VIOLENT NIGHT Christmas movie review

Highly entertaining and hilarious! Better watch out burglars, Santa’s coming to town. Universal Pictures’ Violent Night hits theatres this week. And you don’t want to miss this fantastically fun horror-adjacent Christmas action movie, which is equal parts Die Hard and Home Alone with some Krampus thrown in for good measure–and it that still has plenty of Christmas spirit! Not since Krampus have we had such unconventional Christmas movie in cinemas. Not quite unsettling enough to be a horror movie, but gorier than a typical action movie, Violent Night sits comfortably in the middle (but a little closer to action). One of the things that makes both Gremlins and Krampus work so well is that the violence is played for laughs, and audiences will find that to also be true in this movie. Even though the violence is prolific, it is schlocky and even campy, at times. Despite the creative, gory kills and pulse-pounding action sequences, Violent Night takes times to impart valuable lessons in family, hope, and even redemption. It simultaneously acknowledges how hard the holidays can be on folks that have become disillusioned with Christmas and yet manages to show the importance of never losing hope in the magic of Christmastime. Even though we may not know how it works; it’s important not to allow cynicism of this world to overpower the optimism of hope the holidays bring. With a solid screenplay, effective direction, and entertaining kills, Violent Night is an instant modern classic that is sure to find its way onto annual watch-lists every December.

An elite team of mercenaries breaks into the Lightstone family compound on Christmas Eve, taking everyone hostage inside. However, they aren’t prepared for a surprise combatant: Santa Claus is on the grounds, and he’s about to show why this Nick is no saint.

I often remark that some of the best movies are those with a simple plot and complex character, and that is what we have here! On the surface, it may be a horror-adjacent heist movie, but beneath the creative kills and campy characters lies a movie that has a lot to say about the various feelings about Christmas (and the holidays in general).

Before you dismiss this movie as just a schlockfest, there is discernible depth to this story that will resonate with audiences of all walks of life and opinions on the magic of Christmas. The commentary on the Christmas season is witnessed in the characters, specifically Santa, Trudy, and Scrooge. By extension, other manifestations of holiday feelings are expressed through the rest of the cast of Lightstones and mercenaries. Santa has become a Christmas cynic himself, because of the rampant entitlement and greed of the world, Trudy holds true to the magic of Christmas despite the negative stressors of her family, and Scrooge represents the idea that Christmas is nonsensical and worthless. All real feelings. Furthermore, the film does not shy away from discussing the gross consumerism that is so often, yet unfortunately, at the forefront of Christmas.

A growing trend for films that aim to be character studies is to neglect the plot. Not true with Violent Night! Again, the surface is a gory action movie, but at its core, it is a character study on reactions to Christmas. Even character studies need to have a well-structured plot, because the outside/action story is a visualization of the inside/emotional story. We get both in this fantastically fun movie! Santa must reconcile his purpose with the state of the world, Trudy must reconcile her belief in the magic of Christmas within her dysfunctional family, and Scrooge (more specifically pre-Christmas Eve Scrooge) gets his just desserts for reining terror. Moreover, I appreciate how the movie provides thoughtful commentary on some of the worst people–and I am not talking about the mercenaries (tho they are deplorable people), but the Lighthouse family members represent people we know from our own lives.

Much like Krampus (but far more violent and a little less scary), Violent Night is a cautionary tale on the dangers of selfishness, greed, and toxic celebrity-ism. We’ve all been Santa, Trudy, or one of the other characters in the movie. Don’t miss the schlock, hijinks, and heart of the action-packed Violent Night this Christmas season.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

THE FABELMANS film review

An intimate portrait of an ultimately underwhelming quasi autobiographical story. Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans looks gorgeous and delivers a performative dimension with heart, but the story, largely inspired by his own life, struggles to capture the magic in which it so eagerly wants to wrap audiences. Tony Kushner’s screenplay, with story by Spielberg, starts and finishes well; however, the middle (or development stage) lacks focus and stakes, and even ventures into needless satire. If audiences are seeking a film about the transformative power of filmmaking and following one’s passion–despite the odds–then they will be better off with the Italian cinematic masterpiece Cinema Paradiso. This film is best experienced on the big screen because of the beautifully crafted cinematography, so if you plan to see it, do not wait for it to hit Peacock or Amazon Prime to view at home. Clearly this is the most personal motion picture from the king of the box office form the late mid 1970s to mid 1990s, but hopefully now that he has made his fictionalized autobiographical picture, he will get back to thrilling and entertaining audiences with pictures that are talked about decades later.

