epic. 

Blue Ruin Review – Harsh Times


Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Writer: Jeremy Saulnier

Stars: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack 


Release date: April 25th, 2014

Distributors: Channel 4, RADiUS-TWC

Country: USA

Running time: 90 minutes


 

 

 

 

4½/5

Best part: The confronting gore.

Worst part: The two-dimensional villains.

Groundbreaking drama-thriller Blue Ruin’s production process is worth its weight in Cannes Film Festival statuettes. Kick-started by writer/director Jeremy Saulnier, the project, after being rejected by the Sundance committee, hit the festival circuit to major acclaim last year. Like its lead character, the movie has vigorously stormed back into the spotlight. This crime-thriller, sporting several surprises and a point to prove, is a revelatory gem unafraid of its big-budget competition.

Macon Blair.

Macon Blair.

Confucius says: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”. Blue Ruin sticks with this idea the way its lead character clutches his rifle. Aware of the sprawling revenge-thriller craze sweeping the globe’s film movements, Blue Ruin takes a back seat to examine the past decade’s best and worst examples. From the sublime (Drive) to the stupefying (Faster), the vengeful anti-hero flick is a popular one. Attacking the post-GFC world we trudge through, these movies look down upon the bigwigs and support the passive-aggressive little person in us all. Following this trend in a highly effective fashion, Blue Ruin’s characters are about as normal and empathetic as possible. From the get-go, we follow a homeless cretin on the verge of oblivion. Dwight (Macon Blair), sporting a bright, orange beard and frizzy hair, is a resourceful and guided man. Brought into a police station, Dwight is shocked to learn of the release, from a lengthy jail sentence, of his parents’ murderer. From there, Dwight looks for a weapon, map, and petrol to track down and destroy him. Along this dark and painful road, Dwight must protect his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and her children. In addition, whilst looking for the target and his redneck family, he must consult his life-long friend Ben (Devin Ratray).

Devin Ratray.

Knocking the audience around throughout its brisk 90-minute run-time, Blue Ruin’s gripping twists and turns will keep even the most impatient viewer engaged. Refreshingly, the revenge-thriller aspects of this revisionist character study inflict only the first 30 minutes. The first half-hour, delving into one man’s obsessive behaviour and depressing situation, becomes a tempered and methodical action-drama. Using a minimal amount of dialogue, this section subtly re-defines genre conventions and festival-worthy cinema. From there, after his motivations are made infinitely clear, the narrative rollickingly sprints toward its violent and thought-provoking denouement. Throughout the second-two thirds, the eye-for-an-eye narrative delivers vile antagonists and nail-biting stand-offs. Naturally, some may react negatively to the “Well…now what?” transitions. In fact, these ascending and descending turns are more divisive than conclusive. However, the plot becomes more tenacious and intelligent once the central conflict is established. Commenting on this ever-present revenge-thriller trend, certain characters, plot mechanics, and action sequences subvert expectations. After Ben is introduced, Dwight’s naïve nature lends several comedic jaunts to this intensifying story. Thanks to this strong satirical edge, Dwight’s reactions and judgments allow the tight narrative to take deep breaths when required. Moulding the Coen’s darkly comedic mean-streak to Nicholas Winding-Refn’s meticulous direction, Saulnier’s style develops this world in a productive and enthusiastic manner.

“You know what’s awful? Just ’cause my dad loved your mum…we all end up dead.” (Dwight (Macon Blair), Blue Ruin).

One of many ultra-violent moments.

One of many ultra-violent moments.

His heart-breaking tale, keeping details locked away for extended periods, is refreshing compared to its competition. Intrinsically, his visual motifs and taste for violence develop this devastating universe. The gore – comprised of exploding heads, bullet wounds, and devastating cuts – delivers several flinch-inducing moments and profound sequences. Once scene, in which Dwight tries and fails to pull an arrowhead out of his leg, highlights Saulnier’s deft directorial touch. Presenting a desecrated and angry Middle America, Blue Ruin keeps strange objects hidden in private places. Presenting a paranoid and paranoia-inducing state of mind, this sickly dark thriller points the finger at gun worship and Right-wing ideals. Handling its ripe agenda, Saulnier’s creations walk the line between chaos and control. Dwight’s journey, despite littered with realistic elements, is never sympathetic. Sporting a significant backstory, his dour livelihood is fascinating to endure. Breaking into other people’s homes, his tragic existence anchors this bloodcurdling and debilitating experience. Blair delivers a touching and lively performance as our sorrowful lead character. As the bumbling revenge-getter, his character relieves us of the modern anti-hero. Lacking a “particular set of skills”, Dwight’s shaky persona shapes each invigorating set piece and eclectic dialogue-driven moment. Following up his pleasurable turn in Nebraska, Ratray’s deadpan performance grounds this polarising and discomforting thriller.

Before the ambiguous and blood-curdling finale, Blue Ruin establishes itself as an ambitious and realistic revenge-thriller. Taking on multiple genres and viewpoints, the movie looks at our infatuation with violence on the big screen. Thanks to Saulnier’s effortless direction and taut screenplay, this breakout effort displays a filmmaker’s style devoid of obvious ticks. Headed for critical acclaim, Blue Ruin’s journey leads to a purposeful and memorable destination.

Verdict: An intensifying and refreshing thriller.

