“TENET” Film Review

By Leon Zitz

What starts out as a sleek and well executed, but still fairly standard, espionage film with some interesting sci-fi ideas, turns into a mind-blowing “time travel” action-thriller that will have you staring at the screen, mouth agape in awe. “Armed with only one word TENET, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time” (IMDb). And that is all you want or need to know going into this film.

The film is like a loop, closed in itself, similar to Nolan’s earlier film Memento but much more complex, even more complex than Inception. Previous events of the film will get re contextualized in the second half and inserts that viewers might not even have noticed start to become make sense and become important. TENET definitely warrants multiple viewings to catch all these little details, but the surface plot and the characters’ goals are kept simple so that even if not completely understanding why or how, the viewer is never lost in what is going on.

Aside from digital compositing, which is seamless, the film employs almost no computer generated effects, all action scenes are choreographed and shot practically. Unfortunately due to this age where everything you can think of is made possible computer generated effects, this might only become impressive to the viewer if he is made aware of how the effects were achieved. Fortunately, unlike some other recent productions which rely heavily on CGI, TENET will stand the test of time and may thus even become more impressive for future viewers.

The Film’s weak point is its characters. We don’t learn much about “Neil,” played by Robert Pattinson, and “The Protagonist,” played by John David Washington, aside from surface level information and they aren’t developed much until the very end of the film. Kenneth Branagh does a good job as the sometimes scenery chewing but still fairly standard villain character. The heart and soul of the movie is Elizabeth Debicki’s character “Ka,t” who is the most developed character in the film and arguably the most emotionally affected by the events of the film.

Needless to say this is not a character-driven film, instead TENET is highly plot driven but as long as viewers are aware of that they will be satisfied. If you are looking for more than your average spy action thriller but aren’t expecting a philosophical masterpiece then this is the film for you.

This article was written by our German correspondent Leon Zitz. Be sure to checkout his Instagram and YouTube pages. You can also checkout my review of his latest film Romeo Kills Juliette.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Ryan is also the creator of the Four’s a Crowd sitcom podcast now streaming on your favorite podcatcher. 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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“Unhinged” (2020) Movie Review

Unbridled blunt force carnage. Academy Award winner Russell Crowe’s rampage-filled Unhinged hits theatres this weekend. And if you’re in the mood for a throwback B-movie well-suited for the indoor big screen or a drive-in theatre, then hop in the driver’s seat. Unhinged is the kind of movie that is so bad yet is actually a lot of fun–the one time you will ever watch it anyway. There are really only two acts in this movie; the rushed setup with an attempt to attach some deeper meaning to the gnarly violence that starts immediately and the lengthy showdown. But you won’t care that it’s a shallow, vapid plot; you are there for three reasons (1) to see Crowe go absolutely bonkers (2) the unhinged brutal, cringy no-holds-barred violence and (3) the scarily realistic car chases through this unnamed city in this unnamed state only known as America’s Heartland. The manner in which The Man stalks Rachel (and later, her son) reminds me of the same pattern of actions we get in many horror movies. While this movie is not a genre horror movie, it is very much horror-adjacent. Moreover, this horror-adjacent movie nearly follows the same tropes as a slasher. Slasher? That’s right. And get this–I found this particularly interesting–Russell Crowe’s lumpy misogynist is credited only as The Man, and where have we seen such a vague, anonymous description of a character before? John Carpenter’s original Halloween with Michael Myers being credited as The Shape. When viewed as a horror-adjacent movie, you will likely enjoy it more. The fact that we are never told much about The Man’s motivations, makes his over-the-top kills, his look, and his barbaric behavior incredibly campy. It’s this level of camp that makes the movie serviceable, and even fun during the violence and high-impact car chases; one could say the car chases are fast and furious. Director Derrick Borte delivers a guilty pleasure action-thriller that is sure to keep you entertained for its relatively short fun time. He knows precisely what kind of movie he’s direction, and rocks it! And you now what, it looks like the director and Crowe has a fun time making this schlock fest. Even actors of Crowe’s repute need a cathartic movie every now and again.