Young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) falls in love with movies after his parents take him to see The Greatest Show on Earth. Armed with a camera, Sammy starts to make his own films at home, much to the delight of his supportive mother. But a dark family secret threatens his idyllic family.

While The Fabelmans attempts to inspire audiences through its central character of Sammy’s journey, audiences may find it difficult to connect with a central character from an upper middle, if not, upper class family that experiences fewer obstacles to the pursuance of art than does a typical working class individual. Why is this important? Because the film focuses on Sammy’s struggles (primarily during his teenage years). While Sammy certainly experiences emotional and psychological struggles, it’s difficult for audiences to connect with a central character that has far fewer financial and time obstacles than most people experience when pursuing passions. It’s far easier to pursue art as a career when sufficient financial backing is present. It’s characters that have to scrimp, save, and balance making a living while pursuing art (or other less conventional passions) that impact audiences most.

Michelle Williams (Mitzy, Sammy’s mom) delivers an outstanding performance! Moreover, Gabrielle LaBelle (Sammy), and the rest of the cast all display exceptional chemistry and dimension. There is a surprising cameo at the end of the film that is the icing on the cake of this exemplary cast. From the cast to the characters themselves, audiences will be impressed by the authenticity of the Fabelman family. Unfortunately, that same authenticity is not reflected in all the ancillary characters. Even in Spielberg’s big blockbuster films like Jaws, ET, and Jurassic Park, the cast is always excellent! That’s likely because each of the characters feels like an everyman, someone that could be you or someone in your life.

A closer look at the plot reveals a lack of a substantive goal(s) for Sammy. Fortunately, his mother Mitzy has a goal, but I won’t get into spoilers. Kushner’s screenplay neglects to provide Sammy’s outside/action story with high stakes. He’s never at risk of losing anything–personally–anyway. Therefore, he’s always in a safe position. One may be able to attempt an argument on losing his family, but that is more relational than an actual goal to achieve or fail to achieve. Dealing with life or a day in the life of are NOT plots nor goals. Aside from remaining alive, there is nothing measurable to gain or lose. For example, his goal could be to complete a particular picture or to land a job with a studio, but neither are that to which all the scenes point. Much like with many other movies and films as of late, this one isn’t written well. Lots of ideas, some of which are refreshing, but not woven together in a compelling narrative.

In terms of the relationship between Sammy and his camera, and Sammy and his family, I appreciate the film’s commentary on how a true artist experiences great pressure from family and friends as they work on their art. It can mean, making self-centered decisions that support the creation of art versus being emotionally or physically available to family and friends. Furthermore, the film teaches us that the camera itself never lies–it captures that which is placed in front of it–but it’s the editing (or montage) process that can selectively tell a particular story from the collection of raw footage. Sometimes the camera shows us things that we are afraid to confront otherwise.

Undoubtedly, there will be critics and general audiences that praise the film for being Spielberg’s most personal. And it is–but–therein lies part of the problem with the storytelling. A filmmaker directing a film that is ostensibly about their life demonstrates a huge ego trip. It also means everything that is dramatized is highly subjective, giving way to feelings weighing greater than facts. When a motion picture is biographical in nature (even when it’s a fictionalized account), audiences want to know how it really happened.

The middle of the film, specifically when Sammy’s Jewish family is relocated from their beloved Arizona to northern California, is plagued with caricatures of both school bullies and Christians. Due to the subjective nature of this narrative, one cannot help but wonder if the bullies were exaggerated and if the ridiculous level of cult-like fanaticism of his Christian girlfriend were misrepresented and mischaracterized for dramatic purposes. If Spielberg and Kushner were making fun of any other faith group, it would be seen as disrespectful. But they will get a pass because in Hollywood, it’s perfectly acceptable to make fun of members of the Christian community–but–completely unacceptable to stereotype or satire any other faith group or subset of the general population. If it’s evaluated as in poor taste to treat other groups with disrespect, then it should be viewed the same way here. Spielberg and Kushner could have found more tasteful ways to highlight the religious conflict in Sammy and his girlfriend’s relationship, and methods that were good-natured teasing or fun, but it was clearly more of an importance to show the girlfriend as a fanatic.

The opening sequences and scenes paired with the final scene of the film are thoughtfully crafted to transport audiences to a world of awe and wonder, and for those scenes, I applaud the film. Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down with a convoluted mess of ideas in the middle that do not add to the experience of the film, or send constructive messages to the audience.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

TICKET TO PARADISE romcom movie review

Refreshing and utterly delightful! George Clooney and Julia Roberts shine in Ticket to Paradise! Not only does this outstanding romantic comedy deliver a highly entertaining and heartfelt performative dimension, the script is solid! Excellent plotting for the familiar yet fresh story paired with dialogue that snaps, crackles, and pops! It’s an honest romcom featuring authentic true-to-life characters (albeit slightly exaggerated for dramatic purposes) that will resonate with audiences across the relationship spectrum. Whether you are a in new love, still in the honeymoon phase, or a cynic, you will find characters and predicaments that are inspired by real life. It’s been a long time since the romcom dominated cinemas, but Ticket to Ride is a great example of the classic romcom being reimagined for today’s audiences. And you know what? It’s fun for the whole family! Just goes to show that a comedy can be good, clean fun and still deliver laughs and heart. With a lean, mean script and brilliant casting in the lead and supporting roles, let this be your ticket to cinemas on your next date night!

A divorced couple teams up and travels to Bali to stop their daughter from making the same mistake they think they made 25 years ago.

Ticket to Paradise manages to seemingly do the impossible with an genre that sees few well-written directed, and acted examples nowadays, it simultaneously checks off the conventions and expectations audiences have of a romcom–yet–it delivers a story that will surprise you! Furthermore, this movie entertains audiences with a subject matter so seldom touched by romcoms–new love versus cynical love. Oh, there have been moves that have tried such as Love Actually, but this one strikes all the right tones. Over the last few years, we’ve seen some excellently written romcoms such as Last Christmas and I Want you Back. And if you enjoyed those two as much as I did, then you are sure to enjoy this one!

What’s better than a smartly written romcom with excellent casting? Well, one that takes place in an exotic landscape, of course! You may find yourself booking your next vacation to Bali after watching this movie, and for good reason, it looks like paradise. While there is nothing particularly remarkable about the cinematography, the setting serves as its own star. From sunrises to sunsets and all the crystal clear water in between, you will wish you had ordered a maitai to enjoy along with the movie. It’s easy to see why anyone would be tempted to fly to Bali on vacation and desire to stay. What I appreciate about the cinematography is that it could have so easily been distracting by increasing stylistic approaches to capturing the action and setting, but it never overshadows the story, which is why we go to the cinema, “the greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling” (C.B. DeMille).

Clooney and Roberts’ chemistry is uncanny! They’ve always played off each other so incredibly well. Such a natural couple, whether in love or fighting. And their relationship (or lack thereof) in this movie is completely believable. Of course it’s exaggerated for dramatic purposes, but this IS a romcom. Think of their relationship as real life, but edited. I’ve read some critics that have claimed the story is weak and the only redeeming dimension of this movie is the chemistry between Clooney and Roberts. Suffice it to say, that is an unfair evaluation, because the script gives them everything they need to deliver the laughs and a great story. Moreover, their respective characters have depth and dimension. Yes, there is an element of whimsy in their delivery and in the character mix, but again, this is a romantic comedy. We want to see a romanticized version of real life, but these characters and story work because they also exhibit human dimension, feelings, reactions, and flaws.

I highly recommend Ticket to Paradise! In a year that has had few stand-out movies, this is definitely one of them. Perhaps we will see more smartly written and cast romcoms return to the cinema, because as important as heavy films are, lighthearted ones are just as important because they provide an emotional balance.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

HALLOWEEN ENDS horror movie review

Well, it’s better than Kills. While Halloween Ends still struggles narratively, I appreciate what David Gordon Green attempted to do in order to add a thoughtfulness to the action plot and diegetic subtext. What we have here is a melodrama maskerading around as a slasher that delivers an insufficient amount of fun and genuine suspense. After the hugely disappointing and largely forgettable (except for how bad it was) Halloween Kills, expectations were set incredibly low for the final installment in Green’s take on the Laurie Strode/Michael story. Thankfully, the final chapter isn’t bad–that’s not to say it’s good–it’s more accurately described as watchable. As an added bonus, there is prolific exposition at the beginning that negates the need to watch Kills, so audiences can go from H40 to Ends and not miss anything, really. Even though there is one distinct kill inspired by, and some other shot compositions and camera movements that pay homage to the 1978 original, none of these moments feel like gross attempts at winning audiences over with pure nostalgia. Halloween Ends continues the trend for horror films, particularly the (what I like to call the) neo-slasher to focus so hard on atmosphere, social commentary, and melodrama that both the fun and suspense layers are so thin that they may as well be non-existent. From Halloween (1978) to SCREAM, the slasher delivered creative kills and icons but it also delivered highly entertaining movies in which we have found thoughtful subtext and social commentary in hindsight. Aside from the wandering narrative direction of Halloween Ends, it suffers from a lack of a demonstrable ability to generate a fun atmosphere for the audience.

Four years after her last encounter with masked killer Michael Myers, Laurie Strode is living with her granddaughter and trying to finish her memoir. Myers hasn’t been seen since, and Laurie finally decides to liberate herself from rage and fear and embrace life. However, when a young man stands accused of murdering a boy that he was babysitting, it ignites a cascade of violence and terror that forces Laurie to confront the evil she can’t control.

No spoilers.

The boogeyman, no more. “Was that the boogeyman?” –Laurie, “Yes, I believe it was.”–Dr. Loomis. Sorry, Sam, apparently not. In addition to sucking the fun out of the neo-slasher, filmmakers are also removing the boogeyman or monster factor from the killers. Instead of accepting that our killers are monsters that have evil running through their veins, filmmakers feel the need to explain why a monster isn’t a monster; rather, the killer is created by society. Up to Halloween Kills and Ends, you may have asked yourself “what makes Michael tick?” The short answer: we do not know enough–or at least we used to have an insufficient amount of knowledge about–his psychology, sociology, or physiology to know for sure. And that was a good thing! No longer is that the case.

Why? There no longer exists a mystery. Because now we do know too much about his mind and body; therefore, he ceases to be the boogeyman. Being the boogeyman (or a monster) was so important to, not only this franchise, but horror in general. That little bit of mystery and fantasy allowed him (and icons like Michael) to remain monsters that were to be feared and never truly understood or explained. That’s what made them scary–there was no explanation, which mitigates any control may feel we could achieve.

But since we are voyeurs who are obsessed with knowing, David Gordon Green decided that we needed to know why Michael (and those like him) was the way he was. What’s funny, is that in the original 1978 Halloween, the best sequel Halloween H20, and in H40, we can gather enough evidence to hint at what may make him tick, but at the end of the day, it’s fun speculation. Even before we had to have Michael’s behavior (directly or indirectly) explained to us, Michael likely suffered from and displayed signs of a combination of antisocial personality disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive compulsive disorder. But none of that truly matters any longer because we now know that Michael and those that admire him are created by society’s negative impacts on their young, impressionable lives. True evil is does not exist.

