TOP GUN: MAVERICK motion picture review

What a picture! Cinema at its finest! Top Gun: Maverick is the high energy, funny, exhilarating motion picture cinemas and audiences need–and–it’s full throttle heart! Furthermore, the absolutely brilliant combination of screenwriting, directing, and all the technical elements combine to acknowledge and build upon the nostalgia without resting its laurels on it or hiding behind the cultural and cinematic touchstone that was the original Top Gun. I didn’t know a long-awaited sequel more than 30-years from the original could be THIS good–in fact–it’s better than the original. We are talking Wrath of Kahn compared to Star Trek the Motion Picture here. Maverick represents that some stories, characters, and themes are truly timeless. Even the most casual fans of the original will be touched by everything this film has to offer. I cried several times, and I am not alone. Multiple fellow critics have remarked this film moved them to tears as well. Familiar, yet fresh doesn’t begin to capture the magnitude of diegetic and cinematic success of delivering the surprisingly perfect experience of this film that could very well be on its way to Best Picture of the Year nominations. Maverick is the film that we need as a country, as a world right now! Its plot is equal parts character and action-driven, and no scene or character is wasted or simply inserted to satisfy some nostalgia checkbox. Not only a love letter to the cinematic phenomenon that was Top Gun, it’s ostensibly a love letter to the cinematic experience in terms of scale and scope of the adrenaline-pumping high-flying adventure! We need this film at such a time as this. It’s an uplifting, positive, constructive motion picture for all! Fly, don’t walk to your nearest cinema that offers premium formats like IMAX or Dolby to experience this epic story on the BIG SCREEN.

After more than 30 years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. Training a detachment of graduates for a special assignment, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it.

What is Top Gun: Maverick‘s secret ingredient, wherein lies the magic that made this motion picture work on every single level? The answer: there is no single element. Maverick an incredibly rare lightning in a bottle sequel! Moreover, it’s a lightning in a bottle film period. But if I was to hone in on what I feel is the reason why this film is as impactful, humorous, and exciting as it is, then I’d place a little more credit on the power of Peter Craig and Justin Marks’ screenplay! Yes, Joseph Kosinski’s direction and Tom Cruise’s creative producer guidance play a major roles in the visual storytelling, this action movie owes the depth of its storytelling to the screenplay. While we could boil down the screenplay to a combination redemption-hero story, there is so much more to Maverick than that.

Since this is at the beginning, it’s not a spoiler. The film opens in a nearly carbon-copy to the original, down to the text on screen, Top Gun theme, Danger Zone, and sequence of shots. The mention of the opening is incredibly important for you to know. There is no doubt that Kosinski and Cruise intentionally crafted the throwback opening to channel the nostalgia factor at the very beginning. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come from the story Craig and Marks wrote for you. From the very beginning, audiences are invested in this story because their nostalgia adrenal glands have been stimulated. And as far as direct throwbacks, that is pretty much were it stops. Is that to say there aren’t a few strategically placed (and very brief) flashbacks sprinkled throughout the film? No, there are perfectly setup and executed flashbacks and visually and dialogue-driven references (and Easter eggs) used in the film, but they are supportive, yet pay off dramatically. No moment or reference from the original is simply used to remind you that this is a Top Gun film.

Simple plot, complex characters. It’s a lot easier said than done. When teaching screen writing for film or situation comedies, I drive this point home nearly as often as dramatize don’t tell. The plot of this film is very simple: thwart the enemy from illegally enriching uranium. The depth of the film comes from the well-written and developed characters. And our characters in this larger than life film are few in number. And because it’s not overstuffed with lead and supporting characters, the characters are each given agency (granted, some characters are given a higher degree of agency than others, but my point is that they have purpose, needs, wants, and flaws). Because I am avoiding spoilers, I am not going to go into any details because you need to experience these characters for yourself.

There are many rich themes in this film. From a commentary on advancement in technology versus the human spirit to a commentary on not being so quick to discount the wisdom of those who have come before, to an exploration of redemption, ego, and sacrifice, there is something for everyone! The screenwriters chose to focus on telling a good story and not any of these things. Yes, these elements add immense richness to this motion picture, but at the end of the day, it’s simply a great story with excellent plotting.

