DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS movie review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan teaches Film Studies, Screenwriting, and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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THE BAD GUYS animated film review

Highly entertaining with heart! Disney-Pixar, eat your heart out! Whether you’re typically interested in animated films or not, you don’t want to miss Universal-DreamWorks’ The Bad Guys opening this week only in cinemas. Prepare yourself for a refreshing, high octane Oceans 11 meets Zootopia heist comedy for the whole family. Honestly, this is the best animated film that I have seen in a long time. The Bad Guys delivers audiences a simple, lean plot with complex central characters that will completely delight you from beginning to end with its innate ability to find the humor in the smallest details. While the film borrows from Oceans 11 and Zootopia, it is crafted in an almost Tarantino for kids storytelling method. This atypical approach to animated film storytelling (popularized by Into the SpiderVerse), has opened the floodgates for subverting our expectations for styles we have long -since associated with animated films. Furthermore, films such as the remake of The Lion King have inspired CGI artists to go for more of a photorealistic aesthetic. What The Bad Guys does is paint a 2D world with some 3D enhancements, which demonstrates more of an affinity for stylization over realism–great! Too many animated motion pictures lean into realism therefore negating the magic of animation. In my opinion, if the animation is going to be so incredibly realistic-looking, then just make a live action picture. The advantage of the stylized approach is that there is very clearly a design to each and every frame. Perhaps it lacks the cinema stylo of hand-drawn frames, but it certainly delivers more style than anything released by Disney-Pixar in recent years. On a scale of Kubo and the Two Strings (the best animated film in the last decade) to The Lion King, I’d say The Bad Guys is much closer to a Kubo. With witty comedy and adrenaline-pumping action, you don’t want to miss seeing this film on the BIG SCREEN.

After a lifetime of legendary heists, notorious criminals Mr. Wolf, Mr. Snake, Mr. Piranha, Mr. Shark and Ms. Tarantula are finally caught. To avoid a prison sentence, the animal outlaws must pull off their most challenging con yet — becoming model citizens. Under the tutelage of their mentor, Professor Marmalade, the dubious gang sets out to fool the world that they’re turning good.

What a(n animated) picture. Seriously. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed an animated motion picture this much. Over the last decade, only Kubo, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Onward stand out to me. As I was exiting the auditorium following the screening, I talked with the general audience members that were in attendance, and nearly every one with whom I spoke said variations of the same things: entertaining, fun, and thrilling. During the screening, I heard many kids (and their families) laughing along with the characters. Although it is clearly aimed at kids, there are comedic moments for adults too. What we have here is a good story! Remembering my Sunset Boulevard

Joe Gillis: “-Ah…one of those message kids. Just a story won’t do…”

Betty Schaefer: “I just think a picture should say a little something.”

I reference this exchange between the struggling screenwriter and the aspiring reader turned screenwriter because too many animated films (mostly from Disney/Pixar) suffocate their stories under oppressive, cynical social commentary; so much so, that the story suffers because the focus is on the sermon instead of the characters. You will find the absence of overt social commentary in The Bad Guys refreshing! Does that mean there is no depth or thoughtful elements? No. But the message of the film is that we are all capable of a redemption arc. Granted, it’s not as strong a redemption message as we have in A Christmas Carol, but for a kid’s movie, they will undoubtedly pickup on it.

The screenplay is well structured and paced. While the bones of the screenplay are rather paint by numbers, the the superstructure is creative and stylish! Furthermore, in a film that looks to be one that will throw a joke a minute at you, it holds back the cards, delivering the humorous dialogue and site gags in a method that allows them room to breath. The laughs are setup, reinforced, then twisted thoughtfully.

All around, this is a solid animated feature that should be on your watch list while it’s in cinemas.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Digital Citizenship at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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THE KING’S MAN movie review

Highly entertaining! This film can be read as a commentary on the necessities and atrocities of war and the emotional cost of freedom. After the disappointing sequel to the outstanding Kingsman: the Secret Service, I was unsure what to expect from this prequel-sequel. So often, prequels simply do not capture the magic of the original. While the original is still the best in this franchise, this prequel taking us back to the origins of the secret agency operating at the most extreme discretion, will keep you engaged as it parallels world history leading up to World War I. The movie is well-paced and structured, and will keep your eyes and ears glued to the screen for the duration of the movie that surprisingly exceeds two hours; you will not feel like you’ve sat there for over two hours. Teaching World Cinema, I spend a lot of time each semester discussing the historical events that helped to shape the content therein and direction of cinema, so I was particularly interested in how closely this film would follow the Russian Revolution and the preamble to the Third Reich in Germany. Even though this film is not intended to recreate all the actual events that plunged the Western world into World War I, there are quite a number of nods and references to major turning points in the revolutions and wars. Most notably in this film, is the subplot of Rasputin and the Romanov family. Ralph Fiennes’ role as the Duke of Oxford (founder of Kingsman) finds a nice balance between serious and campy. Tonally, the original still strikes the best balance, but this one is certainly aiming for that balance between serious espionage movie and camp; perhaps the landing is a little bumpy, but never does it detract away from the experience. If you enjoy spy movies that are exciting and take place within real world history, then you will undoubtedly enjoy this film!

