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The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay – Part 1 ••••

MockingjayPart1Poster3Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay: Peter Craig, Danny Strong, Suzanne Collins
Science Fiction/Adventure, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Date: November 21, 2014

Katniss: Single, P-PP Emotional/Mental, Pro (Classic Lone Hero)

The Capitol: System, N-N, Ant (Untransformed Government Villain)


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I was hungry for another dose of Katniss Everdeen and the Hunger Games.

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

I was hungry for bread and found me some Peeta. But enough games. Let’s recap.

When we last saw Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), she was being carried away in a hovercraft to District 13. She wakes up in a hospital room and we learn that she’s been there for a couple months. Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman)  is trying to convince President Coin (Julianne Moore) that Katniss is the key to the new revolution. That she is the Mockingjay. Coin is unconvinced. After some failed attempts to get Katniss to look heroic, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) suggests they send her into the field and get her gut reactions. They do and in the process they get footage of Katniss destroying Capitol bombers and making a rousing speech.

A rebel demolition team is sent to the Capitol to destroy a dam, which is the Capitol’s sole source of electricity. Meanwhile, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is being held hostage by the central government and is also being used as a mouthpiece for propaganda. At the end of one of Peeta’s speeches, he blurts out a warning that District 13 is about to be attacked. His warning saves many lives, but also endangers his own life. Katniss convinces the president to send a rescue team into the Capitol to get Peeta. But the reunion between the two star-crossed lovers does not turn out as expected.

Scott, I was pretty disappointed in this prelude to the final episode in the Hunger Games series. It represents only half the last novel and moves really slowly. It’s as if the writers and director were trying to fill up space to make the film stretch out to 120 minutes. Still, it was true to the source material. The special effects and acting were very good. But there wasn’t much of a story. It was all a set up for the final movie, due out in November of 2015.

Actually, Greg, unlike you, I enjoyed Mockingjay – Part 1 more than I did the first two Hunger Games movies. For a change, there were no hunger games situations involving kids hunting each other. Instead, we are presented with an intriguing psychological battle between President Snow and Panem’s rebels. We are shown techniques that governments use to win the hearts and minds of the masses. It’s a fascinating chess game, orchestrated by Plutarch on one side and Snow on the other.

Best of all, we finally see Katniss Everdeen undergo a personal transformation. My main complaint about the first two installments of Hunger Games has been the absence of growth in the character of Katniss. She’s been a heroic figure from the very outset of the first movie, when she takes her sister’s place as a participant in the games. But in Mockingjay – Part 1 we finally see Katniss develop into something new — a leader. She transcends her role as the brave, selfless, resourceful warrior. By the end of this film she has evolved into an admired leader and statesman, er, statesperson. It’s a welcome change to see Katniss ascend to a new, higher level of development.

We’ve disagreed on this before – I’ve always thought Katniss was a great hero. But yes, she definitely grows into a new role in this latest chapter. Like a classic hero, she is given the call to adventure but she refuses the call. She doesn’t want to be the Mockingjay. But once she realizes Peeta is alive and captive in the Capitol, she takes up the mantel of the hero and becomes the Mockingjay so that she can save Peeta.

President Snow (Donald Sutherland)  is exposed to be a villainous lout who rose to his position of power by poisoning his opponents. He represents the classic “mastermind” villain – one who controls others and rarely gets his hands duty. Like a puppet master, he coerces Peeta to record propaganda that tells the people of the districts that Katniss was the evildoer and that they should not follow her.

On the one hand, you could say that the villain here is a dull and simple mastermind. But in a sense, this movie tells a villain story like no other. Peeta, one of the main heroic figures in the first two movies, has now evolved into an oppositional character. Yes, it is true that Peeta’s been brainwashed, but his call for Panem to cease hostilities conflicts with Katniss’s plans to reform this dystopian, dysfunctional Capitol government. So you could argue that this film gives us a glimpse of a Stockholm-syndrome-like process of villain development.

I was glad to get another episode of The Hunger Games and another dose of a great female hero. We’re really getting quite a few of them now (witness Divergent and Lucy). While I was disappointed that I’ll have to wait another year before the final chapter will be played out, I liked this movie enough to give it 4 out of 5 Reels.

Katniss grows more in this film than in previous films. The filmmakers are not dressing our hero in flowing gowns and showing off her “attributes.” She’s dressed in battle gear. She’s a tough, strong leader. I love seeing this growth not only in Katniss, but in the types of female role models that are emerging for our young women. I give Katniss 5 out of 5 Heroes.

The villains are not as pronounced in this segment as they were in previous ones. We’re given a little more information about President Snow and his backstory. We are definitely treated to a look inside Snow’s mind and how he manipulates not only physically, but also psychologically. I’m hoping we’ll see more of that development in the final installment. I give President Snow 3 out of 5 Villains.

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For me, Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is arguably the strongest of the three Hunger Games movies. The film has less action but is more psychologically compelling in its portrayal of social movements, leadership development, and brainwashing techniques. Our hero Katniss has stepped up significantly to become much more than a young woman who can survive a deadly game. She is now a heroic leader of the Panem people. I give this movie 4 Reels out of 5.

As mentioned, this is the strongest hero story of the three Hunger Games movies. Katniss is thrown into the world of political leadership and, as such, she is required to grow in an unfamiliar world that stretches her personally. She is not only transformed as a person, but she also transforms an entire society. I award her 5 Heroes out of 5.

President Snow is a fairly formulaic mastermind villain, but Peeta’s surprising role as an oppositional force to Katniss’s leadership turns out to be the main focus of the film. Without Peeta’s brainwashed adversarial presence and without his murderous attack on Katniss, this movie would earn a rating of 1 Villain out of 5. But Peeta’s unique oppositional role bumps my rating up to 3 Villains out of 5.

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Dumb & Dumber To •••

Dumb_and_Dumber_To_PosterStarring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle
Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Screenplay: Sean Anders, Mike Cerrone
Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: November 14, 2014

Harry & Lloyd: Duo, P-P Mental, Pro (Untransformed Buddy Heroes)

The Pinchelows: Ensemble, N-N Moral, Ant (Untransformed Family Villains)


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

Greg, we’ve been waiting twenty long, painful years for this sequel to Dumb and Dumber.

And watching it felt like another 20 long painful years. Let’s recap:

Twenty years after Lloyd (Jim Carrey) has had his heart broken by a woman in the previous movie, we learn that the shock of the breakup has caused him to be institutionalized for two decades. We also learn that he was faking the trauma as a practical joke directed at Harry (Jeff Daniels). Harry has a damaged kidney and needs a friend or family member to donate one. Harry’s parents are poor candidates because they are Asians and adopted him. But as fate would have it, Harry learns that he fathered a child twenty years earlier. The two men set out to find the child (now grown) and her kidney.

Scott, Dumb and Dumber To is impressive not in its content, but in the commitment its two stars put into their roles. This movie has a very loose plot held together with some very outrageous jokes and slapstick. There are some running gags left over from the original film (young Billy and the birds are back). And some new ones (the cat named Butthole, because, you know, cats have butt holes).

This is a classic buddy hero story with Lloyd and Harry on a quest to find Harry’s long lost daughter. But as heroes these guys leave a lot to be desired. They can be mean (as when they heckle a scientist at a TED-type talk), they are selfish and self-centered, and they are not the least bit reliable. They are poor examples of human beings. Still, they care for each other. Harry has been visiting his old friend in the nursing home for 20 years. And Lloyd is committed to getting his friend a new kidney, regardless the cost. What they lack in visible heroism, they make up for in loyalty.

