FLAMIN’ HOT movie mini review

Uplifting! Flamin’ Hot is a thoroughly enjoyable, motivational biopic that captivates audiences with the compelling story of Richard Montañez, the man who invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (and other Flamin’ Hot line items) and ostensibly saved his Southern California FritoLay plant from closure in the 90s. Directed by Eva Longoria and written by Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chávez, this movie delivers a more compelling story than AIR; however, Flamin Hot does not deliver as highly in the performative dimension. This is a movie for anyone that has ever felt like an underdog. Richard’s inspirational story serves as evidence that prayer, determination, resiliency, and refusal to allow one’s origin to determine one’s personal and professional destination, truly do work! Although the movie is tonally upbeat and even funny, it still affords intimate character moments. Structurally, the movie is well-paced and never hangs out in any scene longer than it needs. And it’s incredibly interesting! Just like AIR so successfully made the origin of a shoe captivating, the same can be said for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

If you’re seeking a picture that is inspirational, lean, and funny, then checkout Flamin’ Hot on Hulu and Disney+ starting June 9th.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida and Indie Film Critics of America. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1 and LetterBoxd: RLTerry


THE LITTLE MERMAID (2023) movie review

written by Dr. Leo Genco

Some treasures are best left under the sea. This familiar Disney formula is only good for one thing: lining the coffers. The Little Mermaid has wonderful, bright, appealing visuals with a few new decent songs, that prove Disney is unable to capture the magic of their 2D animated films. This is unfortunate, because under the sea of this movie is the potential for a great innovative rendition of The Little Mermaid. Why? Well, Disney attempted to provide a newer telling of the original while pandering to the original material. This creates a dichotomy of moral themes in the movie, and it shows. There is a lot to unpack. If you want to skip to what the movie does right, you can skip to the end.

Let’s get the most obvious issues out the way, since they were consistently topics of discussion prior to the film’s release: race, ethnicity, and gender swapping of characters. These changes are typically common to improve diversity, and it can be done. You can look at Nick Fury in the Marvel Comics, or John Stewart as the Green Lantern in the DC Comics. One of the best race change movies is the Preacher’s Wife. The issue with the change here is how the director and writers tried to justify the change. Instead of changing the race of a whole group to maintain consistency, only individuals are changed and are rationalized through a simple bit of dialogue exhibition. Most of the human characters are an eclectic group of non-white ethnicities and races but Prince Eric is still white! The story justifies these differences by changing the location of the kingdom and having the queen adopt Eric into the family. The kingdom is not a port for the mainland but on an island, somewhere in the Americas, and this causes massive changes in the story. The whole scene with the chef and Sebastian was removed. Someone will wonder if the scene was cut because the chef was French. The essence of the original was stripped to justify the demographic changes, which would not be a problem if the movie did not pander to the original material.

The singing varies between songs and actors. The cast of a mix between stage and film actors would do that, but the main problem is how the songs were constructed. For some reason, the director added more characters into the script, but they did not contribute to the songs at all. It is very common in musicals to have the background and side characters sing the chorus and harmony for the lead singer. But this is not true for The Little Mermaid. People are expecting a chorus for Under the Sea and Kiss the Girl. This is not coming from a nostalgia perspective of the original songs. Under the Sea is a song about the sea living as a musical band of species. The dialogue before Kiss the Girl called for the various sounds of nature. For both songs we are expecting a strong sound, especially when the chorus hits. Sadly, both songs are reduced to two or three singers max and are sung as a solo piece for the majority. Overall, songs match the deaf tone of the movie.

While the animation of the under the sea creatures on par with the Lion King (take that as you will), I am not talking about the animals but the human actors who had little to not animated faces throughout their dialogue. Only three characters were animated, Queen Selina, Grimsby, and Ursula. When I say animated, I mean that their facial expression, voice, and body language spoke. Everyone seemed stiff, which is weird because Halle Bailey is a stage actor. You would think Ariel would have the most body expression because she can’t talk for half the movie. Ariel needs to be animated the most. Arial did not seem to be a curious, explorative person, but a blank manikin until a scene which required an over-the-top reaction. Luckily, this was not consistent throughout the movie. As I will mention later, the acting in the new scenes was great.

For some movie goers, background context to main characters is essential. I, on the other hand, prefer context to characters that is required to understand the journey of the main character. This means, that background context should progress information for the main character, not for the audience. The early introduction to multiple character’s background hurt the movie in two ways: (1) these small scenes for a backstory break up the pacing of the storytelling, creating jarring transitions between scenes, and (2) too many themes or messages were introduced into the film too fast. When you introduce a backstory, you need to follow through and close that story, and when you give too much information at once, people tend to forget or care about the small stories. On top of that, the movie told Ursula’s backstory but did not provide a satisfying delivery of her end. Overall, the introduction of the characters with backstory was not the best way to start the movie.

Two things carried the movie for me, the new scenes and songs and the queen and Grimsby. Adding new scenes and songs felt real. The acting in the scenes felt genuine, minus the random dancing scene halfway through the movie. These scenes had fresh magic Disney needed, but again, the director pandered to the original movie, and this created a lot of disconnect. The problem when recreating 2D animation as a real-life movie is the expression that comes from drawn imagery. This is why the drawings of human movement are different from how humans move. It allows the animator to create expressions you are physically unable to express but want to. The new scenes of the movie did not have a previous expectation of certain expressions. I believe this element allowed the actors more freedom to act.

God bless queen! Out of all the characters, the two actors who were able to pull it off throughout the whole movie was the queen and her trusty councilman, Grimsby. They were amazing. They had facial and body expressions. I had chills when the queen was on screen. Grimsby was played perfectly and became that comedy relief when the gender swapped bird, Scuttle, failed. I loved these characters, and I enjoyed every minute of screen time with them. While I would put Ursula in this category, her character was written incorrectly. While she was played very well, her lines were the least to be desired. She was written more as a grown woman who throws temper tantrums like a child than the cunning slimy sea witch, she was in the original 1991 movie. So, the queen and Grimsby saved the movie, at least for me.

Dr. Genco is a guest contributor and fellow university colleague. Follow him on Instagram at Leo.Genco.


Whoa! That’s a lot of movie, and a lot to unpack. While James Gunn’s MCU swan song Guardians of the Galaxy vol.3 works well as an allegory of the Third Reich, exploring the atrocities of that nightmarish ideology and movement, the superhero movie is greatly lacking in entertainment value.

Still reeling from the loss of Gamora, Peter Quill must rally his team to defend the universe and protect one of their own. If the mission is not completely successful, it could possibly lead to the end of the Guardians as we know them.

The story is emotionally manipulative and many scenes and dialogue are inappropriate for young audiences. (As a reminder, kids are NOT little adults; kids are lacking in critical thinking skills). Furthermore, the movie suffers from squeezing too much plot into a single movie–the film overstays its welcome by about 30–45-minutes.

Clearly, James Gunn loves theses characters, and I can tell that he is a writer that genuinely cares (a trait I spotlight in my screenwriting classes), but I feel he forgot that a large segment of his MCU audience is comprised of kids, whether he accepts or likes that fact or not, and should have considered that dynamic when crafting this story. A storytelling element that is common amongst the MCU, especially within the Guardians of the Galaxy previous two movies, is levity. There is too little levity to counterbalance the dark elements of the movie. As such, the movie is incredibly heavy and sucks all the joy out of going to the cinema to attend a superhero movie. The movie is not completely without redeeming qualities or uplifting moments, but they are vastly outweighed by the somber tone of the movie as a whole.

Even though the film’s incredibly dark visual elements and themes are tastefully handled for older teen and adult audiences, as whole, this MCU installment is not appropriate for kids. If the movie’s marketing made it a point that this Guardians of the Galaxy movie was not for kids, I wouldn’t have a big a problem with content of the movie, but it’s the fact that kids were not dissuaded in any way from attending this, insofar as I am aware. When Deadpool first released, there was an entire tongue in cheek campaign to remind parents and siblings that this Marvel movie was not for kids–tastefully handled. Perhaps the studio dropped the f-bomb and increased the crass language and violence as a means to warm kids up to Deadpool 3, but that is a completely unhealthy approach as is disrespectful of what it means to be a child and young.

