“Velvet Buzzsaw” One Movie Punch Review

The lowdown on high art.

The highly anticipated Netflix original satirical thriller Velvet Buzzsaw is now streaming. Go beyond the frame into the vicious word of the art business. Much like the hype surrounding Bird Box, this movie was also proceeded by a prolific number of memes on social media. Although this movie opened to mixed reviews from critics and audiences, I found it to be immensely enjoyable. Not to the point that it’s a great movie, but a solid thriller. A plot and setting that could have so easily been boring were intense and seductive. Who would have thought being a critic would be so alluring and perilous. Furthermore, this movie provides audiences with thought-provoking commentary on art and business. You witness all the players in the art business game: the creators, critics, clients, and curators. Essentially, the theme of this sexy, sinister, satire is the more we attribute a monetary value to art, that is inspired by a creator’s incredibly dark place, the more we run the risk of suffering, even vicariously, a deadly consequence for our selfish actions…

For the full review, visit the One Movie Punch website for the audio review and transcript! And if you don’t do so, follow One Movie Punch on Twitter and subscribe with your podcast service.

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!

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“LIFE” movie review

Chilling! In space, no one can hear you scream. Although that tagline is associated with Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking space-horror Alien, director Daniel Espinosa’s LIFE delivers an intensely dark thriller that will have you screaming and cringing from the moment life on Mars is discovered. In the same vein as AlienLIFE is a science-fiction horror that may look like Gravity and might even have the strong orchestral sounds of Interstellar, but provides audiences with an entirely different experience. Borrowing from Alien and Gravity, Sony and Columbia Pictures craft a new space-horror narrative that can sufficiently serve as a standalone film–and be great in that–but also has potential for a sequel or two. Interestingly, there are parallels to Ridley Scott’s Alien beyond the premise; LIFE also features the same number of crew members and other more subtle elements. That being said, LIFE is definitely not a knockoff Alien nor is it trying to be Ridley Scott’s critically claimed film as it does not contain the social commentary on gender, sex, and family. However, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and LIFE pays both homage to the film that likely inspired it but delivers a comprehensive science-fiction horror experience that provides ample twists, turns, and even some emotional connection along the way.

A group comprised of engineers and researchers on board the International Space Station (ISS) are on the brink of one of the most important discoveries in human civilization: life on Mars. Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Sho Murkami (Hiroyuki Sandana), Hugh Derry (Ariyon Baker), and Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) represent several different counties, all working in cooperation on this groundbreaking mission. After the satellite, carrying the Martian sample, is retrieved from spiraling out of control towards the ISS is secured, the group of astronauts are faced with the crisis and task of retrieving it. After a daring retrieval, what should be a joyous discovery–something out of a scientists dreams–soon becomes a living nightmarish game of hide and seek. When the specimen from Mars begins to grow rapidly and become more and more intelligent, it stops at nothing to continue to feed the alien’s insatiable appetite and its goal to find a new home.

Initial impressions of LIFE leave you with noticing just how much like Alien it feels. It’s been nearly forty years since the Ridley Scott cinematic masterpiece, but in that time, no other science-fiction/horror film has come this close to delivering a similar (note: not as high on the cinematic totem pole as its predecessor) experience to that which first terrified audiences in 1979. One of the primary differences between Alien and LIFE is just how much closer to home this horrifying experience occurs. Whereas with the former, the alien encounter takes place hundreds of lightyears away, the latter’s narrative takes place just outside of our atmosphere on the ISS. Not that LIFE feels more intimate than Alien–it doesn’t–but the proximity of this story might add a little something more to the edge that you’re already sitting on as the horrific events unfold on the space station. Pacing is similar to Alien in that LIFE has a slow burn during the first act. To balance this slow burn or to keep audiences from thinking that it’s taking forever for the movie to really get started, the film begins with the “big event” right at the very beginning. The “big event” being the apprehension of the satellite carrying the Martian specimen. But for all it’s similarities, this movie provides a different experience that can certainly stand on its own. LIFE may have been inspired by Alien, but it is certainly not a ripoff.

