KNOCK AT THE CABIN movie review

Knock on a different cabin. M.Night Shyamalan’s latest horror film Knock at the Cabin attempts to explore thoughtful themes but the storytelling is clunky due to the poor plotting and contrived character development. Moreover, this is a case wherein film form is employed as a tool to compensate for underdeveloped meaning and story structure. Where the film excels is in the characters and casting. Yes, the character development is contrived, but I appreciate Shyamalan’s character mix. In particular, it’s a refreshing mix because the fact the parents are a same-sex couple doesn’t factor heavily into the plot nor become a sermon, like it so often does. It simply is and that’s it. Furthermore, the casting of not only the central parental couple, but all of the characters shines because of the realistic representation of everyman. Bautista is provided a platform to portray a much different character than he has in the past, which is fantastic to witness! He is given an conduit through which he can more freely exercise his acting chops. Visually, the film is striking; there is an emotive dimension to the montage of the motion picture and the cinematography. Again, the film form is outstanding! Unfortunately, the screenplay is lacking the same degree of thought that was found in the technical approach to crafting this film.

While vacationing at a remote cabin in the woods, a young girl and her parents are taken hostage by four armed strangers who demand they make an unthinkable choice to avert the apocalypse. Confused, scared and with limited access to the outside world, the family must decide what they believe before all is lost.

Knock at the Cabin excels in montage and cinematography because of how the eye of the camera oscillates between subjective and objective placement, much in the same way our own eye (and mind’s eye) operates in real life. Treating the camera as our own eyes allows Shyamalan a brilliant opportunity to bring the audience into the narrative. Unfortunately, this is hampered by the clunky storytelling. However, because of the stylistic choices for camera placement and scene framing, the film is successful in delivering an unsettling mood and suspense with the camera (in a Hitchcockian manner). Furthermore, the film proves to be exemplary in the area of montage (or dramatic film assembly) demonstrated by the stylistic choices that provide the film with steady pacing and guiding our focus from character to character or scene to scene. While the story may be lacking refinement, the editing crafts a visual narrative that is lean and mean.

Struggling narratively, the film fails to sufficiently provide thoughtful critique (or commentary) on any area on which it concerns itself. I don’t mean to sound vague, but to discuss the themes, symbolism, or commentary would require me to divulge spoilers. What I can say, without getting into spoilers, is that there is an attempt to critique: preconceived opinions or judgments of people, willful disbelief in the face of evidence, and toxic ideologies. I appreciate what Shyamalan set out to accomplish; it’s clear that this film was supposed to be a vessel to foster conversations about the themes and subtext, but no single area of theme or subtext was setup or developed adequately. We receive glimpses in the dots Shyamalan attempted to connect, but they are glimpses at best. Flashbacks are used as a tool to provide clarity on present conflicts, but that (often abused) storytelling tool is wielded ineffectively and wastefully.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida and Indie Film Critics of America. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1 and LetterBoxd: RLTerry

80 FOR BRADY movie review

Surprisingly gr80! (Okay, I’ll see myself out now, haha). No, seriously, 80 for Brady is way better than it had any right to be. That’s not to say I expected it to be bad–quite the contrary–I expected it to be cute and mildly entertaining. But in a twist (much like the showdown in the movie), it delivered a terrific, highly entertaining story with heart in the vein of 9 to 5 and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. One could even liken it to a feature length episode of The Golden Girls. And you know what? It’s inspired by a true story!

Four best friends live life to the fullest when they embark on a wild trip to see their hero, Tom Brady, play in the 2017 Super Bowl.

In a cinematic landscape of bloated, poorly paced, or intentionally pretentious films, 80 for Brady is a refreshing respite from the proliferation of 2.5+ hour pictures that so often forget simple plot, complex characters. The plot for 80 for Brady is simple, but the cast makes this one that will earn rewatches for years to come. While there is much to praise, the movie is not without its diegetic shortcomings. Where the movie could have been stronger is in the stakes and crises. The stakes and never quite high enough, despite some heavy material or consequences being hinted at, and the crises are never hopeless enough. There should always be that moment or two in which it looks as if the central characters are going to lose or the movie depicts them going to extraordinary or painstaking lengths to achieve the goal. In other words, the fabulous ensemble cast of characters needed greater opposition between them and their goal.