Undoubtedly, something you’re looking forward to is all the aerial cinematography! It helped make the original the visual spectacular that it was! And that same quality is true in Maverick, but with an exception. It’s an extension of the storytelling NOT the focus of the film. The film isn’t saying “here, check out my stunning, high octane cinematography and effects (which are used to cover up a mediocre story);” it’s saying to audiences, “hey, check out my stunning, high octane cinematography and effects that pair excellently with my powerful, compelling story!” The attraction isn’t the cinematography or editing (tho, both are exceptional), the attraction is/are the story, plot, and characters! You will be moved by this film, and driven to laughter, tears, and excitement!

Again, don’t miss seeing. Top Gun: Maverick on–not only on the big–the BIGGEST SCREEN in your area! If you sleep on this film, and wait for it to hit Paramount+, then you will deprive yourself of what is the greatest cinematic experience since, since, since I don’t know when.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and 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 Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS movie review

Plot sacrificed for visual FX. While Raimi’s horror adjacent direction gives Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a unique aesthetic when compared to the typical superhero movie (with the exception of Batman Returns, which has long sense been praised for its otherworldly horror-adjacency), it isn’t enough to carry the story. Better brush up on End Game and Wanda Vision because you may be slightly lost the whole time. So full disclosure, I’ve only seen End Game once and do not subscribe to Disney+. Unfortunately, this movie does not sufficiently provide exposition for those of us that do not eat, sleep, breathe the MCU because Wanda/Scarlet Witch’s motivation for her antihero behavior cannot be fully realized and understood without the events of Wanda Vision (from what I’ve been told about the show). That’s the problem with the ever-expanding MCU–but–it’s also a brilliant marketing and merchandising move. Simply because, if you want to be able to understand the motivations of the characters in the movies, you have to watch the TV shows and every single movie (main line and side line). Specific to this movie itself, there is clearly a thoughtful story, but it’s ultimately held back by the wandering plot. Ironically, you may be asking yourself a variation of the cliche question actor’s ask directors: what’s my motivation? Instead, you’ll find yourself asking: what’s Wanda’s motivation???

Dr Stephen Strange casts a forbidden spell that opens a portal to the multiverse. However, a threat emerges that may be too big for his team to handle.

Story and plot are NOT the same thing. Without getting into a lot of what I teach in film studies and screenwriting, story is the overarching narrative whereas the plot is the map (how you get) from beginning to end. Raimi’s playing up on the whole witchy aspect to this movie, was great for someone like me that loves horror, but it seems that the horror-adjacency of the movie merely compensated for the slapdash plotting. While many that watch this movie have undoubtedly seen End Game multiple times, subscribe to Disney+ to watch all the shows, and have read the comics, many have NOT. Granted, a subgenre movie such as this should not play to the lowest common denominator because then the fanboys and girls in the audience will feel slighted or unappreciated, At the same time, the writers and director should have considered integrating sufficient exposition for those that do not watch all the ancillary material. Wouldn’t have taken much to provide enough exposition so that rewatching End Game or subscribing to Disney+ for Wanda Vision, What If?, and Loki wouldn’t be a prerequisite for this movie.

For those that love visual effects, you will likely be impressed, if not blown away by the mesmerizing landscape of digital imagery; however, there are many times in the movies that the characters do not feel that they are existing within the same world in which the dazzling display of graphics exist. You cannot replace the way real light bounces off real objects into the camera lens. Not opinion–fact. Perhaps one day, we will get an MCU (and this applies to the “whatever it’s called these days” DCEU) movie that spends as much time crafting tangible sets as it does investing into digital imagery. In no multiverse will characters look to truly be within a world that primarily exists in the expression of 0s and 1s on a computer. The only saving grace for the aesthetic of this movie, and the moments we see the cinema stylo (hand of the artist), is when Raimi leans into the horror-adjacency of this MCU entry. Whenever the movie took a turn towards horror, I enjoyed it the most, and felt it was trying to be different–not your typical superhero movie.

It’s really no spoiler that Captain Picard is back as Professor Charles Xavier! Okay, so I know he is really Sir Patrick Stewart, but he will always be the definitive Starfleet captain to me. X-Men fans, like me (see, I do like superhero movies that aren’t Batman Returns), we’ve been waiting for that moment in which we witness the integration of the X-Men into the MCU. And I’ll give the writers and Raimi this: how Professor X was integrated into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was both meaningful and strategic. It wasn’t too much, didn’t feel forced, and the applause this cameo garnered from the audience (including myself) was outstanding! At my screening, the moment Sir Patrick Stewart reprised his role as the definitive (live-action) Professor X elicited more applause and cheers than any other moment in the movie. I am eager to witness how the X-Men are woven into the fabric of the MCU.