I’ve been quite critical of the CGI-effects of films in more recent years, but the brilliance of the alien life form in LIFE is the degree to which it feels organic. In the beginning, the life form is little more than a single-celled organism; however, as the plot thickens, the organism begins to take a more chilling form and shape. Eventually, the alien develops a frightening grin and a mysterious-like form. One of the scariest parts of Ridley Scott’s Alien was the degree to which the Xenomorph feels so real that, even in your seat, you could feel the acidic slime and your body likely felt the excruciating pains of that iconic moment when the alien shoots out of the stomach. Part of that can be attributed to the use of pneumatics, animatronics, miniatures, and other practical effects standards. Yes, the alien life form in LIFE is computer-generated, but it also has a very real nature to it. Instead of focussing on how to make the alien as impressive as possible, it would appear that the special effects artists (whose work can be seen in the Transformers movies) focussed more on the small details that ordinarily give a CGI character away. Just like with the brilliant visual effects work in Ex Machina, the visual effects of the alien are flawless.

There is an inherent level of unpredictability in LIFE even after the unavoidable similarities to AlienLIFE plays around with the final girl trope and the killings have a strategy or method to their madness. Conspicuously missing from the characters of LIFE in a comparison to Alien is a Ripley-like character. Does the film portray strong female characters? Certainly. But LIFE keeps you guessing because the order of the deaths do not follow any predictable pattern. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of being predisposed to the order of the killings to be based up on star billing. Speaking of the characters, effectively managing an ensemble cast is always difficult. So often, some characters in the ensemble get lost or do not receive nearly as much development as the more obvious leaders. Not true with LIFE. True that there is not a large degree of character development all the way around, but each of the characters is treated with equal screen time and emphasis. That is, until death occurs. The excellent handling of this ensemble gives LIFE an extra dynamic that lacks in other ensemble cast films, thus helping this science-fiction horror to stand out from others that are similar in premise or plot. This movie has a “life” of its own.

2017 seems to be shaping up to be a year of excellent movies! We are just about to finish the first quarter of the year, and already there have been some great motion pictures. Furthermore, 2017 seems to be the year of the horror film because so many have made the theatrical distribution circuit. For those who love a good science-fiction thriller, you will not be disappointed with LIFE. Albeit the film may not be able to sustain the magic and horror for the entire runtime, it successfully delivers a terrifying experience for most of the film. If you don’t mind some cringeworthy moments and the dark tone of the film, then this is definitely one to see this weekend.

PS. I saw Power Rangers this week as well, and it was a delightful film! Yeah, it’s a little campy, but that’s to be expected. Definitely the best Power Rangers motion picture. All-in-all, it sufficiently pays homage to the 90s show but provides audiences with a new story. Go-go see it too!

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“Nocturnal Animals” movie review

nocturnalanimalsA meta-thriller that is equally shocking, seductive, bizarre, and beautiful all at the same time. Tom Ford’s adaptation of the best-selling novel Tony and Susan (1993) will either repulse or intrigue you from the opening credit sequence. There is definitely a pronounced shock value in this cinematic erotic mystery that includes an incredible amount of symbolism and theming just eager to be interpreted and dissected. Not typically found in mainstream cinema, the avant-garde seems to be the inspiration for many films this year. Nocturnal Animals is one of those films that is destined for discussion in a film or media studies graduate class. With solid acting, writing, and cinematography, you will be sucked into this twisted mystery within the world that the wealthy live in and the real world that most of us live in. You will likely find yourself thinking about what everything means, how it might apply to you, or simply appreciate non-linear storytelling. Although the film certainly rests upon the flashback as a chief storytelling method, Ford plays his cards right and creates a film in which all three stories are equally interesting. You may have heard it said–even by me–that some good movies are poor films; but, this is a case of a good film but a poor movie. That is usually the case with films that fall into the artistic or avant-garde stylistic way of conducting a visual story that contains a strong emotional impact.

