The Last Duel review

Captivating! Game of Thrones meets legal drama in a thought-provoking exploration of truth, perception, and inequality told through a Rashomon-like nonlinear story that is punctuated with dark comedy to provide emotional resets and strategic tonal shifts. Easily one of my fave films of the year! I was cautious going into this film because Ridley Scott has simply not lately been delivering what we came to expect from and love him for in Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator. So after many swings and misses, I was cautiously optimistic at best (and that’s being generous). Boy, was I wrong! The Last Duel is an outstanding film, full of thoughtful content, laugh out loud moments, and relevancy to contemporary topics. Perhaps the story takes place in the 1300s, but the characters are all archetypes we see today on screen and in real life. While the Rashomon-like approach to the central story is not new, it is an approach that isn’t used often, and can easily be abused, misused, or simply not dramatically justifiable. From the hilarious to intimate performances, the cast will keep your eyes glued to the screen. You’ve never seen a medieval period drama like this one before!

Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) is a respected knight known for his bravery and skill on the battlefield. Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) is a squire whose intelligence and eloquence makes him one of the most admired nobles in court. When Le Gris viciously assaults Carrouges’ wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer), she steps forward to accuse her attacker, an act of bravery and defiance that puts her life in jeopardy. The ensuing trial by combat, a grueling duel to the death, places the fate of all three in God’s hands.

The central focus of the plot is explored from three different perspectives, each depicting its own version of the truth. And never once did it feel repetitive; each time we revisit the incident, inclusive of the events leading up to, we learn something new. Furthermore, we learn what each version of the truth shares in common, thus affording the audience the opportunity to make the decision of what happened and how for themselves. This non-linear approach keeps the story incredibly engaging, by beckoning the audience to be completely intrigued by the events as they unfold. Even when observing a moment that we have already seen, but from a different perspective, there are brilliant nuances that separate the versions of the truth. Sometimes it’s how something was said or the expressed emotion when it was said; other times, it’s how something was done, and the attitude with which it was conducted.

While this story could have been incredibly dark from beginning to end, there is a healthy helping of levity to break up the dismal atmosphere and heavy subject matter. And it’s not limited to cleverly written humorous dialogue, there is a substantive amount of physical comedy as well. While Matt Damon and Jodie Comer play their characters fairly direct, without much in the way of humor, the characters played by Adam Driver, Ben Affleck, and Alex Lawther provide expertly timed and perfectly punctuated comedic relief. And of all those actors, it’s Affleck that get’s the lions share of the comedic bits. Some of it is slapstick, some high brow, and other parts are executed through dark comedy. Honestly, this is probably my favorite Affleck performance in a long time! He is so funny! Every time Affleck’s Count Pierre d’Alençon is on screen, he has some hilarious commentary or remark on the current state of affairs. While Alex Lawther’s King Charles doesn’t say much, his physical reactions are all that you need! Clearly the king simply wants to watch the world burn for fun, by allowing pretty much anything that is pitched to him, as long as he seen the entertaining value in it. Lastly, Driver’s Jacques Le Gris even has some moments that will make you laugh, including laughing at the most inappropriate moment; but there is simple something in his delivery of the lines and his physical acting that prompt you to chuckles and even laughter. For all the laugher that you will exhibit when watching this film, none of it is ever in poor taste or shows irreverence for a tough subject to cover.

Matt Damon and Jodie Comer’s performances as our two central characters will astound you! Damon delivers a stellar performance and Comer may have just secured herself a place on the best actress category in the award shows next year. Despite having seen Damon in plenty of serious roles, this is my favorite of his in a long time. I love when I get to see an actor surprise me! And he delivers plenty of surprising moments that convey a multitude of layers to his character, who will elicit sympathy from you even though you will disagree at his initial reaction to his wife’s report that is the catalyst for the duel. Jodie Comer shatters any expectations you go in with regarding how the central character’s wife typically acts. Her performance is one of those that you just know that she is channeling her heart and soul into every moment. You will feel her plight to be respected and believed for what she reports happened to her. Even though we do not spend an inordinate amount of time with her until her chapter, when her chapter begins, it is clear that she is the real star of the film!

