THIRTEEN LIVES docudrama mini review

Interesting. Ron Howard’s big screen adaptation of the true story of the daring rescue of the Thai youth football (soccer) team from the flooded cave is faithful to the wikipedia page, but with an impressive addition of underwater cinematography. Thirteen Lives chronicles the seemingly impossible rescue that captured the attention of the entire world in summer 2018. While Howard’s docudrama is well-made all the way around, what audiences will find most fascinating is the mechanics of the rescue. It took thousands of volunteers in the labyrinth of caves, mountain peaks, and basecamps to bring all the boys and their coach to safety. Although none of the performances particularly stand out, the film delivers solid casting. Thirteen Lives is a different kind of “based on the true story” film, because it does not have particularly strong plotting to map-out the narrative. On one hand, it is a simple plot rescue the boys, but the film ultimately plays as a blow by blow description of what happened. Upon viewing the film, I thought to myself, why not just make a documentary instead; and then it occurred to me, that there would have been little to no footage of the inside of the caves. Therefore, docudrama was the way to go. There really isn’t much in the way of connective tissue between plot points; events just happen. That’s not to say that what we are watching isn’t terrifying in places–it certainly is–especially if you have kids; but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like a cinematic story in the conventional sense. Even though we all know how the true story ends, the film focuses on the steps that were taken in order to rescue the youth soccer team. Is it good? Well, it’s not bad. It just kind of is. Often we see based on a true story films that take so much dramatic license that it’s no longer a faithful big or small screen adaptation; sometimes, character or situational nuances or motivations are lost in translation. Thirteen Lives is so incredibly focuses on a dutiful adaptation, that it sometimes forgets that it’s also supposed to be finding the narrative amongst the facts. I wouldn’t wait to see this on the small screen, catch it during its limited theatrical run because the visuals are impressive.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and 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! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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House of Gucci mini review

“A triumph in mediocrity.” From the brilliance of The Last Duel to the dullness of House of Gucci, director Ridley Scott is all over the cinemascape this year. Rodolfo Gucci, in his deconstruction of Aldo Gucci’s talent for design encapsulates the experience of this film by the summation that it merely exists without having any lasting impact of the soul of design. Phenomenal cast, intriguing historic story, fascinating look into one of the most storied companies of all time, but it’s ultimately all held back by a director phoning in his vision and a screenplay that is about as one-dimensional as the conglomerate that would eventually oust the Gucci family from their own fashion house. Individually, all the actors in the lead and secondary ensemble cast are outstanding. Unfortunately, the screenplay (and director) give them nothing substantive to do. So, there are many scenes in which each is clearly going for their respective Oscar or Golden Globe nomination.

What a disservice to the sensational true story, because there is a great story in this lackluster mess somewhere. Structurally, the first two acts drag on and on and on in a meandering direction that is suppose to point to and setup the third act, which consequently is the best part of the film. Regrettably, the third act is incredibly rushed (plot, murder, conviction, family ousted, all within 10mins it seems). I mean, those are some of the most interesting plot points of the whole story about (to quote the subtitle of the novel on which this is based) “…the sensational story of murder, madness, glamour, and greed.” One screenwriting convention is referred to as saving the best for last, but I don’t think the practice is meant to be taken that literally (it’s actually more or less directed at dialogue ending on a strong note). Perhaps the most intriguing dimension in this film is how it will likely prompt you to read up on the family and company after you get home. Just in terms of reading the Wikipedia entry, there was more intrigue than in the whole of House of Gucci. Which is saying a lot, since this film was pretty much a Wikipedia article.

If you’re a student of history or fashion, then you will likely find the background of interest. While this film is certainly not a runway film, there is commentary on art of versus the commercialization of fashion that exists within the mediocre narrative. Is is bad? No, not inordinately so. Is it good? Not particularly. Unless you want to see the fantastic performances on the big screen, I suggest at-home viewing of this film is sufficient.

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.

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“The Resurrected” (1991) Horror Film Review

