Tag Archives: Paul Bettany

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.

Handsome Artificial Intelligence, Dumb Movie

Transcendence

by Hope Madden

Johnny Depp fans could use a little good news. The genuine talent hasn’t made a film worth watching since 2011’s Rango, and that was a cartoon – and his only half-decent movie since 2007’s Sweeney Todd.

Unfortunately, Transcendence isn’t going to help matters.

Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a very happily married scientist doing research that will make unfathomable breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. And oh what a muddled mess it turns out to be. The movie, I mean. The A.I. turns out to also be Johnny Depp, which beats the hell out of Arnold Schwarzenegger any day.

Making his debut as a feature director is Wally Pfister – Christopher Nolan’s go-to cinematographer. Predictably, the film has an evocative look. Unfortunately, he did not pick up his colleague’s grasp of the intricacies of a heady fantasy.

Jack Paglen’s screenplay offers a cautionary tale about our blind acceptance of the invasion of technology. Unless it’s warning us about pollution. Our personal isolation? Lack of privacy? All of the above, often while undermining its own other arguments? Bingo.

Basically, Paglen bites off more than he or his cast can chew. The film offers sparks of relevance, but it can’t decide what direction to go. It layers its fantastical warnings around a love story, and at least for that it relies on the natural talent of its leads, Depp, Rebecca Hall, and Paul Bettany as their colleague and friend.

Their work draws whatever attention the film manages to pique. Unfortunately, it’s not enough, particularly since their tale is saddled with a dopey ending that defies even the film’s own nonsensical internal logic.

But at least it’s not Lone Ranger.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars