“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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“The Gentlemen” Mini Film Review

Smart, sexy, stylish! Written and directed by Guy Ritchie, The Gentlemen is a non-stop thrill ride, full of intrigue and hilariously witty humor. Don’t allow the late January release date fool you, this is not a “January” movie. If you enjoy Guy Ritchie films, then know that this is Guy Ritchie to the max. Once you think you have it figured out, then he throws in another twist to up the ante in this highly entertaining film. Talk about a great cast! Hugh Grant steals every scene he is in. Perhaps this movie won’t garner a Best Ensemble Cast award, but this cast’s chemistry is outstanding. Every line of dialogue, every reaction, every scene is crafted with precision and razor-sharp wit. Guy Ritchie certainly returns to his signature hyperactive heist meets crime procedural style after spending some thankless time in Agrabah. Richie proves that he has a masterful command of a story that both takes itself seriously but is very much tongue-in-cheek the entire time, giving us a nearly 2hr movie that is highly engaging and entertaining the entire time. Although the premise of most crime procedurals and heists is nothing new, Richie’s original expression of this genre is innovative! Albeit not meta per se, there is a quasi-metaness to this story through the character of Fletcher, a tabloid reporter, (played by Grant). He confronts Mickey’s (Matthew McConaughey) right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) with his screenplay that outlines Mickey’s entire drug operation. Most of the movie is told through the lens of a screenplay, complete with all the plot elements and character development. All the while, the foreground story ends up picking up where the screenplay leaves off. Incredibly interesting! Much like with QT’s Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood last year, Ritchie demonstrates greater concern for a well-executed entertaining story than a thought-provoking message. While we certainly need motion pictures that challenge us, we shouldn’t forget that we also need pictures that are simply fun! Well-written, directed, acted, produced, etc, but still highly entertaining at the end of the day. If you’re looking for a fantastically enjoyable time at the cinema this weekend, then checkout Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen.

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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“Underwater” Horror Movie Mini Review

I nearly suffocated from the lack of exposition. Underwater is the kind of horror movie that begins with a solid (albeit common) premise, attaches lots of talent to make it look good (including the cinematographer from A Cure for Wellness), but forgets that the movie needs a story that is more than a series of bullet points. It’s no surprise that it’s clearly an Alien knockoff with heavy influences from Deep Blue Sea and The Poseidon Adventure, but it’s only that in premise and look only. Even Deep Blue Sea has a better plot and characters than this movie. What Alien and Deep Blue Sea have in common that Underwater should have done, but didn’t, is establishing the world and characters in normal settings before the big event upsets everything. It’s not a spoiler when it happens within the first few minutes–the giant facility in which the characters work explodes. We no sooner meet our central character then the facility blows up. We have nearly zero frame of reference for anything that is going on. And the confusion won’t stop there. For most of the movie, you will be lost in the questions you have that should be answered by the film. For instance, why are there just a handful of people in a facility that is literally miles deep and wide? For what and why are they drilling? And what exactly are the areas of specialization of the cast (we only know one). Underwater is teetering between two genres: disaster and monster movies, but it should have committed to one or the other. This mishmash of tropes and plot devices just makes for a convoluted mess. A mess that some exposition could have helped clear up. Although the direction is fairly solid, it cannot make up for a poorly written story. I feel that everyone involved was doing their best to make something of the anemic script they were delivered. It’s my advice not to take the plunge into Underwater.

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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“1917” Film Review

Outstanding dramatic and technical achievement! 1917 is an anxiety-inducing, gripping motion picture. Sam Mendes’ direction is exemplary and the cinematography mind-blowing. Winner of two Golden Globes, and destined for Oscar nominations, this film is one that I highly recommend that you watch in Dolby or IMAX (if Dolby is not available in your cinema). While 1917 is not a horror film in the conventional sense, it delivers unparalleled wartime brutality that forces us to face the real horrors of war and never let up for the duration of the film. After the box office bomb that was Cats, Universal Pictures needed a homerun for both revenue and awards-possibilities. Suffice it to say, 1917 will rake in the award wins and nominations and the box office revenue that the legacy studio needs to keep financing/distributing original films of both mid and high budgets. This film is more than a cinematographic exercise of telling a feature-length visual story with one continuous tracking shot. Obviously there are moments of cuts (if you try to look for them); but for all intents and purposes, Mendes sells audiences on the tracking shot, even when the camera literally glides across the water. The film is both gorgeous in its technique and beautiful in the story. It’s not simply another war movie, it is a powerful experience that places you at the front lines of World War I. Compared to past films about WWI or WWII, I cannot think of a single other film that captured the atrocities of war and the unending violence and anxiety in nearly as brilliant or artistic a fashion. Tension will run high, and continue to ratchet up as the story unfolds. While much emphasis has been placed on the “single take” approach to shooting this film, there was the risk of the film not allowing for other elements of a good story; however, Sam Mendes delivers both a film that is shot brilliantly and one that delivers a dynamic, complex central character within a simple yet compelling plot.

During World War I, two British soldiers — Lance Cpl. Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Cpl. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) — receive seemingly impossible orders. In a race against time, they must cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow comrades — including Blake’s own brother.

Let’s start out with the element that is being talked about more than anything else–and that is the cinematography by Roger Deakins. There is so much more to this film, but I want to address that aspect first. It’s not one continuous shot. And so what??? It is unrealistic to shoot an epic (much less war movie) in a single take for two hours. However, the film certainly feels like one continuous take more than 90% of the time. And to that end, the this technical achievement is phenomenal! While it may not be innovative (as it has been done before) how the commitment to the single take approach was was executed was outstanding! There is even a moment that our two central characters are navigating navigating around a giant crater and the camera glides across the water, never stopping before or after. Talk about fantastic! More than an exercise whether or not this could be accomplished as nearly flawlessly as it was, there is also the added benefit of the enveloping experience of being on that battle field with our characters, because there is no break. A cut or break could remind us that we are safely in the auditorium, but continuing the shot never allows for a break in the excelling rising tension for the whole film. All that said, I did experience a disadvantage of knowing about the whole one shot going into the film because I found myself looking for the moments when a cut happened. And it was ultimately a distraction in the beginning. As the film progressed, I was less obsessed with looking for the cuts and simply allowed myself to get lost in the film. So my advice to filmmakers and critics watching this film is to not look for those cuts as it could become a distraction.

Here’s where it’s met with some opposition from critics: the story (inclusive of characters). There has been some notion that the method of story execution (the aforementioned “single tracking shot”) prohibited traditional story, character, and plot development. While the single tracing camera approach does minimize the amount of time that can be covered (because the story exists mostly in real time) and the points of view from the camera, there is still a powerful story of courage and determination. It is clear that Mendes desired to do for WWI what Saving Private Ryan did for WWII, and in my opinion, he did just that–and more! We are introduced to our two central characters: one is determined (Blake) and the other apprehensive but compliant (Schofield). Without going into details that would get into spoilers, there is sufficient character development that shows a transformation in worldview and level of purpose and courage when these characters are faced with grueling conflict and setback after conflict and setback. Through the brutalities of war, these two characters, of which Schofield emerges as THE central character (with Blake chief supporting), we witness demonstrable growth that affects Schofield in such a way that he is forced to take certain actions that directly impact the plot and his personal development. I don’t mean to be vague, but it’s important that you go into the film with a little knowledge of details as possible.

Once our two soldiers are sent on their mission from the General to take orders to another company on the other side of what is referred to as No Man’s Land (through German encampment), it is a nonstop brutal adventure with stakes as high as life and death. Mendes shies not away from the gritty violence and total destruction of war. At one point, one of our main characters cuts his hand on barbed wire, then not long after, plunges his hand into the chest cavity of a corpse. And that is as tame as it gets–only gets more terrifying and brutal from there. Everything feels so incredibly real. Like, you should duck for cover yourself as the bullets and shells fly across the screen. If you choose to see it in Dolby (as I did), you will feel as though you are in the middle of the battle field and deep in the trenches along with the brave men fighting for the freedom of France and the rest of the world. Not since Saving Private Ryan has there been such a masterful war motion picture to hit the silver screen.

Don’t sleep on this film, even if you are not typically into war pictures. Take me for example. I am not ordinarily into war films (or sports movies). And yet, I find this one truly compelling! There’s an unapologetic authenticity in everything Mendes’ film has to offer audiences. Do yourself a favor and watch one of the best films of 2019/2020.

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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“The Grudge” (2020) Horror Movie Mini Review

A begrudging start to 2020 horror. The Grudge is the second American remake of the 2002 Japanese movie by the same name, written and directed by Nicholas Pesce, known for Piercing and The Eyes of My Mother. Before I get into why this movie is simply not good, I want to point out what it did well, never mind that what it succeeded at couldn’t fill a post-it. What to make of this hot mess of a remake? From what I can tell, Pesce attempted to apply his brand of filmmaking–that has been championed by critics–to this post-modern horror staple property. Unfortunately, most of the movie was not executed well. With a couple of exceptions that I want to highlight. (1) Casting and (2) Atmosphere that were thoughtful.

The name Lin Shaye is no stranger to horror fans. And it’s not just because she is Producer Robert Shaye’s (of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame) sister, but she is a true horror queen! Appearing in dozens of horror movies, she is an utter delight in everything that she is in. She can be courageous and comforting (Insidious), hilariously campy (2001 Maniacs), or nightmarishly creepy (The Grudge). She delivered a fantastic performance in last year’s Room for Rent as well (which made my Top 10 Horror movies of 2019 list). She is little more than a bit part in The Grudge but she is truly frightening and unsettling. Completely committed to the character amidst a poorly written movie, she does everything in her power to save this ill-conceived remake. Even though I imagine she is aware of how bad this movie it, she gives it her all because she simply loves horror!

Secondly, the atmosphere in this movie actually works well. Perhaps this bright spot gets lost in the poor direction and abominable screenplay, but the production design, lighting, sound, and cinematography that creates the unnerving settings works very well. We spend most of our time in a few locations, so a lot of thought was put into the design of these settings. Not to the extent that any of these locations become characters in and of themselves, but the atmosphere of dread is something positive that this movie has it offer. Surprisingly, the premise of the movie isn’t bad; unfortunately, the execution is where things went array. Pesce appears to have strived for an anthological structure to the IP, but it just felt like a convoluted diegetic mess of timelines. Had he taken a page out of the Michael Dougherty handbook (Trick R Treat), then perhaps this approach would have worked much better.

The end result of the poor writing and direction is a boring, predictable horror movie. A most unfortunate way to start 2020.

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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Twitter: RLTerry1

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