Tag Archives: Steve Zahn

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.

The Horror

War for the Planet of the Apes

by George Wolf

They’re not kidding, this is a war movie.

The rebooted Apes trilogy concludes with a thrilling, deeply felt and always engrossing rumination on the boundaries of humanity and the levels of sacrifice, where the wages of brutality are driven home in equal measure by both sweeping set pieces and stark intimacy.

Two years after the events in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis, again making an Oscar nod for a motion-capture performance seem inevitable) is leading an ape army that has suffered heavy casualties.

Despite some cunning maneuvers, Caesar is on the run from The Colonel (Woody Harrelson, also award-worthy), an unforgiving military dictator who shaves his head and preaches dominance of a master race.

Director/co-writer Matt Reeves says “Ape-pocalypse Now” before you can, but such an obvious ode to Brando’s Colonel Kurtz ultimately becomes a clever misdirection for the layered themes that resonate on a much more current level.

Reeves, returning from 2014’s Dawn, expands his vision of this franchise and its possibilities, crafting a majestic slice of summer entertainment that also reminds us of what fertile soil fear can easily become.

And yet amid all this heavy drama, some bittersweet humor finds a home, due mostly to “Bad Ape” (Steve Zahn), a hermit who is found by Caesar and his followers. Zahn’s performance is expressive and touching, his frequent close-ups serving as amazing evidence of the visual wonders at work. As the trilogy has progressed, the effects have improved in perfect sync with the cognitive growth of the ape characters, giving this third installment new depths in the richness of its storytelling.

The raging battles give way to a personal war within Caesar, as he balances the good of his population with a primal desire for revenge. His final meeting with The Colonel does not disappoint, thanks to the subtle foreshadowing and effective thrills that fill Reeves’s confident march to the showdown he knows we want.

Ultimately, we’re left with a bridge to the original 1968 film in sight, and a completely satisfying conclusion to a stellar group of prequels.

But is there room for more?

You bet, and War for the Planet of the Apes makes that prospect more than welcome.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Walk the Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur

by Hope Madden

Is there any name in filmmaking more reliable, any surer bet, than Pixar?

Maybe not.

The Good Dinosaur, as is always the way with a Pixar film, opens with a fascinating short. Longtime Pixar animator Sanjay Patel directs his first effort, and Sanjay’s Super Team defies expectations to tell a lovely, warm story of overcoming father/son barriers and, in doing so, opens larger doors for similar cross-cultural embracing.

The animation giants’ second feature in less than a year takes us back to a magical time when dinosaurs were farmers and cowboys. That meteor? It missed Earth, you see, so this is what might have happened had we evolved right alongside those majestic beasts.

Rather than relying on a star-laden vocal cast (although Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn, and the unmistakable Sam Elliot do lend their talents), the bulk of the film features – almost solely – the work of 14-year-old Raymond Ochoa.

Ochoa plays Arlo, the runt of the dino litter who needs to battle his own insecurities to find a way to make his mark. He does so with the help of a feral whelp of a human called Spot.

Though the story borrows heavily from The Lion King, first time director Peter Sohn combines hyper-realistic scenery with very cartoony characters in a way that’s surprising and lovely. Punctuated frequently with silly humor, the mostly serious tale does not shy away from darker edges and a real sense of peril, eventually delivering a genuinely emotional punch.

Sohn is even craftier without the aid of dialog, as many of the funniest and most touching moments are delivered in silence or with grunts.

After producing arguably the best film of 2015, Pixar has the cajones to release a second feature this year. I guess when you’re the undisputed king of cartoons, that kind of swagger makes sense. And while The Good Dinosaur is no Inside Out (or Up or Toy Story, for that matter), it’s a worthy entry in their impressive canon.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





For Your Queue: Two that are…”Hemsworth” a look!

 

The needlessly underseen Rush – one of director Ron Howard’s very best films – gets a second chance at an audience today as it’s released to DVD and BluRay. So do yourself a favor and see it. Character driven without sacrificing sport spectacle, the film proves an engrossing drama and boasts an award-worthy performance by Daniel Bruhl. Plus you get to look at Chris Hemsworth, which is never a bad thing.

Speaking of non-Thor Hemsworth, we’d recommend pairing this with a fun and surprisingly well written if little seen 2009 thriller A Perfect Getaway. The film follows Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich on their Hawaiian honeymoon, where tourists are being murdered. It’s a slick, well-paced and fun flick with great turns from Zahn,  Hemsworth, and the always reliable Timothy Olyphant.