About R.L. Terry

Ryan “Professor Horror” Terry teaches film studies and screenwriting at the University of Tampa. He holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in film and media studies. He has regularly published film reviews since 2014 and has been a featured speaker at Tampa Bay Comic Con, Spooky Empire, and the historic Tampa Theatre. His work has appeared in both political and entertainment magazines.

GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO motion picture review

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–a film that was robbed of its deserved and earned Beast Animated Film Oscar (no, Zootopia is in no universe a superior film). Let’s hope that the Mouse doesn’t rob Pinocchio of it’s well-deserved Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

The story may seem familiar: A father’s wish magically brings a wooden boy to life in Italy, giving him a chance to care for the child. But you’ve never seen Pinocchio like this before!

Before you dismiss Del Toro’s Pinocchio as another soulless, cash-grab remake, this much more macabre version of the titular puppet’s story delivers immense depth and dimension. Not only of technical achievement, but of theme, plot, and character development. This animated film proves that animation isn’t only for kids, because this film is far more thoughtfully crafted than most live action films this ear. And yes, I agree with recent comments from Quintin Tarrantino that we are experiencing one of the worst eras of cinema in history. No doubt this is true. However, this year has seen some real winners such as Top Gun: Maverick and now Pinocchio. Suffice it to say, this is not your kid’s Pinocchio. And, although there are important life lessons in the film, it goes to places, both figuratively and literally, that may not be appropriate for kinds under 12 years of age. While Pinocchio is in its limited theatrical run, see it on the BIG screen!

While there are certainly plot beats which are shared by the original 19th century story, the 1940 Disney adaptation, the wretched Robert Zemeckis’ remake earlier this year, and countless stage adaptations (funnily enough, I saw the operetta Pinocchio this week as well), Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio takes on a life of its own. It isn’t often that the filmmaker added a possessive to the film title. Whereas it’s commonplace for Disney to add Disney’s… to literally everything, it’s uncommon for director’s or producers to add a possessive to the film’s title. Notable exceptions include Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas (directed by Henry Selick), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (directed by Francis Ford Coppola), and now Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. This possessive form of title is often employed to signify (1) the filmmaker’s confidence in his or her work of motion picture art and (2) to separate it from all other versions of the same story (and/or title). Moreover, this often indicates to audiences that they are about to witness the work of a true auteur (not the case when we see Disney’s…–that’s just plain branding).

Is it del Toro’s arrogance or an ego trip that prompts such chutzpah in this film’s title? Not at all. Del Toro has been working on this passion project for over 15 years. Before you feel that’s an exaggeration, let the finished motion picture be the demonstrable evidence of meticulous work frame-by-frame in this nearly two-hour film. Images are most often captured at 25-frames-per-second, so to achieve the fluid motion del Toro has, you just do that math. Del Toro crafted intricate animation captured by a camera that is repeatedly started and stopped over the course of day, weeks, years. Each mouth, arm ear, eye, literally any object that has movement, is moves a little at a time, frame-by-frame. Not only does del Toro’s craftsmanship translate to beautiful, seamless movement by the characters and environment in the film, he successfully captures the visual and emotional miracles that can only be accomplished through stop motion animation. There’s a reason why we go back to the Rankin & Bass Christmas classics every year; there is immense simplicity and beauty in stop-motion animation. Why? Same reason why practical effects will always be superior to (overt) CGI effects–depth, dimension, the way real light bounces off objects and into the camera lens.

Even though the film is quite dark from the moment the atrocities of war are witnessed, it is not without its levity and uplifting scenes. To get into a central theme of the film involving stages of grief (which makes it unique compared to other iterations), would mean venturing too far into spoilers, which I would like to avoid, and with that theme, there are many scenes that force the audience to confront what many fear most. Because of this theme, one might think the film is somber most of of the time, and fortunately, this is not true. There are plenty of moments that break up the sadness to inject a healthy dose of laughter. And more often than not, we have Sebastian J. Cricket to thank for that! (I’m sure the “J” is a playful jab at Disney). DelToro’s sardonic, raconteur cricket always has the perfect witty remark or anecdote to provide insight into a given plot point or emotional beat. Because of Sebastian J. Cricket’s running commentary and moral/ethical guidance, the audience is willing to go on this emotional roller coaster. The moment of levity allow for an emotional and psychological reset to face the darker moments.

Outside of the imagery of the stages of grief, there are other fascinating areas of social commentary in the film as well. I love how del Toro moves the real boy imagery, how it’s traditionally interpreted: wood vs. flesh, to one that posits ideas of what it means to be a real man. These arguments are mostly seen in the Mussolini’s youth armies scenes. In the world of fascist Italy, to be a real man meant taking up the arms and creeds of Mussolini’s Italy to fight the allied forces. Pinocchio must decide what it means to be a real man. Another area that is interesting is the relationship between Geppetto and the village (Catholic) Church. While there may be various ways of interpreting this imagery and these scenes, which are bookends for the film, I feel it is best interpreted as Geppetto never compromising on his faith in God even though the Catholic Church, at that time in Italy, was being infiltrated by Mussolini’s fascist ideals (cleverly disguised to sway some in the faith community).

Lastly, we cannot talk about this film without highlighting the moving score and outstanding original songs. While Pinocchio is not a musical, it has several original songs that will move audiences! Not only does this film boast exquisite animation, but it delivers outstanding original music and lyrics as well. Audiences will find both diegetic and non-diegetic musical numbers in the film. This combination works incredibly well to wrap audiences in the mesmerizing story!

