The Father (2020)

While The Father takes an innovative approach to expressing the personal horrors of dementia as seen through the mind and eyes of the afflicted, this cinematic exercise is ultimately a plotless sequence of events that works best in its previous stage adaptation or in the original novel; moreover, it’s ostensibly an acting vehicle for the leads. That said, this is a film that should be required screening in a gerontology class. Not since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Terms of Endearment has there been such a powerful film in the exploration of the affects dementia has on the mind of the afflicted themselves and their family. Interestingly both of the films mentioned won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Lead Actress (with OFOtCN additionally winning Best Lead Actor, giving it the Top 5). What separates the referenced award-winning films from The Father is the screenplay, specifically the plot. Yes, The Father illustrates an emotional, powerful story, but there is more to a motion picture than just the emotional component. Think about the differences between a poem and a narrative. The former is emotionally-driven while the latter is plot-driven. For those whom may be unfamiliar with screenwriting, story and plot are not the same things. Story is a series of events recorded in their chronological order; whereas, plot is the deliberate arrangement of those events as to reveal dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. I liken The Father to a poem more than a typical narrative work. What I appreciate about The Father is its approach to depicting dementia. Never before has a writer-director told a story through the eyes and mind of the individual afflicted with dementia. And it’s that perspective that sets this film apart from others that feature characters experiencing cognitive breakdowns.

A man (Anthony Hopkins) refuses all assistance from his daughter (Olivia Coleman) as he ages. As he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind, and even the fabric of his reality.

Before I elaborate on why this film fell short of following the basic rules of plotting, I must highlight the incredible performance by Sir Anthony Hopkins as our lead Anthony. It’s no surprise that he delivers a command performance. Whether it was for a future critically acclaimed film such as The Silence of the Lambs or a melodrama like Hearts in Atlantis, Hopkins puts every once of his being into every scene. He is truly an actor whom loves the art of performance, and recognizes the importance of delivering the same quality performance in every role, no matter of big or small. In The Father, Hopkins gifts audiences with a tour de force performance as an aging man that is slowly losing his grasp on what he knows to be reality and experiencing the psychological and emotional turmoil that comes part and parcel with dementia. His performance transcends the screen, and cuts straight to your heart. You will feel only a fraction of what his character feels, yet you will feel so completely drawn into the story that your views on demential will be radically challenged. That what this film is, it’s an actors vehicle. In addition to the mindblowing performance of Hopkins, Olivia Coleman delivers an exceptional performance as the daughter. Personally, I like this performance even more than her award-winning role in The Favourite. Essentially taking place in one room, it’s up to the actors to carry the scenes, and each of them keep the audience drawn into their characters.

While The Father showcases outstanding performances in an intimate setting, it neglects the importance of plotting. What we have here is a powerful story (made of a sequence of events) that is missing a deliberate arrangement of those events as to reveal the dramatic and thematic significance. Fortunately the film boasts a prolific amount of emotional conflict, but the characters are missing goals, goals they either achieve or fail to achieve. A well-written and developed screenplay is more than a script, it’s a map of through three acts that take the audience and the characters on a journey. While film scholars and critics may argue over the number and placement of the various dramatic turning points, there is little argument over the importance and necessity of a well-defined central character with a well-defined external goal. The Father certainly has a well-defined and developed central character in Anthony and even a clearly defined leading character in Ann; however, writer-director Florian Zeller does not provide any external goals for our central or supporting characters. Dealing with life is not a goal, it’s incidental to achieving the external goal. What is the external element that Anthony wants? Answer: his flat. Only problem is, the flat isn’t his from the beginning. Therefore, he doesn’t own a flat to lose. Since he doesn’t have an external goal, we are left with dealing with life, which is not a goal. And without a goal, we have no destination for the characters. What are these characters working towards? Answer: nothing.

Better suited for the stage, The Father is an innovative cinematic exercise that delivers exemplary performances in spades, and challenges our preconceived notions of what dealing with dementia must be like. We are ostensibly placed in the mind and body of an aging individual like has never been done before. But the film is held back from it’s full potential by neglecting the importance of plotting. But there is a powerful, emotionally driven sequence of events that taps into our empathy in true poetic fashion.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies 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 Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“Promising Young Woman” film review

An intriguing story on a timely topic with lots of promise; however, it ultimately leaves little room for redemption. But hey, Mulligan’s performance was truly outstanding! After being away from the cinema for over a month in the wake of my grandmother’s passing just before Christmas, I returned to the Universal Cinemark. Usually, I am on top of new theatrical releases, but I was unable to attend the cinema while out of town. So I am just now getting to Promising Young Woman. As such, I’ve been able to read tweets, read blogs, and listen to reviews of this film. Needless to say, I was expecting one of the best films of 2020; unfortunately, that is not the case. While the film showcases an exceptional performance by Carey Mulligan, and even a solid performance by Bo Burnham, the film fails to follow some basic narrative conventions. There was such a fantastic opportunity to comment on toxic college culture, including the epidemic of higher education covering-up sexual assault, the rationalization of not taking responsibility for one’s actions, and (this is where the film fails its audience) the ability for one to have a redemption arc. Where is the redemption in the film? Nowhere to be found. However, we have an excellent example of what happens when one refuses to forgive. Unforgiveness is like a poison that eats away at the mind and soul. Forgiveness does not equal forgetting nor pretending that everything is okay. For a film that was full of promising teachable moments, it succumbs to the narrative trap of an inability to acknowledge that change is possible. If Scrooge can be redeemed, so can we all.

Synopsis: Nothing in Cassie’s (Carey Mulligan) life is what it appears to be — she’s wickedly smart, tantalizingly cunning, and she’s living a secret double life by night. Now, an unexpected encounter with a former colleague Ryan (Bo Burnham), she sees this as a chance to right the wrongs from the past.

Before I get into the issues I take with the message, plot, and narrative, I want to highlight what the film delivered well. Standing out, is the phenomenal performance by Mulligan. While my personal principle of only watching/reviewing films that have an exclusive theatrical run limit the scope of what I can cover, from the 2020 films that I did see, her performance is certainly a standout from the year. This showcase performance is likely to land her a Best Actress in a Leading Role nomination at the Oscars and Globes. I greatly appreciate how the character of Cassie is both colorful, and glossy one moment, and dark and terrifying the next. Even simultaneously conveying the complexities of a character suffering from a personal hell brought on by unresolved trauma. The other performance of note is Bo Burnham’s as Ryan. While not as notable a performance as Mulligan’s, there is still a lot to be admired in this role, which is largely a departure from the majority of the roles from his past. This film serves as a conduit for him to showcase his acting chops in a more serious role. Even though his performance may not land him on any awards lists, it’s still a performance that will undoubtedly land him future leading roles. And hopefully one of those future roles will give him a more complex character to portray.

Despite my reservations with the plot, I cannot not acknowledge this directorial accomplishment by Emerald Fennell. Clearly, Fennell’s penchant for direction is witnessed in this film. While she has been nominated for her television screenwriting, where she shines in this film is in her role as director. Each scene is directed skillfully, and thoughtfully. Of all the great scenes, the one that stands out the most is the showdown between Cassie and Al Monroe at the bachelor party. Clearly, Fennell understands the power of nuance, and can communicate that throughout the film. Screenplays need writers who care, and films need directors who care. And Fennell inarguably cares about how each scene is executed and the characters therein.

Representation vs reality. There is a grand discussion topic; one that is core to film studies. In fact, just today, I was lecturing to my film studies students at the University of Tampa on representation vs reality. Whether or not the subjects on screen (people, places, things) exist within our reality, they are certainly representative of that which is real. And Fennell certainly leans heavily into representation of her version of reality. Unfortunately, in her warped version of reality, no one is written with an ability to acknowledge or take responsibility for past/current sins and then CHANGE, to experience a redemption arc. Instead, our central character of Cassie is written as a narcissistic, self-righteous young woman that goes through life as judge, jury, and executioner; she is prohibited from changing her worldview; likewise, the character of Ryan is prohibited from changing for the better, and is viewed through the lens of his reckless youth.

Most individuals, male or female, from Cassie’s past, are depicted as exhibiting deplorable behavior. The men of Promising Young Woman are especially depicted as reprehensible people. Even the likable character of Ryan, who is supposed to represent the actual “good guy” is sent to the metaphoric gallows for his past, despite the fact that he had demonstrably changed since college and had healthy, genuine romantic feelings for Cassie. The fact of the matter is, observational and statistical evidence shows that most men are NOT like the ones at the bar or in that video footage of the shameful, contemptible, disgusting sexual assault in college. Yes, some are, and they need to be held accountable for their egregious actions by law enforcement. And the leadership at universities needs to be held accountable for covering up these sexual assault crimes. Where the film excels is confronting both the dean of the college and the lawyer that protected Al Monroe from prosecution; these scenes are particularly powerful and provide commentary on a real problem that needs to be dealt with. Even the showdown between Cassie and Monroe provides thoughtful content to discuss and provide a wakeup call for those that engage in sexually criminal behavior as college students. Furthermore, the film does a brilliant job at exploring just how those that commit “drunken” sexual assault can rationalize why they aren’t actually responsible for their actions. Terrifying, but true.

The films does the characters of Cassie and Ryan a gross disservice. We’ll start with Ryan. While he was certainly complacent in the sexual assault against Nina, and should be confronted, he changed since his college days. He should’ve been given the opportunity to acknowledge his past, and demonstrate how he has experienced a personal redemption arc. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still consequences, but people CAN change. He could’ve also been an example of the fact that there are actual good guys out there. This would’ve shown Cassie that she cannot assume that all men are despicable, despite the narrative she has experienced; thus acknowledging the error in judgement of her worldview. She isn’t without blemishes on her own record either; therefore, she cannot personally go around condemning all those she deems unworthy of forgiveness. Ryan is a relatable character because he is the most human out of all of them. He isn’t perfect, and he certainly doesn’t pretend to be. He has made mistakes, just like all of us. Granted, his mistake in being complacent during and after the sexual assault he was witness was a terrible one; but he certainly changed in the years following the tragic crime.

And now for Cassie. When we refuse to forgive someone that has wronged us (whether that wrong is mostly harmless or criminally abominable), it’s important to forgive as to not become a prisoner of our mind. Now, forgiveness does NOT mean forgetting, nor does it mean that everything is as it was before. Trust is still broken, lives are still lost, trauma is still experienced. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison; it’s like constructing a personal prison because it’s a toxic mindset that still allows the wrong-doer to have power over the life of the individual that was wronged. To the film’s credit, this toxic behavior is depicted quite well in the character of Cassie, as her refusal to forgive, to release herself from the prison of her mind, ultimately leads to her destruction. Much like the plot does not allow Ryan to be forgiven after his demonstrable change, the film also does a disservice to its central character, because Cassie never changes. There is a glimmer of change, but is quickly shattered. In this film, there were great teachable opportunities (1) to illustrate that there are good guys out there even if their past isn’t spotless (2) that Cassie’s lack of forgiveness is toxic, and prevents her from experiencing a healthy mind and spirit and (3) Ryan could’ve acknowledged and dealt with the idea that complacency contributes to the larger institutional problem of sexual assault in college. This film paints a portrait that change and redemption are impossible concepts.

For all the promise that this film had for a comprehensive approach to teen and college sexual assault, and the cover-up thereof, it fails to provide any avenues for redemption, which hinders the narrative from having the emotional impact it should’ve had. It ultimately falls victim to its own narcissistic self-righteous central character in a revenge plot that leaves no room for redemption. But, this film is a great exercise in the emotional and psychological affects that the lack of forgiveness has upon the mind and soul that ultimately leads to a toxic self-prison.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies 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 Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“Unhinged” (2020) Movie Review

