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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MOONFALL disaster movie mini review

Set your expectation meter for Emmerich, and you’ll find it sufficiently mindlessly entertaining; that is, until it takes a wackadoo alien turn that no suspension of disbelief, with a modicum of intelligence, can accept. It’s a patchwork of The Abyss, 2021, and Armageddon stitched together with sophomoric dialogue and slapdash plotting. When George Bailey told Mary that he would “throw a lasso around [the moon],” little did he know what that would mean for the earth. Roland Emmerich’s newest disaster porn movie is MOONFALL, starring Patrick Wilson, Halle Barry, and Game of Thrones‘ John Bradley. Emmerich’s offering is everything you typically expect from a disaster movie, and then some. And it’s the and then some that may lose your interest in anything that is going on. What works? The disaster porn and the chemistry between our three leads. What doesn’t? About everything else. But we don’t watch these melodramatic disaster movies for the story, plot, or characters; we watch them for the sheer ridiculousness of it all, and a chance to turn off our brains for a couple of hours. While you won’t care about any of the supporting characters, you will be interested in what fate has in store for our three leads. The press screening I attended was in IMAX, and a premium format is precisely how you should watch this movie. Do not wait to watch it on streaming (on which, it will likely soon be available), because most of the fun of this movie is the entertainment value of the larger than life disaster effects.

Oh, for my fellow Star Trek: the Next Generation fans, you’ll appreciate the Dyson Sphere reference.

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

The Protégé (2021)

Nonstop action, perfectly punctuated with humor and thrills! Don’t miss The Protege as it blasts its way into cinemas this week from the director that brought us Casino Royale. THE most summer movie of 2021!

Everything about this explosive action thriller works brilliantly, and it truly is the don’t miss movie of the summer. From beginning to end, you will be glued to your seat as the story unfolds. The Protégé takes the action plot of a 1980s action movie and combines it with contemporary characters to deliver a movie that is simultaneously both familiar and fresh. This movie is the whole package: high flying action, killer fight sequences with outstanding choreography, and a well-developed lead cast that you will love to see on screen.

Rescued as a child by the legendary assassin Moody, Anna is the world’s most skilled contract killer. However, when Moody is brutally killed, she vows revenge for the man who taught her everything she knows. As Anna becomes entangled with an enigmatic killer, their confrontation turns deadly, and the loose ends of a life spent killing weave themselves ever tighter.

Where so many action movies suffer is in the screenwriting. Not so with this one. The dialogue snaps, crackles, and pops, and there is plenty of humor to break up the darker elements of the film. Even with its 2hr runtime, you will never feel restless or bored because the pacing and plotting are both on point! Audiences will be delighted at the ideal balance in both violence and humor. But when you have Samuel L and Michael Keaton, both known for their action and comedic chops, you know you’re guaranteed to be highly entertained! Rounding out the lead cast is Maggie Q, and she is a force to be reckoned with as a ruthless assassin that is also a delight to watch as she kicks ass. Where these characters stand out compared to comparable ones in contemporary action movies is remembering that these same strong characters also need to be vulnerable, relatable, and appropriately funny. Never once does this movie falter in taking its high concept seriously, but it knows when to interject comedic lines and kills that help to break up the more violent elements in order to help the senses reset. Crafting moments that are strategically used for emotional resets (even brief ones) allows the filmmaker to keep the audience engaged without ever feeling bored or exhausted.

It saddens me to see that the review embargo for The Protege was until the early screenings on Thursday, because this is a movie that needs to be seen on the BIG SCREEN! While there is some thoughtful social commentary on strong, leading women that can still be incredibly sexy (on that note: Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman has been proving that since 1992), non-traditional families (otherwise known as found families), and toxic parenting, this movie never forgets that it is an entertainment piece that can be both exciting and thoughtful. It never sacrifices thrilling storytelling for an agenda. Furthermore, it boasts a diverse cast that is also never made into the center piece. The film isn’t saying “look at our diverse cast.” No, it is saying “look at our outstanding characters” that happen to look like the people you and I interact with on a weekly basis. That is how you promote representation in cinema in movies that twenty years ago would’ve been filled with predominantly white characters.

