GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO motion picture review

Positively avant-garde! Easily among the best pictures of the year, period. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a brilliant stop-motion picture that will stir the hearts and minds of any audience! In many ways it’s reminiscent of 80s dark fantasies such as The NeverEnding Story and The Dark Crystal. Which should come as no surprise that del Toro worked in collaboration with the Jim Henson Company. Audience will be completely transported to the post-World War I Italian world that del Toto meticulously recreates, complete with the fascist movement, which underscores much of the film. Not since Kubo and the Two Strings have we had such a gorgeous, imaginative animated feature film–a film that was robbed of its deserved and earned Beast Animated Film Oscar (no, Zootopia is in no universe a superior film). Let’s hope that the Mouse doesn’t rob Pinocchio of it’s well-deserved Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

The story may seem familiar: A father’s wish magically brings a wooden boy to life in Italy, giving him a chance to care for the child. But you’ve never seen Pinocchio like this before!

Before you dismiss Del Toro’s Pinocchio as another soulless, cash-grab remake, this much more macabre version of the titular puppet’s story delivers immense depth and dimension. Not only of technical achievement, but of theme, plot, and character development. This animated film proves that animation isn’t only for kids, because this film is far more thoughtfully crafted than most live action films this ear. And yes, I agree with recent comments from Quintin Tarrantino that we are experiencing one of the worst eras of cinema in history. No doubt this is true. However, this year has seen some real winners such as Top Gun: Maverick and now Pinocchio. Suffice it to say, this is not your kid’s Pinocchio. And, although there are important life lessons in the film, it goes to places, both figuratively and literally, that may not be appropriate for kinds under 12 years of age. While Pinocchio is in its limited theatrical run, see it on the BIG screen!

While there are certainly plot beats which are shared by the original 19th century story, the 1940 Disney adaptation, the wretched Robert Zemeckis’ remake earlier this year, and countless stage adaptations (funnily enough, I saw the operetta Pinocchio this week as well), Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio takes on a life of its own. It isn’t often that the filmmaker added a possessive to the film title. Whereas it’s commonplace for Disney to add Disney’s… to literally everything, it’s uncommon for director’s or producers to add a possessive to the film’s title. Notable exceptions include Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas (directed by Henry Selick), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (directed by Francis Ford Coppola), and now Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. This possessive form of title is often employed to signify (1) the filmmaker’s confidence in his or her work of motion picture art and (2) to separate it from all other versions of the same story (and/or title). Moreover, this often indicates to audiences that they are about to witness the work of a true auteur (not the case when we see Disney’s…–that’s just plain branding).

Is it del Toro’s arrogance or an ego trip that prompts such chutzpah in this film’s title? Not at all. Del Toro has been working on this passion project for over 15 years. Before you feel that’s an exaggeration, let the finished motion picture be the demonstrable evidence of meticulous work frame-by-frame in this nearly two-hour film. Images are most often captured at 25-frames-per-second, so to achieve the fluid motion del Toro has, you just do that math. Del Toro crafted intricate animation captured by a camera that is repeatedly started and stopped over the course of day, weeks, years. Each mouth, arm ear, eye, literally any object that has movement, is moves a little at a time, frame-by-frame. Not only does del Toro’s craftsmanship translate to beautiful, seamless movement by the characters and environment in the film, he successfully captures the visual and emotional miracles that can only be accomplished through stop motion animation. There’s a reason why we go back to the Rankin & Bass Christmas classics every year; there is immense simplicity and beauty in stop-motion animation. Why? Same reason why practical effects will always be superior to (overt) CGI effects–depth, dimension, the way real light bounces off objects and into the camera lens.

