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The Heat •••

The_Heat_posterStarring: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demián Bichir
Director: Paul Feig
Screenplay: Katie Dippold
Action/Comedy/Crime, Rated: R
Running Time: 117 minutes


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

It’s summer time, Greg, and that means it’s time to experience The Heat.

True enough. It also means we no longer have to look at the ubiquitous trailer.

Exactly. The film introduces us to FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock), who is highly competent but also a giant pain in the backside to her colleagues. Ashburn is driven to be promoted but is told by her boss (Demian Bichir) that her promotion depends on her capturing a Russian drug lord operating in Boston. When she arrives in Boston, she interrogates one of the drug lord’s underlings but severely clashes with a Boston cop, Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy), who had captured him earlier.

Mullins, it turns out, has problems with her family who are peeved at her for locking up her own brother – to keep him off the streets. Ashburn is so by-the-book and self-centered that she not only won’t ask for help, but doesn’t even know when she needs it. Before you know it this odd couple must work together to expose and diffuse crime lord Larkin before Mullins’ brother is killed.

Greg, thanks to this film’s annoying trailer, I had very low expectations for both this film and for Melissa McCarthy. In the trailer, McCarthy’s character, Mullins, comes across a vulgar bully with a penchant for throwing out very unfunny one-liners. In the movie, we do see this side of Mullins but thankfully we also see much more, and it is good.

The Heat won me over with two excellent performances by Bullock and McCarthy and with a storyline that very effectively mixes humor with a tale about a wonderful, developing friendship. The film starts out with two extremely contrasting personalities that butt heads repeatedly, and these differences cause each woman to underestimate and misunderstand the other. They soon earn each other’s respect and develop a heartfelt sisterly love for each other.

I think I saw a different picture, Scott. Bullock has played this role before in 2000’s Miss Congeniality. But that was an excellent film full of wit and with something to say. The Heat gives Bullock nothing to work with except a very basic outline of a character which, to her credit, she works as far as she can.

McCarthy was a pleasant surprise. She starts out as a “bull in china shop” but in several places displays a range of emotion that impressed me. She becomes protective of her younger brother. She’s the dutiful daughter. She’s Bullock’s mentor to the world of Boston’s back streets. All credit goes to Ms. McCarthy, however, and not the screenwriter who filled her mouth with a stream of filth. The dialog and situations weren’t all that interesting and we’re left to sit idly by as we watch her hard at work to create a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

Sow’s ear? Greg, you underestimate how uncommon it is to see two women play buddy cops in the movies. Bullock and McCarthy enter rare territory for women, a unique opportunity, and they hit a grand slam. Bullock’s character, Ashburn, is the central hero in the film, and we witness her character undergo considerable growth. She starts out completely friendless and unable to connect with people, and this social ineptness is holding her back professionally. Mullins mentors her, loosens her up, and helps her realize her full potential. Beneath all the hilarity, this is a rather cool hero journey.

We’re agreed on the talents of these fine actors. But the story was a classic buddy cop plot. One cop a straight shooter, the other a mess. There are no surprises here. In fact, I dare say that there was not much that made this film different from any male-based buddy cop film – except for the “spanks” scene we saw in the trailers.

Almost everything was predictable. We know there has to be a mole in the department. The only question was which of the annoying DEA agents would it be? We know that the boss has to constantly be on Agent Ashburn’s back. We know that there has to be a bonding moment where the two misfits share their innermost foibles. Everything played out like clockwork. I almost didn’t have to be there to witness it. Heck, the plot is so well-known that in improv circles we have a game called “Buddy Cop” where we create such a show in real time. There was nothing original here.

I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree, Greg. I didn’t find the story to be overly predictable at all. I found myself chuckling at the jokes throughout this movie, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching two great women actors showcase their talents.

The Heat is an extremely funny and enjoyable film about two unlikely friends who help each other grow and evolve as both human beings and law enforcement officers. There are far too many F-bombs in this movie for my tastes, and at times McCarthy’s character’s outrageous behavior exceeds the bounds of credibility, but overall this is one of the best female buddy cop movies ever made. I award The Heat 4 Reels out of 5. Both heroes underwent a meaningful life-changing transformation, especially the character of Ashburn, and for that I award the film 4 Heroes out of 5 as well.

Movie: reel-4 Hero: superman-4

As you wish, Scott. I was bored and spent most of my time rolling my eyes at lame attempts at humor. I recommend viewers spend their money renting an old Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, or Miss Congeniality DVD. For a hackneyed plot that offered little more over what’s been done before I give The Heat 2 Reels out of 5. For a classic buddy hero story that we’ve seen a hundred times before I award 2 Heroes out of 5.

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White House Down ••1/2

White_House_Down_Theatrical_PosterStarring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhall
Director: Roland Emmerich
Screenplay: James Vanderbilt
Action/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 131 minutes



Well, Scott, for the third time this summer, the White House is under siege.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Yep. More gunfire and explosives have gone off in the White House this summer than in both World Wars combined.