Unbridled blunt force carnage. Academy Award winner Russell Crowe’s rampage-filled Unhinged hits theatres this weekend. And if you’re in the mood for a throwback B-movie well-suited for the indoor big screen or a drive-in theatre, then hop in the driver’s seat. Unhinged is the kind of movie that is so bad yet is actually a lot of fun–the one time you will ever watch it anyway. There are really only two acts in this movie; the rushed setup with an attempt to attach some deeper meaning to the gnarly violence that starts immediately and the lengthy showdown. But you won’t care that it’s a shallow, vapid plot; you are there for three reasons (1) to see Crowe go absolutely bonkers (2) the unhinged brutal, cringy no-holds-barred violence and (3) the scarily realistic car chases through this unnamed city in this unnamed state only known as America’s Heartland. The manner in which The Man stalks Rachel (and later, her son) reminds me of the same pattern of actions we get in many horror movies. While this movie is not a genre horror movie, it is very much horror-adjacent. Moreover, this horror-adjacent movie nearly follows the same tropes as a slasher. Slasher? That’s right. And get this–I found this particularly interesting–Russell Crowe’s lumpy misogynist is credited only as The Man, and where have we seen such a vague, anonymous description of a character before? John Carpenter’s original Halloween with Michael Myers being credited as The Shape. When viewed as a horror-adjacent movie, you will likely enjoy it more. The fact that we are never told much about The Man’s motivations, makes his over-the-top kills, his look, and his barbaric behavior incredibly campy. It’s this level of camp that makes the movie serviceable, and even fun during the violence and high-impact car chases; one could say the car chases are fast and furious. Director Derrick Borte delivers a guilty pleasure action-thriller that is sure to keep you entertained for its relatively short fun time. He knows precisely what kind of movie he’s direction, and rocks it! And you now what, it looks like the director and Crowe has a fun time making this schlock fest. Even actors of Crowe’s repute need a cathartic movie every now and again.

Unhinged is a horror adjacent action-thriller that is built upon something we have all experienced–road rage. Only, this story takes everything you have ever feared about what could happen after you honk your horn to bizarrely unpredictable levels culminating in a terrifying conclusion. Rachel (Caren Pistorius) is running late taking her son to school when she meets The Man (Crowe) at a red light. When the light turns green, he sits there. After she lays on the horn a few times, races past him, and gives him that look, you now the one (as we’ve all done it), she finds herself and everyone she loves the target of a man whom, in his own words, feels invisible and is looking to leave his mark on the lives of those whom dismiss him, in deadly games of cat and mouse.

The movie starts with a stylistic montage depicting violence in the streets of America, particularly road rage. Incidentally, this movie seems to have predicted the current and recent outburst of violence in the streets, months prior. So for some, these images may hit a little too close to home. Or perhaps they will be a wakeup call for how we treat one another, because you never really know if the person standing next to you is about to go over the edge because of continued brushes with trauma. Often times, an opening montage such as this one is used to prime the pump, if you will, in order to setup social commentary or other existential critique on the events that are about to unfold. Unfortunately, this setup really goes nowhere, except to remind us that we really never know next to whom we are standing, or sitting in your car. Early on in the film, just before the deadly cat and mouse road rage game sets into full motion, The Man comments that (and I am paraphrasing), “people nowadays feel as though they should ever have to apologize to anyone for anything.” And perhaps there is a nugget of truth in that because apologies do seem to be fewer in number than they used to be. Newsflash: sometimes we are wrong or have wronged someone else, be it intentional or unintentional. So, apologies and forgiveness should be in our arsenal before grudges and rage.

Talk about bloody. This movie sets the bar ridiculously high with its opening scene of The Man obliterating his axe wife, her lover, followed by torching the house. But the bar doesn’t stop there; the ante literally keeps going up. This man displays the most extreme forms of sociopathy, and he is virtually unstoppable, just like a classic horror slasher in the vein of Michael or Jason. Perhaps he isn’t lurking in the shadows, isn’t wearing a mask, doesn’t have a trademark weapon, or doesn’t come with catchy music, but he is still a slasher! Even when he is shot, he keeps going. And is always right on the bumper of Rachel. While you will likely not care about ANY of the characters in this movie, you will enjoy the campy slasherness of The Man. Unfortunately, The Man also doesn’t give us any reason to root for him, as is the case with Michael, Freddy, or Jason. The Man is a disgusting representation of toxicity of every kind. But, he does know how to put on a show for the audience.

