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The Giver ••

The_Giver_posterStarring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep
Director: Phillip Noyce
Screenplay: Michael Mitnick, Robert B. Weide
Drama/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 97 minutes
Release Date: August 15, 2014

Jonah: Single, P-PP Emotional, Pro (Classic Lone Hero)

Chief Elder: Single, N-N Moral, Ant (Untransformed Lone Villain)

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, it’s time for us to give our review of The Giver.


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

Unfortunately, The Giver was a taker of two hours of my time. Let’s recap.


In The Giver we’re introduced to young Jonah (Brenton Thwaites) on the eve of his “Ceremony of Growth” where he and all the other 18-year-olds will be assigned their jobs. One by one Jonah’s peers receive jobs like caregiver or fighter pilot, but Jonah is left to the last. He is told he is going to be the Receiver. This is a role selected once a generation. As the Receiver he will be given all the knowledge of previous generations. In Jonah’s “community” they have eliminated all emotion and memory of the past – even the idea of color. It is the job of the Receiver to advise the elders based on the inherited knowledge. This knowledge is passed on to Jonah by a man known only as the Giver (Jeff Bridges).


Jonah begins to receive some of the community’s early memories from the Giver, and these images are difficult and sometimes painful to deal with. One of the emotions that he experiences for the first time is the feeling of love. Eager to share this new emotion, Jonah begins to warm up to one of the girls in the community whose name is Fiona (Odeya Rush). Illegally, he takes her on a mock sled ride and then encourages her to skip taking her daily injection designed to deny her emotional experience. Eventually, Jonah and the Giver decide that it is best for the community to break through the barrier of “Elsewhere” to restore the entire community’s memories.


The Giver is YA dystopian fiction. And when I say “YA” I don’t mean “Young Adult,” I mean “Yet Another.” It starts out as so many of today’s young adult stories do – a young person in a dreary future where they are being categorized and put into a social class that is selected for them by adults. We saw it in Harry Potter (the sorting hat), The Hunger Games (districts 1-12), and in this year’s Divergent (which has an opening scene almost identical to The Giver’s). The Giver may actually lay claim to this pattern as it is based on a book that is 20 years old. But it is quite the YA trope now.

The story starts out in black and white. As Jonah starts to gain an awareness of how things truly are, the color starts to come into focus – both in his mind and on-screen. It’s a nice effect, but we’ve seen it before in movies like Pleasantville.

The main goal for Jonah is to escape from the community and cross the barrier of Elsewhere which will somehow magically restore everyone’s memories. This device is really hard to swallow as there are no explanations for how this happens. The Giver merely says it is so and it becomes part of the physics of that universe. I found it hard to accept and it made the ending seem contrived.


Greg, what a shame that this movie arrives on the heels of so many other films with a similar premise, theme, and moral message. Even if The Giver is based on a book that preceded all the other films, it still comes across as derivative. To make matters worse, this film does an inferior job of addressing those same themes compared to what we’ve seen over and over again in works such Hunger Games, Divergent, and others. When you and I saw the opening selection ceremony, we looked at each other in the theater and said, ‘Not again!’ at the exact same time. How unfortunate. Perhaps YA stands for ‘Yawn Again.’

The Giver does feature a decent hero’s journey. I’m trying not to hold it against poor Jonah that we’ve seen his story many times in the past couple of years in other films. After all, it’s a classic tale of a young person who has a limited view of the universe but then grows in his understanding to the point of realizing that his universe must be overthrown in order for justice, truth, beauty, and the American way to prevail. The Giver himself is the obvious mentor to Jonah, and Fiona is his obvious love interest. Jonah’s hero journey is so common and predictable that the key to its success is for the filmmakers to portray it in an uncommon and/or exemplary way. Alas, the filmmakers did not succeed in achieving those goals.


I got a lot of confused messages from this story. At one point we learn that babies who are not fully conformant (by way of weight, intelligence, or social development) are put to death by unthinking doctors. So I thought this was some sort of hidden message about the evils of abortion. But then, the villain character (the lead elder played by Meryl Streep) makes a speech about how people cannot be given the right to choose, because they make bad choices. Which is an argument against choice. So I was very lost as to what the point of this film was. I give The Giver just 2 out of 5 Reels.