Greg, Dumb and Dumber To is one of those movies that defies any kind of serious analysis, and yet here we are as movie reviewers writing about these characters as if they matter. The truth is, this movie falls in the same category of throwaway movies as Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups films. Dumb and Dumber To is pure farce, and I use the term farce because it almost sounds like fart. Most of the humor here is about butts, butt cracks, and butt holes. You mention, Greg, that these are buddy heroes but I think you meant butty heroes.

Our two heroes are not bad people, Greg. They are just stupid people. What psychologists know about human nature is that nothing makes us feel better about ourselves than witnessing others people who are dumber than us. In fact, that’s what this movie franchise should be called: Dumber Than Us. And what’s most disturbing about this movie is that I found myself laughing at many of the jokes. I’ve never felt so much shame in my entire life.

Not only are they not very smart, but not very mature. Imagine, if you will, two ten-year-olds with drivers licenses. When you look at Dumb and Dumber To in that light, it all starts to make sense. This is the mentality of all the Farrelly Brothers films (Dumb and Dumber, The Three Stooges, and Movie 43). There’s nothing wrong with that, but if your characters start out as children, and end up as children, there’s not much growth (or transformation) going on.

The villains were a pretty plain lot too. All of them were painted pretty broadly and with no real dimension. The evil wife character Adele (Laurie Holden) is slowly poisoning her husband to get his fortune and is in cahoots with her adulterous boyfriend Travis (Rob Riggle). This is a simplistic plot device in a simplistic movie. Later, Travis is replaced with mercenary Captain Lippencott who is another “pure evil” character with little other explanation. This is all pretty tame fare designed as scaffolding for a series of (as you put it) butt jokes.

You’re right about the villains, Greg. These may be labeled Family villains, as described by Paul Moxnes and his model of both good and evil family social roles. Despite being thousands of IQ points smarter than Harry and Lloyd, these villains somehow are vanquished by our two butty heroes. Much of the humor of this movie stems from the ways that Harry and Lloyd experience one unlikely (and purely lucky) triumph over a villain after another. As you point out, our two heroes are hardly good people, but compared to Adele and Travis, they are pure of heart and thus we have no trouble rooting for them. Sort of.

Still, I had a good time at Dumb and Dumber To, due in large part to the 100% commitment of Carrey and Daniels. Both actors have much better things to do with their time than make such low-brow comedy. But I did fall in love with the Harry and Lloyd’s innocence. In the end (sorry) that is where the heart of this movie lies. For an enjoyable 100-minute ride, I’ll give Dumber and Dumber To 3 out of 5 Reels. And for our naive heroes 3 out of 5 Heroes. The villains left me wanting, but surely didn’t distract me, so I’ll give them 1 Villain out of 5.

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I also enjoyed Dumb and Dumber To, Greg. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels were born for these toilet roles. They clearly enjoy doing these movies and it shows. Sometimes it shows a bit too much, as when Daniels displays more butt-cleavage than Dolly Parton. I didn’t learn a thing and grow in any way as a result of watching this film, but I did enjoy connecting with my innermost potty-humor self. Like you, I award this movie 3 Butt-Reels out of 5.

The hero story is inconsequential and there is no growth or change in our heroically stupid characters. Apologies to Joseph Campbell, who is probably turning over in his grave. There is no Great Eight, only a Great Taint. I’ll kindly award these two goofballs 2 Heroes out of 5. The villains were ridiculous, as they allowed themselves to be defeated by a couple of cheeky (sorry), empty-headed losers. One Villain out of 5 sounds about right.

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Interstellar ••••1/2

Interstellar_film_posterStarring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: R
Running Time: 169 minutes
Release Date: November 7, 2014

Cooper: Single, P-PP Emotional/Spiritual, Pro (Classic Lone Hero)

Time: System, N-N, Ant (Time Villain)


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

Greg, it’s just as I thought — Matthew McConaughey is a space cadet.