One man must race against time to stop history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds as they get together to plot a war that could wipe out millions of people and destroy humanity.

Decades prior to the events of the original, Kingsman was formed, but only after the Western world was plunged into World War I, inclusive of the Russian Revolution and preamble to the Third Reich. While we know from history that there wasn’t an organization of villains who’s goal was to overthrow democracy and monarchy in exchange for socialism and totalitarianism, the film does a good job of applying some fiction to the real historical events. In terms of history, the months leading up to the Russian Revolution provide the bulk of the historic context. Yes, that means the infamous Rasputin plays a major role in the film. And the film plays it close to history, because unlike the Rasputin we get in Anastasia, this one isn’t a sorcerer; however, it does hint at him possessing some dark magic (but that mythos is grounded in reality). The real life Rasputin was a dark priest, alchemist, healer, and advisor to Tsar Nicholas Romanov II, the last emperor of Russia. One prominent historical theory suggests that the British Secret Service was involved in Rasputin’s assassination, and this film leans into that theory in order to motivate the founding of Kingsman. For a while, I thought that the legend of Anastasia (which lasted about 90 years) was going to factor into this movie, which would give rise to a plot point in its sequel. But sadly, I don’t think we will be searching for Anastasia in the next movie (if there is one, which there probably will be).

What I appreciate most about this film is the commentary on the atrocities and necessities of war and the emotional cost of victory. This isn’t really a spoiler because it happens in the first few minutes of the film, but we open on the death of the Duke of Oxford’s (Fiennes) wife, and it’s this death that radically alters his opinions on getting involved in war and fighting for your country. Moreover, his radical ideological shift was exhibited through his rearing of his son, whom he (over)protected and kept from entering into military service. Understandably, the Duke did not want to lose his son on the war front, in the same way he lost his wife and son’s mother. Without spoiling the plot, the Duke goes through a redemption arc and through various conflict, his pacifist ideology is challenged, and he must decide what he’s going to do about it, as the world is crumbling around him. Sometimes, war is necessary to fight for what is right. But even the most justified wars come as a cost. That cost may be emotional, psychological, or relational; yet, the cost is worth it because it may have saved tens of thousands or even millions of lives in the long run. The King’s Man challenges our views on war, by placing us in the family units and in the trenches along No Man’s Land (and no, Wonder Woman does not show up). Some things in life are truly worth fighting for, and fights are not always going to be debates on a stage. Furthermore, if you’re a parent, perhaps you will be challenged to be the kind of man or women your child would be.

You’ll want to add The King’s Man to your list of movies to watch in cinemas over Christmas! You get a little of everything: some classic espionage, a World War I film, and commentary that is applicable to our own lives.

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

WEST SIDE STORY (2021) movie musical review

Excels in technical achievement, staging, and casting; in fact it will transport you to the glory days of the movie musical. Did the Academy Award-winning West Side Story (1961) need a 2021 update? That is the question at the forefront of many minds going into this update to the adaptation. And in terms of the visible mise-en-scene, Spielberg delivers an outstanding update to the original big screen adaptation. From the cinematography to the editing to the choreography, it certainly displays the soul of the original adaptation–all the way down to the film grain that gives it a classical aesthetic. But the full transformative potential of the timeless story suffocates under the theoretical identity politics of Spielberg’s Woke Side Story. While the plot and story remain largely unchanged, there is an attempt to integrate theoretical contemporary social politics, derived from applied postmodernism, into the motivations of the characters. Gone is the theme of mutually assured self-destruction through (in the case of West Side Story) gang violence, in exchange for themes rooted in critical cynical theories that, counterintuitively, ultimately harm everyone on screen and in real life.

Love at first sight strikes when young Tony (Elgort) spots Maria (Zegler) at a high school dance in 1957 New York City. Their burgeoning romance helps to fuel the fire between the warring Jets and Sharks — two rival gangs vying for control of the streets.