President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is pulling US troops out of the Middle East and that has his political opponents up in arms. Meanwhile, DC Capitol police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) is trying to get into the Secret Service to impress his 12-year-old daughter Emily (Joey King) who runs a video blog about all things having to do with the White House. They are on a White House tour when the Capitol building is blown up as a diversion for an attack on the White House itself.

Cale’s first priority is to find Emily, who is in a downstairs restroom when the terrorists storm the White House. He eludes capture from the terrorists and soon finds himself in the unique position of rescuing President Sawyer from their grasp. Much of the remainder of the movie consists of the terrorists hunting down the two men in the myriad of rooms, elevator shafts, and basements.

Aside from the setup, this looks amazingly similar to last April’s Olympus Has Fallen. And a vague similarity to March’s GI Joe Retaliation (which also starred Channing Tatum). I guess Hollywood just cannot get enough of attacking the White House. Unlike these two films, however, White House Down has a political component as it attacks the American military industrial complex. The bad guys in the other films are external terrorists whereas the villains in White House Down are attacking from the inside.

I found this movie to be a bit uneven. I was entertained at times, but at other times I grew frustrated that the film wasn’t realizing its full potential.

Channing Tatum nicely recovers from his humiliating cameo in This is the End. In White House Down, Tatum’s character, Cale, plays a classic underdog hero. He has a checkered past and is laughably underqualified for the Secret Service position that he seeks. After being rejected for the position, Cale is implausibly put in the position of trying to save everyone and everything – his daughter, the President, the White House and, yes, the world itself. That’s a pretty good day’s work for any hero.

Jamie Foxx plays a President who is sort of a Barack Obama Deluxe — young, cool, hip, funny, and somehow able to bring all the countries of the world together, even the countries that hate us. Foxx surprised me; he plays a better President than I would have imagined.

As with the other films we mentioned, the story is completely unbelievable. There were standout moments that set this film apart from the others. There is a scene where President Sawyer has to choose between one life and giving over the codes to America’s nuclear arsenal. A similar situation presented itself in Olympus Has Fallen and the President caved. Here, the President explains that he can’t spare one life in the face of millions. That was a much more believable moment than we’ve seen in other films.

However there were dozens of improbable scenes where scrambled jets took forever to arrive on-scene only to have the mission aborted because an underling decided that there was going to be too much collateral damage.

This movie features an interesting ensemble of villains. We have muscle-bound oafs, right-wing fascists, nerdy misfits, and political cronies who misuse their power (James Woods and Richard Jenkins). James Woods shines in particular. There are very few actors — Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro come to mind – who can portray unstable people with anger management issues as well as James Woods.

There are also some strange attempts at humor in situations that are obviously not humorous. The White House tour guide chides an unstable, machine-gun-toting terrorist for putting his feet on the furniture. President Sawyer has quite a few one-liners, some oddly delivered during moments of crisis. One could argue that humor is needed to lighten the heaviness of a scene, but I wonder if the movie isn’t winking at us as if to say, “we know this is the third White House takeover movie this year and so we’ll be funnier than the first two.”

I agree, Scott. The humor in this movie was terribly timed and placed in strange places. On both sides of the hero/villain divide there were attempts at light-heartedness that missed the mark completely.

This movie also had a problem dividing the focus between two heroes. Channing Tatum was the clear action hero while Jamie Foxx was the more cerebral hero. But the writers had to make Foxx look presidential and in control while Tatum blew away the bad guys. I think they would have been better off with a less popular actor in the president’s role so that a clear hero could emerge. This simply wasn’t a good buddy film and the president role held back the action portion of the film.

But it wasn’t terrible, either, Greg. White House Down is a capably crafted story of underdog redemption featuring a man who has everything to prove, his precocious and resourceful daughter, and a U.S. President on a mission to engineer world peace. The movie’s strengths are its memorable heroes and villains and some good action scenes. The movie suffers from being the third White House takeover movie this year, plus it drags on a bit too long and could have benefited from more judicious editing. I give White House Down 2 Reels out of 5.

The hero, John Cale, is a man who is put to numerous tests and manages to pass them all with the help of his daughter and Agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhall). We see some elements of the classic hero’s journey but other elements are muted or missing, such as a father figure, a love interest, and an obvious inner quality that the hero discovers. I award John Cale 3 Heroes out of 5.

Movie: reel-2 Heroes: superman-3

Fair enough Scott. However, I’d like to point out that you gave Olympus Has Fallen a better score and in my humble opinion White House Down is the better film. Many elements that are exposed in the film come full circle in the end: the relationship between the divorced father and his estranged daughter, the fallen hero who saves the day, the president who has to save his own life in the face of world disaster. These are all exploited to good effect. However, I was turned off by the clumsy political message that the military industrial complex is to blame for the world’s problems. Such propaganda should be left to the likes of Atlas Shrugged.

So for a fun action film with a flawed buddy element I give White House Down 3 out of 5 Reels. And for an enjoyable if not overused hero pattern, White House Down scores 3 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-3 Heroes: superman-3

World War Z •••

MV5BMTg0NTgxMjIxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDM0MDY1OQ@@._V1_SX214_Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz
Director: Marc Forster
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof
Action/Drama/Horror, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 116 Minutes


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, we just witnessed billions of undead in the film World War Z.

Happily I took the antidote before going in. Let’s recap:

The movie begins with us getting to know the Lane family who live in Philadelphia. We meet the father Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), his wife Karin (Mereille Enos), and their two daughters Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) and Constance (Sterling Jerins). The family is stuck in traffic when they notice a commotion several blocks ahead. Within minutes, they are fleeing an invasion of zombies and barely escape with their lives. Assisted by Gerry’s former U.N. colleague Thierry Umotoni (Fana Mokoena), the family is flown to a U.S. Navy ship off the northeast coast.

In return for his family’s safe passage on the naval vessel, Gerry agrees to seek out the source of the zombie apocalypse. He escorts a young biological genius (Elyes Gabel) who accidentally kills himself. This leaves Gerry alone to figure out where the virus came from and hence how to kill it. He interviews ex-CIA agent Gunter Haffner (David Morse) who tells him the Israelis have built a wall to keep the zombies out – but how did they know to expect the invasion? Gerry is on his way on a global trek to seek out the origins of the virus and hence the clue to its cure.

Greg, I must confess that I’ve never been a big fan of zombie movies. But this one is good. First and foremost, the zombies in the film were magnificent. They score off the scale marks on the creep-meter, with their ravenous attacks on human flesh and their lizard skin, chattering teeth, and Frankenstenian gaits. At various times the zombies screech like pigs, roosters, dogs, and dinosaurs. There is a ferocious fanaticism in their virus-like quest to conquer humanity.

The movie features many high-production-value scenes of streets teeming with hordes of flesh-munching undead. We see swarms of zombies compressed like giant globules of insects ready to obliterate everything in their path. And then there is the scene on the airplane — How many times do you see the hero in a movie decide that his best hope for survival on a plane is to blow it up in mid-air? All of this scores high on the coolness factor.

I agree with you, Scott. This was a non-stop thriller and action-packed movie. However, it was a bit low on plot. For the most part we follow Brad Pitt from one exotic location to the next just barely escaping the zombie horde. Unlike zombies of old, these zombies move fast and are hard to kill.

Gerry Lane made for a good hero. He contained all your Great Eight characteristics of a contemporary hero: He was smart, strong, resilient, selfless, caring, charismatic, reliable, and inspiring. There is a scene in the opening chase where Gerry fears he has gotten zombie blood into his mouth. He knows it is a mere 12 seconds between infection and zombification. He stands on the ledge of a tall building counting the seconds down to see if he will change – planning to jump the ledge if he does – so as to protect his family. In this one motion he exhibits the qualities of smart, strong, resilient, selfless, and caring.

You’re right about the plot being a little on the impoverished side, Greg. This isn’t the most cerebral movie of the year. It’s meant to be a movie that throws likeable characters into impossible situations involving unstoppable monsters. The trick is to do it right, which these filmmakers did. We care about the Lane family — they are nice and attractive, and their kids are cute and giggly. We want no harm to come to them and we empathize with their plight. The heartstrings are tugged to great effect.

True enough, Scott. I went into this movie with low expectations and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Although, the zombie actors did start to resemble that classic music video “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. I caught myself laughing a bit under my breath and wishing for the grittier zombies of Will Smith’s I Am Legend from 2007.
Still this was a good popcorn blockbuster. I give the thrill ride 3 out of 5 Reels. Gerry Lane was a good heroic character matching up with our expectations of a heroic stereotype (although a bit light on characterization). I give him 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-3 Hero: superman-4

World War Z is a very good suspense film that makes you care about its hero, his family, and all the people around them who are fighting to save humanity. Brad Pitt truly carries this movie with his charisma and tenacity. The zombies themselves are a most formidable enemy, terrifying us at every turn the way any zombies worth their salt should. I also award this movie 3 Reels out of 5.

This is a fairly good hero story. Our hero Gerry is unwillingly sent on a journey into a world fraught with unimaginable danger and receives help along the way from several sources, including his U.N. friend Umotoni, Dr. Andrew Fassbach, Former CIA agent Gunter Haffner, and Israeli solder Segen (Daniella Kertesz). My only complaint is that Gerry doesn’t evolve much and is pretty much the same guy at the end that he was at the beginning. Still, Gerry’s charisma and other heroic characteristics give him 3 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-3 Hero: superman-3

Man of Steel •••½

ManofSteelFinalPosterStarring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenplay: David S. Goyer
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 143 minutes


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Well, Greg, the Man of Steel just flew into town.

And boy are his arms tired. Let’s review.

The movie begins with the planet Krypton facing imminent destruction as its core disintegrates. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) plan to save their race of people by launching their infant son, Kal-El, into space with a genetic codex of Kryptonians. General Zod (Michael Shannon), however, has other plans and kills Jor-El for stealing the codex. As punishment, Zod is exiled. Meanwhile, Kal-El lands on earth and is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who name him Clark (Henry Cavill). They witness Clark’s superpowers and discourage him from using them them so that he will fit into human society.

Clark grows into a man and hides by staying on the run and taking odd jobs. Everywhere he goes, he saves someone using his super powers. And each time he exposes himself, he moves on. Clark finds an abandoned Kryptonian ship that he brings to life with a key that was found on his person when he first fell to Earth. An avatar of Jor-El explains to Clark that he is to be a protector of humankind and to use his powers for only good.

Meanwhile, evil Zod has escaped from his prison and found his way to Earth…

Greg, I have mixed feelings about Man of Steel. On the positive side, there is more detailed backstory than we’ve ever seen before in a Superman movie, and it is very good. We learn about the man of steel’s home planet of Krypton and its political and planetary struggles. The movie features an excellent villain in General Zod and a sweet love interest in Lois Lane (Amy Adams). We also see Superman receiving superb mentoring from three sources: his biological father Jor-El, and his adopted parents Martha Kent and Jonathan Kent.

Another aspect of the film that I liked was the old-school code of ethics that so many of the characters seemed to live by. Lois has the story of the century for the Daily Planet but pulls the story for ethical reasons. Superman’s adopted father sacrifices his life to allow his son Clark to retain his secret identity. Even General Zod, in a ruthlessly warped way, has an honorable motive in trying to preserve the race of Kryptonians.

I thought this was a much more thorough and thoughtful origin story than we’ve ever seen for Superman. He is portrayed as not just an alien, but alienated from the rest of humanity. Surely. this is a feeling most of us have felt. He has to hide his amazing gifts for fear of what it would mean if humans realized we are not alone in the universe. And he is given a choice to use his powers for good or for evil. It is his earthly father who guides him toward the path of goodness. And it is this father who sacrifices himself to protect Clark’s secret. These are two emotional traumas that give this Superman more depth of character than any who came before him.

I agree, Greg, But I do have a few issues with Man of Steel that prevent me from giving it a higher rating. While there are incredible CGI effects illustrating Superman’s speed and strength, these effects are used to bloated excess. It’s as if the filmmakers were so madly in love with their computerized effects that they decided that more – and MUCH more — is always better. How many fight scenes do we need to see between Superman and General Zod? And we must ask ourselves: Does it really make sense for two indestructible beings to fight at all? Don’t they each realize that repeatedly slamming each other through skyscrapers is not having the intended effect? The fighting grew tiresome.

Another problem I had with the film was the absurd way that Superman’s battle with General Zod was resolved. I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say that if you look up the word ‘anticlimactic’ in the dictionary, you’ll see an image of this scene in the movie. The word ‘illogical’ also comes to mind, as we’re expected to forget the massive violence of their earlier fighting that both characters easily survived.

I would have to differ with you on the special effects, Scott. For a movie this long (2 hours and 23 minutes) I thought the special effects were used to good effect and in good proportion. The fight scenes were constantly underscored by Superman’s restraint as a man who turned to violence only as a last resort. And as a man who had never killed anyone, at least as far as this movie showed us. Superman’s greatest weakness was the strong desire to protect the people of Earth – not only as a group, but as individuals.

My only complaint about Man Of Steel was Lois Lane. Amy Adams came off as very cute, perky, and a tough journalist. She was perfect in that respect. But this reboot has Lois Lane aware of Superman’s secret identity. One of the hallmarks of Supermen gone by has been the sexual tension within the Clark-Lois-Superman love triangle. I’m not sure I understand why that was dropped.

The decision to reveal Clark’s identity to Lois is a curious one, for sure. I didn’t mind it too much, but now that you mention it, this revelation does limit what this version of Superman does with the two characters in the future.

Man of Steel is an ambitious film that works on several levels but fails on several as well. It succeeds in portraying Superman’s origin story in heartfelt detail and with a superb cast that moves us. The movie fails by subjecting us to incessant fight-and-chase scenes and by ending the story in a ridiculous and baffling manner. I give Man of Steel 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey is commendable in that we have many of the classic elements that we look for in a good story, such as Kal-El’s entry into a new and dangerous world and his encounter with effective father figures, mentors, and a love interest. But I’m not convinced that Superman undergoes any significant transformation as a character. Clark Kent seems to be the same Clark Kent at the end that he was when he was a little boy. I give the movie 3 Heroes out of 5.

