Tag Archives: Margo Martindale

Frankly, My Dear

Uncle Frank

by George Wolf

Dropping right at the start of the season normally filled with relative reunions, Uncle Frank digs into the scars of family strife for an effective drama full of understated grace and stellar performances.

Writer/director Alan Bell frames his narrative through the eyes (and scattershot narration) of Betty (Sophia Lillis), a curious teenager in the summer of 1969.

Mainly, she’s curious about life beyond tiny Creekville, South Carolina, which is a big reason Betty is always happy to visit with her Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany).

He got out of Dodge years ago, settled in New York City and now sweetly encourages Betty to look outside her backwater hometown for any kind of future she desires. A new name? Of course. Betty likes “Beth,” and Frank agrees, so that’s that.

Fast forward four years, and Beth is a freshman at NYU, where Frank teaches. Dropping by Frank’s apartment unexpectedly one night, Beth meets Wally (Peter Macdissi, terrific), and quickly finds out why Frank has long felt like an outsider in his own family.

An unexpected death in that family means Frank and Beth must travel back home for the funeral, with Wally hatching a pretty funny plan to tag along.

This time on the road becomes the bridge that connects Frank’s coming out and Beth’s coming-of-age. Ball (writer of American Beauty, creator of True Blood) isn’t blazing any trails here, but his outstanding ensemble consistently elevates even the most well-traveled terrain.

Bettany has never been better, covering Frank with a mask of easy charm that can never quite hide his self-loathing. He finds a touching chemistry with the wonderful Lillis, who brings a warm authenticity to Beth’s wide-eyed awakenings.

And check out who’s waiting at home in Creekville: Stephen Root, Margo Martindale, Judy Greer, and Steve Zahn, all seasoned talents able to keep their characters above the hicktown cliches that tempt the script.

There’s pain here, for sure, but there’s also humor and a comforting sense of hope. Uncle Frank may not be the first film to remind us how heavy family baggage can feel, but this has the cast and commitment to make you glad you unpacked for a spell.

A Woman’s Place

The Kitchen

by George Wolf

Looking for trouble? You’ll find plenty in The Kitchen. Looking for nuance? Fresh out, suckas.

It’s a 70s crime drama stripped of style and subtext, yet able to squeeze considerable fun out of the exploitation vibe it revels in.

Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) Claire (Elizabeth Moss) and Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) are left with dwindling options when their Irish mob husbands are sent to prison for a botched robbery. It’s 1978 in Hell’s Kitchen, and the ladies realize the meager allowance from their hubbies’ crew ain’t gonna cut it.

Time for these sisters to start doing it for themselves!

And if that song was from the 70s, you’d hear it loud and proud alongside all the other strategically placed picks from that groovy decade. It’s not a Scorsese soundtrack strategy, really, but rather one that makes sure we hear the lyric that can most literally comment on what we’re seeing.

Call it a Berloff maneuver.

The Kitchen marks the directing debut of veteran writer Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton), and from the start, her tone is as unapologetic as her main characters.

Their takeover of the Hells Kitchen action is too easy and their character development too broadly drawn. But just as you’re starting to wonder what this much talent (also including Margo Martindale, Domhnall Gleason, James Badge Dale and of course, Common) saw in this material, the sheer audacity of its often clumsily edited approach feels almost right.

Berloff’s script makes it clear that this is less about the shots and more about who calls them, with some surprises in store by act 3 and a committed cast won over by the comic book source material or Berloff’s vision for it. Or probably both.

Moss, as a meek victim pushed around too long, and Gleason, as the smitten psycho who gently schools her in dismembering a body, elevate the film with every scene they share. Haddish delivers the underestimated street smarts with McCarthy – the two time Oscar nominee whose range should no longer be in doubt – bringing an anchor of authenticity.

There’s an allegory here of strong women fed up with fragile masculinity. There’s also a bloody mess of retro schlocky mob noir tropes (patent pending).

I love it when a plan has some awkward missteps but still kinda sorta comes together.

Write What You Know

Instant Family

by George Wolf

The comedy output of writer/director Sean Anders has ranged from decent (Hot Tub Time Machine, We’re the Millers) to disaster (That’s My Boy, Daddy’s Home 2). His latest works as well as it does thanks to leaning more on heart than humor.

That’s most likely because Anders is telling much of his own story here, and a warm authenticity buoys even the film’s most ridiculous moments.

Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne are Pete and Ellie Wagner, a California couple who run a home renovation business and remain undecided about having children. A flippant remark from Pete leads Ellie to investigate foster parenting, which then leads to three young siblings moving in.

There is, to put it mildly, an adjustment period.

Yes, Anders’s parallel of renovating homes and families is plenty obvious, but it goes down easier with his commitment to sincerity about an important topic. The film doesn’t shy away from pointing out the difficult aspects to foster parenting, utilizing an odd-couple pair of case workers (Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro, playing nicely off each other) as an effectively organic vessel for reminding us that “things that matter are hard.”

The laugh quotient rarely rises above a good chuckle, and you can expect some obligatory music montages and family comedy trappings, but some well-drawn characters and a likable cast keep that sizable heart beating.

Byrne continues to show the timing of a comedy MVP, Wahlberg seems more comfortable with the genre than usual, and Margo Martindale breezes in with memorable support as Grandma Sandy, but Anders, speaking from experience, makes sure to remember it’s about the kids.

He doesn’t use children just to be cute (although they are), but as real characters at the core of this arc. This is especially true of oldest sibling Lizzy, thanks to the standout performance from Isabela Moner (Sicario 2), a true young talent.

Always more fuzzy than consistently funny, Instant Family offers plenty of good feels backed up with some lived-in comfortability.





Pass the Salt…Bitch!

 

by George Wolf

 

So, how was your family get-together over the Holidays?

If secrets and dinner plates weren’t tossed about like a salad dressed with obscenities, you’ve got nothing on the Westons, the dysfunctional brood at the heart of August:  Osage County.

Screenwriter Tracy Letts adapts his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, and the sublime wordplay in his dark, rich comedy is brought to life via an exceptional ensemble cast. Only tentative direction from John Wells holds the film back from its full potential.

Meryl Streep rules the roost as family matriarch Violet Weston, who..ahem…”welcomes” her children, siblings and assorted other team members back home after a family crisis.

There isn’t much time spent on niceties before the barbs start flying. Old wounds are exposed, and new secrets are uncovered as the family struggles to deal with the effect their past has on their present.

At the heart of the conflict is Barbara, the oldest Weston daughter, fully realized by Julia Roberts in, hands down, the performance of her career.

Barbara’s contempt for her mother is on hilariously full display, while bubbling underneath is the fear of becoming her mother, a fear she tries to hide through angry outbursts. Stealing a movie from Meryl Streep is no easy feat, but damned if Roberts doesn’t do it.

In fact, the film is wall to wall with fine performers, including Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, and Margo Martindale (who shows a fantastic chemistry with Streep, giving their scenes together an added air of mischief).

The problem is, director John Wells seems a bit intimidated by who, and what, he’s working with. The characters are too often on their own island, as when a soap opera cuts from a close up of one deep sigh to a completely different storyline.

These characters are under one roof for much of the movie, yet we don’t feel the cohesiveness of any shared connections, just a series of histrionics often left swinging in the venomous breeze.

It’s not the material. Letts also wrote Bug and Killer Joe, both adapted into brilliant movies by the skills of legendary director William Friedkin. Wells, a veteran TV director, doesn’t provide the nuance needed to make a successful cinematic leap.

August:  Osage County boasts all the ingredients, and is certainly entertaining, but ultimately feels like a missed opportunity for something special.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars