“The Turning” Horror Movie Mini Review

Turn around, every now and then I get a little discouraged at the January movies. Seriously tho, watch something else. My friend Derek had the perfect analogy for this quintessential January release horror movie. “The Turning is like having two gorgeous puzzles–only you have half of each puzzle–then you force all the pieces together.” Quite the apt analogy for this newest big screen adaptation of the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw. With names like Universal, Amblin, and Dreamworks behind it, I haven’t a clue where things took a turn for the abysmal in the process from page to set to screen. Either the screenplay is to blame or–for whatever reason–the film couldn’t be finished properly in time for the release. That’s right, there is practically no ending. I mean, there is, but it’s so abrupt and confusing that it’s as if the film threw an ending on there because time or money ran out. Prior to the uncomfortably ambiguous ending, the movie had so much going for it. However, all the elements that were working so well never went anywhere. If I can point to a couple elements that were outstanding, it’s the brilliantly unsettling, creepy, ominous setting and production design. The gothic mansion and grounds are very much characters in and of themselves. Combining these two elements gave the film an excellent atmosphere for Henry James’ story. And the acting wasn’t bad either. No real stand out moments, but fairly solid performances all the way around. Perhaps what this movie is most guilty of (aside from the non-ending) is disregarding any rules of horror (or even logic) that it establishes for itself. So much happened out of sheer convenience, with no real consistent consequences. The conflicts and devices that were introduced were interesting, and I was looking forward to seeing how they were going to influence the action and characters. Unfortunately, nothing that was “foreshadowed,” alluded to, setup, or dangled as plot bait was ever revisited. Much like with Underwater, this movie also feels more like a series of plot points than it does a–even poorly developed–screenplay. While the trailers gave the impression that this was going to be an arthouse horror film, one with lots of ominous nuance and intrigue, it is simply just another January horror movie that was released here to die or serve as a tax write-off. One last item of mention: once you see a photo of Quint, you will be mind-blown as to how or why any parent would even think that this guy would be safe around kids–seriously–he is creepy alive. Still, how Universal, Dreamworks, and Amblin allowed this to happen, baffles me.

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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“How to Train Your Dragon: the Hidden World” review

Outstanding finale for the beloved franchise! Bring your tissues because you’re going to need them. Return to the colorful, immersive world of dragons for the final chapter in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy. We were first introduced to Hiccup and his cat-like dragon Toothless–probably the most adorable dragon ever–nearly a decade ago, and Hidden World delivers a beautiful story that takes full advantage of Dean DeBlois’ epic fantasy world of highflying adventure and heart. Unlike franchises in the cinema or on television that depict the key characters the same age in perpetuity, HTTYD allows its characters to mature and grow in complexity. This growth enables the audience to identify and empathize with the animal and human characters thus giving the film incredible emotional weight. Not only do the characters demonstrate personal growth over the nine years we’ve been enjoy Berk and all its wonders, they exhibit tangible evidence of interpersonal societal growth as this Viking kingdom learns to love and cherish creatures they once feared. Toothless takes center stage as he too, along with our friends from Berk, must grow up. Both Toothless and Hiccup experience the powerful dynamic of love as it greatly affects one’s actions. While many were wondering if this trilogy could pull off a Toy Story 3, after the immense success of the first two, especially HTTYD2, suffice it to say, DreamWorks Animation delivers a superlative animated motion picture complete with all the feels.

IMDb Summary: What began as an unlikely friendship between an adolescent Viking and a fearsome Night Fury dragon has become an epic adventure spanning their lives. Welcome to the most astonishing chapter of one of the most beloved animated franchises in film history. Now chief and ruler of Berk alongside Astrid, Hiccup has created a gloriously chaotic dragon utopia. When the sudden appearance of female Light Fury coincides with the darkest threat their village has ever faced, Hiccup and Toothless must leave the only home they’ve known and journey to a hidden world thought only to exist in myth. As their true destinies are revealed, dragon and rider will fight together—to the very ends of the Earth—to protect everything they’ve grown to treasure.