While this may not look like a classic Ridley Scott film in the vein of ALIEN or Blade Runner, it does bear similarities in stylistic approaches to Gladiator. The sweeping landscapes, the intimate character moments, the visceral atmosphere sucking you into the setting of the story, it’s all here! While adhering to what we have come to expect from a medieval period drama, Scott checks off those boxes in a rubric-like fashion, but then crafts a modern story around the classic bones. That’s precisely what The Last Duel is, it’s a relevant story on the backdrop of a dark period in history. Scott’s adaptation of the actual events is delivered with raw gusto! Very few filmmakers could rise to the challenge to adapt such a heavy story, whilst keeping it entertaining–it is a motion picture after all–but he does all that and more! More than the reenactment of an actual event, this cinematic story has life, like we haven’t seen from Scott in nearly two decades (2005’s Kingdom of Heaven is the most recent motion picture if his that is truly excellent). The images aren’t simply beautiful frames flipping past the lens at 24fps, this film leaps off the screen with prolific energy.

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Ryan teaches American and World 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 him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” Film Review

The Eyes of Tammy Faye will penetrate to your soul. You may think you know Tammy Faye’s story, but go beyond the tabloids in Michael Showalter’s (The Big Sick) heartfelt, hilarious, honest film that paints a humanizing portrait of the ridiculed and often parodied Tammy Faye Bakker. You will undoubtedly be blown away by Jessica Chastain’s jaw-dropping performance as the “Queen of Eyelashes” in this powerful rise, fall, and redemption story. Tammy’s eyelashes may be fake, but there is nothing fake about this candid portrait of the late television icon. Playing the mastermind of the PTL Network scandal is Andrew Garfield in a showcase performance that will have you despising Jim, but praising the uncanny portrayal. The film highlights Tammy Faye’s genuine love for God and her love for people–everyone! Even in the 1980s, when the LGBT community had little to no voice, especially amongst fundamental evangelicals, she was a loving voice for them. While it would have been so easy for the film to have been devoid of genuine levity, audiences will find there are some hilarious scenes that work as fantastic humanizing elements, especially early on when Jim and Tammy Faye engage their lustful adolescent interests as hormonally charged young adults and newlyweds. Showalter, Chastain, and Garfield deliver a fresh perspective on Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker that depicts human beings, not one-dimensional caricatures of televangelism.

In the 1970s, Tammy Faye Bakker and her husband, Jim, rise from humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park. Tammy Faye becomes legendary for her indelible eyelashes, her idiosyncratic singing, and her eagerness to embrace people from all walks of life. However, financial improprieties, scheming rivals and a scandal soon threaten to topple their carefully constructed empire.

I already want to see it again! And it’s definitely becoming an addition to my physical media collection. This narrative film is based on the award-winning documentary by the same name, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, and I suggest watching it as a companion piece. In many respects, the storytelling structure of The Eyes of Tammy Faye parallels the approach Craig Gillespie took in I, Tonya. In addition to the awards-talk around the performances, I would look to see this film in other conversations such as makeup, screenplay, and perhaps directing and picture. Showalter’s film explores the world of Tammy Faye, as seen through her unmistakable eyes; furthermore, he treats the character (the person) of Tammy Faye with respect as a flawed but loving woman rather than the heavy-makeup-wearing satirical and parodied caricature that many remember from the tabloids. Perhaps the thousands of times she said “God loves you” may have came across as insincere; but the truth is, she wanted the world to know that God and Tammy both love them.

Showalter’s candid picture gives Tammy Faye and Jim the full treatment as he takes audiences on a journey through their story, including the scandal that rocked a nation, whilst treating them with dignity and respect as they are–as we all are–flawed humans. This biographic drama seeks to understand (mostly Tammy Faye, but a little of Jim too) the Bakkers, not mock them or their work. Tammy Faye is a breath of fresh air in an environment polluted by stale, lifeless, and downright rotten individuals. From the beginning of the film, you learn that her faith in God and love of Jesus was not going to be defined by her circumstances or what people thought of her. If you told her she couldn’t, she would prove to you that she could. That is a trait that she could continue through her entire life, even after her scandalous fall from grace. You also learn that while she lived an opulent lifestyle, she was never defined by her material possessions. Oh don’t get me wrong, she loved her signature clothing style and trademark makeup and hair, but those things did not define her or her faith. Well, except for her eyes. She said “if you remove my [fake] eyelashes, I wouldn’t be me.”

