I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
This week, Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Home Entertainment are bringing the beloved GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY to Blu-ray. Other titles include John Michael McDonagh’s CALVARY, WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL, the family fun DOLPHIN TALE 2 (watch our interview with the cast here), and Lenny Abrahamson’s wry comedy FRANK to name a few. However, we’re going to take focus this week to FRANK and GUARDIANS, two movies that you should add to your Christmas lists.
Cole Clay // Film Critic
FRANK is a film that is difficult to place inside of a box, nor should it have to succumb to any particular genre trappings. It’s a completely unique piece of filmmaking by Irishman Lenny Abrahamson who has a thirst for irreverence. He puts leading man (Michael Fassbender) and titular character behind an over-sized cartoonish head that mirrors late 80’s musician Frank Sidebottom. Screenwriter Jon Ronson served a stint as Sidebottom’s keyboard player, but the film isn’t a straight bio-pic, it adopts pieces of the departed singer’s eccentric nature. This allows for Abrahamson to take liberties and have its own story to tell and own purposes to serve.
Acting as the audience’s point-of-view is Jon (Domnhall Gleeson), an aspiring musician who is huge in ambition but tiny in talent. He is recruited into the tongue-tying Sonoprfbs (don’t try to pronounce it) by their mentally disturbed manager Don (Scoot Mcnairy) after a chance encounter. Abrahmason takes the film’s comedic perspective and switches it from slapstick to a subtle demeanor that walks the same line as several Coen brothers films.
Jon convinces the Sonoprfbs to seclude themselves in a rural Irish cabin for 18 months to record their debut album. The band is riddled with rivalries that are outlandish and eludes to how many other musicians meet their demise. Frank’s sharp-tongued lover Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) makes her ill-feelings toward Jon known at jump-street. Even if they crash into one another with bubbly passion one night in a hot tub.There is always a threat throughout that something amazingly unconventional is about to take place and as perplexing as most of the narrative may be, it’s manages to be inspiring.
Our SXSW interview with director Lenny Abrahamson (click here)
Fassbender has an alarming physical presence even if you take away his facial expressions he will verbally describe his disposition to the bandmates: “Flattered grin, followed by welcoming smile.” It’s the quirkiness that gives FRANK a sense of bewilderment that you have never seen before. On the surface it may be hard to identify with Frank, but read between the lines and it is a beautiful film about the effects of mental illness.
Abrahamson studies these eccentric musicians wanting to see how far they will strive to pursue their dreams, almost to the point of self-destruction. The funny part about this is Jon is the only member who cares about being recognized for the Sonoprfbs’ work. Unbeknownst to his bandmates he has been tracking their progress on social media creating a buzz, which is anchored by Frank’s massive head. Ultimately culminating with a career-altering performance during the music portion of SXSW. Gleeson brings a dimension to his character that we have yet to see from the actor. A sympathetic man who gets caught up in delusions of grandeur as some bands do by losing sight their own art. It takes a vast amount of talent for an actor to play a character who is virtually void of any artistic merit.
Their music creates the perfect storm of awkwardness that nestles itself into a cozy spot between dismissive and brilliant, depending on which side of the coin you are looking. The Sonoprfbs are the type of group that would gain notoriety through Pitchfork Media and have hundreds of thousands of music snobs (myself included) coming in droves to catch their next performance.
Hats off to Abrahamson and Ronson for taking the public’s idea of a cult figure and using his semi-fame as a device to discuss solitude and mental illness. Always spontaneous, chronically baffling Frank culminates with a whimsical tune “I Love You All” sung painfully by Fassbender. Who knows what became of the Sonoprbs, but their story will beckon a single tear and several head scratching moments.
The Blu-ray version will include:
- Deleted Scenes
- Behind the Scenes
- Behind the Mask
- Meet the Band – What is the Name of the Band?
- Interview with Director Lenny Abrahamson AXS TV: A Look at FRANK
- Commentary with Director Lenny Abrahamson, Actor Domhall Gleeson and Music Composer Stephen Rennicks
Preston Barta // Editor
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY | Rated PG-13 | Director: James Gunn | Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro and Glenn Close
One could reason that THE AVENGERS and X2 are the greatest Marvel movies around. With their wit, exciting characters and explosive action, they have cemented themselves into superhero movie greatness. Another feature to add to the mix is James Gunn‘s equally as impressive GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. It’s a visual feast spiced with non-stop humor, badassery and fun.
The story follows Peter Quill (an excellent Chris Pratt), who, after stealing a mysterious orb in the far stretches of space, is now the primary target of a manhunt led by Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). To help fight Ronan, Quill (otherwise known as Star Lord) creates a team known as “Guardians of the Galaxy” to save the universe.
First, we have to talk about James Gunn, who does wonders to this film’s script by not forcing dialogue. Everything feels natural and believable in such a world. The interaction between the characters is much more organic than one would have ever anticipated. He took what appears to be a very silly premise, with silly looking characters and made it completely work. You can tell he not only did his homework, but he really cares deeply for the material, and his passion definitely shows on-screen, like Joss Whedon with THE AVENGERS.
The best thing about these characters is that they are not twenty-something terrible actors who were opted for on-screen eye candy. Chris Pratt and his acting gang all do a fine job of bringing these characters to life, and their chemistry is infectious. Put together, they are an unstoppable force, especially with the scene-stealing Bradley Cooper (as Rocket) and Vin Diesel (as Groot). Everyone is given great moments to shine, which makes it a far more balanced film than we usually get in superhero flicks.
Bottom line, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is one of the few gems that shined in sea of weak summer blockbusters. It’s the funniest (and weirdest) Marvel movie yet. Gunn brings the guns, and his cast deliver an entertaining space adventure worth your time and money.
The 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack and Blu-ray versions will include:
- DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Latin Spanish and French-Canadian, Dolby Digital 2.0 English DVS 2.0 Sound
- English SDH, Spanish, and French Subtitles
- Never-Before-Seen Deleted Scenes
- Making-of Featurettes
- Exclusive Look at MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
- Gag Reel
- Audio Commentary