FlixChatter Review: UNCLE FRANK (2020)

I had the privilege of seeing this film at Twin Cities Film Fest last October, one of the three films I saw on the big screen. I had come into it blindly, not having seen a trailer or even read in details what it’s about at all or even seen the trailer. I find that as a rarity in the age of social media where incessant promotional campaign tend to reveal too much about a film. So for this review, I shall try not to spoil too much details about the plot, and when I absolutely have to, I’ll warn you about it and hide the spoiler-y bits.

Sophia Lillis as Beth

Now, even reading its description on IMDb would reveal key details about the plot, so if you want to come into it blindly, I’d refrain from going to its IMDb page. What I can safely tell you is that the film takes place in early 1970s in South Carolina and later New York City. It’s told through the eyes of the title character Frank Bledsoe’s (Paul Bettany) teenage niece Beth (Sophia Lillis) who clearly admires his uncle and claims he’s the only one in the family who sees and appreciates her for who she is.

We first see the Bledsoe’s family at a Christmas family gathering and while everyone seems to treat Frank well, it’s apparent right away that Frank is dismissed by his dad, the family patriarch referred to as Daddy Mac. At first it’s not clear why he isn’t quite welcomed at home and my initial thought is that the family isn’t too keen that he left the South to work as a literature professor at NYU.

Paul Bettany as Uncle Frank

It’s not until 18-year-old Beth ends up going to NYU that Frank’s true identity is revealed. Again I won’t spoil that for you, but it happened at a party at Frank’s apartment where Beth showed up without being invited. The person who shows up at the door is Walid or Wally (Peter Macdissi), Frank’s roommate. He was taken aback by Beth’s presence at first, but immediately warms up to her as if he’s known about her for some time. Now, if you don’t want to know more about the plot, I suggest you stop reading.

The party itself would easily give away just who Frank really is. Spoiler alert (highlight to read) – Beth soon finds out that uncle Frank is gay and he’s been living with his lover Wally for the past 10 years. There are guests of diverse backgrounds mingling, drinking, definitely not the kind of crowds Beth was exposed to in the South. The real journey began when Frank got a call that Daddy Mac has died and he had to take a road trip from Manhattan to Creekville, SC for his funeral. College is naturally a coming-of-age moment for many teens, but this road trip and all the revelations concerning Frank, as well as the reactions stemming from that, ends up being a growing experience for both involved.

This film is a sophomore effort from award-winning writer Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under, True Blood). He also penned the script, which apparently is partly based on his own dad’s life. I have to commend Ball’s ability to balance the drama, comedy and even tragedy aspects of the story as the film takes viewers in an emotional roller coaster. I always admire filmmakers who can tackle difficult subject matters and manage to inject humor into it without turning it into an absurd farce.  This one definitely covers tricky topics and sensitive, hot button issues, yet it’s not a downer of a movie despite some harrowing scenes.

Throughout the journey south, there are multiple flashback scenes told in stages as more and more of Frank’s past is revealed. This narrative style could’ve been really clunky and problematic, yet it works quite well here to tell the source of why Frank is so ravaged with guilt and the incident that changed his relationship with his father forever. I think the lack of subtlety is deliberate, though some of the scenes and dialogue are too on-the-nose and forced emotionally. Despite the inherent conflict between Frank and his dad, however, I appreciate the fact that Ball refrains from completely demonizing him despite the intense hurt he’s caused his own son.

The performances are definitely the film’s strong suit. Paul Bettany is quite a revelation as Frank in a committed, genuinely heart-breaking performance. His character is filled with so much sorrow and self-loathing which makes him infuriating and even hard to love, but Bettany tackles the role with a nuanced emotional honesty. Peter Macdissi is simply delightful here in such a warm, lively performance. The stark contrast between the eternal-optimist Wally and the often despondent Frank make for some comic-relief moments that would make you laugh and cry. Sophia Lillis is terrific as Beth and I think the fact that the film is often seen through her perspective makes the story more relatable. The supporting cast are filled with talented character actors such as Margo Martindale, Steve Zahn, Stephen Root, Judy Greer, and Lois Smith. I rarely see Root play such an unsympathetic character but he’s quite believable here as the insensitive patriarch.

I think the biggest issue I have with this film is that at times it feels like an ‘agenda film’ that tries to blatantly push certain values to the audience. Some of the familial scenes and Frank’s alcoholism feel a tad too maudlin and ham-fisted. Overall though, it’s a compelling and emotional drama that would definitely spark interesting conversations with people after you watch it. Definitely a perfect release around Thanksgiving, even if this year people might have to spend family gatherings virtually.


