The Wheel of Time – New teaser trailer is here!!

WheelOfTime-AmazonPrime

I’m technically still on vacation until Labor Day, but when my friend Laura told me the Wheel of Time trailer has dropped, I just had to post this!! If you’re not familiar with this subject matter, the Amazon Prime series is based on Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time book series.

Laura, who’s a massive WOT fan, has posted five things to know about this series in this post, so head over there if you’d like to know more about it. Well, without further ado, here’s the teaser trailer:

Woo wee! I really like the look of this trailer… it certainly gives me a The Lord of the Rings vibe which is definitely a good thing. It feels less Game of Thrones as many media outlets have compared it to. Per Laura’s post… “I don’t think it’s accurate to compare them. Firstly, Wheel of Time is a lot more straightforward fantasy than Game of Thrones was. Yes, Game of Thrones has dragons and ice zombies, but most of the focus was on the politics. Wheel of Time leans a lot more heavily into the magical aspect of the world. Secondly, the tone is a lot different. Obviously I can’t say what the show’s tone will be like, but the books at least aren’t nearly as dark and gritty as Game of Thrones, and I doubt the show will be either.”

I’m happy to see plenty of powerful female roles here, played by really strong actors of diverse backgrounds, most notably Rosamund Pike and Sophie Okonedo, who are both British. I’m also excited to see American/Korean actor Daniel Henney in a prominent role as well, yay!!

The visuals also look amazing, which is to be expected for a big budget series like this one. Well, hopefully we get to see the full trailer before the series drops on Amazon Prime on November 19 here in the US. I know what I’ll be watching this Fall!


Updated Oct 12:

Check out the clip introducing two integral characters: Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) and Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney):


So what do you think of the teaser? Are you excited for WHEEL OF TIME?

The Wheel of Time – 5 Things to Know Before the Series Arrives this Fall

Reviewby_Laura

WheelOfTime-banner

Hey, FlixChatter readers, Laura here! I got home about a week ago from a long weekend in Atlanta, where I attended JordanCon, a fantasy convention centered around author Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series. I’d never gone before this one, but I really wanted to attend this year, since it would be the last one before the TV adaptation drops on Amazon Prime.

wheel-of-time-tv-series-amazon

While we don’t have a trailer or exact release date yet, show-runner Rafe Judkins said on the virtual SDCC panel that the first season will drop in November. So here are a few important things to know before the show arrives:

1. There is no brief way for me to describe the plot.

The Wheel of Time is made up of 14 books and a prequel published between 1990-2013, and they are long; the paperbacks average 826 pages each, and there are 2,782 named characters in the series. All this to say there is no concise way for me to summarize the story, but I’ll try my best to explain how it starts, since the first season is supposed to be a combination of the first two books: when a mysterious woman named Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) and man named Lan (Daniel Henney) arrive in the small farm town of Emond’s Field, 5 young men and women’s lives are changed forever as they are swept up in an epic journey. I know that’s vague, but it is literally the best I can do without going into too much detail. 

2. It’s not “the next Game of Thrones.

Several media outlets have already compared The Wheel of Time to the HBO hit based on George R.R. Martin’s famous book series, and while I kind of understand their reasoning, I’m worried it will give folks who haven’t read the books the wrong impression. Those comparing the two properties might be trying to say it will be the next hugely successful TV fantasy series, and obviously we all hope that’s the case, but plot- and theme-wise, I don’t think it’s accurate to compare them. Firstly, Wheel of Time is a lot more straightforward fantasy than Game of Thrones was. Yes, Game of Thrones has dragons and ice zombies, but most of the focus was on the politics. Wheel of Time leans a lot more heavily into the magical aspect of the world. Secondly, the tone is a lot different. Obviously I can’t say what the show’s tone will be like, but the books at least aren’t nearly as dark and gritty as Game of Thrones, and I doubt the show will be either.

RobertJordan-WOT-books

3. This isn’t the first TV adaptation of The Wheel of Time.

Back in 2015, Red Eagle Entertainment released a “pilot” (it’s referred to as a mini movie on IMDB) based on the prologue from the first book in the series in order to prevent the rights from reverting back to Robert Jordan’s estate. It aired on FXX  late at night (we’re talking cheesy infomercial air times). It was a greedy, lazy move that was made without consulting Harriet McDougal, Jordan’s widow and editor, and to this day it is derided and mocked. You can actually watch the whole thing on YouTube, but it’s pretty awful, and it doesn’t give you any idea what the source material is actually like, so I’d recommend just watching Recappa Sedai‘s reaction video to it on YouTube instead, because it’s hilarious and much more entertaining. 

