TOP GUN: MAVERICK motion picture review

What a picture! Cinema at its finest! Top Gun: Maverick is the high energy, funny, exhilarating motion picture cinemas and audiences need–and–it’s full throttle heart! Furthermore, the absolutely brilliant combination of screenwriting, directing, and all the technical elements combine to acknowledge and build upon the nostalgia without resting its laurels on it or hiding behind the cultural and cinematic touchstone that was the original Top Gun. I didn’t know a long-awaited sequel more than 30-years from the original could be THIS good–in fact–it’s better than the original. We are talking Wrath of Kahn compared to Star Trek the Motion Picture here. Maverick represents that some stories, characters, and themes are truly timeless. Even the most casual fans of the original will be touched by everything this film has to offer. I cried several times, and I am not alone. Multiple fellow critics have remarked this film moved them to tears as well. Familiar, yet fresh doesn’t begin to capture the magnitude of diegetic and cinematic success of delivering the surprisingly perfect experience of this film that could very well be on its way to Best Picture of the Year nominations. Maverick is the film that we need as a country, as a world right now! Its plot is equal parts character and action-driven, and no scene or character is wasted or simply inserted to satisfy some nostalgia checkbox. Not only a love letter to the cinematic phenomenon that was Top Gun, it’s ostensibly a love letter to the cinematic experience in terms of scale and scope of the adrenaline-pumping high-flying adventure! We need this film at such a time as this. It’s an uplifting, positive, constructive motion picture for all! Fly, don’t walk to your nearest cinema that offers premium formats like IMAX or Dolby to experience this epic story on the BIG SCREEN.

After more than 30 years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. Training a detachment of graduates for a special assignment, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it.

What is Top Gun: Maverick‘s secret ingredient, wherein lies the magic that made this motion picture work on every single level? The answer: there is no single element. Maverick an incredibly rare lightning in a bottle sequel! Moreover, it’s a lightning in a bottle film period. But if I was to hone in on what I feel is the reason why this film is as impactful, humorous, and exciting as it is, then I’d place a little more credit on the power of Peter Craig and Justin Marks’ screenplay! Yes, Joseph Kosinski’s direction and Tom Cruise’s creative producer guidance play a major roles in the visual storytelling, this action movie owes the depth of its storytelling to the screenplay. While we could boil down the screenplay to a combination redemption-hero story, there is so much more to Maverick than that.

Since this is at the beginning, it’s not a spoiler. The film opens in a nearly carbon-copy to the original, down to the text on screen, Top Gun theme, Danger Zone, and sequence of shots. The mention of the opening is incredibly important for you to know. There is no doubt that Kosinski and Cruise intentionally crafted the throwback opening to channel the nostalgia factor at the very beginning. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come from the story Craig and Marks wrote for you. From the very beginning, audiences are invested in this story because their nostalgia adrenal glands have been stimulated. And as far as direct throwbacks, that is pretty much were it stops. Is that to say there aren’t a few strategically placed (and very brief) flashbacks sprinkled throughout the film? No, there are perfectly setup and executed flashbacks and visually and dialogue-driven references (and Easter eggs) used in the film, but they are supportive, yet pay off dramatically. No moment or reference from the original is simply used to remind you that this is a Top Gun film.

Simple plot, complex characters. It’s a lot easier said than done. When teaching screen writing for film or situation comedies, I drive this point home nearly as often as dramatize don’t tell. The plot of this film is very simple: thwart the enemy from illegally enriching uranium. The depth of the film comes from the well-written and developed characters. And our characters in this larger than life film are few in number. And because it’s not overstuffed with lead and supporting characters, the characters are each given agency (granted, some characters are given a higher degree of agency than others, but my point is that they have purpose, needs, wants, and flaws). Because I am avoiding spoilers, I am not going to go into any details because you need to experience these characters for yourself.

There are many rich themes in this film. From a commentary on advancement in technology versus the human spirit to a commentary on not being so quick to discount the wisdom of those who have come before, to an exploration of redemption, ego, and sacrifice, there is something for everyone! The screenwriters chose to focus on telling a good story and not any of these things. Yes, these elements add immense richness to this motion picture, but at the end of the day, it’s simply a great story with excellent plotting.

Undoubtedly, something you’re looking forward to is all the aerial cinematography! It helped make the original the visual spectacular that it was! And that same quality is true in Maverick, but with an exception. It’s an extension of the storytelling NOT the focus of the film. The film isn’t saying “here, check out my stunning, high octane cinematography and effects (which are used to cover up a mediocre story);” it’s saying to audiences, “hey, check out my stunning, high octane cinematography and effects that pair excellently with my powerful, compelling story!” The attraction isn’t the cinematography or editing (tho, both are exceptional), the attraction is/are the story, plot, and characters! You will be moved by this film, and driven to laughter, tears, and excitement!

Again, don’t miss seeing. Top Gun: Maverick on–not only on the big–the BIGGEST SCREEN in your area! If you sleep on this film, and wait for it to hit Paramount+, then you will deprive yourself of what is the greatest cinematic experience since, since, since I don’t know when.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS movie review

Plot sacrificed for visual FX. While Raimi’s horror adjacent direction gives Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a unique aesthetic when compared to the typical superhero movie (with the exception of Batman Returns, which has long sense been praised for its otherworldly horror-adjacency), it isn’t enough to carry the story. Better brush up on End Game and Wanda Vision because you may be slightly lost the whole time. So full disclosure, I’ve only seen End Game once and do not subscribe to Disney+. Unfortunately, this movie does not sufficiently provide exposition for those of us that do not eat, sleep, breathe the MCU because Wanda/Scarlet Witch’s motivation for her antihero behavior cannot be fully realized and understood without the events of Wanda Vision (from what I’ve been told about the show). That’s the problem with the ever-expanding MCU–but–it’s also a brilliant marketing and merchandising move. Simply because, if you want to be able to understand the motivations of the characters in the movies, you have to watch the TV shows and every single movie (main line and side line). Specific to this movie itself, there is clearly a thoughtful story, but it’s ultimately held back by the wandering plot. Ironically, you may be asking yourself a variation of the cliche question actor’s ask directors: what’s my motivation? Instead, you’ll find yourself asking: what’s Wanda’s motivation???

Dr Stephen Strange casts a forbidden spell that opens a portal to the multiverse. However, a threat emerges that may be too big for his team to handle.

Story and plot are NOT the same thing. Without getting into a lot of what I teach in film studies and screenwriting, story is the overarching narrative whereas the plot is the map (how you get) from beginning to end. Raimi’s playing up on the whole witchy aspect to this movie, was great for someone like me that loves horror, but it seems that the horror-adjacency of the movie merely compensated for the slapdash plotting. While many that watch this movie have undoubtedly seen End Game multiple times, subscribe to Disney+ to watch all the shows, and have read the comics, many have NOT. Granted, a subgenre movie such as this should not play to the lowest common denominator because then the fanboys and girls in the audience will feel slighted or unappreciated, At the same time, the writers and director should have considered integrating sufficient exposition for those that do not watch all the ancillary material. Wouldn’t have taken much to provide enough exposition so that rewatching End Game or subscribing to Disney+ for Wanda Vision, What If?, and Loki wouldn’t be a prerequisite for this movie.

For those that love visual effects, you will likely be impressed, if not blown away by the mesmerizing landscape of digital imagery; however, there are many times in the movies that the characters do not feel that they are existing within the same world in which the dazzling display of graphics exist. You cannot replace the way real light bounces off real objects into the camera lens. Not opinion–fact. Perhaps one day, we will get an MCU (and this applies to the “whatever it’s called these days” DCEU) movie that spends as much time crafting tangible sets as it does investing into digital imagery. In no multiverse will characters look to truly be within a world that primarily exists in the expression of 0s and 1s on a computer. The only saving grace for the aesthetic of this movie, and the moments we see the cinema stylo (hand of the artist), is when Raimi leans into the horror-adjacency of this MCU entry. Whenever the movie took a turn towards horror, I enjoyed it the most, and felt it was trying to be different–not your typical superhero movie.

It’s really no spoiler that Captain Picard is back as Professor Charles Xavier! Okay, so I know he is really Sir Patrick Stewart, but he will always be the definitive Starfleet captain to me. X-Men fans, like me (see, I do like superhero movies that aren’t Batman Returns), we’ve been waiting for that moment in which we witness the integration of the X-Men into the MCU. And I’ll give the writers and Raimi this: how Professor X was integrated into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was both meaningful and strategic. It wasn’t too much, didn’t feel forced, and the applause this cameo garnered from the audience (including myself) was outstanding! At my screening, the moment Sir Patrick Stewart reprised his role as the definitive (live-action) Professor X elicited more applause and cheers than any other moment in the movie. I am eager to witness how the X-Men are woven into the fabric of the MCU.

If you can watch this movie in a premium format like Dolby Cinema, IMAX, or Cinemark’s X-treme, then that is the best way to experience it. It is a BIG SCREEN movie for sure! While I am often highly negatively critical of superhero movies, I am thankful that they are getting people back to the cinema in masses.

Ryan teaches Film Studies, Screenwriting, and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

HATCHING arthouse horror film review

A provocative exploration of the deadly consequences of image obsession and the dangers of forcing others to meet your expectations–hatching them in your own image. Director Hanna Bergholm delivers more than a spine-chilling social commentary on the dark side of social media influencers, Bergholm delivers an inventive cinematic exercise that shines in both form and function. Terrifying puppetry is back! Most of the buzz going into this film was on the use of practical puppetry for the bird-like creature, and that buzz is well-earned! Not since Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal have we witnessed such nightmarishly beautiful puppetry on the silver screen. Upon the first appearance of the the avian creature, is was clear that Bergholm took inspiration from Henson’s Skeksis in all the best ways possible. More than a showcase of practical effects, this film delivers a relatable coming-of-age story, thematically rich, and will have you engaging in internal monologues on topics such as adolescent anxieties, social media influencers, and the obsession with image.

Tinja is a 12-year-old gymnast who’s desperate to please her image-obsessed mother. After finding a wounded bird in the woods, she brings its strange egg home, nestles it in her bed and nurtures it until it hatches. The creature that emerges soon becomes her closest friend and a living nightmare, plunging Tinja into a twisted reality that her mom refuses to see.

So often, when the topic of the dark side of social media is explored, it’s explored through the mind and eyes of kids and young adults; however, Hatching subverts our expectations by exploring this subject from the perspective of Tinja’s mother. Tinja’s mother is obsessed with what her followers think of her and her family, and this obsession manifests itself in the form of her social media persona and living out her athletic dreams (as a former figure skater who met with an accident that permanently injured and scarred her leg) through her daughter’s gymnastic aspirations. She pushes TInja, not to be the best she can be, but to be the best she (her mother) wants Tinja to be; it’s to glorify mother not daughter. In essence, Mother is attempting to hatch Tinja in her own image, but it goes horribly wrong. Tinja struggles to meet her mother’s expectations for her life, and this anxiety is manifested in the hatching of the avian creature. it isn’t long before Tinja realizes that she has hatched a monster. I love how fantastically ominous the mise-en-scene is!