Have you seen UNCLE FRANK? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review – HALLOWEEN (2018)

guestpost

Directed by: David Gordon Green

2018’s Halloween follows Final Girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) 40 years after her traumatic run-in with Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle) during his Halloween night killing spree. Now an agoraphobic survivalist, she prepares for Michael’s inevitable return, putting a strain on her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). When Michael does escape during a transfer to a different prison, Laurie fights to protect her family and end things once and for all.

This is easily the best Halloween sequel in the franchise. It’s only really a sequel to the first film, thankfully ignoring the following 7. It feels nostalgic with plenty of little nods to the original film (including liberal use of the iconic score, which I love; it’s basically the soundtrack to the Halloween season, not just the movie). Even some of the lighting choices have a 70’s vibe. It’s still a classic slasher film that keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole way through, but it doesn’t feel like a rehash of the first movie. It’s definitely bloody, but it doesn’t feel excessively gory, keeping a surprising amount of the actual kills offscreen and keeping the ones that are shown pretty quick and straightforward, although there is one notable and horrifying exception toward the end of the film that makes me question the durability of the human skull.

Acting-wise, this movie has a strong cast. Jamie Lee Curtis is excellent as always, striking a good balance between hardened survivor and emotional victim. Judy Greer is delightful in everything she’s in, and this is no exception. Newcomer Andi Matichak gives a solid, likable performance. Despite not getting tons of screen time, Karen’s husband Ray (Toby Huss) has some funny moments. The supporting cast is good but not necessarily stand-out, with the exception of Jibrail Nantambu as Julian, the baby-sitting charge of Allyson’s friend Vicky (Virginia Gardner). This kid is hilarious and one of the best parts of the movie. Hopefully we’ll see more of this young actor in the future.

As with any movie, Halloween isn’t perfect. There are some questionable editing choices that don’t match the tone of the movie that they really only use in the first half. There are some weird character choices that don’t feel fully developed and don’t really go anywhere, especially with true crime podcasters Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) and Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall), Allyson’s boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold), and Michael’s doctor/Dr. Loomis’s replacement, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer).

Overall, though, Halloween is an excellent addition to the franchise and a great horror movie overall. I would absolutely recommend checking it out if you’re looking for something spooky to watch for the Halloween season.

laura_review


Have you seen the latest HALLOWEEN? Well, what did you think? 

Playing for Keeps Review… (a.k.a. my Open Letter to Gerry Butler)

[sigh] I didn’t really want to write this letter. Not only because I had done it once before when The Bounty Hunter came out, but I was quite anticipating Playing For Keeps for a while. I was thrilled when I got and advanced screening invite on the same day as The Hobbit (yay!) right before I left for vacation.

I saw The Hobbit first which I loved, and a few hours later, I went to another cinema to see Playing For Keeps with my girlfriend Becky (aka PrairieGirl). I really wanted to LOVE this movie and I thought the premise had potential. I mean Butler was [seemingly] perfect as a former soccer star (with his Scottish brogue intact), starring as a former player of his beloved Celtics no less. I’ve seen him in a soccer movie before (the based-on-a-true-story Games of Our Lives and also those Soccer Aid Charity Match), so he’s very believable in that role.

Alas, I’d have to agree with the Rotten Tomatoes summary:

Witless, unfocused, and arguably misogynistic, Playing for Keeps is a dispiriting, lowest-common-denominator Hollywood rom-com.

PFK_RTscore

Actually, the weekend I checked the RT score, it was at a woeful 0% and you know what, I really can’t disagree with that. It’s truly one of the WORST movies I’ve ever come across and to add to the sting, GB didn’t just star in this movie, he also produced this stinker (yikes!!). In the trailer post, I had hoped that it would at least be a feel-good dramedy this Winter, alas, it barely even give us that! It’s even more discombobulating that actors like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid, and the affable Judy Greer agreed to do such an embarrassingly-thankless roles. Forget one-dimensional, yes there’s that, but mostly, their characters are just bizarre, disturbing and cringe-worthy!

I’d like to recall my letter to him I wrote in March of 2010, clearly he did NOT read it…

Please don’t waste your talent on sub-par scripts, especially those that require you to be a neanderthal/ chauvinistic/ boorish/ obnoxious (and in the case of The Ugly Truth and The Bounty Hunter, all of the above). I’m inclined to say ‘get off the rom-com’ trail, but to be fair, I quite enjoyed P.S. I Love You and your ‘Gerry’ character is both charming and sexy, a perfect combination of being manly and hopelessly-romantic at the same time. What I do want to say is, stay away from bad scripts! It doesn’t matter what genre, a bad script is a bad script, and it’s just not going to help your career.

