“Wendy” mini movie review

Visually stunning, but narratively confused. From Benh Zeitlin, the writer-director of the Beasts of the Southern Wild, comes Wendy, a reimagining of Wendy from the J.M. Barrie classic Peter Pan. While this film does touch on and integrate the beloved themes of the story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up, the themes lack consistency because the plot is all over the place. Clearly this film is a passion project of Zeitlin’s that undoubtedly contains ample meaning behind every scene; unfortunately, that meaning and purpose are largely lost upon the audience due to the complete chaos that unfolds from beginning to end, a chaos for which you will likely need a dramamine. You still get the exploration of the idea of neverending childhood, but the plot and dialogue posit far too many questions that seldom get answered through diegetic exposition. The references to the Peter Pan, with which we are far more familiar, will bring a smile to your face and serve as motivation to keep going on this journey, but those are few and far between. And when we do get a familiar reference, it’s completely changed. For example, “when the first child laughed for the very first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and that was the beginning of Mother.” No, you didn’t misread that quote from the movie, instead of the laugh being the origin of faeries, it is the origin of the protector of the unnamed island that serves as our Never Neverland. In some ways, Mother is a Tinkerbell like character, but in the form of a giant fish-like creature. Ultimately, this film appears to be confused as to what it wants to be. A lot of heart-felt ideas, but poorly executed.

Just who is the audience of this film? It’s too edgy for kids but not edgy enough for adults; furthermore, the allegorical themes are difficult for adults to understand, let alone children. Adults will be able to identify the commentary on what’s lost and gained on the journey from child to adult, but everything else is lost in the wandering plot and story. So what does work? The cinematography and score are both outstanding! Truly this is a beautiful film that contains thoughtful artistic elements that will capture your imagination–but then give it nothing to do. In terms of the child actors, every performance is great! I was thoroughly impressed with the level of actor talent across the board. In particularly, our two lead characters Wendy (Devin France) and Peter Yashua Mack) deliver excellent performances. One thing is for sure, there is a lot for audiences to unpack here, but this reimagining of Wendy and Peter Pan will likely leave most audiences unsatisfied and disappointed.

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! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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Disney-Pixar’s “Onward” Movie Review

You are going to catch feels! Disney-Pixar’s Onward is a powerful animated motion picture that will take you on an exciting and emotionally charged journey. There is such a tremendous beauty in the simple storytelling that explores familial relationships through the conduit of a fantastical quest. Onward reminds me of a classic Spielberg-like coming-of-age action-adventure movie with heart. Interestingly, I am reminded of many DreamWorks movies, including How to Train Your Dragon, in the overall look of the movie. It’s almost as if Pixar saw what DreamWorks was doing right, and in a very Apple way, set out to do it better. Onward is what you get when you take the visual design and themes of DreamWorks movies and pair them with a quintessential Pixar story. Much like Coco provided us with a compelling story that would forever change how we view family tradition and history, this movie explores the relationship between brothers on their quest to bring their dad back from the dead for one day. In a day and age in which relationships between brothers or sons and fathers seem to be largely absent from themes in movies, this is a refreshing look at these relationships in a positive, healthy light. While this is an animated motion picture, it is every bit pure cinema as a live-action counterpart. The great Cecil B. DeMille stated, “the greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling,” and Onward is a great story for the whole family! You will encounter joy and warmth in the plot and characters as you set forward and press onward in your adventure along with Ian and Barley. Unlike a typical action-adventure movie, this one does take a little while to get up to speed. But once that second act kicks into gear, you will experience a thrilling good time that will have you laughing and crying in true Pixar fashion.

Two teenage elf brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) Lightfoot, go on a journey to discover if there is still a little magic left out there, after receiving a mysterious gift from their mother on Ian’s birthday, in order to spend one last day with their father, who died when Barley was little and before Ian was born (IMDb).

Not your usual fantasy movie! While Onward starts out with a voiceover narration providing exposition against the backdrop of a fantastical world of elves, wizards, mythological creatures and more, the prologue lays out the historical piping to provide important context for the modern story that is about to unfold. We are told that the world was once full of magic, but over time, the industrial revolution and invention of technology took the place of magic. Eventually the world simply forgot about its very existence. I love this setup, because it’s a mirror of our own world in which technology has radically altered how we interact with the world around us and even each other. When we rewrite or forget the past, it has a profound impact upon our present and future. I appreciate how this film highlights the importance of not forgetting the past, not forgetting where we came from. Looking to the past, even recent past, can help to shift our focus from ourselves to others. Sometimes we can even find a whole new appreciation of the present by stepping back and realizing the indirect meaning behind actions that have impacted our growth and development. One can even read this as a commentary on art versus commercialization. For the sake of cost and simplicity, much that was once crafted is now churned out on an assembly line. We forget the importance of personal investment of time and energy into everyday elements. Perhaps we can even liken this to film versus digital. Many different ways of reading this analogy!

I often comment in my screenwriting class at the University of Tampa that some of the best movies out there have simple plots and complex characters. For a visualization of what that looks like, think of that little black dress or classic black suit that lives in many of our closets. Those simple outfits can be accessorized in so many different ways to make a lasting statement or impression. There is a beauty in the simplicity. Same with the story in Onward. At its core, this movie is about a quest to find the long lost Phoenix stone in order to bring Ian and Barley’s dad back to life for one day. But along the way, our two central characters encounter conflict after conflict that reveals to us the various layers of our characters. We learn so much about their history, goals, needs, and more in how they each uniquely respond to the same obstacles. Lasting conflict can often be achieved by giving two characters the same goal, but they each have vastly different methods for achieving the goal. This concept is played out over and over again throughout the movie, and it works incredibly well! I also appreciate this movie for just how funny it is! Honestly, this is probably one of Pixar’s funniest movies in a long time! All the action and emotional elements of the Onward are superbly satisfying and work completely in sync, just like all the section of a symphony playing in perfect harmony!

Each and every obstacle that creates conflict between our two brothers moves the story forward; never once do we reach a point in the plot in which we are spinning our figurative wheels. Representing a microcosm of a larger plot structure, each and every scene in a movie is made up of a setup, conflict, and resolution. And the resolution (be it negative or positive) points to the next scene, and the following scene does the very same. Every scene is a piece of the track that points to the end of the movie. With a tight script, Onward is consistently moving us forward to the showdown and realization of this movie. What makes the conflict we witness in the movie all the more relatable is just how common, everyday much of it is. We may be in a world of fantasy, but the problems experienced by the brothers are the same as the ones we experience in real life. Most of us with siblings don’t always get along–certainly in our growing up years, it can be that way–but this movie is a testament to the importance of connecting and appreciating our siblings for what they teach us and how they impact our lives even when we don’t realize it. For those whom may have lost a parent, often times, you can find your parent in the life of your sibling and vice versa. Loving parents leave a legacy in their children.

Visually, the movie is stunning! I love just how “not” Pixar it looks. Ever since Pixar started striving for quasi photorealism, I’ve not been as impressed with the animation. For example, I prefer the look of Toy Story 3 to Toy Story 4. The production design and animation in Onward reminds me of much of what DreamWorks has produced over the years in terms of themes and design. Perhaps DreamWorks will see Onward and think to themselves, “gee, they took a page from our playbook and did it better.” The plot is tighter, the comedy is better developed, and the characters more fleshed out. Essentially, this movie indirectly highlights what is missing in many DreamWorks movies, and that is stronger screenplays. Onward delivers an animation design that is rich with everything that you want to see in a world of fantasy! So many fantastical creatures that feel right at home within their world. And this world feels incredibly believable. In many ways, it looks just like our world in which the modern can be right up next to the ancient, where sometimes historical buildings are at risk for being torn down to make way for something new. Looking across the landscape, you will be delighted at the attention paid to effective world building and the little things that make such a difference.

Don’t think of this as Pixar’s throwaway movie, as some have, this is an outstanding animated motion picture that delivers an engaging adventure paired with an emotional roller coaster that will have you laughing and crying.

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! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“The Invisible Man” Horror Film Review

You won’t believe your eyes! Finally, a remake of a classic horror film that has the soul of the original yet feels completely fresh. Just when the Universal Monsters were about to be sealed in their coffins and sarcophaguses for all eternity, following the abysmal Mummy remake in 2016, writer-director Leigh Whannell delivers an excellent horror film that proves to us that a remake of a classic film can work! While the Invisible Man may not be in the cultural zeitgeist to the same degree that Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster (tho, creation is more precise), the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or the Mummy are, he is the Universal Monster that is by far the most psychotic, sharing a lot in common with the modern slasher. Furthermore, the Invisible Man demonstrates negative psycho-social characteristics, when exhibited by people in real life and not in check, are utterly terrifying. Perhaps the trademark characteristic of the Invisible Man is his uncanny genius that ostensibly isolates him both psychologically and spatially from society; moreover, this self-imposed isolation gives way to the extreme superiority complex that fuels the disconnect with mankind. Unlike a psychopath, the Invisible Man is fully aware of what he is doing, so he is much more of a sociopath. Sociopaths are cognitively aware of the violent or otherwise destructive acts he or she is committing, and that makes them far more dangerous than psychopaths. In order to provide audiences with a new experience, not only does Whannell update the science behind just how the invisibility works, but he also shifts focus to a different central character. Instead of the Invisible Man, it is Elisabeth Moss whom takes center stage as our tormented central character. Keep your ever watchful eyes wide open because you will see that everything in the film is both incredibly interesting and has everything to do with the plot.

The Invisible Man written and directed by horror veteran Leigh Whannell is a remake of the classic Universal Monster horror film by the same name and an adaptation of the original novel by H.G. Wells. When Cecilia’s (Elisabeth Moss) abusive ex Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see. Her explanations fall on seemingly deaf ears as the evidence seems hollow. (IMDb)

The strength in this remake lies in the excellent screenplay by Whannell. While all the technical and creative elements work incredibly well, it is the strong visual storytelling and plotting that forms such a solid foundation for reimagining The Invisible Man for a 21st century audience. You will find elements of the classic film Gaslight, H.G. Wells’ original novel, and the original 1933 Universal film. Cecilia is a compelling character with immense depth because she is experiencing psychological and physical abuse that may have a supernatural component but feels unapologetically real, nevertheless. Whannell’s Invisible Man is a character-driven story that explores the psychological toll that one experiences when the world does not believe you, no matter how disturbing the evidence. In this case, it’s domestic abuse turned other mass violent acts, including murder, but it could just as easily be any number of major and minor abuses that are difficult to prove especially when the world doesn’t believe you. Moss’ Cecilia is a relatable character for anyone that has ever been unsuccessful in convincing the world of your trauma and abuse. She carries the weight of her abusive relationship around with her every minute of everyday. Even before Adrian was truly terrorizing her in a sadistic poltergeist-like fashion, his specter was already haunting her. This film provides an avenue for Whannell to explore the far-reaching abuse sustained by Cecilia at the hands of a–by the world’s standards–a great man of scientific achievement and intellect.

We see very little of the Invisible Man, but this only helps the film deliver outstanding tension and suspense. Because we cannot see the Invisible Man, we are constantly looking for him in every corner of the screen. Suspense is achieved through not relying on the actions of the Invisible Man, but rather on the absence of him. Once his capabilities are established, and we get that first glimpse into his sadistic actions, then we go relatively long periods of nothing from him. And that is precisely what this film needed! This staggering of Invisible Man moments delays what we are expecting, thus building solid suspense. Whannell takes a page out of the Alfred Hitchcock handbook by transferring the horror on screen into the minds of the audience. Here, the horrors are such much more visceral and lasting. The Invisible Man’s torments of Cecilia start out small and then grow with intensity. And not just the same kinds of torments, but strategically different ones that When Cecilia’s abusive ex takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see. every aspect of her life. His goal is to cut her off from everyone and everything, including her own sanity. Only then, can he control and manipulate her to the extent he desires. Each attack on Cecelia, or someone close to her, disconnects her from that which is familiar and makes her feel safe. Like a lion separating prey from the larger group, in order to move in for the kill, Adrian is calculating in his movements.

The score and cinematography are right out of a classic monster horror movie! Much like A Quiet Place relies upon the power of silence to heighten the senses and keep, The Invisible Man also uses strategically placed moments of silence to create a fantastic sense of unease that keeps you on edge. The score in this film does a terrific job of setting the mood and tone right from the very beginning; furthermore, the score feels like a direct extension of the emotional beats of every scene. The cinematography may not have anything in particularly stylistic about it, but the framing of each scene is perfectly executed. Each frame is so important to us because we are always looking for little signs of the Invisible Man. It’s like Whannell was playing a game with us! There are shots framed in such a way that you think the Invisible Man is going to make some kind of appearance, but he usually doesn’t. But you will be convinced you saw him, and that is such a fun part of the movie. It’s not only the plot that keeps us guessing, but each and every shot does the same!

Elizabeth Moss’ performance as Cecilia was nothing short of an outstanding achievement! From the moment we first meet her to her last frame, she delivers a compelling performance that will stick with you long after you leave the cinema What’s truly mindblowing is the fact she is playing off nobody (in real life anyway). It’s just her on that set and the film crew, and that’s it. Not only does she wow us with her terrifyingly convincing facial expressions, but her entire body is fully engaged in each and every moment. Never once do I see the actor, I see only her character of Cecilia. While I know Moss is an accomplished actor from her past roles, including last year’s Us, she surpassed all of my expectations of her acting. Her performance is right up there with Toni Collette’s in Hereditary. This isn’t simply a great delivery for a horror film, it’s a superlative performance for any film period. And it’s not just in her more manic scenes; even in the calmer scenes, the subtleties of each movement, twitch, glare are hauntingly authentic and leap off the screen. The central character of a motion picture is our conduit into the story in order to vicariously experience the plot and emotions. Moss’ Cecilia is relatable, genuine, and demonstrates equal parts vulnerability and strength.

Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man is a testament to the ability for a writer-director to take inspiration from a classic movie and reimagine it for a new generation while keeping the soul or the original alive. I don’t take issue with remakes of classic movies, but I do take issue with remakes that have no respect for the original source material. This film feels both fresh and familiar as it takes what the original did well, and use those elements in a modern way. The bones of the original and this remake are largely the same, but the muscles are developed differently in order to deliver a new story. While we haven’t been officially told that Universal’s Dark Universe is back on, the critical and box office success of this film may just reignite those embers that were snuffed out by the awful Mummy from the other year.

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 Lodge” Horror Film Review

Immersive and utterly terrifying! After a dismal start to 2020 horror, The Lodge redeems the genre in a nightmarishly masterful story that will haunt you long after you leave the cinema. And you know you are in store for a wild ride with the Hammer Films logo at the beginning! This film’s ominous feeling of dread isn’t the result of any violence or gore, but in just how uncomfortable you will feel in virtually every scene thanks to the brilliant atmosphere crafted by  directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala along with their cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis and the haunting score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. With all the “hands in the pot,” so to speak, one might think that the soup might get spoiled as the old maxim suggests–not so. All the technical elements work together seamlessly to bring this story of the far-reaching effects of trauma, guilt, and isolation to life when one loses a parent. While Wes Craven’s horror masterpiece Scream still ranks the highest for me in terms of the most shocking and effective openings of all time, in not only horror, but in cinema period, the opening of The Lodge culminates in something big and scaring! And it’s that moment that sets our cast of characters on a journey that will test the limits of their sanity. The exploration of the limits of sanity through the lenses of loss and trauma is visualized in a very Shining manner, with influences from Hereditary as well. Both of these films clearly influenced the feeling and look of this film. Thankfully, these influences never take the focus away from The Lodge‘s original story. The American horror film is the best genre for forcing us to face our most primal fears and those that are created by traumatic experiences in our past. Ghosts of the past have a way of never truly going away.

During a family retreat to a remote winter cabin over the holidays, a father (Richard Armitage) is forced to abruptly depart for work, leaving his Aiden (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), his two children, in the care of his new girlfriend Grace (Riley Keough). Isolated and alone, a blizzard traps them inside the lodge as terrifying events summon specters from Grace’s dark past (IMDb). 

The production design and cinematography are truly standout technical elements in this incredibly uneasy experience. If you were to combine the lines and angles of The Shining with the mood and camera movement of Hereditary, then the product would be the aesthetic of The Lodge. I absolutely love the wide shots accentuating the high ceilings, creatively breaking the “rule of thirds,” and closeups of the miniature cabin and figurines. By blocking the scenes so that the architectural and interior design lines of the house frame out the characters and locations, our focus is naturally drawn to a particular element in the scene that the camera often lingers on as unsettling music plays. Those lingering moments contribute to the rising tension and create a hyperawareness that assaults our very senses. I love how the feeling of claustrophobia is crafted out of the large houses and wide sweeping landscape of the mountain retreat. So much attention was paid to the stylistic approach to realizing this story for the screen. You could remove all the dialogue, and understand everything that is happening, and exhibit the emotional reaction that the writers and directors intended. That is the mark of superb visual storytelling.