Not the Easter resurrection that many of us celebrate this weekend, but the brilliant Lovecraftian horror film that you’ve likely never heard of, much less seen! Often when it comes to holidays, I enjoy reviewing films that fit the theme of the special day. And with Easter coming up on April 12th, what better film to review than one actually entitled The Resurrected? I don’t know about you, but until this past weekend, I’d neither seen nor heard about this film. After watching it, I am blown away as to how such an outstanding horror film got left to obscurity. Attempting to understand how this became a forgotten film, I came up with a combination of a couple reasons (1) it was straight-to-VHS and (2) there was another little horror film that you may be aware of from 1991 that took the world by storm (and still mesmerizes and terrifies us today). Ever hear of the film called The Silence of the Lambs??? Because of the critical and audience success, not to mention winning the Big 5 Academy Awards, it’s entirely possible that the success of SOTL cast a big shadow on The Resurrected (aka Shatterbrain). Now, I am not claiming that the latter is on the same critical level as the former, SOTL is the superior motion picture; however, with SOTL being a horror film, I believe that it stole attention away from The Resurrected. Perhaps the following review will inspire people to seek out this film. The Resurrected was Dan O’Bannon’s first feature length film following his directorial debut his of Return of the Living Dead. If his name sounds familiar, that because you either know Return of the Living Dead or perhaps his work on the greatest sci-fi horror of all time Ridley Scott’s Alien, for which he wrote the original screenplay. With such horror and cinematic pedigree, it’s no wonder why The Resurrected was such a fantastic entry into the horror library! 

As the title suggests, this film deals with the return of what was dead, or what Freud calls the uncanny. From the German word unheimlich, meaning unholy, the return of the repressed, or the appearance of that which should have remained hidden, audiences encounter a Dr. Frankenstein like character whose obsessive experiments have taken a turn for the mad and macabre. Fixated on and fascinated with bringing the dead back to life, Charles Dexter Ward (Chris Sarandon) builds an unsettling laboratory in an old family estate where he shuts himself off to his wife and the world so he can work uninterrupted as he dabbles in a combination of witchcraft and science to reanimate the dead. When his wife Claire (Jane Sibbett) suspects that her husband may be up to something far more sinister than the “science” he claims he’s working on, she hires private investigator John March (John Terry) to look into her husband’s research. When March discovers that Charles Dexter Ward may not be whom he claims to be, all hell breaks lose—almost quite literally.

Between Return of the Living Dead and The Resurrected, I am astonished as to why O’Bannon never returned to the director’s chair. Perhaps it’s because MGM did not believe in this film enough to give it a theatrical release. Since MGM also released Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise that year, maybe its resources were tied up in that film’s road to the Oscars; therefore, it didn’t care enough about O’Bannon’s second film. It’s a shame because he has a stylistic approach that’s both poetic and shocking. Fortunately, his direction is stylized in ways that enhance the audience experience without detracting from the story and becoming an attraction for the sake of being stylized. Stylization with substance, that is O’Bannon. Instead of including shocking visual material for purposes of being mere gimmicks, he uses these moments to drive the plot and character development forward; everything in the film is intentional designed to move the story forward. I love seeing the hand of the director in a movie, and The Resurrected is oozing with evidence that O’Bannon cared about every frame of every moment in his sophomore film. What this film is, is the combination of what O’Bannon learned from working with Ridley Scott on Alien and what he learned from his freshman film Return of the Living Dead. Every screenplay needs a writer who cares, and every film need a director who cares. 

While it’s unfortunate that this film is seldom part of horror discussions, it certainly isn’t the first 90s horror film that seems to have fallen off the radar. The way The Resurrected flew under the radar reminds me of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. Fortunately for the latter, it has found a cult following in recent years, but the former still hasn’t received the attention form horror audiences that it both deserves and earned. Which is unfortunate because this movie offers the kind of genre charm that was quintessentially 80s/90s.

What a screenplay! Everything about this story works so incredibly well. There are three genres at work in Brent V. Friedman’s screenplay for The Resurrected: neo-noir, science-fiction, and supernatural. While successfully crossing genres can be dangerous, with a risk of not delivering on any of them, Friedman proves that he is a master visual storyteller that can create the stuff of nightmares without relying simply on shock or gore. In fact, the moments of visceral horror are very few. But when they hit, they HIT! The A story is the traditional detective meets gorgeous client with an unusual request, the B story is about a mad scientist, and the C story is where we get into the supernatural. Each of these stories weave in and out of one another beautifully to create a truly outstanding work of poetic horror. Fans of direct or inspired adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft horror, will absolutely love the storytelling in this film. In fact, I may recommend this film to all horror fans, but feel that it is required watching for Lovecraftian horror fiends! Friedman’s screenplay works so well, that you will feel that O’Bannon write it himself. One of the common areas of weakness in late 1980s-early 90s horror is pacing. Lots of great practical effects, production design, and even performances, but the writing can be poorly paced and vapid. Not so with this film! So between O’Bannon’s excellent direction and a gripping screenplay, The Resurrected will hook you from the very first scene and hold your attention hostage for the entire film.

Beyond the strong direction and writing, perhaps my favorite park of the movie is the spinechilling practical and special effects! No CGI could ever look nearly as dimensional as all the practical effects generated by modeling, stop motion, miniatures, fake blood, prosthetics, and more! Nowadays, I find it difficult to buy into an actor interacting with something that isn’t really there. Oh we see it after the motion graphic artists and editors work their magic, but no amount of quality of CGI can authentically replicate the way real light bounces off real objects, then into the camera lens. The special effect artists did things that are mindblowing even by today’s standards for visual effects. While my area of expertise is not the mechanics and optics of special effects, I can usually extrapolate a good idea of how something was accomplished, but I am at a loss for words with the effects I witnessed in The Resurrected. One moment in particular that I want to mention, as I don’t want to give away all this movie has to offer, has to do with the reanimated remains of a human body that are dissolving into some grotesque creature that is violently growling and gnashing its teeth. An incredible feat of cinematic proportions! And that’s only one of the most elaborate practical effect scenes; strategically places throughout the movie are glorious moment of special effects that immerse the audience into the macabre Lovecraftian story, and prove that something real, dimensional, tanglible to interact with will always be far more convincing than actors interacting with chroma-green abstract objects on set.

This really is one of the best horror movies that you’ve never heard of, much less seen. While you cannot currently stream it anywhere, except through more nefarious means, you can buy the Blu-Ray on Amazon and other retail outlets. Whether you prefer genre or more complex horror, you will find something to love about this movie.

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! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Gretel and Hansel” Horror Film Mini Review

Don’t go into the A-frame house in the middle of the woods, should you see it; it’s a hard pass. Orion Pictures’ Gretel and Hansel directed by Oz Perkins (son of horror legend Anthony Perkins of Psycho) delivers a horror film with an outstanding atmosphere and ominous tone paired with a creepy score and beautiful cinematography, BUT the plot is abominable. Not only is it a slow burn, but it is incredibly abstract with no real diegetic direction for the snoozefest of a screenplay. However, this film seems to resonate with fans of The Witch and Mandy. Although so many fans and critics praise The Witch, it is not one that I have ever cared for. So take this mini review with a grain of salt, if you must. While I often appreciate (and sometimes even love) arthouse horror (Midsommar is a great example of one that I praise highly), I am in the minority on The Witch. Which could explain why I did not care for this adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. If you’re wondering why the name was transposed, it’s because Gretel is our central character. And you know what? I like her character a lot; I just wish she was given more to do. Although the plot barely exists, it is clear that this was intended to be a creepy, empowering coming-of-age story; however, it’s unfortunate that it was poorly executed, to the point that it works better than Ambien. My favorite character in this adaptation is Alice Krige’s (Borg Queen from the StarTrek series and movies) witch! Everything from her look to overall delivery was excellent! While I am a huge fan of Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter, I am not a fan of many of his other films because he doesn’t work with strong enough screenwriters. If he could somehow pair his brilliant visual, immersive direction with stronger screenwriters that can deliver a coherent story, then we could be talking more about him, as we do Ari Aster. I want to reiterate tho–the cinematography, production design, score, and editing are exceptionally good! So, if you are okay with a meh plot, then you may still find this one enjoyable.

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!

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“JUDY” Biopic Film Review

A truly gripping motion picture that will bring you to tears during this somewhere over the rainbow redemption story. Bring tissues. Renee Zellweger is captivating as Judy Garland, and you’ll swear that you’re watching Garland on the big screen. Although we may be familiar with the broad strokes career of the legendary entertainer, this film goes beyond the headlines and tabloids to deliver a true life story that could ironically be titled A Star is Born, or perhaps reborn. Ironic in that this film shows the life of a movie star after the lights have faded and the offers stop coming in, much like the movie she starred in. It’s a rise and fall story, of sorts, but is more precisely a fall and rise story as the movie focusses in on the last year of Judy Garland’s life. If you are worried that the film ends on her death, you can be relived that the film chooses to stop the story prior to the end of the iconic star’s life. And it works so incredibly well! While there are many movies (not unlike A Star is Born) that focus on the rise and fall of a talent in showbusiness, this movie skips all the glitz and glamor to paint a realistic portrait of what it is like for those whom grow up in front of the camera, controlled by those around them, just to wind up in front of booing crowds, empty bank accounts, homelessness, and a tumultuous custody battle. Not to mention her addiction to pills that was caused by abusive treatment at the hands of the old studio system because of being force fed pills from an early age. Whether you are a fan of the iconic diva or not, if you love command performances, then you do not want to miss the uncanny performance of Zellweger as Judy. All the way down to the mannerisms, vocal inflections, and over all behavior, she IS Judy. Although we all know of the tragic ending, no mistaking it, this film is an inspirational story of redemption.