Unhinged is a horror adjacent action-thriller that is built upon something we have all experienced–road rage. Only, this story takes everything you have ever feared about what could happen after you honk your horn to bizarrely unpredictable levels culminating in a terrifying conclusion. Rachel (Caren Pistorius) is running late taking her son to school when she meets The Man (Crowe) at a red light. When the light turns green, he sits there. After she lays on the horn a few times, races past him, and gives him that look, you now the one (as we’ve all done it), she finds herself and everyone she loves the target of a man whom, in his own words, feels invisible and is looking to leave his mark on the lives of those whom dismiss him, in deadly games of cat and mouse.

The movie starts with a stylistic montage depicting violence in the streets of America, particularly road rage. Incidentally, this movie seems to have predicted the current and recent outburst of violence in the streets, months prior. So for some, these images may hit a little too close to home. Or perhaps they will be a wakeup call for how we treat one another, because you never really know if the person standing next to you is about to go over the edge because of continued brushes with trauma. Often times, an opening montage such as this one is used to prime the pump, if you will, in order to setup social commentary or other existential critique on the events that are about to unfold. Unfortunately, this setup really goes nowhere, except to remind us that we really never know next to whom we are standing, or sitting in your car. Early on in the film, just before the deadly cat and mouse road rage game sets into full motion, The Man comments that (and I am paraphrasing), “people nowadays feel as though they should ever have to apologize to anyone for anything.” And perhaps there is a nugget of truth in that because apologies do seem to be fewer in number than they used to be. Newsflash: sometimes we are wrong or have wronged someone else, be it intentional or unintentional. So, apologies and forgiveness should be in our arsenal before grudges and rage.

Talk about bloody. This movie sets the bar ridiculously high with its opening scene of The Man obliterating his axe wife, her lover, followed by torching the house. But the bar doesn’t stop there; the ante literally keeps going up. This man displays the most extreme forms of sociopathy, and he is virtually unstoppable, just like a classic horror slasher in the vein of Michael or Jason. Perhaps he isn’t lurking in the shadows, isn’t wearing a mask, doesn’t have a trademark weapon, or doesn’t come with catchy music, but he is still a slasher! Even when he is shot, he keeps going. And is always right on the bumper of Rachel. While you will likely not care about ANY of the characters in this movie, you will enjoy the campy slasherness of The Man. Unfortunately, The Man also doesn’t give us any reason to root for him, as is the case with Michael, Freddy, or Jason. The Man is a disgusting representation of toxicity of every kind. But, he does know how to put on a show for the audience.

Word to the wise, should you encounter a vehicle sitting at an intersection when the light turns green, I wouldn’t honk your horn. If you do, then you may unleash a sociopath that will literally stop at nothing until you apologize.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and American 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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“Union Bridge” (2019) Indie Film Review

A neo-noir southern gothic directorial debut that delivers overwhelmingly on its foreboding sense of surreal dread, but underwhelmingly on its narrative substance in this slow-burn film. First-time writer-director Brian Levin showcases his command of atmosphere and world-building, but his screenplay lacks focus and direction. Levin certainly demonstrates his keen eye for crafting a haunting ambiance in the vein of David Lynch, but the overall experience suffers diegetically. While the premise is intriguing, the plot is all over the place. Following the central character who has returned to his hometown from the big city, the audience is taken on a surreal psychological journey into the darker side of this otherwise wholesome-looking town. Unfortunately, this journey lacks a destination and ultimately leaves the audience wondering why they should care about anything that happens in the film. Levin’s debut feature strikes the right tone for a neo-noir that teeters towards thriller-adjacency; but despite thriller being in the billing, it never quite reaches that goal. Perhaps screenwriting is not Levin’s strong suit; that said, there is much to be admired in his endeavor. All the mise en scene elements work together seamlessly to create an atmosphere that stimulates the senses and draws you in from the moment that the film opens. Union Bridge has everything else going for it in terms of casting, cinematography, score, editing, and production quality. Which tells me that Levin has what it takes to craft a visually compelling story for the screen, but needs to leave the writing to someone else. Should he pair up with a screenwriter that has a penchant for neo-noir or horror next time, then it is entirely possible that we may be having a different discussion.

Will Shipe (Scott Friend), the scion of a powerful family living near the Mason Dixon line, moves back home after years in the big city. His old friend Nick (Alex Breaux), who still lives in town, is feverishly digging in the land because of a vision he can’t escape. What is buried in this small town and the events around it have repercussions that effect many people. Most of all, Will Shipe, and the past and future of his legacy. Assisted by his high school sweetheart Mary (Emma Duncan), Will must uncover the long-kept family secrets buried beneath the fields of his hometown.

If you go into this expecting a southern gothic thriller, you will be disappointed. Not because it doesn’t feel like a gothic horror, but because it never delivers on the thrill. There really isn’t any suspense either, by Hitchcock definition, because the audience is never supplied with information. Incidentally, the audience will be desperately seeking information to make some sense of what is happening on screen. Levin introduces and sets up some potentially juicy plot devises and backstory, but never revisits any of them in a manner that pays off at any level. We never figure out what the family’s dark secret is, why Will has to return to his hometown (tho, it’s vaguely hinted at), or why Will’s mom’s despises her late husband. Will’s childhood sweetheart is said to be practicing a form of witchcraft, but Levin goes nowhere with that either. The family’s and town’s past and present are only connected because we are, in not so many words, told they are. So many ideas for a southern gothic thriller, but they come off as more of a stream of consciousness or outline than a coherent narrative. Even the romance between Mary and Will goes nowhere of particular interest. And when Will’s childhood friend Nick (spoiler alert) dies, you simply won’t care. This film deeply desires for you to give yourself over to it, but you won’t form an emotional connection with any aspect to the story. Perhaps this “story” can be characterized as the plot to nowhere–speaking of which–I’m still wondering where the “bridge” in the title even comes from; there is simply no bridge, past or present, in this landlocked town.

Okay, now that I got all the negative out of the way, I want to spend time on highlighting what I enjoyed in this picture. I’m often hesitant to be too professor-y or critical with a directorial debut, because I commend anyone, who for the first time, sets out to make a picture and get it distributed. So, I offer congratulations on a job well-done to Mr. Levin on completing something he set out to do. Thousands of people set out to shoot films that are often left incomplete for one reason or another. Where this film fails to deliver is the story–and no mistaking it–that is HUGE; however, Levin can use this as a learning opportunity that teaches him that he has director chops, not necessarily screenwriting chops. Should he choose to work with a different screenwriter, other than himself the next time, then he has what it takes to guide the production from page to screen.

I am a fan of David Lynch, and Muholland Drive and the TV show Twin Peaks are among my favorites of his. Even without knowing from press materials that Levin is also a fan of Lynch, I knew it within with first five minutes of the film. The cinematography, editing, and score are all reminiscent of Lynch, specifically Twin Peaks. Levin successfully blends the macabre and mundane nature of this town in a manner that reveals that the former is contained within the latter. Furthermore, Levin crafts an atmosphere that is familiar yet foreign to Will, and by extension, the audience. Although this story feels like it should have taken place in Georgia or South Carolina, the settings in Maryland were ideally suited for Union Bridge. The factories represent the past whereas Will represents the future (or let’s be real, the present), much in the same way that his mother lives in the past, and resists living in the present. When the past and present come face to face, the blurred area between the two is where this nightmare resides. Levin’s talent for direction is also witnessed in the actors’ performances. All the performances are generally fantastic, especially Breaux’s character of Nick. Each character is right out of a Lynchian film, and works perfectly in Levin’s surreal Maryland town. There are some beautiful nuances to the technical elements that work together to create this idyllic setting surrounded by an emanation of dread. Atmospherically, Levin knows precisely what to do, and I hope to see more of his craft paired with a better story in the future.

Union Bridge is available on a streaming service near you.

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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“I See You” (2019) Movie Review

See this spellbinding enigma! I See You is a beautifully and cleverly crafted horror-adjacent psychological thriller that combines the horror of a People Under the Stairs urban legend with the police procedural stylings of SE7EN and Along Came a Spider with Lynchian influences. An official selection at last year’s South By Southwest Film Festival, this movie is now included with Amazon Prime and available on other streaming services. Even since movie theatres had to close in the wake of COVID-19, I have been struggling to identify films to watch for purposes of a formal review. While selecting rewatches and select new watches for pure entertaining and passing the time has also been a struggle, I meet with a paralyzing indecisive quandary when browsing VOD selections for a film to review. Perhaps I am in the minority on this, but I depend on theatrical releases for structural, filter, and priority purposes. But after not releasing a new article last week, I knew that I needed to watch and review something. At the recommendation of a friend of my sister’s, I checked out I See You, and I am glad that I did! Starting out in a very Lynchian fashion with sweeping birds eye view camera shots over a sleepy, yet affluent hamlet, the seemingly supernatural tedious first act gives way to terrifying reality told through an enigmatic nonlinear narrative device in the second and third acts. To get into plot specifics would deprive you of the thrill of a first-time watch, but don’t believe everything you think you see in the film. Playing around with points of view, trauma, and the breakdown of a family, this film delivers the twists and turns you desire from a psychological thriller while concurrently delivering a depiction of what happens when trauma festers in the mind and soul without a constructive way of resolving it. In retrospect, some of the logic of the plot doesn’t quite make sense, and there are some elements that you simply have to chalk up to the suspension of disbelief. But the rollercoaster of a showdown finishes in a brilliant crescendo that feels like something that Wes Craven and David Lynch would have written together.

Strange occurrences plague Greg (Jon Tenney), a small town detective, and his family as he investigates the disappearance of a young boy whom appears to be the victim of a copycat serial killer. With the specter of a man sent to prison that may have been innocent, Greg is also dealing with the recent affair of his wife Jackie (Helen Hunt) and the unbridled anger exhibited by his son Connor (Judah Lewis) over his mother’s affair.

The nonlinear plot of I See You employs Hitchcockian misdirection with subjective vantage points and audience expectations versus reality. Quite the brilliant combination for a psychological thriller. After the diegetic catalyst of a young boy being violently ripped from his bicycle–literally thrown into the air–sets the melancholy, ominous tone for the movie, the first and second acts of the film tell the same story, but from two different perspectives. The malevolent force witnessed in the opening scene seems to follow audiences to the unnerving confines of the Harper house that is spatially large, but an ominous presence takes the palatial house and makes it feel like a prison. In retrospect, the breadcrumbs are all too obvious; however, many of these conspicuous clues go unregistered by the audience because of the more exciting prospect of a supernatural force at work. I appreciate how the main action and subplot compliment the themes of reconnecting with estranged family members, guilt, resentment, and trauma. Moreover, the search for the missing boy parallels Jackie’s search for her estranged son whilst dealing with her ideal family image hiding dark secrets.

During the first act, we receive a great deal of exposition; fortunately, the subplot backstory of Jackie’s transgression (which we learn is a recent affair for which she is genuinely remorseful) is delivered primarily through dramatic character reaction and supplemented with dialogue. While the familial drama provides a tantalizing subplot, it’s the search for the missing boy believed to be the victim of a sadistic pedophillial copy cat serial killer that is the main action plot of the film. And the backstory for the action plot is creatively delivered through the police procedural headed by Greg. We learn everything that we need to know in order to understand the plot in the first few scenes. While some of what we learn is intentionally designed to misdirect our attention–think of it as a magician focusing our attention on his right hand while it’s the left hand that is creating the magic–it is still valuable information that will all come together in the end. After the big reveal in the epilogue, everything that unfolded throughout the movie becomes even more sinister.

Over all, you’ll find strong performances by the three lead cast. The top-billed Helen Hunt, while starting out as the central character, quickly becomes a chief supporting character to Tenney and Lewis. However, she delivers the strongest performance out of the three. Not that the other two do not command the screen, Lewis is able to showcase his acting chops that provide evidence that he is shaping up to be a diverse actor capable of the young adult comedy of The Babysitter and the shocking anger of his character in this film. Screenwriter Devon Graye and director Adam Randall demonstrate an outstanding comprehension of story craft that simultaneously embraces horror/thriller tropes and subverting the genre expectations. Creatively expressing the story for the screen is the stylistic cinematography that effortlessly switches modes from subjective to objective without disorienting the audience. The editor takes a page out of the David Fincher color pallet and technique to showcase the neo-noir tone of the film. Editing is one of the most undervalued technical elements in a film–undervalued by the general public–because the best editing is the kind that doesn’t become a spectacle but supports the narrative by communicating the plot and emotion of the story. Communicating the unsettling tone and shocking moments in the film is first-time composer William Arcane. From the writing to acting to the technical elements, this film provides a highly entertaining, and at times terrifying, story!

