DEVOTION film review

DEVOTION delivers an endearing story with heart, but the unevenly paced screenplay lacks the gravitas to be truly impactful or memorable. Unfortunately, this Naval Air Force biographical drama arrives on the tailwinds of Top Gun: Maverick, to which it will undoubtedly get compared (though they are different). It’s a decent film with an important, historical story to tell, but the film is held back by the lack of strategic focus and the competing story threads.

Elite fighter pilots Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) and Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) become the U.S. Navy’s most celebrated wingmen during the Korean War.

We cannot discuss this film without addressing the white elephant in the room, the wildly popular, critical and box office smash hit Top Gun: Maverick. Both films feature character-driven stories in the Air Force, one fictional, while the other is biographical. Funnily, both feature Glen Powell in a central role. Speaking of casting, Devotion has a solid cast, but often times, neither the lead nor supporting characters are given much to do.

Even though I was unfamiliar with this true story prior to watching the film, it certainly seems to have hit all the factual points (which–don’t get me wrong–is important in a biographical drama), but the facts of the account never fully manifest into a cinematic story. Furthermore, there are three competing story threads, each vying to be the main outside/action story (1) the Korean War mission (2) the friendship between Tom and Jesse and (3) the relationship between Jesse and his family. Underscoring each of these is the inside/emotional story of Jesse’s professional and psychological struggles being the first person of color in the Naval Air Force.

The screenplay lacks focus, lacks direction. None of the outside/actions stories ever emerges as the main (or A-story). In an effort to dramatize everything that was going on in Jesse’s life professionally and personally, the screenplay never completely landed on any one of them. Because of this lack of focus, audiences will likely experience difficulty in connecting with any one of the characters; empathize? Yes. Truly connect? Therein lies the struggle.

Compared to the cinematography and editing of Maverick, Devotion noticeably struggles. Regrettably, this struggle would have been less noticeable had both films not been released in the same year (and yes I am aware Maverick experienced delays due to shuttered theatres and mitigated operations from 2020–2021). As much as I tried to separate the two films, Maverick was such an incredible film that it’s nearly impossible to evaluate them independent of one another.

Devotion is a middle of the road film, from technical achievement and screenwriting perspectives. It’s neither bad nor great; because it has an important story to tell, and it’s clear that everyone’s hearts were in the right place, it does make for a good film, but one that won’t likely stick with you as long as Maverick did.

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.

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AMSTERDAM movie mini-review

There is a fascinating true story and great movie…in there…somewhere. David O. Russell’s star-studded Amsterdam is a bloated, poorly paced movie that places far more emphasis on repetitive, pedantic social commentary than it does on lean storytelling and strategic plotting. If not for the powerhouse cast, the movie would be nearly unwatchable. A litmus test I give a movie is (1) if I look at my watch and (2) if so, how often. If I am looking at the time, then I am not engrossed in the story. And I looked at my watch many times during this lengthy quasi-historical drama. Amsterdam demonstrably has little idea or security in what it wants to be. Is it a dark comedy? Is it a drama? Is it satire? All valid questions for which there is no clear answer, because it struggles to find the proper tone that best expresses its story. Although the social commentary on race relations quickly becomes redundant, it does highlight some areas of wartime history of which many, including myself, are likely unaware. Such as soldiers of color being forced to wear French uniforms–had no idea! So I am glad that this disrespectful chapter in history was highlighted for modern audiences. Clearly this movie should have been an Oscar vehicle for Russell, his cast, and crew, From beginning to end, it’s easy to read this film as a desperate attempt to win over general audiences and critics by convincing them that there is something to see here; unfortunately, what should have been an incredibly interesting mystery and untold true story suffocates under the poorly written and structured screenplay.

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.

