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 – IT (2017)

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Directed By: Andy Muschietti
Written By: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman (screenplay)
Runtime: 2 hr 15 minutes

Fair warning: this review won’t compare the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s It to the 1990 minieries or to the novel itself. Regarding the former, it’s not really fair to compare a miniseries, which is pretty limited on what it can show on TV, to a big-budget, theatrically released feature film. As for the latter, I’ve only read about a quarter of the novel because that thing is a behemoth and I didn’t have enough time to finish it in time for the screening, so I don’t feel qualified to discuss the movie as an adaptation. While I might mention them once or twice, my main focus will be discussing the film, on its own, as a horror movie-and it’s a great one.

It follows a group of misfit kids in 1989- Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff)- as they try to uncover why children always go missing every 27 years in their small town of Derry, Maine. All seven friends are terrorized by “It,” the force of evil behind the disappearances and deaths, that most often takes the sinister form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), and the group fights for their lives not to become It’s next victims.

The acting in this movie is phenomenal, especially from such young actors, all of whom have excellent chemistry. Stranger Things’ star Finn Wolfhard as Richie and Jack Dylan Glazer as Eddie stand out with their comedic delivery, and Jaeden Lieberher as Bill and Sophia Lillis as Beverly give some truly heartbreaking performances. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise makes the character his own, and his performance is truly unsettling, from the way he moves to his creepy voice.

As far as scares go, It does not leave horror fans wanting. Pennywise alone is, of course, frightening, mainly because many of his scenes involve either him in the shadows or brief, startling glimpses of him. It’s other manifestations as each kid’s individual fears are terrifying as well, and their reveals are incredibly well-done; some of them are slow, dark, and suspenseful, while some of them pop right out of nowhere in broad daylight, and I love the variety and unpredictability.

All that said, there were a couple problems I had with this movie. While Pennywise is scary in most of his scenes, there are a few that I think they meant to be creepy or unsettling but come across more as comical- not nearly as much as Tim Curry in the library scene of the 1990 version, but enough to distract from the overall tone of the movie. Bill Skarsgard has said how much he loved Curry’s performance, and maybe he was trying to draw inspiration from it, but if that’s the case, I’m not sure it was a good idea.

I’m also disappointed in how little they focused on the character of Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). For a movie that is mostly well-paced and makes an obvious effort to develop the other characters, Mike’s backstory feels tacked on; he just talks about it for maybe a minute a little after he meets the other kids. A lot of the climax of the movie takes place in the house where he was trapped during a fire that killed both of his parents, but besides his brief account of it a couple scenes earlier, he never addresses it when they’re actually at the house, which seems like a huge missed opportunity. Considering Mike is the only kid who remains in Derry into adulthood (sorry about the spoiler, but come on, the book has been out for over thirty years now), you’d think they’d spend a little more time fleshing out his backstory.

Overall, though, It is easily the best horror movie I’ve seen in the past few years. I want to watch it multiple times, just because so many of the scenes are so detailed that I feel like I’d notice new things during each viewing. I’m so happy they’re splitting it into two movies, and the second one can’t get here soon enough.

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Have you seen IT movie? Well, what did you think?