While her husband was pulling the strings, she was doing everything she could to reach people for Christ; however, it was also clear that she loved the performance, the camera, and the microphone. If she hadn’t gone into televangelism, she very well could have been a Broadway star with her larger than life showmanship and personality. We also learn that Tammy Faye was likely unaware of the dishonest and illegal dealings of her husband, even though she at times suspected he wasn’t being honest. Chalk it up to extreme naivety. Despite no reports of Jim being physically abusive to Tammy Faye or their two kids, he was shown to be psychologically and emotionally abusive to Tammy Faye. Even to the extent that he used Tammy’s minor indiscretion with a Nashville music producer against her, to humiliate her on international television in an effort to raise more money because of her testimony. Tammy’s flirtation with the an elicit affair goes to show that we are all flawed individuals that toy with or fall victim to the same temptations, in whatever form they take. But we understand how and why Tammy Faye was tempted to search for love elsewhere; she was not appreciated as a person by Jim, but only as a tool to get more money out of PTL’s “partners.” Even when the reality of Jim would peak through, she never let that detour her from spreading the love of God to everyone in her signature style.

While we ostensibly watch the events of the rise and fall of the Bakkers through Tammy Faye’s eyes, in a similar fashion we did in I, Tonya, we also get glimpses of the story through Jim’s perspective when it serves to advance the emotional journey of the characters, especially when it comes to his complicated relationship with the then and now unlikable Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. For example, I did not know that it was Jim and Tammy Faye that started the 700 Club. But when the innovative Christian talk show became a popular program on the fledgling CBN Network, Pat Robertson placed them on a maternity/paternity sabbatical, but was actually steeling their show in a jealous power-grab. The Bakkers then started what would become the TBN Network, but were ran off from there too. Finally, they began the PTL Club (later massive, worldwide PTL Satellite Network), and the success of that venture would eventually spawn a 24-hour network, neighborhoods, and a theme park that would become the third most visited in the country after Disneyland and Disney World.

While PTL was growing by leaps and bounds, Robertson and Falwell were seething with jealously at the success of Jim and Tammy Faye, a motive that comes into play when they discover the payment of PTL funds for the hush-money regarding Jim’s affair. Little did Tammy Faye know that Jim surrounded himself with a conniving mafia-like group of “Christians” that sought to take down the power couple after they departed from the Robertson-Falwell fundamentalist agenda. This mafia-like mentality is most apparent when Tammy Faye televises the emotional interview with a gay AIDS patient, also a Christian pastor, on her show. She ends the interview with reminding the viewers that Christians are called to love as Jesus loved. It was shortly after that, that Robertson and Falwell actively looked for ways to dethrone the king and queen of televangelism. Of all the examples of Christians in the film, amongst the lead and supporting characters, Tammy Faye is the best example of how a Christian should love and act.

Chastain has instantly shot to the front of the Best Actress in a Leading Role category, and Garfield may find himself in the Best Actor conversations as well. Chastain disappears behind the trademark Tammy Faye makeup and delivers a larger than life performance! And since Tammy Faye, herself, was the definition of camp and larger than life, it’s an incredibly authentic, sincere performance. It’s easy to see how the LBGTQ community was drawn to the person of Tammy Faye then and now, because the LGBTQ community often greatly admires women who remain strong in the face of adversity. But Chastain’s performance of the person of Tammy Faye will undoubtedly inspire and win the admiration of all kinds of people from all walks of life. While Chastain is brilliantly portraying the character of Tammy Faye, we learn in the film (and in the documentary, the interviews, and PLT flips that many will undoubtedly pour through after leaving the film) that Tammy Faye wasn’t a character at all but one of the most genuine, sincere loving people that ever walked the planet. Chastain captures every nuance of Tammy Faye with uncanny precision.

