CAPSULE: THE FRAME (2014)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: David Carranza, Tiffany Mualem

PLOT: The (literally) separate realities of a thief and a paramedic intersect.

Still from The Frame (2014)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Try though it might, The Frame can’t entirely escape the sophomore slump. Jamin Winans’ first film, Ink, was a budget original and a Certified Weird success. This followup has interesting ideas that prove Winans’ talent is not a fluke, but it doesn’t capture the imagination the way the debut film did.

COMMENTS: The production team behind The Frame has been stingy in revealing details of the film’s plot, and after watching it I can see why. The movie does benefit from surprising twists (the first of which is revealed fairly early), and although I don’t think the intriguing concept completely pays off at the film’s end, it’s still a good idea not to spoil it. So, this is as much as I’m willing to say about the plot: it involves Alex, an illegal immigrant and reluctant thief working with a crew who boosts cargo from sixteen-wheelers, who’s looking for a way out of his criminal lifestyle. It also involves Sam, a dedicated paramedic with a troubled personal life and a weekly date with a blurry therapist. The two characters live separate lives in realities that exist at right angles to each other—not parallel, since parallel storylines never intersect, and these two lives do connect, in a very strange way.

I can’t say that the two stories resolve themselves in an emotionally satisfying way, but things do get weird by the end, especially when Sam crashes a film production studio and finds herself stuck in a loop with a self-typing typewriter. There’s also a low-tech, but bold, special effect with Alex that looks simultaneously silly and cool; it’s the kind of thing a Hollywood film would never dare try for fear of looking foolish.

The rigorous father-daughter allegory of Ink is here replaced by a free-form rumination about free will, about the (im?)possibility of escaping from your “frame” (whether that’s a self-limiting frame of reference, or a literal frame of celluloid). Whereas Winans’ debut was a dream/puzzle film, here he opts for a Twilight Zone-y scenario set mostly in the “real” world that feels, at times, unfinished. Each story contains a mysterious pseudo-omniscient figure lurking around the film’s edges whose significance is never fully explained; in Sam’s case, it’s her therapist, while Alex sees visions of a steampunk tinker in a raggedy tophat out of the corner of his eye. The latter character was memorable enough to make the DVD jacket, and to make the viewer wish he’d appeared in more scenes. The ultimate resolution, unfortunately, is arbitrary; the script too cleverly writes itself into a corner, and has no way out except deus ex machina.

All in all The Frame is a mixed bag, a film with pretty big ideas, some of which work and some that fall flat. One thing that can definitely be said in its favor is that it’s a professional looking film that belies its budget. Denver, Colorado is not known as a hotbed of movie talent, but the technical aspects of this film—editing, camerawork, lighting, acting—equal indies made in New York or Hollywood. The Frame makes an excellent calling-card for young leads David Carranza and Tiffany Mualem; both prove capable of carrying an indie drama. They’re flatteringly photographed and show emotional intensity (if not a lot of range, given the quiet and downbeat mood of the story).

The career arc of Jamin Winans reminds me of ;[1]. both are obsessive fantasists who work slowly, meticulously control their films (including writing their own scores), and eschew commercial compromise. The upside to that methodology is independence; the downside is they refuse studio resources that could help them to realize more elaborate visions. As long as these guys keep coming up with creative ways to reveal the fantastic in the everyday, though, no one here will complain.

You can download The Frame directly from the filmmakers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a metaphysical urban fantasy that fills the heart and mind equally…”–Rob Hunter, Film School Rejects (contemporaneous)

A digital copy of this movie was provided by the distributor for review.

  1. One difference between the two is that Jamin has a collaborator, producer, publicist and wife Kiowa Winans, who probably deserves more credit for the finished products than she gets []

4 thoughts on “CAPSULE: THE FRAME (2014)”

  1. I’m confused about the intent of the weird list. Is it only for films G. Smalley likes or for all weird films? After all, I very much disliked “John Dies at the End” but thought it was weird enough to include in the list. When I recommended “The Manipulator” it wasn’t because it was a good movie but because it was so damn weird. Now, personally, I felt “The Frame” was a deeper, much more mature effort than the ostentatiously hyper-edited “Ink.” Of the two, I’d say “The Frame” is more haunting and thought provoking (despite a disappointing final shot). Even though it isn’t full of gratuitous martial arts fight scenes, It is easily as weird as “Ink” and deserves a place on the list.

    1. The site is for determining the 366 best weird films of all time. Of course there is some subjectivity involved, but I try to include the most noteworthy/important films whether I personally like them or not. I have included movies I don’t care for (like Trash Humpers and Sweet Movie) because they have followings and are in some sense “important” movies in the genre.

      Now, although anyone can like any movie better than another, I think I have some objective ammunition to say that Ink is a more noteworthy film than The Frame. Ink has a 7.0 IMDB rating vs. The Frame‘s 6.6; Ink has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating (on 6 reviews); The Frame was not reviewed by any RT critics. If there is a groundswell of support for putting The Frame on the List, of course I would entertain the idea. But personally I’m hoping the Winans’ third movie will be so weird and good that it can make the List with no controversy whatsoever.

  2. I’m surprised that you would use a mainstream popularity contest (like rotten tomatoes) in order to judge whether a film is weird enough to include on the list. Isn’t that kind of an inverted logic? A film is weird because it doesn’t fit into the mainstream. Whether it’s popular or not is beside the point (ie, Makavejev was never popular – even in the 1970s). “the Frame” May not have the fairytale quality that “Ink” has, but it is surely equally weird in it’s own unique way.

    1. We don’t use Rotten Tomatoes to decide whether a film is weird or not. Its a two-step process. First, we ask “is this film in the weird movie universe?” (If it gets covered here, then it probably is). Next we ask “is this weird movie good/notable enough to be counted as one of the 366 best of its genre?” That’s where things like RT and IMDB ratings can be relevant—not conclusive, but relevant. The Frame may be as weird as Ink, but I think Ink is the better movie, and the general consensus agrees. I like the Winans, but so far I think they’ve made one movie worthy of being counted among the best of all time.

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