About R.L. Terry

My area of specialization and prolific publication is on the American horror film, and that has allowed me to speak at Tampa Bay Comic Con and Spooky Empire. Needless to say, my blog contains a significant number of articles on horror, for I feel that it is far more truthful than any typical drama! I published a book titled On the Convergence of Cinema and Theme Parks in 2015 and am working on my second book titled "Why Horror?" to hopefully be published next year. Outside of my work teaching American Cinema and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa, I am the creator of the podcast sitcom "Four’s a Crowd" and work as an audio editor for an NPR show called "American Variety Radio." I’m a former creative services staff member for Feld Entertainment where I worked as a video editor for "Disney on Ice," "Sesame Street Live," and "Jurassic World Live." I’ve produced 12 short films (including a foreign film), and 2 feature length films. Since 2014, I have been an active film critic and member of the #FilmTwitter community. Taking my written content to the air waves, I am a regular guest on popular film, horror, theme park, and LGBT+ podcasts. I have always done my best to teach and write in such a way that I can successfully communicate information about and my passion for media and entertainment to the general public. I like including many details that give you a good representation of the various elements that make up a film. In short, I simply love storytelling.

GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY whodunit movie review

Cloth Mask: a COVID Mystery. The real mystery is why Johnson didn’t turnover his idea for this chapter in the fledgling franchise to a different screenwriter. World famous detective Benoit Blanc is back, but this mystery suffocates under constant reminders of the varying degrees of response to COVID-19. At the core of this Knives Out installment is an intriguing mystery; however, throughout the whole movie, the audience is reminded of about two years of recent history that most people would rather forget. The best part of the movie is a cameo, near the beginning, of a truly legendary TV detective. Even if you don’t want to watch the whole movie, watch the first few minutes, because you will undoubtedly love the cameo as much as I did.

Tech billionaire Miles Bron invites his friends for a getaway on his private Greek island. When someone turns up dead, Detective Benoit Blanc is put on the case.

Before I break down my thoughts on the movie, just who is that legendary TV detective that surprises us with a heartwarming cameo? None other than Dame Angela Lansbury, aka Murder, She Wrote‘s Jessica Fletcher! Knowing she makes her final film appearance in a murder mystery is incredibly poetic, and will absolutely thrill audiences.

While there is certainly a time and place for films that depict or are an abstract representation of events and people from real life, for purposes of inspiring conversations, most fictional films should transport us, be a momentary break from the negative stressors of life. From beginning to end, Glass Onion is a manifestation of COVID Theatre–and not for purposes of parody or satire–because it’s neither funny enough to be parody nor clever or thoughtful enough to be satire. Even though Rian Johnson is reprising his role as the writer-director of this one, the loss in quality from the brilliant Knives Out to this installment is rather conspicuous. Perhaps this is yet another example of why some directors need to stick to directing, and turn their ideas over to a screenwriter. Evidence of the poor pacing and structure is demonstrably witnessed in the simple fact that nothing big happens for an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie.

Another troubling aspect of this movie is the showdown. And no, I am not about to get into spoilers. But it’s a subject matter that certainly requires critiquing. Keeping in mind that when Glass Onion was written, Johnson could not have possibly known about now-recent headline-grabbing events (in Europe presently) about a group that feels by being a (to quote the movie) a disruptor that they can get their way. And in the film, something rather disturbing happens that could very well serve as inspiration for the continued despicable actions of this group. When these events began happening a few months ago, Johnson (or Netflix) should have rewritten and shot the ending because as it stands, the ending is tasteless.

The set and production design of the movie is nothing short of impressive. While the constant reminders of COVID do nothing to transport us to another world, the setting of this movie certainly does! I absolutely love witnessing the hand of the artist in the design of the palatial house and manicured gardens of the location where the murder mystery takes place. Much like the house in the original Knives Out felt like the Game of Clue, this one delivers a similar feel, which causes the house to feel like a character in and of itself.

While the story execution and writing leave much to be desired, the casting is great! Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc is just as entertaining as he was in the first movie. Outside of the foghorn leghorn detective, Jannelle Monáe delivers a fantastic performance as the ex-wife of our murder mystery weekend host Miles Bron, enthusiastically played by Edward Norton. You’ll recognize many to the other cast members and there are a few cameos that will garner a laugh or two. Some of the characters aren’t given much to do, so they become filler. But for the characters that have something of substance to do, they are mostly entertaining.

Unlike the previous movie, this one feels very “Netflixy,” so it’s not one that benefits from a theatrical viewing. Watching it at home will be sufficient enough. However, an advantage to watching it during its limited theatrical run is avoiding spoilers on social media.

For more on the movie, visit Netflix.com/GlassOnion.

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

BONES AND ALL horror adjacent movie review

Intriguing concept, poorly written. The highly anticipated film from director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) leaves a mediocre taste on the palate. Moreover, Bones and All represents another example of the result of concentrating more on atmosphere and technical elements than on strategic storytelling and proper plotting. “A day in the life of…” or simply “dealing with life” is not a goal; therefore, a plot it does not make. Vapid dialogue and lack of diegetic purpose plague this rather gothic romance. However, the gore is handled tastefully. The most pleasant surprise in the film is the cameo by veteran horror actress Jessica Harper of Suspiria fame! She may only be on screen for a few minutes, but her performance will captivate audiences! Unfortunately, the rest of the film is largely forgettable. In contrast to many other films this year that greatly exceed the two hour runtime, this one clocks in at a sluggishly paced two hours and ten minutes.

Love blossoms between Maren (Taylor Russell), a young woman on the margins of society, and Lee (Timotée Chalamet), a disenfranchised drifter as they embark on a 3,000-mile odyssey through the backroads of America. However, despite their best efforts, all roads lead back to their terrifying pasts and a final stand that will determine whether their love can survive their differences.

While the concept is interesting (although Warm Bodies did it better), the execution is sloppy. And I am not talking about the dining habits of our central characters. I’m talking about the disregard for screenwriting conventions. There are many refreshing ideas in the film, but the ideas are not fleshed out sufficiently. I applaud the film for delivering an original expression of an extension of the zombie genre, but I wish the story had been better paced and structured–oh yeah–an external goal for the central characters would’ve been nice too.

Although the film boasts solid casting choices (especially the Harper cameo), the visual aesthetic the central characters bring to the screen is not supported by compelling talent or character arcs. There simply wasn’t much to these characters; they are borderline one-dimensional. Lots of potential for depth, but the characters are largely the same at the end as they are at the beginning.

For all the potential for the film to serve as a social commentary on feeling alone in the world, the film never thematically lands on any particular ideology or observation of society. Extrapolating from the thematic evidence the audience is given, the film is most likely attempting to craft a story depicting when someone feels alone in the world, but surprised to find out that they are not. When relationships with your fellow man (be it platonic or romantic) are actually possible.

Despite the film taking place in the late 1980s (an era that is growing blasé as a setting for film and TV), it shares a lot in common with gothic romances because of the subject matter. Seems like every other movie releasing takes place in the 1980s, which is beginning to become tiresome and unimaginative. But, I suppose we have Stranger Things to thank for that. On the topic of visual aesthetics and production design, the film’s various midwest settings feel like a character in and of themselves. I appreciate design most when you can see the hand of the artist.

Perhaps Bones and All works better as a novel because it is overwhelmingly internally driven. Not having read the novel, I can merely infer what may have been lost in the novel to screen adaptation. Most likely what is lost is that which cannot be shown on screen, so I cannot fault the screenwriters for that. Where I do find fault is neglecting a proper outside/action story driven by a plot that points and builds to a climactic showdown and resolution. We have plenty of internal need (aka inside/emotional story), but simply dealing with life or finding love is not sufficient for purposes of compelling cinematic storytelling.

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

DEVOTION film review

DEVOTION delivers an endearing story with heart, but the unevenly paced screenplay lacks the gravitas to be truly impactful or memorable. Unfortunately, this Naval Air Force biographical drama arrives on the tailwinds of Top Gun: Maverick, to which it will undoubtedly get compared (though they are different). It’s a decent film with an important, historical story to tell, but the film is held back by the lack of strategic focus and the competing story threads.

Elite fighter pilots Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) and Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) become the U.S. Navy’s most celebrated wingmen during the Korean War.

We cannot discuss this film without addressing the white elephant in the room, the wildly popular, critical and box office smash hit Top Gun: Maverick. Both films feature character-driven stories in the Air Force, one fictional, while the other is biographical. Funnily, both feature Glen Powell in a central role. Speaking of casting, Devotion has a solid cast, but often times, neither the lead nor supporting characters are given much to do.

Even though I was unfamiliar with this true story prior to watching the film, it certainly seems to have hit all the factual points (which–don’t get me wrong–is important in a biographical drama), but the facts of the account never fully manifest into a cinematic story. Furthermore, there are three competing story threads, each vying to be the main outside/action story (1) the Korean War mission (2) the friendship between Tom and Jesse and (3) the relationship between Jesse and his family. Underscoring each of these is the inside/emotional story of Jesse’s professional and psychological struggles being the first person of color in the Naval Air Force.

The screenplay lacks focus, lacks direction. None of the outside/actions stories ever emerges as the main (or A-story). In an effort to dramatize everything that was going on in Jesse’s life professionally and personally, the screenplay never completely landed on any one of them. Because of this lack of focus, audiences will likely experience difficulty in connecting with any one of the characters; empathize? Yes. Truly connect? Therein lies the struggle.

Compared to the cinematography and editing of Maverick, Devotion noticeably struggles. Regrettably, this struggle would have been less noticeable had both films not been released in the same year (and yes I am aware Maverick experienced delays due to shuttered theatres and mitigated operations from 2020–2021). As much as I tried to separate the two films, Maverick was such an incredible film that it’s nearly impossible to evaluate them independent of one another.

Devotion is a middle of the road film, from technical achievement and screenwriting perspectives. It’s neither bad nor great; because it has an important story to tell, and it’s clear that everyone’s hearts were in the right place, it does make for a good film, but one that won’t likely stick with you as long as Maverick did.

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

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER movie review

Wakanda Forever a.k.a. Postcolonial Theory: the Movie. The overly long, poorly paced latest installment in the MCU feels disjointed. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever goes on forever, and ever, and ever, and ever, because the movie is overstuffed with subplots to nowhere and one-dimensional (or plot device) characters that serve little substantive purpose except to augment the runtime. About 45-minutes can easily be carved out of the movie, and the action plot would be largely unaffected. Other times, it feels as if entire sequences or scenes are missing, because the editing (montage or assembly) is choppy. The absence of the late Chadwick Boseman is felt from beginning to end, and the movie constantly struggles to find its footing as it moves forward in the MCU. The tributes to Boseman at the beginning and of the movie are tastefully, and reverently crafted. While the writing of the movie is insufferable, the performative element of the mise-en-scene is chiefly supported by the incomparable Angela Bassett. Wouldn’t be surprised to see her receive a Golden Globe nomination for actress in a supporting role next year. There is a good followup to Black Panther somewhere in this nearly 2.75hr movie, but it must’ve been caught up in the snap.

Queen Ramonda (Bassett), Shuri (Letitia Wright), M’Baku, Okoye and the Dora Milaje fight to protect their nation from intervening world powers in the wake of King T’Challa’s death. As the Wakandans strive to embrace their next chapter, the heroes must band together with Nakia and Everett Ross to forge a new path for their beloved kingdom.

The command performance by Bassett is the highlight of the movie! Every scene that features her instantly increases in quality and gravitas. With just one look, she steels the scene and convinces you that what she is saying or feeling is incredibly important. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are largely one-dimensional and lack meaningful arcs or characters development. One of the biggest problems is the writers’ refusal to bloody your central character, which holds the other lead and supporting characters back from forming empathetic connections with the audience. Princess Shuri is nearly a deus ex machnina in and of herself. In other words, we have (Star Wars) Rey: Vol.2 featured in Wakanda Forever.

When characters are too perfect, too capable (to an uncanny level), and the writer(s) refuses to bloody the central character, then the characters lacks–well–character (or a believable human dimension). Meaning, there is little doubt the character will succeed, and typically success is paired with a false sense of dread or suspense that the character will undoubtedly achieve that which will make them a de facto superhuman. Simply stated, superhuman (or superhuman-like) characters are neither fun to watch nor do they service the plot in a meaningful way. More like characters as a plot device.

Functioning as an overt attempt at subtext, there is a constant reminder of the narrative’s embrace of the cynical postcolonial theory, which is the overarching idea of the systematic deconstruction of The West in order to save the other, thus erasing universal truths and metanarratives from the world.

The goal of postcolonial theory is to decolonize our world: the systemic undoing of colonialism in all its manifestations and impacts. Powerful, albeit difficult to support with logic, postcolonial theory is concerned with the critique of the affects when a dominant culture interjects its values, beliefs, and cultural norms upon another culture. Twice in the film, Martin Freeman’s character is referred to as a colonizer in a rather pejorative attempt at humor. Not limited to the relationship between Wakanda and the rest of the world (mainly The West), but the same overt parallel is dramatized between another important world in the movie and The West.

This theoretical approach to sociology and scholarly activism advocates that colonized people react violently in order to maintain their increasingly fragile mental health and self-respect. Postcolonialism has formed the radical foundation upon which many marxist politics are built. Objective knowledge (and by extension science, facts, universal truth)—that which is true for everyone, regardless of cultural values—is seen as unobtainable because knowledge is a construct of the dominant group’s worldview, and must be forcibly removed from the world. Which is a large part of the movie–the elimination of The West. This factors into two competing story threads.

