ETERNALS movie review

An ambitious departure from the previous paint-by-numbers MCU films, but while it will attempt to distract you with impressive visuals (other than the Deviants), it’s a soulless film with a convoluted plot full of neo-liberal woke-pandering. Chloe Zhao’s The ETERNALS is the result of a writer/director concerning themselves far more with satisfying the rubric of check-boxes associated with toxic woke culture than telling a thoughtful or entertaining story. This is MARVEL Studios’ movie to demonstrate, through superficial virtue signaling, that they are onboard the Woke Express. Perhaps the idea of this movie sounded innovative in the echo-chamber meetings, but the execution leaves much to be desired. Diegetically, the prolific world building, MCU connectivity, and character development this movie needed to do, even the more than 2.5hr runtime isn’t sufficient, and ultimately feels like a DCEU-style rush job. Between the chaotic plotting, bad CG (those Deviants look like something right off the SyFy Channel), cosplay uniforms, dialogue lacking in any subtext, and the gross neglect for any nuance to the storytelling whatsoever, this movie is the product of an assortment of post-modern critical theories and not the imagination of a filmmaker. Clearly Zhao has an eye for cinematic composition, but her skills as a storyteller are not nearly as fine-tuned–certainly not for such a gargantuan superhero spectacle.

The Eternals, a race of immortal beings with superhuman powers who have secretly lived on Earth for thousands of years, reunite to battle the evil Deviants.

Dramatize don’t tell. This is the No.1 principle I teach in my film studies and screenwriting classes. And this important convention is broken at the very beginning of The Eternals. Very few movies have demonstrated that scrolling text in a prologue can pay off dramatically (i.e. Star Wars). It works in Star Wars because that is how the world was first introduced to the mammoth intellectual property, therefore, it becomes part of its branding (and is missed when it doesn’t happen). Moreover, there was no frame of reference prior to A New Hope; and since we were being plunged into the middle of the action, it was necessary to preface the story that was about to unfold. Audiences aren’t being introduced to the MCU–they’ve been in the MCU ostensibly since Paramount’s Iron Man. Therefore, this demonstrates a lazy approach to providing exposition that could have otherwise been integrated more thoughtfully into the main action story. Furthermore, this lack of dramatic exposition is problematic, not only at the beginning, but throughout the movie.

If there was a social media campaign or outcry about it in the last few years, you will find that box checked off in this movie. As I watched this movie (in IMAX, btw), I couldn’t help but envision a rubric, not unlike the kind many professors use for grading papers. Personally, I don’t use a rubric in my classes because satisfying requirements in that fashion does not tell me how you can apply what you learn in class to your topic; but rather, that you know the bare minimum you need to do in order to get the point(s). Think of it as a typical test. A typical test only demonstrates to the professor how much you can remember NOT how much you know or your level of wisdom (the application of knowledge). It’s as if Zhao held meetings with MARVEL Studios executives and staff to outline every woke box that needed to be checked in this progressive movie. I won’t go into all the examples because that would take up a paragraph in and of itself, but if there has been a push for representation, then you will find it here. And all those characters in one place means that most are not developed sufficiently and feel more like one-dimensional tokens than characters crafted by a writer who cares. That’s the problem here. Increased representation across the spectrum of humanity in cinema is very important, but not when it comes at the expense of the integrity of the characters themselves.

One of the hottest topics of discussion to come out of this movie is the inclusion of a PG-13 sex scene, which is long overdue in a cinematic universe such as this one, which is filled with HOT male and female characters in form-fitting uniforms. More than demonstrating to audiences that the MCU movies have grown up with their initial audience of teens and 20-somethings, this scene is important because it shows that these immortal beings have some humanity in them. Superheroes and supervillains are often not thought of as human, and even though we learn that these immortal beings aren’t exactly human, they do take on many characteristics of humans, and this scene is a refreshing reminder that superheroes have erotic passions just like the rest of us. There is a vulnerability about them.

Because of all the piping that is being laid in this movie (enough for at least two or three movies), the story feels incredibly rushed. It reminded of how the DCEU tried to complete with MARVEL, years after MARVEL had been in the MCU. The result was hurried world building. It took MARVEL years to build the MCU, but the DCEU tried to accomplish the same in a year or two. We have five stories here (1) its creation myth and early Mesopotamia (2) the time in Babylonian Empire (3) the time in the Aztec Empire (4) the Greco-Roman Empire, and (5) the present-day story. Each of these is incredibly important to the main action plot of The Eternals, and yet these otherwise rich settings are reduced to flashback fodder. There are easily three thoughtful movies that could have come out of the five aforementioned stories. The result is a single plot that cannot possibly accomplish everything that it needs to in order to effectively tell the story and do it justice. I’m still not entirely sure why the Deviants were attacking the Eternals; oh it was sort of explained, but like with much of the rest of the film, it wasn’t thoughtfully developed either.

If you are familiar with Middle Eastern or Greek mythology, you will enjoy the integration of some of the mythological stories with which you are likely familiar. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Ikaros to Athena, you will learn that it’s the Eternals that inspired these stories. While we may never know precisely what inspired these stories in real life, they were likely inspired by real individuals, much like legends and lore are to this day. So, knowing that these powerful, immortal beings have been secretly living on earth makes since, and can be appreciated both through a historic lens and through the backstory of the main action plot of the movie.

There are two end-credit scenes, each setting up a new characters. I won’t spoil it (but don’t look at the IMDb either). One scene in at the beginning of the credits and the other is a post-credit scene.

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

Shang-Chi (2021) Review

An action-packed reimagination of the classic kung-fu movie that is equally enjoyable as a stand-alone movie or MCU world-building installment that is best experienced on the BIG SCREEN. It’s no secret that I can take or leave the MCU, same with the DCEU. I’ll be up front and say that I like a select few superhero movies (Batman Returns, 89, Wonder Woman, all the X-Men movies), Batman Returns being my favorite (and I still argue the best comic book movie ever); however, all that said, I thoroughly enjoyed Shang-Chi! From beginning to end, it’s filled with explosive action and properly seasoned with moments of hilarity. Whether you are watching it because you are a Pavlovian MCU fan boy or girl that simply salivates over anything Marvel (or Disney) or you are seeking to be entertained in a cinematic escape for a couple of hours, then this film fits the bill.

Even though there are some cliche extreme wide landscape shots at the beginning that are working hard to convince you that the best place for the movie is on the BIG SCREEN, that’s not why you want to experience it in that ideal environment. You want to experience it on the BIG SCREEN because of the big action moments, mind-blowing fight choreography, intimate character-development scenes, and laughter and cheers from the audience!

Shang-Chi: and the Legend of the Ten Rings boasts a great cast that includes a key supporting role played by the indelible Michelle Yeoh. Our lead Shaun/Shang-Chi is played by the handsome Simu-Liu and his best friend played by the popular Awkwafina. These actors are supported by a well-written screenplay that not only delivers plenty of adrenaline-pumping sequences, one-liners and zingers (mainly from Awkwafina), but never loses focus on the external goal and internal needs. Simple plots with complex characters make some of the best movies!

While there are times that the mystical elements of the movie do seem a bit over-the-top, even for a superhero movie, the superpowers (be they derived from nature or from a weapon), don’t cross the threshold between suspension of disbelief and utter ridiculousness. The movie lays out the rules of its worlds in the first act, so you are willing to accept whatever is thrown at you. Writing tip: you can get away with nearly anything if you properly set it up. We learn everything we need to follow the story at the beginning of the movie.

If you’re seeking to be entertained by a solid high-concept movie, then you don’t want to miss seeing Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings on the BIG SCREEN. Seriously, you can go into it the movie, not being that familiar with the preceding MCU movies, and still be able to thoroughly enjoy your time. If you are an MCU geek and love all the nods, Easter eggs, and world-building details, then you will also be happily satisfied. I hope this movie is an indication of the types of movies we are to witness in the next stage(s) of the MCU.

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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!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Avengers Endgame Full Movie Review

By Raul Navedo of the Minorities Report Podcast

“Part of the journey IS the end.” And what an end we’ve been gifted with. We live in a world that has had to endure Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, TDKR, and Justice League. Where your average ensemble film can’t get pacing and structure right because of how many A-Listers have to share a narrative. A place where “spectacle” tends to trump storytelling. It’s no wonder why we walk into things like this with some concern. Worried that we will be let down like so many times before… But I can now say, not this time. This time we can walk out of the theater like Judd Nelson and throw that fist in the air, and I hope some of you do, because our beloved Russo Bros. have brought an epic and satisfying end to one of the greatest journeys in cinematic history.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the breakdown because we all know it and if you don’t, then this is not the place for you. You clicked on the wrong “Avengers” from the wrong decade… Our team is back to kill Thanos and try to correct what he did. Some of our heroes are in VERY VERY VERY low places, and I’m not just talking about their gut; but they have to get it together for a long-shot opportunity to regain the people they have lost while making up for the years humanity can never get back.

Guys, I don’t know if you are aware but our current MCU universe is made up of 28 (from my quick count) lead, non-supporting, characters that make up our heroes. Extend that to supporting and we are at 40, but let’s stick to 28, shall we? To consider what the Russos had to work with to balance screen time to appease the fans of all of these franchises. Breaking down each storyline and finding ways to–not only represent them well–but end them well with a conclusion that is both epic and satisfying. Funny and heart breaking. Some would say it’s too much for one person to handle… Luckily we got two!

The plot was handled so well even though there was so much to work with, and I know it was a three hour film; but honestly, it could have been longer. One of my biggest issues with the film is the pacing in the first hour. It is a bit rushed; but then again, if you consider where they need to get and all they need to do then you understand why it is so. However, if you add another twenty minutes to the film, that first third will feel a lot better. For the general public, a three hour film is too much to handle. So, I get it. The pacing seems to settle significantly once a certain character pops back into the world and puts a plan in motion that, though the risk is high, the reward is, literally, a trillion times better! “We owe it to everyone who isn’t here to try.”

As a kid I used to own a VHS copy of Titanic. I remember it was so long it came in two tapes. The second tape began right as Jack and Rose leave the iconic handprint on the glass. They run out to the deck laughing. The two guys in the crows nest see them getting frisky and then we get the comedic “If that’s what it takes to get warm I’d rather not” line right before we hit the glacier. I remember this because I watched the second half of Titanic easily over a dozen times. I would just pop in the second tape. If VHSs were still relevant this would be this generation’s Titanic. The whole film is great but the second half is so much greater! Kids would know the second half like the back of their hand and their recollection of the first half would amount to lovers standing at the front of a ship with their arms out AND Rose’s boobs. Hopefully you are still tracking with me. Although the first half of this film is great, the second half is what people will keep coming back for.

This is the culmination of 2,448 minutes of superhero excellence, and the pressure was real but the “Endgame” was handled so well that few will have a hard time enjoying these three hours that fly by before you know it.

Besides the first hour’s pacing being a bit off, there was one scene that is truly problematic. I may get some hate for this but someone has to say it! The forced unnecessary-female-empowerment-moment. Not that I have a problem with an awesome kick-ass girl scene but this one is so blatantly forced that it is very difficult to enjoy without mocking. I loved the similar moment in Infinity War but I didn’t have to suspend disbelief to enjoy it. Everyone around me shook their heads–women and men My wife was right next to me saying “So dumb…”

That is truly the worse moment in the film for me, and it wasn’t even a full scene. Just a quick moment. The rest of the film was filled truly great moments where we felt deep joy and heartache that was fueled by some tremendous acting. Everyone did exceptional, but I have to say hats off to Robert Downy Jr who created some complicated emotional moments. The only thing I was left wanting was Captain Marvel. I really like what Brie, the Russo’s and Anna & Ryan did with her character so I expected to see more of her. I mean, it must be tough considering this was shot before Captain Marvel even had a script so they had no idea how well her character would do and how big her fandom would be but I wish they had just trusted that people would jive with her and that her solo film would break a billion at the box office.

All that being said, this is a great film that I will probably see five times in theaters and will surely talk about at length. It is definitely worth the watch that I need to say that, and it will likely end up at the top of my MCU ratings. “Part of the journey is the end” and, as I writer, I believe that it is not only part of the journey but it is the most important part. It is the part people leave with. The part of the story that determines how you feel when it’s all over. Did you know our strongest memories are attributed to emotion? That’s why the end is the thing people will discuss and breakdown most. The part they will criticize or admire the most. It’s the part that keeps them coming back like when Cal is chasing Jack and Rose through the sinking ship while shooting at them…

The end is everything and, in this situation, everything is pretty friggin great!

You can follow the Minorities Report Pod on Twitter! And visit their website to listen to the podcasts. A big thank you to Raul for contributing this article.

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

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“Captain Marvel” Film Review

Written by guest contributor and one of the hosts of the Minorities Report Podcast The Raul Navedo

We’ve all, at least once in our lives, crushed on someone much like Carol Danvers. Someone cool, fun, has a good sense of humor that’s easy on the eyes, and is a total bad ass that can shoot photon lasers from their arms… Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel has all of these in spades. Likable from the jump, Carol yearns to be the best Kree “Noble Warrior Hero” in all of Hala. The only problem is that she can’t shake the dreams that haunt her. Dreams of a past she can’t be sure is her own; and furthermore, slow her progress to becoming a true Kree.