As immersive and excellent as the film’s visuals are, the characters are even more complex and deep. In fact, the film depicts one of the best friendships of any film ever. The key characters, and even the supporting cast, demonstrate love, loss, maturity, growth, and more. Although this is the final installment in the franchise, the characters are still treated with finesse and given room to grow within the movie and to complete the arcs for the trilogy. Often, Toothless and Hiccup parallel one another; they possess traits that complement one another. This added complexity to their respective characters gives them so much depth. Making an emotional connection with and evoking empathy from the audience is such an important element of the character development process. Hidden World builds upon the previous stories of finding one’s destiny in a friendship with the most unlikely of creatures (chapter 1), external and internal complexities with the new friendship and changing familial dynamics (chapter 2), and coming of age by learning from the past and letting go of that which hinders freedom (chapter 3 Hidden World).

More than a commentary on independence or freedom, this film chooses to depict complex emotions such as love between friends, family, and romantic love. And these subjects are not just talked about–exposition would be too easy and lazy–there are many moments that are visually driven, thus increasing the level of emotional impact. One of my favorite moments that deals with both the letting go of the past in order to bloom and grow is the courtship dance scene between Toothless and the Light Fury. Love is not without sacrifice. And in the exploration of relationships and independence, we are reminded of the emotional cost associated with these concepts. Paralleling this exploration of relationships between lovers, family, and friends is the journey of rising to the call and becoming a leader of one’s people. It’s the ideal journey for this final installment because it completes the hero’s journey for Hiccup and Toothless. In the first movie, both Hiccup and Toothless are outcasts, nerdy, and childlike. In the secondary film, they go through both physical and emotional growth learning the complexities of life. And the tertiary film Hidden World builds upon the previous two films by us watching this teen and young dragon grow up to realize their respective places in the world to become the leaders of their people (or dragons). We go from kid to king. So simple, but so perfect.

It’s easy to get swept up into this epic fantasy because we spend so much time with these characters. Not only do we spend movie time with the key characters, but we spend some intimate time with them as well. We see these characters at their best and worst. The individual stories of the three films and the overarching story that exemplifies the three-act structure are not afraid to bloody your characters. As real like people and dragons are not perfect, neither are the characters in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy. We are drawn to their flaws, the majority of which are in the second chapter but we continue this high level of humanity in the third film. Change is a big part of life, and the theme of change is witnessed in the individual lives plus in the Berkian and Dragonian communities. Utopia is not without its negative impacts. One of those for Berk is overcrowding with the side effects of being more of a target to those who are still hunting dragons. Hiccup must decide whether Berk is a place or a state of mind. But he must also consider the safety and future of the dragons. More complexity. There is no one solution that will benefit everyone. So sacrifices must be made. This motif of chance incorporates the overall theme of love and sacrifice.

The visuals are breathtaking! While some animated trilogies suffer the longer the franchise goes on, the quality of the animation in this film is outstanding! In many ways, it out-Pixars Pixar. Like with other films, if this one had a Pixar logo on it instead of DreamWorks, then more people would be singing its praises. With more dragons, there was certainly room to cut corners and for the quality of the visuals to suffer. Not true with this film! The attention to detail is superb! As beautiful as the dragon flight scenes were in the first and second movies, Hidden World delivers an even more epic flight scene in this film. Wish I had seen this movie in IMAX. During the flight sequence into the Hidden World of dragons, I was reminded of Navi River Journey and Flight of Passage in Pandora: the World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Never felt like a ripoff, but certainly feels inspired by the attraction. We encounter three worlds in this film: Berk, the new island, and the hidden world of dragons. Each of these worlds is designed completely differently from the rest. And the commitment to the art of animated world creation reaches incredible heights! Every scene, every moment, every setting is completely immersive.

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!

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“The Girl on the Train” movie review

girlonthetrainA tastes great, less filling, David Fincher-esque flick. DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment’s The Girl on the Train directed by Tate Taylor and starring Emily Blunt is the much anticipated film adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name written by Paula Hawkins. With a slow windup and quick delivery, the suspense thriller plays off as a knockoff combination of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Fincher’s Gone Girl, and George Cukor’s Gaslight. Despite the wild success of the novel, this film adaptation appears to have jumped the tracks. In fact, fans of the novel may find that this translation from page to screen is a bumpy ride. The film is not without its high points; the plot is certainly intriguing and Blunt’s portrayal of the protagonist is excellent; however, her outstanding performance is simply not enough to carry the weight of an otherwise flawed film. The film fails to truly create that sense of dread and heighten the anxiety levels of the audience. There were many missed opportunities to tighten up the writing during the windup and spend more time on a successful nail-biting punch during the third act. It’s one of those films that feels like Act I is 2/3 of the movie with Acts II/III being 1/6 each. Lots of verbal exposition when exposition through showing would have been more effective. Don’t get me wrong; it was a fun suspense thriller and the plot twist and turning point from Act II to III was quite the shocker; but, the film just never seemed to move beyond the surface level.

Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) is not adapting to life as a divorcee very well. She has a pronounced drinking problem and cannot seem to hold a job. Rides the train into New York City from the countryside everyday, passing her old neighborhood. Starring into not only her old house but the house of a couple she feels are the embodiment of love, Rachel develops an unhealthy obsession with the characters that appear outside of the window as sh narrates their lives. When she learns that the young woman who lives in the house two doors up from where she used to live, has gone missing, she place herself in the midst of the investigation. Not having dealt with her own sordid past, Rachel begins to obsess over the mystery because of the empathy she feels for the missing girl. Once the authorities feel that Rachel has crossed the line too many times, they begin to look her direction. Determined to solve the case of the missing girl, Rachel must put together puzzle pieces that she never thought she would have to face again.

If I had to sum up the film adaption of The Girl on the Train, I would concisely put it this way: under-developed. From the locations themselves to the writing (screenplay) to the plot and characters, this mystery-thriller-suspense movie fails to impact the audience and truly elicit a strong emotional response. Tapping into emotions and affecting anxiety levels is paramount for suspense-thrillers. After such a long, drawn-out wind up and the rushed showdown, this film does not live up to the hype that the novel generated. Having not read the novel, I cannot comment on differences or even how the movie could have been done better; but screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson could have done a better of job of creative a cinematic story fit for the silver screen. The flaws of the film so not stop with the writing, but director Tate Taylor’s vision, for the best-seller, should be checked because it appears as though he may need glasses. If it was not for Blunt’s commitment to the character of Rachel, the film would have had very little entertainment value. This is one of those films that was saved by attaching excellent talent.

This film falls into the same sub-genre as Gone Girl. But, what made Gone Girl so successful was the exceptional direction from David Fincher and simply the fact that author Gillian Flynn also wrote the screenplay. If an author can be trained to write the screenplay of the film adaption of their literary work, then that is always the best approach because they know the characters and plot better than anyone. Fincher also includes many WTF moments and treats the camera more than lens through which to witness a visual story but creates magic that takes the audience out of the threats and transports them into the movie. The Girl on the Train has a great premise and intriguing plot. The foundation IS there for a great movie adaptation. The writing not only doesn’t do the book justice, from what I have read, but fails to create a cinematic experience as well.

Other than Rachel, the rest of the cheaters are two-dimensional. We are given just enough information to make them mildly interesting, but the character development just isn’t there. Much like the detective in Gone Girl was as interesting to follow as the main cast, Detective Riley should have been just as well developed for this film. Rachel’s ex-husband, his wife, their nanny, and the nanny’s husband have the makings of a cast of characters filled with lies, deceit, betrayal, dark secrets, and intrigue (and to some extent, that comes across in the movie); however, all those elements are touched on but never truly fleshed out. Do those elements have a place in the plot of the film? Yes. But, do they play a dynamic a role as they could have? Not particularly. Most everything in the film is very surface level. All the makings are there for a film that could be nearly as thrilling as Gone Girl, but it’s all superficial. When location scouting for a film that relies upon houses, transportation, and proximity that are intricate to the plot, it is important to treat them AS cast. The two main houses and the train in this movie almost feel like they were selected out of convenience. Nothing about the locations or train grabbed me or generated a significant emotional response. However, I liked the proximity of the train to the houses and how the lake is on one side and the neighborhood on the other.

If you’re looking for a fun suspense-thriller to watch this weekend, then this one may fit the bill. But, you won’t get nearly the ‘train’ ride that you experienced in Gone Girl. Emily Bunt demonstrates a dynamic acting prowess compared to other characters that she has brought to life. Whether you choose to watch this film in a local cinema near you or wait for it to be on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime, or HBO, the experience will be the same. At the end of the day, it’s a good movie but a poor film.

