“Little Women” (2019) Review

Authentic. If I had to sum up the experience of watching Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, then that’s the one word I would choose. Thankfully, I am not limited to simply one word to describe this brilliant adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s best-selling, timeless novel. Being out of town visiting family for a couple of weeks, I do not have the same amount of time to watch movies at home or at the theatre, as my family isn’t nearly the film fan as I am. However, when my mom wanted to go to the movies, and asked me if I wanted to see Star Wars (again), I countered her idea with suggesting Little Women. She was utterly delighted to see the movie, and I am so glad that my mom and I got to watch this movie together. Just now, my mom walked through the living room (as my head is buried in my laptop) and exclaimed “I just loved that movie, the story is so familiar yet so fresh.” Sounds like something I would write. To my mom’s point, I feel strongly that the reason she feels that was is because this is modern story of the complex emotions, societal expectations, and ambitions of women masquerading around as a period drama. It feels both “of its time” and “today.” While to the casual observer, this may seem like a story for women, young and older alike, it is a powerful story for anyone that has dreams but feels trapped by whatever societal or familial forces. Little Women is incredibly heartfelt and uplifts the human spirit. Just the gift of the season we needed. There is something for everyone in this movie that remains committed to its literary roots, yet plants itself in a modern garden to be appreciated by and inspire all those whom choose to watch it. Greta Gerwig’s masterful storytelling is evident from beginning to end, and all the performances are excellent. You will undoubtedly fall in love with this story all over again, or will fall in love for the first time.

Following the lives of four sisters, Amy (Florence Pugh), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Meg (Emma Watson), as they come of age in America in the aftermath of the Civil War. Though all very different from each other, the March sisters stand by each other through difficult and changing times.

While the 1933 version starring Katherine Hepburn has long sense been seen as the gold standard, I will be so bold as to state that this may be regarded as the best adaptation of Alcott’s timeless novel. Ever since I saw Frances Ha, I’ve known that Gerwig is destined for cinematic greatness. Her trademark artistic expression and ability to disarm even the most hardhearted, is witnessed time and time again in this film. Furthermore, Gerwig possesses a unique gift that quickly establishes empathy from the audience and begins to develop a relationship between them and the central character(s) quickly and effectively. For those of you whom are familiar with Gerwig’s semi-autobiographcial debut of Frances Ha, you will undoubtedly pick up on hints of Frances in our central character of Jo March. Although Gerwig has demonstrated an uncanny ability to write and direct, the real power of this film comes form her knowing the novel from cover to cover; the only way to intertwine the original narrative with the journey of the author is to have known everything there was to know, and then some, about Little Women. Gerwig’s creative decision to meld the Jo’s struggles and joys of being our de facto Alcott with the original story allows the film to comfort audiences with the familiar while wowing them with a fresh, modern interpretation of the story.

I love the five primary archetypal characters we have in this film. Jo is the rebellious independent thinker but struggles with loneliness, Meg desires a more traditional life but has a strong will, Amy has a creative spirit but desires to be a kept woman, Beth is empathetic selfless and nurturing, and Laurie is a self-centered bachelor whom lacks direction and focus yet wants to love. These characters provide ample opportunity for the audience to connect with one or more of them. The relatively simple plot of the film paves the way for complex characters and prolific amounts of dramatic conflict. While the main plot is about Jo and her goal of publishing a novel, all the other character have their own respective goals that support the subplot and are the conduit through which the subtext flows. While the characters remark that domestic struggles and joys are not entertaining, the irony is that these are the very things that make for a strong film. Strength of character is witnessed in how a character responds to and is affected by conflict–we love to see the reactions. No two characters respond to the same stimulus in the same way, and they each speak with their own voice. Through these characters, we experience triumphs, struggles, love, and loss. No Mary Sues in this bunch, nothing comes easy for any of them; and they work diligently to achieve what they want, whether that is marriage or a career. Each and every goal is earned, the windup equals the payoff.

Before addressing the technical elements that worked flawlessly, I cannot ignore the one element that did not work for me, at least in the beginning. And even then, I merely got used to it as the film went on. The editing. There are times that I was taken out of the movie by the pacing and structure of the editing choices, but ultimately it did not greatly hinder my experience of watching this future classic. It took several scenes, before I realized that we had more then one concurrent timeline. As a matter of fact, I believe we had three (1) present day (2) seven years earlier and then (3) shortly before present day. I’ve read that there are only two timelines, but I truly feel that I was following three different ones. I wasn’t always sure where I was in the trifecta of timelines. Eventually, I realized that I could follow the color palette, hair styles, and costumes as my timeline token. If we were going to alternate between present day and the past, I would have preferred if Gerwig took a page out of the Fried Green Tomatoes handbook for two concurrent storylines.

Now that’s out of the way, I have to remark on how much I love the cinematography, costuming, and production design. The cinematography works in tandem with the tone of each scene; moreover, there are moments that the cinematography is snug and warm, and other times that it is distant and cold. The emotion of the scenes is communicated lowkey through the camera choices. Period dramas are known for great opportunity for costuming to shine, and this film is no exception. Much like one’s fashion choices, in real life, are often an expression of the soul, so are the costumes of the lead and supporting cast. The costumes are almost characters in and of themselves. We can read some into the personality of the characters by the choice in attire. Along those same lines, the production design is also an extension of these characters. The locations, sets, and set dressing communicate so much about where these characters are mentally and where they want to be. The various production design teams demonstrate a keen eye for even the smallest detail that communicates the right mood, texture, subtext, or atmosphere. Period dramas sometimes struggle with making the locations and settings feel like real places that the audience can smell, feel, and touch; but this isn’t true with this film.

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is truly a wonderful Christmas gift this season. You will laugh and cry along with these endearing characters in this Civil War era world in which the story unfolds. Gerwig takes the timeless story and brings it into a modern world to entertain and inspire a whole new generation.

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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“Captain America: Civil War” movie review

Civil_War_Final_Poster‘Marvel’ous! Nearly a complete departure from the conventional comic book superhero movie genre. Avengers 2.5 is a politically-charged superhero movie that will catch you off guard and provide you with a mostly non-cartoonish plot filled with well-developed conflict and character development. Witness some of your favorite Marvel superheroes secede from the Avengers and oppose those who they once fought side-by-side. Along the way, you also get to meet some new additions to the team that will provide some awkward comedic sequences in this otherwise serious movie. Deep dark secrets come to the surface that threaten the very possibility of the team ever having any hope of reunification. Captain America: Civil War is a brilliantly produced film that will have even those who typically do not care for most superhero films leaving the theatre satisfied and anticipating the next installment in the series. Although it is really an Avengers movie, there is still enough focus on the title character to support the choice of titles for this action-packed epic adventure.

Captain America: Civil War takes place not long after the catastrophic events at Sokovia and following another destructive battle, the United Nations and U.S. Government decide to intervene and put The Avengers in check. Opposing the team signing onto an international agreement defining how this group of “vigilantes,” Captain America (Chris Evans) falls away from the group and seeks his own destiny frocked with vengeance and misplaced allegiances. With the once unified team fracturing, a covert former Soviet operative is plotting the destruction of The Avengers from the inside out. Much in the vein of the American Civil War, The Avengers are split and Captain America forms his team while Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) attempts to hold the team together and honor the agreement with the United Nations. The once inseparable Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) must choose sides and decide where allegiances truly lie.

It isn’t often that a genre typically filled with high concept, shallow plots can surprise you with a narrative radiating with anthropological and political themes and subtext. The brilliance of Captain America: Civil War is that it provides the audience with equal parts action-packed fight choreography and well-developed dramatic plot with prolific amounts of character conflict. Furthermore, the story will exceed your expectations of the ability to tap into one’s superficial response to action-packed stimuli and activate the deeper emotions of allegiance, betrayal, and self-preservation. For those who have not seen the previous movies in the Captain America series–another admirable element of this installment, is not causing those who have yet to watch the previous CA movies to feel left out of the excitement. Provided you have seen the preceding Avengers movies, this one will keep you trekking along with your favorite Avengers universe characters. There are certainly minor elements or past relationships that are introduced in the previous CA movies, but most likely you will be able to pick up on the aforementioned as you watch Civil War.

Another observation of this installment in the Captain America/Avengers franchises respectfully, is the movie’s success in both including current characters and introducing new ones without the film ever feeling too crowded, as it was with Batman v Superman. In addition to the Avengers minus Hulk and Thor, the audience is introduced to an adolescent Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and are re-acquainted with Ant Man (Paul Rudd). As I am not familiar with the comics, I cannot comment on this Spider-Man in respect to staying true to the comic, but I found this incarnation of Spider-Man to be on the verge of annoying. Perhaps that is how he is suppose to be, but it did not fit in with how he has been historically portrayed in cartoons and movies. However, the inclusion of both the respective characters did not feel forced as it so easily could have. Since the film primarily focussed on Captain America and secondly Iron Man, the large cast of characters was handled efficiently. The writers could include all these characters in one narrative, but shift the focus from character or character thus never overstimulating or overwhelming the audience with the development of such a dynamic ensemble cast.

Ordinarily, I do not speak so highly of superhero movies; but this film left me feeling quite satisfied and pleased with how well the film played off as a serious movie complete with plenty of opportunity for emotional connections. That being said, the one sequence of the movie that I did not find as entertaining or fitting is the elaborate “civil war” battle on the tarmac. Was it choreographed well? Yes. Was it instrumental in moving the plot forward? Yes. Did it effectively fit in with the rest of the mood and pacing of the film? No. Moreover, that entire sequence of scenes just felt awkward. And, that is mostly due to the inclusion of the naivety and immaturity of Spider-Man and witty/sarcastic/near-juvenile antics of Ant Man. Perhaps if only one adolescent-like character had been added, that part of the film would not have felt so awkward. As to not give away the reasons for the solemn mood of the film, I cannot go into much detail; but, the manner which this scene was written and directed just felt out of place and interrupted the otherwise excellent pacing and mood of the story. I agree that most serious movies need comedic relief in order to generate an emotional rollercoaster, but this was just a little too funny with respect to the rest of the film.

The summer blockbuster season is officially underway with the undoubtedly successful opening weekend of Captain America: Civil War aka Avengers 2.5. Unlike last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, this installment will take you on fantastic journey of emotional mountains and valleys of character and plot development. This film proves that a superhero movie can be both fantastically action-packed and dramatic. The political subtext will also provide friends and family countless hours of discussion and analysis. Although this is not an adult superhero movie in the way Deadpool was, there is still language and violence that may not be appropriate for young kids. Still, one of the earmarks of a summer blockbuster is a movie that can attract and please both teens and adults, and this is definitely a great example. Hopefully, this movie is an indicator of an exhilarating summer season at the cinema.

PS. Notice the nod to Disney’s D23 Club? I did!

“No Escape” movie review

NoEscapeLook for an escape–from this movie. The Weinstein company’s No Escape is an over-the-top, absurd, and confused movie. Often times I can find something positive to say about even the worst of films, but this one IS the exception. Rumor has it that this movie was almost nixed from a theatrical release, and I can easily understand why that is. This film has no idea what it is, and tries to fit the tropes of multiple genres. Because of the state of confusion that this movie is in, the plot lacks adequate structure and the pacing is ridiculous. Is it supposed to be funny when people die??? Is it propaganda on not doing business in Asia??? Why are the events in the opening of the movie never explained??? I could go on and on. From the casting to the writing and direction, this film took events that actually happen in that part of the world, and treated them with irreverence and disrespect. Simply stated, don’t get trapped into watching this movie from which there is no escape.

No Escape is about a family that relocates to Southeast Asia for a a bright new future. Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) and his wife Annie (Lake Bell) travel with their kids to the other side of the world in order for Jack to take a new job as an engineer with a water treatment company in (most likely) Cambodia. Upon arrival at the airport, they meet frequent British visitor Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) who offers them a ride to the hotel that both are staying in. The morning after Jack’s arrival, he finds himself in the middle of a civil war-like battle in the streets. Unbeknownst to Jack and his family, he and his coworkers are the target along with other Westerners. Virtually trapped in the small Cambodian town, Jack and his family, with help from Hammond, must escape to safety. Only, around every corner there are rebels who will stop at nothing until they see blood flowing from those they see as a threat to their way of life.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, there is quite literally nothing positive I can say about this movie. Interestingly, it starts out with an intense scene that sparks excitement and suspense. So, I can understand how this film even got the green light. It did what all screenplays should do–capture the attention by showing something big/important within the first 3-5 pages. I suppose, that is kind of positive. But, had the producers just read the next several pages, they would have realized that this is a travesty of an idea for a film. And casting Wilson in the lead did not help the film’s case any. Unlike the performances in True Story delivered by James Franco and Jonah Hill, that proved these icons of comedy can play serious roles, Wilson just proves that he needs to be confined to comedies, satires, rom-coms, and parodies. The casting choice for Brosnan as the eccentric British traveler was acceptable, but his character also suffers from poor writing and direction.

It is unclear what the message is supposed to be. On one hand, it can be read as a ‘don’t travel to Southeast Asia if you are a Westerner’ but it can also be read as a ‘the West needs to stop exploiting the East.’ Unfortunately, the message/subtext is opaque at best. Instead of treating the plot of this movie with the reverence it deserved, due to civil wars like the one depicted in the movie happen in that part of the world on a fairly regular basis, the movie plays it too close to a satire or dark comedy. It never quite crosses the threshold into blatant comedy, but it gets pretty close. There were numerous times that the audience laughed at the deaths of people. And understandably so, because the scenes, actions, and dialog were choreographed in such a way that they begged for chuckles and giggles from the audience. My roommate, who is originally from that part of the world, was made very uncomfortable by the movie due to the lack of respect for what real people face everyday in some parts of the world.

There is a great lack of explanation for most of the scenes and motives in the movie. The events in the opening of the movie are never re-visited, despite the scene that follows states “17 Hours Earlier.” So, I am unsure what the significance was in the slaughter at the beginning of the movie. Furthermore, the entire reason for the revolt against Jack’s company and other Westerners is vaguely explained in some rushed exposition by Hammond. Even after his hurried explanation as to the source of the resentment that sparked violence, Hammond fails to actually explain in such a way that even Jack completely understands. It is like the explanation for the violence was an after thought–just stick it in there somewhere. If the intent of the movie was to highlight the fact that Westerners have been known to exploit the resources and workforce of the East, it should have been done in such a way that the movie did not make a mockery of itself.

Perhaps after this early release, Weinstein will decide to pull this movie from cinemas. I mean, Sony did that with The Interview, even though that movie was fun and entertaining and should have been shown. Much like the Taken movies could be subtitled “don’t leave America,” this movie could easily be subtitled “don’t do business in or visit Southeast Asia.”