At the screening I attended, there was an audience member that was over 100 years old and she and her friends from the retirement home just had to see this movie! In fact, they are Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski fangirls. Many of them has not been to a movie theatre in decades. But this movie inspired them to enjoy the cinematic experience once again.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida and Indie Film Critics of America. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1 and LetterBoxd: RLTerry

PLANE action movie mini-review

Not too plane; this non-stop action-adventure has some flavor. Received my annual dose of mindless disaster movie fun in the Gerard Butler captained Plane. Schlocky movies work best when they know precisely what they are, and rock it. Which is precisely what we have here, a sufficiently entertaining over-the-top disaster/rescue movie that understood its flight plan, and stuck to it.

Pilot Brodie Torrance (Butler) saves passengers from a lightning strike by making a risky landing on a war-torn island — only to find that surviving the landing was just the beginning. When dangerous rebels take most of the passengers hostage, the only person Torrance can count on for help is Louis Gaspare (Mike Colter), an accused murderer who was being transported by the FBI.

From takeoff to landing, Plane is exactly what you need to reset your cinema palate from the awards contender-heavy autumn to prepping for what 2023 cinema has in store for us. Strap in for Gerard Butler and Mike Colter to take you on a white knuckle adventure filled with CG squibs and death defying action. To be honest, as moderately enjoyable as the movie was, with some Die Hard dialogue and one-liners thrown in there, it would have increased the entertainment value significantly. All you need to know is that the movie is fun! Also, never forget that it’s perfectly fine for a movie to be entertaining for an hour-and-a-half and that’s it. Not everything needs to be deep, inspirational, thoughtful, avant-garde, or provocative. It’s when movies that are clearly schlocky try to be something grander, that they crash and burn. Think of Plane as some good ol’ junkfood. Perfect for one of those weekends wherein the weather is cold, snowy, or rainy.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida and Indie Critics of America. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1 and LetterBoxd: RLTerry

M3GAN horror movie review

Old school plot meets 2020s world. Universal and Blumhouse’s M3GAN sets the bar high for 2023 horror movies. Solidly written, this horror movie proves that some ideas and themes are simply timeless! M3GAN can be read as a cautionary tale of the terrors of technology. Moreover, a closer reading reveals that it also concerns itself with an exploration of the responses to grief, sudden life change, and fears of parenting. While the movie takes itself seriously, the conflict and violence is done for laughs–and it certainly delivers both chilling and laughable moments! I can easily see it becoming a house at a future Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando and Hollywood.

A robotics engineer at a toy company builds a life-like doll that begins to take on a life of its own. Short synopsis, but that’s pretty much it. Simple, yet effective storytelling.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, horror/sci-fi movies were often about the dangers of technology. Ultimately, it can be boiled down to fear of the unknown, but this exploration of when technology rebels against its creator is a premise that remains timeless as technology is always changing. Back in the early to mid 20th century, it was robots; and here we are in the 21st century, and it’s still robots (well, more accurately androids or AI). The possibility of intelligent robots turning on us has always stoked fear because of the loss of control. Even in Terminator and Terminator 2, we witness the attempt to wipe out humanity. I appreciate this movie’s premise and themes for taking direct inspiration from and paying homage to all the horror-scifi movies to comes before it that fall within this subgenre of horror.

M3GAN reminds me of a feature length episode of Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone. Written by Akela Cooper (writer of Malignant), the pacing and structure are lean and never lag; however, there are elements of the story (provided by James Wan) that should have been better developed. These shortcomings do not significantly impact the movie’s immense enjoyment factor. Where the film most noticeably struggles is in the direction by relatively new director Gerard Johnstone. That’s not to say that it’s poorly directed–not at all–but had the directing been stronger, the performative dimension would have benefitted. Still, I’m eager to continue to follow Johnstone as he develops as a director.