While the original film has long-since been criticized negatively (and fairly so) for many of the casting choices and the use of brown face, Spielberg’s film rights the insensitivities of the past in his casting choices that are far more true to the original characters. Perhaps Ansel Elgort’s Tony isn’t particularly memorable, but audiences will be completely elated by Rachel Zegler’s Maria! Her voice and screen presence will capture your imagination! Furthermore, audiences will love seeing the great Rita Moreno (Anita from the 1961 version) on screen as the shoppe keeper and Tony’s mentor. And to top it all off, Moreno is given the honor of singing the titular song Somewhere.

Since the story and plot are largely unchanged, I won’t spend any time analyzing the bones of this iteration of Romeo and Juliet. Personally, I find West Side Story to be the best expression of Shakespeare’s greatest romantic tragedy. When the original stage (quickly turned film) production was released, it was a critique on gang violence and race relations at the time, and to a lesser extent, there was a critique on gentrification as well. And on the surface, that is still in the 2021 adaptation. But the power dynamic between the Jets and Sharks changed from the original. Whereas originally both groups were equal contributors to the gang violence, each despising the other; in this version, it is the Jets that receive the dominant share of the antagonism and prejudice, with the Sharks in a mostly defensive position.

In the mid-20th century, the problems with acceptance of others that deviated from the homogenous world in which one was reared were more organic and needed to be dealt with before mutually assured destruction befell everyone; however, the vast majority of the presently visible evidence of prejudice between groups is manufactured by activist scholars who seek to make everything about “race, gender, and identity–and why this harms everyone” (from Cynical Theories). This update of West Side Story was a golden opportunity to show the world that we aren’t that different from one another, and should work cooperatively in order to avoid violence and death due to perceived existential threats. Instead, this film has the opposite effect of continuing to point blame, theorize, and perpetuate “social diseases” (to quote the film).

This nuanced shift hinders the critique on racial/ethnic prejudice because it perpetuates the contrived cynical theory that white members of society are mostly to blame for the problems in the streets. Instead of the timeless story tackling the root of the problem, which is ultimately a heart issue in everyone, it places most of the blame on the Jets and everything they are shown to represent.

As you may have heard, the Spanish is not subtitled in this adaptation. And many have praised Spielberg for this decision; however, if you do not speak Spanish, you will be unable to fully understand some of the dialogue. Yes, there are context clues that will aid in deciphering what the characters are saying, but there are plenty of times that non-Spanish-speaking audiences will be unable to know what’s being said and how/why it’s important. In the press conference for this film, Spielberg said, “it was out of respect that we didn’t subtitle any of the Spanish. That language had to exist in equal proportions alongside the English with no help.” He goes on to cite that 19% of the US population reports being hispanic. Furthermore, screenwriter Tony Kushner added at the conference, “We’re a bilingual country,” and in reply Spielberg stated, “We sure are.” It doesn’t take a scholar to see through the virtue signaling to this decision being problematic for the film. (1) the US is not mostly bilingual (2) not everyone takes Spanish in high school or college (3) why would you want more than half the audience to not be able to understand dialogue in the film? (4) are we just going to stereotype and assume that the entirety of the hispanic population is fluent in Spanish??? and (5) it carries with it the notion that if you do not speak Spanish, you are the problem. Subtitling the Spanish would not have detracted by the film; on the contrary, it would have allowed for a greater use of the language by the Puerto Ricans in the film.

I want to end on some positive notes, because there is much to like about the aesthetic of the film. From the first scene to the last, the framing, lighting, and character blocking are outstanding! There is a beautiful classical dimension to this film. I absolutely loved the how every visible or audible element of the mise-en-scene looked! There is a magic the look and feel fo classical musicals that is seldom witnessed today. The last film to find this balance between naturalistic and staged blocking and choreography was La La Land. There are moments in this film that you will feel that you are watching the original, and it’s not simply because there are shot-for-shot sequences, but the lighting, angels, and film grain give 2021’s West Side Story dimension.

Rachel Zegler is the perfect Maria! I love everything about her performance. It’s strong, yet vulnerable, and she is stunning in the trademark white dress with red belt. The naturalism she brings to this character is outstanding. There isn’t one minute that goes by that you doubt she was born to play Maria. And her voice! Her voice is crystal clear and mesmerizing. It was also a real treat to get to see Rita Moreno return to West Wise Story 60 years later. While she may be in a different role (Valentina), she still commands the screen. Spielberg and Kushner deciding to give the titular song Somewhere to Valentina was the best decision in the whole film. It packed a power that it lacks in the placement in the stage and original film versions. While Elgort showed us that he can sing (when given the right song, which is not the case with his first number), but he is ultimately upstaged by Mike Faist who plays Riff.

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

ENCANTO animated film review

Formulaic and predictable. For all its magic, cheerful colors, and spicy music, ENCANTO is a bland animated motion picture that is ironically devoid of Disney magic. While the characters and performative dimension of the mise-en-scene are paint-by-numbers in the Disneysphere, the biggest star of this film is the gorgeous set and production design! On a more philosophical level, Encanto can be read as a post-modern deconstruction of a meritocratic society in exchange for an ideological utopia built upon the foundation of socialism. Accompanied by musical numbers that do little more than service the plot, Encanto reminds me of an animated motion picture better suited for Disney+ than a theatrical run. Even with songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the (billed as) 60th Walt Disney Animation picture fells more like it’s the product of an assembly line operated by a committee of non-player-characters rather than the imaginative culmination of writers whom care. Ironically, it ostensibly becomes the very societal expectations and perfection, which its pedantic and overt message is preaching against. There is little to no gravitas to the conflict, there is lacking a true character of opposition, and the central character is nearly unrelatable because she achieves everything she wants without any measurable loss. Without meaningful conflict, there is no drama.

The Madrigals are an extraordinary family who live hidden in the mountains of Colombia in a charmed place called the Encanto. The magic of the Encanto has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift — every child except Mirabel. However, she soon may be the Madrigals last hope when she discovers that the magic surrounding the Encanto is now in danger.

The central character in Encanto is Mirabel, and in her magical family, she is the only one without a gift. Mirabel’s grandmother Abuela is the formidable matriarch and leader of her influential family in the secluded town of Encanto, where she lives with her family in the magical Madrigal compound named La Casita. La Casita is a house with a mind of its own, right out of the silent French cinema classic The Electric Hotel (1908). After Abuela lost her husband during a pillaging and burning by (what is most likely) colonial soldiers, her great sadness and loss manifested itself into a magical candle that created Encanto and the mountains that shield it from the outside world. And while Mirabel doesn’t have any special gifts, the rest of her siblings and cousins do. And Abuela is immensely proud of each and eery one of her kids, while she tolerates Mirabel. Mirabel’s mother can heal people with her cooking (but why doesn’t she heal Mirabel’s visual acuity???), while her father can (hmm…guess he doesn’t have an ability either, but he’s obviously well-adjusted). Isabella and Louisa, Mirabel’s sisters, have the powers of flower conjuration and super strength respectively. Her aunt is a regular Storm (X-Men) because she can control the weather. One of her (poorly written and under-developed) cousins has super hearing, and another cousin can shape-shift because he is still discovering his identity (eye roll). Family Madrigal is made up of a bunch of self-congratulatory manic overachievers whose supernatural superiority is a neurotic group symptom of general unhappiness.

After a crisis besets the family and they lose their powers, it’s up to Mirabel to save the family, which equates to saving Encanto. Mirabel’s quest is to learn the secret of a long-lost cousin’s vision that placed Mirabel in the middle of the prophesied crisis. Skipping to the predictable end, the only way that the crisis can be solved is by completely destroying La Casita and rebuilding with a new foundation, which is philosophically, a manifestation of Encanto and Madrigal traditions, values, and beliefs. And instead of a foundation build upon individual contributions, Family Madrigal is now a community build upon the foundation of familial socialism, in which there are no individuals, just the group. Essentially, the entire structure of La Casita and Family madrigal had to be completely destroyed and rebuilt to accommodate Mirabel’s lack of a gift. Wonder if she even though to learn a new skill? Develop a talent? Which she has, she sings and dances beautifully. Perhaps Mirabel saw her world as unfair, but with a little critical thinking, perhaps she could’ve developed a method that didn’t require the dismantling of her entire world to rebuild it according to her standards. If everyone is the same with no regard for knowledge, skills, or abilities, then where is the incentive to learn, develop, and improve one’s self and society??? In the end, it’s the post-modern theory that favors the loss of the individual in exchange for a group identity that ultimately wins in the town of Encanto.

Flavorless and unsatisfying as this animated movie is, it did manage to execute some things well. Like the production and set design, for examples. The writing may be bland, but the design is spicy! You will be delighted at the bright colors, geometric shapes, and at times fever dream sequences. None of the songs are particularly memorable (hmm, kind of like this movie), but they are fun while they are on screen and the music will undoubtedly put you in the mood to grab a bite to eat at your local Colombian restaurant. Since this is the first Disney animated movie to take place in Columbia, I would’ve appreciated learning more about Colombian culture. Philosophically, this movie is incredibly problematic. But it is colorful and fun for an hour and a half, so you can best enjoy it as background noise while your focus is elsewhere.

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