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.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

The Protégé (2021)

Nonstop action, perfectly punctuated with humor and thrills! Don’t miss The Protege as it blasts its way into cinemas this week from the director that brought us Casino Royale. THE most summer movie of 2021!

Everything about this explosive action thriller works brilliantly, and it truly is the don’t miss movie of the summer. From beginning to end, you will be glued to your seat as the story unfolds. The Protégé takes the action plot of a 1980s action movie and combines it with contemporary characters to deliver a movie that is simultaneously both familiar and fresh. This movie is the whole package: high flying action, killer fight sequences with outstanding choreography, and a well-developed lead cast that you will love to see on screen.

Rescued as a child by the legendary assassin Moody, Anna is the world’s most skilled contract killer. However, when Moody is brutally killed, she vows revenge for the man who taught her everything she knows. As Anna becomes entangled with an enigmatic killer, their confrontation turns deadly, and the loose ends of a life spent killing weave themselves ever tighter.

Where so many action movies suffer is in the screenwriting. Not so with this one. The dialogue snaps, crackles, and pops, and there is plenty of humor to break up the darker elements of the film. Even with its 2hr runtime, you will never feel restless or bored because the pacing and plotting are both on point! Audiences will be delighted at the ideal balance in both violence and humor. But when you have Samuel L and Michael Keaton, both known for their action and comedic chops, you know you’re guaranteed to be highly entertained! Rounding out the lead cast is Maggie Q, and she is a force to be reckoned with as a ruthless assassin that is also a delight to watch as she kicks ass. Where these characters stand out compared to comparable ones in contemporary action movies is remembering that these same strong characters also need to be vulnerable, relatable, and appropriately funny. Never once does this movie falter in taking its high concept seriously, but it knows when to interject comedic lines and kills that help to break up the more violent elements in order to help the senses reset. Crafting moments that are strategically used for emotional resets (even brief ones) allows the filmmaker to keep the audience engaged without ever feeling bored or exhausted.

It saddens me to see that the review embargo for The Protege was until the early screenings on Thursday, because this is a movie that needs to be seen on the BIG SCREEN! While there is some thoughtful social commentary on strong, leading women that can still be incredibly sexy (on that note: Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman has been proving that since 1992), non-traditional families (otherwise known as found families), and toxic parenting, this movie never forgets that it is an entertainment piece that can be both exciting and thoughtful. It never sacrifices thrilling storytelling for an agenda. Furthermore, it boasts a diverse cast that is also never made into the center piece. The film isn’t saying “look at our diverse cast.” No, it is saying “look at our outstanding characters” that happen to look like the people you and I interact with on a weekly basis. That is how you promote representation in cinema in movies that twenty years ago would’ve been filled with predominantly white characters.

As I was watching this, I kept thinking of Die Hard. Not that it’s a similar plot. It isn’t. But it does deliver a similar story in terms of tone and action. And there is probably no better action film to emulate in some cinematic form or fashion. What makes Die Hard the best action movie of all time, in my opinion, is the characters and dialogue. Sure the action is great, but we remember the characters themselves, the things they said, and how they reacted to emotionally charged situations the most. While The Protégé may not be on the same level as Die Hard (hard to meet or beat), it is striving for that level of excellence in terms of storytelling and audience experience.

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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

A Quiet Place Part 2 Review

The less quiet sequel exchanges atmospheric horror for increased action and thrills.

For the conversation with me and Minorities Report Pod, click HERE.

Picking up where the first one left audiences, A Quiet Place Part 2 is bigger, louder, and delivers more monsters than Part 1. While you won’t be living with the same level of tension that you had in the first one, the sequel offers plenty of gripping action sequences and those eerily quiet moments where your neighbor’s Reese’s Pieces bag cracking may make you jump in your seat.

This movie is certainly making waves in the box office, and has many claiming “cinema is back.” Well, back would imply that it went away, which would be incorrect; cinemas started reopening last July. Anyway. What I can agree with is that it is the first new theatrical release to receive an incredibly warm welcome by those that have been attending the cinema since last July and those that are just now returning. In many ways, this movie could be considered event cinema because of the response from audiences during previews last Thursday through the holiday weekend (speaking of which, I hope you had a meaningful, enjoyable Memorial Day weekend).

Before picking up where you left off in the first movie, you will witness the first day that the aliens arrived. Following the events at home, the Abbott family now face the terrors of the outside world. Forced to venture into the unknown, they realize the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats lurking beyond the sand path. Along the way, they meet other survivors, but things are not at all what they seem.

There is no debate that A Quiet Place Part 2 is an excellently made movie. From the set design to the acting to the technical elements, everything works very well. And talk about audio design and engineering! The approach Krasinki took to place us in the shoes of Regan was brilliant. While it by no means was to illustrate an accurate portrait of what it must be like to be deaf, it was true to the world that we are in, in the film. Those moments that we are not hearing what Regan isn’t hearing, are certainly some of the most unnerving and frightening moments in the film. While I take issue with the story sacrificing atmospheric and methodical horror for more action, thrills, and monsters, I cannot deny that even the writing is solid, for the story Krasinki desired to tell, that is.

But what is it? Is it still a horror movie? And that is why I am writing my review. To tackle that very question. I could write about how well everything was executed, but you’ve heard all that as this film has been very well received, by in large, by audiences and critics alike.

After I watched it, I was left with a feeling of meh, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. It wasn’t the film’s technical execution, it wasn’t the performances, it wasn’t the direction, per se, so what was it? And after I saw an analogy using Alien:Aliens and Terminator:Terminator2, it hit me. A Quiet Place Part 2 isn’t horror (no matter what you’ve heard);. In fact, it’s less horror than Aliens is.

Why is this even important? Does it impact the quality of the film? No. But it’s important to talk about because the first installment was horror and the sequel was billed as a horror movie. What we have here is a bait’n switch. The experience of a cinematic work can (albeit not always) be impacted by the expectations you have for a particular film. I was all geared up for a first-run horror film in the cinema; but what I got was a family drama with a hefty amount of action and some horror-adjacency.

It was brought up on the Minorities Report Pod episode I guested on to review this movie that this switch from horror to action may have been unavoidable because the monsters are no longer unfamiliar to us; therefore, the tools that worked for horror are no longer applicable. While I can understand where that argument is coming from, simply because we are now familiar with the aliens/monsters, that doesn’t mean the film needed to leave the prestige of horror behind for something more attractive to mass audiences. Many horror sequels continue to be horror even as we become more familiar with the world and characters. Examples: Annabelle Creation, SCRE4M, ANOES: Dream Warriors, Conjuring 2, Halloween H20 and H40, The Babysitter: Killer Queen, and the list could go on.

During the live Q&A with Krasinski and J.J. Abrams after the film screening I was in, Abrams stated, “it shouldn’t be thought of as a horror movie, because it’s so much more.” Wow. Just wow. Abrams has to gaul to suggest that if a film is too good, if it is rich with social commentary and character development, that it can’t possibly be a horror film. This is completely untrue. Horror films are far more truthful than any direct drama. These are the films, over the century, that are still being studied today. Many of the greatest films of all time are horror, and they are great because they still have so much to teach us about ourselves and society.

Through the horror film, we can better understand just how complex life really is and even what it means to be human. Topics such as gender roles, parenting, sexuality, faith, religion, government, the family can all be best explored through the horror film. While Krasinski does include some great social commentary that is well-executed, I got on my little soap box because Abrams is wrong in his opinion on why A Quiet Place Part 2 has to be more than a horror film.

While it is not horror, A Quiet Place Part 2 is an accessible family drama/action movie with some heartwarming character moments, and some occasional horror-adjacency. It’s certainly an exciting film that is action-packed from beginning to end. There may not be anything particularly memorable about this movie, save the exceptional audio engineering and the bear trap, but you are sure to enjoy this lean film. Krasinski stated that his career as a writer/director was heavily influenced by Hitchcock. And while Krasinski has yet to master the art of suspense with a camera, he does show a commitment to one of Hitch’s rules for filmmaking, “start each scene as close to the end [of the scene] as possible.” In other words, Krasinski does an excellent job of trimming the fat, leaving audiences with an action-packed, thrill ride for just over 90-minutes.

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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

WRATH OF MAN and SPIRAL Reviews

The former is a must-see that delivers no-holds-barred explosive fun, while the latter is best left to die in the trap that it poorly setup for itself.

The last couple of weeks have seen some motion pictures return to exclusive theatrical runs. Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man and Chris Rock’s Spiral: from the Book of Saw. In-theatre press screenings have also returned! Whether the movies that are receiving exclusive theatrical runs are your cup of tea or not, it is highly encouraging to see the BIG SCREEN experience return around the country. 

Fortunately, I’ve been able to enjoy motion pictures in the cinema since July of last year, but most of the country hasn’t had that opportunity. Between the two movies I saw this week, I can tell you that you do not want to miss Wrath of Man in cinemas! Spiral, on the other hand, you can either skip it altogether or just wait for it to hit streaming/VOD. Oh, if you go to Cinemark, watch Wrath of Man in XD; and if you’re going to AMC, watch it in Dolby Cinema!

Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man is a no-holds-barred heist movie! It’s an extravaganza of beginning to end action and thrills. Jason Statham does his best Stathaming, and the nonlinear storytelling never loses the audience – while packing a punch. I sat down with Brad of The Cinema Speak podcast to chat with him about this film, so for the full conversation, click HERE. In short, there is literally nothing to dislike about this action-thriller! Although it is fast-moving, you know everything you need to know about each character. On the topic of characters, no one is safe! In addition to Jason Statham, a former 90s/2000s heartthrob returns to the screen (and this time not with a kinda-weird yet adorable haircut, nor is he surviving Michael Myers or shape-shifting aliens at school) – Josh Hartnett.

Everything about this movie just works — and works nearly flawlessly. From the moment it opens until the credits roll, it is non-stop balls-to-the-wall action, and at the center of that action is Jason Statham. I commented on the Cinema Speak podcast that I view Statham as a bonafide movie star in the classical sense. Much like other modern-day “classical” movie stars like the definitive example Tom Cruise or The Rock, Statham IS the movie. Even when he is playing a supporting role, such as in SPY, he is larger-than-life on the screen. Often playing the same type of character (or an extension of), movie stars are attached to sell the movie and up the ante, and act as a de facto identifier. Pretty soon, we will be referencing Statham’s movies as “are you going to see the new Statham movie” instead of referencing the movie by its title.

Wrath of Man is one of those movies that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. And what is that? A fun, entertaining movie without case for any kind of thoughtful subtext or socio-political agenda. Just an entertaining movie, plain and simple. And yet, you enjoy the characters and know just enough about each to care about them (or hate them). Point is, you feel something for these characters. We have a simple plot, and a complex central character. And this central character has a well-defined external goal that is met with obstacles brought on by a character of opposition. In other words, this is a movie with solid bones and foundation.

One of the standout storytelling devices in this film is the non-linear narrative. While we’ve certainly seen films employ non-linear storytelling, many films that do this often run the risk of or, do in fact, confuse audiences. Or, just as bad, the stylistic choice doesn’t add anything to (and sometimes even detracts from) the experience of the film.

Guy Ritchie’s non-linear choices are successful not only because they are clearly labeled, but because each flashback adds to the story through a process called character accumulation. This is the process a character goes through that reveals more layers to the audience that reinforce who the character is, what to expect from the character, the internal needs of the character, and what motivates the character. Think of it as character familiarization. In addition to learning more about our characters, the nonlinear flashbacks also provide different perspectives on key scenes that advance the plot to the explosive finale. These different perspectives aren’t used to complicate the plot, but rather to provide a means for the audience to reasonably grasp what’s going on without being patronized. Guy Ritchie assumes his audience arrives at the film with some modicum of intelligence.

Wrath of Man delivers a wildly entertaining experience at the cinema! You don’t want to miss seeing this on the BIG SCREEN. And don’t allow the paint-by-the-numbers surface lull you into perceiving this as just another generic action movie. Guy Ritchie’s clever, stylistic approach to this tried-and-true genre film feels just familiar enough, whilst delivering a fresh approach that will remind you that movies needn’t have a heavy-handed, agenda-driven message. 

So often, films and movies today are filled with agendas not characters. Not that there isn’t a time and a place for motion pictures to take a sociopolitical or faith-based stance –those kinds of films are important too — but too often nowadays, this has become the foundation for a movie, not the plot or characters. Wrath of Man has mass appeal but never sacrifices quality storytelling for the sake of commercialism. Treat yourself to this explosive experience!

Spiral is the movie equivalent of a comedian that only knows the punchlines. It’s derivative and predictable. Just as the victims have zero chance of surviving the traps, this movie has zero chance of re-watchability. Just watch the original instead.

Should you choose to watch the new film, in hopes of capturing even an infinitesimal amount of what made the original innovative, spawning countless movies in the torture-porn sub-genre of horror, you will be sorely disappointed. Everything about this agenda-driven movie feels heavy-handed and forced. Very little, if anything, happens organically. It’s common knowledge that this movie was a passion project for Chris Rock, inspired by his fandom of the SAW franchise — but where is the passion??? Even his acting is wooden and lifeless.

I am going to break my own rule and suggest that you NOT see this in cinemas. Why? Because I am trying to spare you from the torturous trap that I was in as I watched the longest hour and twenty-minute movie.

There is no sense of fun in this movie at all. While I do not care for the SAW franchise, and feel that there is no redeeming quality nor does it offer at cultural value, what fans enjoy about the franchise is the unrealistic, hyperbolic, Rube Goldberg-like traps. The traps in this movie played it far too close to reality, rendering the movie sickening to watch, devoid of entertainment value. And then there is the perpetuation of the narrative that law enforcement is simply corrupt by nature. I’m not going to go down that rabbit trail, but most law enforcement officers are NOT corrupt. A small fraction of a percentage are (just like with any vocation), yet this movie paints the portrait that entire precincts are corrupt. Unfair, and unfounded. 

This movie follows suit with so many that do not afford characters the opportunity for a redemptive arc. This was a problem that I had with Promising Young Woman as well. Ostensibly, filmmakers that create films with a heavy-handed (not subtle or subtextual) message have demonstrated the gull to set themselves up as self-righteous in the most self-aggrandizing manner, and have decided to be judge and jury.

Aside from the problems I have with the agenda-driven plot and characters, the kills themselves are simply overly violent to be overly violent. The only element of the traps that was creative (albeit cliché) is for the trap to be a dark mirror for that which Piggy/Spiral is accusing (and in most cases, not inaccurate). Think of it as SE7EN meets SAW. Otherwise, these traps and this movie do little to nothing to add to the world of cinema either critically or culturally.

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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