Frank Review – Band Recognition


Director: Lenny Abrahamson 

Writers: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan

Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Michael Fassbender


Release date: May 9th, 2014

Distributors: Element Pictures, Magnolia Pictures

Countries: Ireland, UK 

Running time: 95 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Fassbender’s manic performance.

Worst part: Gyllenhaal’s lacklustre character.

Some movies, whether they deliver momentous scores or pop songs designed to sell albums, use music to accelerate their effect. Blaring through each cinema’s sound system, a song, or even an entire compilation, can worm its way into our heads. British indie dramedy Frank utilises this concept to build upon its funky and potent core. Accentuated by out-there performances and manic directorial ticks, Frank delivers a fun, insightful, and momentous insight into music’s effect on human beings.

Domhnall Gleeson & Michael Fassbender.

Screening for festival fanatics and steely critics at this year’s South by Southwest festival, Frank had a high note to reach to impress these auspicious crowds. Sweeping through the circuit, this dramedy throws caution to the wind whilst its characters try to conquer their burgeoning issues. Pressing against typical festival-dramedy tropes, the movie’s inner-peace is repeatedly disrupted. The narrative, when not looking into an ever-so-slightly unhinged trajectory, follows the mediocre existence of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson). This struggling keyboard player/songwriter, stuck in a depressing office space, dreams of hastily escaping his tragic existence. Everyday, Jon draws up the soundtrack to his monotonous life. Taking inspiration from the most mundane of occurrences, Jon’s life halts when he witnesses a man trying to drown himself. The man, keyboarder for popular grunge group ‘Soronprfbs’, is deemed unworthy of future gigs by the band’s eccentric manager Don (Scoot McNairy). Invited to play at their next gig, Jon watches on as the group crashes and burns on stage. However, Jon, invited to their cosy recording-studio abode, draws inspiration from misanthropic percussionist Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and electrifying lead singer/songwriter Frank (Michael Fassbender).

frankstraws

Experimenting with music.

The word ‘predictable’ doesn’t belong in any context, or review, of this peculiar romp. Over several weeks, Jon learns from everything he sees and each bizarre personality he runs into. In each scene, little surprises and jokes reside to amp-up this already impressionistic creation. Working with a creative screenplay and boisterous cast, director Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did) takes aim at Ireland’s ever-lasting cultural stamp, the world’s music scenes, and genre clichés. Here, Abrahamson looks to his bubbly characters for ideas. Looking through the pages of this enjoyable material, his bright direction searches for and develops eye-catching gems. For the most part, Frank sticks to its promises by staging itself in affable and quaint locations. Stuck together in the recording studio, the drama relies on discomforting personalities and interesting ideas. The brightest moments revolve around the band’s quaint jam sessions. By using epiphanies and spiritual practices, this eclectic bunch seeks to conquer the alternative-rock game. Pushing past everyone around him, Frank – wearing a large, paper-mache head – holds his group together with charm and everlasting appeal. Without turning conflicts into melodramatic exchanges, the narrative takes several sharp and mood-altering turns towards darkness and disparity. Punishing its opportunistic new keyboard player, the group’s antics keep Frank above similar fare. Heading to SXSW itself, the movie’s fish-out-of-water-esque humour throws our ensemble into the heart of pop-culture. Aided by Twitter and Instagram, Jon’s social media coverage may draw a line between the band and its comforting surroundings.

“You play C, F, G?” (Frank (Michael Fassbender), Frank).

Maggie Gyllenhall.

Playing off revelatory music-dramedies like Almost Famous and This is Spinal Tap, as well as renowned TV personality Frank Sidebottom, Frank examines music’s affect on pop-culture and social quarrels. Experimenting with varying tools and sounds, Frank’s recording techniques are peppered throughout joyous montages. Alarmingly, pushing its characters to breaking point, the movie delivers an insightful commentary on philosophy and mental health. Blaming one another’s questionable antics, its characters test one another without being condescending or complacent. In the final third, as Frank’s intentions become clear, we see the downfall of a potential genius. Jon and Frank, as their bromance reaches a crux, reflect upon music, life, and escapism. Describing each other’s facial expressions, their alluring mannerisms lend heart and brawn to this ear-drum-strumming farce. Unexpectedly, Jon’s confidence-fuelled efforts do more harm than good. Drawing fame and fortune towards this quirky group, Frank’s personality becomes increasingly unpredictable and concerning. Credit goes to Fassbender for bringing a charismatic glow to this difficult role. Suited to blockbuster fare, Fassbender, like his character, reaches outside the box to deliver extraordinary quirks. In addition, soon after his heartbreaking performance in About Time, Gleeson delivers a likeable turn as the audience avatar and the group’s most opportunistic member. Made whole by Gleeson’s whimsical accent, his charm and wide-eyed glory ground this abstract feature. However, despite her best efforts, Gyllenhaal fails to overcome her nasty character. Thankfully, at opportune moments, McNairy comes along to lighten the darkest moments and deliver genuine thrills.

Similarly to Fassbender’s performance, Frank is an engrossing, enlightening, and intelligent commentary about the world around us. With music being Frank’s guiding light, the movie maintains its optimistic glow and heartening motifs throughout. Looking for new sounds and compilations, the band reflects the movie’s will to succeed by looking beyond the norm.

Verdict: A charming and unique dramedy.