“Instant Family” brief movie review

Surprisingly good! You’ll want to adopt this movie into your heart. Have you ever seen a trailer for a new theatrical release and just assumed it was another generic Hallmark or Lifetime movie making its debut on the big screen? That is precisely what I thought of Mark Wahlberg’s Instant Family. In fact, the only reason I watched it last night was because there wasn’t anything else (and I didn’t want to see the neutered Deadpool cash grab). But, I am glad that I decided to watch it! Not for reasons that it’s a “great film,” but because it was a heartwarming, inspirational story told effectively! There is a refreshing unapologetic approach to familial conflict that holds nothing back. It’s a no-holds-barred dramedy that addresses the mountains and valleys of fostering/adoption, specifically sibling fostering/adoption. If I was to liken this movie to one that we are largely familiar with, I would compare it to Parenthood, but one that is for the 21st century and concerns itself with the foster system. The movie, through the trailers, sets itself up to be an over-the-top comedy, but it was far from being a farce or slapstick comedy. When Instant Family comes from the same director of Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2, you already have preconceived notions of what the experience of this movie is going to be. Fortunately for audiences, this movie is far from the former two. And why is that? The short answer is that there is a sort of flawed humanity underscoring everything. No pretense about any of the characters. If you’re looking for authenticity, a realness about true-to-life characters, situations, and conflict, then you will definitely want to catch Instant Family.

When Pete and Ellie decide to start a family, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child, but when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15-year-old girl, they find themselves speeding from zero to three kids overnight. Now, Pete and Ellie must try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hope of becoming a family. (IMDb)

While there is a lot of satire in the movie, there is never a moment that you lose your empathy for Pete and Ellie. They come from families that could very well be your own, with all the jabs, competition, and patronization that comes along with them. Even the adoption center and fair scenes, there are elements of the conversations and experiences that may be exaggerated for comedic purposes, but they are all still very much grounded in reality. Pete and Ellie are extremely eager to do a good job, and even employ some of the same approaches they use for flipping houses, but in stead use them to flip people. Some of the irreverent jokes are hilarious! There is one about rebranding foster children as rescue children like the pound for animals was rebranded rescue. The movie also takes audiences behind the faces at the adoption center to reveal the tragic, hard lives that the children and teens come from. Truly highlights the importance of looking at becoming a foster or adoptive family in order to give a child a nice home. Beyond the social commentary on the adoption and foster system, there is also a lesson to be learned that can apply to any number of areas of our lives. Such as knowing precisely why you want to do something, not just the fact you feel it’s what is supposed to be done. The movie will hit you with thought-provoking moments that will force you to face what you think of foster kids and the foster system. I also appreciate the movie for depicting difference kinds of parents–quite the modern bunch! So much diversity is represented, and each prospective parent(s) is inspired by ones encountered by the writer-director Sean Anders’ own journey as he and his wife adopted three siblings.

This is a shorter review because I am getting busy with the end of the semester, but I wanted to provide some brief thoughts on it anyhow. After this week, I’ll be back to my regular article entries.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“All the Money in the World” film review

A spellbinding thriller that will hold hostage your attention. Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated historical neo-noir drama depicting the infamous kidnapping of the favorite grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty All the Money in the World is an incredibly suspenseful drama that is every bit as good as you’ve been hearing. Probably the highest profile Christmas season motion picture release after the–quite literal–last minute recasting of living legend Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty I, this film is a non-stop search and rescue of epic proportions. The most notable element of the film is the aforementioned casting; however, there is so much more to this movie than the role played by Plummer. This film has an incredibly organic feel to it–all the way down to the practical blood effects. Although many of the roles in the film are one-dimensional, don’t let that dissuade you from buying your ticket to see it on the big screen. Each and every character in the film is played with excellence by the respective actors. No slowing down in this film, the pacing is incredibly quick but works brilliantly for this nail-biting drama that will have your attention for the entire runtime of the movie. If there was ever a real-life Scrooge, J. Paul Getty would be a contender for the famed Dickensian character. Witness the lengths a mother will go to find and free her son despite being cut off from her father-in-law’s unparalleled fortune. Love, logic, and profit are at war in this fantastic motion picture that is sure to grab the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

A king’s ransom. That’s what J. Paul Getty III (grandson of J. Paul Getty I) demand of the Getty family. All the Money in the World follows Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) and ex-CIA special operations Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) on their perilous journey to locate and retrieve Paul. Only one small problem, Gail’s ex-father-in-law is oil tycoon and ruthless J. Paul Getty, and he refuses to pay the ransom demanded by his favorite grandson’s kidnappers. With Paul’s very life in danger, Gail and Chase, otherwise unlikely allies because of his ties to J. Paul Getty I, are forced to team up in order to locate Paul and secure the ransom money from her former father-in-law who refuses to do anything with his money and time unless there is some sort of monetary profit in it. After Paul’s ear is found in the mail, Gail realizes that her only hope is to get J. Paul Getty to somehow agree to pay the ransom for his grandson.

From a storytelling perspective, the most notable aspect of this motion picture is the aggressively nonlinear storytelling. We begin in (then) present-day, go back to Paul’s early impoverished childhood, fast-forward to him a little older, then to the months prior to his kidnapping, back to the present-day again. We also take a look back at J. Paul Getty I in the early days of his oil business in the middle east. Although I am not typically a fan of flashbacks, it works very well for this story in order to truly understand the dysfunctional family dynamics. While his children live a life that barely gets by financially, J. Paul Getty I lives the life of the wealthiest man the modern world had ever seen. Still, J. Paul is also the embodiment of Ebeneezer Scrooge in every way shape and form. Every moment moves the story forward. Never once will you feel that the more than two-hour film is stagnated or treading water just to fill time. You will also encounter some of the most gruesome moments that Scott has ever put on screen.  The diegesis of the film is constructed with extreme precision, and it creates an overarching exemplary work of how powerful a historic crime drama/thriller can be.

But what kind of film is this? Is it a crime drama? Historic drama? Thriller? Or even classically structured and shot film noir? Often times, when writers or directors set out to create a hybrid film (meaning, more than one genre) run into the problem of the film being in a state of identity crisis. Each main genre has certain pillars and structural supports that need to be met in order to tell the genre story effectively. That doesn’t mean that you cannot have a film that has elements of more than one genre but it does mean that the more genre elements that you have, the more difficult it is to weave them all seamlessly together. Fortunately, Scott’s All the Money in the World written by David Scarpa is a masterpiece! Scarpa showcases his ability to utilize the best of the genre tropes that are in this film to tell a completely new story with a unique experience. If I were to select a genre that this film is best suited for, it would be film noir, in the vein of my review’s opening lines. For all its other elements, All the Money in the World is most closely aligned with film noir because our main character of Gail is in over her head, the non-linear storytelling, dark places and themes, Gail’s exquisite attire, and it’s a story filled with gloom, ill-fated characters, fear, and betrayal.

For those who have been to the famous Getty Museum in Los Angeles (I went a few years ago, and still remember it vividly), you will have a better understanding of how he acquired all those artifacts and art pieces, and how the museum came to be. Perhaps, much like The Founder may have caused you to call into question whether or not you want to support such an infamous legacy, you may also debate whether or not to support the museum that bears his name. Even though J. Paul Getty was a ruthless man, he did provide treasures for the American people and visitors to the states to enjoy for all time. For those who enjoy further reading after watching a historical drama, you’ll find that the Getty family continued to suffer and Paul never recovered from his kidnapping tragedy. His life was cut short after a drug overdose. This is the kind of film that you will want to watch again because of the powerful philosophical punch that pits love against money.

“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