If you can watch this movie in a premium format like Dolby Cinema, IMAX, or Cinemark’s X-treme, then that is the best way to experience it. It is a BIG SCREEN movie for sure! While I am often highly negatively critical of superhero movies, I am thankful that they are getting people back to the cinema in masses.

Ryan teaches Film Studies, Screenwriting, and Digital Citizenship 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 him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT film review

Massively fun! Nicolas Cage IS Nicolas CAGE in the hilarious yet thoughtful and action-packed The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. You don’t want to miss this highly entertaining motion picture on the BIG SCREEN! On one hand, it’s a fictionalized self-referential character study, but on the other, it’s Taken. It’s a metanarrative that delivers both the exploration of the fascinating career, larger than life persona, and highly publicized financial problems of the screen legend. In other words, this film is in full Cage Rage mode from beginning to end. For the film studies enthusiast, scholar, or just film fan, there is also a running commentary on the evolution of filmmaking spanning over 100 years. This is most noticeable when the foundational work The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and contemporary works Paddington 2, Marvel and Star Wars are referenced. In an exchange between Cage and Pedro Pascal when instead of Marvel or Star Wars movies, they both want to make films that are “intelligent,” “character study” pieces. It’s that tongue-in-cheek humor paired with the bombastic screen presence of Cage that will have you rewatching (or watching for the first time) films like Face/Off, Moonstruck, Con Air, Mandy, and yes, even The Wickerman. In fact, the screenplay pulls from all Blockbuster and obscure corners of Cage’s filmography to craft a film that is grounded in character that is thoughtfully developed over a high concept action plot. At the end of the day, this isn’t a film about a fictionalized Nicolas Cage, but a film about the transformative power of motion pictures that stars Nicolas Cage as himself.

Unfulfilled and facing financial ruin, actor Nick Cage accepts a $1 million offer to attend the birthday party of Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), an immensely wealthy fan. Things take a wildly unexpected turn when a CIA operative recruits Cage for an unusual mission. Taking on the role of a lifetime, he soon finds himself channeling his most iconic and beloved characters to save himself and his loved ones.

The Cage Mythos is alive and well in this film. Cage both embraces and pokes fun at the prolific number of myths inspired by his vast career. Moreover, regarding the metanarrative, this film reminds the audience (and Hollywood producers) of the Cage Range of his acting prowess. Few actors have inspired as many bad impressions, memes, and have left the undeniable impression that Nicolas Cage has. What the films ranging from the obscure artsy “direct to video” (streaming nowadays) titles to the Blockbusters have in common is how much they resonate with audiences. By his own admission in the movie and in real life,

Cage is a working actor. He’s never viewed acting as a career as much as it is a series of gigs with which he has had lots of fun, and will continue to do such. Perhaps he is a contemporary Christopher Lee. Sir Christopher Lee still holds the record for sheer number of roles over his storied career. In many ways, Cage is not unlike Lee. Whether the man is the myth or the myth is the man, Cage plays right into it. He know precisely what his fans and audiences want to see from him–they wanna see Full Cageness! Cage has the benefit of a distinct voice–he IS a movie star, in the classical definition of the word. Regardless of how many bad movies he’s made, he maintains a larger-than-life screen presence that is peerless.

The movie that Javi and Nick are working on in Massive Talent parallels that of this movie itself. They both speak of a character study piece that turns into a genre picture. Furthermore, the central character of the screenplay within the movie has the same struggles that this fictionalized Nick Cage has. As Cage is developing this idea-turned screenplay with Javi, he undergoes self-rediscovery and ultimately reconnects with his estranged family (this isn’t a spoiler…it’s rather obvious). But that’s the point. It is a tried and true, simple plot on which complex characters are created and change over the course of their respective arcs. Simple plots, complex characters. That is what I tell my screenwriting students makes a great story!

If you are knowledgable in Cage films, then you will absolutely love all the easter eggs, references, and clips. I attended the screening with a friend of mine that hasn’t seen many Cage films; still, he found The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent to be highly entertaining and fun. Suffice it to say, just like there is a Nick Cage for everyone, there is a little something for everyone in this film–but fans of Cage will definitely get the most out of it!

