In 2014 I made good use of my evenings to catch up with a lot of the films that I had intended to see but had missed out on. OK, there are a couple of hours of my life spent in the company of a Hobbit that I will never get back but I did the right thing. 2014 seems to have been a good year for cinema & here are 3 films which caught the attention of my ears as well as my eyes.
“Frank” was near the top of a long “to-see” list. I am a devoted fan of Frank Sidebottom, “the Bard of Timperley”, an eccentric, papier mache headed character created by Chris Sievey who always raised my spirits & made me laugh. I had missed Lenny Abrahamson’s last film “What Richard Did” (2012) but enjoyed both “Adam & Paul” (2004) & “Garage” (2007), sparse, atmospheric & affecting snapshots of modern Ireland, he’d do it right. Of course the film has nothing to do with & is not about our Frank. I wasted the first 30 minutes of the film attempting to get a handle on just what I was watching. Sure, this Frank has the same (but not the same) head worn by Magneto, currently the best actor around & that’s it. I was charmed by this story of a rock & roll band, hooked by their travails & the great performances by Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal (oh my !) & Brendan Gleeson’s boy Domhnall.
The music for “Frank” is by Abrahamson’s regular collaborator Stephen Rennicks. When the band finally do play something “Secure the Galactic Perimeter”, with echoes of Joy Division, the Doors & Captain Beefheart, is convincing stuff & it has to be for the film to work. Other songs capture Frank’s outsider perspective & the finale, “I Love You All”, poignantly & appropriately places the music at the heart of the storytelling. This Frank’s odd, subtle humour has hung around more than any film I saw last year & the Soronprfbs are the best celluloid rock band since the Leningrad Cowboys went America. You know they are, they really are !
For 30 years now Jim Jarmusch has been making films that have always entertained & sometimes delighted me. “Ghost Dog”, “Down By Law” &…well, it’s a list. His more recent films have had a contemplative tone, not overly troubled by storyline, not everyone’s cup of pekoe. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is Jim’s vampire movie. Adam, a reclusive rock star played by Loki, is depressed & holed up in desolate, deserted Detroit. His wife, Eve, leaves Tangiers (where she hangs with Christopher Marlowe) to join him. Eve is the wonderful Tilda Swinton who, with this, “Snowpiercer”, “The Zero Theorem” & “The Grand Budapest Hotel” had an amazing year. I’ve been a fan since Derek Jarman’s “Caravaggio” (1986), saw her as Mozart at the Almeida in 89 & in a glass case at the Serpentine Gallery in 95. So, I’m just the guy to buy into Jarmusch’s louche, modern day sanguisuges holding back the ennui of eternal life by playing chess, dropping heavyweight cultural names from the ages & sipping the finest blood money can buy.
“Only Lovers…” soundtrack spans time & continents, from Paganini through Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan to Jim’s own band SQURL. When our heroes do get out of the house (at the urging of vampire imp Mia Wasikowska who also stars in David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars”, #1 in my heart for 2014) they see White Hills at a club. Adam has a disdain for the digital taste of the “zombies”, keeping hold of treasured vinyl 7″ singles. This scene, when Eve shows him the beauty in the world by demanding he dances to Denise LaSalle’s “Trapped By A Thing Called Love” is just perfect. It (& Tilda) will bring me back to this reflection on everlasting love & enduring Art.
The funniest vampire movie of the year, “What We Do In the Shadows” & the equally amusing ghost/horror story “Housebound” both came from New Zealand while across the Tasman Sea in Australia writer-director David Michod released his follow up to “Animal Kingdom” (2010), a gripping, violent crime thriller about Melbourne gangsters. “The Rover” is set 10 years after the global economic collapse. We know that further down the line Max Rockatansky will be getting & going Mad but here the scavenging survivors are back in the Wild West & still wondering how the heck it had come to this. “The Rover” is a story stripped to its bare bones. Eric, the Man with One Name, has had his car nicked & he wants it back. The lad from “Twilight” knows where it is & they form an unlikely partnership along the way. Guy Pearce gives a ferocious performance which holds the film together while Robert Pattinson, in this & “Maps to the Stars” is proving that we were all wrong about him. “The Rover” is a harsh, violent film. One critic wrote that it is “bleak, brutal and unrelentingly nihilist”, that’s 5 stars then.
The score was written by Antony Partos, the soundtrack assembled by Sam Petty who both worked with Michod on “Animal Kingdom”. Eric is a man of few words & the script is as sparse as the film’s Outback setting. The soundscapes used in “The Rover” are evocative, even ominous but certainly not intrusive. I’ve chosen to include a piece by Partos but the soundtrack also put me on to jazz saxophonist Colin Stetson who makes some very interesting noises. David Michod is slated to write & direct “The Operators” next, an adaptation of Michael Hastings’ book about General McChrystal, Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, starring Brad Pitt. I’ve had a good year’s viewing & will look forward to that.