The hate is real, people! Critics are coming after this delightful performance by Larson viciously, and without reason. Don’t get me wrong, Captain Marvel has many flaws; but very few, if any, can be blamed on our star. I was as concerned as anyone when I heard Larson was casted as our glowing heroine whom would be flying freely through space, and whom would be kicking some serious Skrull ass. After Room,I was convinced that she was a great actress, but being a superhero doesn’t require incredible acting chops as much as it requires a certain charisma that I just couldn’t see in her. If you recall, though our superstar Avengers cast is beloved NOW, there were some serious concerns after most of them had their debut films (RDJ being the exception). Most of them had to grow into their respective roles, so it wasn’t until the second films that they became the heroes they were working to portray in our hearts. Not the case with Larson’s CM. She is fun, complex and dynamic, spanning the spectrum of emotions in a single scene.

Let me tell you guys something, a character being likable/unlikable does not a great/bad movie make. Harley Quinn is extremely likable in Suicide Squad and yet… And our lead in Manchester by the Sea is unlikeable and yet it is an incredible film. The art of writing real and complex characters is the ability to write them as they truly are. Angry, funny, sad, charismatic, annoying, reclusive, broken. Stop bashing films because YOU didn’t understand the characters as they were depicted. The Kree train their “noble warrior heroes” to think and not feel. Emotions are the enemy of sound thinking and are therefore a detriment to being a great warrior. Carol wants so badly to be this way–to prove she is a true Kree, but it is against her nature so she is conflicted. Her desire to not feel makes her unlikable because people without emotions are sociopaths, are un-relatable and therefore are not likable! She was written this way, people. And it is her inability to follow through with this Kree “noble warrior hero” prerequisite that makes her so damn likable!

But enough about her. I believe that what truly hurts this film is the same thing that hurt me when I was a young lad in the throws of passion for the very first time. Lack of experience. Our directing duo, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, have worked together on a number of projects that pale in comparison to the endeavor that is an MCU film. The writing suffered from poor dialogue and pacing at times. There were lines that just didn’t need to be there that provided information that the audience had already gathered. Action sequences that felt rushed because the rest of the script wasn’t as tight as it should be. Carol’s very first mission is so oddly paced and executed that you can’t enjoy it.

It takes a trained mind to know what needs to be trimmed and what needs to be expanded, whether in the script or in the editing room. It takes a trained ear to hear a line during a table read or on set that you know needs to be changed or taken out. These are things that not all audience members can catch or express but that most can feel. Some might just say it wasn’t good. Some might say it was fun but lacked heart. I say it was a great effort that lacked refinement. Wonder Woman had many flaws but most people were able to overlook it because it had so much heart it was tangible. It wasn’t just because Gal Gadot did a great job, it’s because Patty Jenkins has developed her skills over the years to make her a very gifted storyteller. We can forgive flat cinematography and lighting. We’ve been doing it for years with many of these MCU films who’s visuals lack depth. We can forgive a great many things that contribute to making great film. What we cannot forgive is lack of heart and emotional depth. Captain Marvel has all the building blocks, but it fell just short of being great. Fleck and Boden are well on their way there and I am excited to see their next project.

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure the blame does not solely land on their shoulders but as a great director once said “When a film does very poorly the director gets all of the blame and when a it does exceptionally well the director gets too much credit.” It comes with the territory, unfortunately.

I still highly recommend that people go see Captain Marvel. Just lower your expectations a bit and you’ll definitely enjoy it!

(From Ryan)

I hope you enjoyed this review from Raul. He is one of my longest and best friends, and spends much time watching and talking about movies as he manages a high traffic AMC Movie Theatre in North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter!

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

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” brief film review

Now THIS is the amazing Spiderman! Eat your heart out Tom Holland and move over Incredibles and Ralph for the best animated feature of 2018. Even if you do not care for comic book or superhero movies, by in large, but love excellent motion pictures (animated or live-action), then I can almost guarantee that you will thoroughly enjoy and greatly appreciate Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Although there have been a handful of animated films that I have liked in recent years, I have not felt emotionally and physiologically engaged with an animated feature to this degree since Kubo and the Two Strings. What both these animated features have in common is groundbreaking artistic precision that typifies the art of animated visual storytelling. Not only does Spider-Verse blow all other animated films out of the water this year, in terms of its contribution to the art and science of motion pictures, I put it on par with Kubo. The attention to production design details and mindblowing editing set the bar incredibly high for animated features moving forward. While the visuals have been likened to an acid trip, do not allow that to dissuade you because never once did I find the avant-garde artistic expression dizzying or obnoxious. It was completely immersive. There was genuine, tangible emotion felt in every frame. And the Stan Lee cameo was priceless. Underscoring everything on screen is the phenomenal screenplay upon which this mesmerizing animated feature is built. Undoubtedly, you will find yourself emotionally invested in the central character of Miles and the chief supporting cast, including the fantastic villain King Pin. There is so many layers to this story, and it works on several levels such as: family, love, self-sacrifice, and more. Highly recommend this film!

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 or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry