“Last Christmas” mini movie review

Just the Christmas gift we needed this holiday season! Don’t be so quick to judge a holiday movie by its trailer. Much like we so often judge a book by its cover or a streaming movie based upon its thumbnail image, the same can be said for Christmas movies that look like they belong on Hallmark channel but somehow got a theatrical distribution. Paul Feig’s Last Christmas, written by Emma Thompson, is a heartwarming Christmas movie that is surprisingly deep and thought-provoking. If you’re a fan of his work, like I am (except for the Ghostbusters that doesn’t exist), you are familiar with his innate ability to take what looks like one movie, but then deliver something entirely different but completely brilliant in the execution that subverts expectations. Take Spy or last year’s A Simple Favor for examples. If you haven’t seen either, do yourself a favor and watch them! I absolutely adore how this movie takes what could simply be another paint-by-the-numbers romantic dramedy but provides audiences with a memorable movie built upon a simple plot and complex characters that audiences are sure to connect with. Kate played by Emilia Clarke (aka Mother of Dragons) is simply a treasure! And her costar Henry Golding, who plays Tom, is one part moral-compass and one part love interest. Follow Kate on a transformational journey that explores how constantly playing the victim and blaming everyone else for your problems can lead to destructive behavior. I appreciate the unconventional approach to Christmas movies this one takes. It doesn’t hold back on the cynicism that many people have about life or about the holiday season. The movie depicts true-to-life people that experience real struggles within the family unit and from the outside. In addition to the interpersonal relationship conflict, Kate’s family is also from the former Yugoslavia. This is an important subplot in the movie because the movie seeks to comment on the prejudice that some refugees-turned-citizens experience, especially in the midst of political turmoil. Like I said, this Christmas movie is surprisingly deep. The most powerful Christmas story ever (other than the Nativity) is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and why is that? Because it’s a story of redemption. If Scrooge can be redeemed, we can all be redeemed. Kate is our Scrooge in this story. Perhaps that is why so many people love it, it parallels A Christmas Carol in beautiful ways, yet it doesn’t–on face value–appear to be an interpretation of it. Do yourself a favor and plan to make Last Christmas part of your holiday season.

Ryan teaches 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! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Parasite” art house film review

An international film with domestic relevance. Writer-director Bong Joon-Ho delivers a thought-provoking satire on the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Winning the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Joon-Ho’s film is perhaps a new interpretation of the Wes Craven cult film The People Under the Stairs with a brilliant message of the lengths one goes to climb out of poverty in a world of massive income and opportunity disparity. For those whom may be worried that you’ll be distracted by the subtitles, you needn’t worry. To be perfectly candid, the visual storytelling and acting is so incredibly good that you won’t need the subtitles to follow the story. You’ve no doubt heard from the various critic circles that this film is a masterpiece, that it’s one of the best films of the year. That hype train is barreling past station after station, will it ever come to a stop? The short answer is not any time soon. But is the hype justified by the cinematic experience? In the opinion of this critic, no. I had incredibly high expectations for this film based upon everything I was hearing and reading, but it just didn’t do it for me. After the brilliant first half of excellently crafted suspense, foreshadowing, and plot setup, the second half loses the intrigue and just takes one convoluted turn after another for the sake of complicating the plot in an effort to make it say more than it actually does. Much of the griping tension is lost by the time the anticlimactic showdown comes to pass. What hampers the execution of the second half is taking too many predictable turns. It’s like a research paper that has a brilliant thesis, background, literature review, and method section, but the results are lacking in advancement. But, what the film lacks in plot execution, it makes up for in lavish visuals and exquisite production design. That house is a character in and of itself! While it may not be the best film of the year, it is one to watch in order to support original, independent stories that are slowly dying because of the increased difficulty to seek funding and theatrical distribution in a world dominated by superheroes, space fantasy, and remakes of animated classics.

Jobless, penniless, and, above all, hopeless, the unmotivated patriarch, Ki-taek, and his equally unambitious family–his supportive wife, Chung-sook; his cynical twenty-something daughter, Ki-jung, and his college-age son, Ki-woo–occupy themselves by working for peanuts in their squalid basement-level apartment. Then, by sheer luck, a lucrative business proposition will pave the way for an insidiously subtle scheme, as Ki-woo summons up the courage to pose as an English tutor for the teenage daughter of the affluent Park family. Now, the stage seems set for an unceasing winner-take-all class war. How does one get rid of a parasite? (IMDb)

Where this film shines brightest is the production design, specifically the house and neighborhood designed and built specifically for the film. Honestly, this is on Kubrick levels of cinematic immersion. From a principle photography point of view, this allows for the structures to (1) be designed to accommodate the action, blocking, and general movements of characters (2) externalize emotion or bring to light a reality that lies beyond our naked eye and (3) allow for efficient camera movement, artistic placement, and simply brings the setting in the screenplay to life to the very last detail. As I watched the film, I wondered where they found the perfect basement apartment and upscale house because the locations fit the characters and narrative perfectly. Then when I learned that both locations (not to mention the Ki’s neighborhood) were custom built, then it make sense how it could have been so perfect. That is commitment to narrative integrity right there! From the architecture to the interior design and furnishings, the art direction of this motion picture is astounding! It certainly stands out against the backdrop of most of the films to have hit theatres this year in terms of its visual appeal, scope, and scale of the story.

You’ll be hard pressed to find another film this year that has the brilliant setup that this one has. From the moment the film opens, you are hooked. All throughout the first act, the conflict that we are going to encounter in the second act is setup and foreshadowed with extreme precision. It doesn’t take long to develop these characters as members of South Korean society that are having a tough time climbing out of poverty; furthermore, the first act paints a portrait of a world that appears to be stacked against them. All that changes when a cousin gets one of them hired as a tutor to a wealthy family. For how the rest of the setup unfolds, you’ll just have to watch the film. I appreciate how this film takes the home invasion plot premise to a new level by subverting what we expect from home invasion or heist films. In addition to developing our ensemble cast of central characters, the first act also successfully provides excellent exposition so that the audience never feels lost in this non-english speaking film. Sometimes American audiences can get lost in international films because of the language and cultural barrier. Fortunately, the language is never an issue in this film and there is virtually  character for everyone in the audience to connect or empathize with. From the opening until about midway through the film, the plot is engaging, suspenseful, and the tension ratchets up greatly.

Unfortunately, most of the tension and suspense begins to decline as we near the anticlimactic showdown of the film. This is where the film lost me. Not lost me in that I couldn’t follow it–quite the contrary–I found the latter half of the film predictable and derivative. Gone is the ingenuity that I loved during the first half. There was such genius in the setup that I expected more out of the conflict and resolution. Don’t get me wrong, the film is still enjoyable and even intriguing at times in the second half, but not nearly to the levels it was during the first act. It’s almost as if Joon-Ho did not imagine the ending before writing the second act. There is stark contrast between the precise focus and direction of the first half and the lack of direction in the second half. There are some moments that I want to highlight from the second act though, that I truly liked. There is a scene in which the Park family boy notices that all the newly hired help smell the same. Of course, his parents dismiss that as childish foolishness, but thanks to dramatic irony, we know that he is close to ruining the entire charade.

More than than the film itself, I am mystified by the intense hype train that continues to zoom through social media, picking up new people at every turn. It’s a good film, but I cannot reconcile the motion picture I saw with the proliferated accolades on social media the the web. You’ll hear that this is “the best film of the year,” but just a couple weeks ago, The Lighthouse was the best film of the year, and before that many claimed that Midsommar was the best film of the year. Seems like we get a best film of the year every few weeks. The danger of dissenting opinions on films like Parasite and The Lighthouse is the critic and cinephile establishments seeking to revoke your membership card because your taste is simply not refined enough to appreciate the artistic masterpiece right in front of you. Of course, it is entirely possible that the film is just not AS outstanding as so many want to claim that it is, but jump on that hype train out of fear of missing out or being seen as an outsider. So to that point, I feel that Parasite is a solid film, even excellent in the first act, but the second and third acts hold the film back from its full potential to truly be a masterpiece of cinematic art.