Looking to another franchise with which a whole generation of kids grew up, the Harry Potter movies became more mature as the seminole audience grew. Which is important, as life IS complicated and success, grief, loss, death, and disappointment are part of the human experience. However, the movies never became overly violent, increased crass language, or went to too dark a place (without counterbalancing it with levity and more lighthearted moments). Guardians of the Galaxy vol.3 is representative of the direction Marvel and Disney are going, and it’s not good nor healthy. If the MCU wants to create more movies that are adult in nature, then do that–but don’t take what has appealed to kids and decide to increase the more mature content. As I understand it, there is a whole universe of Marvel characters, and I am confident that a sub-franchise can be started that is geared towards mature audiences from the onset. And when kids get older, they can choose to eventually experience the Marvel movies that were, at one time, inappropriate for them.

What I found most fascinating about the movie is the commentary on the Third Reich (and for those that don’t remember, that is the ideology turned movement that was manifested by the Nazi party). Without going into great detail, one of the common practices at Nazi-controlled concentration camps was to further medical science by experimenting on the prisoners. Unfortunately, some of what we know today, some of the advancements that we use for healing today, came out of those nightmarish compounds. The idea was to learn from the experiments in order to increase the life experience of the master race perfect–correct that which was flawed. Moreover, the idea of a master society was carried into the idea of creating a utopia (something the Nazis had in common with the Soviets). But of course, utopia is an impossibility, and the pursuit of it often comes at the cost of life, individuality, and freedom.

The big bad villain in this movie known as the High Evolutionary is representation of and analogous with Hitler. At the core of the High Evolutionary’s goals and ambitions is the same ideology that drove and inspired Hitler. Furthermore, his speeches that feel they could have been written for a modern day Hitler. I appreciate what James Gunn did here, because it is monstrously challenging to craft a story around such heavy subject matter. Analogy and extended metaphor are outstanding tools to use in storytelling to provide commentary on a topic without talking about it. The ideology that inspired Hitler didn’t go away with him and his party, but it’s still out there, and must be kept at bay. Fictional storytelling can be used as a means to explore an observation of reality that may otherwise be uncomfortable.

If only as much thought had been put into the sets and effects of the movie. Like the perennial house guest that has worn out their welcome but continues to return anyway, prolific CGI continues to be employed instead of showcasing the craftsmanship of practical effects, real sets, and models. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, CGI can never replace the way real light bounces off real objects into the camera lens. When I look at a monstrous creation of CGI, I am never left with the feeling that I witnessed the hand of an artist—brilliant engineer, yes–artist, no. Furthermore, not only is the CGI screaming in your face, but the movie’s music and sound effects mixes are also deafening. The kid seated next to me had his hands over his ears for a good portion of the movie. There is nothing subtle or nuanced about this movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy vol.3 represents James Gunn’s MCU swan song as he is now working on DCEU (or whatever it’s going to be called) movies. And he certainly left an indelible mark upon the MCU because few other directors (if any) could have worked the magic he did with the Guardians, a one-time obscure Marvel comic series. While I have many reservations of taking your kids to see this movie, it is one that should inspire thoughtful conversations about the parallels the villain(s) shares with the Third Reich.

Guardians of the Galaxy review | Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2 review

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida and Indie Film Critics of America. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1 and LetterBoxd: RLTerry


Entertaining and world-building. Phase 5 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe launches with Disney-Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (AWQ). This (paint-by-numbers) adventure of epic proportions benefits from a small central cast, which allows for effective character arcs and development. Furthermore, the central cast is elevated to near purrrrrrfection with the incomparable Michelle Pfeiffer’s significant screen presence as the original Wasp Janet Van Dyne. For someone that can take or leave the MCU, simply knowing that Michelle Pfeiffer is in a pivotal role, is enough to get me to watch. Perhaps that is also like you. While this is not her first time returning to the superhero genre (first did it in Ant-Man and the Wasp), this is the first time that she is front and center, giving hope that we may yet still see Pfeiffer return to her career-defining role as the definitive Catwoman.

Ant-Man and the Wasp find themselves exploring the Quantum Realm, interacting with strange new creatures and embarking on an adventure that pushes them beyond the limits of what they thought was possible.

The latest installment in the MCU mostly functions as a standalone movie, but there is clearly world building to lay the piping for Phase 5. Now, I do not follow the comics nor have seen any of the TV shows, and I was able to follow sufficiently enough, which means that anyone that has seen the MCU theatrical movies will have sufficient knowledge to follow the journey. Yes, the visual effects are expertly generated by graphics engineers, but I am seldom impressed by entire worlds that exist within the confines of a computer. There is very little real set design, which mitigates the ability to become immersed in the Quantum realm. AWQ represents what happens when a single media conglomerate owns both Marvel and Star Wars because this movie feel like the combination of Star Wars and Avengers. There is even a scene right out of the cantina on Tatooine. To the superhero movie’s credit, the plot is simple and the characters complex, so it receives high marks for screenwriting mechanics.

Par for the Disney course these days, there cannot possibly be a movie released without a dose of the cynical worldview of applied postmodernism. For AWQ, this dose comes in the first sequence of scenes following the prologue. Cassie is in jail for antagonizing law enforcement that (we are told) launched tear gas into a (we are told) peaceful protest. This serves little to no purpose, and most certainly has no bearing on the plot; therefore, it was in there simply to check off a virtue signaling box. I can see what they were trying to do–trying to show that Cassie has the early signs of going down her father’s path of delinquent behavior. If Disney-Marvel wanted this to be more poetic and elicit greater empathy from the audience, then Cassie should have been shown engaging in petty crime not activism. This would have demonstrated that Scott’s lack of engagement as a parents (due to his personal brand and professional pursuits) has had a negative impact on Cassie’s development. Furthermore, this would have provided for a greater character arc when she in instrumental in saving the universe.

What a fantastic cast!! Cast highlights include (as mentioned earlier) Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Douglas, and a surprise cameo from Bill Murray! This otherwise paint-by-numbers superhero movie is elevated by the contributions of these exemplary actors. Even if you don’t see all the MCU movies, I highly recommend the Ant-Man movies because they are far more character-driven than the others, and the small central cast benefits from time and attention paid to their respective interpersonal journeys that provide depth to the high concept plot. For the most part, the running theme of the Ant-Man movies generally revolves around the idea of fatherhood and (by extension) parenting.

If MCU fans were looking for their next big bad, then they will find the new archenemy bent on the destruction of the known universe, without going into spoilerific details, I can say that this new villain makes Thanos look like Bowser from the Mario games, with King Koopa being our newest main villain. Be sure to stay for both the mid and post-credit scenes as they raise the stakes to exponential levels.

If you’re looking for a fun movie that you can just kick back and enjoy, then this may be your ticket. I highly recommend watching it in a premium format (such as IMAX, Dolby, or XD) because the CGI sets will shine best with the best sound and screen at your local movie theatre.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida and Indie Film Critics of America. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1 and LetterBoxd: RLTerry


AKA The Way of Woker. James Cameron’s highly anticipated followup to Avatar (2009) is an ambitious world-building visual effects extravaganza that is a predictable, poorly paced and plotted movie, which is plagued by many problematic elements in both substance and form. Moreover, it’s a 3-hour movie that feels like a 3-hour movie, for which no amount of impressive visual displays can compensate. Often times, a filmmaker’s ideology can be interpreted through a critical analysis (or close reading), but the blatantly anti-west (or pro applied postmodernism) sentiment is right there on the surface of this troublesome movie. Suffice it to say, all the themes can be summarized as the destruction of modernity, which is manifested in various motifs. From beginning to end, Cameron’s Avatar: the Way of Water is anti-military (literally uses Marines “semper fi”), anti-western medicine, and propagates postcolonial theory (which I write about in my review of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever). It’s one thing to critique or question a societal observation; it’s another to actively work to completely deconstruct and shame entire groups of people and cultures. Cinema is a powerful tool because film is a reflection of life and can help us better understand the human experience; however, Cameron’s latest movie is a reflection of his disdain for the west (by extension, modernity), and wielded more like an offensive weapon than clever storytelling tool. The themes, reeking of applied postmodernism, aren’t the only problematic issues plaguing this 3-hour epic, but the story structure itself suffers from poor pacing and a proliferation of subplots that fail to work together to craft a compelling narrative.