The money is gone, career on the rocks, and risking the loss of custody of her two youngest children, that is the last year’s of Judy Garland’s life. Unfortunately the other side of the rainbow for Judy was anything but magical. Three decades after starring in one of the greatest film musicals of all time The Wizard of Oz, the beloved actress and singer is in dire straights. She is left with virtually nothing except her name and what remains of her timeless voice that charmed millions throughout her early illustrious career. In order to prove that she can provide for her two youngest children, she accepts a gig in London playing to sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town night club. While there, she reminisces with friends and fans, fights her depression and anxiety over performing, and begins a whirlwind romance with her soon-to-be fifth husband.

“For one hour, I am Judy Garland, and the rest of the time I am just like everyone else…I want what everyone wants, I just seem to have a harder time getting it” is a paraphrased quote from the movie, but it illustrates how the actress and singer felt about her relationship with the world. The movie chronicles her inability to stay afloat financially in Los Angeles and must accept a gig in London where her personal troubles continue to follow and haunt her. Her character is so incredibly relatable because many of us have found ourselves in traps that we have stepped in and are at a loss as to how to get out. If you thought this was going to be another cliche musical biopic, then you would be mistaken. No pretense about it, this is an unapologetic look at the dark side of Hollywood in perhaps one of the greatest stories that is right up there with Norma Desmond. Now, I am not equating Judy with what is, in my opinion, the greatest film of all time Sunset Boulevard, but her story is not unlike the one experienced by Norma. The movie also comments on the far reaching effects of childhood trauma on the adult psyche. No one understood the extent that she was abused by the studio system except for Judy herself. If her present-day handlers knew what she went through during the years that American fell in love with The Wizard of OzMeet Me in St. Louis, and more, then they would not-so-casually write her off as a wrecked hasbeen who mismanaged her money and relationships. The film deals with perception versus reality. Strategically placed in the film are flashbacks to her childhood at MGM that provide context for moving the present story forward as each moment reveals a new layer to the legendary entertainer.

Zellweger delivers a performance for the ages in this film. More than a spot-on impression, she transforms into Judy Garland to the extent that you will almost believe that you are watching the iconic actress and singer on the big screen. It is clear that Zellweger studied Judy Garland for months in order to get into character. Her movement, speech pattern, posture, and other behaviors completely sell the audience on this audacious portrayal of such an icon. Never once does she break character and allow the actor to shine through, she remains committed to this phenomenally genuine portrayal of Judy Garland. We all know Zellweger can sing, after all, she wow’d us in Chicago (a rare example of when the movie adaptation IS better than the live show); but nothing will prepare you for the power of her singing in this movie. Other than Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, you will hear Zellweger sing other famous songs by Garland such as Get HappyThe Trolly SongCome Rain or Come Shine, and of course the encore of Over the Rainbow during the movie’s climactic, emotionally charged, showdown. Even when singing, Zellweger is determined to deliver the songs just as a late-40s Garland did, complete with all the stubbornness, anxiety, and even anger. I truly hope that Zellweger is nominated for this role.

Perhaps the reason why Liza Minelli was quite objectionably vocal about her mother’s portrayal in this movie is because there are creative liberties taken by the writers in order to further dramatize Judy’s story. As I’ve told my screenwriting class, dramatize don’t tell. If a “based on a true story” or biographical film was simply concerned with the timeline of events, the cold hard facts, and cause and effect, then it might feel more like a police procedural or college lecture. Hence why it is imperative that writers DO get a little creative in the dramatization of events for cinematic purposes. For instance, the facts are largely correct in this story as I have compared them to Wikipedia and other newspaper articles, but where I can see the difference is Judy’s reaction to the timeline of events. Articles and tabloids may be able to show what happened, but it is up to the screenwriters to dramatize the reaction to the conflict. So perhaps that is what Liza is upset with, she doesn’t agree with the story details between what we know from Hollywood history. One of the tangential components in the movie is Judy meeting up with “Friends of Judy” at the end of one of her shows. Judy joins them, rather than be by herself for a night of poorly made omelets and casual singing around a piano. It’s an emotionally moving tribute to all the gays who’ve loved her over the years. In all likelihood, this was written for the movie as there is no way of verifying if this night ever happened. This is the scene where I feel that she should’ve sang Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas because tonally it was similar to that scene in Meet Me in St. Louis. Instead, she sings Get Happy.

Maybe this is an unconventional redemption story, but that quality is clearly communicated through the film. Rising up against the internal and external monsters in your life that have dragged you down so far that there is no end in sight. Whereas Judy may not have changed as dramatically as Scrooge did in  A Christmas Carol, she does change during the climax of the movie. If you want to know just how, then you need to go out and watch it!

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!

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