Tag Archives: Paul Bettany

Uncle Frank

Growing up in Creekville, South Carolina in the 1970s, Beth (Sophia Lillis) has always felt like an outsider, even especially in her own family. The only relative to whom she relates is Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany), who seldom attends the various family functions meant to bring them all together. She feels surrounded by small minds and limited experience, and she’s not wrong. Which is why she eagerly follows in Uncle Frank’s foot steps to Manhattan as soon as she graduates.

Between college and the big city, Beth is growing up and expanding her world view, but nothing hits home like finding out that Uncle Frank is gay and that his roommate Wally (Peter Macdissi) is his lover and partner of many years. She’s never known anyone gay before. No; she never knew she knew anyone gay before. As if this wasn’t milestone enough, Frank’s father (and Beth’s grandfather) Daddy Mac (Stephen Root) has died, leaving uncle and niece to get reacquainted in the context of this new information during their road trip home for the funeral. On the one hand, it’s kind of a nice opportunity to meet each other’s authentic selves, but on other hand, they’re driving toward utter disaster and they don’t even know it.

South Carolina wasn’t the happiest place to be a gay kid growing up, and if Frank isn’t exactly choked up by his father’s death, going home does stir up quite a few traumatic memories, threatening his sobriety, his relationship, and even his life. Uncle Frank is both a coming out story of sorts for Frank, and a coming of age for Beth, two misfits from the same people and place finding out whether you can go home again or if you should have stayed in NYC where you belong. Writer-director Alan Ball seasons the script with achingly realistic family dysfunction, layers of hatred as well as opportunities for healing. Young Sophia Lillis has really hit the ground running in her career, starting out already on top with several leading lady roles in a row. She’s fantastic in this, but this movie belongs to Uncle Frank, and it’s Paul Bethany’s stoic and grounded performances that really see us through. Frank has navigated his life with careful precision but his father’s death is the one iceberg he couldn’t avoid. It feels like we’d tread uncomfortably close to melodrama, but Bettany’s performance is quiet, calm, and convincing, with not one shred of over-acting in a career-defining turn.

Uncle Frank has something to say about how things were in the past, but it also implies a lot about us now, 50 years in the future, and yet somehow still living in a world full of prejudice, where in some places and for some people, Frank’s experience is still the norm. For an unspoken statement, it’s pretty profound.

The Young Victoria

It’s very easy to forget that the monarchy is made up with real, living, breathing people. Extremely privileged people of course, who are often very out of touch with the real world and therefore the people they are meant to represent as well. But people nonetheless. Victoria (Emily Blunt) reminds us that even palaces can be prisons.

By the age of 11 she is made aware of her precarious and burdensome lot in love; the only living heir to King William IV’s throne. Victoria’s teenage years are dominated by her possessive mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and the Duchess’ consort, John Conroy (Mark Strong), who imposes all kinds of rules on Victoria. Despite the pressure, Victoria refuses to allow them the power to act as her regent, and she finally takes the crown at the age of 18.

In fact, this only means that even more people seek to control and influence her, including her cousin Albert (Rupert Friend), with whom it is hoped she will fall in love for political reasons. Having only just left the clutches of her mother, she isn’t quick to attach herself to someone else, but instead falls under the influnce of Prime Minister Melbourne (Paul Bettany), whom she trusts implicitly, even to the point of constitutional crisis.

Emily Blunt does a masterful job of portraying the young queen – her confidence, her missteps, her optimism, her suspicion, her inexperience and her willingness. Most 18 year olds aren’t ready for such weighty responsibilities but when your birth decrees it, there is nothing to do but step up. She is the sun around which so many orbit, on whom so many depend. A power struggle is inevitable.

The Young Victoria is romantic but lumbering, never quite hitting the right balance of tension and story. There’s a lot of wistfully reading letters aloud while sitting on various tufted couches. But if you’re looking for a Victorian drama, there are plenty of petticoats around, the scenery is terribly opulent. Blunt and Friend have a sizzling chemistry and you almost wish the movie had started rather than ended there.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron is great! Not Oscar-great but blockbuster-great. No need to think or feel creeped out about A.I. like in Ex Machina, just enjoy the ride with moody Ultron as he carries out his plan to kill all humans. But fear not! ¬†Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are on the case.

One of the things Age of Ultron does best is give us lots of new characters. That fits well with the revolving door that is the Avengers comic book roster. So we are introduced/reintroduced to many characters we know are, or will become, Avengers, like War Machine, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Vision, and in unfortunate licencing loophole, Quicksilver. Jay found that super confusing having already seen a different Quicksilver, without an accent, in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and I agree. It shouldn’t have happened and it takes away from the movie. Still better to have him here, I think, because Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are great together (this movie captured their relationship well) but it’s time for a deal with Fox. At least Marvel got Spider-Man back from Sony, but let’s get the rest of these movies working together too.

Seeing Vision pop up was an unexpected surprise for me. I liked that he made an appearance and thought he was used well, both as a source of conflict between the Avengers and then as a contrast to Ultron, though they share the same view on humanity’s likely future (i.e., not promising). Really, all the new characters were handled well and I feel like we are well on our way to the Infinity Gauntlet saga.

The disappointing thing is there are now four or five other Marvel movies on the way between now and Avengers 3. I’m excited for Captain America 3, especially with Spidey on board, but beyond that, it’s way too much. Especially when I use Vision’s introduction as a comparison; Ant-Man, Black Panther, and Dr. Strange could all be brought in as part of an Avengers movie, and I wish that’s what was being done. But since there’s money on the table we get separate movies for each. Let’s be honest, I will probably see all those, so you can expect to hear this same complaint every few months between now and the next Avengers movie.

I can’t hold that against this movie though. Avengers: Age of Ultron itself does things exactly right. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wouldn’t have changed a thing so it gets ten Infinity Gems out of ten.