Ryan teaches 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! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Terminator: Dark Fate” action movie review

Linda Hamilton is back! And that’s all you really need to know about Terminator: Dark Fate. Her return highlights what was missing in the sequels that followed the critically acclaimed and immensely popular Terminator 2: Judgement Day that inspired the former attraction T2-3D at Universal Studios Florida. While this action movie clearly seeks to impress you with its phenomenal visual effects, it also goes back to the gritty character driven plot that made the first two Terminator movies works incredibly well and give them that punch that we expect out of these movies. With the return of Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and Arnold, in the role that made him a household name, this movie uses nostalgia–not as a way to live in the past and look back at the good ol’ days–but to move forward. No mistaking it, this movie is filled with adrenaline pumping action from start to finish; but the plot is very much grounded in what made the first two so successful: the characters. Despite having so many futuristic elements, Dark Fate’s storytelling is grounded in a science-fiction that never feels completely out of this world. One might even say that the plot is very much grounded in a plausible reality. When this franchise faced eternal damnation in its own judgement day after several flops, Sarah Connor returns to save the franchise from its own extinction. With Cameron providing a vision for this installment, it is the perfect blend of tentpole plot devices and progressive storytelling. Terminator: Dark Fate erases the previous three movies to fit in nicely after T2:3D.

In Mexico City, a newly modified liquid Terminator — the Rev-9 model — arrives from the future to kill a young factory worker named Dani Ramos. Also sent back in time is Grace, a hybrid cyborg human who must protect Ramos from the seemingly indestructible robotic assassin. But the two women soon find some much-needed help from a pair of unexpected allies — seasoned warrior Sarah Connor and the T-800 Terminator. (IMDb)

It should come of no surprise that the number one reason to watch this movie is for the bold, bad ass return of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor! Her mantra may as well be “have bazooka, will travel.” Even though we witnessed the moment she stepped out of the SUV and onto the highway in the trailer, that moment still packs a punch when you watch it in the movie. Although it’s Davis character of Grace that is sent from the future to protect Dani, it really is Hamilton whom saves this movie and the franchise. Both Davis and Hamilton complement one another very well, each adding that special something that this franchise desperately needed. And that something is great, memorable characters. Not only do we have our two intimidating protectors, we also have a new “Sarah/John Connor” character in Natalia Reyes that will steel your heart. Even though Reyes’ Dani is our central character, it is Hamilton and Davis that have the lion’s share of the screentime. And it’s a good thing to, because it is their chemistry that holds this movie together and grounds it in that same abrasive banter that makes the first two movies so endearing. And yes, Connor has some great one-liners, including the franchise’s best-known line “I’ll be back.” Her entrance will undoubtedly evoke uncontrollable cheering throughout the audience for both her character and the actor herself.

The first two movies had extremely well-developed and executed plots, and then the plots and characters went off the rails. Thankfully, under the guidance of Cameron (whom has a co-writer credit), the plot of Dark Fate goes back to its roots of spending a sufficient amount of time setting up the story that is about to unfold. One of the magical parts of screenwriting is the ability to get away with just about anything–and it be believable–if you set it up early enough in the story. From the moment the movie opens, the central conflict in the plot is already being setup for major deliveries later on in the story. Not only do we hop in the wayback machine to a late 90s Sarah and John Connor, we witness that preventing judgment day did not completely protect the Connors from tragedy. Judgment day appears to be “starting all over” to quote the former T2-3D attraction. Although the overall goal of the plot is to stop Judgment Day from happening in the future, there is a secondary goal for both Connor and Grace. That is to protect Grace because she is the key to stopping the malevolent AI in the future. Not because she is a “Mother Mary” figure (much like Sarah was in the original) whom will give birth to the one who would save the world from the machines, but because Dani is to give birth to her own sense of agency that will cause her to become the leader of the resistance.

The strongest kind of conflict, in a plot, is derived from character relationships. Well developed and setup character conflict provides a near endless supply of drama that will carry the action and subtext of the movie. And the conflict meter reads off the charts between Connor and a particular T-800 (played by the definitive Terminator Schwarzenegger) because of a tragedy that befell Connor in the late 90s. Before you think that this T-800 is still hunting down Terminators from the future, this one can tell you any and everything you need to know about drapery. He’s gone and bought the metaphoric house with a picket fence, got married, and has a kid. Even though he’s demonstrably turned from his CyberDyne ways, Connor has a longtime grudge against this model, and she isn’t afraid to show it–and loudly. While Connor wants to kill him, Dani concludes that she cannot save the world without his help. Watching Connor and Carl (Arnold’s T-800) passionately bicker and verbally fight sounds like it may be there simply for the sake of nostalgia, but it lays the groundwork for how they will be forced to work together during the second and third acts of the movie. It may be grounded in T-1 and T-2, but this conflict moves the story forward. In a sense, these two characters provide the perfect balance between human and machine that was largely missing from the three movies that followed Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

If you’re a fan of the first two Terminators and the former attraction at Universal Studios Florida, then this movie is for you. Yes, it’s also for general audiences, but it’d specifically made for the longtime fans of the franchise that was, up to this point, doomed for extinction. Its got it all: action, a thrilling plot, endearing characters, beautiful visuals, and a memorable score (duh duh duh, duh-duh, duh duh duh, duh-duh). But more than for any other reason, you want to watch this movie to see our combat boot wearing, rock launcher carrying, no nonsense Sarah Connor as can only be played by Linda Hamilton.

Ryan teaches 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! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“The Lighthouse” mini film review

What did I just watch??? I still haven’t a clue, but it was sure beautiful to look at. The Lighthouse is visually stunning, brilliantly edited, and the performances are mindblowingly fantastic! There’s only one small problem–well, more like a big problem–there is no plot. Audiences will be left in the dark on this one. Roger Eggers was so busy focussing on the visual elements of the film (don’t get me wrong, that is very important) but I think he needed his own lighthouse to provide direction for the writing because the plot got lost at sea. No to be too blunt, but The Lighthouse is a directorial masterbatory exercise of film as a visual medium. The story, if you want to call it that, is more poetic than diegetic. Meaning, the story is emotionally driven versus action or even character driven. There lacks any narrative in the traditional sense, but much like a poem, there is visual imagery ripe for interpretation. I equate this film with a painting or sculpture in a museum. We may not know precisely what the artist intended, but we can read our own interpretation into the work of art. Therefore, that artwork holds special meaning for us. You can say the same thing about The Lighthouse. While there is not a plot to follow, the imagery will mean different things to different people. For bibliophiles, you will undoubtedly identify the Odyssey elements in the film, which I thought were great! What we have here is the poster child of an auteur’s film. There was such a focus on the art of visual storytelling that the actual story was nearly left out. And by story, I am referring to plot specifically. Even the great Cecil B. DeMille knew the importance of a motion picture with a story, “the greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling.” With such powerful imagery, expertly crafted and arranged in a brilliant fashion that intrigues and assaults the eyes all at the same time, I would have loved to have seen a well-developed plot that could have elevated the spectacle of the film to an experiential narrative.