Lights, Camera, MotionGate! A Look into Dubai’s Newest Theme Park

Dubai_Parks_mapWhile the themed entertainment industry continues to explode with new lands and attractions at the US’ biggest players, the luxury destination Dubai, UAE is throwing its hat into the ring. MotionGate may just be the competition that Disney and Universal were not expecting. Primarily including intellectual property (IP) from Sony Pictures, LionsGate, and DreamWorks Animation (now owned by Comcast), MotionGate will boast some of the most advanced attractions in the world. Starting out the gate with 27 attractions and shows based on some of the most well-known IP from the worlds of cinema and television, this brings the total attraction numbers to more than 100 when added to the existing offerings at Dubai Parks and Resorts (a government owned themed entertainment holdings company).

motiongate_image.fw_Unlike the public-private partnership of the parks in China, the government of UAE is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the wealth of the nation. That allure and wealth has driven millions of tourists from around the world to their nation as it is; factor in a world-class leading theme park, and those numbers will increase exponentially. This influx of revenue may actually pave the way for the non-wealthy classes of people to be able to enjoy the Dubai Parks and Resorts as additional flights, hotels, and transportation methods will be added. One of the biggest advantages that MotionGate has over its Disney and Universal competitors (Fox will soon be added to that as well) is that it is being constructed amidst digital, wireless, and multimedia technologies. Whereas the big boys have to modify existing technologies in attractions as they change, these parks are built with the latest technology which directly impacts efficiency of operation.  This same idea of being late to the game but a quickly asserted leader can be seen in nations like South Korea who only recently, relatively speaking, have had access to wireless internet technologies. As they did not have to adapt or modify existing legacy infrastructure, they built on current communications technologies and have a much faster, reliable, cheaper, and efficient ‘internet of things’ than the United States.

MotionGate_DubaiIn the vein of Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, Dubai Parks and Resorts is a themed entertainment complex featuring separately themed parks. Specifically, MotionGate bares a striking design modeled after Magic Kingdom in that it is ONE theme park that contains five distinctly different themed lands that all center in and around the concept of motion pictures, filmmaking, and live entertainment. Each land, much like the ones at Magic Kingdom, has its own gateway, themed rides, restaurants, shows, and landmarks. Also, keeping with the Magic Kingdom layout, MotionGate contains the hub and spoke system. Unlike Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld, or Busch Gardens, MotionGate employs the hub-and-spoke system in order to make maneuvering the park user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. This provides opportunities for centralized entertainment offerings and landmarks. Prepare for the glitz, glamour, nostalgia, and excitement of the lands: Studio Central, LionsGate, DreamWorks, Sony Pictures, and the Smurfs’ Village. What makes this concept additionally interesting is the fact that MotionGate includes IP from different studios that are self-contained. Instead of taking the IP from the different companies and integrating them in more generically themed lands, each IP is contained within its respective land.

sony-motiongateOne cannot help but notice that the concept of Dubai Parks and Resort’s flagship theme park MotionGate resembles the original Universal Studios Florida or to a lesser extent Disney-MGM Studios. How so? If you are not familiar, both Universal Studios Florida and then Disney-MGM Studios were theme parks inspired by the idea of “what lies beyond the fifth dimension” (Tower of Terror, Disney); moreover, the story that exists outside of the frame–beyond mise en scene. In addition to attractions and shows inspired by filmmaking or theatre, both parks were also east coast counterparts to the Hollywood stages. Universal/Nickelodeon and Disney produced major motion pictures and television shows in the sound stages that are all but gone (or turn into conventional  attractions) in the 1980s and mid to late 90s. By 2000, most filmmaking and television production operations ceased because it was cheaper to move operations back to Hollywood and to other places like North Carolina and now Georgia. MotionGate goes back to the drawing board to resurrect a dying idea of turning filmmaking into an attraction. It truly holds up Geoff King’s studies and theories of “the cinema of attractions.” Universal founder Carl Leammle knew there was more to filmmaking than making movies. That’s why he opened his movie making ranch outside of Los Angeles to day guests to be entertained by special effects and stunt shows as well as watching the magic behind the camera.