Well, suffice to say I just can’t be a GB fan anymore. Consider this my goodbye letter Mr. Butler…

Dear Gerry,

I can’t believe it’s been nearly an entire decade since I saw you in The Phantom of the Opera. It still remains one of my favorite musicals and my favorite roles you’ve done to this day. It’s a testament of the quality of your role choices lately that when I was about to update my list of Favorite GB roles for your birthday, I was quite stumped. So I kept my original list which includes one of your finest performance to date, that is in Dear Frankie, as I didn’t really think your recent performances in the past two years wowed me enough to replace any of them on that list.

PFKposter
It’s quite astounding that the movie itself could actually be worse than this poster!

Now, let me just speak for a moment of my monumental disappointment with your recent dramedy Playing For Keeps. Well, I was expecting some drama and comedy but got neither! Let me start with your performance. I don’t know if you’re trying to be understated and cool, but it came across as lethargic to me. Yes I get it, your character is down-on-his-luck as George had squandered his good fortune as a soccer star and now he could barely able to pay rent as he dreamed on being a sportscaster. George had good intentions, wanting to reconnect with his  young son, and preferably rekindle his romance with his ex-wife. It’s all [potentially] heartwarming stuff, except that the relationship with his oh-so-adorable kid was hugely overshadowed by all that creepy soccer moms lusting over him. There’s nothing fun or amusing in any of George’s encounters with any of these women, and it didn’t help that George (nor you playing the role) seemed to have much fun doing the scenes either. Don’t even get me started with the predictable ending, which you could’ve surmised from the trailer. Now, there have been some movies that I still appreciate despite the predictability factor because the journey was worthwhile, but in this case of PFK, the journey was so excruciating that it was like being kicked whilst you’re down!

I must’ve gained an extra wrinkle on my face from cringing so much during the entire movie! There’s not even a moment of sincerity I could find, or even to relate to, the whole time I kept wondering just what the heck was Gabriel Muccino trying to do with this movie, what Robbie Fox was trying to say with this script, and most of all, how did this kind of movie ever got greenlit?? There’s no depth whatsoever in any of the characters, not even George himself on whom the whole story hinges on. Poorly-conceived plot is just putting it mildly, I think the only word that came to mind about PFK is ill-advised. It’s everything that’s wrong about Hollywood’s rom-coms… and sadly Gerry, you’ve been in more than your fair share in them. I mean heck, even Matthew McConaughey had been off the rom-com trails and has since garnered some kudos for his recent performances.

Going back to those favorite roles once again, three of the movies I listed (Dear Frankie, BBC’s The Jury and PS I Love You), and I should also mention your excellent performance Coriolanus, you had a supporting role in them. You didn’t carry the movie but yet your presence was a highlight. It made me think that perhaps you should take a well-deserved break and take a good long look at your career so far. It might be a good idea to seek out supporting roles (no I’m not talking about a stint in something so far-off like Movie 43), I’m talking about a small but important supporting roles in a quality project. It’d be nice if it’s with an acclaimed director, but so long as it’s got a strong script, that’s all that matters. Forget the pay check, I’m guessing you’ve made enough to last a couple of centuries. If you truly care about acting, don’t you want to be remembered for the craft of your work? Perhaps your entourage/groupies tell you that you’re a star and you must always play the lead. Well, as your [former] fan, let me tell you that it’s far more gratifying to see an actor in a good performance in a brief screen time than seeing him/her in an awful one scene after scene.

As I said in your Birthday post, I still think you’re a talented and capable actor. I just can’t fathom your role choices, especially now that you actually have the opportunity to seek out good ones with your own production company. Please don’t let the disappointment of the marketing of Machine Gun Preacher give you an excuse to forgo strong characters. Granted not everybody loved the film, but you did your best with the role and the story of Sam Childers was inspiring, so I’m glad you did that film and I was happy to recommend it. I could even enjoy a so-so movie like Chasing Mavericks because at least I could see the value of the story and I appreciate the dedication you did for the role, even to the point of almost dying in a surfing accident. Roles like George on the other hand, just left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Pardon my harsh letter but I feel that things need to be said for my own sake, as I don’t think you’d care to read it and your still-ardent fans probably would just brush me off. I do hope that your recent flops would be an eye-opener for you and hopefully you have the humility to take a look at what you have become. Everyone needs a ‘wake up call’ once in a while and perhaps you’ve been hitting the snooze button for far too long.

Best Wishes,

ruth m.


Well, it feels good to get it off my chest. Don’t cry for Gerry Butler, folks, I’m sure he’s still got a legion of fans ready to defend him 😀

So that’s one crush I’m saying good bye to after all these years. Whilst we’re on the topic, which of your movie crush disappointed you this past year?

Trailer Spotlight: Playing For Keeps

All right, two sports-related Gerard Butler trailers released within a month! I wonder if it’s because of the Olympics?? First we’ve got a surfer movie, now soccer, not that I’m complaining 🙂 Now, this one was supposed to be released last March as I included it in my most anticipated movies for the first quarter of 2012. Well, when I mentioned this one in the GB Special Post, at the time it was still called Playing The Field.

Anyway, we’ve now got a brand new trailer and updated synopsis [per Yahoo Movies]:

A charming, down-on-his luck former soccer star returns home to put his life back together. Looking for a way to rebuild his relationship with his son, he gets roped into coaching the boy’s soccer team. But his attempts to finally become an “adult” are met with hilarious challenges from the attractive “soccer moms” who pursue him at every turn.

Well, I like this trailer a bit better than Chasing Mavericks’. Well for one, Gerry gets to keep his Scottish brogue, wahoo! Plus, I kind of like seeing him with kids. I mean the last time he played dad to a little boy was in the wonderful indie Dear Frankie, and he’s definitely a natural with them. Then there’s the supporting cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid and Judy Greer, though I wish Uma and Judy get at least a line in the trailer?? Initially I thought Biel only had a small role, but it seems that she’s got second billing here.

Ah well, I’m going to file this one under ‘promising’ even though the trailer itself is rather meh, and that song is annoyingly schmaltzy. This curiously Mondrian-styled poster doesn’t exactly scream artsy either. But hey, I like the idea of Gerry + soccer, and it’s helmed by a pretty credible director, Gabriele Muccino, the Italian director who helped Will Smith got his second Oscar nomination in The Pursuit of Happyness. Interestingly, that one also features a single dad and his young son.

In any case, I’m glad they switched this from a baseball-themed movie to soccer when Butler was cast [per LA Times blog], and the fact that he was involved in a lot of soccer charity match, including this year’s star-studded Soccer Aid, he’s perfect for this role! It’s poised to be a feel-good dramedy this Winter, but here’s hoping it offers us something more than that.

Updated 11/29: Playing For Keeps Featurette on GB’s character George


Playing For Keeps
is released December 7.


Thoughts on this trailer, folks?

Flix Character Spotlight: Lucy in ’13 Going On 30′

If one were to Google “scene-stealing performance,” Judy Greer should appear as the first page of hits. Born and raised in the Detroit area, she’s been working steadily since the late 1990s. She gets the odd dramatic role here and there (The Village, What Women Want) and has worked a fair amount in television (Arrested Development, Archer, and Mad Love, which looks to be headed for cancellation).

But mostly she utilizes her talents to grab your attention in light comedy movies. It’s a definite talent, one that few have to this degree. Perennially cast in the best friend or supporting character role, she takes that type and makes it riveting. She brings a needed acerbity to rom-com fare like 27 Dresses (in which she co-starred with the perennially under-appreciated James Marsden). She has the distinction of being the only watchable thing in The Wedding Planner. She apparently also portrays the best friend in Love and Other Drugs, which I have not yet seen.


However, I’d like to give her props for her work in one of my all-time favorites, 13 Going On 30. Yes, this is a deeply cheesy movie, and the formula of the younger person trapped in an older body has been many times before. But somehow this one is fresh, and I think Greer is part of why. Jennifer Garner captures Jenna’s 13-year-old mannerisms and speech patterns perfectly, but Greer, as her grown-up best frenemy Lucy, is excellent. With line delivery ranging from deadpan (“You’re pregnant”) to sarcastic (“Oh no, not his thingy”) to snappy (“Jenna, if you’re gonna start lying about your age, I’d go with 27”), sometimes within the same scene, she commits cinematic larceny just about every time she appears. She also manages to make shallow, two-faced Lucy funny and very nearly likable until the very end. What could have been more of cardboard cutout becomes a very real person, similar to someone you probably know…especially if you’ve attended high school.

I don’t know if she’ll ever become a household name or carry a big action picture, or if she even wants to. I do know that I am interested to see the three projects Greer has in the can for 2011 and 2012: The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne, starring George Clooney, due out December 2011; and two in post-production: Jeff Who Lives At Home, with Ed Helms and Jason Segel, and Playing The Field, with Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel.


What do you think of Judy Greer? Do you think she’s leading lady material?