As I was watching this, I kept thinking of Die Hard. Not that it’s a similar plot. It isn’t. But it does deliver a similar story in terms of tone and action. And there is probably no better action film to emulate in some cinematic form or fashion. What makes Die Hard the best action movie of all time, in my opinion, is the characters and dialogue. Sure the action is great, but we remember the characters themselves, the things they said, and how they reacted to emotionally charged situations the most. While The Protégé may not be on the same level as Die Hard (hard to meet or beat), it is striving for that level of excellence in terms of storytelling and audience experience.

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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 or meet him in the theme parks!

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“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” horror movie review

Everyone loves a good ghost story, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has several ones that remind me of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? on steroids! Don’t let the August release date fool you, this is a surpassingly frightening horror movie! It takes the very practice of passing along scary stories generation to generation, and explores the far reaching effects that the power of story has in a manner that it as insightful as it is visually terrifying. Directed by Andre Ovredal with a superlative screenwriting and story team including Guillermo del Toro, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark relies upon a more classical approach to a horror movie by building upon old fashioned ghost stories. You know, the kind that you sit around the camp fire or on the floor of your childhood sleepover and tell one another. These are stories that have been shared and passed down so prolifically that they feel alive. Ghost stories are such a part of our childhood and teenage years, and this film explores the idea of these stories coming to life. A terrifying prospect. Despite the one-dimensional characters, this movie keeps the audience engaged because of the incredibly fun plot and nightmarish visuals. And no, the end of the movie is not tied up with a nice little bow. Traditional narratives follow: order–>disorder–>order again, but horror often takes on an order–>disorder–>order–>disorder path. While there are elements in this movie that may predispose you to thinking that it’s an anthology like Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat, it is one linear narrative. Scary Stories is  thoughtful horror movie that is a throwback to the tales of old, when hauntingly spooky was more important than grisly gore.

Pennsylvania 1968 on Halloween, and change is blowing in the wind…but seemingly far removed from the unrest in the cities is the small town of Mill Valley, where for generations, the shadow of the Bellows family has loomed large. It is in their mansion, on the edge of town, that Sarah, a young girl with horrible secrets, turned her tortured life into a series of scary stories she passed along to children whom would talk to her through the wall of her foreboding mansion. In addition to passing down the stories orally, she wrote them down in book that truly immerses the reader into the terrifying plot. When a group of teenagers accidentally stumbles onto Sarah’s book of scary stories to tell in the dark, they realize that these stories are become all too real, and they find themselves strapped in the pages of these stories that transcend time and reality.

On one hand, this movie may appear overly generic to the casual observer, given the chief elements that make up the story. You have a group of misfit teens in small town middle America, lots of period nostalgia (that is thankfully not even more of the already proliferated 80s), a cursed object that torments its readers, and a haunted house. Everything that a writer needs to create a forgettable horror movie that goes directly to streaming services is here. But that is where you would be wrong to presume it is just another generic haunted house movie. The premise may not be exuding originality but the expression of the premise is. Combine the original expression of a plot template with the stunning visuals that we’ve come to expect from the del Toro brand, and you have one fantastic horror movie. Clearly exhibited in each and every scene, there are many signs that this movie was built by writers and a director who cares about the story and the audience experience. The degree to which this haunted house movie works for audiences may one day be seen in Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. So many visual elements in this movie lend it to a haunted house (definitely more than the upcoming Us haunted house). Even if you did not grow up reading the Scary Stories books, you probably read Goosebumps or watch the TV version of the former or Are You Afraid of the Dark? and that is all you need to know or be familiar with. Go in with a love of good old-fashioned ghost stories, and you will have a fun time.

This is the second gateway horror movie that we have seen in the last couple years. Last year, we had The House with a Clock in its Walls, which worked as a gateway horror movie (albeit less so than this one). Ever since the TV shows referenced earlier went off the air, there has been a need for PG and PG-13 horror for younger audiences that also appeals to adults. Most of the horror movies over the last couple of decades have large been aimed at older teens and adults. The trick is to write a story that is appropriate enough for general 12-17 viewers, but still contain the macabre elements that 18+ viewers want to see. And that doesn’t mean gore, it means a thoughtful approach to crafting a fun horror movie that genuinely frightens you. Spooky atmospheres, ghostly apparitions, and tormented characters have been a staple of the American horror film from the days of Nosferatu and The Phantom of the Opera. But in recent years, haunting production design and memorable monsters have taken backseat to schlock fests. This movie seeks to bring back the old fashioned haunted house ghost movie to foster an appetite in young audiences for the fantastic world of horror.

The central character and our character of opposition are two opposite sides of the same coin. Driving their decisions is a love of storytelling and family issues. Of course the familial issues differ greatly, but they complement one another nicely. When developing central and opposition characters, it’s important for the screenwriter to remember that often both characters need to share some common traits, and even common goals, but the difference is in how that desire to achieve the goal is expressed through action. There appears to be ab attempts by the movie to provide opportunities for the characters and plot to comment on the society and politics, but it’s never fully developed. Underscoring many of the scenes in the film is the 1968 presidential election and the controversial Vietnam War. I feel that the socio=political elements were not used as effectively as they could have been, so it would have been better just to leave them out as those moments don’t add anything to the overall story.

The power of story. It was Cecil B. DeMille who stated that the “greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling,” and Scary Stories takes its cue from the timeless words from a  Hollywood great. Films were always about breaking ground in visual technical marvel, the almost oxymoronic photorealistic animation, or grisly violence; they were about telling stories. Not unlike the ones that got orally passed down. And these stories helped to shape generations of current and future storytellers. When you tell a story enough, it begins to have a life of its own, there is a place for some evil to be contained as we creatively explore the human condition, sexuality, gender roles, faith, psychology, and sociology through the American horror film. We already have a movie about what happens when the stories die (see my article on Wes Craven’s New Nightmare), so this one takes the approach of what happens when you steel someone’s storybook but pairs that with the healing power of storytelling. To get into how and why would reveal too much about the showdown of the movie, and I don’t want to spoil it for you. At the end of the movie, you are left with wondering about the stories that you have passed down, and power to terrify or to heal that comes along with them. You may even find yourself wanting to get a group of friends together to tell ghost stories.

If you love a good ghost story, then you definitely want to catch this while in theatres to truly appreciate and experience the nightmarish visuals of the monsters and the beauty of the production design. Get into the Halloween spirit a little early with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as you enjoy a throwback to a more classical approach to the American horror film.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa and teaches high school TV/Film production. 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!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry

“Long Shot” full movie review

Old fashioned rom-com meets political satire in this reverse Pretty Women that’s clever, heartwarming–oh yeah–and hilarious! After years of absence, the American romantic comedy has been slowly making a comeback in recent times; take last year’s Crazy Rich Asians for example. Directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Dan Sterling and Elizabeth Hannah, this edgy, smart comedy uses its two charming yet unlikely lovers as a conduit through which the socio-political state of America is explored in unapologetic, candid ways. Starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, this movie demonstrates that real issues facing us today can be acknowledged but never become the central focus of the movie. It is the superb chemistry and character development of Theron and Rogen that carries this movie. Simple plot, complex characters. Although there are very Rogian moments, Theron and supporting actor O’Shea Jackson Jr, playing Rogen’s best friend, help to balance him out. Thanks to the outstanding comedic writing powered by external and internal conflict, this movie elevates the rom-com to rise above the predictable to deliver an endearing story that is equal parts whimsical and plausible. Theron and Rogen deliver stellar performances that carry the movie from start to finish. And you know what, it looks like they are having a great time!

When Fred Flarsky (Rogen) learns that his independent newspaper has been bought out by a media conglomerate, he quits instead of having his voice silenced or conformed to fit the new business model. By sheer happenstance, Fred runs into his childhood babysitter Charlotte Field (Theron) the current Secretary of State at a party to which his best friend (Jackson Jr.) brought him to cheer him up. When Field decides to prepare for a presidential run, she hires Flarsky to punch up her speeches because she likes his honesty and chutzpah. Little did either know that this business partnership would ignite old flames that would give way to political and relational conflict.

