2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 16: Frank (2014)

DAY 16. MASKS ARE REQUIRED: You guessed it, at least one character has to wear a mask for the entire movie.

Chris Sievey was a comedian and musician who started his music career by hitchhiking with his brother and heading to the headquarters of Apple Records, where they did a sit-in and demanded to meet one of The Beatles. Instead, they got to play a song for the head of A&R Tony King.

His band The Freshies had their biggest hit with “I’m in Love with the Girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk,” but were mostly known only in Manchester. Then, a character that Sievey created, Frank Sidebottom, took over.

Frank was originally a superfan of The Freshies but the popularity of the character led Sievey to focus his output on strictly making records as Frank. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Frank appeared on the British version of Remote Control, as well as live performances and even a comic strip. He disappeared until 2005, when his Frank Sidebottom’s Proper Telly Show in B/W appeared on television and then he never went away again until Sievey’s death. His song “Christmas is Really Fantastic” was a big hit and there was even a social media campaign to get his song “Guess Who’s Been on Match of the Day” on the charts.

Jon Ronson was the keyboard player for Frank several times, touring with him while beginning his writing career, which has brought him into the orbit of David Icke and Alex Jones before anyone in this country really knew who they were, unlike now when conspiracy theories are everywhere. His book The Men Who Stare at Goats became a movie, then he mined his past to create the script — based on his newspaper article and co-written with Peter Straughan — for the mask-filled movie we’re about to discuss.

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) dreams of being a rock star, but has no idea how to get there. One day, by whim or fate or accident, he watches a man try to drown himself. That man was the keyboardist for the Soronprfbs, an experimental group that he is invited to play with that very night. Walking in off the street, he sees the lead singer, Frank (Michael Fassbender), a man with a very large masked head that he plugs a microphone into. Before he can get his bearings, the band begins to play and the performance just starts to come together when Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) flips out and destroys her KORG keyboard.

The band moves on. Jon cannot.

Soon, Frank calls him and invites him to join the band. Unknowingly, that means going to Ireland for an extended period to record an album. Jon struggles to be accepted by the rest of the band, which includes Baraque and Nana (Carla Azar, from Autolux, which is fantastic). As he secretly records the band, they begin to get noticed, which is the very thing that Frank both wants and fears most.

Stephen Rennicks from The Prunes wrote much of the music in this and it feels so real. The scenes where the songs come together are magical. And the scene in the diner, where fans are asking Jon about the band and wondering how crazy everyone is and not understanding that they are real people, underscores the issues of mental illness versus art that Roky Erickson, Wesley Willis and Daniel Johnston all really lived.

I’ve only seen one other Larry Abrahamson film before, 2015’s Room, but I really need to take the time and track down everything else he’s made. This movie really took me on a journey and I found myself filled with emotion at the end, as Frank is revealed.

You can learn more at the official site and Facebook page. This has my highest recommendation.

Remake Remix Rip-Off (2014)

As you may have learned from this week of films, Turkey is one of the biggest producers of pop culture in the world, despite a film industry that still has no budget, huge demand and little to no training. To keep up, often screenwriters and directors began creating cover versions of movies and characters from all over the world.

Creator Cem Kaya grew up with Yeşilçam movies from Turkish video stores in Germany. Over seven years of making this movie, he would meet with the directors, producers and actors who created these astounding films.

 

There’s a great moment here when one of the most successful Turkish TV producers looks back fondly at the past, sharing how much content they must crank out and how burned out the people making it are. The Yeşilçam movies of the past seem more filled with joy than the constant need to deliver more and more fuel for the furnace of a fickle public.

As you can tell from this week of films, we have a special feeling for the cinema of Turkey. This movie is a perfect introduction to what makes these movies just so strange and special. The personal touches that Cem adds to the film make it that much better. This is a perfect primer or refresher or reminder, no matter where your knowledge of these films lies.

You can learn more at the movie’s official site.

Late Phases (2014)

I loved Adrián García Bogliano’s Here Comes the Devil, so I was excited for this werewolf film. It’s not as amazing as that film, but there are some interesting parts to this story.