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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

UNCHARTED action-adventure movie review

The Goonies meets Raiders of the Lost Ark in the moderately entertaining movie adaptation of the hit Uncharted video game series. Of course, therein lies a tonal problem: the movie is never quite sure what tone it wants to strike. Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg star in the Ruben Fleischer helmed high-flying action-adventure movie that hopes you haven’t played or know much about the video game. Fortunately for me, I wouldn’t even know the cover art of the game, let alone anything about it other than the title. And that is probably why I enjoyed it as much as I did–but that isn’t saying much. #FilmTwitter was up in arms about the boyish Holland playing the grizzled Nathan Drake when the casting was announced. And while I cannot comment on his particular interpretation of the main character from the video game, I can comment on an inability to buy him as the character, as written, for the movie. It’s indicative of the trend of endowing teens and young adult actors (and by extension, characters) with the same qualities and experiences that come with age and experience. I’ll give him this, he is a charismatic actor. The slapdash storytelling comes across as a movie that feels more like a curation of cut-scenes from a video game, a problem that plagues most video game movie adaptations.

Nathan Drake and his wisecracking partner Victor “Sully” Sullivan embark on a dangerous quest to find the greatest treasure never found while also tracking clues that may lead to Nate’s long-lost brother.

What ultimately keeps this movie afloat is the witty, quippy dialogue, completely devoid of any subtext, but will elicit periodic laughter throughout the movie. While I know next to nothing about the video game, I did learn from a fan of the video game that there is a major element from the game that is completely absent from the movie. I won’t mention what that is in order to avoid spoilers. Be sure to wait around for the mid and post credit scenes that setup a sequel. If you do plan to see it, you’ll definitely want to watch it in the biggest premium format in your area. Many of the scenes, especially in the third act, deliver immense size and scope that are best appreciated and experiences on the biggest screen possible.

While I am unsure of the plot of the video game, the movie sets up an emotionally-driven subplot of the Nathan’s search for his long-lost (or gone) brother. But, it never feels that is plays any significant role in the main action plot. In fact, you can remove the whole search for his brother and the movie plays out the same. This is a movie that could have been a nice hybrid between The Goonies and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it tries to be both of them instead of finding its own expression. Perhaps this is yet another example of how most video game adaptations simply don’t translate to the screen well, because the interactive element is missing.

At the end of the day, it’s a decent popcorn flick to experience in IMAX that is a perfectly fine way to pass the time on an afternoon.

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

House of Gucci mini review

“A triumph in mediocrity.” From the brilliance of The Last Duel to the dullness of House of Gucci, director Ridley Scott is all over the cinemascape this year. Rodolfo Gucci, in his deconstruction of Aldo Gucci’s talent for design encapsulates the experience of this film by the summation that it merely exists without having any lasting impact of the soul of design. Phenomenal cast, intriguing historic story, fascinating look into one of the most storied companies of all time, but it’s ultimately all held back by a director phoning in his vision and a screenplay that is about as one-dimensional as the conglomerate that would eventually oust the Gucci family from their own fashion house. Individually, all the actors in the lead and secondary ensemble cast are outstanding. Unfortunately, the screenplay (and director) give them nothing substantive to do. So, there are many scenes in which each is clearly going for their respective Oscar or Golden Globe nomination.

What a disservice to the sensational true story, because there is a great story in this lackluster mess somewhere. Structurally, the first two acts drag on and on and on in a meandering direction that is suppose to point to and setup the third act, which consequently is the best part of the film. Regrettably, the third act is incredibly rushed (plot, murder, conviction, family ousted, all within 10mins it seems). I mean, those are some of the most interesting plot points of the whole story about (to quote the subtitle of the novel on which this is based) “…the sensational story of murder, madness, glamour, and greed.” One screenwriting convention is referred to as saving the best for last, but I don’t think the practice is meant to be taken that literally (it’s actually more or less directed at dialogue ending on a strong note). Perhaps the most intriguing dimension in this film is how it will likely prompt you to read up on the family and company after you get home. Just in terms of reading the Wikipedia entry, there was more intrigue than in the whole of House of Gucci. Which is saying a lot, since this film was pretty much a Wikipedia article.

If you’re a student of history or fashion, then you will likely find the background of interest. While this film is certainly not a runway film, there is commentary on art of versus the commercialization of fashion that exists within the mediocre narrative. Is is bad? No, not inordinately so. Is it good? Not particularly. Unless you want to see the fantastic performances on the big screen, I suggest at-home viewing of this film is sufficient.

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