Even the indelible Cherry Jones as Tammy Faye’s love-to-hate mother that was so often Tammy Faye’s harshest critic may be in the supporting actress conversations. She’s a scene steeler herself, much like Allison Janney was as LaVona Harding in I, Tonya. All the lead and supporting performances are perfectly executed, and the hair/makeup on everyone leaves an uncanny resemblance between the actors and the real-life people that are being portrayed. If Tammy Faye was still alive, I feel strongly that she would appreciate the film. Her son Jay appears to like the film from what I’ve read of his comments.

I’d be remiss not to mention, what is perhaps the most telling scene of who Tammy Faye was. Months or perhaps years after the collapse of the PTL Empire and all her fine things were sold (and house actually burned to the ground), and she’s driving a crappy Honda Accord and living in a rundown apartment, she pulls into her parking spot one day. And she gets out, she hears a few of the neighborhood punk teens making fun or her. She walks over to them, and graciously says, “if you’re going to talk about me, since I am your neighbor, you should at least shake my hand and meet me first; hi, I’m Tammy Faye” (or something to this effect).

What we have here is a brilliantly produced biographical drama that works as trifecta comprised of a cautionary tale, a redemption story, and film that provides social commentary on topics such as politics, religion, and patriotism as our country is becoming increasingly polarized on these subjects.

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Ryan teaches American and World 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

Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood” (1994) Film Review

Catch a falling star and put him in your movie. “What a picture.” As many horror and horror-adjacent movies I’ve seen over the years, I am still finding those that I am familiar with–yet–have never taken the time to watch. And Ed Wood is one of those movies. Even if you know the story, and have even seen clips of the movie in your cinema studies class, believe me, you want to seek out this brilliant motion picture about the dark side of show business. There is perhaps no greater example of posthumous notoriety and success in cinema than the late filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr., most famously known for Plan 9 from Outer Space and casting the great Bela Lugosi in his final screen appearance. While his Z-grade movies were laughed at during their day, these movies provide inspiration to artists everywhere that you can pursue your dreams even when your harshest critics and financiers dismiss you. Ed Wood was a creator with a passion for bringing joy through entertainment into people’s lives. Perhaps his films were poorly produced, written, directed, and virtually everything else, but what this films demonstrate is a love of filmmaking and respect for great talent that flew in the face of a “town that chews you up and spits you out.” Ed Wood was in motion pictures for the art and love, not for the business. Tim Burton’s quasi biographical film about the production of Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space, and the relationship between Bela Lugosi and Wood is a beautiful portrait of love and respect. Of all the fantastic performances in this film, Martin Landau’s Bela Lugosi is a command performance that rightly earned him an Oscar for Supporting Actor. If you’ve ever had a dream, this film serves as inspiration and provides darkly comedic anecdotes that shine a light on the lengths independent filmmakers have to go in order to find a way to finance and produce films. This film is a sort of ode to all the misfit creatives out there, and probably the most sincere and personal film that Burton has ever made.

Because of his eccentric habits and bafflingly strange films, director Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) is a Hollywood outcast. Nevertheless, with the help of the formerly famous Bela Lugosi (Landau) and a devoted cast and crew of show-business misfits who believe in Ed’s off-kilter vision, the filmmaker is able to bring his oversize dreams to cinematic life. Despite a lack of critical or commercial success, Ed and his friends manage to create an oddly endearing series of extremely low-budget films. (IMDb)

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All the technical elements scream classic Tim Burton! From the moment the movie opens, even if you did not know that this was a Burton film, you would instantly identify the stylistic opening as quintessentially Burton. And not just the choice to make the movie grayscale, but the production design has a gothic poetry to it. Burton was able to successfully capture the look and feel of 1950s Hollywood. He was careful to recreate the world of Ed Wood, all the way down to the character blocking in the movies within the movie. For example, you can compare the recreated Ed Wood movies within this biopic to the real deal, and many are practically carbon copies. I appreciate this because it makes the filmmaking we see in the movie feel all the more real when what’s being shot in the movie is the same as was shot in real life. Perhaps Burton didn’t shut down Hollywood Boulevard like QT did for OUATIH, but he painstakingly transports the audience of the then 90s and even today’s audience to an era of independent film production that produced movies that look like they belong on an old UHF station.Most of the scenes are set in dank, warehouses or the empty streets of a nondescript section of the city. Other scenes are simply in a humble home. The filmmaker Ed Wood never shot a frame that he didn’t like; moreover, this practice was so extreme that he would ignore complete technical blunders and horrendous acting that was so bad that it achieved a kind of grandeur or cult status that can be appreciated decades later because Wood’s love of movies and movie making shines through in every frame of his masterful disasters.