The special effects and makeup teams should be particularly proud of their accomplishment. In an age where a bird-like monster would have been CGI, this team remained committed to practical effects. And it’s those effects to give the monster incredible dimension–cant’ replace the way real light bounces off real objects and into the camera lens. In the performative dimension of the film, the whole cast demonstrates excellent chemistry and the fake smiles add immensely to the inauthentic uneasiness of the characters. Bergholm successfully build the tension throughout the film, earning every emotional release! Unlike the prolific number of arthouse horror films that forget that the film needs to tell a good story expressed in addition to being visually impressive (a’chem A24 and Neon), this arthouse horror film looks great and delivers a thoughtful story expressed through well-structured plotting. It is both accessible by general horror audiences, but provides the more complex subjects for those that want to to the yolk of the matter.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT film review

Massively fun! Nicolas Cage IS Nicolas CAGE in the hilarious yet thoughtful and action-packed The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. You don’t want to miss this highly entertaining motion picture on the BIG SCREEN! On one hand, it’s a fictionalized self-referential character study, but on the other, it’s Taken. It’s a metanarrative that delivers both the exploration of the fascinating career, larger than life persona, and highly publicized financial problems of the screen legend. In other words, this film is in full Cage Rage mode from beginning to end. For the film studies enthusiast, scholar, or just film fan, there is also a running commentary on the evolution of filmmaking spanning over 100 years. This is most noticeable when the foundational work The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and contemporary works Paddington 2, Marvel and Star Wars are referenced. In an exchange between Cage and Pedro Pascal when instead of Marvel or Star Wars movies, they both want to make films that are “intelligent,” “character study” pieces. It’s that tongue-in-cheek humor paired with the bombastic screen presence of Cage that will have you rewatching (or watching for the first time) films like Face/Off, Moonstruck, Con Air, Mandy, and yes, even The Wickerman. In fact, the screenplay pulls from all Blockbuster and obscure corners of Cage’s filmography to craft a film that is grounded in character that is thoughtfully developed over a high concept action plot. At the end of the day, this isn’t a film about a fictionalized Nicolas Cage, but a film about the transformative power of motion pictures that stars Nicolas Cage as himself.

Unfulfilled and facing financial ruin, actor Nick Cage accepts a $1 million offer to attend the birthday party of Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), an immensely wealthy fan. Things take a wildly unexpected turn when a CIA operative recruits Cage for an unusual mission. Taking on the role of a lifetime, he soon finds himself channeling his most iconic and beloved characters to save himself and his loved ones.

The Cage Mythos is alive and well in this film. Cage both embraces and pokes fun at the prolific number of myths inspired by his vast career. Moreover, regarding the metanarrative, this film reminds the audience (and Hollywood producers) of the Cage Range of his acting prowess. Few actors have inspired as many bad impressions, memes, and have left the undeniable impression that Nicolas Cage has. What the films ranging from the obscure artsy “direct to video” (streaming nowadays) titles to the Blockbusters have in common is how much they resonate with audiences. By his own admission in the movie and in real life,

Cage is a working actor. He’s never viewed acting as a career as much as it is a series of gigs with which he has had lots of fun, and will continue to do such. Perhaps he is a contemporary Christopher Lee. Sir Christopher Lee still holds the record for sheer number of roles over his storied career. In many ways, Cage is not unlike Lee. Whether the man is the myth or the myth is the man, Cage plays right into it. He know precisely what his fans and audiences want to see from him–they wanna see Full Cageness! Cage has the benefit of a distinct voice–he IS a movie star, in the classical definition of the word. Regardless of how many bad movies he’s made, he maintains a larger-than-life screen presence that is peerless.

The movie that Javi and Nick are working on in Massive Talent parallels that of this movie itself. They both speak of a character study piece that turns into a genre picture. Furthermore, the central character of the screenplay within the movie has the same struggles that this fictionalized Nick Cage has. As Cage is developing this idea-turned screenplay with Javi, he undergoes self-rediscovery and ultimately reconnects with his estranged family (this isn’t a spoiler…it’s rather obvious). But that’s the point. It is a tried and true, simple plot on which complex characters are created and change over the course of their respective arcs. Simple plots, complex characters. That is what I tell my screenwriting students makes a great story!

