“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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“Zombieland: Double Tap” horror comedy mini review

Worth the wait! Whereas some sequels try to imitate the original, Zombieland: Double Tap functions as a hilarious companion piece to the original. Perhaps the plot isn’t as compelling, and lacks the social commentary of the original, but you will undoubtedly have a fantastic time watching this movie. Personally, I enjoyed it even more than the first one. Believe me, I was as shocked as you are right now. If you loved the chemistry between all the characters in the first tone, you will be delighted to know that the characters are just as strong thanks to the return of the original writers and director! To be fair, this doesn’t function as a stand-alone movie, and needs the relationship with the original for much of the humor. However, as I mentioned, this is a companion piece to the first one. There is demonstrable growth witnessed in our ensemble case of central characters, but they aren’t the only ones to have developed off screen over the last decade. Hoards of new zombies have evolved that pose quite the threat to our favorite zombie hunters. In addition to encountering new zombies, we are introduced to some new human survivor characters as well. While this movie may not be as deep as the original, it does a great job of driving home the message of the importance of family. Even when your family is make-shift, the needs for love, acceptance, and even independence are still the same. Highly recommend for fans of the original! Be sure to stay for the end credits scene featuring Bill Murray.

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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Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (2017) movie review

You know what, it’s actually good! I know, right??? For months now, many of us thought the sequel to the 90s classic was going to be a disaster. The truth is, this movie is incredibly well written, directed, and acted, and will ‘suck’ you right into the story. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that was this much fun to watch. In fact, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has a high degree of entertainment value and rewatchability. Honestly, the only negative critique is that the stakes are not high enough because, at the end of the day, you know the characters are in a video game whereas the actual town was under attack in the original. Although this is a completely new story and fresh take on the 1995 film, there are enough nods and references to the original that keep it within the same universe. All the characters display excellent chemistry and are lovable! You have solid writing, characters that you love and love to hate, humor, and action! In short, it’s an excellent movie. I went into the movie expecting to laugh AT the movie, and my friend and I found ourselves laughing WITH the movie. Furthermore, I was worried about the movie having way too much CGI because the characters are in a video game, but I am delighted to report that there is, for all intents and purposes, little CGI compared to many other action-adventure films.   This movie goes to show that when you have well-developed characters with well-defined external goals opposed by external forces in a visually intriguing setting supported by effective direction that you have a recipe for a successful movie. I remember in the first movie the game directions “do not begin unless you intend to finish,” and those words were taken to heart because director Jake Kasdan began and finished well. Do yourself a favor, and catch Jumani: Welcome to the Jungle this holiday season with your friends or family!

“Blade Runner 2049” film review

Just as mesmerizing as the original! Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is nothing short of a future classic that demonstrably possesses the soul of the original and pairs it with a new plot brought to life by a fantastic cast. Every minute is filled with beautiful cinematography that is perfect in every way and a haunting score that penetrates down to the bone. At its core, Blade Runner 2049 wrestles with this one central question: what does it mean to be human? A question that can spawn hours of debates or an exquisite nearly three-hour motion picture. Considering that Ridley Scott has not delivered the same quality for which he provided precise and poignant direction, it was a solid decision to attach Villeneuve as the director. This sequel 35 years in the making may not have had the classic Ridley Scott at the helm, but Villeneuve channels his inner Scott to provide audiences with the same profound cinematic experience today as Scott did when Blade Runner first released. From the color palette to the lighting to the sound design, this motion picture is one that typifies the power of the art of motion pictures and one that will surely be regarded as iconic as the years more along, very much in the same way that the original has been regarded over time.

Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is tracking down the remaining legacy Replicant models created by the infamous Tyrell Corporation, and his latest mission takes him to an obscure farm in the middle of dessert California. After retiring the replicant at the farm, K uncovers what will become a metaphor for Pandora’s Box, as it opens a mystery that law enforcement and the Wallace Corp. seek to solve. The secret contained within the box is one that could potentially plunge all “humanity” into complete chaos, not there there isn’t enough of that already for those left on earth. K’s journey takes him from the gritty, grimy streets of Greater Los Angeles to the dust bowl that was once Fabulous Las Vegas. There, he meets former Blade Runner Deckard  (Harrison Ford) who has been hiding from law enforcement and the Wallace Corporation for three decades. Together, they must work to locate the miracle that no one ever could have thought would happen–or could happen.

Despite not pulling the numbers that Blade Runner 2049 was forecasted to bring in over its October opening weekend, the film did what fans wanted–it kept the very essence of the original movie alive and well. For all the artificial intelligence in the film, there is nothing artificial about this long-awaited and highly anticipated sequel to the Ridley Scott classic. The reason for not pulling the numbers that it was predicted to do can likely be attributed to the tone of the film and the stylistic filmmaking approach that borders on neo-noir meets the avant-garde. Although not completely necessary, it is incredibly helpful to have seen the first film. And seeing the first film gives an appreciation for the sequel that cannot be experiences without having knowledge of the first. The slow-pace and dark atmosphere may be some of the reasons why more people did not wish out to see it as the weekend moved along. Looking at the two films side by side, this film is a direct extension of the original so the authenticity of this universe and story is genuine and almost visceral. For those who prefer more dialog or higher concept plots, the film may not strike the same level of enthusiasm because of the heavy visuals and dark themes in addition to the profound questions. This combination is not one that will attract the general populous in doves; however, this film IS what it needed to be. Sometimes a long-awaited sequel has to be made to remain true to its soul because that is what the fans want to see, and it’s the true fans who continue to visit the cinema year after year. Blade Runner 2049 may not win over new fans, but it keeps the diehard ones happy.

At the heart of Villeneuve’s cinematic masterpiece are existential questions that drive the plot forward. A plot driven by such questions told through a sedated pace is one that is not as easy to digest as one that is more superficial and more rapidly paced. Still, these questions are profound and cause one to think hard about what it means to be human. What sets this film apart from other science-fiction rapid fire blockbusters is the commitment to visual storytelling and the art of creating a motion picture. Blade Runner 2049 mirrors its predecessor and remains true to the experience of the first. Cinephiles will especially appreciate this film for it harkens back to a time when German expressionism was at the foundation of the set design and lighting. There are many exaggerated and elongated shapes that exist in a world of harsh shadows and dimly lit alleys throughout the film. Although the look of the future world in the original was one that audiences may not have believed would come true or could come true is seen differently by today’s audience that can easily see just how accurate the world of the Blade Runner movies actually is–the mediation of society today seems to be not that far off from this not-so-distant future.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins captures a wold through the lens that seems to go on forever in a world of greys and beiges. The only color to be found is in the prolific advertising on the sides of buildings. Deakins further extends the artistic approach to the cinematography by paying homage to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining in a shot that was actually added to one of the more recent recuts of Scott’s Blade Runner. That score, though. The sound design and score are an audible extension of the visual landscape. Composers Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer have created one of the most haunting scores to ever be heard in the cinema. The combination of ghostly groans and blood curdling howls echo the very look and feel of the landscape. I’ve rarely encountered such an immersive sound design and score in a film. Just as the world on screen is an uneasy place to live and one that contains faint images of the grandeur of a world that once was, the score accompanying this motion picture places you in the midst of this post-apocaltyic world that most natural-born humans have left.

Definitely a film that I want to watch for a second time in order to appreciate this film, boasting with artistic achievement, even more than I already do. Although most of the themes and subtext are centered in and around “what it means to be human,” there is a real message regarding the importance of bees. An important visual statement in the film because the populations of bees, the most prolific pollinators, are dwindling. Not for the casual movie-goer, this film is for those who want to experience a sequel in the vein of the original that shows the artistic side of the creation of motion pictures.

“LIFE” movie review

Chilling! In space, no one can hear you scream. Although that tagline is associated with Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking space-horror Alien, director Daniel Espinosa’s LIFE delivers an intensely dark thriller that will have you screaming and cringing from the moment life on Mars is discovered. In the same vein as AlienLIFE is a science-fiction horror that may look like Gravity and might even have the strong orchestral sounds of Interstellar, but provides audiences with an entirely different experience. Borrowing from Alien and Gravity, Sony and Columbia Pictures craft a new space-horror narrative that can sufficiently serve as a standalone film–and be great in that–but also has potential for a sequel or two. Interestingly, there are parallels to Ridley Scott’s Alien beyond the premise; LIFE also features the same number of crew members and other more subtle elements. That being said, LIFE is definitely not a knockoff Alien nor is it trying to be Ridley Scott’s critically claimed film as it does not contain the social commentary on gender, sex, and family. However, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and LIFE pays both homage to the film that likely inspired it but delivers a comprehensive science-fiction horror experience that provides ample twists, turns, and even some emotional connection along the way.

A group comprised of engineers and researchers on board the International Space Station (ISS) are on the brink of one of the most important discoveries in human civilization: life on Mars. Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Sho Murkami (Hiroyuki Sandana), Hugh Derry (Ariyon Baker), and Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) represent several different counties, all working in cooperation on this groundbreaking mission. After the satellite, carrying the Martian sample, is retrieved from spiraling out of control towards the ISS is secured, the group of astronauts are faced with the crisis and task of retrieving it. After a daring retrieval, what should be a joyous discovery–something out of a scientists dreams–soon becomes a living nightmarish game of hide and seek. When the specimen from Mars begins to grow rapidly and become more and more intelligent, it stops at nothing to continue to feed the alien’s insatiable appetite and its goal to find a new home.

Initial impressions of LIFE leave you with noticing just how much like Alien it feels. It’s been nearly forty years since the Ridley Scott cinematic masterpiece, but in that time, no other science-fiction/horror film has come this close to delivering a similar (note: not as high on the cinematic totem pole as its predecessor) experience to that which first terrified audiences in 1979. One of the primary differences between Alien and LIFE is just how much closer to home this horrifying experience occurs. Whereas with the former, the alien encounter takes place hundreds of lightyears away, the latter’s narrative takes place just outside of our atmosphere on the ISS. Not that LIFE feels more intimate than Alien–it doesn’t–but the proximity of this story might add a little something more to the edge that you’re already sitting on as the horrific events unfold on the space station. Pacing is similar to Alien in that LIFE has a slow burn during the first act. To balance this slow burn or to keep audiences from thinking that it’s taking forever for the movie to really get started, the film begins with the “big event” right at the very beginning. The “big event” being the apprehension of the satellite carrying the Martian specimen. But for all it’s similarities, this movie provides a different experience that can certainly stand on its own. LIFE may have been inspired by Alien, but it is certainly not a ripoff.

I’ve been quite critical of the CGI-effects of films in more recent years, but the brilliance of the alien life form in LIFE is the degree to which it feels organic. In the beginning, the life form is little more than a single-celled organism; however, as the plot thickens, the organism begins to take a more chilling form and shape. Eventually, the alien develops a frightening grin and a mysterious-like form. One of the scariest parts of Ridley Scott’s Alien was the degree to which the Xenomorph feels so real that, even in your seat, you could feel the acidic slime and your body likely felt the excruciating pains of that iconic moment when the alien shoots out of the stomach. Part of that can be attributed to the use of pneumatics, animatronics, miniatures, and other practical effects standards. Yes, the alien life form in LIFE is computer-generated, but it also has a very real nature to it. Instead of focussing on how to make the alien as impressive as possible, it would appear that the special effects artists (whose work can be seen in the Transformers movies) focussed more on the small details that ordinarily give a CGI character away. Just like with the brilliant visual effects work in Ex Machina, the visual effects of the alien are flawless.

There is an inherent level of unpredictability in LIFE even after the unavoidable similarities to AlienLIFE plays around with the final girl trope and the killings have a strategy or method to their madness. Conspicuously missing from the characters of LIFE in a comparison to Alien is a Ripley-like character. Does the film portray strong female characters? Certainly. But LIFE keeps you guessing because the order of the deaths do not follow any predictable pattern. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of being predisposed to the order of the killings to be based up on star billing. Speaking of the characters, effectively managing an ensemble cast is always difficult. So often, some characters in the ensemble get lost or do not receive nearly as much development as the more obvious leaders. Not true with LIFE. True that there is not a large degree of character development all the way around, but each of the characters is treated with equal screen time and emphasis. That is, until death occurs. The excellent handling of this ensemble gives LIFE an extra dynamic that lacks in other ensemble cast films, thus helping this science-fiction horror to stand out from others that are similar in premise or plot. This movie has a “life” of its own.

2017 seems to be shaping up to be a year of excellent movies! We are just about to finish the first quarter of the year, and already there have been some great motion pictures. Furthermore, 2017 seems to be the year of the horror film because so many have made the theatrical distribution circuit. For those who love a good science-fiction thriller, you will not be disappointed with LIFE. Albeit the film may not be able to sustain the magic and horror for the entire runtime, it successfully delivers a terrifying experience for most of the film. If you don’t mind some cringeworthy moments and the dark tone of the film, then this is definitely one to see this weekend.

PS. I saw Power Rangers this week as well, and it was a delightful film! Yeah, it’s a little campy, but that’s to be expected. Definitely the best Power Rangers motion picture. All-in-all, it sufficiently pays homage to the 90s show but provides audiences with a new story. Go-go see it too!

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead