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Monthly Archives: September 2014

No Good Deed •••

No_Good_Deed_2014_movie_posterStarring: Taraji P. HensonIdris ElbaLeslie Bibb
Director: Sam Miller
Screenplay: Aimee Lagos
Crime/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 84 minutes
Release Date: September 12, 2014

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

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


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

Greg, we just saw a movie about a no-good dude.

And if no good deed goes unpunished, then indeed, we were punished for watching.

Let’s recap. Inmate Colin Evans (Idris Elba) is being transported back to prison from his parole hearing, where he was denied parole. He is serving time for brutally killing several people. During his return trip to prison, Evans manages to shoot the driver and a guard. He then escapes successfully to Atlanta. There he meets up with his former fiance and confronts her about her new lover. After killing her, we see him driving his car in a rainstorm. His car crashes into a tree, and he seeks refuge at the door of a nearby home owned by Terri Henson (Taraji P. Henson) and her baby.

Colin is charismatic and smiles his way into the home and out of the rain by feigning the need to call for a tow truck. When Terri’s best friend Meg (Leslie Bibb) arrives, Colin has some fast thinking to do. But Meg is not convinced of Colin’s good intentions and confronts him. Meanwhile, Terri realizes that Colin is not so harmless and he begins to chase her through the house. Now it’s a battle of wits as Terri must find a way to call for help before Colin can accomplish his dastardly plan.

Greg, No Good Deed is a by-the-numbers story of survival at the hands of a vicious killer. This story has been told countless times before, but what distinguishes No Good Deed is that it features a strong African-American female hero who must use both her wits and her strength of character to extricate herself from danger. Taraji Henson does a nice job portraying the role of Terri, and a number of her Great Eight characteristics of heroes truly shine through. She is strong, smart, caring, selfless, resilient, and inspiring.

The first 15 minutes of the movie led me to believe that the villain, Colin Evans, was going to be the hero (or anti-hero) of the story. We, the audience, are provided with more of his backstory than that of Terri. But soon the movie wisely shifts to Terri as the movie’s main focus, and we become impressed with her selfless devotion to placing the safety of her two children before her own. As I said, this isn’t a great movie by any means, but it does manage to pull us into the drama and leave us wondering how Terri is going to survive.

I have to agree with you, Scott – this is a good movie with a strong female lead. The other thing that distinguishes this movie from others is that Terri fears for her life and the lives of her children, only to discover that Colin’s goal has nothing to do with Terri. There’s a point in the film (that is shared in the trailer) where Colin chastises Terri by saying, ‘I would have thought with all those brains you got, you woulda figured out what game we’re playing.’ It isn’t the standard game of cat and mouse.

Terri is a good hero – she is smarter than the average damsel in distress. And she stands up to her captor. She doesn’t just run screaming through the house (although there is a bit of that). She *is* smart and she makes plans to escape.

Colin makes for a good villain, too. He’s every bit as smart and determined as our hero. And that is critical for a good villain story. We are given a good deal of his backstory so we know where his anger comes from. Although, he is set up as a “malignant narcissist” by the parole board – we don’t get any insight into what created such a person. So I can give points for setting up our villain – and I have to take one away for embedding the fact that Colin is … crazy.

I enjoyed Colin as a villain more than I thought I would. During his parole hearing at the beginning of the movie, I felt for him and believed him to be genuinely repentant. He has those kind eyes and shows a kind of enigmatic intelligence. But when the bodies started piling up, I was sadly forced to abandon the idea that he is simply misunderstood. I like the fact that his character has a curious appeal even when we know he’s a psychopathic murderer.

Another virtue of this movie is witnessing the palpable chemistry between Terri and Colin. Her courage in standing up to him is borderline foolhardy but serves her and her children quite well. One unfortunate negative is the number of times that Terri skewers him, crushes his head, shoots him, and maims him, while he does his best Ever-Ready battery impression by still ticking. We also get the standard Fatal Attraction miracle revival of the seemingly dead villain. One day I hope the movies finally put this hackneyed gimmick to bed for good.

Yeah, I noticed that too. I liked this movie, but the twist at the end didn’t warrant a higher rating. It’s a classic thriller with some upgrades. I give No Good Deed 3 out of 5 Reels.

Terri is a good hero but still not above average. What I appreciated about her was that she wasn’t a typical damsel in distress. She was smart and strong. But I can only give her 3 out of 5 Heroes.

Colin is painted better than the average villain. He has all the great qualities of the hero plus a diabolical tendency toward “malignant narcissism”. But he can only garner 3 out of 5 Villains.