Will McKinley (Ethan Embry, Empire Records) has moved his blind vet dad Ambrose (StakelandWe Are What We Are) into a retirement home. Ambrose is angry, as he feels that he can live on his own. Despite the attentions of the ladies of this community — Tina Louise (Gilligan’s Island, Evils of the Night) Rutanya Alta (Mommie Dearest, Amityville II: The Possession) and Caitlin O’Heaney (Savage WeekendHe Knows You’re Alone) in great casting — but he only really cares about Shadow, his German Shepherd service dog. Then, one night, a werewolf breaks into his duplex and kills his neighbor (Karen Lynn Gorney, Saturday Night Fever) and his beloved canine companion.

Ambrose uses all his military skills to track down the wolf, as well as his enhanced hearing, as he recognizes a rasp in the breathing of the killer. Could it be the priest (Tom Noonan!)? The man in the iron lung? Or the strange James Griffin (Lance Guest)?

The film kind of plods along until the very intense close and emotional letter that Ambrose sends his son. I just wish that the film had more werewolves and less narrative leaps to make, like a blind man being placed in an unfamiliar home and not knowing where the furniture is.

There are parts of this movie that I realy liked, but I expected so much more. You may enjoy it more than me, so check it out on Amazon Prime.

Diamonds to Dust (2014)

Jayne Mansfield possessed an IQ of 163, played violin and piano at a concert level, had a degree in science, spoke 5 languages fluently and yet was known as a dumb blond. Her career was as short as her life was turbulent, with three ex-husbands, five children, addictions to booze and pills, and a car crash in 1967 that ended her life. This film looks at the final years of her career.

Hailey Heisick, who was in Don’t Look, plays Jayne. That’s a tall order, to be perfectly frank. But this is pretty much the Lifetime version of Jayne’s life, minus the Lifetime budget, so it’s going to be all sleaze and drama. Which, come to think of it, that’s what so much of her life was.

It’s sensationalized. It’s exploitation. And then again, that’s also the type of press that Jayne played with to keep her name in the headlines, even after the roles got smaller.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.

Pennsylvania Hardcore (2014)

Despite this being a movie about Pennsylvania, my hometown of Pittsburgh got lumped in with Erie, a city 127.8 miles away. They showed Club Laga. Roboto and Graffiti, but that was about it, to be honest, outside of some still photography. Yes, despite two hundred interviews made for this film, the Steel City got the shaft. That’s alright. We’re kind of used to it.

This was made by Loren W. Lepre, who I am sure I was in the same ECW shows at Viking Hall as him, judging from his biography on IMDB. It’s great that someone made a movie about this, but basically, if you sat at Gooski’s and someone screamed at you about bands that they liked and no one else knows, this would be the same thing, minus the attitude, overwhelming cigarette smoke and oh yeah, we can’t go to bars any longer because we live in a nightmare hellscape.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

REPOST: Dragons of Camelot (2014)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally ran this review on May 12, 2020. It’s a great reminder that Mark Lester is still making movies. This was written by Paul Andolina. You can see more of his writing on Wrestling with Film and Is the Dad Alive?

Dragons of Camelot is not the type of movie I’d normally seek out. I have no interest in Arthurian Legends but the moment you put in a wrestler in a movie about King Arthur I am obligated to see it. In this case, that wrestler is NWA Power’s Thom Latimer.

Dragons of Camelot is a 2014 film directed by Mark Lester, the same guy that directed Class of 1984 and Class of 1999. It is about King Arthur’s evil sister, the sorceress Morgana, who seeks to control Camelot after Arthur’s death by the way of Dragons. Galahad is sent by King Arthur on his death bed to find Lancelot who is the only one worthy of wielding the legendary sword Excalibur.

Galahad comes across a band of thieves on his way to find Lancelot but they turn out to be Knights of the Round Table, one of them, Sir Bors, is played by Thom Latimer. They join up on their quest to find Lancelot and to reforge Excalibur which was destroyed by Morgana. Along the way they fight Morgana’s evil knights and not one but three dragons.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this movie a bit, mainly because it’s subject matter didn’t interest me. However, apart from some iffy acting from some of the characters, it was a decent sword and sorcery outing. I was really impressed by the dragons, they did a good job with their inclusion and even though they were digital creations they looked pretty cool. My favorite part of the entire movie is when they blow off a dragon’s head by shooting a flame arrow into its open mouth while it is inhaling to create its fire breath.