Not to oversimplify, but everything in this movie works. And that is rare for a comedy to work this well for me. If you’re familiar with my writing, you’ll know that I do not watch many romantic comedies, and seldom truly adore one; but, I sincerely enjoyed this movie. Levine demonstrates a commitment to effective directing that builds upon the impeccable casting and solid screenplay. Long Shot is one of those rare comedies that gives us captivating characters from the onset and a plot that, albeit unlikely, could very well exist in real life. Whereas it would have been so easy for the focus of this politically charged fish-out-of-water meets romantic-comedy to be overly concerned with the politics to the point that the characters and plot suffer, the story is consistently character-driven by using the plot to explore socio-political commentary that ultimately fuels the conflict. Topics such as the environment, racism, religion, and feminism are highlighted but never steal the spotlight from the journey of Flarsky and Field. And the screenplay gives us some thought-provoking reversals that go to show that the very group that claims to be the most tolerant of differences might actually be the least tolerant of all. The fact that Field is a woman and must play by different rules than male politicians is acknowledged but doesn’t become the focus either. In short, this movie has a well-defined central character (Charlotte Field) with a clearly defined external goal (to become President), fueled by an internal need (connection, both with herself and a partner) and motivation to achieve the goal (to make a positive difference for the American people). That is why the writing works as well as it does. Everything else is icing on the cake–and it’s delicious icing that is neither too stiff nor too sweet.

Pretty Woman works as well as it does, and has found itself a beloved movie not because of the social commentary but because the audience fell in love with the stars and desired to see them find happiness. The same can be said of Long Shot. I was hesitant going into the screening since I am not usually a fan of Rogen’s comedy; but I was confident that with Theron, an actress I have long since found to be outstanding in talent, beauty, and philanthropy, Rogen’s over-the-top self-deprecating acting would have a equally charismatic actress to balance him out. The relationship between Field and Flarsky is so incredibly genuine. No pretense here. Both of them say precisely what they think, not shying away from feedback or rebuttals that could mean the end of the friendship, partnership, or careers. Combining Field’ workaholic, domineering, savvy Secretary of State turned presidential candidate and Flarsky’s radical, uncouth, abrasive journalist turned speechwriter provides audiences with a refreshing take on a staple genre of motion pictures. They have have different ways of showing it, but both characters are Type As that are stubborn, idealistic, and seek to do the right thing by the American people–Field as a politician and Flarsky as a journalist.

All throughout the movie, conflict arises out of Flarsky’s reactions to Field’s platform and policy changes; furthermore, additional conflict arises out of Field’s reactions to the choices made by Flarsky as they could damage her chances at the presidency. Despite all the conflict, it comes from being committed to a passion, and it’s that unapologetic passion that draws them to on another. That, and the fact they are childhood friends, and are affected by the power of nostalgia. The TV celebrity turned President of the Unites States is definitely built from tropes and characteristics of our current POTUS, but never feels too much or forced. Likewise, the character of the media mogul is clearly derived from Rupert Murdoch. Both these oppositional characters are entertaining without ever going over the top to make a point.

Although it is Rogen who is first billed, and therefore is likely the intended central character (from the perspective of Lionsgate), it is Theron’s Field who is the central character of this story. Just because you are introduced to a character first, doesn’t always mean that they are your central character. In a manner of speaking, Rogen plays the role of Field’s conscience, a sort of moral/ethical compass that doubles as a vessel through which Field rediscovers her ambitious youthful self and all the convictions therein. Rogen is not the only conscience/moral compass in the movie, he too has one in the form of his best friend. The best scenes in the movie are those where heated arguments or passionate disagreements take place. No real surprise there, but these arguments always have something to teach the characters and, by extension, the audience. One of Flarsky’s purposes is to remind Field why she got into politics (even during her time running for student council) at such a young age and that she should never compromise on her convictions–stay true to herself. Furthermore, he is also the vessel through which Field rediscovers and connects with her needs as a human, as a women. A need to reconnect with her playful self that will ultimately unleash who she truly is. Likewise, Flarsky’s successful best friend surprisingly emerges as his conscience. Only instead of providing moral/ethical direction in the world of politics, it is on a more relatable sociological level. Flarsky is confronted on his gross intolerance of all those with whom he disagrees in terms of religion, love and support, and even racism. He buys into the stereotypes just like those he accuses. Great scene!

Thinking of this movie and Pretty Woman, I am left with this one being the superior movie. Not knocking Pretty Woman, I still respect it, but Long Shot takes what Pretty Woman did right, and elevate it to the next level. One of the biggest differences between the two is the style of comedy. Long Shot is definitely a hard R comedy whereas Pretty Woman is more “family friendly.” You can enjoy both equally! A movie about underdogs, this movie may very well be an underdog at the box office in May, but it’s certainly worth the watch if you’re in the mood for an edgy adult comedy.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

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!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry