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Transcendence •

Transcendence2014PosterStarring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman
Director: Wally Pfister
Screenplay: Jack Paglen
Drama/Mystery/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Date: April 18, 2014
Evelyn: Single, P-PP Moral, Pro (Classic Lone Hero)
Castor: Single, P-N Moral, Ant (Fallen Lone Villain)


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Scott, it’s time to rise above it all and review Transcendence.

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

Rising is the yeast we can do. Let’s recap.

We meet quirky, super-smart computer scientist Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp). He has a plan to make super-smart computers that are self-aware. This is a state that Caster calls “Transcendence.” No sooner does he unveil his plans than he is shot with a bullet laced with a radioactive substance that gets into his blood. He has a mere matter of weeks to live.

Caster’s wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) devises a plan to immortalize Caster by uploading his brain and consciousness onto a computer. The plan works, but the same terrorist organization that shot Caster is now intent on thwarting Evelyn’s plan. She barely manages to complete the task and she evades the terrorists, but her good friend Max (Paul Bettany) is not convinced that the uploaded version of Caster is actually him. The rest of the movie consists of Caster expanding his powers in big, frightening ways.

Scott, Transcendence was a disappointing rehash of a number of science fiction tropes. With Caster becoming “one with the computer” he becomes more powerful than anyone can imagine. And since he is wired into the internet, he can be everywhere at once. We saw this played sweetly in last year’s Her where Scarlett Johansson voiced a computer operating system that eventually grew self-aware and left Earth for places unknown.

However, in that movie, the super-aware computer didn’t become a fearsome monster. It seems that people fear technology growing more powerful than man’s ability to control it. You can go all the way back to the original Godzilla or even to 1927’s Metropolis to see examples of this. There was little of interest in this movie and even Morgan Freeman’s presence couldn’t save it.

I agree, Greg. Transcendence fails to transcend; in fact, the movie should be called Regression. There’s no new ground here, just some recycled ideas from Star Trek, such as the idea that (1) consciousness can be imported to a computer, (2) an enhanced race of super-humans can be developed and deified, and (3) a menacing race of villains with a “collective‘mind” can threaten earth. And as you mention, we have a re-hash of last year’s Her, another movie that treats these issues with more originality and style.

What is new is the idea that nano-technology can infiltrate the natural world, affecting clouds, weather, soil, and water. This added menace certainly takes the disturbing abuse of technology a big step further. But the idea isn’t developed or pursued at all. One other criticism: the movie is slow-paced. It takes quite a while for the plot to move forward, and so when we finally get to the meat and potatoes, and we are disappointed to see that the meal is the same one we’ve been served before, although not as tasty as before.

I’ve noticed a lot of your metaphors deal with food. I should feed you before we write these reviews. The hero in this story appears to be Caster’s wife Evelyn. She is the one whom we follow from the beginning to the end of the story. As such, she’s a pretty weak hero. She displays a lot of the characteristics of the hero including selflessness and caring. But she just follows Caster’s direction without much thinking about the ramifications of the ideas. And she doesn’t really have any missing inner qualities to transcend either. She pretty much just sleepwalks through this film.

The Max and Tagger characters (Freeman) are also heroic in their attempts to stop Caster. Max is the only one who transforms in any significant way as he realizes that Caster isn’t the man he once was. As Max is quite the secondary character I don’t count him as a hero.

Greg, I think we can agree that the movie starts out as a buddy hero story, with Caster and Evelyn serving as a duo working together to promote positive uses of technology. But as you note, Evelyn emerges as the lone hero while Caster evolves into the villain. The heroes and villains flip-flop half-way through the movie, with Caster turning evil and the terrorists’ anti-technology position looking increasingly smart and reasonable.

Johnny Depp seems out of his element here, as he’s miscast as a scholarly intellectual. Depp is effective in dark, mysterious, quirky roles but he seems out of place here. I felt badly for Morgan Freeman, who as you say is a good man and good actor trapped in a bad movie. The secondary characters do a pretty good job with their roles but there is so much that is derivative here that my attention was shot to hell half-way through the movie.

You make a good point, Scott. The villains at the beginning of the movie were pretty villainous. They shot and killed a man (Caster) to prevent what they thought was universal armageddon. That’s a pretty heinous act. Then about halfway through they emerge as the good guys in the face of Caster’s greater villainy. I found it hard to overcome their terrorist acts and see them as heroes.

Caster as a villain really took a while to emerge. As you point out, we have seen this sort of villain even recently. Dr. Zola in last week’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier was another scientist transferred into a computer system. And Caster was a pretty weak villain at that. One good thing about this villain that we haven’t seen up to this point is the fact that we get a backstory to him. We saw that he was a good guy until his consciousness was transferred into the computer. Then the wealth of worldwide computing power corrupted him and he was bent on worldwide control. It’s pretty rare for us to get a look at the “Villain’s Journey” in a movie.

Transcendence is a derivative story of technology run amok. It’s science fiction that would delight and amaze us only if we lived in the 1950s. The film is mildly entertaining in places, and it did make me think, albeit briefly, about the consequences of nano-technology taking over the natural world. But there’s precious little new ground broken here, and with Depp miscast as a scholar, I had trouble swallowing much of the story. I can only muster up one single solitary Reel out of 5.

The hero story is interesting insofar as we see our initial hero, Caster, devolve into a villain character. His wife Evelyn then assumes the role of the lone hero, but she’s ill-equipped for the task, showing an inability to think critically about her husband’s unbridled ambition. She’s not much of a hero, and so all I can give her is a puny 2 Heroes out of 5.

Greg, you are absolutely right about the one strong point of the movie being its focus on the step-by-step development of a villain from scratch. We must also ask ourselves whether Caster made bad choices or if his turn to evil was solely a product of his digitization. We know that power corrupts and so the answer may not be clear-cut. Because of this in-depth treatment of villainy, I’m going to give Caster 3 Villains out of 5.

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There’s not much for me to add. This was a pretty terrible movie and I don’t see any reason to give it more than one Reel out of 5.

The hero Evelyn was lost and waffling for most of the story. She pretty much does the bidding of the computer/scientist until the very end. It’s a pretty dull hero’s journey which I can only give 1 out of 5 Heroes.

And finally, looking at Caster as the villain I was going to give him a score of just 1 Villain. But I’m incrementing it to 2 Villains out of 5 because we see a bit of the villain’s journey for the first time this year.

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Draft Day ••1/2

Draft_Day_posterStarring:  Kevin Costner, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Garner
Director: Ivan Reitman
Screenplay: Scott Rothman, Rajiv Joseph
Drama/Sport, Rated: R
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: April 11, 2014
Weaver: Single, P-P Moral, Pro (Untransformed Lone Hero)
Weaver: Single, P-P Moral, Ant (Untransformed Self Villain)


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

Greg, it feels a little cold in this room.

Well shut the door to stop the draft. It’s time to review Draft Day. Let’s recap.

It’s the day of the 2014 NFL draft, and Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner) has the 7th pick in the first round. The Seattle Seahawks have the first pick and are expected to draft the highly heralded hotshot quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). Seattle’s general manager contacts Weaver and offers Cleveland it’s first round pick but the price is too high and Weaver declines. Soon Weaver’s boss, Browns’ owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) pressures Weaver to make a big “splash” with the draft pick, hinting that he’d welcome Callahan to the fold.

So Sonny calls the Seahawks back and takes the deal. He isn’t sure about the deal and sets his staff to investigate Callahan’s background. Meanwhile, Sonny’s girlfriend Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner) (who is also on the Browns staff as a lawyer) reveals that she is pregnant with his child. This being the biggest day of the football year, Sonny isn’t thrilled with the news. And now the stage is set as Sonny Weaver must decide if his first-round draft pick will be for his favorite player or for the hotshot quarterback with a shady past.

