“Captive State” brief movie review

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts; or in the case of this movie, the director gifts us a movie that looks fantastic on the outside, but is a disaster on screen. There is a good science-fiction movie in there somewhere. But because of the poor direction, the movies plays off as completely disjointed, lacking any emotional connection to the characters. The concept for the film is quite brilliant. It takes the alien invasion premise and provides audiences with an original interpretation of this sub-genre of science-fiction. Often science-fiction suffers at the hands of the screenwriter(s) who becomes so pre-occupied with the world and technology of the story that they forget about developing the characters and plot. However, this film suffers more significantly at the hands of the director, but the screenwriting does play a hand in the confusing nature of this film. Incidentally, director Rupert Wyatt also co-wrote the screenplay, so it appears that he should have stuck to writing with co-writer Erica Beeney rather than directing.

Clearly, there is a solid science-fiction story in Captive State, but the story suffered as it was being written down, and even more damage was done while on set. The idea is original and good! The execution is bad. There is too much exposition in some places, like the beginning text-heavy scene and then too little exposition in other parts of the movie. Characters get introduced then forgotten, and John Goodman and Vera Farmiga are completely wasted. Literally any actor could have played these roles, and even other characters could have had their lines, and it would still play out the same way. I can tell that this movie is trying to provide me a post-modern thought-provoking story, but I am still not entirely sure what I watched. Upon watching it, I found myself grasping for whatever details I could find, and it was not enough to make heads or tails of what was going on sometimes. What we have here is a case of complex plot and simple characters. The antithesis of what makes a good screenplay. The idea for this film is certainly admirable, but the idea was lost in the translation from mind to page, and then from page to screen.

You can join Ryan at the cinema most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa.

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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“KONG: Skull Island” movie review

“Hold onto your butts;” Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment’s KONG: Skull Island is full body KONG with just a hint of story. Wait. Isn’t that a line from Jurassic Park??? Sure is. And guess who delivers it? None other than Samuel L. Jackson himself–reprising his famous line from one of the most iconic films in the American cinema library. It’s rather fitting since there are many shared elements between KONG and the Jurassic Park franchise. Both take place on an island and deal with science vs. nature and pit man against ancient creatures. King Kong is no stranger to most people, considering he’s been a fixture in the cinema and theme park universes respectively for many decades. From silver screen to Universal Studios, he remains an icon to which few “monster” movies compare. Although the previous KONG films followed a very similar narrative, this newest incarnation of the king of Skull Island takes a modified route to the classic story. It shares many of the same elements or themes with its predecessors, but through the echoes of the past comes a reimagined story. Diegetically, the film certainly suffers; furthermore, it attempts to integrate social commentary on war, Captain Ahab allegory, and conservation, but none of those themes are effectively carried out. Due to the enormous “King Kong” sized cast, there lacks any real connection to any of the characters and development is certainly obscure, if any at all. Films such as this one can sometimes run into the danger of waxing nostalgic too often and forgetting that audiences want a new movie (i.e. Star Wars: the Force Awakens); and like the aforementioned, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ KONG: Skull Island provides audiences with connections to past King Kong movies in a new approach, but ultimately crafts generic experience.

When an uncharted island shows up on U.S. satellites, Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brookes (Corey Hawkins) approach a prominent senator, seeking clearance and funding for a mapping expedition and exploration of the mysterious island resembling a skull. Begrudgingly, the senator clears Randa’s MONARCH for one last mission before the U.S. pulls out of the south Pacific following the Vietnam War pull-out. Partnering with Colonel Packard’s (Samuel L. Jackson) military troop and attaching ex-British special forces Captain Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photo journalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to the group, the expedition lays out plans to penetrate the severe storms surrounding the island to explore the island. What the group encounters on Skull Island will give them nightmares for the rest of their respective lives. Beginning as a glorified mapping excursion, this expedition turns into a game of survival as the group makes its way across the island.

At the end of the day, this movie accomplishes what it set out to do: revive Kong, thrill people for a couple hours, and setup KONG v. Godzilla. Action-adventure films are typically not expected to contain brilliant writing, character development, and strategically placed themed and subtext. What I respect about this movie is that is unashamedly pretends not to be anything other than a larger than life adventure centered around one of cinema’s most iconic “monsters.” Clearly, there are attempts in the movie to include some deeper themes such as anti-war, nature/conservation, and even a little Moby Dick; but those themes appear to have been great thoughts that were not fully executed. That being said, there is clearly a Captain Ahab figure in the film and there are many similarities between King Kong and Moby Dick–size just being one of them. For fans of Jurassic Park you’ll appreciate not only Jackson’s “hold onto your butts” line at the beginning of the film, but also several similar scenes, camera angels, and even the helicopter entry onto the island. Lots of nostalgia, but not so much that it feels like you’ve seen it all before.