4. The cast is very diverse.

WheelOfTime-cast

Back in 2019, Amazon started sharing casting announcements for the show, and several of the main characters- specifically Madeline Madden as Egwene, Zoë Robins as Nynaeve, and Marcus Rutherford as Perrin- are people of color. While many were thrilled with the casting, there was, of course, an unfortunate racist backlash on social media, especially on Facebook, from whiny fans complaining that the characters were written as white (they weren’t, at least not explicitly) and that this was all just an attempt at “political correctness,” among other, much nastier comments.

WheelOfTime-book-RosamundPike

Honestly, I could write a very heated essay on this whole section, but to keep things concise, I’m just going to mention a few excellent points brought up in a JordanCon panel on race in the series:

  • There are 78 characters in the books whose skin color is described as something other than pale.
  • Robert Jordan was a historian and had a military background, so it’s easy to assume he built a world where people would look different.
  • He mixed and matched cultures and skin colors throughout the book, so trying to attribute skin colors to characters is kind of silly.
  • Writers often only describe skin colors other than white, making white the “default,” which shouldn’t be the case.

5. The fandom is amazing.

On our first night in JordanCon, one of the attendees told us on that the people there were some of the best he’d ever met. At the time, it sounded like a bold statement, but less than 24 hours into the convention, I could tell he wasn’t exaggerating. Wheel of Time fans are some of the warmest, friendliest, most welcoming people I have ever met. Are you someone who has read the series multiple times? Great! They’ll want to chat with you about it for hours. Are you just starting the first book? Awesome! They’re excited for you to begin that journey and want to hear your thoughts along the way. While some book purists are worried the show will bring in fans who don’t care enough about the source material, most are just happy to have new blood in the community, people who get to experience the story through a different medium and hopefully gain an interest and appreciation for the books over time. So if you end up liking the show, get involved in the fan communities, especially #TwitterOfTime, where I’ve met so many lovely people (several of whom I actually got to meet in person at JordanCon). I promise will be welcomed with open arms.

Check out some of the photos Laura took at JordanCon:

laura_post


Are there any book fans who want potential watchers of the show to know going into it? Let me know in the comments! 

 

 

Thursday Movie Picks: Psychological Thrillers

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday! It’s TMP time! The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… Psychological Thrillers.

This is a very popular sub-genre and I’m actually surprised how many I’ve seen. This time I’m going with a theme-within-a-theme so I’m picking mostly those with a strong female lead, and three out of four leads are nominated for Oscars. Here they are in the order of release:

Sleeping With The Enemy (1991)

sleepingwithenemy-poster

A young woman fakes her own death in an attempt to escape her nightmarish marriage, but discovers it is impossible to elude her controlling husband.

I saw this the year it was released with my older brother, my cinema buddy at the time as I was still in high school in Jakarta. Given Indonesia didn’t have regulations like MPAA, kids of any age could pretty much see any R-rated movies. I even saw risqué stuff like Basic Instinct, 9-1/2 Weeks, Wild Orchid, etc. in the theater, with my brother, no less!

sleepingwithenemy-juliaroberts

In any case, I remember this movie being quite suspenseful. I still remember when Julia Roberts‘ character pretended to drown so she could change her identity from her possessive husband. Just a year after Pretty Woman was released, she’s definitely flexing her dramatic muscle and I think she’s pretty good here. Patrick Bergin made for a pretty scary villain who’d stop at nothing to get his wife back.


Primal Fear (1996)

primalfear-poster

An altar boy is accused of murdering a priest, and the truth is buried several layers deep.

I’m breaking my theme-within-a-theme of movies with a female lead, as I really wanted to include this film!

This might have been the first time I saw Edward Norton on screen, which happens to be his feature film debut. The main draw for me was Richard Gere as the Chicago defense attorney who takes on the case pro bono. It’s a role that fits Gere nicely and I think he’s a more versatile actor than people give him credit for. But the star here is definitely Ed Norton who apparently beat out over 2000+ actors who auditioned for the role of Aaron Stampler, including Matt Damon.

primalfear-gere-norton

It turns out to be a career-making role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win. I think he was scary good in this role… his shy mannerism, stammer, etc. feels believable and like Gere’s character, you wanted to believe he’s innocent. This movie’s got one of the most chilling ending a la The Usual Suspect.

Interesting Trivia:

Pedro Pascal stated in a 2014 interview that his first ever audition was for the role of Aaron Stampler.


Black Swan (2010)

blackswan-poster

A committed dancer struggles to maintain her sanity after winning the lead role in a production of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”.

I’m a huge fan of ballet and even took some ballet lessons as a kid. I even remember going to see a Russian Ballet performance of Swan Lake in high school and met some of the male ballerinas backstage. There’s something so alluring and mystical about this graceful dance that takes such an insane amount of rigorous training and unrelenting dedication.

blackswan-natalie

It’s a perfect subject matter to exploit for Darren Aronofsky, a filmmaker with a predilection for dark, disturbing films. It’s perhaps one of Natalie Portman’s most memorable roles since Léon: The Professional and V For Vendetta. I think her Oscar win is well-deserved, though I think Vincent Cassel‘s haunting performance is also pretty Oscar-worthy. Barbara Hershey as her dominating mother and Mila Kunis as her rival ballerina are also memorable, I particularly remember Kunis being quite the comic relief in an otherwise somber and unsettling affair.

Interesting Trivia:

Natalie Portman met her future husband, choreographer Benjamin Millepied, on the set of this film. Portman herself pointed out the irony that his character in the film scoffs when asked if he’d have sex with Nina, and joked that obviously he was a good actor.

Gone Girl (2014)

gonegirl-poster

With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.

I was already familiar with Rosamund Pike as she’s one of the Bond girls in the godawful Die Another Day, Jane in 2015’s Pride & Prejudice, as well as supporting turns in An Education, Jack Reacher, etc. She’s always been good but she’s exceptional here in an Oscar-worthy role. David Fincher + Gillian Flynn colab is certainly the perfect ingredient for a solid thriller, and Fincher was on a streak as most of the actors kept getting nominated for Oscars under his direction. I was rooting for Amy the whole time, even after the reveal of what she did, which is a testament to Pike’s amazing performance as an antiheroine.

gonegirl-rosamund

The supporting cast is an interesting mix. Ben Affleck‘s casting is perfect here as a handsome, somewhat charming but not-so-bright husband. Then there are Tyler Perry (who I had never seen before on screen at that point) and Neil Patrick Harris. I’m still baffled by Harris’ casting to this day, especially for a scene so sexual and bloody.

Interesting Trivia:

Ben Affleck would constantly sing ’80s songs in between takes. Impressed, Tyler Perry decided to start a game that ended up lasting the entire duration of filming. Perry would start to sing the most random song he could think of to see if Affleck would start singing along. According to Perry, Affleck knew all of the words to every single song Perry threw at him, including Broadway showtunes and songs by Barbra Streisand.


What do you think of my picks? What are YOUR favorite psychological thrillers?

FlixChatter Review: I CARE A LOT (2021)

When I first heard of this dark comedy, I was immediately intrigued by its casting of Rosamund Pike. I’ve seen her playing real-life heroines in her last two films, A Private War and Radioactive, that it’s actually quite a treat to see her playing a shamelessly devious character. Marla Grayson is a piece of work – a vision of killer beauty with her razor bob haircut and sharp pantsuits, matched only by her piercing ambition to stay on top. The VO in the beginning tells us she didn’t come from money, in fact she grew up poor and she’s determined never to be again. Her get-rich-quick-scheme involves cunning her way to be a legal guardian of elderly wards whose assets she immediately seizes to build her ‘care’ empire.

The film begins with a man who went berserk trying to visit his mother at a care facility. You can easily guess who the guy’s mother’s court-appointed legal guardian is. Marla runs her empire like a tight ship with her business/romantic partner Fran (Eiza González). Everything from knowing the legal loopholes to deceive the judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), meticulously researching the victims, to making sure the care facility is ‘prepared’ to receive its new guest–nothing gets by these professional schemers.

British writer/director J Blakeson creates the epitome of an evil protagonist we love to hate in Marla, but then again there are really no good guys in this film… only the bad and the tragic. As much as I despise what Marla and Fran are doing, I was also curious just how their well-oiled con game works. Well, soon they come across their latest ‘cherry’ with a rather bland name, Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), a wealthy retired lady with a sizable nest egg plus a nice, big house to the bargain. Based on Fran’s research, she has no relative or next of kin which makes her a perfect target. Or so they thought. Someone who’s that too good to be true usually is. Little did they know their cherry has an equally dubious secret and ties to a Russian gangster Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage).