But why is this a dangerous theory upon which to build an entire movie? The framework of postcolonial theory urges those that see themselves as oppressed (even if that oppression was decades or centuries ago), to abandon evidence-based, rigorous testing, research, and critical thinking in exchange for assumptions, subjective observations, and hypotheses. Ironically, postcolonial scholar-activists attack systems of power by erecting systems of power. The radical, proactive denial of the existence of universality actually pushes a different universality (hmm…sounds like a metanarrative…but aren’t those supposed to be bad?).

Another cynical theory that is manifested in this movie is feminist theory. Whereas I do not feel the need to spend too much time on this more commonly known theory, it’s important to note that all the lead and chiefly supporting characters are women–powerful–women, and all the villains are men–inept or evil–men. When writers craft a mix of characters, there should be room for both, as that would be more representative of real life. Both the X-Men and The Avengers showcase a great mix of both powerful, cunning, intelligent men and women. Therefore, general audiences can connect with a character(s).

Augmenting the runtime of the movie is both a subplot that ostensibly goes nowhere and a supporting character that is little more than a plot device. Without getting into spoilers, there is a subplot featuring Freeman’s Everett K. Ross that fails to add anything substantive to the movie. Just when you think it’s going to provide a reveal about a rather mysterious characters from other MCU movies and Wanda Vision, nothing happens. If you remove this subplot from the movie, little to nothing changes. Connected with this subplot is a supporting character that is (supposed to be) the MacGuffin. But the writers attempt to give this character gravitas. Unfortunately, but there isn’t enough substance to this character, thus rendered one-dimensional. Furthermore, this character could be removed without changing much. And what little would change, could easily be given to another character of plotting element.

No doubt that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will be a huge financial success at the box office, but without the late Chadwick Boseman, the movie feels like a bunch of ideas from a woke writers room that were thrown against the wall, and forcibly connected as coherently as possible. But, the movie does create a way, albeit of little to no surprise, for the Black Panther to continue protecting Wakanda.

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

TICKET TO PARADISE romcom movie review

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 a in 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 Ride is a great example of the classic romcom being reimagined for today’s audiences. And you know what? It’s fun for the whole family! Just goes to show that a comedy can be good, clean fun and still deliver laughs and heart. With a lean, mean script and brilliant casting in the lead and supporting roles, let this be your ticket to cinemas on your next date night!

A divorced couple teams up and travels to Bali to stop their daughter from making the same mistake they think they made 25 years ago.

Ticket to Paradise manages to seemingly do the impossible with an genre that sees few well-written directed, and acted examples nowadays, it simultaneously checks off the conventions and expectations audiences have of a romcom–yet–it delivers a story that will surprise you! Furthermore, this movie entertains audiences with a subject matter so seldom touched by romcoms–new love versus cynical love. Oh, there have been moves that have tried such as Love Actually, but this one strikes all the right tones. Over the last few years, we’ve seen some excellently written romcoms such as Last Christmas and I Want you Back. And if you enjoyed those two as much as I did, then you are sure to enjoy this one!

What’s better than a smartly written romcom with excellent casting? Well, one that takes place in an exotic landscape, of course! You may find yourself booking your next vacation to Bali after watching this movie, and for good reason, it looks like paradise. While there is nothing particularly remarkable about the cinematography, the setting serves as its own star. From sunrises to sunsets and all the crystal clear water in between, you will wish you had ordered a maitai to enjoy along with the movie. It’s easy to see why anyone would be tempted to fly to Bali on vacation and desire to stay. What I appreciate about the cinematography is that it could have so easily been distracting by increasing stylistic approaches to capturing the action and setting, but it never overshadows the story, which is why we go to the cinema, “the greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling” (C.B. DeMille).

Clooney and Roberts’ chemistry is uncanny! They’ve always played off each other so incredibly well. Such a natural couple, whether in love or fighting. And their relationship (or lack thereof) in this movie is completely believable. Of course it’s exaggerated for dramatic purposes, but this IS a romcom. Think of their relationship as real life, but edited. I’ve read some critics that have claimed the story is weak and the only redeeming dimension of this movie is the chemistry between Clooney and Roberts. Suffice it to say, that is an unfair evaluation, because the script gives them everything they need to deliver the laughs and a great story. Moreover, their respective characters have depth and dimension. Yes, there is an element of whimsy in their delivery and in the character mix, but again, this is a romantic comedy. We want to see a romanticized version of real life, but these characters and story work because they also exhibit human dimension, feelings, reactions, and flaws.

I highly recommend Ticket to Paradise! In a year that has had few stand-out movies, this is definitely one of them. Perhaps we will see more smartly written and cast romcoms return to the cinema, because as important as heavy films are, lighthearted ones are just as important because they provide an emotional balance.

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