Jake Sully and Ney’tiri have formed a family and are doing everything to stay together. However, they must leave their home and explore the regions of Pandora. When an ancient threat resurfaces, Jake must fight a difficult war against the humans.

Overstuffed with one-dimensional characters devoid of character arcs, Cameron appears to be more concerned with his ideology than creating thoughtful characters. Heroes that are projected as nearly flawless and invincible seldom connect with audiences because it is often our flaws, failings, and lessons-learned that connect us to one another. When villains fail to display any likable qualities, the villain fails to connect with audiences, thus erasing any possible entertainment value. More specifically, central and opposition characters should share similar goals; however, what makes villains and heroes different is HOW they express their methodologies to reach the goal(s). The most interesting characters of opposition are those with human dimension and characteristics that can be appreciated; likewise, the most interesting central characters are those with flaws and weaknesses that make them relatable. Our heroes are flawless and our villians utterly detestable. That is NOT a good character mix or balance.

Moreover, the film’s characters demonstrate a gross representation problem. Nearly all the human characters are white men–not one person of color and only one prominent female character. In a day and age in which reasonable, fair representation in media is important (again, as film is a reflection of life, it should look like real life), Cameron ignores fairness in representation. While some may find this to be a coincidence, it is not. Every diegetic element of the mise-en-scene montaged into a film is intentional. Because of the clear manifestation of postcolonial theory, this can be read as Cameron’s method for perpetuating the sentiment that white people (particularly men) are toxic by nature. Before you say I am extreme in this interpretation, in a recent interview, Cameron stated, “testosterone is a toxin that must be worked out of the system.” Not only is this a shameful statement, it’s grossly inaccurate. Neither testosterone nor estrogen are problems that need solved. Both are biology, plain and simple. Each respectively amoral.

Cameron’s anti-military sentiment is the most provocative of all his themes concerning the complete destruction of modernity (the goal of applied postmodernism). Where he crosses the line, is referencing the para-military presence as Marines, and evoking the rallying cry of semper fi. Undoubtedly, this is not going to sit well with the U.S. military and general public (nor should it). Ostensibly painting one’s country/military in a negative, inaccurate light is inexcusable. Again, it’s one thing to critique, it’s another to actively shame and attack. If he wanted to use a para-military force, he would have been better off crafting this one to be FORMER military that have been privatized for exploratory and extraction purposes. Sell swords as Game of Thrones would put it. Even that may have painted the military in a negative light, but it wouldn’t have been so blatant and aimed at a particular branch of the U.S. armed forces.

With all the themes, symbols, and motifs Cameron includes in the movie, the plotting is insufficient to support such a mess of ideas and stories. Perhaps he should revisit the screenwriting tenants of writing lean or starting a scene as close to the end as possible, and ending it as soon as possible. These tenants of screenwriting help to prevent a bloated, fatty screenplay. As it stands, the storytelling in Avatar: the Way of Water is clunky and forced. Often times the reason for something happening is simply because the plot needed it. This makes for a predictable story, one that is devoid of anything remotely constructive, fun, or inspirational.

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the many references to Flight of Passage in the World of Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Many of the creatures from the flagship attraction and surrounding area are found within this movie. I rather enjoyed identifying elements that were lifted from the hugely popular and impressive attraction. If you do see this movie and have been to Pandora, then look to see if you can find some of the land and sea creatures from the attraction.

At the end of the day, this movie is a reminder that spectacular visual effects does not a great movie make.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1