Just as Ed Wood loved every frame of everything he ever made, the visual design of this film has got to be loved by Burton. His signature is on every scene. No mistaking it, there is more to the reasons for recreating Ed Wood’s Hollywood than just making an accurate biopic. Much like Norma Desmond took audiences on a journey into the life of a faded once-great(est) star of the silent era, It’s in these very dark corners and abandoned places where the true love of motion picture making lives, where the only reward for wrapping a picture is the love of the work itself and the cheers of those whom stood by you and helped take the idea from concept to screen. Ed Wood represents geek culture of the 1950s, future icons of horror and science-fiction are featured as unappreciated in their time. Fortunately today, geek culture is alive and well, and even celebrated. Yeah, there are obnoxious stans out there, but most of us movie and horror geeks simply love the medium and enjoy having fun with movies that still capture our imaginations. The director Ed Wood was not unlike many of us; he had a dream, and stopped at nothing to realize it. While I do not care much for Burton’s work after the 80s and 90s, he is a filmmaker that showed audiences through BeetlejuiceBatman Returns, Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks, and Ed Wood that he loves the art of motion pictures. When you went to a Burton picture in the 80s and 90s, you knew that you would witness the hand of the artist. In both Ed Wood’s and Tim Burton’s films, there is an effervescent life, a joy in their films that technically and critically “better” pictures only wish they had.

We cannot talk about Ed Wood without spending some on Landau’s Oscar-winning performance as Dracula himself Bela Lugosi! I was blown away by how sincere the performance was. What we saw Renee Zellweger do with Judy Garland in last year’s Judy, Landau did with Lugosi in Ed Wood. If I didn’t know any better, I would have said that I was watching Lugosi in this film. Both vocally and physically, Landau transforms into the famous Hungarian actor. From the moment we first see him laying in the coffin (creative latitude on Burton’s part), Landau captures our imaginations. Landau delivers a performance of a faded film star that Gloria Swanson would be proud of. In many respects, the characters of Bela Lugosi and Norma Desmond are similar. While Norma wasn’t living in near poverty, she was living in a world in which the parade of fans long sense passed her by; likewise, Lugosi fell into such obscurity that even people in the business thought he was dead. Landau embodies the mind and soul of someone that feels completely abandoned by the world and the fans that once loved to see his pictures. And it wasn’t the fame or money that Lugosi missed per se, but bringing joy to millions and simply the feeling of being wanted or needed is what Lugosi missed most. While Landau received negative criticism from the family and friends of Lugosi because his family said that Lugosi never used profanity or slept in coffins, there is no doubt that this is one of the finest performances of Landau’s career and in biopics.

Everything about this motion picture works brilliantly! I’m only disappointed that it took me this long to finally make time to watch it. Even though there is something in this movie for everyone, I feel that it impacts cinephiles and filmmakers the most. Though, there is a high degree of relatability for anyone that has ever had a dream and stops at nothing to continue to pursue it. Amid the recreation of all the tacky filmmaking and notoriously bad acting, there is a warmth and charm that will stick with 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! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” film review

Outstanding motion picture that celebrates the power of kindness in a real tangible way. Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers and Matthew Rhys as the skeptical journalist Lloyd Vogel. While you may think that this is a movie about the beloved children’s television host, Mister Rogers is a supporting character in this move that is truly about Lloyd Vogel’s personal journey through grief, forgiveness, and learning kindness. It’s a portrait about being human, and all the struggles and obstacles that come with it. Perhaps there has been no greater (non-documentary/bio pic) motion picture that has so accurately captured the human kindness at its best. Mister Rogers was not only an influential children’s television host, but he left a powerful legacy for everyone. And as the film points out, he was not a saint. He struggled with some of the same things that many of us struggle with, but he knew how to work at overcoming those negative feelings, thoughts, and reactions. Didn’t come naturally, he has to work at it just like you and I have to every day. What this film and last year’s No.1 documentary (IMO) Won’t You Be My Neighbor? have in common is just how genuine, how authentic Fred Rogers was. The man in front of the camera was the man behind the camera and at home. He never saw himself as playing a character on TV, he was himself. His almost uncanny emotional intelligence and ability to counsel the young and old alike is incredibly consistent. And it’s that consistency on and off camera that truly testifies to his heart and the legacy he left behind. Based on the real article in Esquire Magazine titles “Can You Say…Hero” by Tom Junod, this film can be categorized as historical fiction because the background is incredibly real but the foreground story is a fictionalized account based on the real-life interview and relationship between once-skeptical journalist Junod and Fred Rogers. Just as Mister Rogers would have wanted it, this isn’t a movie about him, it’s a movie about one of his neighbors and friends.