Even though the film is quite dark from the moment the atrocities of war are witnessed, it is not without its levity and uplifting scenes. To get into a central theme of the film involving stages of grief (which makes it unique compared to other iterations), would mean venturing too far into spoilers, which I would like to avoid, and with that theme, there are many scenes that force the audience to confront what many fear most. Because of this theme, one might think the film is somber most of of the time, and fortunately, this is not true. There are plenty of moments that break up the sadness to inject a healthy dose of laughter. And more often than not, we have Sebastian J. Cricket to thank for that! (I’m sure the “J” is a playful jab at Disney). DelToro’s sardonic, raconteur cricket always has the perfect witty remark or anecdote to provide insight into a given plot point or emotional beat. Because of Sebastian J. Cricket’s running commentary and moral/ethical guidance, the audience is willing to go on this emotional roller coaster. The moment of levity allow for an emotional and psychological reset to face the darker moments.

Outside of the imagery of the stages of grief, there are other fascinating areas of social commentary in the film as well. I love how del Toro moves the real boy imagery, how it’s traditionally interpreted: wood vs. flesh, to one that posits ideas of what it means to be a real man. These arguments are mostly seen in the Mussolini’s youth armies scenes. In the world of fascist Italy, to be a real man meant taking up the arms and creeds of Mussolini’s Italy to fight the allied forces. Pinocchio must decide what it means to be a real man. Another area that is interesting is the relationship between Geppetto and the village (Catholic) Church. While there may be various ways of interpreting this imagery and these scenes, which are bookends for the film, I feel it is best interpreted as Geppetto never compromising on his faith in God even though the Catholic Church, at that time in Italy, was being infiltrated by Mussolini’s fascist ideals (cleverly disguised to sway some in the faith community).

Lastly, we cannot talk about this film without highlighting the moving score and outstanding original songs. While Pinocchio is not a musical, it has several original songs that will move audiences! Not only does this film boast exquisite animation, but it delivers outstanding original music and lyrics as well. Audiences will find both diegetic and non-diegetic musical numbers in the film. This combination works incredibly well to wrap audiences in the mesmerizing story!

Even though Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is coming to Netflix in December, look to see if it’s playing at theatre near you for the full experience!

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

GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY whodunit movie review

Cloth Mask: a COVID Mystery. The real mystery is why Johnson didn’t turnover his idea for this chapter in the fledgling franchise to a different screenwriter. World famous detective Benoit Blanc is back, but this mystery suffocates under constant reminders of the varying degrees of response to COVID-19. At the core of this Knives Out installment is an intriguing mystery; however, throughout the whole movie, the audience is reminded of about two years of recent history that most people would rather forget. The best part of the movie is a cameo, near the beginning, of a truly legendary TV detective. Even if you don’t want to watch the whole movie, watch the first few minutes, because you will undoubtedly love the cameo as much as I did.

Tech billionaire Miles Bron invites his friends for a getaway on his private Greek island. When someone turns up dead, Detective Benoit Blanc is put on the case.

Before I break down my thoughts on the movie, just who is that legendary TV detective that surprises us with a heartwarming cameo? None other than Dame Angela Lansbury, aka Murder, She Wrote‘s Jessica Fletcher! Knowing she makes her final film appearance in a murder mystery is incredibly poetic, and will absolutely thrill audiences.

While there is certainly a time and place for films that depict or are an abstract representation of events and people from real life, for purposes of inspiring conversations, most fictional films should transport us, be a momentary break from the negative stressors of life. From beginning to end, Glass Onion is a manifestation of COVID Theatre–and not for purposes of parody or satire–because it’s neither funny enough to be parody nor clever or thoughtful enough to be satire. Even though Rian Johnson is reprising his role as the writer-director of this one, the loss in quality from the brilliant Knives Out to this installment is rather conspicuous. Perhaps this is yet another example of why some directors need to stick to directing, and turn their ideas over to a screenwriter. Evidence of the poor pacing and structure is demonstrably witnessed in the simple fact that nothing big happens for an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie.

Another troubling aspect of this movie is the showdown. And no, I am not about to get into spoilers. But it’s a subject matter that certainly requires critiquing. Keeping in mind that when Glass Onion was written, Johnson could not have possibly known about now-recent headline-grabbing events (in Europe presently) about a group that feels by being a (to quote the movie) a disruptor that they can get their way. And in the film, something rather disturbing happens that could very well serve as inspiration for the continued despicable actions of this group. When these events began happening a few months ago, Johnson (or Netflix) should have rewritten and shot the ending because as it stands, the ending is tasteless.

The set and production design of the movie is nothing short of impressive. While the constant reminders of COVID do nothing to transport us to another world, the setting of this movie certainly does! I absolutely love witnessing the hand of the artist in the design of the palatial house and manicured gardens of the location where the murder mystery takes place. Much like the house in the original Knives Out felt like the Game of Clue, this one delivers a similar feel, which causes the house to feel like a character in and of itself.

While the story execution and writing leave much to be desired, the casting is great! Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc is just as entertaining as he was in the first movie. Outside of the foghorn leghorn detective, Jannelle Monáe delivers a fantastic performance as the ex-wife of our murder mystery weekend host Miles Bron, enthusiastically played by Edward Norton. You’ll recognize many to the other cast members and there are a few cameos that will garner a laugh or two. Some of the characters aren’t given much to do, so they become filler. But for the characters that have something of substance to do, they are mostly entertaining.

Unlike the previous movie, this one feel very “Netflixy,” so it’s not one that benefits from a theatrical viewing. Watching it at home will be sufficient enough. However, an advantage to watching it during its limited theatrical run is avoiding spoilers on social media.

For more on the movie, visit Netflix.com/GlassOnion.

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

BONES AND ALL horror adjacent movie review

Intriguing concept, poorly written. The highly anticipated film from director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) leaves a mediocre taste on the palate. Moreover, Bones and All represents another example of the result of concentrating more on atmosphere and technical elements than on strategic storytelling and proper plotting. “A day in the life of…” or simply “dealing with life” is not a goal; therefore, a plot it does not make. Vapid dialogue and lack of diegetic purpose plague this rather gothic romance. However, the gore is handled tastefully. The most pleasant surprise in the film is the cameo by veteran horror actress Jessica Harper of Suspiria fame! She may only be on screen for a few minutes, but her performance will captivate audiences! Unfortunately, the rest of the film is largely forgettable. In contrast to many other films this year that greatly exceed the two hour runtime, this one clocks in at a sluggishly paced two hours and ten minutes.

Love blossoms between Maren (Taylor Russell), a young woman on the margins of society, and Lee (Timotée Chalamet), a disenfranchised drifter as they embark on a 3,000-mile odyssey through the backroads of America. However, despite their best efforts, all roads lead back to their terrifying pasts and a final stand that will determine whether their love can survive their differences.

While the concept is interesting (although Warm Bodies did it better), the execution is sloppy. And I am not talking about the dining habits of our central characters. I’m talking about the disregard for screenwriting conventions. There are many refreshing ideas in the film, but the ideas are not fleshed out sufficiently. I applaud the film for delivering an original expression of an extension of the zombie genre, but I wish the story had been better paced and structured–oh yeah–an external goal for the central characters would’ve been nice too.

Although the film boasts solid casting choices (especially the Harper cameo), the visual aesthetic the central characters bring to the screen is not supported by compelling talent or character arcs. There simply wasn’t much to these characters; they are borderline one-dimensional. Lots of potential for depth, but the characters are largely the same at the end as they are at the beginning.

For all the potential for the film to serve as a social commentary on feeling alone in the world, the film never thematically lands on any particular ideology or observation of society. Extrapolating from the thematic evidence the audience is given, the film is most likely attempting to craft a story depicting when someone feels alone in the world, but surprised to find out that they are not. When relationships with your fellow man (be it platonic or romantic) are actually possible.

Despite the film taking place in the late 1980s (an era that is growing blasé as a setting for film and TV), it shares a lot in common with gothic romances because of the subject matter. Seems like every other movie releasing takes place in the 1980s, which is beginning to become tiresome and unimaginative. But, I suppose we have Stranger Things to thank for that. On the topic of visual aesthetics and production design, the film’s various midwest settings feel like a character in and of themselves. I appreciate design most when you can see the hand of the artist.

Perhaps Bones and All works better as a novel because it is overwhelmingly internally driven. Not having read the novel, I can merely infer what may have been lost in the novel to screen adaptation. Most likely what is lost is that which cannot be shown on screen, so I cannot fault the screenwriters for that. Where I do find fault is neglecting a proper outside/action story driven by a plot that points and builds to a climactic showdown and resolution. We have plenty of internal need (aka inside/emotional story), but simply dealing with life or finding love is not sufficient for purposes of compelling cinematic storytelling.

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

TICKET TO PARADISE romcom movie review

Refreshing and utterly delightful! George Clooney and Julia Roberts shine in Ticket to Paradise! Not only does this outstanding romantic comedy deliver a highly entertaining and heartfelt performative dimension, the script is solid! Excellent plotting for the familiar yet fresh story paired with dialogue that snaps, crackles, and pops! It’s an honest romcom featuring authentic true-to-life characters (albeit slightly exaggerated for dramatic purposes) that will resonate with audiences across the relationship spectrum. Whether you are a in new love, still in the honeymoon phase, or a cynic, you will find characters and predicaments that are inspired by real life. It’s been a long time since the romcom dominated cinemas, but Ticket to Ride is a great example of the classic romcom being reimagined for today’s audiences. And you know what? It’s fun for the whole family! Just goes to show that a comedy can be good, clean fun and still deliver laughs and heart. With a lean, mean script and brilliant casting in the lead and supporting roles, let this be your ticket to cinemas on your next date night!

A divorced couple teams up and travels to Bali to stop their daughter from making the same mistake they think they made 25 years ago.

Ticket to Paradise manages to seemingly do the impossible with an genre that sees few well-written directed, and acted examples nowadays, it simultaneously checks off the conventions and expectations audiences have of a romcom–yet–it delivers a story that will surprise you! Furthermore, this movie entertains audiences with a subject matter so seldom touched by romcoms–new love versus cynical love. Oh, there have been moves that have tried such as Love Actually, but this one strikes all the right tones. Over the last few years, we’ve seen some excellently written romcoms such as Last Christmas and I Want you Back. And if you enjoyed those two as much as I did, then you are sure to enjoy this one!

What’s better than a smartly written romcom with excellent casting? Well, one that takes place in an exotic landscape, of course! You may find yourself booking your next vacation to Bali after watching this movie, and for good reason, it looks like paradise. While there is nothing particularly remarkable about the cinematography, the setting serves as its own star. From sunrises to sunsets and all the crystal clear water in between, you will wish you had ordered a maitai to enjoy along with the movie. It’s easy to see why anyone would be tempted to fly to Bali on vacation and desire to stay. What I appreciate about the cinematography is that it could have so easily been distracting by increasing stylistic approaches to capturing the action and setting, but it never overshadows the story, which is why we go to the cinema, “the greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling” (C.B. DeMille).

Clooney and Roberts’ chemistry is uncanny! They’ve always played off each other so incredibly well. Such a natural couple, whether in love or fighting. And their relationship (or lack thereof) in this movie is completely believable. Of course it’s exaggerated for dramatic purposes, but this IS a romcom. Think of their relationship as real life, but edited. I’ve read some critics that have claimed the story is weak and the only redeeming dimension of this movie is the chemistry between Clooney and Roberts. Suffice it to say, that is an unfair evaluation, because the script gives them everything they need to deliver the laughs and a great story. Moreover, their respective characters have depth and dimension. Yes, there is an element of whimsy in their delivery and in the character mix, but again, this is a romantic comedy. We want to see a romanticized version of real life, but these characters and story work because they also exhibit human dimension, feelings, reactions, and flaws.

I highly recommend Ticket to Paradise! In a year that has had few stand-out movies, this is definitely one of them. Perhaps we will see more smartly written and cast romcoms return to the cinema, because as important as heavy films are, lighthearted ones are just as important because they provide an emotional balance.

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

WHY HORROR? (Preface)

My book exploring why we love horror so much is taking longer than I originally projected, but I thought I would share the preface with you. If you like the preface, then you’ll want to purchase the book when it releases! At the time of this posting, I am on Chapter 12.

PREFACE

“What’s your favorite scary movie?” (Ghost Face, Scream). There is something to be said about the measurable energy of an auditorium at the cinema when a crowd is energized for opening night of the latest horror film. Moreover, the same can be said about your own living rooms when gathered with friends to watch a horror movie on-demand or through a streaming service. We turn into quasi participants because of the strong physiological and emotional responses to the stimuli on screen. Best enjoyed in a group setting, these movies are the stuff of nightmares and fond memories!

The American horror film brings so many people of all ages together from a bevy of ethnic, cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds unlike any other single film genre. Spawning conventions, theme park events, inspiring indie and pop artists, the fandom of horror is incredibly diverse and stratified. While the science-fiction/fantasy fandom is large and vocal, it does not often display the level and degree of diversity that horror does both presently, in our culture, and has for more than a century. From the dawn of cinema, horror has been a staple for big studios and small production companies alike.

By analyzing horror films, we can learn a lot about our past, our present, and even our future. While film is largely a reflection of life, horror is the best cinematic mirror of all because it forces us to face our fears. The monster in a horror film, may just be the manifestation of a force or idea in the real world delivered to us through a terrifying cautionary tale.

Even when a bad horror movie gets released in theatres, the auditoriums are usually full on opening night–even through the weekend–before the numbers fall off, and that title is available on-demand in a few weeks. The influence of horror on our society is witnessed throughout the decades. A great example of this is seeing fans from across four decades all gathering in one place to watch 2018’s Halloween.

Unlike other critical and box office successes in recent years, this particular franchise boasted a 40 year old legacy that brought fans and spectators of all ages together. I remember sitting there in my seat, simply in awe at the sea of people and feeling a kinetic energy surge through my mind and body, especially when the Halloween theme music began to play. What other genre generates this?!?

In order to best explore why horror brings so many people together, we need to first look what the formula is for the American horror film and then at why we are attracted to it. From there, we can travel through the decades to learn how and why the horror film developed in the manner that it did.

Understanding what comprises the American horror film will support our exploration because it will create a theoretical framework through which we can analyze the popularity and fandom of horror. When I lecture on horror to my film studies and screenwriting students at the University of Tampa, where I’ve taught since 2016, I describe the makeup of the American horror film this way:

(Art movements of) German Expressionism + French Surrealism = horror’s aesthetic

(Writings of) Sigmund Freud + Edgar Allan Poe = horror’s content

At its root, all genre horror films can be traced back to these aforementioned elements and formulas. This chapter will focus on horror’s aesthetic, while the next chapter will focus on its content. 

Ask anyone, and the single most famous scene in all of cinema is the famous shower scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho, widely regarded as the most pivotal horror film in all cinema history. The aforementioned scene gains a greater eerie feel upon the close of the movie when the audience realizes that Norman has little to no control over his mind and actions.

The studio responsible for solidifying the horror film as a popular genre, and you could say is the parent of the American horror film is Universal Pictures. Not only is horror the most bankable genre of film, generally speaking, it is also one of the most fascinating to analyze because many horror films written in the classical sense are social metaphors.

Throughout this book, you’ll learn about the current events that preceded a particular movement in horror, and how those fears and anxieties were explored through characters and plots. For example, it was the space race of the mid 20th century that inspired many of the alien movies of the 1950s. And with the space race, came a fear of what lies beyond our atmosphere.

Although the “modern” horror film began with Psycho, horror was an influential genre and box office draw from the dawn of cinema. In fact, many of the characters you enjoy watching today in horror films has their first appearance in the early 1900s.

“Oh no, don’t go into that house!” “Watch out! He’s right behind you.” Some of the most memorable movies of all time are the horror films. They draw our eye’s attention to that which would otherwise repulse us in real life. At the same time, our own eyes are being threatened with disturbing or bizarre imagery.

But why does that which would repulse us in real life and that which is terrifying to behold, bring us together? That is what we are here to explore together! So join me as I lead you on a journey to dive deep into why horror brings us together.

From Nosferatu to (my favorite icon) Freddy Krueger and beyond, the American horror film continues to leave a huge footprint in our collective zeitgeist.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and 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! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1