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I found Man of Steel to be an excellent reboot of the Superman franchise. It held true to the original story and fleshed out the hero’s backstory. We met a Superman who was less than flawless, tormented and challenged. Compared to Christopher Reeve’s Superman, Henry Cavill’s story is less campy and much more adult. This is a darker Superman which I welcome. I appreciated this more than the almost giddy mood of last May’s Star Trek Into Darkness. Still, I don’t feel the need to rush back to the theater and get a second helping. I give Man of Steel 4 out of 5 Reels.

The hero’s journey is there. Clark starts out as an outcast, uncertain about his powers and all alone even in a crowd. With the guidance of his Earthly father and his Kryptonian father’s image he finds his center and emerges whole and confident in his abilities and his place on the Earth. I give Clark Kent 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-4 Heroes: superman-4

This Is the End ••

MV5BMTQxODE3NjM1Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzkzNjc4OA@@._V1_SX214_Starring: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen
Director: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Screenplay: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Action/Comedy, Rated: R
Running Time: 107 minutes



(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, this is the beginning of our review of This Is the End.

As far as I’m concerned The End couldn’t come quickly enough.

Ouch! Let’s recap. This Is the End starts out with a Hollywood party hosted by actor James Franco and attended by many other young Hollywood talents out for a good time. The guests include Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Seth Rogen and Rogen’s out of town friend, Jay Baruchel. The party is interrupted by a series of bizarre, destructive events: Earthquakes, sinkholes, massive fires, and beams of light from the sky that swallow people up.

Our heroes quickly realize that this is the Rapture and they’ve been left behind. They are on a quest to stay alive, bunkered in Franco’s massive SoCal home. They take stock of their reserves (water, liquor, cereal and a Milky Way bar) only to find that other actors would like to take their stash (case in point Miss Emma Watson).

From there, our heroes must figure out what is going on and how to survive what seems to be a hopeless situation, as evil demons try to break into Franco’s home.

Greg, from your opening remarks, I get the sense you didn’t care for this film. I don’t blame you. This genre of movie rarely interests me. But, shockingly, I’m almost ashamed to say that I found myself enjoying this film. It was crude, vulgar, and disgusting — a middle-schooler’s dream, with much of the humor centering on body parts and bodily functions. To say that this movie is horrifically juvenile is an understatement. I probably lost a dozen IQ points watching this film, which may account for why I’m reporting that I liked it as much as I did.

Scott, I hated this movie for the very reasons you liked it. It was sophomoric, gross-out humor. That alone wasn’t enough for me to dislike the film. But it was another example (see Movie 43) of Hollywood’s self-referential, insider jokery. If you’re a friend of a friend of these actors, you’d probably think it was pretty witty. Or if you were a fan of Pineapple Express (the film that launched Seth Rogan’s and James Franco’s careers) you’d enjoy the inside jokes. As it was, the film is self-congratulatory, self-indulgent, and self-serving. I haven’t seen such an example of actors engaging in (what basically amounts to) home movies since the Cannonball Run movies where Burt Reynolds, Dom Deluise, and friends just let the cameras run and created a movie in the editing room. I was bored from the beginning to The End.

I totally get what you’re saying, Greg. Yet somehow, this movie won me over, and I’m not friends with these Hollywood elite at all. The film manages to overcome it’s absurd debauchery by being clever, creative, and amusing. There is some good writing here, even if it is self-referential and self-congratulatory. And underlying all the immature absurdity is a rather endearing buddy-hero story. Seth and Jay clearly share a bond, lose it, and then find a way to achieve redemption at the end. I liked that a lot.

The redemption, however, is a mockery of the classic hero’s story. They aren’t truly redeemed, they just put in the dialog and plot to make it happen at the last minute. But that’s fine – it’s a comedy after all. But the jokes are not even subtle. At one point Jonah Hill is raped by the devil (in an overt homage to Rosemary’s Baby) and then must be exorcised (ala The Exorcist). But the dialog is lifted directly out of the first movie and they even put a placard up proclaiming “The Exorcism of Jonah Hill.” It’s not original and it wasn’t funny.

Well, I’m not proud of the fact that I enjoyed this movie. This Is the End is a movie that I had no business liking but did anyway. It is saturated with puerile humor and silly, raunchy gags, but beneath the idiocy is an intelligent storyline that takes our two heroes on a journey of satisfying redemption.

This film is no threat to win any Academy Awards, but it made me laugh and gag and have a good time. I give This Is the End 3 Reels out of 5, and 3 Heroes out of 5.

Movie: reel-3 Hero: superman-3

Fair enough Scott. However I think that deep down you aren’t ashamed that you enjoyed this movie. I can’t recommend this movie to anyone other than hipster doofuses (and you may be a latent doofus at that). For an obvious swipe at the “Left Behind” series and insider humor, I give the film 1 Reel and 1 Hero. And 1 Reel to Scott for finding a way to use “puerile” in a sentence.

Movie: reel-1 Hero: superman-1Scott: reel-1

The Purge •••

The_Purge_posterStarring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder
Director: James DeMonaco
Screenplay: James DeMonaco
Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 85 minutes

reel-3 superman-3

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, we just satisfied our urge to see The Purge.