Greg, the best word I can generate to describe Draft Day is that it’s a pleasant movie to watch. The formula for a pretty decent movie is well in place — we have a genuinely good heroic leading man in Sonny Weaver, who faces a number of challenging circumstances beyond his control and struggles to cope with them. These circumstances include the recent death of his father; an owner who demands a splashy first-round pick; the quarterback who trashes his office; the head coach who wants more control over player personnel than he deserves; the mother and ex-wife who criticize him; and the girlfriend who wants to take their relationship to the next level.

All this makes for a good hero story, as we, the audience, are eager to see if Weaver can overcome these challenges. As with any good hero story, Weaver gets some support and assistance from key characters and does manage to rise to the occasion. As I said, Draft Day a pleasant movie — it features an interesting situation and these are characters we care about. Costner, moreover, is effective in his role. I can’t use a word more enthusiastic than ‘pleasant’ because no new ground is broken here and I doubt I’ll give this movie a second viewing.

I think you’ve summed it up pretty well. This movie was almost made-for-TV quality with its split-screen phone conversations and Lifetime subplot. Costner really phoned in his performance. I think I’ve been forever spoiled by 2011’s Moneyball. I’m not a sports fan, so Moneyball’s ability to pull me into the world of Major League Baseball and make me care about what happens in that world impressed me greatly. Draft Day looked like it wanted to be Moneyball for football and failed miserably. I was lost for the first thirty minutes because I don’t follow football (let alone the annual draft picks).

Costner’s Sonny Weaver was a terse, no-nonsense sort of man’s man. He is living in his father’s shadow who was the former coach of the Browns. This is Sonny’s first opportunity to shine as his own man. He has pressures from all around and manages them as best as he can – although he is prone to throwing laptops through the wall. As a hero, Sonny Weaver is no surprise, yet still no embarrassment either.

Greg, I’m curious to hear your thoughts about the villains in this movie. There really aren’t any, and so that eliminates the ‘Man vs. Man’ villain-type that we discuss in our explanation of our villain ratings. This leaves us with the other two options — ‘Man vs. Self’ or ‘Man vs. Nature.”  Sonny Weaver faces daunting circumstances, and you could argue that these somewhat natural stressors serve as the “villainous” opposing forces in the movie. This suggests ‘Man vs. Nature.”

But Weaver’s challenges are also internal ones – can he overcome his past, can he focus his thoughts, can he will himself to think clearly and make the right call? These factors suggest a ‘Man vs. Self’ villain type. So we may have a hybrid operating here, with our hero struggling with both environmental and personal oppositional forces.

I can see your conflict here Scott. I think it’s because the villains are so poorly drawn. We do have a couple “oppositional” characters that are in the foreground then some lesser ones bringing up the rear.

I think the Brown’s owner Molina is playing the villain character in this film. He’s the one pressuring Sonny to go against his better judgement and risk it all to draft the hot-shot quarterback. Also, the head coach played by Denis Leary is in Sonny’s face demanding to be given the team he wants to play. These two characters are the faces of Sonny’s external challenges. The lesser villains here are the managers from the other teams who are making deals with Sonny and trying to get the better of him. Arguably, Sonny’s mother is an oppositional character as well as she attempts to distract him from the biggest day of his career with his dead father’s last wishes.

I don’t see Molina or the head coach as villains. They’re good men trying to do their jobs, and they have honest disagreements with Sonny. Plus, in the end, none of them are defeated the way villains are usually defeated at the end of a movie. The only things that are defeated are Sonny’s vulnerabilities and insecurities, suggesting that his major foe was himself.

The one unsavory person in the movie is the quarterback Bo Callahan. But even Callahan is just an immature college football player who is hardly the force of evil that we typically see in movie villains. The mother isn’t a villain; she’s merely one of many distractions. So I guess I’m leaning toward the “self” as the major oppositional force in this movie. Weaver is in the pressure cooker and is compelled to muster all his strength to steer his way through all the pressure.