If you are knowledgable in Cage films, then you will absolutely love all the easter eggs, references, and clips. I attended the screening with a friend of mine that hasn’t seen many Cage films; still, he found The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent to be highly entertaining and fun. Suffice it to say, just like there is a Nick Cage for everyone, there is a little something for everyone in this film–but fans of Cage will definitely get the most out of it!

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

THE BAD GUYS animated film review

Highly entertaining with heart! Disney-Pixar, eat your heart out! Whether you’re typically interested in animated films or not, you don’t want to miss Universal-DreamWorks’ The Bad Guys opening this week only in cinemas. Prepare yourself for a refreshing, high octane Oceans 11 meets Zootopia heist comedy for the whole family. Honestly, this is the best animated film that I have seen in a long time. The Bad Guys delivers audiences a simple, lean plot with complex central characters that will completely delight you from beginning to end with its innate ability to find the humor in the smallest details. While the film borrows from Oceans 11 and Zootopia, it is crafted in an almost Tarantino for kids storytelling method. This atypical approach to animated film storytelling (popularized by Into the SpiderVerse), has opened the floodgates for subverting our expectations for styles we have long -since associated with animated films. Furthermore, films such as the remake of The Lion King have inspired CGI artists to go for more of a photorealistic aesthetic. What The Bad Guys does is paint a 2D world with some 3D enhancements, which demonstrates more of an affinity for stylization over realism–great! Too many animated motion pictures lean into realism therefore negating the magic of animation. In my opinion, if the animation is going to be so incredibly realistic-looking, then just make a live action picture. The advantage of the stylized approach is that there is very clearly a design to each and every frame. Perhaps it lacks the cinema stylo of hand-drawn frames, but it certainly delivers more style than anything released by Disney-Pixar in recent years. On a scale of Kubo and the Two Strings (the best animated film in the last decade) to The Lion King, I’d say The Bad Guys is much closer to a Kubo. With witty comedy and adrenaline-pumping action, you don’t want to miss seeing this film on the BIG SCREEN.

After a lifetime of legendary heists, notorious criminals Mr. Wolf, Mr. Snake, Mr. Piranha, Mr. Shark and Ms. Tarantula are finally caught. To avoid a prison sentence, the animal outlaws must pull off their most challenging con yet — becoming model citizens. Under the tutelage of their mentor, Professor Marmalade, the dubious gang sets out to fool the world that they’re turning good.

What a(n animated) picture. Seriously. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed an animated motion picture this much. Over the last decade, only Kubo, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Onward stand out to me. As I was exiting the auditorium following the screening, I talked with the general audience members that were in attendance, and nearly every one with whom I spoke said variations of the same things: entertaining, fun, and thrilling. During the screening, I heard many kids (and their families) laughing along with the characters. Although it is clearly aimed at kids, there are comedic moments for adults too. What we have here is a good story! Remembering my Sunset Boulevard

Joe Gillis: “-Ah…one of those message kids. Just a story won’t do…”

Betty Schaefer: “I just think a picture should say a little something.”

I reference this exchange between the struggling screenwriter and the aspiring reader turned screenwriter because too many animated films (mostly from Disney/Pixar) suffocate their stories under oppressive, cynical social commentary; so much so, that the story suffers because the focus is on the sermon instead of the characters. You will find the absence of overt social commentary in The Bad Guys refreshing! Does that mean there is no depth or thoughtful elements? No. But the message of the film is that we are all capable of a redemption arc. Granted, it’s not as strong a redemption message as we have in A Christmas Carol, but for a kid’s movie, they will undoubtedly pickup on it.

The screenplay is well structured and paced. While the bones of the screenplay are rather paint by numbers, the the superstructure is creative and stylish! Furthermore, in a film that looks to be one that will throw a joke a minute at you, it holds back the cards, delivering the humorous dialogue and site gags in a method that allows them room to breath. The laughs are setup, reinforced, then twisted thoughtfully.

All around, this is a solid animated feature that should be on your watch list while it’s in cinemas.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1