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 LOST CITY adventure movie mini-review

The lost screenplay. The whole time Loretta (Sandra Bullock), Alan (Channing Tatum), and Abigail (Daniel Radcliffe) are searching for the legendary fire crown on a mysterious, obscure volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic (that simultaneously is developed enough to have an airport and tourism economy), I was left wondering if the writers and director lost the screenplay, and just made it up as they went along. Clearly this film is an attempt to reimagine the adventure-romance classic Romancing the Stone, but lacks nearly everything that makes the aforementioned one of the best written screenplays of all time. What The Lost City does have is undeniable chemistry between all of our lead and supporting cast. And it’s this chemistry that will keep you from completely tuning out. A screenplay with a well-paced, structured story and well-developed characters can always have the funny bumped-up; whereas a screenplay that is a laugh-a-minute has a much more difficult time bumping up the plot and characters. Unfortunately, the latter is a more accurate description of this movie better suited for direct-to-streaming than a theatrical run. When the funny is rooted in bit or gag-based humor, it simply can’t sustain a movie’s energy and entertainment value. The release date is also puzzling. Since this movie is a romance of sorts, it would have made more sense to release in February for Valentine’s Day. Nothing is left to subtext…it’s all right there on the surface, requiring nothing of the audience. Furthermore, so little is required of the actors that all look like they are completely bored with the story and phoning-in performances. Interestingly, the best-developed character in the movie is Alan (Tatum), and that’s not saying much. Believe it or not, there IS a good movie (on the level of Romancing the Stone) in there somewhere–the characters and story are thoughtful and fun–but the poorly written screenplay holds the movie back from the potential that was clearly there.

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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DEATH ON THE NILE whodunit film review

You’ll want to watch it again! Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile takes everything you enjoyed about Murder on the Orient Express, and builds upon it to deliver a film that further proves that the subgenre whodunit remains timeless! Of course, much like with any murder-mystery or whodunit, it’s difficult to review without getting into spoilers. What I can tell you is that Death on the Nile boasts a stellar cast, exotic setting, and all the love and deception you want in a whodunit. Unlike the previous chapter in Branagh’s Agatha Christie adapted films, the Poirot we encounter feels more human. Contrary to previous TV and film adaptations, we witness the cracks in Poirot’s veneer, revealing his vulnerable side. Perhaps this may be another story with one of the best worst-kept secrets in literary history, but through Branagh’s direction and Michael Green’s screenplay, diegetic elements are added in order to entertain audiences with a fresh interpretation of the iconic literary work. Even after you learn who committed the murders aboard the luxury river cruise ship, you will instantly desire to watch again in order to find the clues that you missed.

Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot’s Egyptian vacation aboard a glamorous river steamer turns into a terrifying search for a murderer when a picture-perfect couple’s idyllic honeymoon is tragically cut short.

There may be some naysayers out there that are unfairly negatively criticizing the (and I’ll be honest, somewhat predictable) solution to the mystery, you have to remember that this literary work and previous film/TV adaptations have been around for a very long time, and have served as significant influencers for all whodunits to come thereafter. Naturally, fans of the whudunit genre may be able to completely or partially guess the who, why, and how. The best way to enjoy this film is to go in as a fan of classical whodunits; if you do that, I am confident that you will thoroughly enjoy your time at the cinema!

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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I Want You Back romcom review

Heartwarming! From the outstanding cast chemistry to the clever writing, you need to make I Want You Back part of your Valentine’s Day celebrations at the cinema (for the limited theatrical run) or on Amazon Prime Video. Much like Broken Hearts Gallery showed us that the romcom can be reimagined for today’s teen and 20-something audiences, Jason Orley’s I Want You Back is the romcom reimagined for 30-something audiences. If it can make cynics like me once again believe that my “plane mask buddy” (you’ll just have to see the film to get the reference) is still out there, you too will find the story incredibly endearing! While the classical American romcom has largely fallen out of favor with a significant portion of movie audiences over the last decade or so, there are films that take the foundation of what made the romcom such an American cinema staple, and upon it, build plots and characters that both resonate across ages and cultures and still deliver the quirks and laughs that are such a hallmark of the romcom. It’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed such excellent chemistry between an ensemble in a comedy, and it is the characters that will command a rewatch of this soon-to-be quintessential romcom, that will undoubtedly rank up there with the likes of Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Two Weeks Notice and more.