In many ways, Kong is bigger than ever, but hardly better than previous Kong films. Ironically, this same thing can be said about the former Kongfrontation attraction at Universal Studios Florida. Much like the new attraction Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Universal feels far more generic than its predecessor, today’s Kong lacks the magic and innovation that the original Kong did in 1933. Despite an attempt to successfully launch a series of “creature features,” the script and human characters certainly suffer. Little can be said about the dialog except that occasionally there are lines that move the story along instead of stating the obvious or predictable. The dialog is cumbersome and never seems to remain focussed very long. Of course, that is hard to do considering that Kong boasts an extremely large ensemble cast. At the forefront of the cast are Hiddleston, Larson, Jackson, Goodman, and Reilly’s respective characters. Of all the characters, John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow steels the screen about as often as Kong does. One might even be able to say that this is as much a John C. Reilly film as it is a Kong movie. Part of the magic of the previous Kong films, the 1933 version to be more specific, is the setting and characters themselves. Much like the new KONG attraction at Universal took physical sets, animatronics, real fire, etc and crafted a virtual 3D experience, the special effects artists and set designers did the same thing in KONG: Skull Island. The film comes across as less Kong and more Pacific Rim. In other words: generic.

KONG: Skull Island will certainly keep you entertained the whole time as action-adventure films are supposed to do. You’ll enjoy the fight scenes and the whole “creature feature” approach this film takes. If you’re looking for moments taken right out of the previous Kong movies, then you’ll mostly be satisfied. There are few scenes taken directly from the previous movies, but there are certainly allusions and nods to classic moments. You won’t spend much time with the natives nor will you get to witness the famous Empire State Building scene, but you’ll likely enjoy the film nevertheless. Just because a film takes a reimagined approach to a classic character that ultimately plays off as generic, doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to enjoy. For action junkies, there is plenty to grab your attention and hold it for the duration of the movie.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“Patriots Day” movie review

patriotsdayEmotionally intense–not for the faint of heart. Patriots Day is the dramatic account of the Boston Marathon Bombing and manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Starring a powerhouse cast on top of extensive research, this film couldn’t come at a better time when there exists such a low general public opinion of law enforcement. Boston Police Department (BPD) shines as it shows that law enforcement officers and officials truly care about the city they are responsible for protecting. Although tragedies often are more conducive for a documentary film, writer-director Peter Berg combines the information found in a doc film with cinematic storytelling techniques to successfully construct a narrative that will rock you to the core and keep you on the edge of your seat. With the inclusion of first person, news, and surveillance footage, Patriots Day does not shy away from the visceral horror that befell the City of Boston and surrounding areas. You think you may know the story, as I did, but nothing will prepare you for coming face to face with one of the most tragic events in modern U.S. history.

Ordinarily, this is where I summarize the plot; but the plot is mostly known all too well. Fortunately, this film goes beyond the news reports and constructs a diegesis (story/narrative) around the stories of eye-witnesses, victims, the wounded, medical first responders, and law enforcement–both local and federal.

Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, and the rest of the principle and supporting cast deliver outstanding portrayals of the real men and women who were instrumental in the response to and apprehension of the bombers as well as those who fell victim to the arson and shrapnel. It isn’t often that films depicting tragedies are produced this close to the events contained therein. Occasionally, there are films about tragedies that are truly better suited for a documentary; but, in order to convert it to a cinematic motion picture, a love story is added for diegetic affect. That is not the case with Patriots Day. The focus is on the BPD, FBI, and medical first response to the bombing and massive manhunt that ensued immediately after the explosions. There are certainly romantic relationships indirectly connected to the narrative, but they are mostly included to juxtapose the everyday life that everyone thought they were going to have on April 15, 2013 against the horrifying events that transpired at America’s longest running marathon, which has become such an iconic event each year.

Logistically and diegetically, there is a simple answer as to how this tragedy was so successfully translated to the silver screen so close to the day it occurred whereas other tragic events (mass shootings, bombings, aero-spacial, maritime, etc) are more conducive for and translate to a documentary better. This tragic event is a combination of (1) the explosions themselves (2) the manhunt afterwards and (3) the impressive work of law enforcement. There is more to this story than the bombing itself. Certainly the bombing was the catalyst for the events that ensured afterwards, but the real story is of the incredible actions of law enforcement and other first responders. While there seems to be a general focus in broadcast news media on the negative actions–whether perceived or otherwise–of law enforcement officers, this powerful film shows police officers in a positive light–shows them as individuals who love the city under their protection and stop at nothing to protect the innocent. This is so important in today’s climate of scrutiny of public safety officials.

The cinematography, visual effects, and production design are flawless. So incredibly realistic that you will likely feel transported from your seat into the film itself. To my surprise, the film included interviews with key figures directly involved with or affected by the Boston Marathon Bombing. It’s not uncommon to include photos with textual exposition on the lives of central figures in a historical film; but this film goes beyond telling you “where they are now” or what happened after the events in the film. It includes video footage of interviews–you get to hear from the individuals upon whom the characters were based. I could not think of a better ending to a film such as this one. Patriots Day works because it is the best of what a documentary offers with the brilliance of cinematic storytelling techniques.