Jonah is a common hero and plods along the hero’s journey with no surprises. The characters in the story are all going through the paces without thinking about what they are doing. Jonah sees this and decides to make a change. He wants to give people back their autonomy. It’s a noble mission. I give Jonah 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The villain here was the lead elder who wanted to maintain the status quo. She liked the world without color, variety, or the messiness of love, hate, and above all, choice. She wasn’t played as an evil overlord, but more as a obstructionist – motivated by the fear of returning to things that had lead the world astray. It wasn’t a profound role and I wasn’t inspired one way or the other. I give the elder just 2 Villains out of 5.

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The Giver breaks no new ground in its presentation of a future world in which people have been robbed of their emotions and their freedom of choice. We understand that such a sterile and totalitarian universe will prevent war and we also get the fact that sometimes peace comes at too high a price. Star Trek dealt with these themes in the 1960s and other more modern treatments are scattered throughout the sci-fi canon. We do get a very nice performance from Jeff Bridges, but as in the case with last year’s RIPD, Bridges is a great actor trapped inside a mediocre movie. I award The Giver a mere 2 Reels out of 5.

As I noted above, the hero’s journey is hardly new and can only succeed by adding some new element or twist, or by being exceptionally noteworthy. Jonah is a capable hero and shows great growth as a character, but we’ve been down this road too many times to be subjected to a routine treatment of his type of journey. I can only give poor Jonah a mere 2 Heroes out of 5.

The great shock of The Giver is the appearance of Meryl Streep, who is terribly underutilized as the Cruella DeGiver character here. Why Streep took on this part is a complete mystery to me. Her vast talents are as well-hidden as the clouded land of “Elsewhere” in the movie. There is little to learn about villainy from her evil character, and her role exists only for the purpose of being a vapid obstacle for Jonah and the Giver to conquer. Cruella gets a mere 2 Villains out of 5.

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The Hundred Foot Journey •••

The_Hundred_Foot_Journey_(film)_posterStarring: Helen MirrenOm PuriManish Dayal
Director: Lasse Hallström
Screenplay:  Steven Knight
Drama/Romance, Rated: PG
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date: August 8, 2014

Hassan: Single, P-PP Emotional, Pro (Classic Lone Hero)

Madam Mallory: Single, N-P Moral, Ant (Enlightened Lone Anti-Villain)

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, I do believe that a hundred feet would emit a terrible odor.


Not if it was at the Maison Mumbai where wonderful spices are used. Let’s recap…


The Hundred-Foot Journey begins in Mumbai, India, where a family restaurant is burned to the ground by political protesters. The mother of the family is killed, and the father, known only as Papa (Om Puri), flees with his children to Europe. The family car breaks down near a charming French village, and Papa sees it as an omen that they should open their new Indian restaurant in that town. As fate would have it, the perfect building for their new restaurant is located directly across the street from an excellent French eatery owned by a proud, tough woman named Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).


It turns out that Papa’s young son Hassan(Manish Dayal) is a natural chef and learned to use spices at his mother’s feet. Papa and Hassan go to the local food market to buy ingredients for their opening night when they learn that Madame Mallory has bought up all their goods. And now the war is on. Meanwhile, Hassan has taken an interest in Madame Mallory’s sues chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). She hesitantly shares the secrets of French cuisine with Hassan who takes to learning these details like a duck to water. And now the stage is set with a competition for the tastebuds of the town and a budding romance.


Greg, The Hundred-Foot Journey is the perfect movie for people who are obsessed with food. Yes, there are two key relationships that unfold in the story, but they unfold around food, for food, and because of food. I will admit, of course, that this movie is far more than a food movie. Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey have joined forces to produce a moral tale about ethnic differences and how they can inflame hostilities but also how these hostilities can be overcome.

The Hundred-Foot Journey isn’t a great movie. Events unfold in a slightly too predictable way, and things wrap up just a tad too nicely at the end. Madame Mallory’s sudden change of heart about her Indian rivals also stretches the bounds of believability. But having said all that, this is a film well worth watching. The performances are all first-rate, and we’re introduced to characters we grow to care about.

 


You summed it up pretty well, Scott. I had some problems placing this movie in time. The village the story is set in looks like it fell out of the 1940s. It’s not until Hassan makes the big time and moves to Paris that we get the sense that we’re in modern times.

The movie’s message seems to be that bad things happen when cultures clash, but good things happen when we learn to appreciate our common bonds – especially, in this case, a love of food.

The hero of the story is young Hassan who starts out naive and grows to become more adult and worldly. And he plays the part well. He is naive not only in the ways of fine dining, but also in the ways of love. He innocently plays on the affections of the young lady and gains insights into becoming the chef in Madame Mallory’s kitchen.

Madame Mallory is both the villain and the mentor in this story. She starts out as an adversary to both Papa and Hassan. After her main cook sets the Maison Mumbai to fire, she has a change of heart and realizes that she has taken things too far. It’s a different villain pattern than we’ve seen so far this year – that of the villain turned mentor.


You’re exactly right, and that’s probably why the good Madame’s character defies believability. I suppose I should shed my cynicism and just accept her huge change of heart in the middle of the movie. Although unlikely, this transformation from evil to good is something we all dream about seeing in difficult people. If we keep our focus on the true hero of story, Hassan, we recognize in him a nice coming-of-age tale of a young man who grows personally, professionally, and romantically. Hassan is a bit too perfect of a character, showing virtue and competence at every turn, but he does grow as an individual as he’s thrown into the fire, so to speak.

As you point out, Greg, the villains do shift around during the course of the story. At first, Madame Mallory is the villain, but then the obstacles our heroes face begin to shift. Standing in Hassan’s way is the cutthroat competition of the restaurant business. We learn that the grooming of a top chef requires more blood, sweat, and tears than the U.S. Navy Seal training program. So we first have a “Man vs. Man” theme (or should I say “Man vs. Woman”) that evolves into a “Man vs. Nature” villainesque structure.


I enjoyed The Hundred-Foot Journey but I won’t be sending back for seconds. It was a sweet, albeit a bit slow, story. You’re right, Scott, it was a bit predictable. But I found it satisfied me rather than coming off as trite. The performances were delightful and I liked everyone in the story. I can recommend this movie, especially to my foodie friends. I give The Hundred-Foot Journey 3 out of 5 Reels.

The hero of the story is a bit of a Mary-Sue. Nothing he does is evil. Mostly he acts out of naivete more than animus. In that sense, he lacks dimension and I can only give him 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The villain, Madame Mallory, is more dimensional than the hero. She displays pride, envy, even racism. She plots to destroy her competition. But ultimately, she comes to realize that she is a better person than she has been and has a change of heart. This is a nice villain’s journey. It’s one of the few characters who we have reviewed over the last year that starts out as a villain and turns into some sort of hero. I give her 3 out of 5 Villains.

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The Hundred-Foot Journey is a fine meal that is memorable for its color and its texture, but alas, you’ll discover that it is a light supper or heavy snack only. I recommend this film for anyone who loves the process of preparing fine food, or who adores French countryside scenery, or who relishes sappy endings to stories about inter-family conflict. Like you, Greg, I award this movie 3 Reels out of 5.

Out of an ensemble hero cast, we see Hassan emerge as the main hero who represents the best of humanity. He is the catalyst for peace between the two families and then boldly pursues a challenging career as a top French chef. It’s a fairly strong hero’s journey, as we see Hassan navigate his way through cultural barriers, encounter a love interest, and receive mentoring from an unlikely source. I’ll give Hassan 4 out of 5 Heroes here.

Madame Mallory proves to be an interesting and touching villain-turned-hero, even if I found her transformation to stretch the bounds of credibility. After her change of heart, there are plenty of social, cultural, and personal obstacles standing in Hassan’s way of success. This film’s villain structure is complex and shows us that humans are usually their own worst enemies. I’ll agree with you, Greg, that the villains here deserve a rating of 3 out of 5.

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Guardians of the Galaxy •••1/2

GOTG-posterStarring: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper
Director: James Gunn
Screenplay: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 121 minutes
Release Date: August 1, 2014

Guardians: Ensemble, N-P Moral, Pro (Redeemed Episodic Military Heroes)

Quill: Single, N-N Moral, Ant (Untransformed Mastermind Villain)

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel’s next big franchise.


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

Seems like it’s an ever-expanding Marvel-ous universe. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) (who likes to call himself Star Lord). He’s an outer space pirate aligned with the Ravagers. He’s stolen an orb and wants to sell it on the black market. He no sooner escapes with his treasure when he is accosted by green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who is aligned with the evil Ronan. But bounty hunters Rocket (a genetically engineered racoon voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (a tree-like humanoid voiced by Vin Diesel) interfere with Gamora as they try to capture Quill. The lot of them are thrown into prison when the Nova Corps (the intergalactic police) get involved. It is in prison that they meet the very literal Drax (Dave Bautista) and our team of misfit guardians is complete.


The Guardians are charged with the task of preventing the orb from falling into the hands of the evil Ronin, who will no doubt use the orb’s powers to conquer the galaxy. Ronin eventually attacks the Guardians and steals the orb. When he unlocks the sphere, we see that it contains a beautiful infinity stone. Ronin absorbs the stone into his warhammer thereby acquiring the powers to destroy the galaxy. The remainder of the movie shows us how the Guardians are able to work together to re-acquire the infinity stone, thus saving the galaxy from destruction.


This was a fun addition to the Marvel universe. The opening scene was a little too reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark for me. Quill makes his way into a cave to steal an orb which is immediately stolen by other thieves. Quill even makes an off-handed remark about Indiana Jones later on. The alien characters all seemed to be mere humanoids differentiated by their brightly colored skins. The beautiful Karen GiIlan shaved her long red trusses for this film. She looked good as a blue-skinned gal, but sadly she really showed off her lack of acting chops.

As a hero group, I classify this merry band as a military ensemble lead by Quill. Quill has a lot of the qualities we see in hero characters. He’s an orphan in a strange world. He has to prove his abilities to those who follow him. His team-mates are solid hero fare as well. Each has an edge to them, but they are all out to do the right thing. And they’re funny, which adds a great twist to a hero’s journey. The light air of this film really sets it apart from some of the other Marvel films we’ve seen. There’s always a sense of urgency, but Quill and friends make everything look funny.


Greg, my admiration for Marvel keeps growing. Guardians of the Galaxy is the fourth, count’em, fourth Marvel feature film released in 2014. We’ve seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and now this quirky ensemble of galaxy-saving guardians. Despite the possibility that Guardians may be the weakest of the four Marvel entries this year, it’s still an impressive achievement on several levels.

First, I found the always-strong CGI effects to be particularly extraordinary. The sets, production values, costuming, and character visuals are off-the-charts stunning. Second, this film’s character development has Marvel’s more than capable fingerprints all over it. For the most part, these characters are impressively constructed and also quite memorable, from Rocket the rambunctious Raccoon to Groot the shapeshifting tree. One complaint I have is that Peter Quill, our main hero, lacks the kind of charisma and magnetism that I would want to see in a lead character. Still, Guardians is a fun and, at times, thrilling roller coaster ride of a movie.


Yes, the CGI was great and nobody builds a universe the way Marvel does. Which does remind me of one problem I had with the film. It seemed to me that too many pains were taken to merge the universes of Thor, the Avengers, and Guardians together. The bit about the evil overlord Thanos and the infinity stones is a plot line that I think they are trying to weave into all the movies.

And speaking of villains, the villains in this story were really lacking. Thanos is the mastermind controlling his minions and having them do his dirty work – there’s no real dimension there. Ronan as the henchman was painted equally evil without much character. Gillan’s Nebula was Ronan’s daughter with an attitude who hated her siblings for reasons we don’t know. Of all the Marvel films we saw this year, Guardians had the weakest villains for our heroes to play against.


I completely agree with your assessment of the villains here, Greg. Marvel movies usually go to great lengths to craft villains of depth and nuance, but Thanos and Ronan are flat, uni-dimensional brutes. There were silly attempts to call many of the dark features of this movie “Necro” this or “Thanos” that, as if these death-related prefixes would somehow magnify the menacing factor. They didn’t.

Still, I managed to enjoy the movie because even Marvel operating at three-fourths its usual effectiveness is better than most films. As you pointed out, Greg, there is plenty of joy and humor throughout the Guardians, as when it pokes fun of John Stamos or Kevin Bacon, or when it pulls out a clever pun worthy of evoking a good groan or two. Strangely, there is considerable violence in Guardians, more than it needed to retain its sense of danger and adventure. Still, I left the theater fairly satisfied.


Guardians of the Galaxy is a worthy addition to the Marvel tableau of superhero movies. I was thoroughly entertained by the origin story and the through-line of the infinity stone. The CGI mixed with real-world effect made for a visual feast that was worth the price of admission. Despite the fact that there were a lot of characters in this story, everyone got ample screen time. Guardians was a lot of fun. I give it 4 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes were pretty standard fare. I was happy to see Gamora played out as very tough and independent, and no-one’s love interest. Quill has no superpowers to speak of (yet) so we identify with him as a human character we can all aspire to be. Rocket Raccoon was something I’ve never seen before in a picture, at least I’ve never seen a raccoon as an action figure. And who would have thought a tree with regenerating limbs could be a superhero? It was an unlikely ensemble, to be sure. I’m struggling with this score, but I’m afraid I have to give them just 3 out of 5 Heroes.

And as we discussed, contrary to villains in other Marvel films, the villains in Guardians are broadly painted with little dimension. And in some cases, given little in the way of villainy to actually carry out. I give them just 2 out of 5 Villains.

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Guardians of the Galaxy is yet another marvelous Marvel product that brings together five unlikely creatures whose job is to save the galaxy. Despite being noticeably less enjoyable than the three other Marvel movies this year, Guardians of the Galaxy is nevertheless a fun, pleasurable jaunt, especially if you’re willing to turn your brain off and simply enjoy brilliant CGI effects, clever dialogue, and memorable characters. I happily give Guardians of the Galaxy 3 Reels out of 5.

The primary strength of the movie is the military-like ensemble of five Guardians. These characters are a diverse collection of misfits who formed a whole greater than the sum of their parts. Drax, Groot, and Rocket are memorable characters whereas Peter Quill, our main hero, is a disappointment. As a group, these Fab Five follow the classic hero’s journey and emerge forever transformed by their experiences. Overall, I’ll generously award them 4 Heroes out of 5.

The villains are a sad collection of monolithically evil megalomaniacs who are as forgettable as a slice of Wonder Bread. Marvel must have decided that this film didn’t deserve an interesting villain, which is a shame because the depth of the villains is a notable strength in every other Marvel offering this year. I can only give a rating of 1 Villain out of 5 here.

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Lucy ••

Lucy_(2014_film)_posterStarring:  Scarlett JohanssonMorgan FreemanMin-sik Choi

Director: Luc Besson

Screenplay: Luc Besson

Science-Fiction/Action/Adventure, Rated: R

Running Time: 89 minutes

Release Date: July 25, 2014

Lucy: Single, P-PP Mental, Pro (Classic Long Hero)

Choi: Single, N-N Moral, Ant (Untransformed Mastermind Villain)

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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

Greg, as a kid I probably watched every episode of I Love Lucy.


Well, there wasn’t much to love about Lucy – I thought it was Loucy.


Ouch! Let’s recap. We meet a young woman named Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), who unknowingly delivers a briefcase containing large quantities of a dangerous drug to a Korean mob boss (Min-sik Choi). The drug is CPH4, a powerful hyperactive stimulant. Lucy and three other people have bags of CPH4 surgically implanted into their abdomens. Forced into drug muledom, they are flown to several major European cities.


