Do you remember the '80 metal band GWAR? I do – but not at all because of their music. What I remember are the concert videos - band members in crazy full-body costumes, giant puppet monsters devouring virgians, and gallons and gallons of fake blood sprayed across the audience while wildly theatrical violence happened on-stage. KISS is another band that used creative appearances to help their act. In both cases, the most memorable aspect of those bands isn’t at all their music; it's their gimmicks. Gimmicks are all about using abnormal features to draw people towards something that couldn't be farther from original. The music of GWAR and KISS – arguably, of course – isn't groundbreaking and never sounded original, but their costumed stage presence was unprecedented. Both rock bands found success through their gimmicks. Knowing this, if you heard of an indie band whose frontman always – both off-stage and on-stage – wore a giant papier-mâché head, would you be able to look past it? Would you give their music an honest chance, or would you write it off as a cheap attempt at gaining attention? 'Frank' may appear to be an odd little indie film with a gimmick, but if you give it a chance and look past the gimmick, you'll find its value.
Despite Michael Fassbender playing the masked titular character in 'Frank,' Domhnall Gleeson (whom you'd know as the eldest Weasley son in the last two 'Harry Potter' movies and the lead in 'About Time') plays the central character, Jon. Jon has huge aspirations of writing timeless songs. He wants to produce a popular song that all can love and enjoy. The film opens by giving us a glimpse into how hard he's willing to work to do it. His drive and ambition is admirable, but he's just not there yet. Every seemingly great and catchy melody, lyric or rhyme that he comes up with turns into just another failed attempt.
Much like the way that Guy Patterson became a member of Oneders in 'That Thing You Do,' it's when the keyboardist for an eclectic and unheard-of indie band is hospitalized that Jon gets his big break. The band's name is Soronprfbs. Can't pronounce it? Neither can anyone in the film. They're so "out there" with their sound that they don't really want to be understood or loved by anyone. The intentions of the band are on the polar opposite end of the spectrum from Jon's, but with the chance to play with and learn from other musicians, Soronprfbs just might be the vehicle to drive him to realize his dream.
Soronprfbs consists of six members: Jon on the keyboard, off-her-rocker Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) plays eerie instruments like the theremin; Baraque plays the guitar; Nana (Jack White's 'Blunderbuss' drummer Carla Azar) plays the drums; Don (Scoot McNairy of 'Killing Them Softly') serves as the band's manger; and, of course, there's Frank (Fassbender). Frank not only provides the vocals, but he's the foundation of the group and their morale. Beneath that gigantic mic'd papier-mâché head is a brilliant man. As mysterious as he is, Frank is a sort of healer and shepherd for the others in the band. They're all broken, yet Frank is the calm and gentle foundation that keeps them grounded. Under his guidance, there's no limit to their potential.
When Jon joins the band, he's immediately swept away with them to a secluded cabin somewhere in Ireland. For months, Soronprfbs experiments, rehearses and writes in preparation for recording their new album. Under Frank's wing, Jon grows in experience and learning, but is not accepted by anyone other than Frank and Don. While the original members are determined to write original music with never-before-heard sounds, Jon simply wants to write a hit – and they view that as a threat. Not entirely fitting in, Jon often sits in the background, recording archival videos of the band's best moments and uploading them to social media. It's because of Jon's uploads that the band finally gets what just might be an all-exposing big break – an invitation to perform at SXSW.
'Frank' starts off very strong. It's immediately entertaining, highly likable and fun. The mid-section changes gears a little, but keeps the entertainment value going. The third act shifts to an even more drastic gear that's not as strong – nor expected – as the first two, yet paves way for a very nice and quite impactful ending. Simply watching 'Frank' and not putting any thought into it afterward will most likely leave you longing for more, but if you put in a small amount of post-viewing effort to analyze, you'll recognize the gems that are hidden within. It's then that you'll see 'Frank' as the refreshingly original and meaningful little indie comedy that it is.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia has placed 'Frank' on a Region-A BD-50 and slapped it into a standard blue Elite keepcase. When you first fire up the disc, an unskippable vanity reel and commentary disclaimer run before skippable trailers for 'The Two Faces of January,' 'White Bird in a Blizard,' 'Honeymoon,' 'Life Itself' and commercials for Chidio and AXS TV. The main menu features footage from the film set to one of the band's final songs in the film – a Jim Morrison-sounding indie track.