I See You may not be for everyone, but the intended audience will definitely enjoy it! The types of people that will enjoy this most are those whom already enjoy the non-supernatural Lynch, Craven, Hitchcock, and Craven movies. With the nonlinear storytelling, there was such a possibility of failing in the execution, but director Randall crafts an excellent thriller that will have you wanting to rewatch it to see all the clues you missed before. Even though it is definitely rewatchable once, I do not feel that it is the kind of movie that will be continually rewatchable through the years. However, it is certainly a solid selection for your enjoyment, especially if psychological thrillers are your thing.

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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“The Good Liar” One Movie Punch Review

TheGoodLiar_1Checkout the full audio review at One Movie Punch!

A brilliantly clever cat and mouse game with a powerhouse lead cast! For lovers of movies inspired by film noir style intrigue and deception, then you definitely need to see The Good Liar with Sir Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren. You will be completely wrapped up in two of the finest living actors having demonstrable fun playing off one another. I love to watch movies where it is clear that the actors are having a tremendously great time with their characters, yet staying committed to their respective characters the entire time. From the moment the film opens with the stylistic sequence of instant messages over a dating website, you are hooked in for an intellectually driven wild ride. Cat and Mouse games, Whodunits, and other intellectually driven thrillers are often some of the most difficult movies to review because so many details could easily be spoilers. There is perhaps no greater recent example of this tightrope I find ‘myself’ walking than with this clever film. Virtually everything about it from title to end credits could give way to spoiling the many surprises if not approached with the utmost care. As much as will try to avoid any spoilerific information, it is unavoidable with this film. So, if you are worried—pause—then go watch the movie. Yes, it’s a recommended watch if you are into intellectually driven cat and mouse thrillers.

“The Good Liar” written by Jeffrey Hatcher and directed by Bill Condon is a sultry cat and mouse thriller starring two of Britain’s finest actors: Hellen Mirren as the widowed Betty McLeish and Sir Ian McKellen as the career con artist Roy Courtney. When Roy happens upon the online dating profile of Betty, he cannot believe his luck when he finds out that she is wealthy. Usually, Roy has no issues in swindling people, but he begins to dance a fine line between his personal feelings and the objective of his job when he begins to fall in love with Betty. As their relationship develops from platonic to something more, the complications and conflict give way to a treacherous game of wits.

Don’t look to Condon’s more well-known and recent work on such films as “Beauty and the Beast, “The Greatest Showman,” or “Dreamgirls” to get a feel for his approach to this crime thriller. You need to look to his earlier work “Murder 101,” “Deadly Relations” (sounds like a Lifetime movie or Investigation Discovery series), or “The Man Who Wouldn’t Die” (which sounds an awful lot like a Hitchcock title. Looking to his more obscure films will reveal how he approached and directed “The Good Liar.” If you love a film with twists and turns at every corner, then you will undoubtedly love this movie. Early on, the audience realizes that nothing is at it seems, so that creates a fantastic atmosphere of intrigue that invites you to play along as you try to figure out what is really going on. Although on a conceptual level, you may figure out what is going on, the details will most assuredly escape you. And it’s those loose ends that will drive you crazy—in the best way possible. Until the big reveal at the end, in which is all makes sense.

The best thing about this movie is that the plot is incredibly believable. You’ll want to poke holes in plot, but you’ll have a tough time identifying a solid one. That is partly due to the magic of screenwriting: the characters will say or do something because it’s required at that specific time; however, it is played off as natural and unforced. I admire the tonal shifts from the lighthearted beginning to the rather dark material midway through and the increasingly macabre subject matter as the movie makes its way towards the climax. This movie will take you places that will completely blow your mind; however, I assure you that it works very well despite being reprehensible in nature. No plot device is ever used simply for shock value; everything has an intentional purpose and place. If for no other reason, you want to watch this movie for the two lead performances by Mirren and McKellen. Not that these performances are even in their top 10, but these actors are so much fun to watch, that you forgive the movie of its shortcomings.

Rotten Tomatoes lists The Good Liar at a 64; Metacritic a 55; IMDb a 6.5; One Movie Punch awards it with 6/10. You can find The Good Liar at a cinema near you!

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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