20thCenFoxWorldIt is an exciting time for the themed entertainment and motion picture industries. For the longest time, Disney and Universal (Comcast) were the kings of cinema and TV based theme parks. Now, Dubai is becoming a heavy hitter and once MotionGate opens in October, the landscape has the potential to shift drastically. Now, the parks in the US will not only be competing against each other, but against heavy competition on the other side of the world in an area with much deeper pockets. All the while the word is focussed on the Word of Pandora, The Reign of Kong, Cobra’s Curse, Mako, Star Wars Land, Toy Story Land, and the unnamed new theme park under construction for Universal’s third park (not counting the forthcoming water park), MotionGate will open and create a whole new atmosphere of innovation amongst the chief players. In addition to the parks in Dubai, Fox is also entering into the game with their 20th Century Fox World opening in Malaysia in 2017. Also on the books is the 20th Century Fox World expansion to Zoo Miami AND another indoor Sony theme park in Wisconsin. With all these parks opening, there are more and more opportunities for careers in either cinema or themed entertainment. Or, a career that spans both (which is what yours truly is trying to do). I just love all the new completion because it will drive continued innovation. However, it’s also nice to see that we have a new park that is getting back to the roots of what started it all: motion pictures.

“Bridge of Spies” movie review

BridgeofSpiesA spy movie with very little in the way of intrigue and espionage. Touchstone, DreamWorks, and 20th Century Fox’s Bridge of Spies is a very traditional biographical film. There is nothing innately wrong with it, but there lacks anything truly remarkable or memorable either. Tom Hanks plays a very Tom Hanks character and Spielberg provides us with a very classy historic movie. Perhaps it is all just as well because the Cold War was a war of information and not high powered action. And, that is pretty well what you get in this movie. The most thrilling scenes are ones that are already in the trailer. Even James Donovan’s (Hanks) testimony before the U.S. Supreme Court was anti-climactic. Despite the fact it is based on a true story, for cinematic purposes there should have been more emotionally trying scenes or surprise. We seldom get Cold War era movies, so this is a nice addition to historic/bio pictures. Although the descriptive “thriller” has been attached to this movie, I do not find sufficient evidence in the movie to support such a claim. It is a moderate drama–neither heavy nor lite. Perhaps if John Grisham had written a book on this event and that book adapted for the screen, the film would play off more accurately as a spy thriller. As it stands, it is a historic drama. Nothing more, nothing less.

Bridge of Spies is about a Cold War era spy swap in the late 1950s in East Berlin. Suspected Soviet spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) is apprehended by the FBI in New York and placed under the counsel of successful insurance attorney James Donovan (Hanks). In an effort to show due process, even to suspected spies, the U.S. government provides Abel with a trial by his peers. Following a conviction, Hanks persuades the sentencing judge to allow Abel to live in the event they need him as leverage to trade for captured suspected American spies in Soviet Europe and Russia. Quite the brilliant move because an Air Force pilot and graduate student were both captured by the Soviets shortly after the apprehension of Abel. Follow Donovan as he makes his way to one of the most dangerous parts of Europe during the height of the Cold War in an effort to successfully negotiate a spy swap.

There really isn’t much to add besides what I have already mentioned in my opening. This movie is very par for the course. Hanks and Spielberg provide us with the quality that we are accustomed to receiving from them. I was never bored during the movie, but I was never on the edge of my seat either. Typically, I look to espionage movies for some sense of surprise or intrigue; but, this one plays it like a typical drama based on a true story. As this is not a story or event that many Americans likely know about, it provides insight into what many of the operations during the Cold War may have been like. I do feel that the dialog and character development were lacking. Hanks and the rest of the cast pretty much remain static through the whole movie. Often in movies based on true stories, I like to see dynamic character arcs or redemptions. What I find in this movie is a realistic depiction of this event that likely felt more intense at the time than what is shown of the screen. Perhaps that is it. Maybe, I would have liked the movie a lot more had there has been a pronounced thrilling nature or contained emotionally intense scenes.

If you are looking for a thrilling movie of government espionage, then this is not it. If you are looking for a well-produced biographical movie based on a true story, then this is it. I am certain that Tom Hanks plays the role of Donovan accurately and I commend him for bringing this real-life American hero alive for the screen. At the end of the day, this is a good example of an accurate biographic motion picture and Spielberg proves that he can deliver a classy true story as well as he can an action-adventure movie.