Universal and Blumhouse take the terror of a killer android and place it within a child’s toy. Again, this isn’t new, but it is a new approach to the Talkie Tina episode of The Twilight Zone or Child’s Play. Much like Black Mirror was a better Twilight Zone than Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone remake, M3GAN may be a better Child’s Play than the remake/reboot of Child’s Play from 2019. I haven’t rewatched the Child’s Play remake since it released, so I will be careful not to presume M3GAN to be better. But my gut reaction is that I enjoyed this movie more than the quintessential killer doll legacy property.

Beneath the outside/action plot of the self-aware killer robot, are themes of grief/loss and parenting fears. After Katie loses her parents in a tragic car accident, she is placed under the guardianship of her (moderately) estranged aunt Gemma whom is an engineer for a Funko-like toy company (in the movie, the toy company is named Funki). Clearly, Katie’s aunt is uninterested in being a parent–she wasn’t even interested in being an aunt–but Katie has nowhere else to go except to her father’s weird family in Jacksonville, FL. So Gemma reluctantly becomes her guardian. Where the film is particularly fascinating, in the area of commentary on parenting in the 2020s, is Gema and Katie’s interactions (or lack thereof) with one another.

Gemma takes an analytical approach to parenting by identifying logistical problems and providing measurable solutions. When Katie doesn’t respond as anticipated, Gemma is at a loss as to what to do. Gemma lacks the empathy and emotive responses that a parent (biological or adopted) needs to exhibit when rearing a child. Gemma’s life plan was abruptly interrupted and introduced to dynamics over which she had little control. In her desire to control, she builds M3GAN as both a groundbreaking toy and as a surrogate parent-like figure in Katie’s life. Through the events of the movie, Gemma learns that there is more to being a parent than providing food, shelter, clothing, and companionship. Furthermore, this serves as a cautionary tale of parents turning child rearing and education over to technology. Without human empathy, critical thinking, and intuition, a child’s cognitive and social development may be warped.

The other area on which this horror movie provides commentary is on grief/loss. Not a new theme in horror movies, it is explored in a new way in M3GAN. Katie suffers the worst loss a child can: the death of both parents. Because of the lack of real empathy and emotive care from aunt Gemma, Katie forms an unhealthy attachment to M3GAN. Because Gemma and Katie never talk about what happened (and the therapist is pretty much useless), Katie never goes through all the stages of grief and therefore never processes (to what extent a child can) the tragedy and how to move forward. M3GAN provides that which is (and should be) provided by parents and friends, but as the events of the movie unfold, we learn just how dangerous that attachment can be for Katie and those around her.

While the writing is mostly strong (save a couple of setups that aren’t followed through in a substantive way), the direction is weak in places. Over all, fairly well directed. But the performative dimension is where the movie struggles. Even though some of the characters are more-or-less caricatures of types of people we have in our lives, there are several scenes in which the performances aren’t campy enough to be funny nor are they realistic enough to be taken more seriously. Some performances fall somewhere in the middle. Perhaps it’s a casting issue, but this is where a director needs to be strong enough to get the appropriate performance out of the actor.

For those that are so often worried about a horror movie with a PG-13 rating (a sentiment that I’ve never understood), rest assured that M3GAN is wildly entertaining and, yes, you still get some fun kills and bone-chilling scenes. That said, I imagine that there will be an unrated or R-rated release of the movie on BluRay. If this movie is an indicator of that we are to expect from 2023 horror, it may be a banner year! Only time will tell, but regardless, it is one that horror fans are sure to enjoy!

