Belle & Sebastian Musical 'God Help The Girl' and Weirdo Rock Movie 'Frank' Hit VOD
Also streaming, a doc about the pitcher who threw a no-hitter on LSD
Welcome to IndieStream, your weekly guide to the best new films hitting an Internet connection near you.
God Help The Girl
God Help the Girl is the directorial debut of Belle & Sebastian’s lead singer Stuart Murdoch. The project began a decade ago as a collection of songs Murdoch wrote and recorded between the bands’ tours and albums. Over the years, nurtured by producer Barry Mendel (Rushmore, The Sixth Sense), the songs grew into a musical set in Glasgow that was informed and inspired by Murdoch’s nostalgia for the summer Belle & Sebastian formed.
The film tells the origin story of a twee band, not dissimilar from the real band's core trio, that forms when Eve (Emily Browning) escapes from a hospital where she is being treated for a depression and an eating disorder and stays with James (Olly Alexander), a skinny, intellectual guitarist.
There are elements of God Help The Girl that have been universally praised. For example, the candy-colored look brought to life by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens and production designer Mark Leese, or the film’s wistful charm and the performances of the young actors, especially Browning.
But for critics like THR’s David Rooney, the totality of these parts doesn’t add up to a satisfying two-hour narrative: “As frontman of indie chamber pop outfit Belle & Sebastian, Murdoch has proven himself an inspired storyteller, spinning captivating three- or four-minute narratives about misunderstood geniuses, lovelorn outsiders and sickly kids who weren’t good at sports. But the wistful pleasures are stretched awfully thin at almost two hours in a film that blurs the line separating self-irony from tiresome self-consciousness.”
On the other hand the film does have strong supporters, like The Dissolve’s Noel Murray, for whom the film “is ultimately an affirmation of life and music: a quirky little how-to manual on surviving the worst of youth.”
No No: A Documentary
The hook with the documentary about major league pitcher Dock Ellis is that in 1970 he threw a no hitter while tripping on LSD. The film though uses the folklore of that historic night in June as a way into exploring the seismic shifts the country was going through in the 1970s. Jeff Radice’s documentary shows how Ellis’s antics, like wearing curling irons to practice and his brash behavior with the media, were entirely intentional.
Ellis, like Muhammed Ali, was a leader of what would be known as the second wave of civil rights in sports. Whereas Jackie Robinson and other barrier breakers kept quiet and let their performance on the field speak for itself, Ellis very purposefully was trying to rattle the establishment.
The film also digs into the destructive side of Ellis' alcoholism and drug use. As THR’s Duane Byrge wrote back at Sundance where the film premiered, it’s the complexity of the portrait of Ellis that is at the heart of this well-received film:
"Interspersing interviews with an array of baseball players (mainly Pirates teammates), ex-wives and drug counselors, filmmaker Jeff Radice has hit every corner of Ellis’ amazing story. Radice’s filmic delivery breaks sharply from just a sports-story to an intensely personal story as well as a glimpse into the social/political cataclysms of the 1960 and ‘70s."
You can watch the trailer below and read THR’s interview with director Radice here.
Kelly & Cal
Motherhood in suburbia is not easy for former punk rocker Kelly (Juliette Lewis), who is suffering from postpartum depression mixed with nostalgia for her Riot Grrl days. Enter Cal (Jonny Weston), a 17-year old boy recently confined to a wheelchair after a mysterious accident, who tries to bum a cigarette through a fence and comments on Kelly’s breasts. The two strike up an unusual friendship over a mutual rebellious streak and longing for their former lives.
Amongst the critics who enjoyed Kelly & Cal, including THR’s John DeFore, it is the chemistry between Lewis and Weston, who make the unlikely friendship both believable and entertaining, that is key to the film's success.
In what is starting to become a trend for larger profile indies like Snowpiercer and The Trip To Italy, Frank has been released on VOD just three weeks after opening theatrically in major cities, where the film grew to 52 theaters and made just over $300,000 in box office.
One of the challenges for distributor Magnolia with Frank has been how to market and explain a film about an experimental rock band whose leader wears a large artificial head with a cartoon face painted on it – especially when that mask is covering the face of leading man Michael Fassbender.
The film has largely been well received by critics, scoring a 92 on the Tomatometer, although its quirky charms eluded THR’s Todd McCarthy, who wrote: “Irish director Lenny Abrahamson clearly means to beguile with this weird mix of moods and methods -- goofy comedy here, sudden slashes of tragedy there, momentary eruptions of musical inspiration overshadowed by admitted mediocrity -- but the mash-up of elements combine with a singularly unpleasant roster of characters to create a work of genuinely off-putting quirkiness.”
You watch the trailer for Frank here.