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is an incredibly successful art gallery owner in Los Angeles. However, the marriage to her second husband is not nearly as successful. He’s often away on business trips to New York. One evening, Susan receives a manuscript written by her first husband (Jake Gyllenhaal)–a once struggling writer and graduate student turned college professor and now professional author. She finds the novel gripping and disturbing. As she continues to pour over the pages dripping with intrigue, she is impacted on a personal level as she uses the world of the novel as a mirror on her own life. Taking her to dark places in her past, Susan finds herself on a path of self-evaluation as she is presently going through emotional and financially hard times.

Cognitive cinema. Focus Features’ Nocturnal Animals is one of those films that requires higher thinking in order to truly appreciate the symbolism and theming. Not that it cannot be enjoyed as a beautifully dark and disturbing story, but there is so much that can be analyzed in this film. From the sequence of obese nude females dancing with sparklers, ringmaster hats, and cheerleader regalia to the reoccurring imagery of crosses and death–both in terms of emotional and physical–director Tom Ford provides audiences with a film that can only be characterized as a mystery that is meta-thriller meets hints of erotica. Even now, I am analyzing the symbolism and theming as I write this review. There are so many elements to talk about. And I think that is the best part about a movie like this. Don’t watch it alone. Not because it is too intense or scary but because you will want to talk to someone about the theming or emotional commentary. I find myself with a deep desire to analyze the film with someone, but none of my friends or colleagues have seen it yet. Visually driven. Even without the dialog, Ford’s Nocturnal Animals can be understood through the imagery in and of itself. Trace amounts of Tom Ford’s legacy as a high fashion designer can easily be seen in the design of this film. And I am not just talking about Adams’ stunning wardrobe and hair/makeup. In many ways, this film–as a whole–is symbolic of high fashion clothing. It can be read in some of the same ways fashion is read and appreciated. Because this is only the second feature length film from Ford, there are elements of the story that give the impression that his talent for visual storytelling is still in the development process as there are times that his method of directing is that of an observant student or scholar of cinema.

There are three distinct narrative threads in this film. (1) is the main story that we open up to at the interpretive and conceptual art exhibit establishing Susan, her gallery, her husband, and lavish lifestyle (2) is the narrative of her first husband Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal)’s novel Nocturnal Animals and (3) is the story of the rise and fall of the relationship between Susan and Edward. Juggling three plots is no easy task. Contrary to how it may appear, the narratives are not confusing or incoherent. Each plays an important role in the overarching theme and story of the film. The incoherency is found in the interpretation and analysis of what everything means. It’s as if the film is providing the audience with puzzle pieces that can be arranged to depict something different for everyone. Perhaps you want to read the film as commentary on the relationship between Susan and Edward. Maybe you view it as symbolic of the estranged relationship between Susan and her current husband. Or maybe the novel is self-reflexive of the life Susan has created for herself.

Each story is stylized in such a way that they complement one another–do not necessarily correlate or match each other, but the narratives are complementary. Although the audience is asked to draw their own respective conclusions to the story, presumably Susan’s once lavish and charmed life will continue to rot and crumble as her husband is likely cheating on her just like she cheated on Edward. Still, there is a lot left up to interpretation in the best possible way. The Roger Ebert website review of this film commented that there are parallels between this film and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Fascinating take on this film. That is probably the best analogical interpretation of Nocturnal AnimalsLooking at the film in such a way that Susan is Alice and the two other narrative threads are her adventures in Wonderland opens a whole new window through which to view the events as they unfold. On the surface level, there is a clear theme of revenge woven throughout the plot. This is indicated by a painting that catches Susan’s attention on her way to a board meeting. The metaphysical thrilling aspect to the subplot of revenge is the revenge the past has on the present and the present on the past. In a manner of speaking, Susan is listed by ghosts of her past, present, and future. Okay, perhaps not in the same way Scrooge was visited, but there are certainly some commonalities.

If you enjoy films that make you think, then this is definitely one to watch! As it was on a limited release until this weekend, you may not have heard of it but look for it at your local movie theatre. Fans of Blue Velvet will likely enjoy this film as well. Intriguing writing, solid acting, and beautiful cinematography make this a fascinating movie to prompt deep discussions afterwards.


“Everest” Movie Review

Everest“Climb every mountain…” Universal Pictures’ Everest is a breathtaking docudrama/biographical picture of a mid 90s all but completely failed expedition to the top of the world, frocked with tragedy. For those of us who have never been to Mount Everest, which is most people, this movie takes you up close and personal with the “most dangerous place on earth.” Never before has a movie taken the audience to place where you are viscerally confronted with the famed mountain in the Himalayas that dares even the most intrepid of climbers to scale. Although the movie has a fantastic cast and the panoramic views of Everest are breathtaking, Everest plays off more as a glorified documentary than a work of cinema. Not saying it isn’t impressive–certainly the movie has some very impressive elements–but, it lacks the cinematic structure of a traditional movie plot/subplot, theming, and subtext. It pretty much is what it is: a reenactment of an actual event on the treacherous slopes of the rooftop of the world. Shot mostly in the French Alps, with pickup shots and IMAX footage of Everest herself, the footage is beautiful and inspirational. If you dare to ascend the forbidden mountain, be sure to do it in IMAX!

Everest is about the 1996 Everest expedition of Adventure Consultants, a New Zealand-based company ran by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and Hellen Wilton (Emily Watson). Facing dire financial times, Rob and Hellen need this expedition to be a successful climb to the top of the world. Attaching a journalist from an outdoor adventure magazine, Rob and Hellen will pull out all the stops to land the front cover. Once the expedition team safely arrives at basecamp, it becomes apparent that a storm looms on the horizon. Rob teams up with rival expedition leader Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) in order to lead both teams to the summit safely and back to camp before the severe storm collides with the mountain. As the best laid plans of mice and men often meet with disaster, so does this ascension.

In regards to the plot, there isn’t much to tell. The movie is about an expedition to the summit of Everest, and that is what you get. The writers try to include some subplots, but they really add little more than establishing where people are coming from and if they have a family. When the movie opened, I thought that the cinematography was amazing! The mountains were so real that I felt the chill of the air and the choice of angles showcased Everest and the Himalayas quite well. However, it was midway through the film that I realized that the cinematography wasn’t anything extra special. Certainly, it was above average and the IMAX footage was brilliant to behold; but, it was above average–nothing in particular to note. That being said, the camera was handled with care and the shots were carefully crafted. I think what gave the illusion of breathtaking cinematography was the fact that the mountains were displayed majestically on the giant screen. The majesty of the mountains enhanced the cinematography. So, it was the beauty of the mountains, not the cinematography in and of itself, that was outstanding.

I really feel this movie is meant to be viewed in IMAX because of the grandeur of it all. Watching it in a standard theatre or at home will not do the film justice. When a film’s foundation is built upon the visual stimulation, and not the psychological or emotional aspects that are common of films, then a movie needs to be screened in the best possible auditorium or IMAX theatre. This is a larger than life story, and should be seen on larger than life screens. Despite the lack of a traditional plot, I appreciated the film’s dedication to focussing on the expedition itself and not getting wrapped up in a love story or an underdog’s triumph.

If you enjoy epic adventures, bio pics on Nat Geo, or just want to visit Mount Everest, then check out Universal Pictures’ Everest opening in mid-September across the country. Word to the wise, don’t eat a massive lunch or dinner prior to seeing this film.