Lucy is held captive in a Taipei cell and beaten and kicked which causes the bag of CPH4 to rupture. She receives a mega-dose of the drug which then starts to open her mind. Meanwhile, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) is in Paris lecturing on the potential of the human brain. He proffers that humans use only 10% of their brain. If we used 20% then we’d have the ability to do amazing things – things he can’t even imagine. Lucy uses her newly found powers to escape her cell and is now on a quest to find the man who performed the awful operation on her and exact her revenge.


Lucy is a preposterous yet fun look at what would happen if a human being could maximize her cerebral potential. The movie features a curious mix of scientifically accurate facts about the brain with scientifically spurious fluff. As a psychologist, I probably should have been offended by the movie’s bogus premise that human beings use only 10% of their brain capacity. But truth be told, almost every movie we see requires some suspension of disbelief. I just turned off my 10% (sic) and enjoyed the ride.

Despite frequent lapses in veracity, this movie is slick and competently pieced together. Dramatically, we have an interesting hero story featuring Lucy who undergoes about as great of a dramatic a transformation as a hero can possibly endure. It’s fascinating to see CPH4 mutate Lucy’s mind and body in unimaginable ways. Unfortunately, witnessing her hero transformation is not the most satisfying adventure to witness because, after all, Lucy doesn’t voluntarily choose to change. The changes are biologically driven.


Wow. You are so incredibly generous to this complete waste of film. I don’t have your superhuman knowledge of the inner workings of the brain and yet I was completely offended by the techno-babble spewing from Morgan Freeman’s mouth.

The whole movie was one amazing tele-something super capability after another. Lucy is locked in a cell? At 20% of brain power she has amazing strength and knows kung-fu. Lucy needs to speak Chinese? At 40% she learns a language in under an hour. Lucy needs to talk to the Professor? At 60% she controls all functions of the entire internet and can flash lights on and off from across the globe. This was one implausable event after another. Whenever she needed something to get out of a jam, another 10% of brain power conjures the solution. I can’t even call this movie science fiction as there was absolutely no science involved.

Other than that it was fine.

I’m also deeply disturbed by what this film thinks a super-smart female looks like. When Scarlett Johansson wants to appear intelligent she stares blankly ahead and twitches her head from side to side. I guess that’s her idea of what smart people do. She loses all emotion and kills people for the slightest indiscretion – like not knowing how to speak English. She is completely motivated by revenge. Her elevated IQ doesn’t give her any insight into the heart of mankind – only the ability to kill efficiently. There is no internal character scrutiny here – it is all mindless mayhem at the will of a beautiful black widow [pun intended].


For some reason I was able to overlook all the silliness you mention, Greg. I enjoyed witnessing Lucy’s powers evolve over time, not just quantitatively but also qualitatively. For a while, I felt like I was watching the origin story of a great female superhero. Like many superheroes, she is accidentally exposed to a strange chemical which gifts her with special abilities. Unlike you, Greg, I didn’t see her misuse her powers; I only saw her using her abilities to survive. At the film’s end, she gives humanity the gift of her vast knowledge, a fitting end to any hero’s journey.

Sadly, there is plenty of contrived tension featuring bad guys who are closing in on Lucy when it’s obvious that she has the power to squelch them effortlessly. One of my complaints – and I do seem to have a bunch of them – is that the villains are ruthless but not terribly well fleshed out. We’ve seen this too many times: Shallow villains with a foreign look and a foreign accent are a dime a dozen in Hollywood.


I have to disagree with you again, Scott. At least the villain in this story gets his hands dirty. In other villain patterns we see the “boss” or “mastermind” sitting at the top of the food chain giving orders while henchmen do the dirty work. Mr. Jang has no problem carving, shooting, or slashing anything that gets in his way. You’re right, the villains were way over the top – quite in line with the absurdity of an all-powerful hero.