Catholic iconography adorns many of the walls of the the family’s main house as well as the isolated vacation lodge. We spend most of our time in the lodge, but the houses at the beginning of the film also contain much of the same decor. Without need of exposition through dialogue, the various iconography paints an image of a Catholic family that has been split. Tho, we are never given the details of the separation between the father and the mother of his children (played by Alicia Silverstone), infidelity is hinted at because of the father’s girlfriend that he is planning to marry even before his divorce is finalized. It’s this urge to hasten the divorce that nullifies any hope of reconciliation between Richard (the father) and Laura (the first wife), and ultimately drives Laura to respond in a–how should I say–rash and irreversible manner that is seen as the unpardonable sin by the Catholic church. Her decision is like a rock tossed in a still, glass-like pond that is the catalyst for ripples that radiate for hundreds of yards. It’s no secret that divorce is also highly frowned upon by the Catholic church, so the domestic struggles and the fallout therein creates strife within the minds of the family. A disconnect, if you will, between what they believe and what they are experiencing. Interestingly, suicide is never referred to as an unpardonable sin in the Bible, nor is any one sin greater than another. But Jaeden and Mia suffer from the misleading interpretation many leaders in the Catholic church preach to their congregations. The symptoms of trauma exhibited by Aiden and Mia stem from the void that the loss of a parent and the disruption of life often causes. So, the decorations in the houses serve as a contrast to what is going on. And in more ways than one.

The soon to be fiance Grace is left to care for the two children at the family lodge after Richard has to return to the city for work. And she arrives with a lot of religious baggage of her own caused by a destructive cult masquerading around as a form of Christianity that she “escaped” when she was a child. The religious iconography in the lodge ignites a constant barrage of flashbacks to the psychological abuse during her childhood by her father, the leader of the cult that warped the Bible and belief therein for sadistic purposes. These masochistic and sadistic practices included misinterpreting the Bible in such a way that her father engaged in guilting and forcing people into experiencing physical pain and mental anguish over sin in order to be forgiven. Talk about trauma on the mind and soul. In addition to the emotional baggage of her past, Grace is also dealing with the hatred of the children directed towards her in rather sadistic fashion because they blame her for the divorce that led to the sudden death of their mother. We are often predisposed to thinking of step mothers as villains, thanks to Cinderella. But in this case, the tables are turned for much of the film. To talk about just why this is, would get into spoiler territory, and it’s best to go into this movie as blind as possible.

You will be in a suspended state of unease and high tension the entire time. Just when the tension releases, another moment drives it back up again. The horror of this film does not come from the raw imagery but from the psychological games on display that suck you in to vicariously experience the utterly terrifying, mentally scaring conflict displayed on screen. The Lodge is highly disturbing and will continue to haunt you long after the credits role.

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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“Sonic the Hedgehog” movie mini review

Formulaic and forgettable. SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog is the latest video game movie (VGM) adaptation to race into theatres. After the #FilmTwitter campaign last year to redesign the Sonic character, Sonic emerges an excellent animated design that feels like an extension of his video game self. Unfortunately, this outcry from the public to redesign the nightmarish version that we saw last year caused Sonic’s animation/effects studio to go bankrupt. But hey, the public got a much better Sonic, so I guess it was worth it…right??? That is certainly debatable. I hope that every one of those artists and technicians were able to find jobs with other animation/effects studios. While I feel that this is simply another moderately funny paint-by-the-numbers VGM, after speaking with those that have kids in their lives, apparently it hits the target audience very well. In fact, Reel Spoilers‘s host Kevin R Brackett‘s son Ryan exclaimed, “this is the best thing ever.” While I did not find anything particularly memorable in the movie, it is clear to me that I perhaps did not approach the movie with the eyes and desires of a child. However, I did play SEGA and Sonic growing up, so I do fall within the group that should appreciate the nostalgia of Sonic the Hedgehog. Whereas I was not engaged by Jim Carrey’s Robotnik, others seem to find his performance hilariously entertaining. It was fun to see such a comedic icon on the screen again, but the performance didn’t do much for me. Kevin and his son both thought Carrey’s Robotnik was fantastic! And I know they have a solid taste in movies, so there must be something in this movie that I clearly missed. Maybe I went into the auditorium with the wrong mindset, so please take that into consideration when deciding whether or not to see this movie. Regardless if you have kids, nieces, nephews, or not, I definitely recommend NOT seeing this movie alone. I think this is one of those movies that is best experienced with a friend.

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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