Word to the wise, should you encounter a vehicle sitting at an intersection when the light turns green, I wouldn’t honk your horn. If you do, then you may unleash a sociopath that will literally stop at nothing until you apologize.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema 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 Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“The Tell-Tale Heart” (2020) Horror Short Film Review

Tell-tale signs of outstanding cinematic talent right here! I don’t often choose to write a formal review of short films for which I receive screeners. Usually, I Tweet my thoughts on the film when I receive a request from an eager filmmaker who’s interested in what Professor Horror, as I’ve come to be known on #FilmTwitter, has to say about his or her motion picture endeavor. Writer-Director McClain Lindquist crafts a wholly original expression of the familiar macabre tale. While there have been many adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, this is arguably one of the best and freshest interpretations of the masterful storytelling of Poe. I appreciate this adaptation for its fresh take on a familiar story whilst delivering the visceral horror and intellectually-driven elements of the bizarre tale of murder. Every nuance of Poe’s short story is depicted with sheer reverence for the source material, while delivering an original expression of the timeless literary work.

Lindquist reimagines this story through the lens of a David Lynchian approach (with the color pallet of David Fincher), delivering vibes of Muholland Drive. While there are clearly some cracks in the veneer related to the time period in which this story takes place, these cracks are insignificant enough not to detract from the overall cinematic experience. Lindquist should have selected either a modern or gothic period in which to set his adaptation. Actor Sonny Grimsley (what a great last name for horror) not only brings the words of The Narrator to the screen, but he talks to the audience with such incredible sincerity that the utter madness of it all is visualized beautifully. One of the points I hammer in my screenwriting class is dramatize don’t tell. Dramatizing means more than showing the audience the story, it means finding the conflict in every beat of every scene. Fortunately for this adaptation, Grimsley brilliantly dramatizes every word spoken in such a manner that you will be completely enveloped in the twisted tale to which he beckons you to listen.

Both the cinematography and stylistic editing are on point, and compliment the tone wonderfully. Although there are a number of standout moments from the film, I want to highlight how the duality of the narrator was expressed dramatically through the use of costuming and set design as well as a mirror. It would be all too easy for The Narrator to express his duality through verbal exposition (as this is taken from a short story), but the creative choice to couple the words of Poe with these striking images shows a strong knowledge of how to effectively go from page to screen. Often short films suffer from poorly executed technical elements, but I am pleased to report that all technical elements demonstrate an exemplary understanding of the art and science of cinematic storytelling. In addition to the technical elements is the haunting and unsettling score by Joel Pack. Lacking a true score is all too commonplace in many short films; not so with Lindquists’s The Tell-Tale Heart, Pack’s score is a character in and of itself. However, it never steals the scene, which allows the audience to become fully wrapped up in everything The Narrator says and does. I love seeing practical effects in all films, but especially horror. Thankfully, there are plenty of gruesome special makeup effects in this film for even the most insatiable appetite for gore, which never falling into the gratuitous category.

Lindquist certainly knows how to capture the madness in The Tell-Tale Heart. In many of Poe’s works, madness is often represented a lack of sufficient reasoning for committing murder or some other undesirable behavior. Lindquist illustrates The Narrator’s madness through the unreasonable rationale he uses to justify the murder of his roommate. Not only do we hear about the attempt at rationalization, it is dramatized for the screen. The only reason the narrator provides, in an attempt to justify the murder, is the simple fact that the roommate’s blind eye covered with a murky blue film bothers him a great deal–haunts him, even. He goes onto explain that he feels that he is being watched all the time. Being angered by the man’s eye is such a petty reason for the narrator to murder him, which proves that he is mentally unstable. Developing his plan for over a week, his madness is further represented through the meticulous premeditation of the method of murder. Furthermore, when The Narrator initially proposes that the “vulture eye” is his motive for murdering his roommate, he is not even fully certain that this was indeed his reason for committing the murder. And through the direction of Lindquist and the impeccable performance by Grimsley, we get into the mind of a madman in terrifying ways that are sure to induce nightmares.

Lindquist’s The Tell-Tale Heart is evidence of a future successful career as a horror filmmaker. I am eager to follow his filmography as he will hopefully use this short film as a springboard to write and direct original content, because we need more original storytellers in this sea of remakes and reboots.

The Tell-Tale Heart plans to release on select streaming platforms Fall 2020. Checkout the trailer!

  • Director: McClain Lindquist
  • Cinematographer: Joseph Olivas
  • Editors: Joel Petrie & Raymund Delmar
  • Sound Effects: Jacob Proctor
  • Makeup Effects: Ambira Powell
  • Music: Joel Pack

Social Media for The Tell-Tale Heart (2020)

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!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry