THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT film review

Massively fun! Nicolas Cage IS Nicolas CAGE in the hilarious yet thoughtful and action-packed The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. You don’t want to miss this highly entertaining motion picture on the BIG SCREEN! On one hand, it’s a fictionalized self-referential character study, but on the other, it’s Taken. It’s a metanarrative that delivers both the exploration of the fascinating career, larger than life persona, and highly publicized financial problems of the screen legend. In other words, this film is in full Cage Rage mode from beginning to end. For the film studies enthusiast, scholar, or just film fan, there is also a running commentary on the evolution of filmmaking spanning over 100 years. This is most noticeable when the foundational work The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and contemporary works Paddington 2, Marvel and Star Wars are referenced. In an exchange between Cage and Pedro Pascal when instead of Marvel or Star Wars movies, they both want to make films that are “intelligent,” “character study” pieces. It’s that tongue-in-cheek humor paired with the bombastic screen presence of Cage that will have you rewatching (or watching for the first time) films like Face/Off, Moonstruck, Con Air, Mandy, and yes, even The Wickerman. In fact, the screenplay pulls from all Blockbuster and obscure corners of Cage’s filmography to craft a film that is grounded in character that is thoughtfully developed over a high concept action plot. At the end of the day, this isn’t a film about a fictionalized Nicolas Cage, but a film about the transformative power of motion pictures that stars Nicolas Cage as himself.

Unfulfilled and facing financial ruin, actor Nick Cage accepts a $1 million offer to attend the birthday party of Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal), an immensely wealthy fan. Things take a wildly unexpected turn when a CIA operative recruits Cage for an unusual mission. Taking on the role of a lifetime, he soon finds himself channeling his most iconic and beloved characters to save himself and his loved ones.

The Cage Mythos is alive and well in this film. Cage both embraces and pokes fun at the prolific number of myths inspired by his vast career. Moreover, regarding the metanarrative, this film reminds the audience (and Hollywood producers) of the Cage Range of his acting prowess. Few actors have inspired as many bad impressions, memes, and have left the undeniable impression that Nicolas Cage has. What the films ranging from the obscure artsy “direct to video” (streaming nowadays) titles to the Blockbusters have in common is how much they resonate with audiences. By his own admission in the movie and in real life,

Cage is a working actor. He’s never viewed acting as a career as much as it is a series of gigs with which he has had lots of fun, and will continue to do such. Perhaps he is a contemporary Christopher Lee. Sir Christopher Lee still holds the record for sheer number of roles over his storied career. In many ways, Cage is not unlike Lee. Whether the man is the myth or the myth is the man, Cage plays right into it. He know precisely what his fans and audiences want to see from him–they wanna see Full Cageness! Cage has the benefit of a distinct voice–he IS a movie star, in the classical definition of the word. Regardless of how many bad movies he’s made, he maintains a larger-than-life screen presence that is peerless.

The movie that Javi and Nick are working on in Massive Talent parallels that of this movie itself. They both speak of a character study piece that turns into a genre picture. Furthermore, the central character of the screenplay within the movie has the same struggles that this fictionalized Nick Cage has. As Cage is developing this idea-turned screenplay with Javi, he undergoes self-rediscovery and ultimately reconnects with his estranged family (this isn’t a spoiler…it’s rather obvious). But that’s the point. It is a tried and true, simple plot on which complex characters are created and change over the course of their respective arcs. Simple plots, complex characters. That is what I tell my screenwriting students makes a great story!

If you are knowledgable in Cage films, then you will absolutely love all the easter eggs, references, and clips. I attended the screening with a friend of mine that hasn’t seen many Cage films; still, he found The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent to be highly entertaining and fun. Suffice it to say, just like there is a Nick Cage for everyone, there is a little something for everyone in this film–but fans of Cage will definitely get the most out of it!

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

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THE BAD GUYS animated film review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

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.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

BEING THE RICARDOS film review

I Love Being the Ricardos. Whether you are a fan or scholar of I Love Lucy or not, this biographical motion picture is for you! Go behind the walls of 623 E. 68th St. (an address that in real life would be in the East River), and get up close and personal with one of the toughest weeks in Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’ careers and the run of the sitcom. Being the Ricardos also represents Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, and be brings with him his penchant for exploring the human condition through dialogue steeped in subtext, thus adding the dramatic dimension to the dialogue. What I appreciate about Sorkin’s approach is how he seamlessly layers two timelines and a meta narrative into one another, in a manner that is consistently driving the plot forward in terms of plot and character. While the central focus of the film is on Lucille Ball being accused of being a communist, there are ancillary stories on Desi’s affairs and Vivan Vance’s complicated relationship with Lucille Ball and her character Ethel Mertz. William Frawley is depicted as the most level-headed out of the whole cast. Other dynamics of the mother of all sitcoms include the the power dynamic between the writers Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll Jr., and executive producer Jess Oppenheimer. Throughout the film, one theme is clear: home. What does a home mean or look like to you? Lucy desires a home, and she will fight for it.

In 1952, Hollywood power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz face a series of personal and professional crises that threaten their careers, their relationship and their hit TV show.

With so many layers at play, it may have proven to be disastrous for many if not most writer-directors, but not Aaron Sorkin. Any reviews you’ve heard or read that suggest Being the Ricardos is too inside baseball are wildly exaggerated. Yes, there is a greater appreciation for the film by those that know I Love Lucy well, but even those that only know of the sitcom will appreciate it. The friend that attended with me had virtually no substantive knowledge of I Love Lucy, yet he laughed along with this film, and knew precisely what was going on and why it was so important. If you are a member of the creative economy that runs, writes for, or acts in a sitcom, then you will have a greater level of empathy and understanding for the ups and downs faced by writers, actors, producers, and sponsors in Being the Ricardos.

Being the Ricardos starts out “in the future” with interviews with the (late in real life) Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll Jr., and Madelyn Pugh about I Love Lucy and that week–and they all had the same reaction. Although I thought the three comedy writers had passed away, I was completely convinced that Sorkin was interviewing the TV legends. I actually had to check Wikipedia for the death dates. Anyway. The illusion of a documentary layer added to the authenticity of this film. Periodically throughout the film, we return to our writers and executive producer for some retrospective commentary on the “past” or “present” story. These interview segments provide a more substantive context for the conflict to follow. Furthermore, it adds come comedic relief for the otherwise serious film.

Often times, these type of biographic motion pictures work to humanize or make relatable the central figure(s), and Sorkin’s film does just that. Even though the world knows that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz divorced in 1960 (following the final performance of the Lucy Desi Comedy Hour), we still think fo them as the madly-in-love couple at 623 E. 68th St (and later at their house in West Chester, CT). Going behind the scenes, we witness four actors with their own demons and flaws. Perhaps you can identify with the struggles experienced by Lucy, Desi, Vivian, or William (Bill). And not just them, but Madelyn, Bob, and Jess too. More than a historical biographical picture, this is a motion picture that is very much a story of what it means to be human that is paired with a deep dive into one of the most beloved TV shows of all time.

Kidman’s performance as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem’s performance as Desi are excellent! While Bardem may not disappear behind the costuming, hair, and makeup to the degree that Kidman does, he had Desi’s mannerisms and body language down pat! Clearly, he spent a great deal of time preparing for a role that has major shoes to fill, or should I say bongos to play. From her voice to her appearance to her body language, Nicole Kidman will wow you with her portrayal of the Queen of Comedy Lucille Ball. Kidman’s preparation for this role of a lifetime paid off in spades. If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost believe that I was watching Lucille Ball on screen. It reminds me, in many ways, of Jessica Chastain’s outstanding performance as Tammy Faye in (my favorite film of 2021) The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

For fans of the show, you may notice some continuity errors. Now, these errors don’t detract away from the film, but may surprise you. The show is in the middle of the second season, but the apartment set is the apartment they would move into after Little Ricky was born in Season 3. The giveaway was the window in the back. And in the film when they are referring to baby the Ricardos will have, it’s actually Desi Jr. that would be born during the third season and not Lucie, which is what is depicted in the film.

While we get a flashforwards to the famous grape vat scene, we do not get the most famous scene from I Love Lucy of all time: Vitameatavegemin. It is referenced, but we do not get to see Kidman recreate this scene. Maybe it’s a bonus feature on the BluRay. I hope so anyway!

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

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

WEST SIDE STORY (2021) movie musical review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1