Don’t wait for M3GAN to his Peacock or Prime, if you’re a horror fan, then you want to see it on the big screen! You’re definitely in for a wild ride that will have you jumping and laughing.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida and Indie Critics of America. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1 and LetterBoxd: RLTerry

Ryan’s Top 10 Films of 2022

It’s that time of year again! Time to rank my Top 10 films of 2022. And boy oh boy, this was a tough list. Not because there were so many great films from which to choose–just the opposite–I truly struggled to identify ten films that I liked well enough to rank in a Top 10. Whereas I thought the struggle last year (see 2021) was real, this year’s arduous task of selecting ten films that I thought were outstanding made last year look as strong as 1983 or ’84. After two lackluster years for cinema, perhaps 2023 will surprise us! Since I don’t watch trailers nor overly concern myself with what is being released, you won’t find a Top 10 Most Anticipated Films list from me; however, there are a few for which I am eager: Mission Impossible, Barbie, Knock at the Cabin, S6ream, and Oppenheimer. But I digress, let’s get back to 2022.

Teaching film studies and screenwriting provides me with a particularly refined lens through which I closely read films. And not only the individual 2022 films themselves, but the year as a whole. By surveying an entire year’s films (and by extension, one can apply this to a decade when conducting an historical retrospective), common themes and motifs can reveal themselves. As an academic, this is fascinating because the recurring themes and motifs can, and often do, indicate societal or storytelling trends. For example, a close read of–say–horror films of the 1950s, reveals that society was concerned with the terrors that lie out in space. No surprise really, considering the U.S. was fully engaged in the space race.

So what did I find to be the most common observation in 2022 films? It’s two fold (1) one of storytelling mechanics and (2) one of social commentary or philosophy. 2022 was the year of writer-directors that should stick to being directors and allow a screenwriter to do the writing. There were many films this year that began with a great premise or basic story idea, that wasn’t executed effectively. The other observation from the year is that a great many films simply reeked of the stench of applied postmodernism (commonly referred to as woke). Will this proliferation of the dangerous ideology of applied postmodernism seeping from dark corners of scholar-activism into the mainstream be limited to 2022 or is this simply the beginning? Only time will tell.

While there are some writer-directors that are proficient (or even exceptional) at both screenwriting and directing, I find that most directors are not equally skilled as writers (and the inverse is also true). That’s not to suggest that most directors today do not have great, original ideas for films; but their films would fair better if they were to work with a screenwriter to more effectively craft and structure the director’s idea for the screen. Just like in life, ideas may make more sense in your head than they do to others; therefore, you have to know how to present your idea to others in a manner that does not need an interpreter or a companion explainer guide.

I’ve written at length about the dangers of applied postmodernism in films. But to recap, applied postmodernism is a toxic ideology that is an explicitly anti-liberal, anti-universal approach to achieving social justice. Furthermore, it’s a movement or practice of FIRST positing systemic problems THEN looking for evidence to support them; this practice’s goal is to reveal hidden biases and under examined assumptions about the world. Applied postmodernism manifests itself in identity politics. This position embraces a fantasy utopia world dreamed up by naive, arrogantly bigoted enlightenment thinkers whom think of the world in terms of what ought to be versus what actually is (and how it affects the world on a global scale).

Now that we have the observations out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks!

Here are my Top 10 films of 2022:

10. TICKET TO PARADISE

Refreshing and utterly delightful! George Clooney and Julia Roberts shine in Ticket to Paradise! Not only does this outstanding romantic comedy deliver a highly entertaining and heartfelt performative dimension, the script is solid! Excellent plotting for the familiar yet fresh story paired with dialogue that snaps, crackles, and pops! It’s an honest romcom featuring authentic true-to-life characters (albeit slightly exaggerated for dramatic purposes) that will resonate with audiences across the relationship spectrum. Whether you are in a new love, still in the honeymoon phase, or a cynic, you will find characters and predicaments that are inspired by real life. It’s been a long time since the romcom dominated cinemas, but Ticket to Paradise is a great example of the classic romcom being reimagined for today’s audiences.