Ryan teaches 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! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“The Current War” historical movie review

When the History Channel comes to cinemas. Despite what the title and tagline suggests, this movie is not electrifying and unfortunately plays off as forgettable Oscar bait. The only difference between this movie and one that you may catch on The History or Discovery Channels is the A-list cast. For students of history or those whom normally seek out and enjoy historical movies, you will most likely find this story interesting if not fascinating. Perhaps nearly as interesting as the historical background of this movie is the story of this movie’s journey from concept to screen. After the collapse of The Weinstein Company, this movie’s fate to never see the distribution was all but sealed. Enter from stage left Executive Producer Martin Scorsese to save this movie. With the backing of Scorsese, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon recut the film to that which he originally intended before Harvey has his way with it (and others in Hollywood). While the details of the plot lack anything truly memorable, and the characters are one-dimensional, where this film shines is in the cinematography and editing. All throughout the movie, the camera becomes a character in and of itself, providing audiences with carefully crafted angles and beautiful tracking shots that attempt to draw us into the story on an intimate level with this cast of legendary inventors and businessmen. Perhaps we would be talking cast too had they been given anything to work with. Ultimately, the screenplay is to blame for this steady but low wattage story of one of the greatest chapters in US history.

Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon)– the greatest inventors of the industrial age — engage in a battle of technology and ideas that will determine whose electrical system will power the new century. Backed by J.P. Morgan, Edison dazzles the world by lighting Manhattan. But Westinghouse, aided by Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult), sees fatal flaws in Edison’s direct current design. Westinghouse and Tesla bet everything on risky and dangerous alternating current. (IMDb)

Upon watching this movie, it is clear that screenwriter Michael Mitnick forgot the cardinal rule of composing a well-developed screenplay with visual dimension: dramatize don’t tell (or simply show). Everything needed for a great screenplay is here: two central characters that equally function as the character(s) of opposition, a well-defined external goal (providing the electricity for the Chicago World’s Fair), motivated by an internal need (to prove that he is the best). It’s a relatively simple plot with complex characters–well characters that should have been more complex than they were written to be. Unfortunately, the plot was made complicated by too much technical jargon and felt too “telly” because of the perpetual exposition dumps. Further evidence of the weak screenwriting is witnessed in the lack of character development. What we are left with is a simple (yet dull) plot and simple characters. This would explain why all the elements for a great historical movie are there, but it still feels kind of weird.

As fantastic as the cinematography is, it certainly needed something to work with in order to deliver the luscious imagery we get in this movie. Fortunately, the cinematographer was given gorgeous sets, outstanding costumes, and locations that function as de facto characters. Good thing too, because the cinematographer was not given a script or characters to highlight. The stylistic cinematography provided by Chung-Hoon illuminates the dark with visually stunning choices that exude a strong commitment to visual storytelling. Had Chung been given a visually-driven screenplay, then perhaps we might be talking Oscar noms next year. Performing as strongly as the cinematography is the editing. If you like the way Broadway movies are edited, then you will enjoy the editing techniques employed to cut together this story. Just as this is a movie about inventors (of either inventions or clever ways of acquiring patents), the editing feels highly inventive for this style of movie. Whereas the screenplay feels very History Channel, the editing is fresh, sharp, and never feels dull (unlike the story itself).

Personally, what I found most interesting was the Edison story. Not because he was my favorite character, quite the contrary. After all, Edison comes off as the Ray Kroc of electricity. Why I was particularly interested in his story is because I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Ford and Edison Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida. For example, I’ve seen that same lightbulb map at the museum as well as one of his laboratories. Having visited his winter nome (which functioned as his supplementary research lab), I could literally place myself in his world. One of the labs that used to exist on the property has since been relocated to Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, which is home to many historical houses and buildings that have been relocated from their original standing place to the living museum. After the movie has provided me with the inside story on Edison, next time I visit his Winter Estate, I will view it with new eyes. If you have the opportunity to visit Greenfield Village or the Ford and Edison Winter Estates, I highly encourage you to take your time to walk through the history of two of the greatest minds that transitioned us into the modern era though ingenuity and determination.

Ryan teaches 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! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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