This could have been called 2001: The Year We Make Contact. Let’s recap:

We meet a man named Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) who lives on earth in the not too distant future. The Earth at this point is a dying planet. Dust storms and blight are ravaging a dwindling human population that relies on a weakening agrarian economy. Cooper has a teenage son and a 10-year-old daughter named Murphy (Mackenzie Foy), whose bedroom is the scene of odd occurrences. Books fall off her shelves and dust arranges itself in strange patterns. Cooper figures out that the dust contains coordinates to a location nearby. When he and Murphy drive there, they discover a huge, secret NASA base.

Because the Earth is dying, the only way out is towards the stars. By some miracle a wormhole has emerged near Saturn (why so far away?) and NASA has sent 12 men and women out to find planets on the other side of the wormhole (near other stars) that could sustain the survivors of Earth. But there is a “Plan B” – they’ve in vitro-fertilized enough eggs to start a new colony of humans on a habitable planet in the event that it takes too long to find a safe world. Take too long, you say? Well, because of the relativistic effects of space travel and flying near black holes and through wormholes, what seems like a few years to our heroes could be a century back on Earth. So, NASA has asked Cooper (a former astronaut) to man the final mission and find the habitable planet. But, he will have to leave behind his young daughter. Will he return in time to save her? Or will he be marooned in space leaving behind the last of his kind?

Interstellar is a complex, ambitious, space epic. It’s a long movie, covering almost three hours, and its topic and detailed story are so complex that if it were a television show it could be a long-running mini-series. As a movie, it could have easily been carved into a trilogy. But the decision was made to condense this sweeping arc into a single 170-minute long film. The result is a movie that is breathtaking in scope but a bit too densely packed to give its grand cosmological theme the room it needed to breathe.

Still, I was impressed. Interstellar is no lightweight escapist science fiction story. There is a lot to sink our teeth into here, and some of it is pretty heavy emotional material. The earth is in its death throes, the close bonds between fathers and daughters are being shattered, and heroic astronauts are dying in space while trying to save humanity from extinction. We learn that John Lennon was prescient when he sang “love is the answer” more than 40 years ago, as love is interwoven with physics during the film’s many attempts to explain the workings of the universe.

When you look at Interstellar you cannot help but compare it to classic science fiction movies gone by. It has the trippy look and feel of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it is far more coherent than Kubrick’s masterpiece. And, like Contact, the relationships and bonds between father and daughter are at the core of this story.

And that is what I really walked away with in Interstellar. As any good story should be, this is a story about relationships. The physics and high technology were amply evident (who cannot love robots with the personalities of Marines?). But this is very much a story about people. We see how a planet reacts when the food supply runs out. We see how people grow to fear science they cannot understand. There’s a wonderful scene where a teacher replaces textbooks with government-issue books explaining that the Apollo missions were faked as a way to bankrupt the Russians. And there’s a quote about sending Cooper’s older son to college to study farming because “the world doesn’t need any more engineers. We didn’t run out of planes and television sets. We ran out of food.”

As hero stories go, you can’t do much better than Interstellar. Cooper follows the classic hero journey almost to the letter. He is sent out into space (the unfamiliar world) and he is charged with saving the world. All heroes are missing some quality, and in Cooper’s case he is missing an understanding of what binds the universe together. The answer is not unlike what Dorothy discovers in The Wizard of Oz — the answer is love, home, and gravity.

Ironically, Cooper mentors himself, or more specifically (using wormhole time-travel magic) Cooper’s older self serves as the mentor to his younger self. Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and an older version of Murphy also assist Cooper on his journey. At the end, Cooper is a transformed individual, having gained an understanding of his place in the universe. Overall, it’s a textbook hero story.

I think you’re giving short-shrift to the message here. While Cooper already understands how to love – he has an undying love for his daughter. But he doesn’t see love as a binding force in the universe – as much as we see time or the three dimensions. He has an argument with co-astronaut Brand (Anne Hathaway) who wants to let her heart be her guide. She posits that finding her lost love (one of the astronauts who went before them) is just as valid as calculating orbits and fuel ratios.

And this is the lesson that our hero ultimately learns. It is his love for his daughter that finally drives him to make a connection with her in the past. He manipulates time and space to send her a message that will save her and what is left of humanity. In the end, the lesson learned is that love binds the universe just  as much as any other dimension. That’s pretty heady stuff for a geek movie.

If you want to look for villains, we see a different take on villainy here. Professor Brand makes the decision for all mankind that trying to escape Earth and transplant the existing humans on another planet is fruitless. He has decided that Plan B is the ultimate solution. So, he’s lied to his daughter as well as everyone else on the mission. Plan A was never the goal. This villainy is different from most that we’ve seen. This is the villainy of a lack of hope. The Professor gave up hope for all of mankind and reasoned that the only hope was to start over.

One of the castaway astronauts was Dr. Mann (Matt Damon in a surprise appearance). He knew about Plan B. But the planet he found was not appropriate for human colonization. He purposely sent back a glowing report so that someone would come and rescue him. He has the villainous attribute of self-centeredness. This is also the point where the movie talks about preservation of the species and preservation of the individual. The conclusion is that the species can never overcome the selfish aspects of self-preservation.

There is a good reason why Interstellar is a November release rather than a summer popcorn release. This movie makes us think, not just feel. We are treated to fabulous CGI effects, of course, but more importantly we are compelled to ponder deeply about our place in the universe and what lengths we would go to save our planet. The integration of love and gravity as the glue that binds us all together is an inspiring take-home message. I give this movie 4 Reels out of 5.

As I noted, the hero story would make Joseph Campbell proud. Most of the central elements of the hero’s journey from classic myth and legend shine through in their fullest form. Cooper possesses just about all eight of the Great Eight characteristics of heroes: he is strong, smart, resilient, charismatic, reliable, caring, selfless, and inspirational. There is even a reverse form of “atonement of the father”.  I give him 5 Heroes out of 5.

The villainy in this movie is difficult to categorize, and you’re correct, Greg, that it defies convention in some ways. Professor Brand and Dr. Mann are possible villains, yes, but Cooper’s main opponent is Nature. He is in a constant race against time and other laws of physics. Interstellar is not a movie about a hero defeating a villain. It’s about a hero solving problems of the heart and problems of nature. For this reason, my villain rating is a mere 2 out of 5.

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I agree, Scott. Interstellar was clearly released in November as an Oscar contender. It has high-caliber stars (McConaughey, Hathaway, Caine, Damon, Chastain) and high-value CGI. But that wasn’t enough for Gravity last year. We’ll have to see what Meryl Streep is up to this year. Still, I was totally engrossed for the full 170 minutes. And I am the target demographic for this movie (Baby Boomer Geeks). I give Interstellar 5 out of 5 Reels.

McConaughey really delivered in this film (although there were a few truck driving scenes that seemed to echo his recent “Lincoln” commercials). As a hero Cooper has everything we look for. He is so selfless that he gives up a lifetime with his daughter to save the human race. That’s a lot of self sacrifice. I give Cooper 5 out of 5 Heroes.

And I hate to agree with you three times in a row, Scott, but it’s true: Time is the villain in this story. It is warped and twisted in ways like no other villain we have studied this year. Still, you need a human character to have an argument with, or  to be betrayed by. Professor Brand and Dr. Mann weren’t the strongest of villains, but they exposed two different parts of the villain’s psyche (lack of hope and self-preservation) that we haven’t seen before. I give them 3 out of 5 Villains.

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Nightcrawler ••••1/2

NightcrawlerfilmStarring: Jake GyllenhaalRene RussoBill Paxton
Director: Dan Gilroy
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy
Crime/Drama/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: October 31, 2014

Bloom: Single, N-NN Moral, Pro (Irredeemable Anti-Hero)

Police: System, P-P Moral, Ant (Untransformed Government Anti-Villain)


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Scott, it’s time to crawl out of your hole and write a review with me tonight.

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

I’m out of the hole and at my keyboard. Time to review Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. You first, Gregger.

Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a disreputable young man who makes ends meet by stealing chain link fence and manhole covers for the money he can negotiate from the smelters. He is scraping the bottom of the barrel when he happens upon an accident where he witnesses some professional videographers who crawl the night looking for stories to film and sell to area newscasts. Louis decides this is an easy way to make money and steals a bicycle which he hocks for a camcorder and police radio receiver.

Lou first films the scene of a fatal accident and takes the clip to a local TV station whose new director, Nina (Rene Russo), welcomes his gory footage. She encourages him to bring her videos of violent accidents and crime scenes with white affluent victims. Lou hires an assistant, Rick (Rick Garcia), and the two men find some success hunting down bloody car collisions and murders to put on film. To obtain better videos, Lou alters some crime scenes and arranges dead bodies to create better images. He even sabotages a competitor’s van so that his competitor suffers a gruesome accident for Lou to film. One night he and Rick arrive at the scene of a horrific mass murder before the police have arrived. This sets in motion more graphic violence for Lou to orchestrate (and videotape) with the goal of earning more money from Nina.

Scott, Nightcrawler is an intense look behind the scenes of local news. It’s not enough to show the events as they happen, but Lou is advised to find events that show the urban world encroaching on the suburban world. Or, to show people of color robbing or killing white people. These are the stories that garner higher ratings. And higher ratings garner more advertising dollars. Lou realizes this and starts to manipulate not only the crime scenes he’s supposed to be reporting on, but also the people around him. He convinces his “intern” Rick to work for peanuts and even gets Nina to sleep with him so that he will continue to feed her these high-value videos.

Lou is an unusual hero for a movie. He has many of the characteristics we look for in a hero. He’s resourceful as he finds a way to make a living. He is intelligent – he studies the internet and reads up on all things having to do with network news and how it works behind the scenes. In his own way, he is charismatic as he uses his motivational speaker skills (which he learned from the internet) to induce people to do things they really don’t want to do. He rises from a position of low social status to running his own business.

But he severely lacks any empathy for how other people feel. He is completely self-absorbed and manipulates people into doing things that are illegal and ultimately even life-threatening. He will do anything to get what he wants, no matter the cost to others. Scott, Lou Bloom is a textbook definition of the anti-hero. He is a villainous person cast in the role of the lead character of the story. Unlike the more likable anti-heroes (like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or Bonnie and Clyde), we learn to fear and even despise Lou Bloom.

For me, Nightcrawler is a disturbing look at a disturbed man. Lou is a classic sociopath who lacks a conscience and has no empathy, remorse, or moral core. He uses people and hurts people to obtain his goals. We’ve seen characters like this in the movies before, of course, but usually they are secondary characters, i.e., the villains who occupy limited screen time. But in Nightcrawler, we’re subjected to Lou’s heinous character for two solid hours. He appears in just about every scene. Although this film was extremely well made, I was uncomfortable being exposed to pure evil for such an extended period of time in the form of Lou’s psychopathic personality and escalating malevolent behavior. It was relentless.

As you point out, Greg, we know villains share four of the Great Eight attributes of heroes. Lou is smart, strong, charismatic, and resilient. But Lou is lacking the most telltale signs of a hero: He has no heart. It was repugnant watching him deliberately ignore suffering people, harm others, and even kill them, in order to sell his videos at a higher price to Nina. Nightcrawler makes us think about the ethics of paparazzi and ambulance chasers. It even raises ethical issues about television news journalism and where they can and should draw the line between morality and legality.

With Lou already playing such a villainous role, it’s hard to identify any villains in Nightcrawler. Lou’s arc of going from harmless gadfly to devious mastermind is the epitome of the Villain’s Journey – which is the mirror image of the Hero’s Journey. So, I look for the more heroic characters to offset Lou’s villainy.

Nina is already a pretty cut-throat news director. She’ll do anything to advance her career – even put clearly illegal source material on the air. She doesn’t offer an impediment to Lou’s advance. In fact, she aids it. There is a minor character in the form of the station manager, but while he is the voice of morality and reason, he offers little in the way of opposition to Lou.

The rival video company owned by Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) is Lou’s only opposition. He’s a good guy, plays by the rules. But he’s a tough businessman. At one point he see’s Lou’s abilities and tries to hire him. But instead of taking Joe’s offer, Lou tampers with Joe’s brake line and causes him to be in an accident that heartless Lou films for the morning news. And that ends any opposition that Lou might have.

Really, the only decent character with any screen time is Rick, who plays the role of the sidekick who repeatedly questions Lou’s actions and character. Rick is in such desperate need of money that he looks the other way while Lou engages in awful conduct. Rick’s also such a weak character that he is no match against Lou when the two men eventually collide over morals.

If there is an oppositional force at work against Lou, it exists mostly in the form of the ineffectual Los Angeles Police Department, who appear at the scenes of accidents and murders, and who also try to keep Lou from getting in the way of emergency personnel as well as their investigations of what happened at these scenes. The LAPD may be the type of villains that we call institutional villains — a large bureaucratic entity that lurks in the background as the main impediment to our main character’s goals.

Nightcrawler is more frightening than any horror movie for its vivid portrayal of the realities of mainstream news. The thing that makes it scary is just how real and current the story is. This could be happening now. This is a tale about how we are being fed stories – and how they could potentially being crafted – to titillate and spread fear in the name of news and money. It begs the question – what is news? I give Nightcrawler 5 out of 5 Reels for showing us a very scary reality.

Lou Bloom is a terrifying anti-hero cast in the world of network news. He frightens us not for any super powers that he might have, but for how amazingly ordinary he seems to be. He seems in every way an under achiever. He is not handsome, overly intelligent, or even athletic. But he is a cunning villain in the way he manipulates his prey. We are witness to a complete Villain’s Journey here. I give Lou Bloom 5 out of 5 Villains.

There are no strong heroes in this story for Lou to combat. You’ve already pointed out that the LAPD detectives were completely ineffectual against Lou. And rival Joe Loder was no match for Lou. A stronger hero for our anti-hero would have made Nightcrawler a completely different movie. I can only give these side-heroes 2 out of 5 Heroes.

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Nightcrawler is an extremely well made movie but you won’t catch me watching it again. The movie is two relentless hours of the devil in human form at work on the streets of Los Angeles. I was disturbed by the main character (notice that I cannot call him a hero) and his wanton disregard for human life, and it was disheartening that no heroic character in the film could even come close to combating him. I don’t know what good can come from making such a movie or even watching it, other than the possibility that it can be used as fodder for ethical reform for the ways TV networks solicit film clips for their evening news. I give this movie 4 Reels out of 5 simply out of respect for the filmmaking and for Jake Gyllenhaal’s extraordinary performance.

There is no hero in this story, as this is a tale of the triumph of evil. Our main character is the devil running roughshod over everyone in his path. Like a cancer, he just grows and grows in his size and power, and he is shown flourishing in the end. He doesn’t change or evolve or transform like a heroic character might. He has no mentors or friends and he eliminates his sidekick when the sidekick outlives his usefulness. Our main character’s evil simply gains strength for two disturbing hours. The absence of a hero story here leads me to assign a rating of 0 out of 5 Heroes.

Inasmuch as our main character is a villain, this is a movie about villainy and how it blossoms. Nightcrawler shows us how villainy is allowed to prosper when we allow it to prosper, when we condone it, when we cooperate with it, and when we place money ahead of principles. Nina and Rick are probably not terrible people; they simply succumb to greed. As the main character, Lou does encounter some resistance from a rival videographer (whom Lou severely injures), a sidekick Rick (whom Lou eliminates), and the LAPD (whom Lou outsmarts).  There aren’t many villain stories that are better told than this one, and so I’ll give Lou an impressive 4 Villains out of 5.

 Movie: reel-4 Villain: villain-4 Heroes: 0