A journalist’s life is enriched by friendship when he takes on an assignment profiling Fred Rogers. Based on the real-life friendship between journalist Tom Junod and television star Fred Rogers.

Bring tissues! You are going to need them because this movie will undoubtedly touch you. And not just if you grew up (like I did) watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood on PBS. Even those who have no frame of reference beyond knowing his name will be touched. That was certainly the case with the friend that went with me to see this (and then Frozen II). He told me going into the movie that he has no idea who Mister Rogers was, but I assured him that he would enjoy the film. Occasionally, I would look over at him to see if he was an emotionally invested in the film as I was, and I couldn’t tell. It wasn’t until after the movie ended, and I was writing a tweet, that he told me how impacted he was by the film. That’s a powerful statement since this could have so easily been a film that connected best with those whom watched the show and others may have missed the emotional connection. I chalk that up to the timeless message of kindness, forgiveness, and emotional candidness of Mister Rogers. As important as his message was during the run of his show, it seems that it is needed even more greatly today in the tumultuous climate we now live in. Albeit fictional character, each of us either is currently or has been a Lloyd Vogel, hence why his character is highly relatable to general audiences. The help Mister Rogers provides Vogel transcends the screen into our own minds and hearts.

The film opens with a brilliant 4:3 recreation of the opening of Mister Rogers Neighborhood with Hanks in the title role. From the gentle piano music, camera sweeping over the miniature neighborhood, traffic light, and Mister Rogers opening his door to us with the iconic song “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine, could you be mine…” You may even find yourself singing along with Fred Rogers. I absolutely love how much this film ostensibly feels like a feature length episode of the beloved show. It begins and ends with a throwback to his brilliant show. The spirit of the television show can be felt throughout this film. I greatly appreciated the miniature recreations of “the neighborhood,” as well as New York City including Vogel’s neighborhood, Pittsburgh, and Vogel’s father’s neighborhood. Instead of showing us establishing shots of these places, Marielle Heller chose to use the same techniques employed by the set builders and production designers of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. And the wooden and cardboard miniature buildings, electric trolly, and planes suspended by (keyed out) dowel rods remind us of a simpler time when story and message were the most important parts of a picture. Using these models was an excellent way to transition from location to location.

While Mister Rogers Neighborhood favorites like Picture Picture, the trolly, Mr. McFeely, and the characters of the Land of Make Believe are all in it, none of these elements seek to steal the screen from the central character of Lloyd Vogel. He remains our central character for the entire time, because–quite simply–the film is about him, not Mister Rogers and his neighborhood of friends. Vogel has never forgiven his father for being a drunkard and philanderer; furthermore, he holds a strong disdain if not hatred for his father for leaving him, his sister, and their sick mother. While his father was out having an affair, Llyod’s mother died in the hospital. For these reasons, Llyod has a lot of emotional baggage that includes a general distrust for anyone whom is supposed to be a “good guy.” After receiving as assignment to profile Fred Rogers instead of his usual hard hitting, provocative, investigative pieces, Llyod goes into the cheerful WQED PBS studio in Pittsburgh with the intention to uncover Mister Rogers dark side and skeletons in the closet. It’s no spoiler to know that truthfully Fred Rogers did not have any buried scandals. He was the man you saw on screen. Lloyd is profoundly impacted by Fred’s authenticity and genuine desire to help people deal with their feelings. There are many moments that the table is turned and Fred becomes the interviewer and asks Lloyd some hard questions that initially upset Lloyd. It’s through Fred’s kind persistence and non-judgmental attitude that he breaks through to Lloyd in a way that Lloyd can do that hardest thing he’s ever done: forgive his father. It’s a real testament to those who may be carrying heavy burdens of grief, unforgiveness, or many other negative emotions, and how we can grow to deal with them and overcome to develop as a human being who can then help others. What we have here is a powerful, personal redemption story.

Tom Hanks was born to play Fred Rogers. Simple as that. Much like Mister Rogers, Tom Hanks also has the demonstrable reputation of being the nicest guy in Hollywood whom cares deeply for his family, friends, and fans. He’s even known to regularly help out on set between takes. There are literally dozens of stories of Hanks helping the grip guys, production assistants, and other below the line people on set. I cannot think of anyone else who could’ve played Fred Rogers more perfectly. Hanks performance successfully portrays Rogers as a real person whom, for all the wonderful things Rogers says and does, is–to paraphrase Roger’s wife–“an ordinary sinner just like everyone else…he just works diligently to overcome his vices.” This is one of Hanks best peformances because of how much he transformed into Fred Rogers in a way that you could almost swear that you were watching Mister Rogers on screen. Hanks and Renee Zellweger (in Judy) have both given us the best performances this year.

This movie challenges us to become better humans, whom care for those around us by listening, empathizing, and making the intentional decisions that will help us grow and develop. The movie also reminds me that I should pray for people by name every day. To be honest, that isn’t something that I do regularly. Another powerful line in the movie comes as Fred responds to Vogel in an initial interview question “what is the most important thing in the world to you?” And Fred responds with “…for instance the most important thing in the world to me is talking to Lloyd Vogel right now.” That line reminded me that when I am with my friends or family (or anyone for the matter), the most important thing in the world to me should be the conversation that I am having at that very moment. That’s going to be a hard one for me since I am constantly tweeting or “multitasking.” The life and legacy of Fred Rogers makes me want to be a better person. If Lloyd can change, then so can I.

Do not miss out on one of the most powerful motion pictures of the year. Definitely make it a part of your Thanksgiving next week, or even better, see it this weekend!

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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“JUDY” Biopic Film Review

A truly gripping motion picture that will bring you to tears during this somewhere over the rainbow redemption story. Bring tissues. Renee Zellweger is captivating as Judy Garland, and you’ll swear that you’re watching Garland on the big screen. Although we may be familiar with the broad strokes career of the legendary entertainer, this film goes beyond the headlines and tabloids to deliver a true life story that could ironically be titled A Star is Born, or perhaps reborn. Ironic in that this film shows the life of a movie star after the lights have faded and the offers stop coming in, much like the movie she starred in. It’s a rise and fall story, of sorts, but is more precisely a fall and rise story as the movie focusses in on the last year of Judy Garland’s life. If you are worried that the film ends on her death, you can be relived that the film chooses to stop the story prior to the end of the iconic star’s life. And it works so incredibly well! While there are many movies (not unlike A Star is Born) that focus on the rise and fall of a talent in showbusiness, this movie skips all the glitz and glamor to paint a realistic portrait of what it is like for those whom grow up in front of the camera, controlled by those around them, just to wind up in front of booing crowds, empty bank accounts, homelessness, and a tumultuous custody battle. Not to mention her addiction to pills that was caused by abusive treatment at the hands of the old studio system because of being force fed pills from an early age. Whether you are a fan of the iconic diva or not, if you love command performances, then you do not want to miss the uncanny performance of Zellweger as Judy. All the way down to the mannerisms, vocal inflections, and over all behavior, she IS Judy. Although we all know of the tragic ending, no mistaking it, this film is an inspirational story of redemption.

The money is gone, career on the rocks, and risking the loss of custody of her two youngest children, that is the last year’s of Judy Garland’s life. Unfortunately the other side of the rainbow for Judy was anything but magical. Three decades after starring in one of the greatest film musicals of all time The Wizard of Oz, the beloved actress and singer is in dire straights. She is left with virtually nothing except her name and what remains of her timeless voice that charmed millions throughout her early illustrious career. In order to prove that she can provide for her two youngest children, she accepts a gig in London playing to sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town night club. While there, she reminisces with friends and fans, fights her depression and anxiety over performing, and begins a whirlwind romance with her soon-to-be fifth husband.