This was a weak movie all around, Scott. You called it ‘pleasant’ but I’d call it bland. There was not much tension in the film and that is due largely to Costner’s understated delivery. I spent the first act just trying to understand the significance of Costner’s draft day dilemma. I give Draft Day a mere 2 out of 5 Reels.

Costner plays a “darned-good-guy” in this film, as he does in most of his films. He’s likable as Sonny Weaver but I never feel his pain or stress. I give him only 2 Heroes out of 5.

The villains in this story were difficult to see because everyone appears to be on the same team (pun intended). I give them just 2 Villains out of 5 as well.

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I enjoyed this movie more than you did, Greg, perhaps because I’m a big football fan, although you are correct in pointing out that Money Ball proved that a good sports film should appeal to a broad audience. Draft Day is good mindless fun and takes viewers on a roller coaster ride inside the sports world. The movie is a bit too formulaic but Costner’s pleasant (there’s that word again) demeanor and winning spirit carry us forward. I give this movie 3 Reels out of 5.

There’s a decent hero story here, with Weaver thrown into a dark unfamiliar world without his father and with intense pressure from family and work. Weaver doesn’t so much change or transform himself as much as he is forced to dig deep to become the effective general manager that Molina hired him to be. Sometimes finding our true selves amidst the chaos of life is our greatest challenge. For a pleasing hero story, I award Weaver 3 out of 5 Heroes.

We couldn’t agree on the nature of the villains, but I don’t think that this is a weakness of the film. Instead, I see it more conceptually as a blurred line between challenges that heroes face because they are weak-minded versus challenges they face because circumstances make them appear weak. I come down on the side of viewing Weaver as conflicted and tormented, thus making this movie an example of ‘Man vs. Self.’ Overall, I’m willing to give these oppositional forces 3 out of 5 Villains.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier ••••

Captain_America_The_Winter_SoldierStarring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 136 minutes
Release Date: April 4, 2014
Captain America: Single, P-P Moral, Pro (Untransformed Lone Hero)
Pierce/Brock: Duo, N-NN Moral, Ant (Irredemable Mastermind/Henchman Villains)
Winter Soldier: Single, N-N Moral, Ant (Untransformed Henchman Villain)


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Well, Scott, it’s our patriotic duty to review Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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

It’s going to be hard writing a review with my right hand over my heart and the other hand saluting. But I’ll give it an All-American try.

We meet our intrepid hero, Steve Rogers (aka Captain America played by Chris Evans) running laps around newcomer Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). The two exchange army stories and Rogers is driven off by beautiful spy-woman Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson). Rogers rushes away to a mission where he and Romanoff rescue hostages on a S.H.I.E.L.D. secret ship. Along the way they pick up a thumb drive of super secret information.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Rogers confronts director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) about being kept in the dark about Black Widow’s separate mission. Fury is later ambushed by a formidable masked soldier (Sebastian Stan) who appears to kill Fury. Using data from the thumbdrive, Rogers and Romanoff discover a vast underground bunker containing the intelligent e-remains of Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), who reveals a vast evil operation inside S.H.I.E.L.D. that has badly compromised the organization.

Scott The Winter Soldier delivers a fast-paced, action packed sequel to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Not only was it a great action movie, but it also had an interesting take on modern-day warfare. You see, Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. director Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) are building these mega-drones which are designed to pre-emptively kill anyone S.H.I.E.L.D. deems is a threat. If it sounds a bit like our drone program and President Obama’s “kill list,” that’s no accident. Writers Marcus and McFeely were aiming at just that.

Fury tries to read the thumb drive Romanoff acquired and finds it has been encrypted by S.H.I.E.L.D. itself – which makes Fury think that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised. After the attempt on his life, Fury makes his way back to Rogers’ apartment and hands the device over to him and warns him not to trust anyone. Then Fury dies. Now the race is on for Rogers and Romanoff to discover who killed Fury, what is on the thumb drive, and who is the mole inside S.H.I.E.L.D.

I agree, Greg. This movie is a winner. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a good movie on several different levels. First, the casting is as rock solid as Steve Roger’s biceps, with Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, and Robert Redford all charismatically bringing their characters to life. While the hero story itself is not terribly standout, the villain tale may be the best we’ve seen this year. In fact, from where I stand, the villain story carries the movie.

I don’t mean to disrespect Captain America; he is a stalwart hero. Rogers is more than worthy of the hero label, embodying every single trait in the great eight attributes of heroes – he is smart, strong, resilient, reliable, caring, selfless, charismatic, and inspiring. Ironically, this perfection may also be Captain America’s weakness. There is no room for development or transformation in his character, and we know that hero transformation is the quintessential characteristic of a good hero.

Rogers is working on some demons of his own, Scott. He’s still not at home in the new millenium. He feels uncomfortable in his soft bed and is still getting the hang of the internet. He confides these feelings to new friend Sam Wilson who is a war veteran and runs a local Veterans Administration support group. While Rogers is every bit the hero, he can still be vulnerable. In fact, Romanoff keeps trying to set him up with co-workers back at S.H.I.E.L.D, but Rogers isn’t ready. In many ways, he’s still the embodiment of a 1940’s corn-bred, down-home, American boy. So, there’s room for growth. But I have to agree, he’s pretty much fully-formed as a hero.

We’ve seen this in other hero stories from Marvel as well. We reviewed last year’s The Wolverine and Thor: The Dark World and noted that episodic heroes rarely make gains in the personal development area. We need our heroes to return to us at the end of the story quite as we found them at the beginning. This way we know what we’re getting when we return next time.

There were other supporting heroes in this movie as well. And kudos to the actors as well as the writers and directors for giving everyone equal screen time. Black Widow is just as kick-ass in this installment as in 2011’s The Avengers. Scott, we’re always looking for great female heroes and Black Widow doesn’t disappoint. Although she’s not Rogers’ physical equal, she’s plenty strong and very smart. Also, newcomer Sam Wilson emerges as Falcon. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in Marvel’s universe.

Greg, you’re absolutely right that we have a stellar ensemble cast here. Somehow, despite the fact that there are a multitude of characters, the movie smoothly takes all the complex pieces and weaves a coherent tale that never leaves us confused. This is excellent filmmaking and directors Anthony and Joe Russo deserve great kudos.

Best of all, the film weaves a complex and multi-layered tale of villainy. I detected three very different types of villains, and each one of them was fun to watch. First, we once again encounter a mastermind-muscle pairing with Alexander Pierce as the mastermind and Brock (Frank Grillo) as his goon who carries out the dirty work. Second, Pierce plays the role of the insider or defector villain, who unexpectedly defects from the side of good and becomes a villain. In my second book on heroes, we call this a transposed hero-villain character.

Third, there is the villain who doesn’t voluntarily defect from the good guys but who is captured and brainwashed into becoming a villain. The brainwashed villain here is Bucky Barnes, and he follows the usual pattern of snapping out of his brainwashed state by clever reverse psychology from the hero Steve Rogers. In what is perhaps the most emotionally moving scene in the film, Rogers is about to be beaten to death by Barnes and invokes their relationship loyalty as a reason why Barnes should finish him off. This is a powerful scene.

Good observations on the villains, Scott. I also detected the hidden villain in the form of Dr. Zola. We saw this in this year’s Ride Along and Non-Stop. He is hardly seen in the traditional sense but was pulling levers the whole time. He also gets credit for the usual “Evil Gloating” trope in this film as he explains where everything comes from and how S.H.I.E.L.D. was corrupted.

We do see the mastermind-muscle villain pair quite a lot in movies. The Grand Budapest Hotel had that one too. It seems pretty popular with filmmakers to have a villain who doesn’t like to get his hands dirty but sends others to do his dirty work. Interestingly, we don’t see that pattern among heroes. Usually the hero is front and center with the action. Even in The Winter Soldier, Nick Fury sends others to do his bidding, but he is plenty active in this film.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an entertaining movie that is more than mere mindless fun. The movie has layered, complex relationships among its characters, and it features some of the most well-developed villain characters that we’ve seen in the movies in a long time. The Winter Soldier is a film that I’d see twice, which is high praise coming from a guy who is rarely impressed with comic book superhero flicks. The movie comes close to earning all 5 Reels but falls just short. I give it 4 out of 5 Reels.

As I’ve noted, our hero Steve Rogers is pretty darn perfect from start to finish. He’s a terrific character, a man caught out of time but who manages to morally outshine everyone he encounters in the modern era. Because I don’t see a whole lot of character transformation, I can only award the good Captain a respectable 3 Heroes out of 5.

The villains carry this movie and give it some unexpected heft and depth. I saw 3 villain types and Greg observed a 4th as well. I applaud any movie that intuitively knows that audiences thirst for an understanding of evil almost as much as they do an appreciation for good. I give all these terrific villains a rating of 4 Villains out of 5.

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I agree, to a point. Captain America doesn’t let up on the action and the all-star cast was well-played. I did see it again and enjoyed it even more the second time around. I give Captain America: The Winter Soldier 4 out of 5 Reels as well.

I liked Steve Rogers more than you did, Scott. I agree that he is a pretty well-stacked hero character from the beginning. He measures really well on your Great Eight scale. And I saw dimensionality in his relationships that we don’t often see in super heroes. I give Steve Rogers 4 out of 5 Heroes.

I have to disagree with your villain rating. These were good villains, but not great. We got a variety of villainy but these are the same villains we’ve seen before. Little backstory, little dimension. We have yet to see a villain that transforms. But I predict that by the end of the summer one or two Marvel films will have more deep villains worthy of your high praise. I can only give these bad guys 3 out of 5 Villains.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel ••••

The_Grand_Budapest_Hotel_PosterStarring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson
Comedy/Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: March 28, 2014
Gustave/Zero: Duo, P-PP Emotional, Pro (Classic Hero/Sidekick)
Dmitri/Jopling: Duo, N-N Moral, Ant (Mastermind/Henchman Villains)


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

Greg, are you Hungary to review The Grand Budapest Hotel?

You keep pestering me to do it, so let’s recap!

The movie begins with a young girl admiring a statue of a man simply known as ‘The Author.’ She begins reading one of his books that describes a trip he made in 1968 to the Grand Budapest Hotel. At that time the drab, outdated hotel attracted very few customers. During his stay, the Author (Jude Law) encounters the owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who is anxious to tell his story of how he came to own the Grand Budapest.

That causes another flashback to 1932 where a young Zero is taken under the wing of concierge extraordinaire M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). Gustave is quite the lady’s man – if by lady you mean elderly widow. One of his “friends” has died and left him a fortune in the form of a priceless painting Boy with Apple. However, the children of the deceased are not willing to let the painting go that easily. They frame Gustave and he escapes from prison. Now the chase is on as Gustave and Zero are on a mission to clear his name and recover the painting.

Greg, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a strange movie about strange people. The movie tells the story of a man, Gustave, who is overly polite and loquacious in situations that call for neither quality. Gustave is a mentor figure for a young lobby boy named Zero who appears incapable of showing any facial expressions. The duo get caught up in a dangerous plot with many other equally strange people, each of whom has some quirky or menacing mannerism.

Wes Anderson-world is stylistically surreal and cartoon-like. Pastel colors tend to dominate and actors are instructed to master the art of nonverbal minimalism with their bodies, faces, and movements. There seems to be an exaggerated attempt to create and nurture caricatures of people and situations. Sometimes the effect is comical; at other times it is merely odd. If the goal was to make the movie sets and characters memorable, in a way that a bottle of Pepto-Bismol is memorable, then the goal has been achieved.

I enjoyed Budapest very much. Wes Anderson always delivers an experience that you won’t find in other films. Last year’s Moonlight Kingdom was another standout movie by Anderson. The characters are always likable and innocent in their own way.

