Additional Bite-Sized Reviews, Jan. ’21: ‘Cobra Kai’ and ‘Uncle Frank’

Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis, and Peter Macdissi in ‘Uncle Frank,’ — Photo: Brownie Harris/Amazon Studios

In this edition of my monthly movie and television catch-up article series titled ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews,’ I take a look at Alan Ball’s latest film, Uncle Frank, starring Paul Bettany and Sophia Lillis, and I talk about how I’ve binge-watched the delightful YouTube/Netflix Original Series, Cobra Kai.


  • What are Additional Bite-Sized Reviews?
    – My monthly movie and television catch-up review series ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews‘ is an evolution of the Overview-article section previously titled ‘What I Didn’t Write About.’ I was originally inspired by film critic Peter Sobczynski’s article series ‘Films I Neglected to Review,’ wherein he writes short, or brief, reviews of films that he hasn’t had the time to write full reviews about. Therefore, in articles such as this one, I will provide my readers with my thoughts on select films, shows, and even classics that I feel like giving my thoughts on, even though I don’t have the time to dedicate thorough reviews to them.
  • Why do the bite-sized reviews not include either a letter grade or a review score?
    – In my full and thorough reviews, I like to score or grade what I watch. But since these reviews aren’t as detailed, I think it is fairer to the films and shows to simply just decide whether or not to recommend them. I guess you could say this is the only type of review that is basically ‘scored’ with the classic thumbs-up/thumbs-down-method on my site.

Uncle Frank | Film | Dir. Alan Ball | Screenplay by Alan Ball | Release Year: 2020 | Seen on: Amazon Prime Video | Recommended?: Yes.

I didn’t have as much time to catch up on movies at the end of 2020 as I wanted to, so it took me way too long to finally check out this film from American Beauty-writer Alan Ball. Ball’s Uncle Frank is a story about confronting your past, your past demons, and becoming the person that you have chosen to be. It is seen from the point of view of Sophia Lillis’ character Betty ‘Beth’ Bledsoe, a smart and kind teenager who looks up to her uncle Frank (played by Paul Bettany), an NYU professor. Frank is a bit of an outsider to his own family, and he has managed to keep the fact that he is homosexual away from most of his family. Frank, however, has skeletons in his closet and some very good reasons for not wanting to return back home to his family willy-nilly.

The movie really picks up steam when Frank’s father (Beth’s grandfather) dies of a heart attack and he and Beth must go on a road trip to their family home to attend his funeral, which Frank is initially reluctant to do. Beth comes to learn a lot about her uncle (and his partner Wally, played by Peter Macdissi, who gives a delightfully charming performance), and Frank, in turn, comes to learn the true meaning of the advice he once gave to his niece.

Though it is definitely not without very funny and uplifting moments, this is mostly a heartbreaking film about identity but also the lasting impact of a parent’s toxic behavior. Lillis, Bettany, and Macdissi all deliver solid performances in the film, but Bettany and Macdissi’s performances impressed me the most. I think they both captured warmth in their performances, and Bettany’s nuanced performance was probably the best thing about the film. What really made the film work for me were the very comforting moments that showcased just how freeing love can be.

Cobra Kai | Season 3 | Created by: Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg | Release Year: 2021 | Season Length: 10 Episodes | Seen on: Netflix | Recommended?: Yes.

Over the course of the previous holiday period (and the start of the new year), I binge-watched the first three seasons of the Karate Kid spin-off series, Cobra Kai, which originally debuted on YouTube Red/Premium, but which has since been picked up by Netflix. Netflix may have struck gold with this absolutely delightful nostalgia-driven series which is a really good match with their sci-fi equivalent, Stranger Things. Though I was somewhat iffy on how the second season was balanced, I do think it is clear that from each season to the next, the show has become better and the writers and actors have become more comfortable and confident.

Now, I should state that I don’t have a huge relationship with the franchise itself. At this point, I’m not even sure if I actually watched the original film when I was younger (though, I do think that I watched it back then) or if my surprisingly deep understanding of the franchise is based entirely on cultural osmosis. But, other than perhaps the original film, I have only previously seen the Jayden Smith-led remake, which, I think, I saw in the theaters back in the day.

I think this series is so charming and so fun to watch. Although some of the plot developments absolutely are not believable, I think it is impressive how easy it is for the show to get you attached to the universe even if you don’t have a particular fondness for the franchise. There is a moment towards the end of the third season, which involves Daniel LaRusso (played by Ralph Macchio), Johnny Lawrence (played by William Zabka), and a surprise guest appearance (from the original film) that actually made me choked up.

I also really like what they do with Johnny and Daniel here. I think the series does a really good job of making both characters likable, even though the series is primarily seen from, one of the film’s villains, Johnny’s perspective. You end up actually caring about both characters even though they strongly dislike each other, and you become extremely invested in their over-the-top karate drama. It is a really easy show to binge-watch, and I’m surprised by how much it actually made me genuinely excited. I actually really like the Karate Kid-franchise now.

– Reviews Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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