It’s a movie that binges along the fringes. Let’s recap.

The story is set in the year 2022, and we are introduced to an upper-middle class family preparing for the annual 12-hour “purge” — an annual ritual in which anyone can commit any crime with impunity from 7pm to 7am. The “new founders” of America have discovered that crime and unemployment have been almost non-existent ever since the purge was instituted, as the ritual apparently allows people a vehicle for getting their anger and violent urges out of their system. The family includes the dad, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), the mom, Mary (Lena Headey), a teenage daughter, Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and young son, Charlie (Max Burkholder).

The family’s house isn’t on lockdown for long when young Charlie hears a man calling for help. He opens the house and lets the man in to safety. Dad James is unhappy and unhappier still when a crowd of yuppie-purgers come to the door wearing masks and demanding their prey be released to them. They cut the power and send for equipment to break down the house’s security doors. Now the stage is set with the family members hunting the man in their own home with the clock ticking before the purgers break in and take matters into their own hands.

Greg, I have several bones to pick with The Purge. First, the moviemakers get the science of emotional catharsis all wrong. The premise here is that committing acts of violence has a cathartic effect. Research in psychology indicates exactly the opposite. Violence only begets more violence. Anger leads to more anger, aggression breeds more aggression.

This is the second time in the last few weeks that the movies have gotten a psychological phenomenon all wrong. Two weeks ago we reviewed After Earth, which portrayed human emotion incorrectly. I gave that movie a pass for missing the boat, but if bad science is becoming a pattern in the movies then maybe I need to get tougher in my evaluations. The Purge is telling us something very wrong about what inhibits human aggression. To me, that’s a pretty glaring error and maybe even a dangerous one to be presenting to movie audiences.

Scott, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. It harkens back to the early days of The Twilight Zone where social commentary is made by putting current events into a future setting. And I think you may have missed the point of the film. The catharsis is merely an excuse for violence. In fact, the actual purge is the wonton execution of the “have-nots” at the hands of the “haves.” There were other indications that this was more than a chance at debauchery (like Mardis Gras, for example). We heard radio reports of people planning to kill their lousy bosses. The Purge gives citizens good reason not to offend people around them.

James, the dad in the story, sells home security systems. He’s sold one to nearly all of his neighbors. In this affluent neighborhood the “haves” are safe inside their locked fortresses. While out in the “real world” people have to hope for the best. Meanwhile, the yuppie-purgers (led by a very scary Rhys Wakefield) feel it is their God-given American right to hunt down and kill those who are a burden on society. I was reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange where the affluent young men of society went on a rampage just for kicks.

I don’t think I missed the point at all. The Purge is far more than the government promoting a war against the have-nots. Clips of violence in all sorts of settings during the Purge suggest that violence is occurring in convenience stores, parking garages, and workplace settings. It’s not simply class warfare. It’s people of all types killing people of all types. The movie even shows the upper class killing each other. I will admit that the concept of the Purge does set up a scary story.

The second major issue I had is with the stupidity of the dad giving the home security code to his 11-year-old son, who of course mis-uses it and sets in motion the disaster that befalls the family. That’s not a minor problem. It’s about a hundred times worse than giving your son the key to the gun cabinet or the password to your bank account.

I also had a problem with the daughter not realizing immediately that someone in her bedroom, whose appearance is a total surprise, is there to do harm to someone. Are we supposed to believe that she can’t make the connection between this surprise guest and the fact that it’s Purge Night? Only if her IQ is in single digits.

Scott, I chalk that up to the fact that the writers of The Purge needed to show immediately that Purge Night is real and dangerous. And that James is willing to kill and do more than hide behind his security system. But I can’t argue the concept of the young boy, Charles, knowing the security code. Unlike you, I was happy to let this slide as it was necessary for the vagrant to enter the home and create the problem that the cage works both ways: it can keep evil out and it can lock evil in.

This was a very smart movie – far more than just a typical hack and slash thriller. It posed a lot of questions about the world we live in today. Should only the rich be safe in their homes? Are the laws of our society weighted in favor of those who have? And how far would you go to keep your family safe?

I agree with you that the movie makes us think about the reasons why people refrain from killing others — do they show restraint because killing is wrong? Or because they’d go to prison? I also very much liked the very powerful and very creepy villain in this story. He had exactly the right lines and right delivery to haunt us with a deep sense of fear and foreboding. We knew he was pretty much capable of performing the most heinous evil act. And with a smile on his face, too.

Beyond those two things, I didn’t care much for the film. It didn’t help that the ending was extremely predictable. I wish I could see more of the positives that you saw, Greg. But I didn’t.

That’s alright, Scott. I enjoyed the opportunity to look into the souls of these characters without a lot of blood and gore. I also appreciated the Hero’s Journey in this film. James suffers a crisis of conscience and must make a choice between the safety of his family and doing the right thing. I felt the tension and suspense in the film. For a thought-provoking look at our culture flash-forwarded to the near-future, I give The Purge 4 Reels out of 5. And for a mildly successful heroic message, I give it 3 out of 5 Heroes.

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For me, The Purge was based on a faulty premise and featured a scary situation that was set in motion by two unbelievable acts of stupidity on the part of the hero, James, and the teen daughter, Zoey. It also featured a very predictable ending that left me unsatisfied. Very generously, I award this film 2 Reels out of 5.

Greg, the hero story was better than the movie. I agree that James is on a great journey in this film and that he discovers things about himself, and about life, that transforms him and his family in ways that he could never anticipate. I also give it 3 out of 5 Heroes.

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The Internship •••

MV5BMjM1MzczMDgwOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDM4NjM2OQ@@._V1_SX214_Starring: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson
Director: Shawn Levy
Screenplay: Vince Vaughn, Jared Stern
Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 119 Minutes


Well, Scott, after watching The Internship I want to run right out and get a job with Google!

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Me, too, Greg. This movie allowed us to witness the behind-the-scenes coolness of how Google operates. Well, at least the Hollywood version of how it operates.

Our story starts out with two intrepid salesmen, Billy and Nick (Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson) selling watches to a retailer. They don’t get far into their polished pitch when the mark tells them their business folded and they are out of jobs. They rush back to headquarters where their boss, (John Goodman), tells them they are dinosaurs. Nobody needs a watch because everyone has a smartphone to tell time with.

Desperate for money, the two men apply for summer internship positions at Google and only get the job because they differ from the norm. They are clearly misfits at Google and are thrown together with quirky Google employee Lyle (Josh Brener) and three other outliers, Stuart (Dylan O’Brien), Yo-Yo (Tobit Rafael), and Leha (Tiya Sicar). The six of them form a team that must meet a series of competitive challenges to land a permanent job at the company.

But things aren’t as easy as they might seem. Aside from the fact that our heroes are obviously out of their element, they have a nemesis in Graham (Max Minghella), an overly ambitious and arrogant Noogler (new Googler) who is out to derail “team Lyle.”

Scott, this is a classic “fish out of water” tale with Google as the ocean our buddies have landed in. If you mixed Meatballs and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest you’d have a pretty good idea of what is to come. I was all set to hate this movie’s formulaic premise, but Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are so incredibly likable that it is hard to not to get sucked into the plot and start cheering for these underdogs.

I agree, Greg. Vaughn and Wilson play two lovable goofballs who find themselves in way over their heads and yet are so sweet and endearing that we find ourselves rooting for them to succeed in an environment that they can’t possibly thrive in. We won’t give away what happens, but we can say that their experience as sales people end up serving them well at Google.

We know from the movie trailer that The Internship is a traditional underdog story involving two old tech-challenged guys competing with tech-savvy college students. The old guys even refer to a 1980s underdog movie, Flashdance, in an attempt to make their points to the students who aren’t even old enough to get the reference. So once we see it’s an underdog movie, we’re clued into how the film must end, but that’s okay as long as we can enjoy the ride there.

You’ll find everything in it’s place: the underdog guy shooting for the impossible girl, the loser who has to overcome his lack of confidence, the geeky guy who comes out of his shell, and the hot girl who has never had a date. There are no surprises and yet it all comes together very nicely.

Google, Inc. has claimed no money exchanged hands in the making of the film. However, the film crew were allowed to shoot 5 days at Googleplex – the headquarters of Google in Mountain View, California. We’re treated to what it is like to work and live within the Googleplex: free food, free volleyball, and “energy pods” (a designated area for napping). Despite not contributing to the bottom line, this is a pretty sweet ad for Google.

Yes, Google comes out smelling like a rose in this film, which I’m sure was their intent. I didn’t mind one bit, however, as we’re treated to their impressive facilities, their army of sweet overachieving geeks, and their progressive corporate philosophy.

The Internship is a good-natured yet formulaic comedy that is deficient in the laugh department but is nevertheless fairly enjoyable. The movie features appealing characters who overcome their limitations in rising to the occasion to meet both intellectual and romantic challenges. I give The Internship 3 Reels out of 5 for it’s overall charm and appeal.

The team of heroes underwent a nice transformation, with each individual in the group discovering his or her missing quality. The team itself came together nicely, although I’m not sure that a night of drunken debauchery was the only way to achieve team unity. This wasn’t a terrific hero story but as a comedy it satisfied me plenty. I give it 3 Heroes out of 5.

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All the elements of the hero’s journey are in place, and they arrive at just the right times. I was pleased with the buddy story; Billy and Nick are equals in this tale and each props up the other’s weaknesses. Sadly, all the funniest bits and major turning points are in the trailer – which is a common problem with today’s films. So, for a likable pair of underdogs who pull us in and make us love them, I give The Internship 3 Reels and 3 Heroes.