Even though Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is coming to Netflix in December, look to see if it’s playing at theatre near you for the full experience!

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

THE FABELMANS film review

An intimate portrait of an ultimately underwhelming quasi autobiographical story. Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans looks gorgeous and delivers a performative dimension with heart, but the story, largely inspired by his own life, struggles to capture the magic in which it so eagerly wants to wrap audiences. Tony Kushner’s screenplay, with story by Spielberg, starts and finishes well; however, the middle (or development stage) lacks focus and stakes, and even ventures into needless satire. If audiences are seeking a film about the transformative power of filmmaking and following one’s passion–despite the odds–then they will be better off with the Italian cinematic masterpiece Cinema Paradiso. This film is best experienced on the big screen because of the beautifully crafted cinematography, so if you plan to see it, do not wait for it to hit Peacock or Amazon Prime to view at home. Clearly this is the most personal motion picture from the king of the box office form the late mid 1970s to mid 1990s, but hopefully now that he has made his fictionalized autobiographical picture, he will get back to thrilling and entertaining audiences with pictures that are talked about decades later.

Young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) falls in love with movies after his parents take him to see The Greatest Show on Earth. Armed with a camera, Sammy starts to make his own films at home, much to the delight of his supportive mother. But a dark family secret threatens his idyllic family.

While The Fabelmans attempts to inspire audiences through its central character of Sammy’s journey, audiences may find it difficult to connect with a central character from an upper middle, if not, upper class family that experiences fewer obstacles to the pursuance of art than does a typical working class individual. Why is this important? Because the film focuses on Sammy’s struggles (primarily during his teenage years). While Sammy certainly experiences emotional and psychological struggles, it’s difficult for audiences to connect with a central character that has far fewer financial and time obstacles than most people experience when pursuing passions. It’s far easier to pursue art as a career when sufficient financial backing is present. It’s characters that have to scrimp, save, and balance making a living while pursuing art (or other less conventional passions) that impact audiences most.

Michelle Williams (Mitzy, Sammy’s mom) delivers an outstanding performance! Moreover, Gabrielle LaBelle (Sammy), and the rest of the cast all display exceptional chemistry and dimension. There is a surprising cameo at the end of the film that is the icing on the cake of this exemplary cast. From the cast to the characters themselves, audiences will be impressed by the authenticity of the Fabelman family. Unfortunately, that same authenticity is not reflected in all the ancillary characters. Even in Spielberg’s big blockbuster films like Jaws, ET, and Jurassic Park, the cast is always excellent! That’s likely because each of the characters feels like an everyman, someone that could be you or someone in your life.

A closer look at the plot reveals a lack of a substantive goal(s) for Sammy. Fortunately, his mother Mitzy has a goal, but I won’t get into spoilers. Kushner’s screenplay neglects to provide Sammy’s outside/action story with high stakes. He’s never at risk of losing anything–personally–anyway. Therefore, he’s always in a safe position. One may be able to attempt an argument on losing his family, but that is more relational than an actual goal to achieve or fail to achieve. Dealing with life or a day in the life of are NOT plots nor goals. Aside from remaining alive, there is nothing measurable to gain or lose. For example, his goal could be to complete a particular picture or to land a job with a studio, but neither are that to which all the scenes point. Much like with many other movies and films as of late, this one isn’t written well. Lots of ideas, some of which are refreshing, but not woven together in a compelling narrative.

In terms of the relationship between Sammy and his camera, and Sammy and his family, I appreciate the film’s commentary on how a true artist experiences great pressure from family and friends as they work on their art. It can mean, making self-centered decisions that support the creation of art versus being emotionally or physically available to family and friends. Furthermore, the film teaches us that the camera itself never lies–it captures that which is placed in front of it–but it’s the editing (or montage) process that can selectively tell a particular story from the collection of raw footage. Sometimes the camera shows us things that we are afraid to confront otherwise.

Undoubtedly, there will be critics and general audiences that praise the film for being Spielberg’s most personal. And it is–but–therein lies part of the problem with the storytelling. A filmmaker directing a film that is ostensibly about their life demonstrates a huge ego trip. It also means everything that is dramatized is highly subjective, giving way to feelings weighing greater than facts. When a motion picture is biographical in nature (even when it’s a fictionalized account), audiences want to know how it really happened.

The middle of the film, specifically when Sammy’s Jewish family is relocated from their beloved Arizona to northern California, is plagued with caricatures of both school bullies and Christians. Due to the subjective nature of this narrative, one cannot help but wonder if the bullies were exaggerated and if the ridiculous level of cult-like fanaticism of his Christian girlfriend were misrepresented and mischaracterized for dramatic purposes. If Spielberg and Kushner were making fun of any other faith group, it would be seen as disrespectful. But they will get a pass because in Hollywood, it’s perfectly acceptable to make fun of members of the Christian community–but–completely unacceptable to stereotype or satire any other faith group or subset of the general population. If it’s evaluated as in poor taste to treat other groups with disrespect, then it should be viewed the same way here. Spielberg and Kushner could have found more tasteful ways to highlight the religious conflict in Sammy and his girlfriend’s relationship, and methods that were good-natured teasing or fun, but it was clearly more of an importance to show the girlfriend as a fanatic.

The opening sequences and scenes paired with the final scene of the film are thoughtfully crafted to transport audiences to a world of awe and wonder, and for those scenes, I applaud the film. Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down with a convoluted mess of ideas in the middle that do not add to the experience of the film, or send constructive messages to the audience.

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

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