9. I WANT YOU BACK

Heartwarming! From the outstanding cast chemistry to the clever writing, you need to make I Want You Back part of your Valentine’s Day celebrations at the cinema (for the limited theatrical run) or on Amazon Prime Video. Much like Broken Hearts Gallery showed us that the romcom can be reimagined for today’s teen and 20-something audiences, Jason Orley’s I Want You Back is the romcom reimagined for 30-something audiences. If it can make cynics like me once again believe that my “plane mask buddy” (you’ll just have to see the film to get the reference) is still out there, you too will find the story incredibly endearing! It’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed such excellent chemistry between an ensemble cast in a comedy, and it is the characters that will command a rewatch of this soon-to-be quintessential romcom.

8. THE PALE BLUE EYE

The unsettling atmosphere will transport, while the macabre mystery intrigues. Scott Cooper’s The Pale Blue Eye is both a period murder-mystery drama and serves as an imaginative origin story for Edgar Allan Poe. With skeletons in every character’s closet, the enigma of a mystery will beckon audiences to solve the mystery along with Christian Bale’s character. Based on the novel by the same name, the film adaptation is in the same vein as The Cursed from earlier this year and Antlers from last year. Both of which are among my favorites of the last two years. So, if you liked either of those films, you will mostly likely enjoy this one as well. Despite the runtime of 2-hours, no scene ever lingers too long. If you enjoy period murder-mysteries, then you’ll undoubtedly enjoy this film.

7. THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT

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. 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.

6. THE CURSED (technically 2021, but wasn’t released until 2022)

A throwback to classic Universal Monster and Hammer Horror! After it was received positively at Sundance, The Cursed received a theatrical release. I was first cued into this film after seeing many positive comments on Film Twitter, so naturally, I had to check it out! From it’s foreboding atmosphere to its less is more approach with the werewolf-like creatures and the creepy orchestral score, fans of classic supernatural monster horror will undoubtedly find immense enjoyment in this film. Director Sean Ellis pulls out all the in camera stops in order to craft an incredibly haunting, intense film that is sure to become one of the best horror films of 2022, if not amongst the best in the last few years. Aesthetically, the film will remind you of Barry Lyndon meets The Wolfman meets Burnt Offerings. For fellow sedentary adrenaline junkies (the psychological description for horror fans), The Cursed will satisfy everything we want out of a werewolf film.

5. MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS

A peerless delight! A throwback motion picture as exquisite as the House of Dior itself! Refreshing, uplifts the human spirit. A film to inspire dreamers and doers. Easily one of the best pictures of the year. Slip into Director Anthony Fabian’s meticulously crafted film that is sure to make a beautiful statement in any cinema! Lesley Manville delivers a command performance as the title character that will tug at your heartstrings. While the setting may be in the pretentious world of haute couture, this adaptation of Paul Gallico’s timeless novel takes audiences on a journey that is just as relatable and relevant as it is whimsical! Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is an endearing fairy tale that feels very close to story in which we could find ourselves.

4. HATCHING

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.

3. BARBARIAN

Outstanding! Each and every layer of this masterful horror film is crafted with care and precision. Barbarian strikes an uncanny balance of unsettling terror juxtaposed against clever irony and humor. Writer-director Zach Cregger delivers the best horror film so far this year, and among the strongest in recent years. Not only does the film boast exceptional shot composition, the screenplay is sleek and no scene goes wasted. The fine-tuned plot mapping and story structure provide a solid foundation upon which the thoughtful story is told. Just when you feel that you may have it figured out, Cregger throws you for a loop–a loop that was setup earlier in the film unbeknownst to you.

2. GDT’s PINOCCHIO

Positively avant-garde! Easily among the best pictures of the year, period. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a brilliant stop-motion picture that will stir the hearts and minds of any audience! In many ways it’s reminiscent of 80s dark fantasies such as The NeverEnding Story and The Dark Crystal. Which should come as no surprise that del Toro worked in collaboration with the Jim Henson Company. Audience will be completely transported to the post-World War I Italian world that del Toto meticulously recreates, complete with the fascist movement, which underscores much of the film. Not since Kubo and the Two Strings have we had such a gorgeous, imaginative animated feature film

And the No.1 film of 2022 is…

  1. TOP GUN: MAVERICK

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. 

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1