Showing posts with label Film Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Film Review. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

First Look at Poor Things

As you've probably gathered from the trailer, this year's "Poor Things" is a reimagining of Frankenstein, with Emma Stone playing the role of the reanimated corpse.  In this version, her body is that of a young pregnant woman who took her own life, reanimated by a scientist who replaces her brain with that of her unborn child.

You'll hear a lot about how the film handles social roles, particularly sexual roles, and the frank way the creature discovers the world through her attempts to understand sexuality.  You'll also hear a lot about the arresting visual style of the film.

Most of my thoughts watching the film were about comparing how Boris Karloff handled this character in the 30s vs how Emma Stone handled it today.  

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Uncle Frank - Film Review

 Alan Ball is a playwright and screenwriter from Mariette, Georgia.  He's a Southern gentleman of a certain age (six years older than I am).  This and other factors mean he often writes on issues that travel in my lane.

His most famous work was the film "American Beauty" which won the Academy Award in 2000 for Best Original Screenplay and for a while was considered one of America's best films until it was revealed that its star, Kevin Spacey, was about as creepy in real life as some of the characters he plays.  Among actors, this is a phenomenon known as "DUH!".  This isn't really a rule among actors, although it happens fairly often.  Vincent Price, for instance, was an exceedingly gentle creature, a dilettante and a gourmand; the only characteristic he had in real life that he shared with the roles he played was that he could be something of an effete.  In life, Price always kept his sexuality as a very private matter, but after his death, his daughter revealed that Price was a gentleman who enjoyed the company of other gentlemen.  Are you surprised?

Alan Ball is an American Buddhist.  He claimed that the inspiration for American Beauty was the trial of Amy Fisher and an experience he had watching a plastic shopping bag floating in the wind, a scene that was included in the film and attributed to one of its characters.  Critics felt that American Beauty helped redefine and conceptualize masculinity in the previous century as we cross the threshold into this century.  

Amazon Prime offers his newest film, Uncle Frank, free to Prime members.  Like American Beauty, Uncle Frank concentrates on the second half of the previous century but goes back thirty years before American Beauty and sets the film in the early 1970s.  Uncle Frank tells the story of a man in his mid-forties from a small Southern Town who found that a small Southern town could no longer contain him, so he moved to New York and became an English professor.  

Noticing a kindred spirit in his young niece, he encourages her to do well in school so she can choose any college she wishes.  She chooses the one where he teaches.  At a party at his New York apartment, Frank and his niece Betty (now choosing the name Beth) hear the news that Franks's father, Beth's grandfather, has died.  At the party, Beth also discovers that her beloved uncle is in love with an Arab Engineer named Walid.  She and her aunt are the only people in the family who know Frank is gay, and Beth is the only one who has actually met Walid, who they call Wally.

Frank and Beth borrow Wally's car and drive to their small Southern town for Frank's father's funeral, only to discover that Wally has rented a car and has been following them.   Wally fears that Frank may need his support on this difficult journey.  He knows something about Frank's past that might make this trip extremely painful for him.  They agree that Wally can come along, but he has to keep himself hidden from the family.

Wally knows that, as a boy, Frank's father caught him kissing another boy.  His father said he had a sickness, and God hated him.  Confused, Frank writes a letter to the boy he kissed, saying he can never see him again, with disastrous consequences.   These are the demons Frank must face when he returns home for his father's funeral.  

Any time you have a story where the characters spend a great deal of time traveling from one place to another, the story is either a travelogue or an accounting of a transition from one state to another.  In this case, it's a story about a man who never faced what happened between himself and his father but is forced to deal with it when his father dies.  He uses a lot of the elements of a traditional Heros Journey to describe what happened to Frank.

Uncle Frank isn't nearly as complex and sometimes disturbing as American Beauty.  It's much more emotional, though, and you end up much more sympathetic to its characters.   Paul Bettany, who you probably know as Vision in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plays Frank.

There's a line in Tennessee William's play "Orpheus Descending" where Carol Cutrere says, "Wild things leave skins behind them, they leave clean skins and teeth and white bones behind them, and these are tokens passed from one to another, so that the fugitive kind can always follow their kind."  I always think of that when I read work by Southern writers; they tend to leave bones and skins and clues in their work so that their kind can follow their kind.  Ball does that with Uncle Frank.

The issues of gay men, born in the South in the thirties and forties, ended up being something I found out a lot about, even though I never pursued it.  These men recognized something in me that made them believe I would hear their stories without the sort of prejudice they often faced from straight men in the South, so they told me their stories.  Sometimes, very happy stories, and sometimes very painful stories.  

In their sixties, seventies, and eighties, they told me stories about when they were young and beautiful and living a secret life in a world that would kill them if they knew.  Watching Uncle Frank reminded me very much of those stories.  For men of that generation, there could be a real brutality that men pressed onto other men, be they fathers, lovers, or just others who would judge them.  

Beth mentions Truman Capote several times as a writer she admires.  The character of Frank would be around ten or fifteen years younger than Capote would have been in real life.  In the sixties, Capote was the darling of New York intelligentsia; by the seventies, they had cast him out.  He was constantly drunk and paraded on the Tonight Show as something of a freak.  I think there are aspects of Frank's character that are intended to be echoes of the younger Capote before he became a parody of himself.

Ball writes the script in a way that people who would hate Frank for being gay would most likely hate this movie.  For people who, like some of the characters in the movie, are able to accept Frank's sexuality as just one aspect of a complex life, I think you might enjoy this.  It doesn't leave you as drained as American Beauty did, but that's okay.  Sometimes it's okay for a story to not tear your guts out.  

Official Ted Lasso