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Now You See Me •••

Now_You_See_Me_PosterStarring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson
Director: Louis Leterrier
Screenplay: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt
Crime/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 116 minutes


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, now that we’ve seen Now You See Me, now is the time to review it.

It was a fun movie filled with surprises. I enjoyed myself.

Now You See Me begins with four street magicians eking out a meager existence. They are Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley (Isla Fisher), Jack (Dave Franco), and Merritt (Woody Harrelson). One day they are all summoned to an abandoned apartment by an unknown mastermind criminal hellbent on using their magic to pull off major heists. Calling themselves the Four Horsemen, they first appear to rob a French bank of millions of dollars during the middle of their Las Vegas act. When FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) cannot prove their guilt, the Four Horsemen are free to perform their next act in New Orleans, where they plunder the bank account of their main financial sponsor, Arthur Tessler (Michael Caine).

Scott, at first it appears that the heroes of this story are the four characters comprising the 4 Horsemen. But as the story evolves, it is clear that we are following Dylan and sidekick Alma in a classic buddy-cop movie with a twist. Veteran magician turned magic-debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) is following the Horsemen and warns Dylan that they will always be one step ahead of him.

I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. What could have been a series of vaudevillian stage tricks turned awesome through the magic of CGI instead turned into a clever set of questions: How did they do it? What will they do next? Will they get caught? Who is the “Fifth” Horseman? I was kept guessing and it kept me involved from beginning to end.

I was less impressed by the movie than you were, Greg. The entire film is one giant magic trick whose secret is revealed at the very end in a very gimmicky way. Yes, the performances of all the actors involved were fine, but there is no discernible hero in this story. At first, we are led to believe that the four horsemen are the heroes, but they are soon revealed to be mere pawns of the true agents of power in the movie. In fact, virtually every character in this film turns out to be a magician’s prop or accessory. A likely candidate for the story’s hero does emerge but then disappears like a cheap trick. We’re left with a movie with a lot of sleights of hand but with a hand that is more than slightly empty.

Gee, Scott, I’d hate to see a magic show with you. I think the fact that all the tricks led to a surprising climax is what makes this a movie to see. There were a lot of well-known actors in this film. They all played their characters well. It’s tricky to have so much star power in one film and not have one character take the lead. Director Louis Leterrier did a great job of balancing the lead characters so that everyone had equal time.

As for the hero structure, Now You See Me plays a straight cop/chase/thriller until the very end. It is a great bit of misdirection that the suspicions jump from player to player before a final twist. And it is the breaking of the rules that makes this film entertaining. I have to admit that I was suspicious of who the mystery character could have been, but I didn’t put it all together before it was dished out for me in the final scenes. And that is what makes a great mystery great.

I think you’ve put your finger on a lot of the good qualities that this movie has, namely the performances of several iconic actors (e.g., Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine) and a series of magic tricks and crime scenes that leave us wondering, “How’d they do that?” I concede these points and I recommend Now You See Me to people who are infatuated with magic shows.

But when I see a movie, I want to witness a story that has depth beyond a mere gimmicky ending, which I believe this movie disappointingly delivers to us. The movie fails as a mystery because there were absolutely no clues for us to figure out The Big Reveal at the end. The film is basically a two-hour long magic trick, and while it’s not a bad magic trick, I found myself wanting more.

Fair enough, Scott. I went into the movie expecting a two-hour long magic show and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ll grant you that you won’t see a particular character have overcome a major internal flaw (or do you?). But when I go to see a magic show, part of the fun is trying to pit my intelligence against that of the magician. I try to see if I can figure it out and overcome the deception. I got that feeling while watching Now You See Me.

Penn & Teller used to do a show where they would take a well-known magician’s trick and expose it for all to see. The viewers were given all the gory details of how the trick was prepared for and then executed. Then, they would perform that trick live in front of a studio audience. What was amazing was that even after knowing how the trick was done, the audience was still in awe because the performance of the trick was so expertly performed that you were still amazed. That is what Now You See Me brought to the screen for me.

So, for an entertaining show that didn’t disappoint both in story, execution and magic, I give Now You See Me 4 out of 5 Reels. And for an atypical but still enjoyable hero story following FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes through the maze, I give it 3 out of 5 Heroes.

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Greg, I completely agree that there’s something powerful about watching a live magic show. Notice I said ‘live’. Watching magic tricks performed in the movies, where CGI effects rule, is not nearly as interesting. I recommend Now You See Me for diehard fans of magic and for fans of Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson, and the other fine actors here. The movie itself is a thin slice of white bread. I give it 2 Reels out of 5.

As for the hero of the story…. there wasn’t one. Yes, there were characters in this movie but no ‘reel’ heroes who underwent a journey or who changed in any significant way. I can almost buy the argument that there was one character who approximated a hero, but by the film’s conclusion this character, as we knew him or her, magically disappears. For that reason, I’m giving this movie only 2 Heroes out of 5.

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