If I have a complaint about Budapest it is that it dragged on in the second act. The film clocks in at just 100 minutes, but it felt like much longer. Another complaint was the appearance of too many cameos. There is a hotel shootout that had so many luminaries pop into frame that I was distracted from the story.

Ironically, within a movie that is as unconventional as a movie can get, we have a rather conventional hero-sidekick combination. This is not to say that these dual heroes are uninteresting. Far from it, in fact. Gustave does a fair amount of mentoring of Zero, who grows from a youthful innocent boy into an informed and experienced young man. Gustave relishes his role as a mentor to Zero, and while I’m not sure that Gustave changes much during the course of the movie, he certainly has plenty of heroic traits. In fact, he dies performing an act of self-sacrifice.

I agree, Scott. In our book on heroes in the movies Reel Heroes: Volume 1 we lay out the Hero/Sidekick as one of the types of duo-heroes. Gustave and Zero play this pattern to full force. Zero knows nothing of the world of hotels yet Gustave feels sorry for the boy because he is a refugee. Here, the hero is the mentor to the young man whom we care about because of his innocence and underdog status.

The story if rife with villains as well. We meet the eldest son of the widow, Dmitri (Adrien Brody) who is intent on having the painting for his own. I was pleased with the coloring of Dmitri. He is a vile man and we get a bit of his backstory as the scorned son of Madame D.

Dmitri enlists the aid of a diabolical and evil henchman named Jopling (Willem Dafoe) who has steel teeth and wears rings that double as brass knuckles. While we don’t get a lot of backstory on Jopling, he demonstrates his villainy with the many killings and maiming of characters in the story.

The two main villains are a detestable pair for different reasons – Dmitri for his loathsome greed and Jopling for his psychopathic brutality. The movie doesn’t delve into the details of these two villains’ histories or life stories. These bad guys exist mainly to provide a grave challenge to Gustave and Zero.

It’s interesting how movies often pack their villains with a familiar one-two punch. The main villain is often the mastermind of the operation, and the secondary villain(s) are usually the muscle who carry out the physical dirty work. This split-structure of villainy represents a departure from the more unified structure of the hero, who in order to succeed must possess both brains and brawn.

Scott, I enjoyed myself at The Grand Budapest Hotel and could find myself going back for a second visit. The characters were colorful and unique. While it was a bit slow in places, the film held my interest for most of the time. I give Budapest 4 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes in this story were likable, even affable. I enjoyed watching M. Gustave’s growing fondness for Zero and Zero’s growth under Gustave’s tutelage. I give the hero-pair 4 out of 5 Heroes.

The villains were more complete in this film compared to others we’ve reviewed so far this year. However that isn’t saying much. Still, they were stereotypes of villains gone by as the estranged son and his henchman. I give these evil-doers just 3 out of 5 Villains.

Movie: reel-4Heroes: h-logo-4 Villains: villain-3

The Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t a great movie but it has an endearing and quirky charm that gives it lasting appeal. I give Wes Anderson lots of credit here. After all, “strange” doesn’t always mean memorable, but here it does because of Gustave’s unique combination of charm, courage, and quirkiness, and also because the film tosses out a look and feel that I’ve never seen before. Like you, I’ll award The Grand Budapest Hotel 4 Reels out of 5.

As I’ve mentioned the hero duo of Gustave and Zero doesn’t break much new ground, but I have to admire the transformation of Zero, who learns many life lessons from Gustave, not the least of which is loyalty. This is the trait that inspires Zero to hang onto the hotel decades after any rational person might do so. This hero pair earns a solid 3 Heroes out of 5.

In keeping with the rest of the movie, the villains were an odd pair that movie audiences love to hate. This mastermind-muscle pairing was effective although their characters were not as developed as they could have been. For the same reasons as you, Greg, I give them 3 Villains out of 5.

Movie: reel-4Heroes: h-logo-3Villains: villain-3