Thom Latimer looks like he could take any number of knights on in this film. He did a good job at being Sir Bors and I think he’s one of the few stand out parts of the film. I found it sort of odd that he threw his axe at the dragon like a goofball. The only other gripe I have with Sir Bors is that he is only in about half of the film. He gets taken out like a chump which was disappointing.

If you like sword and sorcery, you may find some enjoyment in this film but I think for most people it may be a skippable title. You can watch this on Amazon Prime if you subscribe to that service.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)

Once upon a time, the creative force known as Richard Stanley (HardwareColor Out of Space) got the opportunity to make his dream project: a big budget adaption of H.G. Wells’ The Island Of Doctor Moreau.

How would a somewhat quiet and totally creative man work within the studio system? Not well, it turns out.

Between witchcraft, natural disasters, changing actors and the sheer gall of stars like Brando and Val Kilmer, Stanley would be replaced within days of shooting his first few cans of film. And yet he’d never go away, somehow hiding amongst the many animals within the film, living within the heart of darkness itself.

Packed with interviews with stars Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider and Rob Morrow, studio executives, crew members and even Stanley himself, the movie that emerges here — directed by David Gregory (Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al AdamsonMaster of Dark Shadows) — is so much better than the actual film that it discusses.

For what it’s worth, Stanley claims that this film is only sixty percent accurate, with some of the darker events simply glossed over. He also said that he never had four lumps of sugar in his tea, which will make much more sense once you watch this.

I’m biased, as I find Stanley to be a true genius. For more on his life, I recommend the documentary The Otherworld, which is beyond belief.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime or order it from Severin.

Dragons of Camelot (2014)

About the Author: This week was made for Paul Andolina, who writes the sites Wrestling with Film and Is the Dad Alive?

Dragons of Camelot is not the type of movie I’d normally seek out. I have no interest in Arthurian Legends but the moment you put in a wrestler in a movie about King Arthur I am obligated to see it. In this case, that wrestler is NWA Power’s Thom Latimer.

Dragons of Camelot is a 2014 film directed by Mark Lester, the same guy that directed Class of 1984 and Class of 1999. It is about King Arthur’s evil sister, the sorceress Morgana, who seeks to control Camelot after Arthur’s death by the way of Dragons. Galahad is sent by King Arthur on his death bed to find Lancelot who is the only one worthy of wielding the legendary sword Excalibur.

Galahad comes across a band of thieves on his way to find Lancelot but they turn out to be Knights of the Round Table, one of them, Sir Bors, is played by Thom Latimer. They join up on their quest to find Lancelot and to reforge Excalibur which was destroyed by Morgana. Along the way they fight Morgana’s evil knights and not one but three dragons.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this movie a bit, mainly because it’s subject matter didn’t interest me. However, apart from some iffy acting from some of the characters, it was a decent sword and sorcery outing. I was really impressed by the dragons, they did a good job with their inclusion and even though they were digital creations they looked pretty cool. My favorite part of the entire movie is when they blow off a dragon’s head by shooting a flame arrow into its open mouth while it is inhaling to create its fire breath.

Thom Latimer looks like he could take any number of knights on in this film. He did a good job at being Sir Bors and I think he’s one of the few stand out parts of the film. I found it sort of odd that he threw his axe at the dragon like a goofball. The only other gripe I have with Sir Bors is that he is only in about half of the film. He gets taken out like a chump which was disappointing.

If you like sword and sorcery, you may find some enjoyment in this film but I think for most people it may be a skippable title. You can watch this on Amazon Prime if you subscribe to that service.

Kingsmen: The Secret Service (2014)

Taken from the comic book bt Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, Kingsmen is all about what it takes to go from a commoner to one of the men on her majesty’s secret service. If anything, this is one of the rare comic book movies that improves upon its source material.

Matthew Vaughn (StardustLayer CakeKick-Ass) does a great job with this film, making a better Bond film than Bond films.

Ever since a tragic mission in 1997, Harry Hart (Colin Firth) has felt like he owed the family of Lee Unwin — who died to save his life — something. He gave the family a number of they ever need him and seventeen years later, Eggsy — Lee’s son — calls him. As played by Taron Egerton, he becomes the true hero that the Kingsmen — a secret organization of spies devoted to protecting the United Kingdom — has been looking for.