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship 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 him.

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THE LOST CITY adventure movie mini-review

The lost screenplay. The whole time Loretta (Sandra Bullock), Alan (Channing Tatum), and Abigail (Daniel Radcliffe) are searching for the legendary fire crown on a mysterious, obscure volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic (that simultaneously is developed enough to have an airport and tourism economy), I was left wondering if the writers and director lost the screenplay, and just made it up as they went along. Clearly this film is an attempt to reimagine the adventure-romance classic Romancing the Stone, but lacks nearly everything that makes the aforementioned one of the best written screenplays of all time. What The Lost City does have is undeniable chemistry between all of our lead and supporting cast. And it’s this chemistry that will keep you from completely tuning out. A screenplay with a well-paced, structured story and well-developed characters can always have the funny bumped-up; whereas a screenplay that is a laugh-a-minute has a much more difficult time bumping up the plot and characters. Unfortunately, the latter is a more accurate description of this movie better suited for direct-to-streaming than a theatrical run. When the funny is rooted in bit or gag-based humor, it simply can’t sustain a movie’s energy and entertainment value. The release date is also puzzling. Since this movie is a romance of sorts, it would have made more sense to release in February for Valentine’s Day. Nothing is left to subtext…it’s all right there on the surface, requiring nothing of the audience. Furthermore, so little is required of the actors that all look like they are completely bored with the story and phoning-in performances. Interestingly, the best-developed character in the movie is Alan (Tatum), and that’s not saying much. Believe it or not, there IS a good movie (on the level of Romancing the Stone) in there somewhere–the characters and story are thoughtful and fun–but the poorly written screenplay holds the movie back from the potential that was clearly there.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship 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 him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

UNCHARTED action-adventure movie review

The Goonies meets Raiders of the Lost Ark in the moderately entertaining movie adaptation of the hit Uncharted video game series. Of course, therein lies a tonal problem: the movie is never quite sure what tone it wants to strike. Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg star in the Ruben Fleischer helmed high-flying action-adventure movie that hopes you haven’t played or know much about the video game. Fortunately for me, I wouldn’t even know the cover art of the game, let alone anything about it other than the title. And that is probably why I enjoyed it as much as I did–but that isn’t saying much. #FilmTwitter was up in arms about the boyish Holland playing the grizzled Nathan Drake when the casting was announced. And while I cannot comment on his particular interpretation of the main character from the video game, I can comment on an inability to buy him as the character, as written, for the movie. It’s indicative of the trend of endowing teens and young adult actors (and by extension, characters) with the same qualities and experiences that come with age and experience. I’ll give him this, he is a charismatic actor. The slapdash storytelling comes across as a movie that feels more like a curation of cut-scenes from a video game, a problem that plagues most video game movie adaptations.

Nathan Drake and his wisecracking partner Victor “Sully” Sullivan embark on a dangerous quest to find the greatest treasure never found while also tracking clues that may lead to Nate’s long-lost brother.

What ultimately keeps this movie afloat is the witty, quippy dialogue, completely devoid of any subtext, but will elicit periodic laughter throughout the movie. While I know next to nothing about the video game, I did learn from a fan of the video game that there is a major element from the game that is completely absent from the movie. I won’t mention what that is in order to avoid spoilers. Be sure to wait around for the mid and post credit scenes that setup a sequel. If you do plan to see it, you’ll definitely want to watch it in the biggest premium format in your area. Many of the scenes, especially in the third act, deliver immense size and scope that are best appreciated and experiences on the biggest screen possible.

While I am unsure of the plot of the video game, the movie sets up an emotionally-driven subplot of the Nathan’s search for his long-lost (or gone) brother. But, it never feels that is plays any significant role in the main action plot. In fact, you can remove the whole search for his brother and the movie plays out the same. This is a movie that could have been a nice hybrid between The Goonies and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it tries to be both of them instead of finding its own expression. Perhaps this is yet another example of how most video game adaptations simply don’t translate to the screen well, because the interactive element is missing.

At the end of the day, it’s a decent popcorn flick to experience in IMAX that is a perfectly fine way to pass the time on an afternoon.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship 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 him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1