Lucy aims high in its ambition to create an intelligent movie with action-adventure thrills. Instead, we get a mindless stream of psychobabble and half-science that even Morgan Freeman with his velvety gift for explanation can’t deliver. This is a bad retread of the same premise from 2011’s Limitless (featuring the beautiful Bradley Cooper) which at least knew its “limits.” I give Lucy a mere 1 out of 5 Reels.

The hero is such a blank in every way. Scarlett Johansson gives Lucy no real personality and certainly no heart. The smarter she gets, the less human she becomes. I’d like to think we don’t need to fear the superintelligent. This movie delivers a message to young girls that becoming super smart makes you scary to men. But on the bright side, it also means you can become a badass. I give Lucy just 1 Hero out of 5.

Unlike you, I found something to like in the villains in this story. True, they are pure evil with little to ingratiate themselves to the audience. But the main guy at least has the decency to carry out his own acts of barbarism. I give him 2 out of 5 Villains.

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If you’re willing to turn a high percentage of your brain off for 90 minutes, Lucy is a fun look at what might happen if human beings were able to fulfill their maximum cognitive potential. There are missteps in the making of this film but Lucy manages to make us ponder where the human race is headed evolutionarily. Lucy won’t win any awards but takes us on an entertaining, multi-continent adventurous ride. I’ll generously award Lucy 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s story is problematic in that Lucy’s journey isn’t one that any one of us is likely to face. She doesn’t naturally overcome any missing quality to prevail, and her ability to overcome obstacles is derived from a biological accident. Still, we do find ourselves pulling for her and she does give back to humanity in a big way at the end. I’ll give Lucy 2 Heroes out of 5.

The villains aren’t anything special here and merely exist to get in Lucy into trouble and then scramble to thwart her later. Greg, you’re right that the main villain actually gets his hands dirty for a change. Alas, this departure from the norm doesn’t make him any more interesting than other razor-thin villains we’ve seen this year, and so the best I can do is award Lucy’s foes a mere 2 Villains out of 5.

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Get On Up •••1/2

Get_On_Up_posterStarring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd
Director: Tate Taylor
Screenplay: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Biography/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 138 minutes
Release Date: August 1, 2014

Brown: Single, P-PP Emotional, Pro (Classic Transformed Hero)

Brown: Single, P-PP Emotional, Ant (Redeemed Self Villain)

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, it’s time to get on up and review the James Brown biopic.


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

May the funk be with us. Let’s recap.


Get On Up tells the story of the great James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) in a non-sequential set of vignettes starting out in the 1970s and flashing back and forth between Brown’s childhood and his emergence as one of the most diverse and unique musical talents of the 20th century.

Brown grows up in a shack in Georgia in the 1930s. His father is abusive both to him and his mother and she eventually leaves James behind. This is an event that would scar James Brown for life. His father realizes he can’t take care of the boy or himself and enlists in the army during World War II, leaving James in the care of an aunt who runs a brothel. Here, young James learns to attract soldiers with song and dance. He is also exposed to gospel music at a local church.


As a young man James meets Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis), who leads a gospel group. Bobby recognizes James’ talent and invites him into the group. Soon they are known as the Famous Flames and are picked up by a record label. Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd) becomes James’ manager and convinces James to become the point man for group, diminishing the role of the other Flames. The group walks out on him, but Bobby Byrd remains loyal to James. We witness the rising fame and fortune of James Brown, but also volatile periods involving tax evasion and odd brushes with the law.


Scott, one of the things we look for in the hero’s journey is transformation. And nobody transforms more than James Brown. He starts out with literally nothing but a pair of shoes he stole from a corpse and rises to be a great star. He is mentored by some unlikely people as he grows.

In prison, when it looked like he was doomed to a life of crime, he meets Bobby Byrd who helps to get him paroled and on the track of gospel music. Later, he meets a pre-fame Little Richard who advises him to know the devil when he sees him and to take the deal he offers. This advice bears fruit when James is given the deal to become a single star and leave the Flames behind. And finally, his business manager and close friend Ben Bart guides James in the ways of the special world of rock and roll stardom.