He must also deal with Richmond Valentine (Samuel Jackson), a rich genius using free wireless to cut down the Earth’s population. He’s backed up by Gazelle (Sofia Boutella, Atomic Blonde), a killer with prosthetic legs.

Plus, Mark Strong is great as the handler Merlin and Michael Caine can be in as many spy movies as he’d like.

I love that the idea of this movie is pretty much how Terence Young turned  Sean Connery into James Bond. Millar said, “Young realized he had to turn Connery, this rough Edinburgh guy, into a gentleman, and before they started shooting the movie, he took him to his tailor, to his favorite restaurants, and basically taught him how to eat, talk, and dress like a gentleman spy.”

This movie made me so pleased because someone remembers how to make a Eurospy movie with style while not being overly referential to what came before.

The Fuzz (2014)

About the Author: Paul Andolina is back to write about a recent theme he’s been watching: puppet films. You can check out his sites Wrestling with Film and Is the Dad Alive?

Is there anything more associated with children and innocence than puppets? Sesame Street, The Muppets, and Fraggle Rock captured the imaginations of children but puppetry also has a flip side. Puppetry with adult themes has been a slowly widening medium over the past twenty years from Crank Yankers, Wonder Showzen, Avenue Q to the most recent, the film The Happy Time Murders which seems to take some heavy cues from 2014’s The Fuzz.

The Fuzz is a crime TV show about puppets and humans that ran for 5 episodes. It was a 2011 film that was turned into a miniseries for Yahoo! Screen in 2014 (it’s also available on Amazon Prime and Vimeo). It was created by Christopher Ford who later went on to write the screenplay for Spider-Man Homecoming. Herbie a puppet cop who along with his newly assigned human partner Sanchez takes on the jelly bean trafficking Rainbow Brown.

Movie watching should never feel like a chore but lately I’ve been having a rough go at actually being able to pay any semblance of attention to anything I have chosen to view. The trailer looked cool enough and once I hit play The Fuzz grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and beckoned, “Behold the puppety goodness we have laid before thee!” 

Herbie is a goody two shoes puppet who won’t even swear, his favorite interjection being, “scrambled eggs”, Sanchez is a down on his luck ex beat cop with an alcohol problem. After a drug deal goes wrong resulting in the death of an innocent puppet janitor, Herbie is thrust onto the new Puppet Crime Task Force along with Sanchez. He is super proud of this and aims to stop crime but the chief views it as nothing but a PR stunt and tells them to keep their noses clean.

Rainbow Brown is a jelly bean dealer who gets mixed up with Jake, a scummy mobster and Jake’s uncle, Sonny. Rainbow really knows how to get the jelly bean trade going and is taken in by Sonny. Rainbow gets hooked on jelly beans after a meeting with the Banana Brothers. Finding much success in the jelly bean game, he finally finds the courage to move in on Sonny’s girl, Roxy. This angers Sonny and Rainbow murders him and starts a war with the human “skinsects” and Jake.

Herbie goes undercover as Flerbie sporting a mustache that hides a wire when he and Sanchez are taken off the case due to an unauthorized stake out of Sonny’s mansion. He ingratiates himself into Rainbow’s gang and gets a little too deep when he starts abusing jelly beans. Herbie, Rainbow, and Jake are on a collision course of epic proportions that concludes with the end of the film.

The Fuzz toes the line extremely well between comedy and crime. I didn’t think that a crime procedural about humans, puppets, and drugs would be super entertaining but this proved my worries were baseless.  The puppets are amazing. I loved the humor and I was drawn into this world where puppets and humans live side by side. It has a bit of crassness but nothing that really goes overboard. It gets close though with Strokey Zooms, a camera puppet who is obsessed with voyeurism. There is a small sex scene as well between Rainbow and Roxy but it’s not done distastefully. 

Some of my favorite supporting characters were Wizo, Rainbow’s yellow right hand man, and an unnamed drug addict puppet near the beginning of the film, who shows up again when he is accused of killing the puppets in the botched jelly bean deal. Sasha, a puppet with a horn on its face is also funny and only communicates with honks.

If you’re a fan of puppetry and crime dramas you should really give this one a shot, I haven’t been able to enjoy a movie for a while but The Fuzz may be the one that finally ends my funk. Don’t be a fluff-head, go to Amazon and check it out now!