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No Good Deed is a fairly well constructed thriller that gives us a strong woman character who delights us with her brains, her inner strength, and her selflessness. This movie features good tension, good pacing, and good acting. No Good Deed is far from great but it provided 90 minutes of solid entertainment. Like you, Greg, I give this film 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero Terri is inspiring to watch. She embodies many of the signature characteristics of a hero, but her Joseph-Campbell-like hero journey is stunted. There is no mentor figure, for example; she’s left entirely to her own devices. I’m not convinced that she transforms in any significant way, either. So we’re left with a pretty good hero but not a great one, at least not in the classic sense.  I’m with you, Greg, that she merits 3 Heroes out of 5.

The villain Colin is a major focus of this movie. He’s a complex man with a motive for his mayhem. No Good Deed does a good job of portraying the villain’s story with greater depth than we see in most movies. His fatal flaw lies in his underestimation of our hero Terri. Colin’s intelligence, deceptiveness, magnetism, and complexity make him formidable villain with considerable texture, in my opinion. I’m awarding him 4 Villains out of 5.

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The Identical ••

The_Identical_posterStarring: Blake Rayne, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd
Director: Dustin Marcellino
Screenplay: Howard Klausner
Drama/Music, Rated: PG
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Date: September 5, 2014

Ryan: Single, P-PP Moral/Emotional, Pro (Classic Lone Hero)


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Scott, we just saw The Identical. It wasn’t Elvis, but an amazing simulation.

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

I had the identical reaction, Greg. Let’s recap.

It’s the Great Depression and William and Helen Hemsley (Brian Geraghty, Amanda Crew) can’t afford to keep their newly born identical twin boys. They decide to give one of them to Reverend Wade and his wife (Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd). The boys are never to know their origins. Dexter Hemsley, the son that stayed, goes on to be a big rock-n-roll star. Meanwhile, Ryan Wade (Blake Rayne) is growing up as a preacher’s son – but he has the gift of music. While the Reverend Wade wants Ryan to follow in his father’s footsteps, Ryan has other ideas.

Ryan eventually tells his dad that his true calling is a career as a musician, not as a minister. Reverend Wade does not take the news very well at all. Ryan finds success imitating his twin brother’s hit songs on stage, but soon he grows tired of the gig and wants to produce his own original music. One day Ryan discovers that he is actually Dexter’s twin brother. He reconciles with his father and has a tearful reunion with his biological dad.

Scott, I have read that Elvis was a twin and his brother died at birth. Elvis spent his life guilt-ridden wondering if he had so much power because he had stolen it from his twin. This movie appears to try to answer the question: “What if Elvis’ brother had lived?”

If that is the case then the filmmakers went out of their way to do so without specifically saying so. They hired Blake Rayne (who is himself an Elvis impersonator) who looks so much like Elvis that sometimes you’re left wondering if Rayne isn’t himself a twin of the King of Rock-n-Roll. The music is patterned after the rockabilly themes of the 1950s but never comes close to really doing justice to the same. And the story itself seems like a retread of movies gone by where a preacher’s son just isn’t cut out for the cloth and wants to pursue a life of forbidden music (or dance, or acting, or fill-in-the-blank).

Greg, The Identical is a simple, sweet movie that’s a throwback to 1970s made-for-television films. Today you’d see this type of movie on Hallmark cable television. There’s nothing specifically wrong with this movie. The acting, directing, and production are all fine. The problem is that there is nothing distinctive or distinguishing about the film. No new ground is broken, and in fact we’ve seen tales of this type a thousand times before.

If you are going to take us, the audience, down a well-worn path, you’d better include some especially dazzling scenery along the way. We don’t have that here. Even the music is pedestrian. Blake Rayne is impressively Elvis-esque but my feet weren’t a-tappin’ like they were during Jersey Boys earlier this year. I found myself rooting for the characters and hoping that something interesting would happen. Alas, it never did.

As a hero, Ryan Wade does all right. He’s  a good, honest guy with lots of charisma and boy-like charm. But as you point out about the film itself, Ryan doesn’t really have anything interesting to set him apart from other heroes we’ve seen this year or last. He just goes through the paces and sings some really forgettable songs.

There aren’t any real villains in this story. The preacher / father character pushes Ryan down a path like the one he followed. And when Ryan finally diverges from the path, the father delivers contradictory messages by lauding the fact that the boy made an adult decision, then tells him he is breaking his father’s heart. It’s pretty tame stuff.

I agree that Ryan is hardly the most interesting character we’ve seen on the big screen. But I do have to give him credit for undergoing a significant transformation as a hero. He starts out with an overeagerness to please his father, a type of over-selflessness that limits him both professionally and spiritually. His missing inner-quality is his backbone, which he finally develops when he courageously stands up to his father. He summons this same courage later when he defies his business manager. The Identical shows us how we can never fulfill our full potential until we become true to ourselves.

You’re right, Greg, that there are no bad people in this story, only some challenging circumstances encountered by a man who is struggling to discover himself. I’m leaning toward calling this a “Man vs. Self” struggle in which the “villain” to overcome (if you could call it that) is one’s own inner limitations. Ray Liotta deserves some praise for his portrayal of a good man and a good preacher who smothers his son’s potential yet later redeems himself. Reverend Wade could have succumbed to a trite stereotype of the evil, backward southern minister, but to this film’s credit, he doesn’t.

The Identical won’t be winning any awards this year. It was a plodding, uninteresting, conflict-free, two hours of uninspiring music, dialog, and plot. There were some nice performances by veteran actors Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd. Newcomer Blake Rayne has a nice future of playing Elvis, but little else. I give The Identical just 2 out of 5 Reels.

Ryan Wade is about as dull a hero as we’ve ever seen on the big screen. There are no hard decisions or climactic surprises. I give him just 1 Hero out of 5.

And whether you think the opposition is Ryan himself, or the preacher daddy, or Ryan’s awkward situation, there aren’t any real villains to speak of. And the conflicting forces were pretty weak. I give The Identical just 1 out of 5 Villains.

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The Identical might win an award, Greg, but it would be a Razzi Award. To be honest, this film isn’t that bad, it’s just outdated. Audiences from the 1950s would be impressed by The Identical but today’s audiences demand greater sophistication in the plot, the characters, and the overarching themes of the story. There is a charming sweetness to the story but it can’t carry the plain oversimplicity of everything we see here. I agree that this film merits a score of only 2 Reels out of 5.

As I noted earlier, there is a fairly decent hero story in The Identical. Ryan Wade may be a rather simple man but he is forced to grow and develop some cajones to escape the oppressive influence of his father. It’s not a particularly inspiring hero’s journey but several key elements of the journey are in place here. A more sophisticated, updated version of the hero story might garner a higher rating but I can only muster 2 Heroes out of 5 here.

Ryan Wade encounters no villains other than himself in this movie, and so the villain rating in this film depends entirely on how we witness Ryan overcome the weaknesses that are holding him back as a character. Unfortunately, there isn’t much meat on this bone, just some flabby gristle that left me largely unsatisfied as a consumer. The paucity of interesting characters is this film’s main deficit, especially in the realm of villainy. Like you, Greg, I can only give a villain score of 1 out of 5.

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Boyhood ••••

Boyhood_filmStarring: Ellar ColtranePatricia ArquetteEthan Hawke
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Richard Linklater
Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 165 minutes
Release Date: August 15, 2014

Mason: P-PP Emotional/Physical, Pro (Classic Lone Heroes)

Alcoholism: System, N-N, Ant (Disease Villain)


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

Greg, we just saw a summer film that is about as different from any other summer movie as we’ve ever seen.

Boyhood was made over 12 years with all the same actors. Let’s recap…

The year is 2002 and we meet the Evans family. The head of the family is the mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who has an 8-year-old daughter Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and a 6-year-old son named Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane). The movie shows us Olivia’s tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend, Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke). Olivia decides to do something about her low-paying job. She moves the family to Houston, Texas, where she will pursue a degree in psychology. This move will jumpstart her career and allow her to better provide for her family.

Boyhood follows young Mason from age 6 to 18 in twelve vignettes depicting his life as he grows from boyhood to young manhood. This is not a conventional story. There is no “aha moment” where Mason makes the transition from boy to man. There is no “main goal” for Mason to attempt to acquire. This is the deliberate telling of a young man’s life as a series of moments in time.

Strangely, Boyhood is a sort of period piece as it chronicles what it is like to be a boy in each of the 12 years the movie was filmed. We’re shown the elements of Mason’s life that were important at that time. For example, Mason graduates from watching Dragonball-Z to playing Gameboy to playing with a Playstation. Normally a filmmaker would have to dig around in the archives of some movie production house for these time-sensitive relics. But for director Richard Linklater, he was simply documenting what was happening at the time he was filming a particular chapter in Mason’s life.

Greg, this is a movie that requires patience. There aren’t many fascinating moments in this film, and in fact most of the scenes in this movie are depictions of simple moments and mundane details. But that’s one of the main points of Boyhood. A person’ life is an accumulation of many such moments, and they matter. We learn that everyday moments may seem trivial but they may later carry great significance. These simple life snippets pave the way from boyhood to adulthood.

For example, there is one telling scene in which Mason at age 13 is hanging out with a friend and a few older boys at a construction site. The older boys are full of bravado about women and drugs, and they taunt and dare Mason and his friend to partake in their debauchery. The tension in the scene is magnified by them all taking turns violently tossing a blade saw onto a wood plank. Experiences like this are a right of passage for all young men as they test their mettle against their own fears and society’s constraints. This is Boyhood at its finest.

It’s hard to say there are any real villains in this story. Although Mason’s mother has a tendency to pick drunk, abusive men for husbands. Mason’s stepfathers start out nice enough but fall into the “a**hole” zone pretty quickly.

I have to say that as a one-off movie this is a pretty neat novelty act. Getting a group of actors to regroup year after year to perform scenes together is a logistical marvel. But as a complete story, it leaves something to be desired. Boyhood has its place in cinema history, but its message that life is a series of moments took a long time (nearly 3 hours) to tell. Watching the young man transform from a boy to a man was entertaining, yet I can’t help but get a feeling of watching home movies rather than a coherent story.

As a family hero ensemble, several themes emerge that are central to their journey. One theme is the importance of redemption in family life. The father, Mason, Sr., is mostly a ne’er-do-well with an almost debilitating immaturity problem. As the years go by, we are surprised by his growing sense of responsibility as a father and later as a husband to his next wife. Similarly, Olivia takes charge of her life and assumes a responsible position as a college professor. Throughout the movie every adult figure seems to be imploring Mason, Jr., to become more responsible, but of course we witness him learning responsibility the hard way, like all of us do, through a series of mistakes. Boyhood excels in showing us how redemption and responsibility unfold across the human lifespan.

Alcoholism is a primary villain in this story. The jerks in this story are afflicted with this addiction and behave atrociously toward our family of heroes. One scene in particular is difficult to watch, as it involves Professor Bill (Marco Perella) behaving abusively while in a drunken rage toward everyone at the dinner table. While we see redemption in many forms in this movie, we never get the sense that anyone overcomes alcoholism. This is a sad lesson of the movie albeit not an unrealistic one.

I enjoyed Boyhood but I won’t be rushing back to the theater to see it again. It was long and for me held little message. It’s an unusual story as it doesn’t follow the usual pattern. Which is a refreshing change of pace. Still, I think it is the novelty of this approach to storytelling that is the appeal, and not the story itself. I give Boyhood 4 out of 5 Reels.

Mason ends up surprisingly well-adjusted after living a life with a variety of fathers and homes. He’s a bit of a zen buddhist in his attitudes toward life. Despite all the advice to be responsible, he is in fact among the most responsible people in the movie. He settles on photography as a passion and has little interest in his scholastic assignments – yet he goes to college to study art. He’s very much an ordinary young man by the end of the story. His arc is a long one and comes to a nice completion point. I give Mason 4 out of 5 Heroes.

The villains in the story are of the type we might encounter every day. As Scott points out, the men in the story give Mason little guidance and a lot of reasons to become a problem child. Still Mason overcomes these villains. Unlike most of the villains we see in the movies, these villains are not complicated puppeteers. And they’re not intrinsically bad. We get some background to them and we see where their villainy comes from. I give them 4 out of 5 Villains.

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Boyhood is a remarkable cinematic achievement for the way it patiently portrays a family’s dramatic story unfold over the course of a dozen years. There are no cheap thrills, fancy CGI effects, or scintillating costuming here. There are only real emotions, real family crises, real tears, and moving moments of redemption. We see not just a boy grow up but an entire family blossom, leading me to wonder why this movie isn’t called Family or Familyhood. I admired this film greatly and give it 4 Reels out of 5.

The heroes were an impressive group of people who took punches, rolled with them, grew nicely, and became better people as the result of their heartaches. There is plenty of growth, mentoring, loving, crying, mending, and healing. In short, Boyhood has just about every aspect of the hero’s journey, and each aspect is depicted with searing realism. I believe these heroes deserve 5 Heroes out of 5.

There are a few detestable people that our heroes must navigate through on their journey, and the worst of the characters are afflicted with alcoholism. Boyhood’s depiction of alcoholism is a by-the-numbers stereotype of the disease and offered an incomplete view of its progression. The addiction and its effect on the men in Olivia’s life could have been better fleshed out, and as a result I limit my rating here to 3 Villains out of 5.

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