Peter (Charlie Day) and Emma (Jenny Slate) are total strangers. When they meet, they realize they were both dumped on the same weekend. Their commiseration turns into a mission when they see that each of their ex-partners have happily moved on to new romances.

What makes this movie work so well is the focus on character-driven (or dramatic) storytelling. When the character(s) drives the plot, we refer to it as drama, while the action driving the plot is referred to as melodrama. Just a little film studies there, for ya. The movie wastes no time in establishing who our central and chief supporting characters are; this is an important screenwriting decision because it allows for the character reactions to drive the story in a manner in which we believe everything the characters do because the rules for the characters were established up front. You can get away with anything if you set it up appropriately.

Yes, there are melodramatic moments (and you will need to engage your suspension of disbelief), but every emotional beat and turning point is earned and delivered meaningfully. Meaningful. That is a description that is so often overlooked in comedies. When writers focus so much on laughs, the art of meaningful storytelling is lost. In the writers room, a strong story with well-developed plot and characters can always be punched up with laughs, versus a laugh-a-minute story with poorly-developed plot and characters, which has a problem requiring major diegetic surgery.

Authenticity! You will find the characters to be incredibly believable and real, with little to no pretense. Our leads and supporting cast feel like your coworkers, neighbors, and friends. We all have someone in our lives of whom the characters will remind us. In fact, you will likely see yourself IN one or more of the characters. When you can place yourself in the story, the degree to which it impacts you will significantly increase. And it’s even better when you can laugh along with the characters. But what makes these characters connect and resonate with audiences is the unexpected level of vulnerability the characters demonstrate. And it’s our vulnerabilities, our flaws and the ability to learn, grow, and experience redemption that makes us human.

Perhaps you are like me, a romantic cynic. So, your default setting is disdain and pessimism for anything that even has a hint of romance and erotic love. I find it difficult to connect with the typical romcom, even the great ones of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. Just feels like something so out of reach and unbelievable that I’d rather watch another horror movie. If someone like me can be touched by I Want You Back, then I know that it can touch even the most cynical. Personally, I see myself as two-parts Emma and one-part Peter. And it’s the prolific opportunities to connect with the characters that will cause this movie to find a place in your heart.

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.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

SCREAM (2022) horror movie review

Familiar yet fresh. From the duo that brought you the smash hit Ready or Not comes the next instabment in the beloved SCREAM franchise. It’s been just over twenty-five years since Casey answered that fateful phone call from Ghostface and just over a decade since the late, great Wes Craven gifted us with SCRE4M before his tragic passing. And, now audiences are returning to Woodsboro. In a filmscape overstuffed with pretentious, stylized horror films that often forget that plot and characters are more important than the pretty packaging, comes a fresh interpretation of the classical slasher that is sure to thrill you! While the new SCREAM isn’t without its diegetic flaws (but, to go into that would mean spoilers), it is still entertaining and fun. Clearly, the screenwriters channeled the soul of the original SCREAM, a perfect film in my opinion, but put a relevant spin on it in order to resonate with contemporary audiences. What I can say, without going into spoilers, is that this movie has too many characters; to the point that some of them feel like furniture. Where you may connect quickly with the movie is in subtext of the film, which is grounded in a commentary on the slasher versus elevated horror (a term I absolutely detest, as I’ve previously written) and toxic fandoms versus studio execs green-lighting rebookquels or requel (as the movie states). These are the conversations that fans of horror have all the time, and you will find yourself vicariously engaged in the conversations as the characters are having their debates on screen. After the flop that was Halloween Kills, I was anticipating another vapid, pandering attempt to revive a legendary cinematic property. But, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. We didn’t know we needed another SCREAM movie, but turns out that we did. 

Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, Calif., a new killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past.

Not only are Sidney, Gale, and Dewey back, but you’ll see some other familiar faces too. Here is where we can directly compare Halloween Kills and Scream (2022). Both movies brought back leading and supporting characters (and actors), but Scream succeeds in developing all of them enough for audiences to care about whether they live or die. Now, Scream does suffer from being overstuffed with ancillary characters, to the point that some are one-dimensional; however, the screenwriters do manage to give each some agency–some more than others. Other than rooting for Sidney, Gale, and Dewey to survive the blade of Ghostface, you may be hard-pressed to truly care whether some of the other characters live or die. Fortunately, as little as you may care about a particular character in this movie, you’ll still find yourself caring way more than you did for the cast of Halloween Kills.

The kills are great! And best of all, it doesn’t devolve into a completely unrealistic bloodbath. Yes, it is a little gorier and violent than the original (or even the subsequent previous sequels), but not overly so. This iteration of Ghostface may not have the one-liners of its predecessors, but Ghostface manages to get some zings in there. Unsurprisingly, there are many homages to the original SCREAM, but there are nods to other horror properties as well–the shower scene from Psycho makes a little cameo, and we spend a great deal of time with the Stab movies. Instead of rules to surviving a horror movie, we have rules to surviving a Stab movie or requel. Dylan Minnette’s character’s name is Wes, which is a great touch! In fact, the entire movie is dedicated to the life and legacy of the late, great Wes Craven.

This movie works because it takes itself seriously as a Scream movie (and by extension, the slasher), but allows itself to have fun along the way. Perhaps Generation Z does not appreciate the slasher for the cultural phenomenon that it was, but this movie may just be the thing to get them interested in discovering just how brilliant and fun slashers are. I feel confident that you will enjoy Scream as much as I did! Yes, I have my plotting and diegetic problems with it, but it doesn’t take away from the fun factor. This movie succeeds where Halloween Kills failed–it never forgot its roots in greatness. It remembered its branding, and stayed the course. Even though it may not be quite as good as SCRE4M, and with the original being peerless, this fifth installment justifies its existence and delivers laughs and thrills. Much like with Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s incomparable original, this one also knows what it is, and it rocks it!

And here is where you should stop reading unless you don’t mind spoilers. 

Okay, if you’re continuing to read, I will interpret that as consent, and I will talk about elements of the film that involve spoilers. Not because I want to spoil it, but because it’s difficult to talk about the topics I want to address whilst completely avoiding them.

One of the best elements of the original SCREAM is the absolute perfection that the opening excruciating 13-minutes (that’s right 13), which is, in my opinion, the best and most effective opening of a film period. That opening literally does everything an opening should–you know precisely what the stakes are and what the film is about. Anyway. As to whether the opening of Scream (2022) is precisely 13-minutes, I do not know because I was not looking at my watch (but it feels that it could be 13-minutes). But I was eager for the opening for comparative analysis purposes. I wasn’t looking to see if it was as intense or brilliant as the original (because, let’s face it, that’s an overwhelming task), but I was looking to see if we would know everything we need to know and how high the stakes are going to be. Sadly, we learn that Tara (Jenna Ortega) did not die in the opening scene. And it was this poor decision that hung over me for the entire film. Because once we learn that Tara did not die, instantly any of the suspense and high stakes we had were rendered ineffective and futile. Tara should have died because then audiences would have realized that the stakes are high, and that no one is safe from the knife of Ghostface. Suffice it to say, this poor decision did not ruin the movie for me–I still had a lot of fun with it–but the power of the opening was muted and lacked anything memorable.

There are two arguments (or topics) at the center of the new Scream (1) elevated horror versus slashers and (2) toxic fans versus reboots/remakes. What I love about this, is that these two topics are such a part of the #PodernFamily (podcasters) and #FilmTwitter (film pundits and fans on Twitter) pantheon of conversations and arguments on a daily basis, especially when it comes to horror and legacy cinematic properties. Early on, in fact it’s in the opening scene, we are informed of Tara’s taste in horror: she prefers elevated (excuse me while I vomit at the term) horror like The Babadook, Hereditary, and The Witch. She slams slashers like STAB for being schlock devoid. Turns out, she underestimated the power and social commentary of slashers. Perhaps she should’ve spent more time in horror, because then she would’ve learned that horror has always been the most progressive of all the genres–not just in the last decade. Further along in the movie, we witness a debate over fans versus “requels” (wherein a movie is a combination of a reboot and sequel). While I am not a generally fan of rebooting a legacy franchise or tacking on a sequel that we didn’t need cinematically, so much of what is said in the entertaining exchange of the marketplace of ideas is incredibly meta because of how pervasive it is within the film community. And the plot of Scream (2022) plays right into both of the aforementioned commentaries on horror movies.

Of all the kills, my favorite one is right out of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. And I’ll leave it at that. 

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