Many fans of the Halloween franchise have a fondness or even love of the (seemingly) one-off Halloween III: Season of the Witch. And while I do not share a particular fondness for this installment, I can appreciate the creativity behind the expression of this tale of Halloween. And maybe if it wasn’t indirectly connected to Halloween, I may like it more. Anyway, I digress. I bring up Season of the Witch, because there are some shared elements between this Halloween movie and Jason Goes to Hell: the Final Friday and Halloween Ends, And I will leave it at that, as to avoid spoilers. If you’ve seen both of these movies I’ve referenced, then you may be able to make connections.

David Gordon Green and his team of writers inject a heaping helping of melodrama into Halloween Ends. Right up there with melodrama perfectly suited for–you fill in the blank–show on The CW or Freeform. Clearly, this was an attempt at adding some gravitas to this poor excuse for a slasher by spending time on dysfunctional family dynamics. After this trilogy, I am convinced that no family unit is healthy in Haddonfield. Bullies, manic and demanding moms, overbearing and weak fathers, nobody feels real in this town–all caricatures of what we don’t like about some people in society. There is no normal ever established. Establishing a sense of normalcy is important because it’s only then that the slasher can upset the order.

Even though this is the final chapter in the Michael/Laurie story, the movie does tip its hat to future Halloween movies. This is one of those movies that isn’t bad enough to warn people to spend their money and time elsewhere, but it’s also not good enough to where it needs to be seen at the cinema. While I firmly believe that horror movies are best experienced at the cinema in a crowded auditorium, the experience of this one will be good enough at home with some friends.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. 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. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

BEAST movie review

A roaring good time–the one time you’ll watch it. BEAST is a fantastically fun popcorn movie that will leave you on the edge of your seat, even though it’s moderately predictable. The script is lean and mean, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. At an hour and a half, Beast delivers what it promises: Idris Elba facing off against a man-eating monstrous lion! Where the movie underperforms is in the one-dimensional dialogue, leaving little to no room for subtext. But, the way I see it, we don’t enjoy these glorified B-movies for razor sharp dialogue, but rather for the engaging escapism they provide.

Recently widowed Dr. Nate Daniels and his two teenage daughters travel to a South African game reserve managed by Martin Battles, an old family friend and wildlife biologist. However, what begins as a journey of healing soon turns into a fearsome fight for survival when a lion, a survivor of bloodthirsty poachers, begins stalking them.

Underscoring the main action plot of survival against the t-rex-like lion, is a heartwarming story of the father’s (Elba) redemption with his estranged daughters in the wake of his ex-wife’s death. It’s incredibly refreshing to watch a movie in which the men are not stupid (in fact, no one is stupid in this movie) and the father is responsible and loving. Perhaps Universal should have used this movie as its Father’s Day weekend release instead of Black Phone.

On an almost meta level, this movie shares some elements with Jurassic Park, which is expressed through one of the daughters wearing a Jurassic Park tank-top. Some might find this lazy, but I feel it works well because it does foreshadow the thrilling and terrifying adventure that will soon befall our small central cast. It’s also fun to think of one of the greatest movies of all time in the real world of the movie, which helps to prime the audience that what you’re about to watch could happen in the real world. Yes, the lions are CG; but I gotta say, they looked pretty good. Certainly better than the CG animals in The Lion King. In no small part is the suspension of disbelief possible with the CG in this movie due to the fact that most of the screentime features our human characters. There is an attempt at a conservation message, but it ultimately falls flat; however, there is a theme of supporting and appreciating that which deviates from your plans or passions, and it is tied up nicely with a bow in the end.

The responses of the audience at the screening were mixed. Some thought it was a lot of fun, while others were rooting for the lion. Perhaps my experience is characterized by knowing when a popcorn movie is to simply be appreciated for its ability to keep us entertained for the duration of the picture. Interestingly, the movie Crawl was released in August of 2019, and it was received far more favorably. Which is puzzling, because I would say that both of these movies have a lot in common.

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

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1