The Scoreboard: ‘I Love You All’ The Soronprfbs – Frank (2014)

So when I went into the cinema to watch Frank back in 2014 I really had no idea what to expect. I was living in South Manchester at the time the turf of the iconic papier-mache comic Frank Sidebottom the film drew inspiration from. My thoughts at the time were about how the bloody hell can they make an indie musical comedy from this character starring none other than Michael Fassbender, unless of course it was inspired by Frank Sidebottom’s ‘Panic On The Streets of Timperley’!

Well they only went and bloody did it and Frank turned out to become one of the most endearing musical comedies out there.

I look at Frank as an inspirational coming of age film for the freaks, weirdos and the insecure out there, which let’s be honest we all are in someway or another! It’s about a chaotic group of misfits who through whatever circumstances have found each other and discovered a sense of place and normality together.

The members of The Soronprfbs which includes the enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender), mood swinging Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and manackin ‘friend’ Don (Scott McNair) have come together with all their often extreme quirks and insecurities to find a special kind of peace through music. Indeed it’s the ‘straight’ character Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) with his obsession with popularity and finding his muse that soon seems the most destructive and insecure.

I think the closing song ‘I Love You All’ really encapsulates this is outlandish sense of togetherness, belonging and love. Like hammering mismatched lost pieces of a jigsaw together, it won’t look right but the board will be just as strong.

Fun bonus fact: the introduction scene where Jon becomes the new keyboardist is true to life of how Jon Ronson, co-writer and Frank Sidebottom’s keyboard player, found his way into the band.

Replay: Network (1976)

‘Ratings don’t last. Good journalism does’ said CBS News veteran Dan Rather. The problem is power within a news network is with the producers and the producers are businessmen not journalists; ratings is all they have. Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet’s brilliant 1976 news media satire Network tells the story of when the quest for ratings goes down a macabre path, and how anger and outrage will always sell.

Network revolves around the chaotic demise, or some might argue rebirth, of long time newsman Howard Beale, played by an excellent Peter Finch, who after finding out about his imminent forced ‘retirement’ due to declining ratings goes on the air to announce that he plans to take lifes ultimate bow live on television. What follows is a plethora of shock, scandal and the uncomfortable, inhumane and greed ridden morality of a national television network who have stumbled into an unexpected Holy Grail of ratings.

The cast in Network is simply brilliant. Faye Dunaway plays the relentless Diana Christensen, a woman with a outlandish knack for finding television that sells, even terrorism gets a rather humourous showcase. Alongside Diana is Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) a cold, hard money man with one eye on the books and one hand on the chopping block. Meanwhile, Howard’s long time friend Max Schumacher (William Holden) watches on helplessly at the chaos and exploitation of his one true friend, a solitary voice of sanity and the audiences only ally.

Paddy Chayefsky meticulously researched the news media network business and competition in anticipation of writing Network and it certainly shows. Some of the network boardroom discussions are poetic and intricately devious, with great intention it feels like they are speaking a foreign language at times. A wonderful linguistic barrier between the alien business and the raw humanity they choose to exploit.

Indeed raw humanity is what gives Howard his kick and the mantra that revolutionises his audience who he has rescuef from their culture of disenchantment, in his own words ‘I’m a human being God damn it! My life has meaning!’ He throws his very essence and sanity into his passionate performance, literally to the point of exhaustion. Some very clear parallels with the social freak show nature of contemporary reality TV bilge.

It’s important to remember that the setting of this film was post-Watergate, people really were ‘mad as hell’, it’s understandable the raw world-weary emotion of Howard’s booming tirades hold such appeal to an audience sick of the people in power’s scandalous behaviour; of course the sad irony is that is just another power grab scandal they are buying into, and Howard, unwillingly, another commodity to sell.

It’s a film where fundamental revolutionary anger and rebellious values of the disillusioned many overcoming the rich and powerful few just becomes another marketing gimmick, the ‘revolution’ is politely seated in studio chairs and told when to clap and when to shout; all the while the market profit grows. This is perfectly encapsulated in Howard’s invitation to ‘Valhalla’ by CCA Chairman Arthur Jenson (Ned Beatty) in which as if in the presence of a God he is reminded that ‘the world is a business’.

Just simply wonderful satire. A fantastic film that takes the viewer into that relentless world behind the camera and pushes some uncomfortable boundaries of how far down the rabbit hole television might go in the quest for ratings.

‘The world is a business’ 

The Scoreboard: ‘None of Them Are You’ Carter Burwell – Anomalisa (2015)

What’s in a film soundtrack? Sometimes it’s so bland you barely notice it, sometimes it’s so forced in your face you can’t help notice it, but then sometimes it’s that perfect accompaniment that takes the cinematic experience to a special place.

There’s those special cosy moods when you’re walking home from the cinema with that one tune in your head reliving the story you’ve just been lost to the world in for the past two hours; it’s a very warm feeling. This new feature The Scoreboard is here to celebrate those moments, and to begin with I’ve picked a quite unique entry…

Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa was such a wonderful piece of work. It is a love story in a very bitter-sweet sense. It’s a perfect snapshot of that fresh, enflamed feeling at the beginning of a relationship accompanied with that niggling feeling of anxiety and sometimes doubt.

It’s a very mesmerising experience and so when the curtains go down and the credits role to this simple lounge tune. composed by the great Carter Burwell and sang by Tom Noonan the voice of ‘everyone else’, I found myself transfixed.

There’s something about the simple, dream-like melody accompanied by the imperfectness of Noonan’s voice that just fits so perfectly with the film. It’s has a certain uneasy nostalgia to it, that speaks for all the highs and lows I am sure we have all felt in our love lives…

The Clip Show: An Alternative Soundtrack to Paris, ‘La Haine’ (1995)

Ah gay Paris, the city famous through out history for it’s romance, beauty and extravagance. But like any major city in the world, Paris hides some ugly organs deep below it’s picturesque ‘front of house’ face.

Far from the city’s crisp, clean centre 1995’s magnificent La Haine broadcasts to the world the seldom seen urban strife from one of the city’s many ‘banlieues’; large, cramped inner city residencies along with a great deal of social and racial tension. These Parisian urban jungles play a tune heard in similar inner city landscapes; one of social segregation, disenfranchised youths and a culture of crime.

This clip provides an excellent musical demonstration of the contrast between the bright and dark sides of modern Paris. It’s a cold and dangerous world in which young men with no prospects must embrace the harsh reality around them and, above all else, ‘regrette rien’; regret nothing.

Review: Your Name

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Have you ever considered that when you gaze into the sky and focus on one particular star you are sharing that particular sight with hundreds or perhaps thousands of others in distant lands who just happen to be looking at that exact same spot at that exact same time? Sometimes a little perspective brings the world closer. But what if you were to share more than just a vision and what if it somehow binds your lives together? Makoto Shinkai’s exceptional animated film Your Name explores just that.

So I went into this film with ringing endorsements all about. Makoto Shinkai has been hailed as the new Hayao Miyazaki the mastermind behind such greats as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke; so naturally I was very intrigued to see what he is all about. You know what? I think they might be onto something!

Your Name tells the tale of two Japanese teenagers who, after strange circumstances one twilight evening under the gaze of a great glowing meteor passing by the Earth, become completely intertwined in each others lives, literally!

The first protagonist we meet is Mitsuha a high school girl living in the beautiful but uneventful lakeside town of Itomuri. Fed up with the small town politics and having to follow her family shrines dull ancient traditions. She longs for a life of more excitement and wants to move to Tokyo in a different life, so much so that she even proclaims that ‘I wish I was a boy in Tokyo!’

Well sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for! The next thing she knows she is waking up in the body of Taki a rough and ready, and forever late, high-school boy living in the bustling crowds of Tokyo. She simply dismisses it as a dream and enjoys the ride, all the while worrying that she won’t wake up. Meanwhile Taki’s friends wonder why he has suddenly become so feminine.

Meanwhile, Taki wakes up in Itomuri in the body of Mitsuha. He doesn’t waste too much time settling in; I mean what do you think a teenage boy would do in a girls body an notices he has some new ‘features’. He soon discovers the beauty of Itomuri and a tranquillity rarely seen in his native Tokyo.

Taki and Mitsuha dip in and out of each others lives and bodies and pretty soon they realise that they are not simply dreaming. They begin to understand their predicament and use some creative tools to communicate and begin to make the most of the situation. What follows is a journey to understand each others souls and overtime their bond becomes deeper and things get ever stranger.

The animation in this film is magnificent, there is seamless blend of reality and the fantastical. There is almost a dream like undertone to the scenery, Itomuri and Tokyo both have their own unique and strange magnificence that really moves and comes to life with some flowing free-hand animation and a very vibrant colour palette. On top of this the characters themselves are draw with such a delicacy that all the complexities and subtleties of human emotion real comes out of the screen.

Above all else Shinkai explores that deep foreboding feeling of longing that we all have from time to time; whether it be for a different place, a different time or a different person. Like many adolescents finding their feet in the world both of the characters have a deep idealistic lust for change and feel uncomfortable and awkward in their own different worlds. Their unique relationship soon becomes their vessel to explore and develop, helping each other out along the way.

Now when it comes to anime I know the awkward and embarrassed teenage protagonist is such an over done concept that more often than not portrays it in a farcical and immature manner, but in the case of Your Name this awkwardness comes with a maturity and sense of anxiety that I think is rarely shown. The characters both have a great wariness of not belonging and, to go back to my star analogy, there is a mystical comfort in realising that there is someone else out there they can relate to is gazing at the same sky; it’s an overwhelming and very warm feeling.

This film is a real gem. It is a very sweet and heart warming film with a great sense of humour and some quite heart wrenching moments throughout. You might be fooled into thinking based off of the synopsis that it is going to play out like an elaborate episode of Quantum Leap but this films plot is an intertwining journey that will take many surprising paths.

Shinkai has created a masterful piece of work and I thoroughly look forward to seeing more from him. Japanese animation might has found a new treasure.

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Replay: Münchhausen (1943) Joseph Goebbels’ Wartime Distraction

In 1943 it was becoming very clear to a lot of German citizens that perhaps this war wouldn’t be won so decisively and it was starting to become more apparent that there was a very real danger that the war could work its way back to German soil. Their army had just lost the grueling battle of Stalingrad, meanwhile the Axis were losing control of North Africa, and all the while British and American bombing raids in Germany began to grow and intensify.

Joseph Goebbels and his Propaganda machine saw that the people needed a welcome distraction and a reminder of past German heroics, all be it fictional ones, and as such he pumped millions of Reichsmarks into supporting the Universum Film AG (UFA) production of Münchhausen; a film telling the iconic folklore tale of the aristocratic German adventurer Baron Münchhausen. It was also a fine opportunity to celebrate 25 years of the UFA studio.

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Now maybe I shouldn’t say this about a film that was funded by the Nazis but I think there is certainly a lot of charm to this film, it is quite fun to watch, well aside from the rather uncomfortable references to slavery. Hans Albers is also brilliant in the titular role and brings with him a very warm humour and a great theatricality to the role. I think it’s also very fair to say that the film had an influence on Terry Gilliam’s great 1988 film  The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

It was a full ‘Agfacolour’ production, which was the German answer to ‘Technicolor’, and as such comes with a lot of vibrancy and, although it looks archaic now, did have some clever visual effects for the 1940s. Goebbels saw the huge success of 1940s Wizard of Oz as a challenge to Germany and this film was his retort to show the Germany could do one better.

The film also made clear to avoid any direct references to contemporary politics or the war effort, which is surprising  given that Goebbels himself gave it the green light. Perhaps he saw the value in giving their increasingly anxious audience a bit of escapism and fantasy, but I think more likely was that he wanted a film that showed the achievements of German industry to the outside world as if to say, yes we can fight this long war on multiple fronts and still churn out technically marvels that your own audiences can enjoy.

It’s because of this political freedom and extravagant financial backing that this film came with a lot of creative freedom and I can only imagine was a very welcome relief to the artistic freedom-starved film writers and directors of the time; many of whom had been heavily censored or drafted into writing pure propaganda.

On the other hand, this avoidance of political framing was much to Adolf Hitlers great displeasure. Since his party was pumping so much money into the film, money that he would have prefered to pump into ships and planes, he wanted a film that was written to rally his people behind the Nazi banner and march them forward, not distract them with fanciful tales and folklore. As such Munchhausen is believed to be one of the reasons Goebbels’ and Hitler’s relationship became very strained in later years.

So as I hope this fun clip demonstrates Münchhausen was a bright film that came from a very dark place…