One of the main strengths of this film is the performances. Pike is superb as Marla Grayson. I dare say it’s a more indelible performance than Gone Girl that made her famous, as here she wasn’t over-shadowed by a famous leading man or director, able to own the role unapologetically. Clearly she relishes on portraying an icy evil queen, all poise and self-assured even when threatened. Her scenes with Dean (Chris Messina), a slick lawyer on Roman’s payroll, is quite a hoot as she simply refuse to back down. Marla is so evil you’d be inclined to side with the gangster!

The script really put all the talents to good use, even the supporting cast all brought their A-game. I’m not familiar with González, but she’s quite good here as Marla’s tomboy lover who in many ways is the voice of reason that often fall on deaf ears. Two-time Oscar winner Wiest also gets to flex her acting muscles in all her scenes with Pike, refusing to simply be a damsel in distress. Having the great Dinklage as a mobster seems like a pretty obvious choice, and he milks the role like nobody’s business. He provides a sense of menace while also being the comic relief so effortlessly. Last but not least, Macon Blair has a small role here but an important and unforgettable one.

One beef I have with this movie is some of the scenarios of the 2nd and 3rd act gets a bit too over-the-top and ludicrous for its own good. At some point my husband and I yelled ‘oh come on!!’ at the screen. It pushes way past incredulity point at times… I think grounding the film more would’ve made it more effective. The jab against profit-minded American health system is obvious here, somehow the system that’s supposed to help the weak and ailing senior citizens often capitalize on them. It made it SO easy for people like Marla to rob these poor unsuspecting souls while still staying very much within the boundary of the legal system. It’s downright sickening.

Blakeson’s script is filled with twists and turns and you’re never quite sure just who’d win in this all out war between these two nefarious pair. Naturally, many people feel that Marla ought to get her comeuppance and Blakeson toys with that very idea, only to pull the rug right from under us when we think it’s the end of the road for her. The ending made me go ‘whoa!!‘ It’s quite rare these days where a movie finale completely throw you for a loop, so I always cherish that when that happens!

So while it’s not a perfect movie, it’s one heck of a wild, thrilling ride and a stylish one. Costume designer Deborah Newhall designed the clothes to make a pronounced statement about each character and an enviable wardrobe for Pike’s character. Everything Marla wears screams ‘I’m a f*cking lioness,’ which is what she aspires to be. The dynamic score by Marc Canham is perfect for the tone of the movie and for Marla’s Type A personality, used with efficiency in her scenes at the gym, in her vigorous spinning class, etc.

Ultimately, I Care A Lot is a dynamic but also unnerving crime thriller that’s also a biting satire that celebrate sheer feminism. The emotional moments between Marla and Fran’s relationship is few and far between however, and not particularly believable. I think it’s mostly because Marla’s so driven to ‘never lose’ that it’s hard to imagine her caring about anything or anyone else. The scene involving her tooth is a prime example of how much she cares about her image. The title is appropriate here as the only thing she cares a lot is herself and winning. In an age of superhero movies, I suppose it’s refreshing to see a film about villains. I have to say this movie is not for everyone, but if you can stomach morally bankrupt characters and vile stench of a plot, it’s certainly entertaining.


Have you seen I CARE A LOT? Well, what did you think?

3 new Netflix movies I can’t wait to see this month

I guess it’s no longer a surprise that Netflix has become such a studio behemoth, but now I’ve found myself anticipating Netflix movies as much as those from other studios. I mean it’s free anyway since I have the subscription and with movie theaters closed, obviously more studios have decided to release their movies on streaming.

Well, thanks to Wiki, there’s quite a list of movies coming in 2021, but it’s only January so I’m just focusing on the ones coming out in the next two months. I have blogged about The Dig, starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, so I’m not going to mention it again here. Action, crime thrillers, emotional drama, comedy, romance… there are definitely something for everyone here.

Outside the Wire

Releases January 15

In the near future, a drone pilot sent into a war zone finds himself paired with a top-secret android officer on a mission to stop a nuclear attack.

My first thought when I first saw this was… ‘So Falcon now becomes even more powerful than Captain America!’ He won’t be needing the shield as as a cyborg. Not clear how becomes an android officer, but he obviously still looks and sound very human and the character tells the drone pilot that he still feels more than you think. Well, it looks intriguing enough, and I like Anthony Mackie so this should be worth a look. The movie also stars British actor Damson Idris and Danish actor Pilou Asbæk, and directed by Swedish director Mikael Håfström (Escape Plan, The Rite).

The White Tiger

Releases January 22, 2021

The epic journey of a poor Indian driver who must use his wit and cunning to break free from servitude to his rich masters and rise to the top of the heap.

This one is based on a debut novel of the same name by Aravind Adiga, an Indian-Australian writer and journalist, which won the 2008 Man Booker Prize. I’m intrigued partly by the director, Ramin Bahrani who made the excellent drama 99 Homes. This one also deals with a similar theme of a down-on-his-luck person rising up to power, escaping from the life he was born to. It looks more like a dark comedy than a heavy crime drama, starring Adarsh Gourav, Rajkumar Rao and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas. Queen’s I Want to Break Free is quite an interesting choice that’s somehow perfect for the trailer.

Penguin Bloom

Releases January 27, 2021

Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the film tells the story of Sam Bloom a young mother whose world is turned upside down after a shocking, near-fatal accident leaves her paralyzed. Sam’s husband, her three young boys and her mother are struggling to adjust to their new situation when an unlikely ally enters their world in the form of an injured baby magpie they name Penguin.

This one is also based on a novel AND a real life story. Honestly, I’m usually not too keen on sad movies and this one definitely looks like a tearjerker. After watching the trailer though, I’m curious enough to give it a shot. I haven’t seen Naomi Watts in anything lately, though it seems like I’ve seen her in similar role like this one. Looks like this one is an Australian production, with an Aussie filmmaker and mostly actors from Down Under: Watts, Jacki Weaver and Rachel House who’s from New Zealand. Andrew Lincoln is British though, nice to see him take a break from all the Walking Dead projects. I’ll be sure to have tissues handy when I watch this one.


What do you think of this lineup? Is there one you’re looking forward to seeing?

FlixChatter Review: RADIOACTIVE (2019)

Ever since her breakout role in Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike has become an even more compelling performer who often portrays brilliant real-life heroines. A couple of years ago, I thought her performance in A Private War as fearless war-correspondence Marie Colvin. Well, she plays yet another Marie in this film, Marie Curie, the Polish-born Nobel Prize-winning scientist whose inventions changed the world.

Directed by Iranian-born French filmmaker Marjane Satrapi, the biographical drama focuses on Marie’s struggle to work as a scientist, largely due to her gender, and how she eventually prevailed to win the Nobel prize. The story is told in flashback from the time Marie was in her mid 60s (Pike in heavy makeup) and she collapsed in her Paris laboratory. Most of the story takes place in Paris when Marie was studying at University of Paris and having trouble securing the proper resources and funding for her work, that is until she meets Pierre Curie (Sam Riley). Pierre takes an immediately liking to her and offers her a partnership.

Marie and Pierre worked together and eventually they did fall in love, got married and had two children together. The film showed their relationship was a happy one initially, though of course there was always something wanting. Despite the fact that the two collaborated on their scientific research and discovery–of polonium and radium–Marie’s continually discredited for her work. Pierre was nominated for Légion d’honneur, the highest French order of merit, that he rejected for not nominating Marie. Later on, Marie was basically left out of the Nobel Prize in Physics, but Pierre insisted the two jointly share that prestigious award.

Now, while the film’s subject matter is a fascinating one, the film’s narrative style almost feels a bit stifling and lacking in energy at times. I’m not sure the surrealistic elements work in the film’s favor, though I do give the filmmaker’s points for creativity. I just  wish there’s a bit more dynamic energy and sparks that would make the film more lively, though Pike’s performance remain captivating throughout. The cinematography also often appear too grim and gloomy which adds an unnecessarily bleak atmosphere.

Though I had obviously heard of Marie Curie, I did not know anything about her life What I come away from watching this biopic is just how tough and heart-wrenching her life was. Both she and Pierre were heavily exposed to toxic elements in their years of research, which naturally affected their health. Marie initially dismissed such concerns, even after more and more people die from health complications after exposure to radium.

The gender discrimination is to be expected and the film captured those moments well, as well as the times Marie was harassed by xenophobic mobs because of her Polish origins in her later years. I have to say that the scenes in third act during World War I is quite a memorable one. Marie’s daughter Irene (Anya Taylor-Joy) has become a scientist in her own right at this point, and the two of them developed a mobile radiology units that they themselves took to the field near the front lines. Apparently back then, many soldiers’ limbs were unnecessarily amputated and this x-ray machines helped save the limbs if they in fact could be saved. Apparently Marie sacrificed her own Nobel prize winning to fund this humanitarian effort to the French, though she was again, never formally recognized for her work.

Marie Curie’s story of bravery, intellect and resilience certainly deserve cinematic treatment and Pike portrays her beautifully. Despite its flaws, I’d still regard this film as a remarkable and heartfelt tribute to a singular heroine and her scientific legacy.


Have you seen RADIOACTIVE? Well, what did you think?

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?