For those of you who appreciate historical films depicting tragic events, then this is one that you need to watch. It is not a film to be enjoyed in the conventional sense, but one that packs a powerful message and neither glorifies nor undermines the real historic event. Such a visceral film. Rated R for adult language.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“10 Cloverfield Lane” movie review

10CloverfieldExtremely suspenseful and enigmatic! Within minutes of the beginning of the movie, you will be sucked into the twisted and claustrophobic subterranean world at 10 Cloverfield Lane. Not directly connected to Cloverfield (2008), this film quite possibly takes us to a moment concurrent to or just before/after the events in New York City caught on the handicam. Director Dan Trachtenberg and Producer J.J. Abrams work together to shock the audience with a movie that will keep you guessing right up until the end. Brilliantly cast and written, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an excellent old-school feeling horror film that you have got to experience in IMAX. Just when you think you have it figured out, you will immediately begin to second guess yourself. Probably the most brilliant part of the film is the fact that three principle characters can keep your interest and attention the entire time without ever a feeling of boredom or annoyance. From the writing to the cinematography and visual effects, this film is sure to keep you on the tip of your toes.

Following a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up with an IV in her arm and chained to a wall [wait, is this Saw?]. With no cell reception and no recollection of what happened, she begins to fear the worst. Upon meeting her capture Howard (John Goodman), she fears for her life. Not buying his story about saving her and keeping her from the hard during the fallout from the attack, Michelle attempts to escape. Failing to overcome Howard, she slowly begins to accept the worst. To her surprise, she is not the only one in Howard’s fallout shelter. Michelle meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr). Thinking that Emmett’s injuries are from escaping, she learn that his broken arm is from fighting to get INTO Howard’s shelter. With this new revelation, Michelle begins to settle into life with Howard and Emmett. Still, something just isn’t right. From car noises to sunshine, Michelle has doubts of the alleged apocalypse and must solve the mysteries, puzzles, and covertly plan her escape.

One of the most intriguing elements of the movie is personally feeling the claustrophobia that the principle cast is experiencing in the movie. That is thanks to the excellent cinematography, production design, and lighting. That additional experiential element is not terribly common in films, even horror cinema. But it was very instrumental in generating the feeling of suspense, anticipation, and intrigue during the movie. Much like Super 8 and in the vein of other J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot productions, the movie begins with a fantastic and blood curdling accident. Just like a rollercoaster, once that car accident hits the screen, the movie will take you up and down thrilling hills on a track that you will struggle to see 10 feet ahead. It’s difficult to talk about how the movie keeps you guessing and second guessing yourself without giving away a lot of what makes the movie thrilling. So, you will just have to take my word for it. Like with any good horror/suspense movie, it is necessary to include strategic comedic relief or lighthearted moments. And writers Drew Goddard, Daniel Casey, Matthew Stuecken, and Josh Campbell weave together a brilliant combination of terror and humor to keep the movie alive and dynamic.

John Goodman is absolutely brilliant in the film. Not that he has anything to prove. He is one of those actors who, with the slightest tweak of the face or shift of the eyes, can have you laughing one second and terrified the next. His ability to turn his character’s emotion on a dime makes him equally weird/quirky and frightening all at the same time throughout the story. Is he a weird old man who, in his own awkward and bizarre way, is keeping Michelle and Emmett from hard or his is a sadistic serial killer who forms inappropriate intimate bonds with his “guests”? That is for you to discover in the movie. Both Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr were perfect choices for their respective roles as well. Winstead brings that independent spirit and look to the character of Michelle and Gallagher provides the audience with a country boy charm. The ability for an actor to capture the emotion of extreme terror and sell it as a legitimate, believable emotion is tough. Selling that acute and powerful emotion can make or break a horror film–if the director’s intent is to make the story as real as possible and not a parody or satire of itself.

You may be wondering how this film is even loosely connected to 2008’s Cloverfield. And that connection isn’t really made until the end of the third act of the movie. Unfortunately, I cannot go into too much detail without giving away the climactic and over-the-top ending, but I can say that it does a great job of being connected just enough that it can essentially stand on its own but when you think of how it is or could be connected to Cloverfield, then the movie becomes all the more intriguing. Interestingly, the manner in which this installment in the Cloverfield universe was directed and produced, it definitely could begin a franchise with movies that are never directly connected to the previous film or even Super 8, but are taking place at or near the same time, each with it’s own respective story.

It isn’t often that I watch movies that are best seen in IMAX, but this is definitely one that is best appreciated and experienced in IMAX; however, if you want to take the old-school feel of the movie to a who other level, then you may want to consider watching the movie at a local drive-in. However you choose to watch the film, you are going to definitely enjoy the adventure.