And this is where James exceeds his tutors. James turns the tables and becomes a disrupter, shattering the traditional methods of promotion and goes directly to the people. This ability to work outside the system makes James not just a star, but a very rich man.


Get On Up is an illuminating look at the turbulent yet triumphant life of singer James Brown. The movie pays homage to the uniqueness of every facet of James’ life, from his singular personality to his penchant for deviating from the musical norms of his day. James Brown was truly one-of-a-kind, a man who revolutionized music in strange yet brilliant ways. Get On Up does a nice job of showing the many seismic shifts in James’ life, some very painful, each helping unearth his many gifts.

Chadwick Boseman as James Brown is simply superb here, demonstrating remarkable vocal mannerisms and range, not to mention some seriously slick dance moves. With his stellar performances in last year’s 42 and this year’s Draft Day, Boseman has emerged as one of the most versatile young talents in the movie industry. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Boseman garner an Oscar nomination for Best Actor here.


There are some villains for James to overcome along the way as well. His father is a strong influence on him as a boy and also a very abusive man. This abusive nature is passed from father to son as we see later in James life.

While the record producers are depicted as men who are trying to help James, they are really out to help themselves. James realizes this early on and makes plans to extricate himself from the grip of the record companies so that he can create the kind of music he want to make.


Greg, you mention that our hero undergoes a significant transformation, but I’m not so sure. It seems to me that throughout most of his life, James is just a more professionally successful version of his father. He has trouble with relationships and physically abuses at least one of his wives. He has run-ins with the law and is a pure narcissist. We do get a glimpse of some change at the very end when James finally reaches out to Bobby Byrd. Perhaps in his old age he has finally softened and now recognizes the social world beyond himself.

As for the villains, I agree with you that James has plenty of oppositional forces to overcome, including the disadvantaged environment in which he was raised and the racist society that handcuffs him (sometimes literally). James has plenty of inner demons to conquer, all of them nudging him toward self-destruction. His success is a testimony to his immense talent, which pulls him through the maze of the adversity that he faces.


Get On Up is not just a biopic but a legendary rags to riches story. James Brown was an American original whose disruptive approach to music and the music industry had far reaching impacts on musicians and society alike. Boseman’s depiction of Brown is spot on. He channels Browns mannerisms, dance moves, and vocal stylings which adds to our immersion into the story. I give Get On Up 4 out of 5 Reels.

James Brown was a man who was constantly transforming himself. His style and music changed with the decades. However, he was self-destructive and narcissistic. These qualities threatened to destroy him at every turn. Still, he overcame these personality flaws and grew as a man. I give James Brown 4 out of 5 Heroes.

James Brown was probably his own worst enemy. Time after time he created situations that brought him to the edge of disaster. His personality flaws and obsessive nature often pushed away the very people he needed to help him succeed. Otherwise, there were very few true opposition figures in the film. We didn’t see much of the racial forces that were present in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond. The oppositional forces that were presented were usually “old white men” who posed no real threat to James and were out to help him. Without strong villains, James’ struggle is lost to the audience. I give James and his weak opposition just 3 out of 5 Villains.

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Get On Up is an enjoyable and informative movie that portrays the making of a true legend in the music industry. The film meanders at times, but despite an occasional lapse in focus, I recommend Get On Up for all fans of music and for movie fans who will appreciate the vast talents of actor Chadwick Boseman. I’m happy to award 3 Reels out of 5 to Get On Up.

The hero story follows a pretty classic pattern and reveals to us a powerful underdog story. James Brown had so much to overcome that it’s a miracle that he found ways for his funkworthiness to prevail. Certainly his talent, his mentors, and his stratospheric self-confidence helped pave the way. I’m willing to give James Brown a rating of 4 out of 5 Heroes.

The villainous people and constraining forces that impeded James Brown were numerous but not always fleshed out to a satisfactory degree. We do see in vivid and heart-wrenching detail the atrocious conditions in which he was raised, but the people in his life who stood in his way are portrayed somewhat stereotypically. I’ll give the villains a rating of 3 out of 5.

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