“For one hour, I am Judy Garland, and the rest of the time I am just like everyone else…I want what everyone wants, I just seem to have a harder time getting it” is a paraphrased quote from the movie, but it illustrates how the actress and singer felt about her relationship with the world. The movie chronicles her inability to stay afloat financially in Los Angeles and must accept a gig in London where her personal troubles continue to follow and haunt her. Her character is so incredibly relatable because many of us have found ourselves in traps that we have stepped in and are at a loss as to how to get out. If you thought this was going to be another cliche musical biopic, then you would be mistaken. No pretense about it, this is an unapologetic look at the dark side of Hollywood in perhaps one of the greatest stories that is right up there with Norma Desmond. Now, I am not equating Judy with what is, in my opinion, the greatest film of all time Sunset Boulevard, but her story is not unlike the one experienced by Norma. The movie also comments on the far reaching effects of childhood trauma on the adult psyche. No one understood the extent that she was abused by the studio system except for Judy herself. If her present-day handlers knew what she went through during the years that American fell in love with The Wizard of OzMeet Me in St. Louis, and more, then they would not-so-casually write her off as a wrecked hasbeen who mismanaged her money and relationships. The film deals with perception versus reality. Strategically placed in the film are flashbacks to her childhood at MGM that provide context for moving the present story forward as each moment reveals a new layer to the legendary entertainer.

Zellweger delivers a performance for the ages in this film. More than a spot-on impression, she transforms into Judy Garland to the extent that you will almost believe that you are watching the iconic actress and singer on the big screen. It is clear that Zellweger studied Judy Garland for months in order to get into character. Her movement, speech pattern, posture, and other behaviors completely sell the audience on this audacious portrayal of such an icon. Never once does she break character and allow the actor to shine through, she remains committed to this phenomenally genuine portrayal of Judy Garland. We all know Zellweger can sing, after all, she wow’d us in Chicago (a rare example of when the movie adaptation IS better than the live show); but nothing will prepare you for the power of her singing in this movie. Other than Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, you will hear Zellweger sing other famous songs by Garland such as Get HappyThe Trolly SongCome Rain or Come Shine, and of course the encore of Over the Rainbow during the movie’s climactic, emotionally charged, showdown. Even when singing, Zellweger is determined to deliver the songs just as a late-40s Garland did, complete with all the stubbornness, anxiety, and even anger. I truly hope that Zellweger is nominated for this role.

Perhaps the reason why Liza Minelli was quite objectionably vocal about her mother’s portrayal in this movie is because there are creative liberties taken by the writers in order to further dramatize Judy’s story. As I’ve told my screenwriting class, dramatize don’t tell. If a “based on a true story” or biographical film was simply concerned with the timeline of events, the cold hard facts, and cause and effect, then it might feel more like a police procedural or college lecture. Hence why it is imperative that writers DO get a little creative in the dramatization of events for cinematic purposes. For instance, the facts are largely correct in this story as I have compared them to Wikipedia and other newspaper articles, but where I can see the difference is Judy’s reaction to the timeline of events. Articles and tabloids may be able to show what happened, but it is up to the screenwriters to dramatize the reaction to the conflict. So perhaps that is what Liza is upset with, she doesn’t agree with the story details between what we know from Hollywood history. One of the tangential components in the movie is Judy meeting up with “Friends of Judy” at the end of one of her shows. Judy joins them, rather than be by herself for a night of poorly made omelets and casual singing around a piano. It’s an emotionally moving tribute to all the gays who’ve loved her over the years. In all likelihood, this was written for the movie as there is no way of verifying if this night ever happened. This is the scene where I feel that she should’ve sang Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas because tonally it was similar to that scene in Meet Me in St. Louis. Instead, she sings Get Happy.

Maybe this is an unconventional redemption story, but that quality is clearly communicated through the film. Rising up against the internal and external monsters in your life that have dragged you down so far that there is no end in sight. Whereas Judy may not have changed as dramatically as Scrooge did in  A Christmas Carol, she does change during the climax of the movie. If you want to know just how, then you need to go out and watch it!

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!

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