'Frank' carries a very nice 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. With Magnolia Blu-rays, you never know if you're going to get a 25-gig or 50-gig disc. The BD-25s usually carry compression errors, so 'Frank' is a winner with its BD-50. Potentially disc-caused flaws – bands, aliasing, noise – are nowhere to be found, allowing the crystal clear digitally-shot film to impress on Blu-ray.
From beginning to end, the crystal clarity of 'Frank' lends itself to its beautiful imagery. Be it a gray clouded Great Britain coast, suburb streets lined with perfect box-like homes, the foggy Irish countryside, or even the Texas desert – locations look wonderful. Details abound due to the sharpness. Facial hair is not only visible on a folicle-by-folicle basis, but, from actor to actor you can determine the thickness of their hairs. Having seen Domhnall in many recent films, it wasn't until 'Frank' that I noticed the high amount of freckles on his face - all thanks to fine digital presentation. Details like this are everpresent.
The only fault that I could find in the disc occurs during Jon's "long walk" to join the band on-stage for the first time. While cautiously stepping through the dark, narrow backstage halls of some shady venue, as if filmed without bright-enough lighting, the usually perfect black levels suffer major crushing. Considering that's the only flaw I could find in 'Frank,' it's hardly worth complaining about.
The disc's solitary audio track is a fantastic one – 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Like the (nearly) non-stop crispness of the video quality, the audio track consistently make use of all channels. The rear channels are always lit up – be it with music, effects or playfully mixed vocals. With sound playing such a large part of the story, you couldn't ask for anything more.
'Frank' opens with Jon's inner voice attempting to come up with lyrics and melodies that are inspired by his surroundings. Each new attempt – all of which are failures – is mixed to emit from a different speaker, causing his voice to bounce around the room. All vocals are well-mixed. The only time that an environment's qualities can be heard in the voice track is the dialog of Fassbender. Of course, wearing a huge mask the entire time, his voice is slightly muffled – which is absolutely fitting and realistic. There are times that Frank may be difficult to understand, but that's to be expected and is most certainly intentional.
Once the music kicks in, it's dynamically mixed throughout all of the channels. As strange as the psychedelic tunes are, the way they're dynamically mixed makes it absolutely beautiful. For one scene, with the camera located smack in the middle of the instruments, each sound properly rings out from its own channel, making the sound collectively and harmoniously come together where you're sitting. There's a fantastic range to the music, with high high-ends and fantastically deep and bassy lows. The bright and quirky original score plays the same way as the in-movie music.
The effects mixing is no different from that of the music or vocals. It's dynamic, there's seamless imaging and absolute clarity. Party settings feature chitter-chatter spread throughout the channels. Seaside settings contain fully immersive audio with waves crashing to one side or the other. If in a bar, the mellow band can be heard up front while the faint sounds of glasses clinking and banter can be heard from behind. The audio mix is fires on all cylinders without coming across as forced or unnatural.
'Frank' may not function perfectly if viewed lazily and superficially, but with a small amount of afterthought and analysis, it becomes a strong little indie film that you won't soon forget. Domhnall Gleeson and Maggie Gyllenhaal give great performances, but faceless Michael Fassbender truly steals the praise. The script combined with their performances results in greatness, a funny, entertaining and touching little story about never giving up, finding where you fit and being yourself. The video quality is near-perfect and the audio is relentlessly impressive. More special features are present than you'd expect from a little indie film. Collectively, this makes 'Frank' a Blu-ray more than worthy of checking out sooner than later.