Monthly Archives: May 2014

  • Frank Lenny Abrahamson (UK Ire 2014)

    Frank Lenny
    Abrahamson (UK Ire 2014) Michael
    Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 13 May 2014 Ticket: £8.80

    a pitch

    Frank felt like a movie that began life as a pitch at one of those low budget BFI workshops and things sort of developed from there.

    In the beginning is the Image.

    Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is dominated by the eponymous rock group lead singer, Frank who is a sort of inscrutable smiley face head on a lolly pop stick. All image little substance.

    As an image Frank is an eidolon, a graphic escaped from a children’s comic who armed with an actual body and a set of attitudes, has been animated and released into the world to expose the disjunction between his comic book immobile childish features and his pressing adult needs. A suggestive analogy.

    As he energises his band, leading the musicians to their in the rural retreat, Frank rivets the attention of the viewer dominating the visual field of Abrahamson’s movie. Should you try to look behind the mask to ask what’s there, the answer is ‘not much ‘. Frank started life as a great pitch, but as the scenario developed the script had nothing more to offer than a laboured formulaic story rich in suggestion poor in actual realisation. The script tries to suggest Frank as a charismatic character, but presents the viewer with only a suggestion of this idea, ‘Frank’ is little more than a series of vague suggestions. But the image is great and to make a low budget BFI type movie image, a USP might be all you need,

    Image is everything.

    Abrahamson’s Frank is ultimately an empty vessel: image with no content. As such it is the product of the age and the cultural forces that have produced the advertising industry and the various types of youth subculture. In both these cultural epiphenomena image is the mirror by which the spirit is enticed into the promised embrace of new narcissistic relations.

    Within a social system defined by insecurities the ad industry connects desires to products; in a world defined by the collapse of traditional markers of personal and social identity, youth subculture is a line of escape which again involves conforming self image to a more or less vague life style and concomitant values.

    I am what I see in the mirror.

    Frank is structured through the eyes of Jon through whose voice events are rather laboriously explained. Jon is one in a long line of ingénues, such as Melville’s Ishmael, who report back on world’s that are normally closed off. Jon is pitched as a wannabe musician, shackled to semi detached suburbia, and set free by the invitation to join Frank’s band.

    The band retreat to Ireland to record an album. But to record an album they have to find an identity. which is of course what Jon craves most of all. The identities taken up and tried on by Frank are like ready made off the peg solutions. Taking a series of off the peg garments off the rail of socio musical affects, Frank leads the band through the Hippy trip, the Lou Reid trip, the Devo Land trip. Perhaps part of the film’s allure is its mechanical switch through identity modes. The film finally comes to the RD Laing trip as the prominence of mental illness in the group is taken up by the script. But the relationship of the the group to their mental states is ill defined. There is nothing proposed beyond the suggestion that these people are simply, ‘other’ ‘outsiders’ who have some how come by some process or another to have been labelled. But mental illness is Frank again seems to be part of the sales pitch: it is crass and superficial as evidenced in the Don’s suicide which (with its somewhat desperate contrived presentation) seems no more than a device to keep the plot cranked up.

    The idea of mental illness is simply a notion put into service as part of the mechanics of the story. The script needs mental illness, so it is imported at no great cost to any one.

    As nothing in Frank actually means anything, this gives the actors a particularly hard time. It’s like they are trapped in a music video that goes on for about 20 times longer than it is supposed to. There is simply so place for the actors to go gesturally or developmentally, so their only recourse is to cycles of repetition.

    Domhnall Gleeson in his ingénue role of Jon flounders in a sea of inconsequentiality. He is simply left bereft by the script that demands him perform ridiculous acts of thespian contortion to keep his character running on the plot rails. The other member of the caste also suffer from the same fate with the script unable to provide them with either any recognisable continuity or purpose. This is particularly true of Frank, who is interesting initially as a sort of Warhol type figure upon whose bland exterior anything can be projected. Michael Fassbinder, undermined by the demand an idea that lacks purpose into which he can fold or against which he can react, ends up looking like he doesn’t know what to do, except to do as he is told by Abrahamson.

    The use of social media lamination, Jon’s purported blog, face book and Twitter entries and his ‘secrete ‘filming of Frank ( how anyone at close quarters could film is a open question) are again the signs of a film that is lost and unable to see clearly what it is really about.

    Conceived in the image, Frank is unable to find its way beyond the image. An idea with potential is lost to the pitch. There are a few laughs, but mainly of the cheaper variety. Adrin Neatrour

  • Locke Steven Knight (Uk 2013)

    Locke Steven Knight
    (UK 2013) Tom Hardy

    Viewed Empire Cinema 29 April 14; Ticket: £4

    Will the real John Locke please stand up…Steven Knight takes us into Ivan Locke’s cockpit as he drives the highways through the night in his communication system battle truck. A bardic warrior of the 4G network taking on angels and demons in his quest to confront and balance the forces of personal kama. Locke existing as a virtual entity, a stream of consciousness and desire connecting him out to other actual worlds that he trying to shape and control. The Locke Machine. The eponymous film title taken from the name of its main character, may point to the film’s philosophical provenance, in that this name is shared with the seventeenth century English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. John Locke proposed what for the time was a radical theory of the self, which he defined as a continuity of consciousness. And certainly in Ivan Locke, as in his namesake, we see a man of the Enlightenment. A being defining himself through consciousness, and through rationality connecting to the domains of utility emotion and ethics.

    Steven Knight sets up the situation of being in a car. The car as a carapace for a continuous stream of conscious communication, a default state of modern disembodied virtual existence. The disembodied virtual element also characterises the in-car monologue Ivan directs to his dead and resented father. As well as being a device for a emotional back story, Ivan’s ‘father monologues’ also read as an extension of in-car communication into the land of the dead: as if death itself was no impediment to the unending stream of communications that characterise our existence.

    The mobile call as an existential experience in which we are defined by our intentions; where we are nodal points of vast nervous systems that relay information. Ivan’s attitude to the information that streams out of and into his vehicle validates faith in contemporary communication systems. Like a five star general he runs his campaigns on the assumption that his information is full and true, compounding the idea that we can ubiquitously control manipulate and promote ourselves instrumentally through the microwave channels.

    The film’s plot ends with the apparent triumph of Ivan the technocrat. The Ivan machine which he put into play has produced satisfactory outcomes on all fronts: the practical and the moral; and time has been bought and a position established in the difficult dialogue with his wife.

    As the film progresses we watch Locke cope with the stresses invented for him by Knight. But I felt increasingly that I was watching a sort of displaced superhero movie. The Locke machine was driven by an overcoming script engine which displaced meaning. Locke had nothing to untangle except the knots in an external world. As the script mechanics became evident, interest in the movie was sustained by ratcheting up of the emotional feed-back loops that had been put into play. But for the audience the superhero scenario left the world of Locke’s interiority as unmapped space. As Locke developed the film increasingly resembled a typical Saturday night radio play, completely reliant on melodramatics for effect.

    The lack of interiority in the Ivan character affects the film’s relationship with its audience. For Ivan states of questioning, doubt, heretical thoughts, ambivalence whatever, are not present either in script or in performance. Given the structure of the film, with its strict focus on the Ivan machine, the audience is in a situation where they have to come to some moral judgement about him. Psychically and operationally he is more than protagonist, he is presence; his actions his justifications, the film. Although the plot develops, Ivan doesn’t. The Ivan machine does not break down. It stays in operational mode throughout the film, so that half way through the movie there is nothing more to see. At this point that Ivan becomes a tired machine out of whom Tom Hardy has to try a squeeze the last few emotional miles. The character is mono-dimensional. The Ivan machine has not one line or one moment that challenges his dimension. In a critical humanist sense Ivan doesn’t develop, he responds. As a result we leave the film without being left with any perceived truth or insight; we have seen a situation that simply demonstrates what we already know.

    Perhaps Knight might assert that his depiction of interiority was effected through the exteriorities.

    Locke is vigourously interspersed with exterior night shots of the highways, long shots close shots of different durations. There is particular emphatic use of focus pulls on lighting and on the refractive and reflective metal surfaces of the motorway traffic. Now these cut away images seem sometimes to connote symbols of chaos and confusion that we the audience might link to some actual or deeper state of mind in Ivan. This may be the case, but the serial repetition of these affective shots depreciates their value. They come to seem part of the current vogue for ‘scape’ inserts into drama as a pretension of meaning. And with so many of these shots inserted as cut aways unlinked to any interiority in Ivan, they start to look increasingly like distraction.

    The positive element In Locke which pulled me in was its initial premise: the idea of compression and the crushing of space. As time intensifies space is squeezed and Locke opens with the interplay of the two networks that contract space to non-existence: the wireless network and the road network. Time radically replaces distance opening up both practical and psychic possibility in the human domain. Ivan Locke travels on two parallels of intensity and plays them perfectly like some sort of Zen master balancing the forces of Ying and Yang. Breathtaking for a while but somewhere in the intermeshing of all these elements there has to be fear, for without fear there is no meaning. Adrin Neatrour