“Southpaw” movie review

SouthpawA ‘champion’ of a movie! Move over Cinderella Man, and make way for an incredible story of prestige, loss, overcoming challenges, and triumph. Southpaw is a surprisingly fantastic movie with dynamic characters and an incredible story. Follow one man from being on top of the world to self-destructive behavior that costs him nearly everything. Ordinarily, I do not give sports-related movies a second thought because I don’t follow any particular sporting event; however, had I let this one pass me by, I would not have had such a great cinematic experience. To be honest, it’s not screaming ‘early Oscar nom contender,’ but there is the off chance it could get the recognition. Never having attended a boxing match before, I am unsure of the adrenaline that rushes through the bodies of the audience. But, if it is anything like what I experienced during the third act of the movie, then I can totally understand why sporting events, such as boxing, can be quite the visceral thrill.

Southpaw is about champion boxer Billy “The Great” Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his triumphs and tragedies. Holding the Light Heavyweight title, he is on top of the world in his professional boxing career. Furthermore, he has a beautiful and loving wife Maurine (Rachel McAdams) and an adoring daughter Leila (Oona Lawrence). After he decides–well, after being urged–to take time off from the boxing circuit, his agent is hell-bent on getting him back in the ring and sign a contract with HBO. Finding it difficult to ignore the fame and emotional high of the eyes of the world being on him, Billy turns down the opportunity to focus on his family. Following a speaking engagement at a New York City children’s home (the home both he and his wife grew up in), a brawl breaks out in the lobby and Maurine is shot. Devastated, Billy takes out his anger on nearly everyone except Leila. But, one drunken night, after he crashes his car in the front yard of his palatial estate, the court finds him unfit to be a parent and sentences him to rehab. Having lost his wife, and now his daughter, and all of his possessions, he must rebuild his name and career in order to win back his daughter despite the odds being against him.

The movie opens on a gritty scene during the championship for the boxing light heavyweight title. This intense opening is quite indicative of the entire movie. This is the type of movie that will rock you down to the very core. In many ways, the story is told through various perspectives. Believe me, it’s mostly objectively shot; but, there are definitely times that the camera gives us a subjective or point-of-view perspectives and other times the subjectivity is implied. This is an important element to the narrative because, from what little I know about boxing, it is a sport that is personally intense and highly affects the boxer physically, mentally, and emotionally. Unlike other sports which are not nearly as violating or invasive, the boxing ring is one that requires amazing stamina, discipline, and courage. Unfortunately, throughout his career, Billy was never one to focus on his defense. And this is a character flaw that transcends the ring into his life. On the subject of the coverage of the boxing matches, the cinematography is crafted so that it truly feels like you have been transported from the cinema into a great ring-side seat. This greatly increases the realism of the movie and grittiness of the plot.

Not surprising, the main focus of the plot is on Billy’s character development. But, not unlike Billy, both his daughter and his new trainer Titus “Tick” Wills (Forest Whitaker) also go through their own respective developments. In many ways, Leila and Titus embody some of the very same struggles and challenges that Billy is going through. Although Billy made decisions that lead to his fall from fame and glory, the tragic death of his wife affected him in ways in which no one is ever prepared emotionally. The writers and director of this movie were very successful is transferring the pain of Billy, Leila, and Titus from the screen into the minds of the audience. However, despite the fact that there are many elements that I appreciate about the movie, I do feel the Billy’s recovery time should have been a little bit longer and taken him to darker places in order to truly get to the very core of what his character must have been feeling and to better support the more inspirational aspects to the narrative. He went from rock bottom back to the top a little too quickly.

One of the refreshing parts to the movie was the inclusion of humor here and there. Due to the dark nature of the subject and the mental anguish experienced by Billy, it would have been all too easy to allow the low places of the film to be filled with utter despair and anger, but I was quite pleased that the writers included a little bit of humor sprinkled throughout the narrative. Wasn’t over the top, or tasteless, or thrown in there, it felt very natural and added to the believability of the story. In fact, the dialog as a whole, was well-crafted and allowed the characters to become real for the audience.

If you enjoy movies about overcoming obstacles, metaphorically returning from the dead, and the feeling of being on the edge of your seat, then you should definitely check out Southpaw. Even if you’re like me, in that you don’t typically watch sports-related movies, you should still see this fantastic story with excellent acting and character development.